Serious Chocolate Announcement

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chocolate

Here’s the answer to one of life’s most burning questions.

It’s probably been keeping you awake nights, too…

“How to make gluten-free, dairy free, sugar-free, low carb chocolate?”

(I knew you were agonising over it!)

The search for the holy grail of chocolate recipes has taken me down some stoney paths, friends, but today.. it was all sweetness.  Here’s what you need:

1/3 cup xylitol (or natvia, or truvia, or erythritol) ground in blender, food processor, or coffee grinder. You want it as fine as possible, or just use your favourite un-crunchy sweetener.

xylitol

Despite the blender treatment and a go grinding by hand, the xylitol gives a crunchiness that doesn’t sit well with me, but the rest of the house voted the crunchiness was actually desirable. (No accounting for tastes!)

xylitol

I cup cacao butter

This beautiful stuff is the reason your chocolate will set firm, and stay firm, and not need to live in the freezer as it would if made on coconut oil or regular dairy butter.

cacao butter

I  cup cacao powder  This is very taste-yourself-y, depending how strong and chocolately you like it.  Start with a cup, and add more until it tastes chocolately enough. Don’t feel guilty about being liberal.  As a source of antioxidants raw cacao leaves berries, regular dark chocolate, and drinking chocolate for dead.

cacoa powder

nunaturals powdered stevia  a few hefty shakes – also have to keep tasting and adding until it tastes right.  Hard work, all that chocolate tasting..  Naturally if you have a favourite sweetener you’re happy with, there is no need to add the extra stevia.  I use it to add extra sweetness while keeping the carb count low. (Xylitol is low carb, stevia is carb free)

Melt your cocao butter in a double boiler, or a bowl over hot water.  Don’t get any water into your cocao – water and chocolate don’t love each other.

Under no circumstances, ever, add the xylitol now, thinking it will melt.  It won’t.  I know this to be true. 😛  (It will go back to even bigger crystals than before you ground it up, and if you’re not real quick to notice, it will turn into toffee right there in your cocao butter.  It’s safe to trust me on this.)

cocao butter melted

I transferred the melted cacao to a food processor (because, ahem.. of the, ah.. crystal toffee issue I mentioned) but feel free to make your chocolate right there in the bowl you melted the cacao butter in after taking it off the heat.

Add a cup of cacao powder and half of the xylitol and whisk! Whisk!

Have a bit of a taste.

Not sweet enough? Not chocolately enough? Add more cacao powder, and more sweetener until you reach the point that you try the mix, and have to restrain yourself from taste testing right to the bottom of the bowl.  When you reach that point, ADD MORE SWEETENER.

Yes, you read that right.  Add a bit more.  Because without being able to give you an explanation, my chocolate experiments have been consistent in this one thing: it tastes much sweeter before it sets.

Add any flavourings you fancy: peppermint oil, orange oil, cinnamon, vanilla, nuts.. whatever moves you.  I was going for straight up, but you be as creative as you like.

Now, friends, if you prefer MILK chocolate (“though goodness knows why you would?!” says the Lindt 75% dark girl) you can add coconut cream at this point.  It will turn your mix kind of fudgy, but it will still set firm – though with an ever so slightly less smooth texture and without the gloss of the dark chocolate.  Of course, if you don’t care about gloss on your chocs go right ahead and toss in the coconut cream.  The Bluestocking household is evenly divided on the for/against adding coconut cream, so I recommend if in doubt, pour half your mix in as dark, then add the coconut cream to the rest of the mix.  Hedge your bets.

Pour into moulds, and wait ten mins.  Then….

Ta dah!

chocolate buds

Have fun experimenting!

chocolate logs

Oh. And I wouldn’t be being responsible if I didn’t warn you.. if you eat a lot of this late at night (strictly in the interests of health, of course) you may have trouble sleeping.  Packs quite a punch.  If you can eat Lindt 75% with impunity at night, disregard this little heads up.  But if your mind buzzes and your eyes pop after a leeetle too much Lindt, expect the same with this!

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Chocolate: not just for breakfast anymore!

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Yes, Bloggy friends, it’s a chocolate so good for you, that you can eat it regularly, and guilt free.

You can!  Honest! 😀

I have to thank my Mama ♥ for this new addiction recipe: she is a great experimenter!

Now.. before we go any further, I must preface this with saying I am a heavy Lindt dark chocolate user.  If you’re a milk chocolate fan, you may want to try some of the tamer recipes out there using condensed milk to sweeten.  Or you could play around with this one and add more sweetener than I have.

