Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Cranberry-Orange-Nut Cookie Bars

I used the cranberry-orange-nut-cookies recipe found at that link (recipe copied below in case it ever disappears from their site) to make our dessert tonight.

Changes I made to the recipe:

I didn't feel like dealing with cookies tonight, so I made them into bars in a 9X13 pan instead. I just sprinkled the 3T of sugar over the top of the bars before cooking. I also used nonstick cooking spray on the pan instead of parchment paper.

The dough is very sticky and I did have to use a small piece of parchment paper to spread and press it into the pan; it was sticking to the spatula and would have been a MESS if I'd used my fingers.

Cooking time for the bars was increased; I cooked mine for 22 minutes and upon cutting them, they were still somewhat gooey. Could definitely use a little more time. I left them in the pan to cool rather than removing them after a minute.


The batter was VERY tasty! Sweet and citrusy, with a nice nuttiness. And there are no raw eggs to worry about either! (Not that we wouldn't eat it anyway if it DID have them, but we like to flirt with death around these parts.) As mentioned though, it is very sticky, even after being refrigerated for half an hour.

Family feedback:

K-Pidge: The bars rose quite a bit more than I expected them to; that was nice. The 3T of sugar on top was a bit too much (not in flavor; I have quite the sweet tooth, much to my diabetic regret!); there was plenty still rolling around when I shook it gently after baking. I will try cutting back to 2T of sugar next time. These bars, even slightly undercooked, were DELICIOUS! OH MY GOODNESS. I wouldn't change a thing, except maybe the aforementioned cutting back of the sprinkled sugar, and cooking them a tad longer. SO GOOD. The doubled bar-portion is really generous too; I was very happy with just one.

Mr. K-Pidge: Reserves his final say for the next time when we allow them to cook a little more fully, but otherwise they receive high marks. Flavor is great. "I wouldn't mind if you made these more often," he says. He wouldn't change anything per se, but noted "chocolate chips... chocolate chips would KICK ASS."

Boy K-Pidge (6): These are great! Make them again, don't change anything.

Girl K-Pidge (4): Has thus far refused to try them out of sheer orneriness.

Frugality Rating:

By turning it into bars, I cut the number of servings in half, from 30 to 15. That changes the cost differential a little; but also, let's be realistic. The cookie serving was ONE cookie. Who eats just one cookie?! That's right, NO ONE. So a doubled-up bar is probably more realistic anyway. Outside of that... this is a pretty simple home-baked good. It relied largely on ingredients I already had on hand, and it didn't use all of any of these items, meaning it would take a whole lot of math for me to figure out the exact cost of each bar, BUT, I'm guessing it's 50 cents or less a piece. Pretty frugal dessert, if you can keep yourself from eating the whole pan! But even if you DID eat the whole pan, it was probably only about $7 or so. Not too shabby.

Health rating:

The site says the nutritionals for one cookie are as follows: Per cookie: 102 calories; 5 g fat (0 g sat, 1 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 94 mg sodium; 24 mg potassium.

(I haven't figured out how to examine our diet for proper levels of fat, protein and carbs yet, exactly. I mostly count calories to try and lose weight, but since I'd like to change the QUALITY of the food we're eating, I'll need to figure that part out eventually.)

Now, since I halved the serving amount, you'd need to double that per bar. So 204 calories per bar, which isn't too bad for a snack (again, if you only eat one!). Diabetes-wise, that jumps it 30g carbs, which is about double where I want to be for a snack. All things in moderation.

Reheat rating:

It's a cookie-bar. It should freeze pretty well, I'd think. I threw one in the freezer to test at a later date. As far as making ahead and how long they'll last, says this: Make Ahead Tip: Prepare the dough through Step 2, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. So, this should be a pretty good holiday treat recipe, since it can be prepared ahead of time. I will report back on how well the frozen cooked version held up!

I did not reserve any batter to freeze, but I bet this would hold up quite well in the freezer too. It doesn't have any ingredients that really don't freeze well (such as eggs). I will explore this theory at a later date, perhaps closer to the holidays.

Is it a keeper?

OH MY YES. It was delicious. Five out of five spoons. A definite win!

Recipe in case it ever disappears from the site:

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 cup smooth, unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir in walnuts and dried cranberries.
Whisk 1 cup sugar, applesauce, oil, orange zest and juice in a medium bowl until smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
Put the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar into a small flat-bottomed dish or pan. Roll the dough with floured hands (it will be very moist) into 1 1/2-inch balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake the cookies until barely golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the pan for 1 minute; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This is part of K-Pidge's efforts to feed her family healthier, more nutritious foods. For all posts in the K-Pidge Healthy Family Project, click here.

