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Gingerbread Spiced Nuts: It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot like Christmas

IMG_2074If you asked me to wax poetic about the glory and beauty of the holiday season, believe me I could go on for a while.

The smell of hot chocolate, the glow of lights dangling from rooftops and tree branches alike, the frantic brain-racking to try to remember how many gifts you need to be, the helpless distraction by cute stocking stuffers that I end up just buying for myself usually.

Ah yes the holidays.

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But I think it is safe to say that the holidays are also the most wonderful time for foodies around the world. Food is a holiday centerpiece, and I use that word in a fairly liberal piece. Yes, food can be a literal centerpiece (i.e. a Thanksgiving dinner with the gorgeous glazed turkey towering over the mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce). But, food is also an integral part to so many traditions and memories.

I mean, think about it. “The Christmas Song” begins so truthfully with mention of delightful roasted chestnuts. One of my fondest childhood memories is of ski trips (having grown up in Washington State, land of stunning snow-capped peaks) and the breaks we would have between jumping on lifts. We would sit in the lodges, faces rosy from the cold, and sip on delicious hot chocolate and drink warm bowls of soup as Christmas music echoed from the speakers around the lodge.

And the holiday spices. Never has soul-warming gingerbread flavor been so well-complemented for a time of the year, which spurred me to make these nuts.

I’ve been on a nut-making frenzy. Have you realized that food is a perfect DIY holiday gift? These nuts are the epitome of this. Easy to package in mason jars or gift bags, and bursting at the seam with holiday flavor. They are holiday perfection.

Okay, I know I said I wouldn’t wax poetic about the holidays, so I’ll stop here before my writing turns to mush. Have a recipe, my readers.

IMG_2074Gingerbread Spiced Nuts (Adapted from Aggie’s Kitchen)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups nuts (I used 1 cup walnuts, 1 cup pecans, 1 cup roasted cashews)
  • 1/2 + 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 + 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • big pinch coarse salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat egg white until foamy, but before soft peaks form.
  3. Add oil and salt into egg white and mix it in.
  4. Add nuts to a egg white mixture and make sure all are coated.
  5. In a small bowl, combine spices and sugar. Add to nuts and toss well until nuts are completely coated.
  6. Bake in 250 degree for 45 minutes until fragrant. Toss halfway in between (and also make sure to rotate your pan if your oven is known to be uneven) Let cool before serving.

 

 

Puppy Treats

My chestnut by the open fire

My chestnut by the open fire

My pug is 8 years old as of yesterday. While he may not be able to clamor up and down stairs like he used to nor can he run laps around our house like a mini tornado, I only fall even deeper in love with him everyday. His idiosyncrasies have become an integral part of my life, like how he hates walking on fallen leaves on the sidewalk and he refuses to eat leafy greens unless baked into dog treats.

And, with my amount of time free to devote to precious hobbies and the like, I am dedicating myself to showering my pug with an abundance of homemade treats.

Didi (his name) adores these treats. You can tell he adores them because after munching rambunctiously on one treat, he instantly licks his lips and that small pug nose of his in satisfaction, spins in endless circles and settles down for a good post-snack nap.

Or if he’s feeling extra spoiled (a.k.a. if I’m feeling like giving him absolute royal treatment), he’ll get a good old back scratch before his nap.

Peanut Butter Banana Treats

Oat parsley treats

Homemade Peanut Butter Banana Treats (Slightly adapted from Whole Foods)

  • 1 banana, peeled
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 2/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup dried parsley and/or cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 300°F. Put banana in a large bowl and use a spoon or potato masher to mash it thoroughly. Add oat flour, oats, parsley, peanut butter and egg and stir well to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Roll mixture into 24 balls, using about 1 tablespoon dough for each; transfer to a large parchment paper-lined baking sheet as done. Press dough to 1 1/2- to 2-inch thick and cut using a cookie cutter or shape to your desire. Bake until firm and deep golden brown on the bottom, 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside to let cool completely.

Storage note: It’s best to store these in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Or, freeze them to give to your pal later; just be sure to thaw the treats befor handing them out.

Banana pupcakes

Banana pupcakes

But, of course, treats are just treats. For a true special birthday pug, there has to be cake. Or, as cleverly coined by other homemade-dog-food-connoisseurs, “pupcakes”.

