Monday, September 29, 2014

Eggless Applesauce Loaf

We are a month into the new school year and so far we are doing well in the lunch and snack department. Admittedly, we rotate quite a few of the main 'entree' potion of the meal and I change up the sides quite a bit. That's one of the reasons I haven't started posting my Week in Bentos section. I am planning on incorporating a new set of lunch main dishes, so hopefully I will be able to restart that section again.
Every weekend, I try to bake at least two different types of muffins or quick breads so that I can use them liberally in the kids' lunch and snack boxes. LG8 has a really late lunch time this year and needs a hearty snack to tide him over till then. We cant afford to have hungry stomachs interfere with learning minds :). Rather than just sliced apples or pretzels, I try including something slightly more filling. A baked snack bar, or a couple of mini muffins, sandwiches too. Flavorful, healthy quick breads made with multi grain flour and studded with dried fruits lend themselves to interesting sandwiches.

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I was browsing around for recipes when I came across this one at Williams Sonoma. It looked very adaptable and pretty easy to assemble quickly. It would probably have been healthier to make my own applesauce, but store bought organic applesauce, with no added sugar was a good substitute!

Ingredients:
1 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 C amaranth flour
1/4 C stoneground corn meal
1/4 C spelt flour
1 C walnuts, coarsely chopped, or 1 cup dark or golden raisins (I used raisins)
2/3 C sugar (I used a mix of regular sugar and coconut palm sugar)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/3 C neutral tasting oil (you could also use coconut oil for a nice change)
1/4 C sour cream or yogurt
1 heaping cup applesauce 
1 tsp corn starch or arrowroot powder

IMAG0087



Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Grease a standard 9 X 5 loaf pan liberally with softened butter or oil.
2. In a bowl, stir together the dry ingredients - flours, nuts or dried fruits, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices and the arrowroot or corn starch. Whisk thoroughly.
3. In another bowl, whisk the oil, sour cream and apple sauce to get a smooth homogeneous mixture.
4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until it is evenly moistened. Mix with a light hand so that the bread doesn't end up as a dense block.
4. Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 55 minutes. Keep checking for doneness after 50 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes and then remove to a wire rack until it cools completely.
7. If possible, do not slice into the bread until it has completely cooled down. It makes such a big difference to the texture and the crumb of the bread!
8. Slice evenly with a serrated knife and serve with butter, jam, peanut butter or even cream cheese for a yummy snack!

Notes:
1. The original recipe called for 2 C of all purpose flour. I replaced half of it with various other flours that I had on hand. Use whatever you have available.
2. The original recipe also called for 1 egg that I replaced with sour cream. You could use yogurt, commercial egg replacers or any other substitute of choice.
3. I sprinkled the top of the bread with some rolled oats before baking for visual appeal!
4. The apple loaf turned out pretty tasty. I sent this in snack boxes, sandwiched with some cream cheese and jelly. It tastes delicious even plain with some soft butter.
5. You could also make mini or regular sized muffins with the same batter. Mini muffins take around 15 - 17 minutes and regular sized muffins need around 22 -24 minutes. If you use smaller loaf pans, adjust the time accordingly.
6. You could add other add-ins such as chopped apples, mini chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, etc. for a variation on the same bread.

Do give it a try!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Danish Pastry - Eggless Baking Challenge

Visit any bakery or avail your self of any continental breakfast in a hotel / motel and you will definitely have either seen or eaten a danish pastry. Flaky layers of  dough with sweet fillings like jam or savory ones like cheese, these pastries are rich, indulgent and are definitely on my "have once in a blue moon" list. When I saw that the next thing that the Baking Eggless group was going to attempt, was Danish pastry, I was apprehensive to say the least. I had seen cooking shows where the method of making the dough had been demonstrated and "easy" had most certainly not been the key word. But what's the fun in being a part of a challenge group, if one doesn't attempt any challenges? Stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things definitely expands your knowledge and your confidence. So attempt I did.
As usual, I left things until the end of the month. Given that we also had a major Hindu festival to celebrate at around the same time, it wasn't until the first weekend in September that I was finally able to make the dough and bake off the pastries the next day.



