Blueberry Bagels- Who Knew?

I love quiet weekend mornings.  I’m not sure you could call any morning here really quiet these days, but I love starting my Saturday or Sunday with a nice breakfast, the family around the table and slowly sipping a cup of decaf coffee.   During the weekends we can take time for a fancier breakfast.  It is usually something we don’t get to eat during the week like waffles, french toast, or eggs made three ways so everyone gets their favorite.  (Thanks to my husband, the short order cook.)  Recently I decided to try to make blueberry bagels.  Although not really special for the rest of my family, this was really special for me.  For one thing, I’ve never made bagels.  For some reason they’ve always seemed really intimidating.  Maybe it’s because I don’t know anyone who has ever made them or maybe it’s because I’ve never seen a recipe for them in any cookbook.   It was also a big deal because I haven’t been able to find a “safe” blueberry bagel.  I have been able to eat Rudi’s brand plain or cinnamon raisin bagels, but couldn’t find any safe blueberry. 

I began looking around online for bagel recipes/techniques and found this recipe at Annies-eats.com, a great food blog.  The recipe didn’t actually have a blueberry variation, but I decided to follow the plain bagel instructions and improvise when it came to the blueberry part. 

I won’t go through the whole recipe here but I will share some things that helped me.

1.  Plan to start the day before.  The bagels need to hang out in the fridge overnight so plan to start the dough the day before you actually want to eat them and clear out some space in your refrigerator.  I actually really liked the timing since I made the dough Friday night and had fresh bagels for the family Saturday morning.

2.  Measure all of your ingredients by weight.   The recipes uses a two stage process for the bagel dough and in the first step, making the sponge, I tried using my measuring cups to measure out the flour.  When I combined the yeast, flour and water, my dough looked much more like a finished formed bread dough than a wet sticky pancake batter as seen in the pictures.  I redid the sponge a second time using a digital kitchen scale and my results were right on. 

3.  Silpat mats work in place of semolina.  I didn’t have any parchment or semolina (used to keep bagels from sticking to pan) the day i prepared everything so I used my silpat baking mats and had no problems.

4.  Use dried blueberries to make blueberry bagels.   I knew fresh blueberries would just turn the dough into a purple mess during kneading but was worried dried blueberries wouldn’t have the right texture.  To my surprise the dry blueberries rehydrated quite a bit in the dough and were perfect.  I used about a half of a cup of dried blueberries that were dried but still had a little stickiness/chewiness when I ate a few.  I found them in the organic bulk foods section at Whole Foods and they were not cheap, maybe $11.99/lb.

5.  Add the blueberries near the end.  To make the plain bagels blueberry, add the dried fruit after the 3 cups of flour in the dough making process, right before the 3/4 cup of flour used to stiffen the dough.  My old stand mixer wasn’t up to the kneading task and I had to finish kneading the dough by hand.  Every now and then blueberries would pop out but I just kept sticking them back in the dough.

 

These bagels turned out great.  I really couldn’t believe that I made them.  We ate quite a few for breakfast and I froze a bunch in a ziploc bag.  A quick zap in the microwave and I have a homemade soy free/dairy free breakfast.

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Thanks Dierbergs!

 A week ago I had turned in a comment card asking my local grocery store, Dierbergs, if they could carry the Earth’s Balance Soy Free spread.  It is one of the items I have to go across town to find at Whole Foods.  Although I love Whole Foods, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to take two kids there for one or two items I need.  (If you’ve ever tried to shop with two small children I know you’ve experienced that kind of fun.)

To my surprise someone with Dierbergs called today to let me know they will now be stocking the Earth’s Balance at my store! I guess I didn’t really expect a big store to cater to the needs of one individual.   Thanks Dierbergs!  They definitely are earning my repeat business.  She did say they have carried it at other stores so it was easy for her to get the UPC codes to send to my store, so it probably wasn’t a lot of work for them.  Still, I never imagined such quick or personalized service from a huge grocery chain. 

If there are products you need, don’t be afraid to ask your local store for them.  You never know until you try!

Corn Cake- It’s not cornbread

Some days I really miss Mexican restaurants.  There is one not far from our house that is amazing and we’ve been going there for years.  The staff there knows us by sight and we always catch up on how everyone’s kids are doing before we think about ordering.   I could probably go talk with the chef to find something safe to eat, but my husband always asks me if I really want to torture myself like that.  He knows how much I love the chicken chimichanga, the delicious queso fresco on perfect beans and the wonderful cilantro infused rice.  Okay, he’s right.  Might be better to just make Mexican at home for now.

