Sunday, January 25, 2015

What to do with all that yogurt

Look at that thick, creamy homemade yogurt!  What should I do with it all?  Here's one idea...

Mmmm, honey.  Good start...

Oh, yes please.  Berries!

And some of that Pumpkin Spice Granola for some crunch...

Delicious!  The only problem was that I started with such a small serving dish.
So I wanted to tell you a little bit about why I thought I'd like to try to make yogurt at home.  I have been enjoying Oikos brand Greek Style yogurt for quite some time. I was thinking it was a rather healthy low calorie small meal or snack and it was especially good with homemade granola.  I loved many of the flavors... black cherry, apple pie, banana cream... and a few others. I kind of wondered about the sugar content in the yogurt but I kept gobbling it up. One day when I reached for a carton of yogurt on the shelf at the grocery store, I noticed the label looked different. The item was now labeled as a "dairy snack" and not "yogurt".  I still bought it but it sure made me wonder.  I kept wondering about it so I decided to call the toll free number which I found on the carton.  The folks on the line tried to assure me that their product still contained the same wholesome ingredients, but I never felt as if I got explanation that satisfied me as to why the product is now considered a "dairy snack" and not "yogurt".  It definitely made me think twice about having yogurt as a meal. 
A number of years ago at work, a Nurse Practitioner named Nona presented a class in Healthy Eating to a group of ladies at work.  What she said really stuck with me.  She gave two examples which really made a lot of sense; rice and apples.  She said if you can eat foods in their most natural state, unprocessed and unadulterated, it's better for you. 
Brown rice is best, white rice is not as good since it's more processed, crispy puffed rice cereal is highly processed and is not as healthful and lacks the fiber and nutrients.
A good old apple is pretty good for you, apple sauce is more processed and a lot of the natural fiber is removed, and apple juice contains no fiber and it's really concentrated and high in calories.
I sure liked the simplicity of Nona's advice.
My diet it is far from perfect and I certainly eat processed foods, but I like the idea that I know what is in the yogurt I made at home. 

A label from a carton of yogurt (Chocolate Covered Strawberry).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Brownies with Yogurt, Applesause, and Walnuts

I have been craving brownies for quite some time now.  The other day, when I was making homemade yogurt, I was looking for healthier brownie recipes using applesauce.  Somehow I stumbled across a brownie recipe calling for applesauce and yogurt.  What luck! I now have a bunch of homemade yogurt. 

I just pulled these out of the oven and now the house smells like chocolate.  I am looking forward to trying a brownie when they cool a bit. They look really good.

I am not pretending that these brownies are health food.  But compared to another homemade brownie recipe I've made before (which call for 1 stick of butter) these are healthy-ER.  I used white whole wheat flour instead of all purpose flour.  That always makes me feel a bit better.  Eggs and yogurt are full of protein.  I did use 1 cup of brown sugar as the recipe calls for but I did not pack it down much at all.  I added some walnut pieces to the batter and I know walnuts have anti-oxidants. Applesauce comes from fruit.  And cocoa comes from a plant, so chocolate is technically a vegetable, right?  Ha, ha.  Just kidding.  I also noticed when looking at the original recipe that this 8 inch x 8 inch pan of brownies is considered 12 to 16 portions.  Who knew!?. I was going to cut this pan of brownies into maybe 9 brownies!  Okay, I'll cut them into small portions.

Skinny Brownies from
Recipe link is HERE.

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt (or low-fat sour cream)
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted (I used chocolate chips)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet or milk chocolate, chopped (I used chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces (some mixed in, some placed on top before baking)
  1. Preheat oven to 350ยบ. Spray a 8x8 square pan with cooking spray then line with a strip of parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides. Spray paper with cooking spray, too.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.
  3. In another medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, applesauce, greek yogurt, melted chocolate, eggs and oil. Add the flour mixture and stir until just moistened.
  4. Spread batter in prepare pan. Sprinkle the top with the chopped chocolate pieces.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 30-35 minutes.

Update:  these are great!  They are not very sweet which is fine with me. Next time I might use the full cup of packed brown sugar as called for in the recipe to make them a tad sweeter.  I cut them up and wrapped them up when they were still a bit warm and now they are very moist!

