Post 119 – 5 Ways to Jazz up Plain Yogurt without adding sugar

I have always been a fan of yogurt. Creamy, smooth, tart and sweet – it is a comforting and easy to eat kid food. I remember eating yogurt pretty much every day while growing up, either packed in my lunch or for an afternoon snack. Though I know my mom tried to give us healthy food whenever possible, it is hard to get a kid to like plain, unsweetened yogurt. Ours was almost always flavored and sweetened while my mom sometimes bought her own tub of plain yogurt to eat for breakfast or sneak into healthified desserts.

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Well you know what they say… like mother, like daughter. As it happens, I grew up and began buying myself plain yogurt to have with my granola. Though I have adjusted to the lack of sweetness, sometimes I want to add a little something more to make it special. Here are five ways to jazz up your plain, unsweetened yogurt without adding excessive amounts of sugar.IMG_1516

1. Stir in some fruit – fresh or frozen! Thawed frozen fruit can be juicier than fresh fruit and can therefore make your yogurt seem more luxurious and colorful. The night before, pour some frozen berries into a small container to thaw in your fridge. In the morning, drain some juice if necessary and then stir it in. You are adding both color and flavor! Alternatively add a nice fresh fruit like ripe strawberries, raspberries or peaches in the summer.

2. Add some zest! Grate some lemon, orange, or lime zest into your bowl. I find lemon adds a nice zing and freshness to the yogurt. If you really like you can also add a squeeze of juice, but make sure to taste it as lemon juice might make your yogurt too tart. Orange juice, however, would add a nice, natural sweetness.

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3. Stir in your own vanilla. Like vanilla yogurt? Save on sugar and add your own vanilla extract or vanilla paste if you have it. Sometimes just having that vanilla scent and flavor makes it seem sweeter.

4. Sprinkle spices that hint at sweetness. Cinnamon is a spice that people most often associate with sweet things – snickerdoodles, cinnamon rolls, etc. Try adding a little bit of cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg to your yogurt and see how much it sweetens your bowl.

5. Swirl in some (homemade) jam. So this one might be cheating a little bit since jam is usually sweetened, but this way you can at least control how much sugar you are putting in. I like adding a mixed berry jam and barely swirling it into my yogurt. It’s like fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, though you don’t have to wait until the end to find it!

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Try these five delicious ways to jazz up your yogurt and let me know what you think. Top it off with some homemade granola for added crunch and you have a delicious healthier treat!

Bon appetit!

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Post 95 – Food Snapshots

Thanksgiving is over and Christmas will be here any minute! We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with Turkey, Wild Rice, Salad, and Mashed Potatoes. We have been enjoying other delicious foods since then including pizza and cupcakes to celebrate Sam’s birthday. Here are some photos of some of my latest good eats.

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America’s Test Kitchen Quicker Cinnamon Rolls

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Thanksgiving Apple Streusel Pie

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And homemade chocolate sauce…

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Gingerbread granola with crystallized ginger, cranberries, and raisins.

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Homemade pizza in the works

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Yum! Leftovers!

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Cran-Raspberry Birthday Muffins (for Sam)

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Holiday Lava Fudge Cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake – mmmmm!

Hope you had a good Thanksgiving and are almost ready for 2015!

Post 32 – The Comfort Zone

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Like stepping out of your comfort zone (ok I’m a very visual thinker and when someone says step outside your comfort zone I literally picture stepping out of a small area filled with lots of couches. That’s not the point…)

Earlier this week I took a step out of my comfort zone and told a guy that I could cook for a party of 30 people out of his small galley Boston kitchen. I had been automatically  rejecting previous offers to cook for parties that big because I figured it was too big for just me to do, but then I got involved in talking to him and I figured I couldn’t back down.

Long story short – it went amazingly well. People were asking for my business cards (gotta get on that), complimenting me on the food, and expressing surprise that I had made everything myself. I must confess that I couldn’t have done it without Teresa. She was hired separately to help clean up during the party and she was an amazing asset – she helped assemble dishes, take food out of the oven, and clean dishes while I cooked. Without her I would have been there all night and I would have been a lot more stressed about it. I’m very happy with how the night turned out and am grateful I had (and took) the opportunity.

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At the end of the night I swore I wouldn’t go anywhere near the kitchen for the next few days, but after a good night’s sleep I felt more refreshed (not ready to cook for another party of course). Since we needed more granola and it doesn’t take too long to make I made some of my favorite breakfast staple. I have adapted the recipe each time I make it, but I have found a few different recipes that I am very happy with. I find in this humid weather though the hardest part is getting it crunchy enough without burning it.