Have you ever had the little ball of sweet corn goodness that is sometimes served as a side dish at Mexican restaurants?  It is moist, has little bits of corn in it and tastes more like a dessert than a vegetable side dish.   For whatever reason I’d been craving that corn cake, or whatever its proper name is.   I have made homemade cornbread before but really was hoping to find something a bit faster to prepare.    I found this recipe on Allrecipes.com.  It is a sweet cornbread and I decided to replace the milk with water and a pinch of salt.   I think if you made it with milk it might be fluffier but with the water it is more dense, more like the corn cake I was looking for.

To my surprise, Jiffy corn muffin mix is milk and soy free (but always check yours).  Unfortunately, it does have hydrogenated lard in it.  I went ahead and used Jiffy for this recipe, really loving the convenience but bothered by the trans fat.   My hope is to come up with a cornbread mix I could keep on hand to use like Jiffy when I want dinner in a hurry. If anyone has one, I’d love a recipe! It is going on my list of recipe experiments to try.

So the results? Almost exactly like that corn cake from the restaurant.  It is very very moist and not like regular cornbread.  It completely satisfied my craving.

Corn Cake

Ingredients

1 (8oz) package of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix

1 cup water

1 egg, beaten lightly

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 (14oz) can of Creamed Corn  (it contains no dairy!)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Oil for greasing baking dish (I use canola)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare a baking dish by oiling the sides and bottom lightly with oil. I use an 11 x7 pan, but a slightly larger or smaller pan also works, just adjust your cooking time a bit.   Empty the muffin mix into a medium bowl.   Add the water, egg, salt, corn and sugar and mix until combined.  Bake in the preheated oven, checking at 25 minutes for larger pans (9×13) and up to 35 minutes for 8×8 pans.  Remove from the oven when edges are just golden brown and a cake tester/toothpick inserted the middle comes out clean.

Honey Dijon Salmon

My family has been vacationing in Wisconsin since I was about three years old.  One of my favorite things to do there is to go salmon fishing with my dad in the waters of Lake Michigan.  Salmon fishing involves getting up between 3 and 4 in the morning, being very patient, and for me, snacking constantly on crackers so I don’t err… chum the waters.  Regardless of my lack of sea legs,  I love it.   The quiet chug of the motor, the gentle roll of the boat, the way the taut fishing lines sing in the wind and of course the excitement/chaos when something finally is on the line.  It is an experience I highly recommend. (Minus the sick part.  Get the motion sickness patch if you can.)   If the fishing doesn’t excite you the taste of fresh caught salmon will.  It is so much better than any salmon I’ve ever bought at the store or been served at a restaurant.

Being that it is February, I am all out of lake caught salmon.  I wanted some fish in our weekly dinner menu and so I asked the fishmonger at Whole Foods what he thought would be a good stand-in for our usual fish fare.  He recommended the Icelandic Salmon and I asked him to cut enough for four people.  (If you aren’t sure how much salmon you need in pounds, asking for portions is an easy way to go.)  Usually we grill the salmon on cedar planks with dill  but the weather wasnt cooperating.  I found this recipe online and decided to give it a try, omitting the nuts and using the Earth’s Balance Soy Free Spread for the butter.  Looking back at the recipe now, I think I could replace the melted spread with olive oil without a problem.  The butter/butter replacer brings some fat to the party and makes the honey dijon easier to spread, but there is so much flavor going on that butter flavor or texture itself isn’t necessary.   The results of this recipe were fantastic.  They honey dijon  mellowed as it cooked and was not overly tangy as I worried it might be.  My husband, who is not always sure he likes fish, gobbled his up while eyeing the leftovers my daughter had on her plate.  It is definitely now our go-to salmon recipe.  I can’t wait to try it out this summer on some freshly caught salmon and wow the family.

Honey Dijon Salmon

Ingredients

Canola or other safe oil for oiling baking dish/cookie sheet

1/4 cup soy/dairy free spread, melted (or try olive oil)

3 tablespoons soy free dijon mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs (I use 365 brand at Whole Foods)

4 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper

4 (4 ounce) salmon fillets

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Prepare a baking dish or cookie sheet by oiling the bottom lightly. (For easy cleanup I like to line a pan with foil and oil the foil).   In a small bowl combine the melted spread or oil, dijon mustard and honey.  In another bowl mix together the breadcrumbs, parsley and a dash of salt and pepper.   Place salmon fillets, skin side down, in the baking dish/cookie sheet.  Brush each fillet with the honey dijon mixture and then sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the fillets.  Bake the salmon for about 15 minutes or until it reaches 140 degrees F and flakes easily with a fork.  To check this, use a fork and try to cut the fish lightly in the middle of the fillet.  If it still looks mushy, cook it longer.   If it separates into chunks, or flakes, it is done.  Serve immediately.