Homemade Yogurt: IT WORKED!

Yesterday, I made yogurt at home.  It was easy peasy!  It doesn't take much.
Crock Pot? Check!
Thermometer? Check!
Yogurt cultures? Check!
Milk. Check?
Thick towel?  Check!
Yep, that's all you need to make yogurt at home. Who knew it would be so easy!

I bought a container of Fage yogurt (you just have to make sure you buy some yogurt which contains live active cultures).

There are loads of tutorials and blog posts on the Internet about how to make yogurt at home in your crock pot. I probably read about 8 different articles, and many of them referenced Stephanie O'Dea's article which you can find HERE.  She's a gal who resolved to use her crock pot every single day for one year, she kept track on her blog, and then she wrote a book or two about her experiences. 
I pretty much took guidance from the various articles I read and put it all together and my yogurt turned out great. It worked. The yogurt cultures did their magic and I made yogurt at home!
I kept notes so I know how to do it again. This is more of a timeline than a recipe.  Slow cookers (crock pots) vary... some run hotter and some run cooler... so using a thermometer is a good idea so you can ensure you are hitting the temperatures you are looking for. The magic temperatures are 185 degrees and 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
7:00 am  Put 8 cups milk in crock pot. Cover with lid. Set on LOW. In this step, you are just gently warming the milk to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.
9:30 am  Checked temperature of milk. Reading was 185 degrees Fahrenheit (This is the temperature I needed).  Since my milk was up to temperature, I tipped the crock pot lid so steam could escape. Turn off the crock pot and allow it to cool slowly until the milk reaches a temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
11:30 am  Milk had cooled to 110 degrees.  Place 1/2 cup of store bought yogurt into a medium sized bowl.  Remove 1 cup of the warmed milk and add it to the yogurt; stir with a whisk to combine.  Add the yogurt/milk slurry back into the warmed milk in the crock pot.  Stir in very gently with the whisk.  Put the lid back on and cover the crock pot with a thick/heavy towel or blanket (you want to block light from entering into the crock pot; the cultures like to work in the dark).  Allow the crock pot to sit, covered, undisturbed. No peeking!
7:00 pm  Check the yogurt, pat yourself on the back, grin from ear to ear because you are a Mad Kitchen Scientist and you made yogurt yourself!  Apparently the longer you let the yogurt sit, the more tart it will become.
Line a strainer or colander with cheese cloth (I also used a loosely woven clean tea towel). Place the strainer/colander in a large bowl.  Stir the yogurt vigorously (I read that this stops the cultures from working, which apparently is something you need/want to do a this point). Spoon or pour the yogurt into lined strainer/colander and allow to drain for about an hour in the refrigerator.  Straining is optional; I like thicker "Greek Style" yogurt so I strained my yogurt.  I had about 2 cups of liquid drain from my yogurt in about an hour's time.  Transfer yogurt to storage containers. Consume as desired.
With my homemade yogurt, I plan to make brownies and yogurt parfaits with granola and berries.  Yum!

Success!  It worked.

Straining your yogurt is optional. If you drain it too much, you end up with yogurt cheese. I just drained my yogurt for about an hour and I was amazed how much liquid drained off. I read that you can use the liquids that drain off for smoothies and other drinks. I put the drained liquid in the refrigerator; I need to do some research to figure out what to do with that. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Candy Cane Marshmallows

I mentioned in a prior post that we've been on a kick where we are trying to use up what is in the kitchen... the cupboards, the freezer, the refrigerator.  Sure, we've been going to the store to buy things to make meals with what we have on hand, but it's been fun to see what we can make.

Yesterday, I made up some lentils and some Candy Cane Marshmallows. The only think I needed at the store was a little jalapeno... for the lentils; NOT the marshmallows. 