Recipe source : Joe Pastry

Ingredients:
For Pastry Dough:
2/3 c milk (I used whole milk)
2 Tbsp sugar
11/2 tsp instant yeast
2 C unbleached all purpose flour + more as required
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C yogurt (replaces 1 egg)

For the butter slab:
8 ounces of unsalted butter
3 Tbsp flour



Method:
1.I followed a slightly different order of making the dough. The original recipe had us making the dough first and then refrigerating it. I made the butter slab first and refrigerated that. I followed a youtube video that made the dough this way.
2.I brought the butter sticks to room temperature and then creamed it along with the flour until everything was well incorporated.
3. Using a butter knife, spread the butter - flour mixture into a roughly square shape on a parchment paper. Scrape off all the butter from the bowl onto the paper. You dont want to waste any butter after all!
4. Cover the butter square with another parchment paper, smooth it with your hands and then place it onto a flat cookie sheet and refrigerate for a few hours or even overnight.
5. For the dough: Warm the milk slightly. Add all the ingredients to the same bowl and knead lightly until a smooth and slightly sticky dough is formed. Add about 1 3/4 C of the flour first and then if needed, add by the tablespoon to make a dough that is easily kneaded. This dough doesnt require as long or as vigorous kneading as a bread dough. Once the dough came together, I kneaded lightly for about 3 minutes.
6. Place the dough back in the bowl. Cover it with a clean tea towel and place it in a warm area for the dough to rise.(about 2 hours)
7. After about 90 minutes, remove the butter slab from the refrigerator.
8. Now begins the fun part of laminating the dough!
9. Roll out the dough, using extra flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and the counter, into a shape that is slightly larger then the butter slab. It should be big enough to just cover the butter slab from all sides.
10. Once the dough is rolled out, peel the butter slab from the parchment paper and place it in the middle of the dough. Bring up the sides of the dough to cover the butter and encase it from all sides.
11. Keeping the seam side down, roll the dough gently but quickly into a rectangular shape.
12. Brush any residual flour that might be on the dough and then fold the dough like an envelope. The original site has very detailed pictures and referring to it will be very useful.
13. At this time, the butter in my dough started melting. It is the middle of summer here in North Dallas and temperatures are quite high. Not a very good time to be making laminated dough for the very first time, but still. So I quickly transferred the folded dough onto the cookie sheet and chilled it for 25 minutes.
14. Repeat the process two more times, rolling into a rectangular shape, folding into an envelope and then refrigerating for about 20 minutes.
15. Once the final folding was done, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, plunk it down on the baking sheet and send it back to the refrigerator. You can chill it overnight or you can start baking after about 3 hours.
16. When you are ready to bake the pastries, take the dough out from the fridge.
17. Using enough flour, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch. The exact dimensions don't matter. Try to get it as thin as you can get it. The butter might start melting and oozing out again. You can either patch up using flour or cooling it again.
18. Then proceed to cut and shape the dough according to whichever style you have chosen.
Here are a few options to make with danish pastry dough. 
I made the pinwheels. Cut the dough into rough square shapes. With a pair of kitchen scissors, cut from the 4 corners stopping just before the center. Take the right edge of each of the resulting triangles and secure it at the center to form a pinwheel shape. Form a depression in the center and then spoon in some jam into the center.
19. Once all the pastries are shaped, place them on a parchment paper on a cookie sheet, cover with the previously used parchment paper and let rise for about 45 minutes.
20. Preheat the oven to 375 deg. Once the dough is risen and the over preheated, bake the pastries for about 15 - 20 minutes, until they are puffed and golden brown.
21. Cool for a little while before enjoying the rich and flaky pastries.

Notes:
1. Like I mentioned previously, the heat made it slightly difficult for me to roll out the pastry as thinly as I would have liked. Though the pastries were flaky and crispy, they were not as delicate as I would have liked. They were slightly bigger and thicker.
2. The quality of the butter matters because you can taste a lot of the butter in the layers. So use a good quality butter.
3. A lot of patience is required to make the dough and to roll it out. So give your self enough time for the preparation.
4. We all liked the pastries, but they are too full of fat and calories to be had frequently, much less made on a frequent basis.



Sunday, August 31, 2014

SweetLeaf Sweet Drops Cola - Review

I have never been a big soda drinker. Yes, I do enjoy the occasional chilled Pepsi or a Coke with a piping hot pizza or a spicy dish. The tart, almost bitter taste of the cola somehow complements a hot, spicy meal and I might indulge myself with one. The key word being indulge, because in my humble opinion, a soda - it doesn't matter what brand is it, doesn't qualify as an everyday consumable item. Other than the fact that soda has absolutely no nutritional value, some brands have about 40 grams of sugar in each serving, that's almost 8 teaspoons of sugar !! Add in the caffeine content and you have an addictive drink that replaces real nutrition with empty calories. Even if you go in for the diet varieties, they almost always use sugar substitutes which are no nutrition powerhouses themselves!


That is just for adults, I shudder every time I see kids guzzling these sodas down. Just think about childhood obesity, nutrition deficiency, dental decay and you will understand why! That's why, when I got the opportunity to review SweetLeaf Cola flavored sweet drops through Moms Meet, I was a little intrigued and a little curious as well. I had of course heard of stevia sugar substitute, I knew that it was plant based and was considered safer amongst all the sugar substitutes on the market, but I had never tried it myself. I always get a bitter aftertaste in my mouth, no matter the brand of the sugar substitute and I just end up using real sugar in lesser amounts.