Score one for home cooking

RSV has reared its nasty head here Colin has developed bronchiolitis (wheezing, labored breathing.)  He is one sick little guy but  powering through as long as I hold him.  Thank goodness for the Ergo baby carrier. We are nearing day 7 of two sick kids and now two sick  parents.  I have a new definition of exhaustion.  Hopefully I will get recipes blogged in a few days.   

Anyway, I did have a happy food moment this last weekend:

This weekend Hannah was given a cupcake with pink frosting and sprinkles.  It was a beautiful perfect cupcake, made by some giant conglomeration and packaged for a grocery store shelf.  Hannah was so excited.  She took one bite and said “This frosting doesn’t taste good.”   Worried it may have been bad, my husband took a bite.  He said it tastes like it always does, like fake frosting.  I started hopping around and quietly celebrating in the kitchen.  (Fist pumps – Yes! Yes! Yes!)  I whispered to my husband, “I think I’ve spoiled her on good food!”    Score one for homemade food! 

Although home cooking is pretty much a requirement for us now due to the allergy issues, I have a secret hope that by giving Hannah mostly homemade food and teaching her about cooking, she will grow up with a preference for things that are better for her and naturally avoid the prepackaged foods filled with all kinds of things not meant for our bodies.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have a weakness for Oreos myself (when I could eat them) and rely on some pre-made things to replace foods we can’t have. Hannah gets to have processed foods here and there and she gets to have candy now and then.   We try to teach her how to make good food choices and how “junk food” can be enjoyed responsibly.   I don’t want her to go to college someday and go crazy eating crap food because she felt deprived growing up  or because she doesn’t know how to make something better.

Only time will tell what kind of food choices Hannah will make for herself when she leaves the safety of our little nest someday, and the cupcake incident may have just been a fluke, but little victories like these are nice to have!

Easy Lemon Bars

Since I am not drinking any caffeine I often crave a little late afternoon pick me up.  Baked goods have been calling my name lately.  It has been tough coming up with things that are dairy and chocolate free.  I found this recipe for lemon bars and decided to tweak it a little to suit our dietary needs and up the lemonyness.  I hope to blog a lot of recipes that don’t require any substitutions but I decided to break out  the “special butter,” (the butter replacer I use),  for this one.

Lemon Bars

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cups confectioners sugar

3/4 cup Earth Balance Dairy and Soy Free spread, slightly softened (or other safe spread)

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups white sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

zest of one lemon

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/3 cup confectioners sugar for decorating top of bars

Directions

Preheat your oven to 375 F.    Grease a 9×13 pan.  Don’t skip that step!    To make the crust, in a medium bowl combine the flour, 2/3 cup confectioners sugar and butter replacer (Earth’s Balance).  Pat the dough down into the prepared pan.   Moist fingers, a moistened cup bottom or a spatula can make this easier.  Make sure to push all of the dough edges touching the side of the pan down so they will not stick up through the lemon part or else they may overcook.  Bake for 18-20 minutes until just slightly golden.  While the crust bakes, use a whisk to combine the eggs, white sugar, flour, zest and lemon juice until frothy.   When the crust is finished pour the lemon mix over the hot crust.  Place the pan bake in the oven and bake for another 18-20 minutes until the top is just slightly golden.  Cool completely.  Finish the bars by dusting the top with the 1/3 cup confectioners sugar.

I have also made these in a smaller pan for thicker lemon bars but found it necessary to reduce the heat to 350 when cooking the lemon layer so that it would cook through without the top turning too brown.

Surviving Colic

Colin started crying in the evenings sometime close to 6 weeks old.  He went from being a sleepy, normal baby to a screaming baby we couldn’t calm down for hours.  Every night around 8pm it would start.  We would hear his breathing change and would know it was coming.  This wasn’t your normal “baby crying.”  This was colic crying.   It was Colin pulling his legs up to his chest and crying like he’d just received shots.  Crying so hard he would get hoarse.   It was agonizing to watch and to hear.  People who say “all babies cry” or “he just needs to exercise his lungs” have not had a baby with colic.