Review: Spicy Shrimp and Bok-Choy Stir-Fry

Tonight I decided to try the Spicy Shrimp and Bok Choy Stir-Fry recipe found at that link (also pasted at the bottom in case the link ever goes away). I also made a variation of asian-inspired noodles to go along with it. (Spaghetti noodles cooked and drained, then tossed with 1 cup vegetable stock, 6 T soy sauce, 1 T sugar, and 1 tsp sambal oelek.)

Changes I made to the recipe:
Instead of using chili-garlic sauce, I used sambal oelek (chili paste) and added extra garlic to it. I already had sambal oelek on hand from a past recipe, and in comparing the two bottles at the store, they seemed identical except for the addition of garlic, so I decided to be a little frugal and use items I had on hand already.

I also forgot to garnish with the green parts of the scallions. To be honest, none of us care for them very much, and I always add less than a recipe calls for (just enough for flavor). By the time I finished putting this recipe together, I had honestly quite forgotten about them.

Family Feedback:
K-Pidge: thought it was so-so. The noodles were a variation on a previous recipe we'd tried and really liked, but I modified them to have less sugar, which really cut out the sweet quality I liked previously and made it a little tangier than I wanted. The shrimp was really good, but I thought the spiciness was a LITTLE too overpowering. I might go easier on the sambal oelek next time. Overall I wasn't a fan of the bok choy; too earthy. (I am really picky about greens, but I'm trying to find ones I like!)

Mr. K-Pidge: liked it a lot. He wouldn't make any changes. MAYBE if I used the 'right' Chinese noodles, lo mein noodles or something. Otherwise it is tasty and spicy and even visually pleasing.

Boy K-Pidge (6): doesn't like it. It's too spicy. He would make it less spicy. Otherwise he likes shrimp and bok choy and noodles.

Girl K-Pidge (4): liked it ok. Didn't like the spiciness of the noodles, but she liked the spicy on the shrimp OK. However, she keeps insisting she doesn't like shrimp, even though she eats them every time we have them.

Frugality rating:
This recipe is not very frugal simply because shrimp, at least here in the Midwest, is not cheap. I think the bag of shrimp I bought was $13. All total this dinner probably cost about $22, give or take. It gave us   6 servings, since the kids didn't eat very much. So it was roughly $3.70 each for us to eat dinner tonight, plus two leftover lunches.

Health rating:
The shrimp and bok choy, per serving:
225 calories
6 g fat (1 g sat)
9 g carbohydrate
35 g protein
3 g fiber
525 mg sodium

I haven't figured out how to examine our diet for proper levels of fat, protein and carbs yet, exactly. I mostly count calories to try and lose weight, but since I'd like to change the QUALITY of the food we're eating, I'll need to figure that part out too. Calorie-wise, this part was great, and as a diabetic, it was low-carb too. Fresh seafood and fresh greens, not too much sauce, sounds like an overall healthy dish to me.

The noodles, I used whole-wheat pasta (score, I think), but I know that part added calories and carbs. I haven't figured out the nutritionals on that part, and I'm not going to bother until I've perfected the way I want them to taste. I don't think it's bad as a side carb, but it should definitely not be the main focus of the dish.

Reheat rating:
I took one of the extra servings and split it in half; put one in the fridge and the other in the freezer. I will come back and rate the recipe's 'leftover' rating, as well as the 'make ahead and freeze' rating, at a later date!

Is it a keeper?
Flavor-wise, it needs some modifications to be a whole-family pleaser. Cost-wise, it's a little high but not TOO bad; this would rank it as an 'occasional' dish and not a staple. Health-wise, it seems to be fairly decent. The reheat rating, of course, remains to be seen. Overall, three spoons out of five; would make again, but with some modifications.

The recipe, in case it disappears from the South Beach site:
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced and kept separate
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boy choy, sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
In a large bowl, combine shrimp, scallion whites, and garlic. In a wok or a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink and are cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a large clean bowl.
Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add bok choy, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain any liquid from the skillet and add bok choy to bowl with shrimp.
Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add soy sauce and chili-garlic sauce; stir to combine and bring to a boil. Add shrimp mixture and toss until coated. Cook briefly, just to reheat. Stir in scallion greens and serve warm.
This is part of K-Pidge's efforts to feed her family healthier, more nutritious foods. For all posts in the K-Pidge Healthy Family Project, click here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Better Diet, Day 0

Let's talk about what my family ate today, shall we?

Breakfast? I didn't have breakfast. I'm pretty sure no one else did either.

So when did we first eat? I believe it was around 1:30. We stopped at McDonald's on our way to my dad's (he was going to watch the kids while my husband and I visited my mom in the hospital). Kids had Happy Meals with chicken mcnuggets, apple dippers, and chocolate milk. My husband and I both had southern-style chicken sandwich meals with fries. He added bacon to his sandwich. I had a coke, he had iced tea - half sweet, half unsweet.

