My Secret Vanilla Life

My Secret Vanilla Life: May 2013

Thursday, May 9, 2013

How to Make REAL (Gluten-free) Chicken Nuggets

             After taking the plunge to remove everything artificial from our diets, I came up with this simple solution for a regular lunch that my kids can't live without. We thought going to Chick-Fil-A was the "healthy" place in the mall food court to eat. Boy, was I wrong! So, here is a chemical-free chicken nugget meal your kids will love.

Glutino GF bread crumbs
Organic Coconut Milk
Organic Boneless Chicken Breasts
McCormick Rotisserie Chicken seasoning (optional)

2 containers, 1 needs to have a lid
Kitchen shears
Baking sheet
Silpat or parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Put Coconut Milk in one container and the breadcrumbs and the seasoning in the other. The amount is not really important. Obviously don't use too much seasoning, maybe 2 teaspoons?

Designate one hand to get wet and yucky with the coconut milk and the other to stay dry for the breadcrumbs.

1. Cut up bite-size pieces of chicken.

2. Put the pieces in the coconut milk bowl. Mix it around so that all of the pieces are covered.

3. Put about 3-4 pieces in the breadcrumb bowl, put the lid on and then shake it up to cover the pieces.

4. Place those pieces on the Silpat on the baking sheet.

5. Continue these steps until all nuggets are finished.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

You don't have to bake them all! If you can't eat 2 chicken breasts worth, you can store the extra uncooked nuggets in a airtight container for up to 2 days (depending on when the expiration date was.) That way they taste fresh when you want to bake them again tomorrow. This is a great time saver if you want to make this ahead of time, the night before for lunch the next day.

There you have it! Add some Alphatots and some fruit and you've got a delicious kid-friendly meal!

**UPDATE: Once again, I am disappointed to find out about sneaky ingredients in my food. The Rotisserie Seasoning includes "Spices" that are not named- which means it COULD be MSG. But, who knows? They're not telling us. You can still make your own seasoning for these nuggets with paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and salt.


How To Cook & Eat an Artichoke

I'm going to let you in on a little secret... Artichokes are friggin' delicious! They are packed with all kinds of nutritious goodness, but mostly loads of Vitamin C. These artichokes were "frost kissed" which is a pretty way of saying they were flash frozen to preserve them  for transport. That's why they have the brown, scabby spots. They mostly go away during the steaming process. Unfortunately, these were not organic. I try to get organic as much as possible, but these were just before the season begun. Here's how to eat them.

First, get out a large stock pot and put a steamer basket inside. Fill it with water to just where it starts peeking through the steamer basket. Turn it to medium-high heat.

While that's heating up, start cutting the pointy tips off of each leaf.

The center leaves are harder to get to. Use the knife to cut the tops off. Then, cut the stem off at the base so that the artichoke can stand on a flat surface. Cut a little bit of the ugly edge of the stem off and thinly peel the stem with a vegetable peeler.

Put the stems in the bottom of the steamer. Wash the artichokes thoroughly. Fill the tips with water and dump them out. Rub the leaves with your hands under running water.
Next, place the artichokes in the pot and cover with the lid.

This is VERY important: set a timer for 15 minutes to refill the water in the steamer pot. You will have to refill it about every 15 minutes or you will burn the steamer basket and artichoke juice. It will stink up your artichokes and they'll be undercooked and nasty. Steam the artichokes, with the lid on, for a total of 90 minutes.

After 90 minutes of steaming and checking the water level every 15 minutes, take the artichokes and stems out with a ladle or silicone oven mitts.

How to EAT an Artichoke

Melt about 3 tbsp of butter in a little dipping bowl. Have a "discard bowl" ready on the table.  DIG IN!
You can start with the stem, if you choose. You can dip the stem in butter and eat the whole stem as well. It's not as great as the rest, but still pretty good!

Start by picking off one leaf at a time, dip a the end in butter and scrape the inside of the leaf off with your teeth. The outside leaves won't have as much "meat" but, you'll get more as you get towards the center leaves.

Here are some leaves I scraped going from left to right in order of the section they came from. Once you get toward the center, you can just eat the lower half of the leaf.

Once you get towards the center, the leaves will be really thin. You can get a bunch together and just bite the ends off.

When the tips have sharp points it's about time to discard those and get to the best part!

Get out a spoon and slowly and carefully tug the "hairy" part away from the edges.

That little greenish-greyish bowl is called the "heart" and it is awesome. EAT THE WHOLE THING! Of course, you'll want to toss it into your butter bowl first or fill the heart with butter! Either way, it's delicious.



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Friggin' delicious.
"How about some ice cream, dear?" "Sure, honey! I'll have that ready for you in about 4-6 hours!"

            Now that I'm making an effort to "eat clean" and be organic I realized that it was time to replace my beloved Cool Mint Cookie Frozen Yogurt.  It remains the best frozen yogurt on the planet in my mind, but it had a few ingredients I wanted to eliminate from my diet. I wanted it to be free of lactose, corn syrup and soy.  After much trial and error, I have come up with an amazing replacement.  It's WAY more calories, but much healthier and the calories aren't always "bad". Just eat it in moderation - it's ice cream.

This is not the project to do when you have other stuff going on. Like, when your kids are conscious.  It requires your full attention. If you walk away, stop stirring or even look at it funny, even for a second, it could ruin the whole batch.