At first it was terrifying.  We didn’t know what to do. We would change him, feed him, burp him, tear his pajamas off looking for something poking him or a string that got caught on him.  We’d try holding him, rocking him, bouncing him, just laying him down flat, holding him on his side, holding him on his stomach (the “colic” hold) and taking him for a ride in the car.   I even rolled the stroller around and around the kitchen when it was cold outside.  I religiously did “colic massages” on his tummy with every feeding and diaper change.  We tried several types of gripe water, gas drops, and Colic Calm.  Sometimes one of these things would help for a little bit.  He would stop crying so hard but his breathing would never change so we knew we weren’t done for the night.  A bath actually helped the most.  For the 20 minutes or so he was in the warm water he wouldn’t cry that terrible painful cry.   So some nights he had more than one bath.   Maybe I had a baby that was part fish?  Going to a chiropractor helped too.  She would do some gentle holds on his belly and he would let all sorts of trapped gas out.  He would do better for two or three days after that but it didn’t cure him.

Once our doctor diagnosed it as “just colic” it was also terribly depressing.  There is no clear cause for colic and no cure for it.   We were told there was nothing we could do to help our son but continue to try every calming technique until he finally fell asleep  (usually 6 hours later) and wait until he got older when it would magically go away.  I remember coming home from the doctor’s office to tell my husband that the doctor said “there was nothing wrong with Colin.”  On one hand we were so relieved to hear there was nothing seriously wrong but also sad to hear there was nothing we could do to help him.  When I watched Colin, looking as though he was in terrible pain,  I just couldn’t believe there was nothing wrong.  There had to be something wrong.  Babies cry to tell us something.  I was sure Colin was telling me something was hurting but I just didn’t know what.

Colic is tough because it is not one bad day or a week of rough nights.  For us at least it was every night for almost two months.  Weeks into it, my husband and I were exhausted emotionally and physically.    Late one night I googled “Surviving Colic.”  I was looking for answers, looking for any bit of hope.  I needed to know other people had made it through the nightmare called colic and were still sane on the other side.  I was looking for any medicine, soother, special tummy massaging secrets that I didn’t know, hoping someone else knew how to make things better.   I found stories of other parents who had dealt with colic and found comforting knowing there were other people who understood what it was like.

While reading I found  some suggestions to help keep your marriage intact and handle the stress of caring for a colic baby.  One was giving your spouse a night off.  My husband and I began to do this, alternating who held Colin into the wee hours.  One of us would go downstairs with Colin so he wouldn’t keep everyone awake.  That person would hold him and try everything we usually tried until the colic spell passed, usually between 1 and 3 am.  Meanwhile the other might just watch some tv upstairs, read  or go to bed early.   I found that movies with subtitles were great for helping those long nights pass when I had “Colic Duty.”  Colin often preferred to be held upright in my arms while I bounced on an exercise ball.  He would still cry but I could hit the mute button on a movie and read the captions.

One thing we didn’t do enough of was ask for help.  I was scared to let someone else try to care for Colin.  It was so distressing to us to hear that kind of crying, I couldn’t imagine asking anyone else to do it.  We should have though.  Even just to have someone hold him for a few hours while I sat outside or went for a walk.   If anything our marriage has been strengthened by the challenge put before us but it was very stressful. Having an hour or two to just be a couple and decompress a bit would have been helpful.

Throughout the colic ordeal I began noticing other things about Colin that made me wonder about his digestive system.  He had reflux, a lot of gas, a red ring on his bum that wouldn’t go away and green scary poo.   As I began reading I found information that led me to believe Colin had some type of food allergy.  I also read several studies and news articles about probiotics being effective with colicky babies.  After talking with my doctor I gave up all dairy and soy and two weeks later started BioGaia probiotic drops.  We saw a change in his reflux slowly but I think after only 3 or 4 days on the probiotic we saw a huge change in the colic.  It went from being every night to only a few nights a week.   Within two weeks it was gone.  I can’t be sure exactly what helped, the probiotic or diet changes, (probably both) but we couldn’t believe the change.  My husband and I kept looking at each other in disbelief when Colin would go to sleep and stay asleep or just hang out with us, happy and smiling.  For a while we kept thinking it was a fluke, worried that our string of good nights would end but fortunately they continued.

While I can’t guarantee that dietary changes or probiotics will help any other baby, they sure seemed to help us.   I will say to anyone who is dealing with colic now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  You will survive.  Get some help.  Find something, someone, someway to get a break, even if just for an hour.   Colic is rough but you are not alone.   Join an online chat group, take a deep breath and remember that this too will pass.