For the lentils, I tried a recipe I found HERE called Smoky Lentils with Fire Roasted Tomatoes. The flavors in this recipe are great but, for some reason, my lentils just never seemed to soften up.  The lentils were rather old (do you think that could impact things?)  I added a lot more cooking liquid than the recipe called for. Today, I took the lentils, which I had put in the refrigerator over night, and I added them to the Crock Pot with a carton of chicken broth. I am hoping some simmering in broth will soften the lentils further and I will have a nice soup. I was planning to have the lentils with brown rice or quinoa for work week lunches, but soup sounds good, too!

The Candy Cane Marshmallows are a hoot to make. You do need two specific tools to make marshmallows at home:  a candy thermometer and a stand mixer. I use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. If I remember correctly, I adapted this recipe from a Paula Deen recipe... maybe. It's been a long time. Now I am not sure.  The problem I have with making marshmallow is that the fluff gets so sticky I feel like a quarter of the recipe is wasted because it sticks to the bowl.  It makes me wonder if I don't need to whip the fluff as long as I do. 

Whatever the case may be, these little yummy fluffy pillows of marshmallow-y goodness are AMAZING in hot chocolate.  If you make these and try them in hot chocolate, I am sure you will write to me to thank me. Hee, hee! 

Candy Cane Marshmallows

3 packets unflavored gelatin (I used Knox brand)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup (I used Karo brand)
1/4 teaspoon salt (kosher or iodized is fine)
2 teaspoons pure peppermint extract
3 to 4 candy canes, crushed
confectioners' (powdered) sugar, for dusting

Lightly grease a small baking sheet (I use a roasting pan with sides) with Pam Non-stick cooking spray.  Sprinkle with a light coating of confectioners' sugar using a fine mesh sieve and set prepared pan aside.  Place candy canes in a gallon sized plastic zip close bag and crush the candy canes with a rolling pin or the flat bottom of a sturdy mug. 

Combine the gelatin with 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow it to sit while you make the syrup.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.  Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring and raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin.  Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. Add in the peppermint extract and mix thoroughly.

This is the hilarious part.  Attempt to remove the marshmallow fluff from the bowl!  I found that it helps to use a sturdy spatula to help you with the task, but first spray the spatula with more Pam Non-stick cooking spray.  To spread the fluff into the prepared pan, wet your hands under the tap repeatedly or else the fluff sticks to your hands.

Sprinkle the crushed candy canes on top of the marshmallows.  Let the marshmallows set, uncovered on the counter top over night.

Cutting the marshmallows is also a tricky, sticky mess.  You'll find that the top and bottom of the marshmallows are dry and not too sticky, but once you cut into them, the newly exposed sides of the marshmallows are sticky.  My suggestion is to have more powdered sugar on hand while you are cutting them up and you can roll the marshmallows around in the powdered sugar so they don't stick together.  A nice clean pair of kitchen scissors might be a good tool for cutting up these stick buggers, but I have yet to try that.

Store the marshmallows in an airtight container so they keep fresh for several weeks.  Awesome in hot chocolate. Enjoy! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sweet Vidalia Onion Pork with Peppers

Sweet Vidalia Onion Pork with Peppers

My husband retired from his job December 31, 2014.  I am not sure if his retirement has anything to do with it or not, but for some reason we both got the idea that we should take some time to use the up the food we have in the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards, and stop buying more groceries until we use up some older things.  Sure, we've been going to the store and buying fresh things such as milk, eggs, and vegetables, but we have been doing a really good job cleaning out the freezer especially.  We had three center-cut organic pork chops in the freezer and I decided the slice them into strips and I was about to marinate them in bottled Wish Bone Zesty Italian Vinaigrette, when my husband suggested using the Lite Sweet Vidalia Onion Dressing we both like. I sauted the marinated strips of pork with bell pepper and onion.  We are having this over quinoa and a little salty Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top. This meal is ridiculously easy and quick; perfect for a week night.  We just made this for the first time last week and my husband already requested it again he liked it so much. 