I regularly use coconut oil and am happy with that taste, but if you and coconut oil are not well acquainted, try it with mostly butter first.  It won’t be as good for you (don’t get me raving on the benefits of coconut oil!) but you can build up to it.

Here’s the list of so-spanking-good-for-you ingredients that even your weirdest, most alternate, sugar hatin’ , barley green eatin’, homeschooling friends won’t grimace at.

Ready? 😀

3/4 cup honey ( I use raw.. because it’s good for you! But any honey with a mild taste will do.)

stevia to taste (it’s not necessary: you can add more honey, but stevia adds a big punch of sweetness with zero calories.  AND it contains nothing artificial. It’s a herb. 🙂 )

125 grams butter

1/2 cup coconut oil (now remember… if you don’t normally use it, add a couple of tablespoons, and make the rest of the measurement up with extra butter.)

1/2 cup cacao powder  (you can use more if you want a more chocolately taste, and this friends, is the beauty of this recipe: the amount of times you have to taste test it while making.  Glory!)

Almond meal. I used 125 grams, but you could add more.  It gives the mixture body, and almonds are yummy.

Mix the whole lot together.  There is no need to warm it, even, if room temperature has your coconut oil runny and your butter soft.  If it’s cold, or you are impatient, then warm in a double boiler enough that you can blend the ingredients.  It doesn’t need to cook in any way, it’s only necessary  to make the ingredients blend.

And now for the fun part…  (um… that would be more taste testing! 😛 )

Here you add whatever grabs your fancy.  I *adore* peanut butter.  So, if I have it on hand, I add great wads of peanut butter to the mix.  Oh, but not that stuff you buy in the supermarket that has no taste.  If you go to the health food shop (unless you are a REAL die-hard homeschooler and have your own super juicer that makes nut butters..  or you can just go to the health food shop as I do) they will grind it fresh while you wait, to the texture you specify.

Toasted, flaked almonds tossed in at the end are great, too.

What is truly, ruly, delectable if you have no peanut butter, is throwing a large handful of macadamias into your food processor and adding those along with macadamia halves, to your glorious, chocolately, experiment.  Then…taste, of course! You know, just to make sure there isn’t something else it needs…

You could try shredded coconut, dried fruit, any kind of nuts you fancy.

When you’re all done, pour it into a greased tray or Pyrex dish to set in the fridge.  The texture will depend on what your ingredient choices were, and it will come out more like a fudge than a hard commercial chocolate.  If it is not perfect for you, if it needs more sweetening, or less sweetening, or to have more texture, melt it down in a double boiler (or a bowl over hot water) until it is liquid again, and adjust!

Friends, experiment with me! 😀

Serious Yum (or, Why Duck Fat Should Rival Gold in Price Per Pound)

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Hello Bloggy friends,

 

I’m going to show you how to cook a duck.  But more importantly, I’m going to share why you should cook a duck. 😀

 

Ready for the serious, honest to goodness reason you should cook duck?  Despite it being fiddly, and apart from it being actually quite delicious?

 

(drumroll please… )

 

Duck fat.

 

Yes!  Duck fat.  Forget about nasty connotations the word “fat” has in health circles:  if this stuff clogs your arteries, it’s worth it. 😛

 

Here we go:

 

 

Buy a duck.  This one came with all the innards removed (which may  disappoint if you hanker after duck liver pâté, but .. I don’t.)

 

Rinse under water and pat dry with paper towel. So far it’s pretty simple, and just like cooking chicken.  But wait – it gets fiddly about now.

 

 

Tie the legs as you would with any large fowl, and tuck the wings under in that pretending to be a policeman apprehending a baddie style.  You know the sort of fold I mean?  You swivel the wings and tuck them under the bird so they don’t burn.  Pop your duck on a rack.

Then take a sharp knife, and carefully, OH so carefully, score the skin and fat of the duck in a diamond pattern.  The “careful” bit is all about not cutting through to the meat.  You don’t want a dry, old duck, and if you puncture the meat, that’s what will happen.  Yet, you do want to give the duck fat every opportunity to run out, and the skin to crisp.  So slice as deeply as you dare, but desist before striking the flesh.

