Salted Caramel Popcorn, made without refined sugar!!

Just because you're leading a healthier lifestyle, it doesn't mean that sweet treats are never going to happen again. I have been allowing myself to create and enjoy one sweet treat every Sunday. Now, the treats I allow myself still have to fit into my healthy lifestyle plan but can be just a deacadant as I remember but now will help me lead a healthier life!

This week we're enjoying Salted Caramel Popcorn made with unrefined Coconut Sugar. I'm sure for most of you, Coconut Sugar isn't something you already stock in your pantry and to be completely honest I've only been using it for the past few months. I spent hours researching alternative sweeteners that I could use in strict moderation, yet without compromising the versatility of sugar. It was love at first taste for me, it's a rich, deep, complex sweetness, more similar to brown sugar than to white sugar. It's properties are very similar to the regular white refined sugar cane sugar we're all very familiar with, it's swapped out at 1:1 ratio. 

Coconut Sugar is a far superior choice to regular sugar, here's a table comparing the macro nutrients from www.sugarcoconut.com/health-benefits/nutritional-values.html

Macro-nutrients (mg / l – ppm, dry)Coconut SugarBrown SugarRefined, White Sugar
Nitrogen (N)2,0201000
Phosphorus (P)790300.7
Potassium  (K)10,30065025
Calcium (Ca)6024060
Magnesium (Mg)2907010
Sodium (Na)4502010
Chlorine (Cl)4,700180100
Sulfur (S)26013020
Boron (B)600
Zinc (Zn)2121.2
Manganese (Mn)120
Iron (Fe)220.60.6
Copper (Cu)212.61.2

Nutritionally - Coconut Sugar is far superior to regular or brown sugar, which is a huge bonus! And Coconut Sugar has less of an impact on your blood sugar when you eat it! "The glycemic index of coconut sugar based on test results from the Philippines, USA, Japan and Australia is in the range of 35 to 54 GI per serving. Other sugars such as refined white sugar, muscovado sugar, and molasses have a range of 65 to 100 GI per serving! Other natural sweeteners such as date sugar has a 100 GI per serving, Maple Syrup has 69+ GI per serving and Honey has a 70+ GI per serving." from http://www.sugarcoconut.com/health-benefits/glycemic-index.html

And there is no "refinement" process for Coconut Sugar like there is for white-table sugar.. They take the sap from the coconut tree flowers, the sap is heated to evaporate out the moisture and what's left behind is Coconut Sugar!! Only bad news is that the flower that had it's sap removed won't make a coconut :( All sweeteners need to be used in very strict moderation, because it's easy to get carried away and over consume. Even healthier sugars can be a problem if you eat too much. We only have our sweet treat on Sunday (and we just have enough for one sitting - leftovers would extend to monday or tuesday and that's waaaay to many sweets for us to have as part of our healthy diet!)

So who doesn't love Caramel Popcorn!? I know I do, but I was really craving something salty-sweet, I modified the traditional method and pre-seasoned my popcorn with a drizzle of butter and added sea salt to my caramel for an extra punch!

Here's my recipe:

Preheat oven to 350F

1/3c Popcorn Kernels, Preferably Air Popped
1/8c Butter or Ghee, melted

Drizzle butter over popcorn and toss to mix, set aside

In a small saucepan with a candy thermometer combine:
2T Water
1c Coconut Sugar
1/2t Vanilla

Cook over medium heat do not stir, swirl pan gently or use a pastry brush dipped in water to 
wipe the coconut sugar crystals down. When it reaches "Soft Ball" state (240F) remove from heat and gently wisk in:
1T Butter, room temp
4 pinches of Baking Powder (why dirty a measuring spoon!?)
1/8t Celtic Sea Salt (more or less to taste)

Drizzle carmel over pre-buttered popcorn, toss to evenly distribute. All your popcorn won't be completely coated - remember you don't want to over do it, this is still part of a healthy diet, right?! 
Spread the carmel coated popcorn on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, bake at 350 for 5 minutes.


Quick and Simple Gluten-Free Cheese Sauce

Ok this morning (on my day off) I remembered we had leftover broccoli in the fridge from last night's dinner and started craving broccoli and cheese sauce! Since I'm wheat/gluten-free I wasn't exactly sure I could come up with a quick and simple cheese sauce - sans wheat-flour - OH and we're out of milk!

So - my first try is a huge success and only proves how easy real food cooking from scratch can be! This recipe is a keeper!!!

1T Organic Salted Butter
1t Organic Tapioca Flour/Starch
1c Organic Cheese (i used Raw Longhorn cheese)
1/4c Organic Coconut Milk (or cow's milk)
Salt, Pepper, spices, etc..

