Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Graham Cracker Blondies

Blondies are the non-chocolate version of brownies. I made the blondies before, but I never liked the taste of them. Simply too plain.

I subscribed New Morning's graham crackers via Amazon for many years because they were just cheaper than buying them at a local market. When I received the last order, the expiration date on each box was within six months. Listen, I luv graham crackers, but I honestly don't expect to eat 12 boxes of graham crackers within six months. That's just nuts!!!

I visited the New Morning's website to check for recipes. Let's face it. I could come up with a lot of recipes that used graham crackers. But to use up 12 boxes, I'd need more inspirations.

I came across their graham cracker blondies recipe, and it looked rather promising and easy to modify to dairy free. So I tested the recipe and was extremely happy with it. For the Fall flavors, I add about 1/4 cup of dried cranberry into the batter. They are easy to prepare, keep well in an air tight container, and travel well. Perfect for the lunchbox too.

Graham Cracker Blondies
adapted from Alltune Food's graham cracker blondies
makes 8 two-inch bars

2 large eggs
4 Tablespoon (2 oz) coconut oil or palm shortening
3/4 cup light brown sugar
18 full sheets graham crackers (2 packs from 3 pack box)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup raw almond, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chocolate chips
cooking oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F degree. Line the bottom of 8-inch square pan with a parchment paper then lightly spray the pan with cooking oil. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, oil or shortening, and sugar.
  3. Process the graham crackers in the food processor until finely ground. TIP: Place the graham crackers in a plastic bag and crush them until finely ground. This will be a time consuming process. Process the graham crackers ahead and freeze them for future baking. Be sure to label the freezable bag.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the graham cracker flour, baking powder, almond slices, and chocolate chips.
  5. Mix the graham cracker flour mixture to the egg mixture until just combine.
  6. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan.
  7. Bake in a preheated oven until the tooth pick inserted comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.
  8. Cool the blondies in a pan for 5 minutes then transfer them into a cutting board. Cut them into 8 or 16 equal bars. NOTE: Feel free to cut the blondies in any size. They will serve a big crowd.  
STORING: Keep the graham cracker blondies in an air tight container at a room temperature for up to 3 days. During Fall or Winter, they can be kept at a room temperature for up to a week.

Allergy Info: These graham cracker blondies are free from or can be made without dairy, corn, legumes (soy), and fish. To make them nut free (but not from coconut nut or palm) omit the almonds. The nuts are just for the crunch. I bet they would taste good with seeds. Hmm... I'll have to test out with pumpkin seeds and cranberries for the Fall flavor.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Indoor S'mores with Vanilla Marshmallows

One of the best things in life is finding a good bargain. I luv shopping at Half Price Books. As I mentioned in my Summer Reading blog post, I have a large collection of cookbooks that I can practically run a small library out of my home.

I enjoy making candy at home but finding a good cookbook is another story. Most of the candy making cookbooks are filled with artificial ingredients. When I found Love Foods' Marshmallows, I was super surprised to find the actual ingredients listed in most of the recipes. What makes these marshmallow recipes different is the egg white. The only marshmallow recipes I've seen are the ones that were made from corn syrup. Since I couldn't have corn way back when, I substituted it with maple syrup to make my go-to maple syrup marshmallows. Since the maple syrup is so darn expensive these days, I'm super happy to find an alternative to make marshmallows without it.

After taking it home and flipping through the book that very day, I decided to test out the basic vanilla marshmallows. I modified the recipe to make just half of the amount indicated. Because I used my own vanilla extract, I also added vanilla beans for even more vanilla aromatic. This is optional. Taste the freshly whipped marshmallow and add the vanilla extract with or without vanilla beans to taste.

Vanilla Marshmallows
adapted from Love Foods' Marshmallows
makes about 12 or more, depending on the size

1/4 cup (2 oz) hot water
2 Tablespoons (0.6 oz) gelatin
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
1 1/8 cup (7.7 oz) sugar
1 extra large egg white (1.3 oz)
vanilla bean from 1 vanilla pod
1 - 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
cooking oil
powdered sugar
  1. Mix together the hot water and gelatin. Set it aside.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed pot, whisk together the water and sugar.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil until the candy thermometer reaches 248F degree (firm ball stage), about 8 - 10 minutes.
  4. While the sugar mixture is boiling, whisk the egg white in a stand alone mixer until stiff peak forms.
  5. Split the vanilla bean then scrape the pods. Add the vanilla pods to the whipped egg white and whisk for another minute.
  6. Turn off the mixer and wait for the sugar gelatin mixture.
  7. Once the sugar water reaches 248F degree, turn off the heat and whisk in the gelatin.
  8. Turn the stand alone mixer on low.
  9. Slowly pour the sugar gelatin to the side of the mixture.
  10. Turn the mixer to High speed (8 or 10) and whip for 10 minutes.
  11. While the marshmallow is whipping, spray the 6 by 8 baking pan with a cooking oil. Dust it with powdered sugar. Set it aside. NOTE: I use this size pan because I want thick marshmallows. An 8-inch square or larger baking pan would make thinner marshmallows.
  12. Once ready, add the vanilla extract and whip for another minute. NOTE: Add more vanilla extract to your liking. I add one to two tablespoons of vanilla extract.
  13. Pour the freshly whipped marshmallow into a prepared pan.
  14. Wet your hand and smooth the top. 
  15. Sprinkle with the powdered sugar.
  16. Let it sit in the room temperature for about 15 minutes before cutting them into 1-inch cubes. Enjoy them or keep them in an air tight container at a room temperature for up to a week.
Indoor S'mores
After making some vanilla marshmallows, my kids and I decided to have some fun making s'mores... indoor!!! We decided to test them out by roasting them over the stovetop. They were as delicious as roasting them outdoor over a campfire. My kids actually luv plain toasted marshmallows. You can make as many indoor s'mores as your sweet tooth can handle. The instruction is same.