Here’s a little more of the fiddly: the duck needs to cook for longer than a chicken to allow it time to drain away almost all the fat.  What’s more, you have to flip that bird every thirty minutes, and poke and prod it at each turn.  Most of the recipes I looked at state that ducks take up to three hours in the oven.  I imagine there wouldn’t have been much of mine left to speak of if I’d done that, and it took closer to 1 hour 45 mins in total cooking time, though with the fiddling with flipping and such, the procedure took close to three and a half hours from start to finish.

 

Here’s a pic at the first flip.  Take a pointy knife, or a sharp toothpick, and prick the skin between your scoring.  This allows the release of even more of the duck fat.  Then flip the bird over, and put her back in the oven.

If roasting in a shallow dish, you may want to collect the fat at each flip, so reducing the risk of a spill (and a burn!) by trying to collect it all at the end from a loaded dish.

Here’s the second flip stage – not. looking. so. yummy.  But it gets prettier. 😉

Again, prod that bird. Collect the fat.

 

At this stage, if you want to glaze your duck, gather:

1/4 cup honey
1/4 molasses
3 Tbls. orange juice
1 Tbls. soy sauce

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer.  Stir continuously until it becomes thick and syrupy.  You know this promises something good.

When your duck is pretty much cooked and no more fat is falling, drain all the fat from the pan and reserve.  Brush with glaze.

You’re almost there.  Pop her back in the oven for just 15 mins, then it’s rest for 15 mins (for both of you!), then… carve!  Seriously, by the time you’ve finished botherating with that duck, you will barely be interested in eating it. It’s good, yes, it does taste fine, but I doubt not that it is more fun for everyone else to eat, because after all that fussing, I’m cross at the duck.

 

Forgiveness, however, comes in the form of .. duck fat.  😀

 

Pre-heat your pan for roast veggies.  Toss in some duck fat, and it smells glorious from the moment it makes contact.  Want to see?

 

It’s not just that they are golden and crunchy.  It’s not just the soft creamy centres.  It’s the flavour.  Schmack!  I forgive the duck!  The potatoes are worth the duck.

And that’s it, bloggy friends.  How to blow hours of your precious reading time cooking, to get glorious potatoes.  Or of course you can purchase a tub of duck fat from IGA.  (But where’s the adventure in that?  😉  )

 

 

 

 

 

Eat Your Greens (and Ice-cream)

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Hello bloggy friends,

I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen.  Want to see? 😀

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Dip is an easy way to eat a lot of raw  vegetables.  And while creamy dips have their place, I prefer mine fresh and clean tasting.
So… here it is:

Baby Spinach and Cashew dip.

 

Wash and dry 180 grams of baby spinach (that convenient amount is the weight of a bag of baby spinach you can purchase in the fresh produce section, pre-packed.)
I grabbed a tiny handful of new basil leaves from the pot by the back door – but if you don’t have any, don’t fret.
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup roasted cashews
one clove of garlic

Drop it all on a large cutting board, and chop.
When it’s fine enough to cling together, scrape it into a bowl, add the juice of half a lemon,
and enough olive oil to make a moist dip consistency.
Salt and pepper to taste, and … pop that dip in the fridge, put the oven on, and hunt out the wraps/flat bread that have sat, ignored, in the cupboard for (shhh…. ) far too long.
Line a large tray with baking paper.

Place the wrap on the tray, brush or spray with olive oil (or coconut, or palm fruit, or whatever takes your fancy), grind a little salt over, slice into good, dipping sized pieces, and bake until brown and crisp.  A few carrot straws, some slices of cucumber,  crunchy flat bread thingos, and homemade spinach dip… it’s yummy stuff, folks.

And for afters?  (Because, you need afters, after a …snack?  Yes, sometimes you do 😛 )

Ice Cream

This is so easy to make, and is highly customisable (I’m sure that’s a word).

 

My Mama makes it with crushed maltesers, or (my favourite) crushed violet crumble mixed through, as a slice, and gives it a base and lid of malt biscuits.  Our farmer friend recently used the same recipe with frozen, whipped bananas – very nice!  So I had to try it.  Ready for this deeply complex recipe?  Here we go:

Whip 600 mls of cream

Fold in 1 tin sweetened condensed milk

Add your favourite fruit/chocolate/nuts

Spread into a dish, and freeze.

Too easy!!  😀

I chose to go with the whipped banana and blueberries, with blueberries to garnish, but the options are endless; honey and macadamias, smashed up (your fav choc bar here), mango, plain vanilla…  I’m not such a sweet tooth, so I added another 200mls of whipped cream to the same amount of condensed milk.  It’s a quick, fun thing to make with the little people of the house, and although it is not as fluffy as regular ice-cream, it was well received here.

