Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Homemade Chocolate Pudding

My good friend gave me this recipe, and since I had a craving for it tonight, I figured I'd go ahead and share it. It's a super-easy recipe for chocolate pudding, and the best part is that because you're making it, you can sweeten it in whichever way you choose, and you don't have to worry about weird thickeners and additives. I made some up while I unloaded the dishwasher after supper tonight.

Chocolate Pudding:

2 cups milk
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sugar (or 1/4 cup honey or agave syrup or maple syrup, or 1/4 tsp stevia powder) *note: you can adjust these amounts a little bit to taste. Feel free to make it a little sweeter if you're in the mood.
3 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla (optional)

You can either microwave this recipe or cook it on the stovetop. It's up to you. If you're going for health, then use the stovetop. :)

Whisk together the milk, cocoa, sweetener, and cornstarch in either a microwavable glass container or a saucepan. If microwaving, put it in for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, stir, and repeat until it thickens to your satisfaction. If you're using the stovetop, stir it periodically, making sure it doesn't burn or stick, until it's nicely thickened. Stir in the vanilla once the mixture is thickened.

Pour it into little glass or ceramic bowls, and eat it either warm or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers. Yum!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sugar-Free Fruit Crisp Goodness

I love fruit crisps. They are the easiest thing in the world to make, they're a delicious dessert, and they're nutritious enough to even eat them for breakfast (or so I tell myself).

Maybe you think I'm weird to be writing about crisp in the summertime. Maybe I am a little crazy. But my goodness, so many summer fruits have made my crisps practically magical lately! I just can't keep it to myself any longer.

So, in honour of this year-round favourite of mine, I present to you my "recipe," which is really more like a whim-driven cooking experiment each time. It's always free of refined sugars, though, so if you're sensitive like me, or just want to eat a little healthier, dig in!

Sugar-Free Fruit Crisp Official Creative Guidelines:

1) Cut up lots of fruit, enough to fill your favourite baking dish to within an inch of the top. Some favourite combinations of mine this summer are apples & blueberries, strawberry & rhubarb, and apples & peaches & blueberries. (I tend to stay way from raspberries because I don't like picking them out of my teeth. If you love them more than you hate their seeds, more power to you.)

2) Sweeten your fruit in any of the following ways:

a) for a small pan (about 8x8 or 9x9), use either 9-12 drops of liquid stevia or a nice criss-cross drizzle (about 1 inch-ish between lines, to give you a rough idea) of agave nectar, maple syrup, or honey. Sometimes, I do a smaller drizzle of maple syrup and 9 drops of stevia. Then, mix the fruit and sweetener together so everything's nicely blended.

b) for a large rectangular pan, use twice as many stevia drops (about 18-24) or just drizzle your honey/agave/maple syrup all over the pan.

*note* If you're using tart apples, like Granny Smith, use the larger amount of sweetener. If you're using sweet apples, like MacIntosh, use less.

3) Sometimes, it's nice to add a good sprinkle of cinnamon to the fruit. It's delicious with any apple combination, but, as it turns out, not so good with strawberry-rhubarb. I'd recommend leaving the strawberry-rhubarb combo alone to do its own thing; it's happier that way. (You can also use a pinch of nutmeg, or use a yummy spice blend that's meant for dessert. Experiment and find a new favourite.)

4) Now, the crumble topping. (I'm afraid it's yet another adventure in getting around measuring. Less dishes to clean that way!)

First, you need butter. You can, if you must, use oil of some kind, like plain old canola or coconut oil, but butter has such a great taste. (Hmmm... I wonder what extra-virgin coconut oil would taste like in a crisp. If anyone's brave enough to try it, let me know how it goes.) If you want the flavour of butter and the health of oil, try using half of each. I melt about 1/4 cup of butter for a small pan, and obviously twice as much for a large one. Melt it in a large glass measuring cup, then you can add the rest of the ingredients without having to dirty another dish.

Mix in 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats and a heaping tablespoon of flour (double these amounts for a large crisp). Drizzle on your sweetener of choice (maple syrup is my favourite for flavour, and stevia is my favourite for healthiness; sometimes, I use a combination of both) in the same way you drizzled it on your fruit. (As you keep making your crisp, you'll know just how much to drizzle each time. This is an exercise in getting to know your cooking well.) Add one egg white for a small pan, and two for a large pan. Don't use the yokes. I've tried it, and the texture just wasn't as nice.

If the mixture looks too dry, add a little more oil or syrup. You want it to be clumpy and damp, not wet and gooey or clumpy and dry.