graham crackers (New Morning)
chocolate chips, melted
vanilla marshmallows
  1. Break a sheet of graham cracker in equal size.
  2. Turn the graham crackers over on a plate.
  3. Spread each graham cracker with melted chocolate. Set aside.
  4. Pierce the vanilla marshmallows with the camping forks.
  5. Turn the stovetop on to a low heat.
  6. Roast the vanilla marshmallows until they are dark brown color and have the burnt sugar aroma.
  7. Place the toasted marshmallows on top of melted chocolate graham crackers.
  8. Place another melted chocolate graham cracker on top of the toasted marshmallow to form a s'more. Enjoy!!!
Allergy Info: These vanilla marshmallows are free from or can be made without dairy, corn, legumes (soy), wheat, nuts, and fish.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Vanilla Extract

One of the shockers when I first started Camden's allergy free diet was how the ordinary kitchen essentials, like vanilla extract, would have corn in it. If I read the ingredient listed on the prepackaged vanilla extract, I'd see vanilla and ethyl alcohol. So what's the corn? The ethyl alcohol. Yeah, I didn't know that it is actually made from corn. Thanks to my friend, Nicole, who told me what to avoid during the corn free diet phrase.

Believe it or not, vanilla extract is actually very easy to make. There are only two ingredients needed: vanilla and potato vodka. The secret to process the vanilla extract is time. It will take a few weeks for the potato vodka to seep into the vanilla beans, giving that vanilla essence. Once ready, the vanilla extract is kept in an air tight glass bottle indefinitely.

Even after Camden outgrew his food allergy, I decided to continue eating cleanly. I still make my own vanilla extract out of potato vodka and rum. For vanilla pods, they are cheaper when purchasing them online. Four years ago, I bought fifty vanilla pots from the internet for about twenty dollars. To this day, I still have half of the amount of the pods left.

Vanilla Extract
makes as much as you want

5-7 vanilla pods
potato vodka or rum
  1. Add 5-7 vanilla pods into a bottle of potato vodka or rum. NOTE: When adding the vanilla pods into the bottle, the liquid might overflow. Pour out a little bit of potato vodka or rum into a small bottle to use later. 
  2. Leave the bottle in a dry and cool pantry.
  3. Once a week or so, shake the bottle.
  4. The vanilla extract is ready when the potato vodka or rum has dark amber color.
Allergy Info: This vanilla extract is free from or can be made without dairy, egg, corn, legume (soy), wheat, nuts, and fish. Do a little research and find out which potato vodka or rum is corn free. Keep in mind that some packaging is made from corn. The vanilla pods I purchased online came in a vacuum sealed bag. Definitely ask around and call companies to check their sources and packaging to prevent allergic reactions.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Slow-Cook Pulled Pork (dry spice rub)

I've been watching cooking shows nearly every day. I luv, luv, luv Bobby Flay, Anne Burrell, and Ina Garten. Their recipes are pretty flexible to modify. After I tested so many of their recipes, I decided that they are the best chefs on Food Network.

With that said, I watched Bobby's BBQ Addiction and noticed that he didn't really measure his spices. He would said the amount but he just sprinkled the spices on to the bowl. So when it comes to dry rub, anything goes. Really!!! No jokes!!! It is just ratio on what I want to taste on my meat. I really don't like cumin. It's sort of stinky to me. When making my dry spice rub, I tend not to add too much.

So take all the spices out of your pantry and decide what do you want to make. Here's what I usually do. I have in front of me: sea salt, grounded black peppers, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, paprika, light brown sugar. Using a kitchen scale, I measure each ingredient in ratio. If I want Asian flavor, I would change it up by adding grounded star anise or ginger and omit cumin.

This is an alternative way to get away from slaving in the kitchen, especially on a hot summer day. Thinking ahead, you can make your own dry spice rub. Put them in a cute little bottle for a homemade present. The dry spice rub can be kept in an air tight container at a room temperature indefinitely.

Slow-Cook Pulled Pork (dry spice rub)
serves 8

4 to 5 pounds pork shoulder
2 parts (2 oz.) light or dark brown sugar
1 part (1 oz.) sea salt
1/2 part (0.5 oz.) of the following: grounded black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder
1/4 part (0.2 oz.) of the following: cumin, paprika
  1. Place the pork shoulder on a large cutting board. Trim off the fats.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients in a medium size bowl.
  3. Generously, rub the dry spice on to the pork shoulder.
  4. Put the pork shoulder in the slow cooker's pot fats side up. 
  5. Place the pot in the refrigerator over night. NOTE: If time is limited, go ahead and plug in the slow cooker. The flavor is still there, just not as strong.
  6. In the morning, plug in the slower cooker and turn it on HIGH.
  7. Let the pork cook until dinner time, about 6 to 7 hours. NOTE: I usually turn on the slow cooker at 10am and the dinner is around 5pm.
  8. Shred the pulled pork with a fork, discard any fats. Serve and enjoy!
TIPS: There are so many ways I serve this pulled pork: pulled pork tortilla wrap, quesadilla, bao's filling, pulled pork lettuce wrap, or pulled pork sandwich. The possibilities are endless.

Any leftover can be freeze up to six months. No need to defrost them for pizza toppings.

Click here to search for my bread alternative recipes to serve with the pulled pork.

Allergy Info: This dry spice rub is free from or can be made without dairy, eggs, corn, legumes (soy), wheat, nuts, and fish.