A few facts about the SweetLeaf cola drops that I came across are:
  • SweetLeaf Liquid Stevia Sweet Drops Cola is a healthy alternative to traditional sodas.
  • All you need to do to enjoy a refreshing beverage is to add 2 - 3 drops of the Cola sweet drops to every ounce of sparkling water.
  • These drops are portable and very convenient.
  • SweetLeaf Sweet Drops contain no carbohydrates, sugar alcohols, calories, methanol, aspartame or sucralose. They are all-natural and gluten-free.
  • They are made with USDA certified organic stevia.


I bought a bottle of sparkling water from my local grocery store and immediately refrigerated it so that I could have a cool base for my cola drops. You could also use ice cubes, if you preferred that.
I then added about 8 - 10 drops of the liquid cola drops, stirred it well. I was pleasantly surprised when I could not detect the metallic aftertaste that I usually experience with all sugar substitutes. The taste was refreshing and the drink was fizzy due to the sparkling water. I could see how it could be used as a substitute for traditional sodas, especially by those who consume caffeinated beverages throughout the day, instead of water. I wouldnt say that using these cola drops would give you a beverage that would taste exactly like traditional soda. It doesnt. But, given that it contains 0 calories, no chemicals and is all natural, it would be worth it to just try and see for yourself.

The retail price is $4.39 for 37 servings and $14.99 for 100 servings. You could also visit SweetLeaf online and use the coupon code ColaMD at checkout to take 30% off your online order. You would also get free shipping with this deal.

Please visit the following links for more information about SweetLeaf.
www.SweetLeaf.com
www.ShopSweetLeaf.com
www.facebook.com/sweetleafstevia
www.twitter.com/SweetLeafStevia
www.pinterest.com/sweetleafstevia


Disclaimer: I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms MeetSM program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms MeetsSM blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Swedish Tea Ring - Eggless Baking Challenge

Do you ever feel that time is slipping like sand through your fingers ?? I get that feeling now and again, when I look at my kids, expecting to see my little babies, but actually seeing little persons, growing and maturing too quickly, right in front of my eyes ! Ever since I started working, I have had less time to spend with them during weekdays, but the job was my choice and so there is nothing for me to complain about :) I have to shift and slide my tasks and schedules around, so that I get to maximize the time and fun that I can have with my little darlings.
For July, the Baking Eggless challenge was to make a Swedish Tea Ring. It is very similar to cinnamon rolls, a rich yeast bread with a filling of cinnamon sugar, nuts and raisins, except it is baked in a circular form, usually in an intriguing design. This delicious bread originated in the Scandinavian region, which can now be separated into the countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. Most recipes seem to have been handed down by sweet grandmothers and continue to be relished in all parts of the world !

There are several recipes and creative designs floating merrily on the internet. Take your pick, but definitely give it a try !
The recipe we adapted is here.

Ingredients:
For the dough:
1/2 C milk
1/4 C ricotta cheese(substituting for 1 egg)
1/2 Tbs butter at room temperature
11/2 Tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
11/2 C + 2 Tbs bread flour
3/4 tsp active dry yeast

For the Filling: 
1 Tbsp softened butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 C packed light brown sugar
4 Tbsp almond slivers (optional)



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Method:
1. Put the milk, ricotta cheese, butter, sugar, salt and bread flour in a bowl.
2. Proof the yeast with a tablespoon of warm water and add to the bowl as well.
3. Mix all the ingredients well, until a smooth and slightly sticky dough is formed.
4. Knead well for about 5 - 6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
5. If you find that the dough is too sticky, then add a tablespoon of dough at a time, until desired texture is obtained.

IMAG1649

6. Oil a bowl and place the kneaded dough in it. You can use the same bowl in which you mixed the dough.
7. Cover loosely with a clean cloth and place in a warm area to let the dough rise.
8. After about 1.5 - 2 hours, the dough should have risen to double its original volume.
9. In the meantime, prepare the filling by combining the cinnamon, cardamom and sugar.
10. Punch the dough slightly to deflate the air. Roll it out into a 12 X 16 rectangle (approximately)
11. Brush the softened butter over the rolled dough. Leave about half an inch all around so that you can seal the ring properly.
12. Sprinkle the sugar and spice mixture evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the slivered almonds over the sugar and press slightly into the dough. You could use raisins instead of the nuts or you could use both !
13. Starting at the longer edge, roll the dough tightly into a log. Place the log, seam side down, stretching it with a gentle hand and then joining the two edges together to form a circle.
14. Place the circle on a greased baking tray. I lined a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
15. Using sharp kitchen scissors, cut 2/3 of the way through the loaf , at 1 inch intervals. Spread the cut pieces lightly.
16. At this point, I covered the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerated it. It was late in the evening and I didnt want to bake it at that time.
17. I couldnt bake it until the evening of the next day. The sugar and butter had combined to make a syrup of sorts which had oozed out of the dough. I was hoping that my bread wouldnt turn out to be a soggy mess !
18. If your dough is refrigerated, warm it up on the counter top for about 40 minutes. Do the same even if you intend to bake the bread on the same day. The second rise will yield a nice texture to the bread.
19. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Brush the tea ring with milk.
20. Bake the tea ring for about 20 minutes, until the top is golden and the filling seems bubbly.
21. Drizzle lightly with icing when the tea ring is still warm and serve immediately to all the family members who would have trickled into the kitchen following the delicious aromas emanating from there !

