Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fudge Popsicles

Summer is in full swing around here.  We have spent every afternoon this week playing in the water.  Although an air-conditioned house is very appealing to me in my pregnant state, I can't keep my son inside for the life of me.  Everyday following nap time, he requests a rocket popsicle and the sprinklers turned on.  Yes, those rocket pops I posted a few days ago are a huge hit with him.  Ever since I made them and the weather turned freakishly hot, they are his favorite afternoon snack.  Normally, I wouldn't even think of letting him have a popsicle for a snack, but they are made with fresh fruit, and it's summer for goodness sake.  Summertime as a kid means getting to do special things, like staying up late, running through the sprinklers, and eating popsicles for a snack.  Rocket pops may rank high on his list,  just as they did when I was a kid, but as an adult, a new frozen treat has taken their place- the fudgesicle.  Creamy, rich, chocolaty, and oh so satisfying.  I love them because they are indulgent without being overly sweet.  They are the perfect treat to end the day with.   

I have tried almost all the Fudgesicles in the markets, and most are really good.  I merely wanted all that chocolaty goodness minus all the junk.  Look on the back of a box of your favorite fudge pops and you'll likely see a laundry list of ingredients including, sodium chloride, maltodextrin, polysorbate 80 & 65, and artificial flavorings.  Those kind of ingredients belong in a chemist's lab, not in my family's mouths.  The solution?  Gotta make some homemade fudge pops.  A lot of the homemade fudgesicle recipes I came across either were made with pudding mix or had corn syrup or cornstarch in them.  The corn syrup helps the pops not to become too icy, but I found that agave syrup works just as well.  As for the pops made with pudding mix, I am sure they taste really good, but pudding mix is just cocoa powder with lots of junk mixed in- just the thing I was trying to avoid.  Plus, I was trying to make a fudge popsicle entirely from scratch, so those were out.  I think you will find these fudgesicles creamier than any of their grocery counterparts and they are so easy to make. 

I let Jayden be the first to sample them, since he helped me make them the day before and was impatiently waiting for them to harden up in the freezer overnight.  I knew he would love them, what three year old wouldn't love a frozen, chocolate popsicle on a warm summer afternoon?  He graciously allowed me to have a bite, although he said it needed to be a "very small one mom", and I must admit I thought about those pops for the rest of the day.  I could hardly wait until after dinner to indulge myself.  Sinfully creamy, perfectly fudgy, and adequately sweet, I will never buy fudge pops from a box again.

Fudge Popsicles

1 c skim milk ( I used 1%)
1 c heavy cream
1/2 c cocoa powder
2/3 c sugar
2 T agave syrup
1 t pure vanilla extract

Place milk, cream, cocoa, sugar, and agave in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Bring slowly to a simmer, stirring frequently to dissolve cocoa powder and sugar.  Do not let the mixture boil or it will scald.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Let mixture cool slightly before pouring into molds.  Freeze for at least 4 hours, or overnight. 

Pops can be stored for one week in freezer, but I doubt they will stick around that long!  This recipe yielded 8 popsicles, though amount will vary depending on the size of your molds.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Brown Rice and Black Bean Salad

This post is titled brown rice and  black bean salad because that's what I made last night, but you can use any whole grain that you have on hand.  I've used quinoa, barley, and spelt in place of rice and all are fabulous.  We all know that whole grains are essential to a healthy lifestyle but lots of people find it hard to incorporate them into their daily meals.   My biggest dilemma is not incorporating them into my family's diet, but finding new and tasty ways to use them.

 Like I've said before, our family eats a lot of Mexican food, and I always find myself struggling with what to serve alongside our favorite Mexican dishes- besides Spanish brown rice, which I've done a million times.  This brown rice and black bean salad is nutritionally complete and substantial enough to eat on it's own, or wonderful as an accompaniment to enchiladas, tacos, or any other Mexican dish.  With protein, fiber, and antioxidants to spare, it is not only palate pleasing, it really is a nutritional powerhouse.  This salad is chock full of colorful, fresh veggies and lots of vibrant flavors.  I toss it with my cilantro lime vinaigrette and it's so delectable I found myself eating a huge bowl for lunch the next day!

We're all trying to eat healthier and want things that are easy to prepare.  This dish satisfies both of those needs.  It couldn't be easier to assemble and it will leave you satiated without weighing you down.  A perfect dish for vegetarians and carnivores alike!  Ideal for these steamy summer nights, this dish is served cold, which means you can prepare it in advance.  In fact it tastes better if it sits for a couple hours to allow the flavors to marry together. 