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The following is an adaptation of a recipe from my aunt in Hartford. You can use any kind of nut butter and any kind of dried fruit (or leave it out and use fresh fruit). It’s very easy to make and is a great snack. Granola is also relatively flexible so you can easily make substitutions or play with the amounts of dry ingredients if you want it sweeter or something. Because I like my almonds chopped and I already had whole ones, I cut these up, though you could use whole or chopped.

 

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Homemade Granola

4 cups rolled oats

1 cup coconut

2 cups chopped nuts of choice

¼ cup canola oil or olive oil

¼ cup peanut butter or almond butter

1/3 cup honey

Measure oats, coconut and nuts into a bowl. In a separate bowl, measure oil, nut butter, and honey with a splash of water (1 Tablespoon). Stir well. Drizzle over oats and stir well to coat.

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Bake at 275 on parchment paper lined sheets for 20 minutes. Switch the sheet pans for even cooking and bake 20 minutes more. Remove and let cool. Stir in your choice of dried fruit if desired and store in an airtight container. Enjoy with yogurt and fresh fruit or as a quick snack.

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granola

Post 21 – Banana Bread Mode

I have been in automatic mode lately. In a bad way. I come home from work and automatically stuff food in my mouth as if it’s something I haven’t already been doing all day (that’s what you get when you work in a kitchen). I respond to what I perceive as dumb questions with automated sarcasm. “No, this chicken isn’t what we’re having for lunch.” Really? Are you really asking me that?

When they respond with a hurt look, I realize I should think before I speak. Do you ever feel like you are not in control of yourself because you are in automatic mode?

No excuses.

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In my case I am on auto-mode mostly when it comes to my food and work habits. At work I’m getting especially lazy. As the school year draws to a close, most of the kids have checked out and so have I, knowing that only a few days remain until summer. Ah summer. The word feels like magic to those mentally still in kid mode (like me!) – summer means freedom from work and responsibility, sidewalk chalk, walking on stilts, fireflies (though alas now I work in the summers). This is not good for my work ethic.

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When it comes to my eating habits, I also fall into automatic mode. I get up and eat the same breakfast (homemade granola with yogurt, fruit, and nuts), snack on random food at school (without thinking about it), go home and snack some more and make dinner when the clock says so. I am in such a rut. Things need to chaaaaaange. (Insert cool time machine sound effects)

Erin Eating Everything!

Erin Eating Everything!

 

We bought a few too many bananas earlier this week, and by mid-week a few had blossoming brown spots sprouting on their yellow skins. The sight of these banana freckles immediately started my culinary wheels a-turning, as I tried to decide what these precious fruits could become: the classic banana bread, banana “soft serve,” or bananas foster?

 

Lewis, the cat, helping out

Lewis, the cat, helping out

In the spirit of operating outside of auto-mode, I opted for something different. I came across a chocolate bar that has been sitting purposeless in my pantry a few too many weeks and decided to put it to work. I melted it into smoothness on the stove and I dunked the banana chunk in it, sprinkling them with cocoa nibs and putting the whole mess in the freezer.

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Now that the beauties are made and sitting in the freezer, I have reverted back to automatic mode: open the freezer and look for a treat. At least this time it’s a different treat.

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(Note to self: Next time don’t forget to put the bananas on parchment paper because otherwise the chocolate bottom layer gets stuck to the ceramic plate! Also, this recipe probably works best with firmer bananas.)

 

Homemade granola - for dipping in the leftover melted chocolate. Mmmm

Homemade granola – for dipping in the leftover melted chocolate. Mmmm

If you’re feeling in a rut, try doing something new for a change – a new workout, a new recipe, some self-discipline (I’m talking to you, me!) You might just find you end up with the life equivalent of chocolate-covered bananas instead of banana bread (what does that even mean?)

I mean, they say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, but when life gives you bananas… make whatever the heck you want!

Happy Friday 🙂

Post 11 – Wooster Local Eats

After a lovely breakfast and conversation with Fong at the Black Squirrel Inn, we continued on to a productive day of wedding venue browsing and delicious eats! For lunch, we enjoyed a lovely meal at Local Roots, a farmers’ market and café. The market sells good quality, local foods that you can either enjoy in their café or take home to cook. They sell a variety of produce and meats from local farms, clearly labeled with where it comes from and, in some cases, information about the farms. At the back, they have a café with wonderful sandwiches and salads (A+ on their Harvest Vegetable and Chicken Parmesan Paninis with homemade corn chips!) They also sell homemade baked goods, jams, teas, granolas, AND they have a little wing off the shop where they sell handmade products like knitted items and pottery. Oh, and how could I forget the mini demo kitchen where they teach a 6-week series of healthy cooking courses to community members for a mere $15 per class! We were there the day of their last class, but we didn’t go back that night to check it out. I was quite pleased to find such a gem in Wooster (thanks for the recommendation, Fong!)

