Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gummy Snacks

When Grandma (a.k.a. my mom) came to live with us after her (finally) retirement, she was surprised with all the things I was able to cook or bake. She asked me how I did it. I told her that it was simply a matter of researching the recipes and testing them out.

The craving also has a lot to do with my wanting to make something sweeter. Let's face it. Most of the prepackaged sweets will have at least one questionable ingredients in them. Case in point, jelly beans, lollipops, and gummy fruit snacks. So far, all of the ones I found have either citric acid, ascorbic acid, guar gum, flavoring... and so on.

When I told Camden that he had to mind what he was eating. If he craved or wanted to eat something, he had to tell me in advance. I'd research for the recipe and make him anything he wanted to eat. The first thing he asked me was "can you make gummy fish?"

I made gummy fruit snacks once, and they turned out really good. Perfect gummy texture. The fun factor with gummy fruit snacks is the molds. Finding the right molds is a must. I bought a lot of small ice cube silicon molds at Target, thinking that I could use them to make chocolate candy. But these molds were perfect for making gummy fruit snacks. Of course, Camden said he wanted some gummy fish, not gummy fruits. I came across a gummy fish mold at Amazon and had to get it. The gummy fish snacks look authentic (like the store bought). Yay!!! Mission accomplished.

I highly recommend using the silicon molds. It's easier to remove the gummy fruit snacks out of the this type of mold. And be creative with the fruit juice. I made them with watermelon juice, apple juice, grape juice, orange juice, and cantaloupe juice. But stay away from fresh pineapple juice. The gelatin won't set because of the enzyme in the fruit.

Gummy Snacks
makes a lot, depending on the size of the mold

3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (7 oz.) fruit juice
2-4 Tablespoons granulated sugar (or to taste)
3 Tablespoons gelatin (Knox or Great Lakes)
  1. Place a mold of choice on top of the baking tray.
  2. Pour the juice in a microwavable bowl or cup.
  3. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute.
  4. Whisk in the sugar and gelatin until they dissolved.
  5. Spoon the juice into the mold.
  6. Place the mold in the refrigerator until the juice is set, about an hour.
TIPS: Instead of using a microwave, the juice can be heated up on stovetop. Then follow step 4 of this recipe.

To make gummy snacks from the actually fruit juice, such as watermelon or cantaloupe, peel and seed the fruits. Cut them into cubes. Place them in a blender and blend until liquefy. Strain the juice until the amount needed for this recipe. Add the sugar to taste.

NOTE: Most prepackaged juices are pretty sweet already. The amount of sugar that is added to make these gummy snacks is up to your taste preference.

Allergy Info: These gummy snacks are free from or can be made without dairy, eggs, corn, legumes (soy), wheat, nuts, or fish. Finding the prepackaged juice is like finding a needle in a hay stack. The cleaned ones I've used are TreeTop apple juice (from concentrated), Martinelli's apple juice, Hill Country grape juice or apple juice (HEB store brand), Ceres juices, or Florida's Natural orange juice. When looking for prepackaged juice, the only ingredient listed should be the juice you are purchasing. No citric acid or anything funky added.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

All Things Birthday Sweets

I luv to throw birthday parties for my kids. Not only for celebrating a year milestone, but also for getting together with our friends, especially the ones who live very far from us.

For me, hosting a birthday party takes a lot of planning. I started my planning as long as three months in advance. Depending on the birthday theme, I sometimes had to search and order products on the internet, including their birthday presents.

Throwing my kids a birthday party also takes experience. When Brek turned a year old, I had no idea what I was doing... or not doing. Grandma asked me where were the first birthday decorations. What birthday decorations? Two hours before our guests arrived, I rushed to store nearby and picked up a generic first birthday bear theme. I ordered a cake from a local grocery store and asked my husband to pick it up after work. He didn't bother to look at the cake. So Brek's cake read, "Happy Birthday, Andrew!" Yup, apparently, this Andrew kid didn't get his cake. For entertainment, we had tween neighbors smashed up the football shaped piƱata. It was fun just to get together with our friends, but it was a sad first birthday party.

