Thursday, June 27, 2013

Vanilla Berry Frozen Yogurt Pops

Summertime. Otherwise known on our back deck as popsicle season. Icy treats go fast around here - like multiple times a day fast. I can't really blame the little blue-tongued bandits. Popsicles are awesome. They're nice to look at, fun to eat, sweet, cold, refreshing, satisfying, and thirst-quenching all in one cute little party of a package. The red, white, and blue ones scream 4th of July.

Of course the astronomical sugar content and food dyes in most grocery store brands leave something to be desired, but who needs them anyway? Assuming you have a freezer in the vicinity, homemade popsicles are just about the easiest thing in the world to make with kids. 
Fruit juices and purees, frozen bananas, lemonade, coconut milk and yogurt, preferably chunked up with plenty of fresh fruit, all make for amazing popsicles with less than half the parental guilt (as evidenced by my own personal and totally unscientific study) of grocery store brands. So go ahead. Embrace the stick this summer. Bonus points if you serve these red, white, and bluish frozen yogurt pops for the 4th of July.
We opted to use Stoneyfield Organic Greek Fat Free Yogurt but low fat or full fat plain Greek yogurt would work well too.
Despite what my little ham of a son would lead you to believe, Stoneyfield did not sponsor this post. I paid for my own yogurt fair and square, though I do admit to using a coupon to cover part of the cost of the Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave we're going to talk about in a minute.
I like to use agave here rather than honey because of its thinner, runnier consistency. The agave swirls into the yogurt effortlessly for uniform sweetness throughout the pops. We used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave and pure vanilla extract since that's what I had on hand. If you are so inclined you could save yourself a step, skip the vanilla and use Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Vanilla Blue Agave Syrup instead of plain.
Vanilla Berry Frozen Yogurt Pops

16 ounces plain Greek yogurt
4-6 tbsp Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave
2 tsp real vanilla extract
1&1/2 cups raspberries and/or blackberries, fresh or frozen

In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt and 2-3 tbsp of the agave, depending on how sweet you like your pops. At this point the yogurt should taste slightly sweeter than you want it. The flavor will mellow once it's frozen. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mash the berries with a fork. Stop when you still have some chunks of whole berry and plenty of bright, colorful juice. Stir in the remaining 2-3 tbsp agave.

In popsicle molds (or paper cups if you don't have popsicle molds) layer the yogurt and berry mixtures, starting and ending with yogurt. Use a chopstick or anything with a slim, long handle to gently swirl the yogurt and berries together in the mold. Insert the sticks and freeze for at least 4 hours and up to several days.

To release the pops from the mold, run them under cool to lukewarm water for about 30 seconds and gently wiggle out of the mold.

Makes 5 large pops.

Happy 4th!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Beet Hummus

They're baaaaaaack.

Beets. Pretty little suckers, I'll give you that. But it's their deep dirt earthy flavor I'm still struggling with. Still that doesn't keep them out of our CSA box every week.

Last summer we made them into beet chips with a side of curried yogurt dip and they were good. Really, addictively, shockingly good and I have to admit, I kind of loved them. So maybe, perhaps I don't hate beets as much as I think I do. In an effort to push my own culinary boundaries as much as I push the KC kids' and in penance for the cruel avocado trick I played on Looly last week: Beet hummus.
At least it's purple. That's something. Now, the original recipe did not call for garbanzo beans but I felt I had to include them both to warrant the "hummus" title as well as to convince myself that there was plenty of stuff in there that I like. I know. I can be very grown-up sometimes.
Once the beets are cooked, this hummus comes together so fast. I literally threw it together in the 5 minutes it took the kiddos to rescue their bikes and sidewalk chalk from the backyard before a thunderstorm was scheduled to roll through. By the first rumble, we were crunching naan chips with this lovely bowl of vibrant purple dip.
And guess what? It was good. Seriously good. The beets add a faint sweetness to the garlicky, lemony, creamy hummus with absolutely no dirt flavor to speak of. The cumin and tahini give the whole medley a satisfying warm nuttiness making it the perfect compliment for crisp mild vegetables or salty chips. And the color, well, you cannot beat that color. So, beets, perhaps there's something between us after all.