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Our breakfast the last morning at the Inn was a wonderful variation of Fong’s style (Fong-ified as she told us her son calls it) from the previous morning (and this time I had the sense to take pictures!) We began with a pink smoothie topped whimsically with a maraschino cherry (some sort of strawberry, raspberry, pineapple combination?) and moved directly to dessert! Well, the dessert of breakfast anyway – baked pumpkin donuts, drizzled with dark chocolate glaze. IMG_2151

Our meal concluded with what I want to call an egg roll, though in the most literal sense of the word – it was an egg/omelet-like dish rolled up like a spiral with green peas and cheddar cheese to brighten its center. Fong accented the egg with two triangles of sourdough toast and a sprinkling of fennel pork sausage.  We shared our meal with the parents of a prospective student and a professor from Calcutta whose son is a freshman at Wooster. We were able to reminisce about our good old days at The College, while sharing our experiences with the eager parents and assuring them that Wooster got us to where we are today.

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We continued our delicious food escapades at Spoon Market for lunch. This charming store offers baked goods, sandwiches, soups, salads, and doubles as a specialty food store. They offer a limited selection of ethnic foods as well as wines and beers. At the very back of this long store they even have a butcher counter selling good quality (local?) meats. We each ordered a sandwich (named after movies – The Odd Couple & The Hangover), which came with a nice garlic-dill pickle and the option of kale chips or potato chips. Though I wasn’t impressed by my sandwich (I think it was mainly the combination of sweet ham and too sweet cranberry sauce that turned me off) the bread was delicious and I would gladly go back to check out their other options.

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We continued our trip by returning to Boston by way of D.C. Of course we had some tasty eats there too. Stay tuned for my next post featuring a tasty cookie recipe!

Post 10 – The Black Squirrel Inn

“Food is a new religion,” she said.

We had just finished licking the last of the cranberry scone crumbs from our fingers, our bellies full and happy from a generous breakfast. I had never heard anyone put it that way before, but the more I thought about what Fong said, I agreed.

Food is a new religion.

At the Black Squirrel Inn, breakfast was at 8:30, with rumors of homemade scones. I expected something along the lines of scrambled eggs and fresh fruit, but was delightfully surprised by the three-course meal prepared by Fong, the Inn’s owner. The first morning we wandered downstairs on time. Fong greeted us with an offer of coffee and tea as we sat down, with our first course already laid out before us: vanilla yogurt scattered with mango, pistachios, and granola. My favorite breakfast! (Well not that combination exactly, but I do love granola, yogurt, and fruit and nuts of some kind.) I was comforted by seeing the familiar bowl of smooth and crunchy, yet excited by the different flavors of this other version. Halfway through our yogurt bowls, Fong brought us each a warm cranberry scone with a dab of butter perched on top. I savored it slowly, happy and satisfied with ending our breakfast there. When our bowls were scraped clean, Fong brought us the final course: a triangle of polenta topped with a poached egg, two asparagus spears, and a bright red tomato purée. We cleaned our plates and patted our bellies, and I felt full with more than the satisfaction of getting enough to eat as we shared our appreciation and conversation with Fong.

Food is a new religion. Food brings people together.

The trends of “foodie,” food studies, culinary tourism, and all the other buzz words of our food realm have turned many of us into faithful food followers, different from the everyday eating experience. Food has a creed, though perhaps not a god. People believe in local, organic, sprouted, all-natural, wheat free, egg free, dairy free, vegan, non-GMO, no high fructose corn syrup (you get the idea). We have lists of what to buy and what not to buy, where to shop and what companies we support, what super foods to eat and what favorite comfort food to eschew. It is new restaurants, food-trucks, underground pop-ups, friends’ dining rooms, and roof-top gatherings that are our sanctuaries and it is the literal communion of friends and loved ones around and across the table that saves us and connects us to a larger meaning.

“Food brings people together.”

Fong repeated the oft-heard phrase that has echoed throughout my food studies and even though I already knew it, I believed it even more. Here we were, strangers sharing the details of our lives, inspired by food put before us. We were becoming friends because of our belief and passion for sharing food and connecting through food. We were ascribing to the food lovers’ creed.