But my kids' birthday parties improved each year. What mistakes made on previous year were never repeated again. Keep in mind the followings when you throw any party: location, number of guests, amount of food and drinks, activities, goodie bags, and thank you notes.

So far, my kids' birthday parties always took place at my home. My friends told me that it was no clean up if they had parties outside of their homes. But to me, being at home is more relaxing. Plus guests can stay as long as they want to.

The party usually started out with an activity like arts and crafts. As soon as all the kids arrived, we would do the actual theme party activity. Following all the fun, we had lunch or dinner. I usually waited about an hour or so to have a birthday dessert. Opening up presents would be the very last activity. After everybody was fed and happy, kids played with the toys, and grown ups just sat around, supervising kids and catching up on life.

Here are some of the successful birthday themes.

Camden's first birthday: Farm Animals
Because Camden had food intolerance, I baked him a pumpkin muffin as his first birthday dessert. It was free from dairy, eggs, corn, and legumes. I placed the muffin on top of a tractor toy which I decorated with farm animals birthday theme. He nibbled on it the next day. It was very low key. Mostly we just hung out with our kids.

Camden's second birthday: Sesame Street
Camden watched Sesame Street nearly every day. He luv Elmo, so I thought Elmo cake would be nice. But no food coloring. While Brek was watching Sesame Street on DVD with Camden, he saw the end credits of Elmo and other Sesame Street characters made out of veggies and fruits. Brek and I had a light bulb moment. Why not make Elmo cake using fruits and berries. Elmo cake looked... well, like Elmo with a lot of berries. Click here for Elmo cake recipe. The room was decorated in Sesame Street characters.

Brek's 6th birthday: Picnic on the Moon
Brek wanted to do a space theme, so I came up with picnic on the moon. For a moon room, my husband and I cleared out a room and darken the windows. Spread out a picnic blanket and placed a lava lamp and flower lights in the middle. Kids sat around the lights, and they had pizza and juice. Cake was a spherical cake with hand made clay dough of Brek sitting against the mini picnic basket. Nobody cared for the cake and ice cream. Kids just wanted to hang out on the moon. Brek's friends went home with their own picnic baskets filled with goodies.

Keep in mind that a birthday doesn't have to have a birthday cake. As long as something sweeter was served, kids would be happy. For Brek's 7th birthday party, I made him a seven layers dessert: cookie crumbs, ice cream, whipping cream, chocolate syrup. Kids luv the birthday dessert. Some even asked to have just ice cream. Whatever made them happy. After that easy experience, I decided to serve more of birthday dessert instead of a traditional birthday cake.

Here are some of the successful birthday desserts.

Since Camden outgrew all of his food intolerance four months before he turned three, I decided to bake a Wubbzy cheesecake and sponge cupcakes. Wubbzy was yellow so the cheesecake was a smart alternative to no food coloring. The Wubbzy and his friends cupcake picks were colorful printouts that were glued on to the card stock.

Camden's 4th birthday was a Knight theme. It was all his idea. He wanted to be a knight. I even sew him a knight costume which he also worn on Halloween. I made a big sheet of chocolate rice crispy treats because rice sorta looked like pebbles. On the side, I also made chocolate cake push pops. I bought a knight cupcake liners, picks, and castle goodie boxes on line. All were used to decorate Camden's birthday dessert.

LEGO Ninjago's cake pops were really cute and tasty for Brek's 9th birthday. Since I decided not to use food coloring (even though we only had to avoid dairy and legumes at that time), I drew a Ninjago characters on different colored foam cutouts. So the cake pops were still colorful without the food coloring added. Of all the cakes and desserts I made for my kids' birthday, these cake pops were very time consuming. Still had fun in the kitchen.