Beet Hummus
adapted from Simply Recipes

1/2 pound beets
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp tahini
zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Cut the greens off the beets and reserve them for another recipe or discard. Scrub the beets in cold water. Place them in a medium pot with and inch or two of water. Bring the pot to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until the beets are tender when pierced with a fork (about 30 minutes). Remove the beets from the cooking liquid and let cool slightly. Once their cool enough to handle, it should be fairly easy to pinch the skins off with your fingers. If you don't want purple hands, where gloves. Discard the skins.

Place the cooked, peeled beets in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and puree until smooth, thick and creamy. Serve with toasted pita bread, sliced vegetables, or naan crisps.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Avocado Chocolate Mousse Mini Pies

Say what? Chocolate avocado mousse?

In case you just missed the pinched up face and lolling tongue, Looly detests avocado. But like many red-blooded seven-year-olds, she adores chocolate, which is precisely why Bean, Roo, and I couldn't resist playing a trick on her.

For months (years?) I've seen recipes for vegan chocolate mousse made with an avocado base floating long that I honesty can't remember where I saw it first. Food 52 has a version. I've watched Giada De Laurentiis whip up a batch on an episode of Giada at Home. There's another version here. And here. And here.

Suffice it to say the idea of using creamy avocado as a base for chocolate dessert is decidedly not my own. The evil plot to dupe my own offspring into eating her most despised food, however, is all mine.

Bean and Roo are avocado fiends and any mousse without eggs is bound to be a friend of ours, so it was about time to give this thing a go. We got to work while Looly was busy making dream catchers and rag dolls at art camp. Everything was going along just fine until my avocados started disappearing.  
I think we can safely say who's to blame, but luckily there's nothing like a bowl of melted chocolate to distract a couple of avocado bandits.

Chocolate Avocado Mousse Mini Pies
inspired by Food 52, vegan bakers, Giada De Laurentiis, and the Internet in general

2 ripe Haas avocados
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coconut milk (Use the thick part that gathers toward the top of the can. Leave behind the liquid)
1 tsp real vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp agave syrup (or less)
pinch of salt
8 mini pie crusts of your choice. We went with store bought graham cracker, but chocolate cookie crust or traditional homemade pie crust would be lovely too!
1/4 cup flaked coconut

Combine the chocolate chips and thick coconut milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 25 second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate is melted. Stir well and let cool slightly.

Place the avocados, vanilla, agave, and salt in a food processor and puree until smooth. Poor in the chocolate-coconut milk mixture and pulse until everything is well-incorporated, smooth, creamy, and delicious.

Put the mousse in a piping bag (or zip top plastic bag with a corner cut off) and pipe into the pie shells. Chill until the mousse is firm, about 2 hours.
Garnish the chilled pies with flaked coconut and fresh raspberries. The decision whether or not to disclose the full ingredient list is yours to make. As for us, we waited until those first few bites were thoroughly savored then...
Guess what, Looly?! Avocado surprise! 

Lucky for me that kid's a pretty good sport. She even went on to finish the mousse and declared that she actually likes avocado sometimes. When it's in other stuff. Like chocolate.

In the words of Bean, "Yeah, Looly. So does everybody".

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fruit Salad with Vanilla-Lime Dressing

School's out, summer is in full swing and the KC kitchen staff is more eager than ever to get to work.
I, on the other hand, am readjusting to the amped up summer house volume and the sheer exhaustion of fielding ceaseless requests to paint, set up the sprinkler, help practice piano, go to the park, walk to the library, recall the Spanish word for prairie (pradera, by the way), host a spelling bee, make popsicles, make worksheets, make popcorn, make playdough, put on a puppet show, demonstrate a proper cartwheel, and the dreaded...can we plug in the glue gun?

With the day spiraling into hot glue territory, it's time to act. Fast. So what's quick, simple, can be made from stuff you already have sitting on your kitchen counter and irresistibly enticing to a swarm of sunscreen-slathered, half-dressed ragamuffins armed with a glue gun?