Didi loves bananas and peanut butter and I recently found out that he loves dried blueberries, so what better way to celebrate than by treating him with those things. Oh, and even better, these cakes are entirely human-friendly. So yes I did sneak bites and so did my sister, but shush, Didi got the biggest layered cupcake.

Mini Banana Pupcakes (Adapted from Veggie and the Beast)

INGREDIENTS
  • ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)
  • ⅓ cup mashed banana (one small/medium over-ripe banana)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons natural salted peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch or as needed
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon.
  3. Add the oil, banana, egg, and honey, and use a fork to mix until incorporated.
  4. Grease a mini muffin pan. Drop 1 tablespoon of batter into each muffin tin.
  5. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until lightly golden on top.
  6. Let cool completely. While cooling, use a fork or whisk to mix together the peanut butter and almond milk and add corn starch until the frosting is at your desired consistency.
  7. Spread the peanut butter frosting on the top of each cupcake.

And you will have a very happy and ravenous pug.

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Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream Without an Ice Cream Maker

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I hereby declare this the best chocolate ice cream ever. And it’s made without an ice cream maker. Beat that! 

Today I also discovered the true meaning of summer. My day began with waking up at 9 am to a faceful of sunshine. I then stood up and realized that last night had been so warm that it was the first night since 2009 that I slept in pajama shorts. When I went downstairs, I saw my pug lying on his bed, immersed in sunshine and happy as ever. He looks so adorable when he’s in the sun. He always tilts his head upwards and closes his eyes (what a princely dog!). What else? Then I bused to the UW, not for class though! I went there to go to my research lab and spent most of my afternoon doing DNA precipitation (quite exciting, if you ask me).

Then I went home and realized that the ice cream that I had made yesterday was waiting to be eaten! I open the freezer, take the ice cream out, let it defrost for about 15 minutes, and eat.

Oh goodness. What delicious ice cream. So rich and chocolatey. And only half a cup of sugar for the whole container! That’s only around 96 grams for the whole thing. Now divide it by 8 (or any number bigger than that) and you get about how many grams of sugar there are per serving. Not bad at all. As opposed to typical ice cream where it’s about 30 grams PER SERVING, with 8 servings in a container. Do the math.

Rainbow sprinkles!

 

Chocolate Ice Cream

(Adapted from Annie’s Eats who adapted it from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream, divided
3 tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa powder
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup milk (whole will thicken faster, but I used 1% and it turned out just fine)
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of the cream with the cocoa powder.  Warm over medium-high heat, whisking to dissolve the cocoa.   Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 30 seconds, whisking constantly.  Remove the pan from the heat, mix in the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth.  Stir in the remaining 1 cup of cream.  Transfer this mixture to a medium-large mixing bowl.  Set a fine mesh sieve over the top.

In the same saucepan, combine the milk, sugar and salt and warm the mixture over medium-high heat.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  When the milk mixture is warm, gradually whisk into the egg yolks, beating constantly.  Return the egg-milk mixture to the saucepan and continue heating over medium-high heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan with a spatula, until the mixture is slightly thickened and reads 170-175° F on an instant-read thermometer.  Remove from the heat, pour through the mesh sieve (this is important, use a sieve!) into the chocolate-cream mixture and stir to blend.  Stir in the vanilla extract.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator.

Remove ice cream from the refrigerator and stir with a rubber spatula after it has been thoroughly chilled. Transfer the mixture to a deep freezer-safe bowl or container and place in the freezer for 45 minutes-1 hour.

After around 45 minutes to an hour, the edges will start to form ice crystals and freeze. Stir with a spatula so it becomes a creamy, thick mixture again. Return it to the freezer.

Continue to check every 30 minutes, and stir it every time you check. It will take 2-4 hours for the ice cream to be sufficiently frozen and ready. (The thicker the milk you use, the quicker it will be ready).

Look at that thick creaminess

 

It’s lovely. It really is. Very prominent chocolate taste. Some important points though. Remember to use a mesh sieve when dealing with the egg yolk mixture. Why? You know what happens when egg gets hot? It sort of fries and becomes solid. Solid egg yolk…in ice cream? Gross gross and gross! Use a mesh sieve unless you want to taste egg yolk in the middle of that delicious chocolate goodness.

Well, dears, I suppose that’s all I have to say. Enjoy your summer!