A few times, I volunteered to make my friend's kids their birthday sweets. Once, her son birthday theme was snakes. There were a lot of inspiration on Pinterest but involved a lot of food coloring. I wanted to make it simple but three dimensional. So I went with Snake cake pops. They were much easier to make than the Ninjago's cake pops. No food coloring on these cake pops as well. Just melted chocolate for snake skin. The snake's tongue was a slice of carrot. The dessert floor were roughly crushed graham crackers. To make these cake pops looking like a snake, I used a small box and poked holes to place each cake pop's handle inside the box. Just had to line the cake pops so they came together and looked like a snake slithery on the ground.

For Brek's 11th birthday, I made s'more in a jar with graham crackers, marshmallow fluff, and chocolate pudding. The theme was outdoor camping even though the party was indoor. I also made s'more pops with homemade marshmallows dipped in melted chocolate with sprinkled graham cracker crumbs. Remember to decorate the jars to make them special. I bought card stock with outdoor theme, cut out little pictures, and taped them on the outside of each jars. Pretty simple but made a big statement.

This year, Brek will turn 12 in August. He told me that he no longer wants a birthday party. He admitted to be too old for a birthday party. (sigh) Kids... grow up too fast. All he wants this year is to have his best friends over, hoping they would like to have a sleepover. You know, I will bake him something birthday sweet anyway, right? Camden's turning 5 in November and already wishes for a mine craft theme. My mind is already spinning the wheels with ideas. Knowing Camden, he probably changes his mind... tomorrow and chooses a different birthday theme.

Allergy Info: All of the birthday sweets can be modified according to your allergy free diet. With food intolerance or allergy in your family, be sure to provide guests with food and drink that you normally consume without any allergic reaction. I've cooked and baked everything from scratch for each birthday party since Camden became intolerance with some foods. Everybody's told me that they luv to eat whatever I cooked or baked each year. See, allergy friendly foods are pretty tasty. I always keep the appetizer or meals very simple, so I can concentrate on the birthday sweets.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lemony Cookies

This recipe came about after Camden was asking for a cookie after 7pm. One of the rules in my home is no caffeine (for my kids) after 5pm. Who wants their kids to jump off the walls at night? Not me. And trust me, I made that mistake before, giving Camden a chocolate sweet for nighttime snack. Never again.

I had great success with my cream filled chocolate cookies. When I decided to modify the chocolate cookies recipe to make these lemony cookies, I simply omitted all the cocoa powder and vanilla extract. The lemony flavor came from lemon zest and juice. Remember, when using lemon zest, be sure the lemon isn't coated with wax. If you can't find one without wax coating, skip the ingredient. Instead, use the lemon juice with pulps. The lemony flavor will mainly come from the lemon glaze. No zest, no worries.

Beside rolling out the cookie dough and cutting the dough with cookie cutters, place a small scoop of the dough into the foil cupcake liner. Then press the dough to spread it out. Make sure the foil cupcake liners are in the cupcake pan. Bake then frost as directed below.

Since these lemony cookies need to freeze for a few hours before baking, they are perfect for making ahead dessert. Once ready, bake, glaze, and enjoy.

Lemony Cookies
makes about 16, depending on the size of the cookies

1 large egg
6 Tablespoons (3 oz) palm shortening
1/2 cup (3.7 oz)  light brown sugar
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon (1 oz) fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, from 2 lemons
2 cups (8 oz) all purpose flour, more for dusting
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Lemony Glaze
enough to glaze 6 cookies