1 cup of Milk (dairy, almond, rice, etc.)
2 cups of organic half & half (with lactase drops added)
2/3 cups of sugar
6 egg yolks
2 tsp of peppermint extract
Lactase drops
1.5 cups "Enjoy Life" chocolate chunks

Tools needed:
Mixer with beater
Large glass cup or measuring cup
Container with plastic freezer bag in it
Glass bowl
1/3 measuring cup
Wooden spoon
Rubber spatula
Siplat or parchment paper

Get everything ready to go, because once you start, you gotta move fast.

First, separate all of the egg yolks from the whites.  All 6 yolks go in the measuring cup and the whites go in the seal-able plastic bag. You can freeze the egg white and save them for another recipe or toss them. Whatevs.

Pour 1 cup of milk into the saucepan.
Pour 1 cup of "half & half" cream into the saucepan.
Pour 1 cup of "half & half" cream into the glass bowl and place the strainer on top.
Pour 2/3 cup of sugar into the saucepan.

Start heating the saucepan at medium heat. Give it a little stir to mix the sugar around.
Now, You might want to get a timer out and also put on your big girl panties because this part is not so enjoyable. Use the mixer to whip the egg yolks for....ready for this... 3-5 minutes! (The amount of time will depend on the power of your mixer. Mine was kinda old and crappy.) So, get comfortable and crank that machine to HIGH SPEED

When you first start whipping, the yolks will be dark yellow and very thin and liquidy.
Here's when I just got started.

With 2 minutes remaining, you can see the yolks are getting lighter in color and thicker.

By 5 minutes, the yolks are very light and very thick, like cake batter or thin icing. I have since bought a new mixer and it only takes 3 minutes on high speed to get the yolks to the right consistency. You want them to be thick as it determines how creamy or icy your ice cream will be. 

Next, stir up the milk and sugar in the saucepan and get eye level with it. Watch for steam. Don't let it boil!

Yeah, you can't see the steam rising. But, it was there. I promise. Once you can steam rising, pour some or all of it into the yolks and stir quickly for about 15 seconds. Don't use the beater you don't want to add bubbles.

Then, pour all of that back into the saucepan and continue to stir and cook at medium heat. 

Keep stirring. Don't stop. Don't look away. Focus. Watch it carefully and don't let it boil. Keep checking the back of the wooden spoon.

If it starts bubbling or looks like this; that means it's probably boiling and you may or may not be able to save it. Lower the heat.

If it looks like this; chunky and watery, you've burned it. The batch is ruined. Chuck it.

You want it to remain creamy. It’s not done cooking until the back of the spoon can be coated thick enough that when you drag your finger across it, and burn your finger, it looks like this.

Now, remove the saucepan from the burner and pour it through the strainer into the glass bowl with the cream that you already poured in. This is to strain out any lumps that might have cooked too much. If there are no lumps- you are a champion. If you have a few lumps- you'll do better next time and you didn't totally ruin the ice cream.
Stir it up. Congratulations, you’ve just made custard or something very close to egg nog.

Place the glass bowl in an "ice bath", which is a fancy way of saying a bucket-o-ice. Make sure to fill up around the sides. Then, put it in the fridge. 

You can put a thermometer in the "ice cream" to keep track of when it's ready for the ice cream machine. It can take up to 4 hours to get cold enough. You can speed up the process by putting it in the freezer instead. It needs to reach 40 degrees.

Let’s make some chocolate chips!
Melt 1.5 cups of the chocolate chunks over a double boiler and add 1 tsp of peppermint extract. I use "Enjoy Life" chocolate becasue it doesn't contain soy, dairy or anything weird and artificial. The chocolate does not have to be “tempered” or anything fancy because it will stay frozen.

 Here’s a tip: Put the silpat or the parchment paper on top of a cutting board. It will make the transport to the freezer much easier!

Pour the melted chocolate onto the Silpat or parchment paper and spread it across to as thin as you want your chips. If it’s too thick, it will be difficult to chop. Then, place it all in the freezer, with your knife for about 5 minutes. You want to freeze the knife and the cutting board because the chocolate starts to melt very quickly! Be prepared for your hands to be covered in chocolate!
Don't put your knife right on top of the still melted chocolate, duh! I put this in after it was already frozen!

After 5 minutes, take it out and start peeling it off of the mat/paper. Put about half of it back in the freezer. Chop it up! It doesn’t have to be perfect little rectangles. Put those chips in container and put it in the freezer. Chop the remaining chocolate and add it to the same container.

You may have to freeze during the chopping process. I guess my house is warm and the chocolate melts super fast.

Once the ice cream has reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you can take it out and get it ready to go in the ice cream machine.

Here’s a tip:
When you take the bowl out of the “ice bath”, place it on a towel. The bottom of the bowl will be wet and if that drips into your ice cream maker it makes ice chucks in your ice cream. No Bueno.
Now it’s time to add 1 FULL tsp of peppermint extract to the custard! Don't forget this step!

Follow your ice cream maker instructions… yadi, yadi, yada.  Pour it in the ice cream maker, let it do its thing. About 5 minutes before the ice cream is done churning, get out your container of chocolate chips and start slowly spooning in chocolate chips.

Oh, there’s an empty spot- add chocolate! You can add as much or as little chocolate as you want. Sometimes this makes too much chocolate, sometimes it’s just right. Idk.

Quickly, transfer the ice cream into a dry, freezer safe container or into your mouth. Enjoy!
Now, go do the dishes.