Notes :
1. The tea ring was delicious. The covering was flaky and rich and buttery and the filling was sweet and spicy and crunchy.
2. Kids and hubby both loved it and polished it off in a day !
3. The dough came together very easily and I had no difficulty with it at all.










Friday, July 25, 2014

Review : good2grow juices and veggie blends !

The days when juices were an occasional treat are long gone. Nowadays, parents all over have an inordinate number of choices when it comes to these ubiquitous treats. Picnics, birthday parties, casual gatherings, school lunches, summer camps...there is just no end to where juice boxes will make an appearance. For all their omnipresence and choice, the challenge lies in choosing a product that is not laden with artificial flavors, colors and added sweeteners. When you eliminate these culprits from the ingredient list, then there isn't too much of a choice.
When I got the opportunity to try fruit juices from the good2grow line of healthy beverages, I was curious. Since I am always on the lookout for food and drink items that I can serve my kids without any qualms, I was intrigued by the information that I had about good2grow.



The packaging was pretty unique in that a single serve bottle came with a character top which utilizes a patented spill proof design. These tops could then be reused if you purchased a refill pack of juice bottles. The 'SippaTops' come in dozens of character options such as Disney, Pixar, Nickelodeon, Marvel, etc.
I purchased a single serve bottle with a character from 'Cars' and also a refill pack. My kids were as intrigued and thrilled as I was to see this product and couldn't wait to try it out ! They loved the flavor and I loved that it was spill proof ! This way, as long as the top was tightened properly, I didnt have to worry about my kids taking their juice bottles into the living areas and inadvertently spilling the juice all over the carpet !



The good points of this juice are :
  • These juices are made from 100% fruit juice, as well as fruit and veggie blends. They do not contain added sugar, HFCS or any artificial additives or preservatives.
  • The juices come in 6 delicious varieties to suit all palettes.
  • They are sold in 3 different sizes ( 4 oz., 6 oz., and 8 oz.). Choosing the right size for your child becomes much easier.
  • As I mentioned above, the various 'SippaTop' character tops give a uniqueness to the juice bottles. The caps are also reusable and dishwasher safe.
  • All the bottles are BPA-free, non-GMO and recyclable.
  • The veggie blends contain less sugar than traditional juices and also contain one combined serving of fruits and vegetables.
  • These products are easily available at grocery stores, mass retailers and drug stores including Kroger, Safeway, H-E-B, Walmart, Kmart, Walgreens, CVS, Toys"R"Us, etc.
  • It would be convenient to send these single serve bottles as part of a school lunch, occasionally.
The aspects of this product that I didn't like so much:
  • Although I get that the character tops are attractive to kids, I think its a lot of unnecessary packaging. I have never had to bribe my kids to drink juice and in an age where people are trying to be more conscious about their carbon footprint, single serve juice bottles create a lot of landfill.
  • As a parent of two school going boys, I have come to realize that even the best fruit juices, without any additional sugars and artificial additives, are not the best drinks to offer to our kids on a daily basis. Juices have almost no fiber, a lot of sugar(even if its natural) and just add calories without providing the best nutrients. 
But I believe that all treats are permissible in moderation and I make no exception when it comes to juices. So in that regard, I would feel pretty good about offering the good2grow line of juices to my kids when it is accompanied by healthy food choices which include protein and healthy fats.
Other notes:
  • The retail price for a single serve is $2.49 to $2.99. Refill packs range from $2.99 to $3.49. As a conscientious food shopper, I would not pay for single serve juice boxes on a regular basis because buying a big bottle of natural fruit juice is much more economical and "green" ! 
  • Refrigeration of the products is not required but is recommended for better taste.
For more information, please visit the following resources: 
If you would like to receive a free refill pack with the purchase of a single serve beverage, visit win.good2grow.com/mmblogger and enter to win a themed birthday party for your children.
Also be sure to check out the social media experience StoryStictcher at good2grow.com/storystitcher and enter to win a $5000 scholarship and free coupons.

Disclaimer : I received free vouchers for this product from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agreed to review this product and post my opinions on my blog. My opinions are completely my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.