Brown Rice and Black Bean Salad

2 C chicken broth
1 C brown rice  ( I used Brown Basmati, but any whole grain will work- just cook according to package)

2 15 oz cans black beans, drained  and rinsed
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 c red onion, diced  (also good with green onions)
1/3 c chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 t cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

Bring chicken broth to boil in large saucepan. Add rice. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 40 minutes.

Transfer rice to large bowl and fluff with fork. Mix in black beans, bell peppers, red onion, chopped cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper.  Pour vinaigrette dressing over salad and toss to combine.  Salad can be made up to 1 day ahead, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

It's official.  Today is the first day of summer.  Mother Nature definitely got the memo too.  It's a sweltering 101 degrees in Sacramento today.  Seven months pregnant, shuttling two rambunctious boys between gymnastics and the park this morning, I was reminded how brutal this summer was going to be.  By the time we got home, they still had energy to burn, yet I was struggling to find enough to put lunch together.  

Needless to say, by the time dinner rolls around, I am pretty much tapped out.  If I'm being totally honest, my energy isn't the only thing wearing thin by 5:00.  Carrying around a bowling ball in my stomach, chasing after a tireless three year old boy, while doing all the other million and one tasks a mother must do, all while enduring the oppressive heat,  have my patience at an all time low too.  So when I tell you that by the end of the day preparing dinner feels like a burden, that is the understatement of the century.

On Sundays, when I sit down to plan the meals for the week, easy is not only ideal, it is a requirement. During the long, hot days of summer I have a tendency to make a ton of salads for dinner.  They are quick, refreshing, and usually don't require turning on the oven.  This summer in particular, with swollen fingers and ankles, and the addition of lots of extra lbs, I am resorting more and more to salads.   As I've told you before, my family is nuts about Mexican food, so on salad night- you know there's going to be a Mexican inspired one.  Tonight's is a fajita salad, chock full of black beans, cabbage, red bell peppers, avocado, and a slough of other ingredients inherent in Mexican cuisine.  I often dress it with a scrumptious jalapeno ranch dressing, but I was in search of something much lighter.  Enter cilantro-lime vinaigrette.  I put cilantro and lime in the salad anyways, so it made perfect sense.  This is the end-all, be-all of vinaigrettes as far as I'm concerned.  I use it not only to dress salads, but as a marinade and sauce for chicken, shrimp, and grilled fish, and as a dressing on a whole grain and black bean side dish I make ( I will post that recipe tomorrow!).  It is delicious and versatile which makes it a perfect staple to add to your summer menus.

Cilantro- Lime Vinaigrette

1/4 c fresh squeezed lime juice ( no lime juice out of a squeeze bottle please!)
1/3 c chopped cilantro
1 T cumin
1 T honey
2 T rice wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c canola oil
salt and pepper

Place lime juice, cilantro, honey, vinegar, cumin, and garlic in food processor.  Blend until well mixed, then slowly stream in oil to emulsify dressing.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer dressing to a mason jar with a tight fitting lid and put in fridge where it will keep for 2-3 days.  Dressing tastes best if flavors are allowed to marry together for at least 30 minutes in refrigerator.  Before serving, shake well to combine if any separation occurs.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rocket Pops

I don't think anyone would argue that summertime as a kid was one of the best times of your life.  Hot days at the beach, warm nights playing outside, not a worry in the world.  I have very fond memories of my summers as a kid, and now as a mom I get the pleasure of watching my son enjoy this glorious time of year.  When I was young, I loved hearing the loud, obnoxious tunes of the ice cream truck.  You could hear it from five blocks away, and me and all my friends would impatiently wait until he turned down our street.  We would all run to him, screaming, hoping he would see us and stop.  My favorite ice cream truck treat was without a doubt the bomb pops.  Red, white, and neon blue, and so darn good.  The red layer was my favorite so I was always sad that it was at the top.  Patriotic, festive, and delicious- they were the ultimate frozen treat.

Fast forward 25 years and I still love popsicles.  They have become one of my son's most requested treats as soon as the weather heats up.  I make him all kinds of frozen concoctions; yogurt popsicles, fruit pops, and homemade ice cream.  With Fourth of July right around the corner, my thoughts wandered back to the summers of my youth, and I knew I had to make him rocket popsicles.  One problem-  I wasn't about to give him the rocket pops I grew up on.  A huge heaping of corn syrup, plus a zillion dyes and additives- not the kind of food I want him eating.  But I wasn't about to deny him his favorite frozen treat on a stick either.  I had to recreate the rocket pop- make a healthier version, with some nutritional value, and no crazy additives.  I use fresh fruit in mine, full of antioxidants and vitamins, and while they might not be the brightly colored ones I remember from my youth, they are delicious and I can feel good about giving them to him.  Plus, he LOVES rocket ships, so you can imagine the look on his face when I pulled out a tri-colored popsicle in the shape of a rocket!  Oh ya, mom scored some points today!