Sweet Vidalia Onion Pork with Peppers

1 to 1 1/2 pounds thick cut, center cut pork chops, sliced into thin strips
about 1/4 cup Ken's Steakhouse Lite Vidalia Onion Dressing
1 medium sized Vidalia (sweet) onion, finely sliced
1 bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow)
salt and pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
grated Parmesan cheese

1.  Cut the pork into thin strips.  Place in a bowl and toss to coat with salad dressing.
2.  Finely slice the onion and bell pepper.
3.  Generously spray a large skillet with Pam Non-stick Cooking Spray. Heat over medium high heat.
4.  Add the pork strips to the pan and brown on one side.  When the pork strips brown, turn over to cook on the other side. Right away, add in the peppers and onions.  Add in a bit of salt and pepper and crushed red pepper flakes.  Toss the ingredients in the pan as all the ingredients cook and cook until pork is cooked through and veggies are still tender crisp.  Total cooking time is about 5 minutes.

Serve over cooked quinoa if desired.  I make up 1 cup of quinoa according to the package directions. While the quinoa cooks, I make some seasoned olive oil [In a small bowl, combine about 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and a few pinches of dried oregano, dried basil, garlic powder, kosher salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes].  I drizzle the seasoned oil over the cooked quinoa and stir it in with a fork to combine.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Easy Spiced Nuts

Easy Spiced Nuts

I have wanted to try a recipe like this for ages. 

See recipe below... But first, some pretty sunrise photos for you. 

Like many folks, I have gotten addicted to looking at things on my iPhone. The other day, before I got out of bed, I was scrolling though things on Facebook. Somewhere along the line a few months ago, I "liked" a page called "Living on a Dime" ( and I am seeing some terrific ideas on that page. So the other morning, after seeing the recipe on Facebook, I popped out of bed and made this recipe. The house smelled like Christmas with the spiced nuts in the oven and, while I kept an eye on the toasting nuts in the oven, I kept an eye on the gorgeous sunrise you see in the photos above. This is the view I see out of the back of my house

I made the recipe as directed but I had a sneaking suspicion 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit was too hot/too long for my oven. I checked my nuts at just 10 minutes and they were already browing. I feard they would burn. I quickly put the nuts on to a clean sheet of aluminum foil, turned off the oven and put the nuts back in the oven to finish toasting just a bit. I checked the nuts after 10 minutes and they were okay, so I left them in about 10 minutes more. So they were in the oven for 30 minutes, but after the first 10 minutes, the oven was off and cooling. 

These nuts are just delicious. Dangerously delicious!  They would make a great gift. I noticed my pecans (which I keep in the refrigerator crisper drawer) were kind of soft but toasting the pecans dehydrated them and made the texture fantastic. 

Here is the recipe as it appears on the "Living on a Dime" blog. 

 Easy Spiced Nuts Recipe

 1 egg white, lightly beaten 
 1 tablespoon water 
 3 cups walnuts, pecan halves, almonds (alone or mixed) 
 1/2 cup white sugar 
 1/2 teaspoon salt 
 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)                    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional) 

 In a small bowl, beat the egg white with the water. Stir in nuts, mixing until well blended. 

In a another small bowl, mix together sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Sprinkle over the moistened nuts. 

Spread nuts on a pan lined with foil or silpat. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Do not burn the nuts.

Skinny Taste Blog: One Pot Cheesy Turkey Taco Chili Mac

I don't think to read the blog called "Skinny Taste" that often, but when I do... I sort of kick myself. Everything on that blog looks so good; why don't I read that blog more often!?

When I saw the recipe for One Pot Cheesy Turkey Taco Chili Mac, I knew I had to give it a try. I read of the list of ingredients to my husband and he liked the sounds of it, too. I did not make any big changes to the recipe. I looked for the gluten free pasta recommended in the recipe but couldn't find that particular brand. I opted for Barilla brand mini-bowtie pasta, which is one of our favorites. When we sat down to eat this meal, I grabbed some low fat sour cream and also some good and crunchy corn tortilla chips and put them on the table. We both agreed the addition of these two garnishes added a lot as far as taste and texture. I think shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, pickled jalaneno slices, and sliced black olives would also be good garnishes. If I would have had plain yogurt, I could have saved some calories using that in place of the sour cream.  

This dish reminds me of Hamburger Helper... but much healthier. I definitely need to keep an eye on the Skinny Taste blog for more great recipes like this.  Oh, by the way... do you like the looks of my NEW red dishes?! I really like them!