On the way home from the hospital we stopped at Wendy's; I didn't really pay attention to what he ordered. I think he got a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger and something else. I wasn't really hungry but I decided to get an orange float anyway. After I ordered mine, he got one too.

I have no idea if the kids ate anything at my dad's.

When we got home, the kids played outside for a while. Then they came in and watched some TV. I'm pretty sure they snuck some candy from the pantry, and that their friends brought in some candy too.

After bathtime, they each had a snack - trail mix from Aldi (the kind with nuts, raisins, and chocolate and PB chips) and an Aldi juice pouch.

Now I'm about to have my dinner; leftover wings from B-Dub's and leftover shrimp with Jack Daniels' sauce from TGI Friday's.

I will admit that I am a little more stressed and rushed than usual due to my mom being in the hospital (she just had open heart surgery on Friday), but this is not completely atypical for us. No regular eating schedule, lots of food-on-the-go, indiscriminate snacking, not the healthiest choices, and god knows what's actually IN any of that food.

What did you feed YOUR family today?

A Better Diet

My husband and I have been talking a lot lately about how we'd really like to change our overall family diet. Basically, we want to eat healthier, eat out less, and cut out most of the processed food in our diet. Go primarily with homemade, natural foods. That sounds fairly simple, doesn't it?

And yet, it feels totally overwhelming. It's funny; from years of dieting and trying to lose weight, I am probably an expert on healthy foods. I can walk through the grocery store and pretty much tell you good, bad, good, bad, good, bad. What I struggle with is the overall picture. Putting it all together every day, for every meal and every snack. I could bring home a cartful of healthy groceries and then find that I didn't get anything that will work for a fast breakfast for me and the kids when we're running late (which is pretty much every morning). I will go to find a snack to send with my son to school and see that I have nothing portable or easy. I will go to make lunch or dinner and be totally overwhelmed at how to put what I have together into a meal.

A large part of this is making the change itself, I believe, and purging the toxins from my body. It's HARD. Even the idea of it is hard. You're talking to a person who has made a lifetime of eating convenience boxed foods, sugary cereals, candy, more sugary goodies, fast foods, and so on. Which is not to say I don't appreciate delicious healthy meals, but when I'm at home it's so easy to turn to what I KNOW.
My daughter took this picture of me with my iPhone. That's my giant gut. It pretty much sums up everything I'm doing wrong, and everything I'm afraid of.
I struggle with cravings too. I struggle with cravings for bad foods, and resistance to good foods. I can look in my freezer and see that we have chicken breasts, and broccoli in the fridge, and a whole pantry of spices and rices and potatoes and pastas, PLENTY to throw together even a moderately healthy meal, and I will experience a sudden and extreme aversion to having that for dinner. And I will avoid it and avoid it until I can convince myself that it's now late enough to just order out. Wasting money AND not nourishing myself or my family.

And yet, I get more and more scared every day, every time I think about what I'm probably doing to my body, to my family. All the things we put into ourselves every day that are not nourishing us; all the things that might be making us sick over time. All the things making us obese. I am about 80 pounds overweight. I am an insulin-dependent diabetic. My husband is a bit overweight himself. My kids are healthy so far, but I worry about making them sick, or making them fat, teaching them a lifetime of unhealthy habits. I read articles about the things in our food that aren't good for us and I begin to sweat nervously. High fructose corn syrup. Dangers in soy. Trans fats. Ingredients I can't pronounce. Added sugars in everything, from bread to milk to yogurt. High sodium levels in packaged foods. The list goes on and on. What are we eating, and where is it coming from?

I want to do a better job of nourishing my family. I want my husband and I to lose weight. I want us all to be healthier. I want our food to be delicious, I want our food to be easy (most of the time; we're very busy over here!), and I want to save money on our overall food budget.

That feels like a tall order. But it's important. It's important to me, and it's important to my husband. So I'm going to try. I don't really even know where to start. But start I will, and I will chronicle it here.

I'm totally looking for help. Feel free to suggest things we might like to eat, or easy changes we can make!

posted with love from K-Pidge

Friday, October 8, 2010

Scooby-Doo Cake Pops

Has anyone ever tried their hand at Bakerella's cake pops? I have always wanted to, ever since learning about them, and I finally gave it a try last night.

As Tina Turner sings at the beginning of Proud Mary, I never, ever do anything nice and easy. I always do it nice, and ROUGH. In other words, I always see a project I'd like to do and think 'hey, that looks awesome! I bet I could do it AND make these improvements / modifications!' And then I set out to do just that, without ever bothering to try it the easy way first and LEARN what I'm doing.

So not only did I attempt to make cake pops for the first time, I attempted to make them in the shape of Scooby-Doo heads, AND I did this while planning on serving them as the treats for my daughter's preschool class today. No practice runs for me!