Rocket Pops

Strawberry Layer
2 C fresh or frozen strawberries ( you can also use watermelon or raspberries)
3  T agave syrup or 1/4 c granulated sugar

Put strawberries and sweetener into food processor and blend until smooth.  If using frozen strawberries, let them sit out until slightly defrosted before blending in food processor.
Spoon strawberry mixture into popsicle molds ( you can also use paper cups) about 1/3 of the way up.  Freeze for 30-45 minutes.

Lemon Layer
1/2 C water
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 C orange juice
1/4 t vanilla extract

Bring water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and add lemon juice, orange juice, and vanilla.  Let cool to room temperature.  Pour into molds over strawberry layer, about 2/3 way up the molds.  Freeze until almost frozen, about 30-45 minutes.

Blueberry Layer
2 C frozen blueberries, defrosted slightly
3 T agave syrup or 5 T sugar

Place blueberries and sweetener into food processor and blend until smooth.  Spoon over lemon layer, leaving a little room at the end of your molds, as the popsicles will expand slightly when frozen.  Place sticks in and freeze until solid.

I used Tovolo's Rocket popsicle molds, they are BPA free and have a great rocket shape but any rocket shaped mold will work, as will paper cups.  If using paper cups, just layer and freeze according to the recipe, then peel off the paper when you're ready to eat!  Because all molds are different, you may have some fruit purees leftover.  You can refrigerate the fruit purees and use them as a topping for yogurt, ice cream, oatmeal, or waffles.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Breakfast Burritos

I am a very lucky woman.  My husband works extremely hard so that I am able to stay home with our son.  He has to get up at 4:45 in the morning and isn't home until after 6:00.  Not only does he work hard and long hours, but he has to commute on top of it.  Grateful and appreciative don't begin to describe how much I respect and admire the lengths he goes to to provide for our family.  That being said, as much as I appreciate and love him, I am NOT up at 4:45 preparing him a hot, nutritious meal to eat before he starts his day.  Not that I don't want to, it's just, well, that's a little early for me to play super wife.  That left me with a dilemma.  I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, which is why I never fail to make my son and I a homemade, healthy meal every single morning.  Here we are enjoying hot steel cut oatmeal, omelets, pancakes, and green smoothies while hubby is left with a banana. 

For all that he does for us, didn't he deserve a little more to start his day?  I thought so and so I started experimenting.  He loves breakfast burritos, but I wasn't about to buy him some fat laden, preservative filled frozen ones.  And so began the quest to make the perfect breakfast burrito.  It had to be healthy, portable, and quick for him to heat in the morning.  I was a little worried about how the eggs and filling would hold up after being frozen and then microwaved but hubby says they are delicious!!

Breakfast Burritos

1 package bulk chicken, turkey, or pork breakfast sausage
10 eggs ( I use 7 eggs and 3 egg whites)
2 C breakfast potatoes ( I have made my own and used Ore Ida O'brien frozen potatoes- both are great, just depends on how much time I have and how motivated I am feeling...)
shredded cheese ( I use cheddar and pepperjack)
Sriracha hot sauce  ( or your favorite)
burrito size tortillas, flour or whole wheat

Cook sausage on medium-high until no longer pink and cooked through.

Scramble eggs in a large bowl, add salt and pepper and as much Sriracha as you like- I use about 3 T.  Cook until desired doneness is achieved.

In another pan, cook breakfast potatoes until golden and crispy.  If making your own, add bell peppers and onions.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While potatoes are cooking, shred cheeses.  Set aside.

Combine sausage, eggs, and potatoes together in large bowl.  Allow to cool completely in the fridge before assembling burritos.

Start with one tortilla at a time.  Add about 1/3 c sausage filling in lower half of tortilla.  Add 1 T salsa and top with cheese.  Fold burrito style and continue making burritos until you are done.  I can usually get 12-16 burritos from these ingredients.

Freeze burritos on a cookie sheet or plates until frozen.  Then individually wrap in foil and place in Ziploc bags. 

When ready to eat, remove foil and place a damp paper towel over burrito.  Hubby says they are perfectly cooked at 2 min on high in the microwave , but it may vary.

Wrap bottom half back in foil and enjoy!!!!