You can also add some cinnamon to the topping, but it's really not necessary. Oooh, and pecans are also a nice touch. Yum!

5) Spread the topping on the fruit and press it down just a little so it's not too bumpy. You'll want it nice and even or else the top bits will brown faster than any valleys. If you're using pecans, make sure they're squished in for the same reason. (I had sprinkled them on top one time, and discovered that perfectly cooked crisp is not so good with over-cooked pecans on top.)

6) Bake it at 350 F for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the crisp and the temperature of your oven. I always check mine ten minutes early, just to make sure it doesn't over cook. (It never does. I should really stop checking.)

You'll know it's done by sticking a fork in it to see if the fruit is tender of not. The topping will brown if you've used honey, but it won't really brown much with stevia, so that's not always a good indication. I know it's almost done when my kitchen starts to smell divine.

7) Eat it right away, or cover it and eat it later. It's really up to you. It's your crisp. I like mine re-heated if I've left some 'til the next day, which I always aim for because, like I said, it makes awesome breakfast. I do find the pecans are best freshly toasted, although still decently good once they've softened in the leftovers. If you hate slightly soft pecans, eat it all up right away.

You can keep it in the fridge if you want, especially if you're in the throes of a summer heat wave (and fruit-fly season -- ick), but in the winter and fall, I just leave it covered on the counter.

Okay, to recap, and to give you a coherent ingredient list:

cinnamon (optional)
sweetener (liquid stevia, agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, or date sugar)
*If you're using really juicy fruit, like peaches, you might want to throw in a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch or arrowroot starch to thicken it up a bit. You don't have to.

1/4 to 1/2 cup butter, melted, or oil
1 1/2 cups to 3 or 4 cups rolled oats
1 to 2 heaping tablespoons (I mean huge) flour
ample drizzle of sweetener (see above)
1 to 2 egg whites
pinch of salt (optional)
cinnamon (optional)

Now go, and have as much fun as I do making up new flavour combinations. And, for goodness' sake, tell me if you discover something great I haven't mentioned!

p.s. My mother-in-law recently picked up an apple corer/peeler/slicer thingamabob at a yard sale and gave it to me. It is the best thing EVER for churning out apple crisp in no time at all. Even my three-year-old can turn the handle while I mix the topping. How cool is that?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Home-Made, Chemical-Free Deodorant

I don't know about you, but I've tried a couple different "natural" deodorants with no success. Crystal deodorant: still smelly. Random other deodorants from my health store: still smelly. Ick. I can deal with the sweatiness, but I did not want to smell. I didn't even want to smell like mostly roses with slightly smelly undertones. Again, ick.

So, when my friend smelled her armpits in the rest room one day and announced, "My deodorant seems to be working! And I made it myself!" I was all for getting the recipe from her. I told her if it worked well for her, I'd give it a try.

Now, a couple months later, I am in love with my home-made deodorant. I seriously don't smell anything, not even on the sweatiest, most disgusting days, like we've had around here lately. (Holy heatwave, Batman!) I am so in love with it that I will share the recipe with you. It originally came from somewhere else out there in interwebland, so let me know if you know its source, and I'll give credit where credit is due.

Drum roll, please... :

6-8 tbsp coconut oil, in its liquid state
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot starch or cornstarch (I used cornstarch because that's what I had the most of and because it's cheap. My friend used arrowroot powder because some people are sensitive to cornstarch and she didn't want to take any chances.)
Mix it all up, and store it in a jar.

Now, over the last month, when the weather here got really hot and my deodorant completely liquified (coconut oil is such fickle stuff!), I've had to tweak the recipe to make it summer friendly. I basically re-melted it in the microwave, then stirred in another 1/4 cup each of the baking soda and cornstarch (or so -- maybe more). I guess you could say I re-saturated the mixture because the top layer had become only oil, which was completely useless as deodorant on its own. Now, it's back to working like a charm. Just be aware that its consistency will change based on the temperature in your house. The fridge, which I thought would solve this problem, only served to make it rock-solid and almost impossible to scrape out.

Well, I'm off to do some air-conditioned shopping right now. And I know that when I get there, I will still smell like... nothing!

p.s. If you want scented deodorant, I'm sure you can guess it's pretty easy to add some essential oil to the mixture to get the effect you want. Or, if you love the smell of coconut, you can use the extra-virgin variety for a nice, tropical flair. Just don't lick your armpits! (Well... I guess you could, since all these ingredients are edible, but it might be kind of gritty.)