3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  1. Place a parchment paper or nonstick mat on a baking sheet. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, palm shortening, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, shift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and lemon zest.
  4. Using the hand mixer, mix the flour mixture into the egg mixture.
  5. Place the dough onto the nonstick mat and knead until the dough is shiny. NOTE: Sprinkle flour a little bit at the time to prevent sticking, but don't add too much flour that the dough becomes dry.
  6. Roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thick.
  7. Cut the dough into desired shapes.
  8. Using a thin spatula, transfer the dough onto the prepared baking sheet.
  9. Freeze the cookie dough for 30-60 minutes. NOTE: The longer the freezing time, the better. Feel free to freeze some for future baking.
  10. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
  11. Bake the cookies until crisp, about 10 minutes.
  12. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes. Then transfer the cookies onto the wire rack to cool completely. TIP: To speed up the cooling process, refrigerate the cookies until cool enough to frost.
  13. For the lemony glaze, whisk together the sugar and lemon juice. 
  14. Once the cookies are cooled, spread the glaze on the cookies. TIP: Use a small spatula or a butter knife for an even spreading.
  15. Before serving, place the frosted lemony cookies in the refrigerator to sets up the glaze a bit.
  16. Keep the cookies in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Allergy Info: These lemony cookies are free from or can be made without dairy, corn, legumes (soy), nuts (not coconut or palm), and fish.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


The one thing I've learned from being on Camden's allergy free diet is never waste any food. You will see me scrap the last palm shortening with the rubber spatula.

Yes, I am frugal. I've tried to buy almost everything that are on sale and use coupons. I compare prices, research products, and most of the time, I don't buy things on impulse. Most of the time.

Once, I waited so long for a breakfast table to go on sale that the company actually discontinued making it. When I found another breakfast table, I waited for over two years. Finally, I bought it with a discount and free shipping. It was worth the wait. Now I just have to find the chairs to go with it.

The only reason I don't throw away any food is because there are limited choices of clean food in the grocery stores these days. How many brands of baking powder or active dry yeast that are cleaned? Just one brand. So no, I don't like to throw away food. If I can help it, I will find a way to reinvent the food I already have or freeze them up for future cooking.

One time, I bought a cantaloupe from Sprouts Market. Tasted like cantaloupe. Smelled like cantaloupe. Super sweet and juicy. My kids ate... oh not so much of it and didn't want them any more. I thought and thought about what I'd do with the other half of the cantaloupe. What came to mind was making something cold. Maybe a smoothie? Even better, freeze the blended cantaloupe and scrap them into icee. I did this with lemonade before, making it into lemonade icee. Very refreshing in the summer heat.

Now, if you already scan my icee recipe, you probably think, "What? Just one ingredient?" Yup, just one. Cantaloupe. That's it. Since the cantaloupe was already super sweet and juicy, I never had to add water, milk, or sugar. And guess who luv the cantaloupe icee and asked for more? My kids!!! Go figure, right?

For watermelon and coconut-pineapple, I did add a little bit of agave to taste. After the fruits are blended, be sure to taste and add your preferred sweetener to your liking. Feel free to double or triple the ingredients. The icee is an alternative dairy free cold dessert.

Fruit Juice Icee
serve 4, depending on how much you made

watermelon or cantaloupe, seeded and peeled
sweetener (simple syrup, agave, maple syrup, or honey) to taste
  1. For each fruit, cut it into cubes.
  2. Place them in a blender.
  3. Blend until the fruits becomes a smoothie.
  4. Add sweetener to taste.
  5. Pour the fruit "smoothie" into a freezable container.  NOTE: Casserole dish works well.
  6. Freeze for an hour. Then using a fork, scrap the frozen fruits to break them into ice crystals. 
  7. Freeze for another 30 minutes and again scrape the frozen fruits with a fork. Repeat this step as needed.
  8. Keep frozen until ready to serve.
Coconut-Pineapple Icee (a.k.a Pina Colada)
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup pineapple puree
  1. Warm the coconut milk, using a microwave or a stove top.
  2. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Add the pineapple puree.
  4. Mix and pour into the freezable container.
  5. Freeze for an hour. Then using a fork, scrap the frozen fruits to break them into ice crystals.
  6. Freeze for another 30 minutes and again using a fork to scrap the frozen fruits. Repeat this step as needed.
  7. Keep the coconut-pineapple icee in the freezer until ready to serve.
Allergy Info: The icee is free from dairy, egg, corn, legumes (soy), wheat, nuts (not coconut), and fish. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hand Pies ~ Happy 4th of July

A few weeks ago, I borrowed a lot of cookbooks from the library. After flipping through Better Homes and Garden's Baking cookbook, I came across their pie pop recipe. The photograph of the pie pops was really cute. I was super inspired to try making my own pie pops.