 

Lastly, and this has nothing to do with food, but I just want to show you… aren’t these pretty?

 

 

Hey…. Pesto!

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Bloggy friends, home made pesto is adorable.  Just adorable.

This is my first adventure with it, and I am sold, and am convinced that it is worth the effort.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • ⅓ cup pine nuts
  • ⅔ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • garlic (I used one large-ish teaspoon of crushed, but you can experiment with your quantity)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

First, wash and dry your basil leaves. Your hands will smell incredible after working with this aromatic herb 🙂

Next, gather your other ingredients and measure the quantities.

Lightly, lightly, toast your pine nuts. (The quantity of pine nuts in the photo was for four batches of pesto.)

You can toast them in the oven but it’s summer here, making the oven my mortal enemy.  So, if it’s hot, toast them dry (the heat will bring out the natural oils) in a fry pan over a low heat.  Be sure to move them constantly, and take them off the heat a little sooner than you think – they will keep cooking for a bit, even when removed from the heat source.

There are two ways you can tackle this pesto chopping business: by hand, or in the food processor.  I went with the “pretend I’m Italian and have nothing better to do” option, and did it by hand, but I’m sure it would still be glorious in the food processor.

Whichever method you choose, try adding a portion of all your ingredients in progressive stages.  At the end you will have some very finely chopped, saucy ingredients, and some in larger sizes that impart a distinct and personal flavour.

After the chopping process is complete, add a squeeze of lemon juice, seasoning to taste, and olive oil to your desired texture.  Squish it into a container, making the top smooth, and seal with a layer of olive oil – that is, if you don’t run off and make a big dish of chicken and pesto pasta – pronto! 😀

pssst….  I forgot to mention; if you make multiple batches, it will keep in the freezer for several months.  🙂

Children’s Present Ideas – Free or Frugal

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Today I received a lovely email from a lady who plans to use my Kool-Aid play dough recipe to make gifts for her children. Christmas can be a tough time of year financially if you are providing for a family.  Whether it’s frugal gifts ideas, or things to keep the children occupied with over the holiday period, I hope you find something useful here.
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Here’s an Australian play dough recipe (for those of us who don’t normally have access to Kool-Aid 🙂 )  You can make this before hand, or give the ingredients and recipe and let the children help.  It can be made in several different colours and stored in ziplock bags or wide mouth plastic jars or containers.  Add a plastic knife, some cookie cutters, toothpicks, scoops from the washing powder or infant formula, or anything else that will add value to the play experience.  If you have an empty box from refillable baby wipes, it makes a good home for the play dough accessories as the lid is easy for children to manage.
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You can also make your own packet mixes for baking – Make up the dry part of a cake, biscuits, or scones; type out the recipe; attach a photo of the finished product on the front of the ziplock bag;  and the child who gets to unwrap that present also gets to BAKE it.
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Collect a heap of fabric scraps (ask family members who sew for their off cuts of fabrics and trims, or cut up old clothes that are no longer needed and harvest the material and the buttons) and give each child a little packet with a needle, some thread, and a few spare buttons, and let them sew whatever they like – or borrow a child’s craft book from the library and copy a pattern, or download a craft pattern or simple doll’s dress pattern.
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Gather the ingredients for a  science experiment – there’s heaps of little experiments like this crystal snowflake that are fun, but the ingredients are quite inexpensive.