I definitely ran into some snags along the way. For one thing, I think I used too much frosting; my cake balls were pretty gooey, even after being in the fridge / freezer. Very hard to work with. For another, I'm wondering if my choice of buttercream frosting contributed to some loss of integrity; Bakerella SEEMS to primarily use cream cheese frosting. My cake pops were very sweaty. I don't know if it's because they were too moist, or if it was the frosting, or what. I also had trouble with the candy melts. They melted but they were VERY thick. I had to add a TON of vegetable shortening, MUCH more than the package recommended, to make it liquidy / pourable / drippable. (Oh yeah, I'd never ever used candy melts before in my life either.) I bought edible decorating pens to draw details on Mr. Doo, but the pops were so sweaty that wasn't really working out, and so I used gel frosting and then I was afraid to wrap them in the little plastic bags I'd bought for them because I didn't want it to smear.

All in all, sort of a disaster. But they looked OK when they were done. I certainly learned a lot along the way. They were recognizable, the kids loved them, and adults that have seen them have seemed impressed (or they're just trying to make me feel better!). And most importantly, they TASTE DELICIOUS. Which is really what's important when it comes to treats.

"Scooby Doo and the Mystery of the Messy Cake Pops"

You start by baking a cake, and then letting it cool completely.

Make up a batch of frosting, or buy a can of premade frosting (also something Bakerella does a lot, and maybe that frosting has a better consistency too; I shall have to experiment. Oh, darn.) I used Wilton's buttercream icing recipe. It may have been too moist. Or too wet. I don't know. I might have just used too much. So many variables!

Crumble up your completely cooled cake, then add some frosting and mix it together. You need just enough frosting to make it sticky, I think; this was WAY too moist. I did not follow the cardinal rule of "you can always add more but you can't take away".

Make some balls out of that stuff. I rolled mine by hand. They were REALLY sticky at first (another sign that I'd made them too moist), so I did my best, froze them for 15 minutes, re-rolled them, and stuck them back in the freezer for ten minutes, then put them in the fridge.

I forgot to buy candies that would make good ears and noses (because I also have a tendency to go off half-cocked and not make a complete plan when I start experimenting), so I had to make do with what I had in the house. Candy corn. I chopped the yellow bottoms off for noses, and split the remaining triangle for ears.

Then I started making Scooby-like shapes. This was REALLY hard. At first it was hard because I wasn't sure WHAT a Scooby-like shape would be, even though I had printed a picture of his head as a guide. Eventually I got into a rhythm and got that part down (mostly). THEN it was hard because the balls were so damn sticky, I had to keep them in the freezer. I had two pans of them rotating in and out of the freezer; I'd do a couple of shapes from one pan, stick it back in the freezer, do a couple shapes from the other pan, and keep going back and forth. I'm pretty sure Bakerella has never had to do that.
Another thing I would do differently is I would use some of the candy melts as 'glue' for the candy pieces. Most of them stayed in place OK, but several of them slipped during the dipping process. Also, the noses were virtually unnecessary at the end. What I would have LIKED to do is use a chocolate chip on the outside of the nose, but as I mentioned, I forgot to buy candy supplies, and I happened to be out of chocolate chips. Woe.
On the plus side, placing the candies when I did helped me get a better idea of what he was going to look like and how to shape the heads properly.

Dipping. What can I say about dipping? It was fun. It was tasty. It was a pain in the ass. The melts were VERY thick, I really had to thin out the chocolate with a lot of Crisco to make it work. It was a little hard to get the hang of the dipping, tapping off the excess, and making it smooth at first. The ears didn't always stay in place. Sometimes I moved the cake pops too much in the melts and they fell off their sticks. I tested a few plain old cake balls and they were MUCH easier. Irregular shapes = harder to dip. Also, the smoother the shapes stayed, the better the finished products looked, which meant more transferring to and from the freezer so they didn't get too mushy.

Collars. I didn't thin the melts for the collars because I decided to just sort of paint them on. My original plan was to take the pops off the sticks, dip the bottoms for the collars, and then put them back on the sticks (as Bakerella did for her Winnie The Pooh pops), but after going through this whole process, I'm pretty sure my mushy cake balls would NEVER have stayed on the sticks if I'd done that, so I went with the "paint on the collars" process. It looked ok.

As I mentioned earlier, my pops were sweating quite a bit, and so the edible ink pens I bought for drawing on his details just weren't really working. So I turned to gel icing.

soulless creepy Scooby faces!

aaaaand, that's about as good as it gets.

So, I learned a lot from my first cake pop adventure, and I look forward to my next trial run! If anyone out there had made their own cake pops, I'd like to hear how your attempts turned out. What worked and what didn't? Any tips you can share to help me alleviate some of the problems I had this time around?

- baked with love by K-Pidge
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