“Water Only” Pancakes

I love pancakes.  They have always been a breakfast item of choice at least once a week in our house.  You can make a lot of great pancakes and waffles following regular recipes and substituting rice milk or almond milk for the cow’s milk in the recipe.  Unfortunately right now we are Milk, Soy, Chocolate, Rice, and Nut free with a few more suspects on the list.  That pretty much eliminated all milk substitute options for us so I’ve been trying to make recipes using water in place of milk. It doesn’t always work, let me tell you and I often do find the texture and taste to be a bit off.

I made this recipe at least 4 times before I decided it would be good enough to continually grace our breakfast table.  Hannah sure didn’t mind these experiments as long as there was syrup for dunking these creations.   The first time I tried making “water” pancakes, the end results were tasteless.  I thought about what milk brought to the pancake party.  Protein, fat, salt, sugar, water?  I haven’t found a replacement for the protein but I started adding a little extra salt, sugar and fat (canola oil) to my recipe to stand in for the milk.  Is this necessary?  Well, it seemed to help the taste, especially the salt.  I added some vanilla in and that really brought the flavor closer to the old pancakes I made.   I think the end result is pretty good. Make sure to follow some rules to help yours turn out well.

*Don’t overbeat the batter.  It is okay for it to have lots of lumps.  Overbeating = tougher pancakes

*Flip pancakes only one time and don’t pat or push on them with the spatula.  That just squashes the nice fluffy pancake you just made.

*Don’t forget to experiment yourself with a little more/less flour or water. We like big fluffy pancakes at our house but you can alter the batter to make them what you like.

*Don’t judge your pancakes by the first ones in the pan.  I always think of these as the practice pancakes.  They always seem to improve after those first ones, as if the first batch seasons the pan a bit.

Water Only Pancakes

Ingredients

1  1/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1 egg

1 cup + 2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon canola oil

(Canola oil to grease pan)

Directions

Into a medium sized mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Stir.  In another bowl (I use a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup), stir together the egg, water, vanilla  and oil.  Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and stir until it just comes together. It should be slightly lumpy so don’t overmix.  Heat a nonstick skillet or pan over medium heat.  I spray mine down with some canola oil using an oil mister.  When the pan is hot pour a small 1/4 cup of batter and spread out slightly.  Cook until bubbles appear and a just a few begin to pop, about 2 minutes.  Flip pancake and cook on the other side 1-2 minutes more.  Makes 8-10 pancakes.

For a twist on the same old thing we sometimes add fruit or my favorite, apples and cinnamon.  Slice half of an apple, core removed,  into thin little pieces. I  add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnanmon to the batter.  Cook as usual.

Busy Hands

The other night I stopped and looked down at our dinner table that was filled with foods made from scratch.  I think I began cooking for that meal the day before when I had made the bread dough for that week’s bread.  I was tired and proud and I laughed.  I told my husband I was feeling more and more like a pioneer mom.  Now logically I know that I have way more at my disposal and modern conveniences at every turn, but I have a lot of respect for those ladies who had to do it all themselves.   

There are very few convenience foods I can eat which on most days is a very good thing.  My diet is a lot of fruit, vegetables and whatever else is usually made from scratch.  Thankfully I don’t have to kill the chicken or grind the flour, but I sure do have to plan out exactly what I am eating and how early to start making it.  If I don’t make it, there isn’t much to eat.  The other day I needed breadcrumbs but the ones we had in the pantry had soy or something in them.  I was out of old “safe” bread so to have breadcrumbs I had to make bread and then process them.  Lessons like these remind me to be more organized, have clear food plans each week and be aware of the food supplies on hand.

I’ve also come to realize how even though we didn’t eat out often or get take out very much, it was so nice to have that option when the nights or busy or I’m just plain tired of cooking.  Dinner didn’t turn out right? Just pop in a pizza! Whoops, not anymore. (Several of my cooking experiments lately have been less than successful. Disaster recaps coming soon.) 

My kitchen is busier than it has ever been.  My husband can’t believe how often we are running the dishwasher. Some days it feels like so much work but I also find myself proud of new cooking accomplishments.  Like my first homemade mayonnaise or an edible pancake that doesn’t contain any regular, soy, rice or oat milk. (Recipes to come.)  Once I get a wide base of safe recipes to work from, meal planning and cooking will be a little easier and hopefully life will feel a little less hectic.