crystal snowflake from Anne Helmenstine

For the little ones, a  plastic egg carton or an ice-cube tray, with bottles of food colouring and an eye dropper will give a pre-schooler hours of fun. (just add water.. 🙂 )
For the more adventurous, purchase some off cuts and seconds from the timber yard and try…
bird nesting box (if you research which birds live in your area, there are often plans to suit specific bird varieties)
a timber boat (or make a whole fleet!)
from Kids Konstruction Korner
Or collect odds from around the house,  and try this one from Martha Stewart:
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There are many paper projects for both boys and girls available  as free downloads from the internet.  You have to watch that the printing costs don’t get out of hand if you find a big project, though.
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A paper boat from the Toy Maker :
Pinwheels are great fun:
The Toymaker has heaps of cute, cute, cute paper toys to download, not the least of which is this pinwheel using a clever paperclip and buttons design.
Super cute design from Marilyn Scott-Waters
Another I couldn’t go past was this adorable bug box.  How tempting to print and make this to gift a packet of seeds for an aspiring gardener.
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Flower seeds, or vegetable seeds, or herb seeds in such a dear little box would have to move you to run out and garden.  If you don’t have pots spare, the bottom half of a milk carton or 2 litre drink container with holes punched in the bottom would do the trick.
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For the arty, Google your child’s favourite animal with “+ colouring page” and print out some pictures for them to colour, or browse the many free colouring page sites. There are some incredibly detailed pictures available, including famous art works made into colour pages.  Several sites also have paper dolls for download.
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Put all the ingredients for these paper bag puppets from Martha Stewart’s craft pages into a bag, and print out pics of what they will look like with the instructions:
Older children may like to make a castle;
For girls, save little boxes from matches, jewellery, medicine, etc, as well as all sorts of plastic packaging, and off cuts of pretty paper and fabric, put them in a large plastic storer,  and let the children use them make their own dolls house from a large cardboard box, or a small book-case.
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Download some audiobooks from Librivox (it’s free) on to CD’s  for car listening or bed time.  Google the cover art of the book and print out for your CD cover.
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Books..
Check ebay, the book Depository, your local thrift store for cheap books.  Keep an eye on your local library for sales of excess stock.  Some books are still like new, but even some of the beat up ones can be treasures if you choose your author carefully.
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This paper whistle would make cool stocking stuffer fun (you can use a coloured paper instead of plain to make it more festive).
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You can make your own word search with your child’s favourite bands, animals, friends names, family members (this is also good fun to do for each member of the family to personalise home-made crackers)
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Home made fudge/caramel wrapped in cellophane are delicious stocking fillers (pop in just before the event if you have ants!)  as is homemade popcorn with icing sugar or caramel popcorn in little zip lock bags.
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If you have older boys you may consider a sleep-under-the-stars camp out.  Wrap up a tin of baked beans, or spam, or some other grossly yukky traditional camp food, and let it be known that it goes with a trip to somewhere out of town to sleep out and cook rough.  (Of course, December in Australia that would be a breeze, but if you’re on the other side of the world, I guess that could be a bit brisk!) Hand reels could work the same way for a fishing trip if you have a lake or river near by.
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Happy holidays, folks!

Farming, for the Faint Hearted

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Have I mentioned we live in the city?  Our house is surrounded by established gardens, and by midday is completely shaded.  It’s delightful, but not helpful for budding gardeners who aspire to vegetable patch ownership.

For some time now, we have enjoyed fresh produce from our farming friends.  There’s something exciting about selecting your dinner from the garden, and checking for lady beetles before eating!  What’s even more fun, is when the farmers can be induced to let us play in their dirt. 😀

We’ve long been fascinated with the variety, the sheer weirdness, of seed selection from heritage seed companies.  It’s worth browsing even if  you have no room for a vegetable patch.  We bought several varieties of obscure-sounding goodies, and showed our un-farmer-ish-ness by purchasing something that it is already too hot to plant.  (Ah! We are novices. 🙂 )

Right along with our new experiences of creating a row, and spacing and planting seeds, and watering, we were able to share a new experience with the farmer. Every parent will know what I’m speaking of: that phenomenon of having a lot of little helpers, which somehow makes a job longer and more complex than when you work alone!

We’ve also been watching the progress of several of the farmer’s vegetables.  We didn’t recognise the lettuce when it went to seed, and none of us could guess the identity of a sweet potato plant when we were first introduced to one.

Each week we check on the corn…

This week, we thrilled to see the first little radishes peep through!  Hooray!

Why are we extra excited about the radishes, you ask?  Well!  😀

Have you tried radish chips?  Even the little souls at our house who endure radishes gobbled these up.  They are that good.  So extra delishy scrumptious!

Radish Chips

 

Slice those little balls of fire into thin chips.

Toss around in olive oil.

 

Spread on a baking paper covered tray, and grind a little salt over. Or not.  (But I like to live dangerously 😛 )

 

I used the fan grill function of my oven, and left them for 15 mins.  In a normal hot oven they may take a little longer.

 

And that’s it.  They actually taste nothing like radishes, and it’s hard to say exactly what they do taste like, but friends, if you have radishes available to you, this is a must try.  Seriously.

Stay tuned…  I’m sure I won’t be able to resist showing you the chocolate capsicums, or the rainbow silverbeet, or the purple carrots, or …. (you really should browse the seed site.  It’s fun 😛 )

Thanks for visiting, bloggy friends!

 

 

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