In a small pot melt butter over medium/low heat, wisk in the Tapioca starch cook for a minute, add milk  and cheese - keep wisking till smooth!

I seasoned mine with lots of ground mustard (maybe 1/4 to 1/2t) and white pepper (1/8t to 1/4t) and sprinkled in a dash of onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric and paprika.. then salted to taste.. '

It's super yummy and the most complicated part was grating the cheese! You can add more milk to thin your sauce to your desired consistency!


Puffball (Mushroom) Parmesan

Have you seen those large white puff ball mushrooms growing - most of the time they can easily be mistaken for a volleyball :) It's a little known fact that puffballs are edible mushrooms - as long as they are completely white the whole way though. I'm not a mushroom expert and eating wild mushrooms isn't something to jump into there are risks of illness and death - I always stress to beginners to find someone local who's knowledgable, buy some books and find an internet group to ask questions. There's lots of people out there that will help! So I can't stress enough, I'm not an expert but my husband and I have been hunting mushrooms for years and years and years.. only recently we've gotten really serious - it's addictive to find and identify new mushrooms and it's a culinary delight when it's a choice edible!!

Here's some great info - check it out for more details: http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Mushrooms.Folder/Giant%20Puffball.html

I haven't had the luck some mushroom hunters to find lots of giant puff balls but from the ones that we have found, I've come up with a really awesome recipe for Puffball Parmesan. The best part is - it's gluten-free and low carb!!

Puffball Mushroom(s) - remove dirt and any tough outer skin
Parmesan Cheese
Fat for Frying - I recommend Lard, Tallow, Butter or Coconut oil
Tomato Marinara Sauce for topping

I can't give you exact measurements - it depends on how much mushroom you've found!
Take your clean puffball, slice about 1/2 inch thick (you'll be sure its all white too!) Dip the slices of puffball in beaten egg then bread with parmesan cheese then fry over medium heat till golden brown, drain on a paper towel lined plate, serve with Marinara Sauce. I can only explain the taste as cheese crusted mushroom flavored marshmallow!

All Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I've been searching for the perfect ice cream recipe for years.. and have consistently failed. Too hard, Too Icy, Too much cream/eggs to be affordable, etc. Finally I found "Jeni's Splended Ice Creams at Home" by Jeni Britton Bauer (I recommend it! It's really an awesome book!!) and made several of her recipes with great success. However her recipes weren't exactly what I was looking for - unique hard to find supplies and cumbersome measurements... so with several more batches of ice cream I've come up with a fantastic recipe!!

Yield: 2 quarts of ice cream

4c Whole Milk, (preferably Organic Grass-fed Raw Milk, shaken well)
2c Heavy Cream, (preferably Organic Grass-fed Raw Heavy Cream)
1/3c Organic Brown Rice Syrup
1-1/3c Organic Sugar (I use 2/3c cane sugar and 2/3c coconut sugar)
2 Vanilla Beans (split & scraped)

1/2c Whole Milk (preferably Organic Grass-fed Raw Milk, shaken well)
3T Organic Tapioca Starch (same as Tapioca Flour)

3oz Organic Cultured Cream Cheese
1/4t Celtic Sea Salt

In a small bowl or measuring cup wisk together milk/tapioca starch...

Place cream cheese and sea salt in your blender or food processor (with 2 quart capacity)

In a large pot, combine milk, cream, syrup, sugar and scraped vanilla bean pods/seeds.... bring to a boil over medium/high heat, stirring occasionally... Boil for 4 minutes then remove from heat and wisk in the milk/tapioca starch then over medium/high heat bring back to a boil for 1 minute stirring constantly, remove from heat.... remove vanilla bean pods

Pouring through a fine mesh strainer (to remove vanilla bean pods) add 1/4 of your cooked mixture to your blender/cream cheese/salt and mix gently until combined - add the rest and gently blend for 2 minutes... Remember to be really careful since when you blend hot stuff, the steam can cause a mini-explosion (I did it with tomato soup) so make sure not to fill your blender over 3/4 full and be mindful of the lid!! Our Vitamix has a steam lid so that it won't explode :)

Completely chill the mixture.. I've done it 2 ways - putting the whole blender container in the fridge over night or to chill quickly... Pour your ice cream base into a gallon ziploc bag and sandwich in layers of ice in a big bowl it will be chilled in about 30 min...

Add your chilled base to your 2 quart automatic ice cream maker, I have a Cuisinart ICE_30BC and love it!! Mine is frozen in about 20 min, then transfer to a freezer container, pressing to remove any air. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours!