Instead of pie dough, I went with a puff pastry dough for flakier result. The fillings were apples, strawberries, and blueberries, keeping the 4th of July in mind. Since I used a ravioli star stamp, I couldn't get the stamp to press and close the dough because of the stick. I luv how easy it was to use the stamp, so I decided to make hand pie instead.

My ravioli star stamp is pretty small, less than three inches in diameter. If you don't have a ravioli star stamp, you can use star cookie cutter in any size. Then use a fork to crimp the edges. Alternatively, the hand pie can pretty much be in any shape, such as round or square. How about a heart shape hand pie for Valentine's day. See, the possibilities of having fun hand pie shapes are endless. Think of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Xmas....

*UPDATE: Because the ingredients have gotten really expensive, I revised my puff pastry dough by using 1/2 cup instead of 1/3 cup of palm shortening. I stopped using coconut oil.

Hand Pies
inspired by Better Home and Garden's pie pops
makes 6 mini hand pies

Puff Pastry Dough:
1 cup (4 oz.) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup (2 oz.) palm shortening*
1/4 cup (2 oz.) ice water

Egg Wash:
1 large egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water

Pie Fillings:
1/8 cup each apple, strawberries, and wild blueberries
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar, divided
3 teaspoon all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 Tablespoon raw sugar (optional)
  1. Line a baking sheet with a parchment paper or a nonstick mat. Set aside.
  2. Making the dough, by combining the flour, salt, and palm shortening, using your hand.
  3. Add half tablespoon of ice water at the time.
  4. Knead the dough until it comes together. Set aside.
  5. For the egg wash, whisk the egg yolk with water. Set aside.
  6. For each filling, dice each fruit, except the wild blueberries.
  7. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of flour to each diced fruits.
  8. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg to the apple filling. 
  9. Mix all the filling then set aside.
  10. Roll the dough into a rectangular shape and half inch thick.
  11. Cut the dough in half.
  12. Place 1/2 teaspoon of filling on one of the dough.
  13. Brush the dough around the filling with the egg wash.
  14. Place the other dough on top, be careful to keep the filling in a dome shape.
  15. Using a ravioli star stamp or a cookie cutter, press it over the filling. If using the cookie cutter, be sure to crimp the edges with a fork.
  16. Using a spatula, move the hand pies on to the baking sheet. NOTE: If the pie dough is too soft, especially on a summer day, refrigerate the hand pies for about 5 minutes. Then move the hand pies to the prepared baking sheet.
  17. Make three small slits on each hand pie.
  18. Freeze the hand pies for at least 30 minutes. TIP: These hand pies can be made ahead. Keep them frozen until ready to bake.
  19. When ready to bake the hand pies, preheat the oven to 375F degree.
  20. Bruch the hand pies with the egg wash.
  21. Sprinkle the raw sugar on top of each pie.
  22. Bake in the preheated oven until gold brown, about 20 minutes.
  23. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer them to a wiring rack to cool completely. Keep them in an air tight container at a room temperature for up to 3 days.
TIP: Organic fresh blueberries will work with this recipe. Be sure to select the firm and small size blueberries.

These hand pies are made for July 4th celebration. I bet you can come up with your own pie fillings. The savory filling is possible too. How about cooked sausage with cheese or veggies hand pies. So many pie fillings options!!!

Allergy Info: These hand pies are free from or can be made without dairy, egg, corn, legumes (soy), nuts (not coconut or palm), and fish. To make them egg free, use milk or water as a wash instead.