Fruit freaking salad, baby.
Fruit Salad with Vanilla-Lime Dressing
inspired by The Pioneer Woman

For the dressing

1 cup granulated sugar
2 limes, zest and juice
1 cup water
1 & 1/2 tsp good vanilla extract (or the caviar of one fresh vanilla bean)

For the salad

1/2 medium peeled, pineapple, cored and chopped into chunks
1/2 small cantaloupe, rind removed, seeded and chopped into chunks
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 cups grapes, halved
1/2 pint blueberries
1/2 pint raspberries
1 handful fresh mint leaves

To make the dressing, combine the sugar, lime zest, juice, water and vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil, stirring until all of the sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes until it starts to thicken. Remove from heat and let cool.
You'll be relieved to know that preparing a fruit salad requires no advanced training. Wash, peel, core, and slice fruit as necessary and put it all in a bowl. Use whatever fruit you have. Enlist your glue gun-wielding kitchen staff and go to it.
Pour the cooled dressing over the top of the fruit and toss everything together gently. Or if your staff has a case of the pickies, leave the dressing on the side and use it as a dip instead. Garnish the whole beautiful mess with mint leaves.
Don't forget to destroy the glue gun while their slurping the last of the juice from their bowls.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Beyond Comfy Shoes: 10 Things I Learned from BlogHer Food 2013

Last weekend I packed up my blogger business cards, planted kisses on Mufasa and the KC kids and headed to Austin for the 5th annual BlogHer Food Conference. All. By. Myself.

No backpacks full of coloring books or epi-pens stuffed in my purse, just me, my camera (which I barely used by the way, hence the slew of iPhone and Instagram photos in this post) and a single carry-on bag.
On top of leaving behind the troops, I didn't know a single soul who was going to be there, unless of course you count blog stalking as "knowing." I mean, I know Jenny Rosenstrach and Joy the Baker just like I know Barack Obama and Adele. I'm relatively certain none of them are coming to my next birthday party. So liberating, yes. Terrifying? A little.

In the days leading up to the conference I scoured the web looking for reviews from other bloggers who'd attended BlogHer Food in the past and found them for the most part really helpful. And encouraging. So, I thought it only fair that as a first time semi-terrified attendee with one BlogHer Food conference officially under my belt, I should offer my own two cents.

Here's what I learned.

1. Listen more than you talk. This is especially true for newbies and small-time bloggers like me. Presumably you are there to learn. Sure the business card do-si-do is important but keep in mind you are surrounded by tons of enthusiastic, experienced bloggers who are not necessarily your target blog audience and that's totally okay. Welcome their knowledge in all areas, not only blogging. Within one 10 minute span I learned:
  • The BEST use for expired epi-pens: Have caregivers, teachers, grandparents, etc. practice injecting the expired pens into an orange to make sure they know how to execute in an emergency - brilliant!
  • There's a Food Allergy Bloggers Conference coming up in Las Vegas later this year
  • The QuickPix app has a much smaller (and therefore superior) delay compared to the iPhone camera app. I've already made the switch. You should too.
  • Simply installing Dropbox on my phone has made it so I can stop constantly emailing photos to myself for use on this blog and elsewhere.
There. My life made better in 10 minutes. Never would have happened if I'd been busy pitching my blog the whole time.

2. It's okay to be alone. Even at a big intimidating conference where everyone greets everyone like a busload of reunited summer campers (with the fortuitous addition of booze) and they're all having the best time ever. Even then.
See, here I am being alone, hiding in a bathroom stall to take a picture of myself to send to the KC kids. It's a glamorous life I lead.

Seriously, think about it. You don't constantly surround yourself with a clown car of friends during every waking moment of a regular day. And if you do they probably won't be friends much longer. Downtime in your room is okay. So is wandering around the hotel, eating a meal, or exploring a new city by yourself. No one is looking at you thinking who is that weirdo and where are all her friends? In fact they're probably not thinking that much about you at all.

3. Ask questions. Don't know what SEO is? Ask someone. That is why you're here.

4. Just because it's right in front of you doesn't mean you have to eat it. Not kidding. Your pants need to fit to get you home.

5. Suck it up and speak. No matter how intimidated you are by the famous beautiful wealthy blogger standing next to you, put on your big girl underpants and say hello. Chances are decent you aren't the biggest fool to ever make an approach. At least that's what I'm telling myself. In any event, ask for the photo. You won't regret it.

6. Make time for the expo. Get to know the sponsors. They're nice and they want to talk to you. Try new products, give compliments, enter the contests. Without them the conference wouldn't exist.

7. Say yes. Yes to samples. Yes to excursions. Yes to exchanging business cards. Yes to invitations for a drink at the bar. Yes to share a taxi. Yes to try a bite of someone's amazing pork belly taco. Yes to party invitations if you're lucky enough to get one. Just yes. You never know where it will take you. In fact, it might just get you eating hot dogs and drinking gluten-free beer with the masterminds behind and at a book party.
Or it could get you here
Maria's Taco Xpress
Or here...
Whip In, Austin
drinking one of these
So see, you just never know until you go.

8. Sleep well in the days preceding the conference. Sleep on the plane. Sleep afterward. There won't be a whole lot of sleep during the conference.

9. Get dressed like you mean it. Sure there will be bloggers running around in jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts and that's totally fine particularly if your blog is and you have 3 million twitter followers, four cookbooks, and a television show. Keep in mind, however, there will also be plenty of beautiful, fit, adorable bloggers in tailored dresses, heels, and bright trendy necklaces. Go ahead and give yourself the mental boost of looking your best. It'll help tremendously as you balance your platter of croissants and bacon at the table of bubbly, young, hot, tan healthy living bloggers.
My attempt at fashion
10.Catch the keynotes if you can. It's okay not to get to every single session, chat, and event. But make time for those that catch your attention. One of the most enlightening conversations I had of the entire weekend was with Binghamton, NY city councilwoman and all around extraordinary woman, Lea Webb. She's not a blogger, doesn't have kids, heck, I don't even know if she cooks, but man, was she cool to talk to! We ended up sitting next to each other on a bus and had so much to cover I didn't want the ride to end. On the other hand, it could have been a little awkward had I missed her keynote. Just saying.
There you have it. BlogHer Food 2013 in a nutshell. Well, my nutshell anyway. If you're on the fence or feeling "too small" for a big blogging conference I'm here to tell you, you're not. Yes, Molly Wizenberg was there and Ree Drummond made an appearance at the closing party but I also met several bloggers who were just starting out...or had not even started a blog yet at all. And if you do decide to attend next year and are feeling like no one wants to talk to you...just come find me! I'll be the one hiding in the bathroom with my iPhone.

Monday, June 10, 2013

50th Anniversary Ribs Throwdown

My amazing parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last month. That's half a century, people, which definitely warranted a hardcore anniversary party and full blown family reunion over Memorial Day Weekend.
Obviously nothing says 50 years of wedded bliss like heaping platters of baby back ribs, which must be why my sister, Anne, chef and culinary genius behind Chefanti, (check out their awesome concept for simplifying dinner here) challenged Mufasa, husband extraordinaire and King of the Big Green Egg, to a cut-throat friendly, family-style ribs throwdown. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. Don't forget the wet naps.
Meet the competitors. That's Chef Anne there on the left, or Chefanti, as she's known to a slew of nieces and nephews. And there's Mufasa (apparently along with his towel collection?!) on the right. The way they're cradling those beers and mugging for the camera you'd think the day was all hugs and rainbows. But you would be wrong.

Here was the scene just moments before...
Check out the chaos in kitchen stadium. Sauces simmering, meat getting garnished, anxious chefs pacing the floor, Paparazzi hovering around the corn. No joke.

And then...a last minute surprise from Mufasa who pulls out not one but two types of ribs - traditional BBQ and a second platter with a sesame scallion Asian flavor twist!

The contenders...

The judges swarm the table

The votes are in and despite some discontent with the voting process...
The winner is....

Despite a two vote deduction for flagrant trash talk and losing two more votes for not making enough ribs (c'mon, seriously, Chef!), Chef Anne pulled off a heroic victory. Now, there is a theory floating around that Mufasa may have split his votes by throwing two types of ribs into play at the last minute, but it doesn't really matter. The real winners here were the family of hungry judges who got to tear apart three platters of crazy good ribs. That's a party, my friends.

Mufasa has already made public his Fork-Tender Baby Back Ribs recipe here and rest assured, they are awesome! For now Chef Anne is keeping hers quiet but I'm guessing if you pop on over to Chefanti and shoot her a harassing encouraging email, maybe we can convince her to release the secret winning recipe. What do you say, Chef Anne?

And don't worry. We gave the 'rents a real anniversary party too complete with pretty dresses, heartfelt speeches, cloth napkins, and very little trash talk
Chef Anne's winning ribs