DIY Citrus Enzymatic Cleaner

I was watching the news earlier this week and they did a special report on the best and worst cleaning sprays - I wasn't surprised when they said that regular old white vinegar out performed all chemical-laden toxic spray cleaners! WHOO-HOO!

There's lots of information on the Internet regarding making an enzymatic citrus cleaner - which is basically super-charged vinegar! And a great way to utilize citrus rinds before composting.

I keep a jar in the fridge and accumulate citrus rinds after we've juiced them. Once the jar is full of rinds (any combination of lemon, lime, orange, and/or grapefruit will work - cut larger pieces to fit in your jar) fill your jar with white distilled vinegar, seal up with a lid and store in a dark place. Let it sit for a month or longer.

I use mine as an all-purpose spray cleaner. Equal parts of Citrus Enzymatic Vinegar and water, then I add in a few drops of Dr Bronner's Sal Suds in a spray bottle. Give it a light shake and it's ready to use through out your house!

All Natural Agave Margarita Mix Recipe!

Have you ever looked at the ingredients in the mixers for adult beverages? Let's just say that it's on the list of things that now that I know, I wish I could forget :) I'm ruined. I love a margarita, on the rocks with LOTS of salt.. and there aren't any commercial-bottled margarita mixers that I can put into my body. (honestly, I know I'll drink the booze but god-for-bid I ingest HFC or preservatives!?! Oh the irony, but we each have our weaknesses, mine is definitely booze!) So, what a great way to spend a Friday Night - creating my own Margarita Mix!

Here's my (soon to be famous) Margarita Recipe:

5 Limes, juiced
1 Lemons, juiced
1/2c Water
1/2c Organic Agave

In a pint (or other similar 2c container) combine aguave, water and fresh juice - shake well to combine. I've found that a hand-press juicer works best (I got ours at Target for $10)

I must say - DO NOT under any circumstances cheat and try to use the bottled juice crap, cause it's crap, OK? thanks! I mean really - just buy the crap in the bottle then if you can't handle the citrus juicing!!

BUT WAIT! .......Don't toss out or compost those citrus rinds! Use them to make my Citrus Enzymatic Cleaner!

Ok back to the Margaritas - cause I'm getting thirsty!  Tequila.   Need I say more, it's been such a good friend to me over the years :) Now - I don't normally tell stories on my blog but I will make this one exception :) Last year we vacationed at Secrets Huatulco (which is breath-takingly beautiful!) along with a group of friends...

Vacay 2012 at Secrets Huatulco Mexico

One of our dearest friends joined us on vacay last year for the first time, I'll call her "Suga" (pronounced sugar without the r at the end, like the song "Oh, sugar-suga") Suga took a mid-day break from the sun and returned late afternoon - I found her sitting at the pool-bar doing shots of tequila, because "She is behind on drinking" .. and I believe that was the same night the Mr. Suga had to climb through the 'secret door'  since he didn't have a room key and Suga was asleep :) Please keep in mind we're not young people.... but we typically are the life of the party where ever we go!

Mixing your Margarita:

1/4c Homemeade Margarita Mix
1.5 oz Tequila
.5 oz Triple Sec
Kosher or Margarita Salt

Fill a pint sized canning jar with ice, add in your margarita mix, tequila and triple sec - put on a lid and shake-shake-shake... and Yes I love canning jars!

In one bowl put your salt and another bowl a folded up wet paper towel. Rub the rim of your glass on the wet paper towel then dip in the salt.. Carefully pour you Margarita into your salted glass and enjoy!

Try it out and let me know what you think!


Hot Fudge Sauce made with Coconut Sugar and Honey!

Here's a quick and easy (Refined Sugar-Free) recipe for Hot Fudge Sauce!

1/2c Butter
3T Cocoa Powder
3/4c Coconut Milk
1c Coconut Sugar
1/3c Honey

Combine and bring to a simmer over medium heat - simmer for 7 minutes. Remove from stove then add 1/2t vanilla and blend for 1 minute in your blender - Yield 2 cups of Hot Fudge Sauce!

NOTE: be careful not to fill your blender over 1/2 way when blending hot stuff - the steam can make the lid pop off and make a painful mess - I have a vitamix with a steam releasing lid so I don't have to worry.


Salted Carmel Sauce made with Coconut Sugar!

Yes, I get the occasional craving for a sweet treat too! But just because I want something soothing and sweet, doesn't mean that I abandon my convictions regarding food choices!

We planted several tiny apple trees nearly 10 years ago when we bought our house and they are finally producing beautiful apples!! And who doesn't love Carmel and Apples?!?! I know I have always loved carmel apples - I remember my grandmother buying me those 3 packs of carmel apples in the grocery store.... But the challenge is we don't eat "sugar" or "corn syrup" - that makes it tough to make a carmel....

Coconut Sugar - Have you ever had it? I encourage you to seek some out and I'm sure it will become a staple of your pantry. But I must caution, just because it's better than refined sugar options, it's still a sweetener and you still must use self-control! Coconut sugar has similar properties to sugarcane sugar, but lower Glycemic Index and a more complex flavor similar to brown sugar.

I treat myself with having coconut sugar in my coffee on Friday, Saturday and Sundays (Mon-Thur I have stevia) and along with coconut milk - I think it's the most heavenly coffee ever!

Tonight was my 2nd time making Coconut Sugar Salted Carmel Sauce and it's not going to be the last time!! Here's my recipe:

1c Organic Coconut Sugar
2T water

Combine in small pot and bring to a simmer over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Once it starts to boil/simmer DO NOT STIR! You can lightly swirl the pan or using water on a pastry brush- wipe the sides of the pot to wash any melted carmel down.  I keep a candy thermometer in mine, but have not be focusing on a specific temperature as a stopping point but just the 5 minutes - which seems to be around 250 degrees.

Remove your pot from the stove and wisk in - in small amounts since it will bubble up:

1t Ghee or Butter
1/2c Organic Coconut Milk
1/4t Vanilla
1/4t Sea Salt

Makes about 1-1/4 c carmel sauce, will be runny at first but refrigerate to thicken.

I started using Ghee (clarified butter) as opposed to just butter to eliminate the dairy milk solids - to make it a pure fat. I've been reducing my dairy intake as Ghee is a great way to keep the taste without "diary" - for those following Paleo or dairy-free diets some consume Ghee but not butter.


Sauerkraut - Part 1

Sauerkraut is so simple to make and when you make fermented sauerkraut at home it's SO GOOD FOR YOU! There's lots of media attention regarding the benefits of incorporating probiotics into your diet - don't just rely on pills, use real food to boost your friendly-gut-bacterias!

Today we started 2 gallons of Kraut.. this post is how to get started, look for more posts as I track it's progress...

Here's a step by step of how we're making ours, required supplies are pretty basic and the process is really simple. Shred cabbage, sprinkle salt, pound to release liquid, cover and let sit...

Today we bought 6 medium heads of cabbage at the farmers market and gathered our supplies. We got our antique kraut shredder from Ray's parents and our 2 gallon crock from my grandmother. (you can use a food processor with a slicing blade or just hand-cut your cabbage too! and you don't need a crock any non-plastic or non-metal vessel will work!)

We cut each head of cabbage in half and removed the core....

Ray shredded each half....

 Then we'd put about 2 inches of shredded cabbage in the bottom of the crock and sprinkled liberally with Celtic sea salt...

 Then pound your salted cabbage, you are trying to get the cabbage to release it's liquid. We use the wooden plunger for our kitchen-aid mixer's meat grinder attachment along with our fists in a punching motion...

 Keep  pounding the cabbage until the liquid released will cover the shredded cabbage when you press it down..

Keep adding additional cabbage/salt in 1-2 inch layers, and keep pounding.

 Our 2 gallon crock held 6 heads of shredded cabbage.. In order for the cabbage to ferment into sauerkraut you need to allow it to sit with the cabbage fully submerged underwater. Use a plate or other flat item that fills up the crock but can be pressed down (I used the lid from my rice cooker, it fit in the crock perfectly! If the weight of the item you are using as a submerged lid isn't heavy enough to keep the liquid above the cabbage, apply weight like a gallon jug of water or a brick.

Cover the entire top of your crock with cheese cloth and allow it to sit at room temperature and out of direct sunlight... every couple days check it out to make sure everything is submerged and to skim any foamy stuff that may collect on top...

Creamy Coleslaw

I don't know about you, but I love coleslaw! I worked to perfect a wonderfully sweet-tangy coleslaw recipe that's similar to what you've had our at chain restaurants and kept full of real food ingredients! Here's my recipe:

1/2c Mayo
1/2c Sour Cream
1/3c Sugar (I use honey and/or coconut sugar, since we no longer use sugar)
3T Lemon Juice, fresh squeezed (I've used red wine vinegar and it's good too)
2T White Vinegar
1t Sea Salt
1/4t Black Pepper, fine ground
1t Onion powder

Mix everything together and toss over shredded cabbage/carrot. The dressing will work on about 1 med head of cabbage or 1 bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix.