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Umm…Happy Halloween

And now, for the most depressing link roundup I could possibly manage:

What’s scarier than Halloween? Blood Chocolate. –an account of trafficking, child labor, and corporate pressure to keep beans cheap.

Broken Hearts: A Review of Industry Efforts to Eliminate Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry –showing how despite efforts, the real power to end the abuses lies in the hands of the chocolate companies, (like Hershey’s), who appear to be mostly concerned with profit.

And if we needed another reason: oh goody. Cancer, Hyperactivity, and Allergies may lurk in Trick-or-Treat bags. (Hint: it’s the synthetic food dyes.)

Then there’s less depressing stuff that nonetheless makes me sigh, because I know the kids around here wouldn’t fall for it: Replacing Candy with Sugar-Free Eco-Friendly Treats. (Know what I would have done if I’d planned ahead more? Gotten on ebay and bought a buttload of those ridiculous “silly band” things in bulk, and given those out. At least they are popular, and while they are ridiculous, they at least don’t use up THAT many resources…)

At least for costumes this year we were able to go second-hand and homemade…Harry Potter and (we think–Halloween isn’t for another two days) Tinkerbelle. (Or Belle.  Or Little Black Cat. She keeps changing her mind.  Fortunately, we can manage any of the three with thrift-store finds and fifteen minutes at the sewing machine.

At last, one final eco-tip, courtesy of my son:

“Pillowcases hold WAY more candy than plastic pumpkins!”

(And are more eco-friendly, but I’m not sure that’s his motivation…)

Happy Halloween! Be safe, be as green as you can, be healthy, and most of all have fun.

Chocolate Egg Custard in the microwave

Last summer at some point I made it my mission to figure out if I could really make “baked” custard, that lovely smooth comfort food to end all comfort foods, in the microwave.  And I succeeded--I’ve had me a lot of comfort since then, and while I suspect the inconsistency of my results has more to do with egg size than anything else, it’s never bad, just sometimes better than others.

What shocks me is that it took till last week or so to wonder if I could get similarly successful results with a chocolate egg custard.  It seems like a no-brainer, and I suppose at some point I wondered idly if it would work, but I never actually tried it.

Till last night.  Oh man, you gotta give this a try. Tres classy, tres easy, and it doesn’t have much in the way of unhealthy stuff, unless you think eggs are bad for you. (Well, and there’s the sugar…)

So: Chocolate Custard in the Microwave (single serving–doubles easily!)

  • heat 1/2 cup of milk in the microwave for about one minute, till it is hot but not boiling
  • In a small bowl, custard cup. or smallish coffee cup, mix 3 level tsp. sugar and one heaping tsp. unsweetened baking cocoa. Optional: add a few drops of vanilla extract, a shake of cinnamon, or a pinch of instant coffee.
  • When milk is hot, pour just a little into the sugar/cocoa mix and stir to form a paste.
  • Break one egg into the sugar/cocoa paste; stir well until combined and egg white and yolks are well blended.
  • A little at a time, whisk remainder of hot milk into egg mixture, pausing often to combine. (This “tempers” the egg; it mixes without curdling or cooking.)
  • Microwave on low power (2-3) for about 3.5-4 minutes, depending on your microwave.  Your mixture should never actually come to a boil, but it should basically be “set” on top. (There may be a little puddle of liquidyness on top even if the rest is set; don’t worry about it.) (Note: the first time you try this you’ll need to supervise closely, and you’ll have to do it again if you later decide to try doubling or tripling the recipe. You want the whole thing to be gently puffing, but if the liquid in it comes to full boil the custard will start to curdle.  It’ll still taste nice, but it won’t have that velvety texture.) When you take it out of the oven, it should jiggle a little like set gelatin, but not be firmly set; and remember it’ll keep cooking for a few minutes after you take it out.
  • Chill at least half an hour before eating, if you like it warm, or a few hours for cold. (No way around this; it has to finish setting and cool down a little before you cut into it.)

Delish! Somehow the chocolate version worked better than the vanilla, maybe because of the extra body the cocoa powder gives or something? But it was delightful.  Seriously, you gotta try this.  I mean, look at the ingredients! Milk! Egg! Cocoa! (er…sugar! but it’s your own sugar, and you control how much!) You want a chocolate fix, forget candy bars or pre-made high-calorie desserty things, just go for THIS.

(UPDATE: curious about the whole different-consistency-with-cocoa thing, last night I did another experiment and made vanilla custard again but followed these chocolate-custard directions, using a heaping teaspoon of powdered milk instead of cocoa…the result was superb, and it had the same richer consistency as the chocolate version only without the chocolateand much less of a tendency to overcook/curdle.  A few more calories, yes, but not much, and it’s a great improvement!)

Winter Drink Mixes: Instant Chai and Cocoa (gift ideas!)

I love hot cocoa, I love chai, I love hot winter drinks and fancy eggnog lattes…but I don’t like paying upwards of $3 for a small (excuse me…”tall”) cup of Something at the local coffee joint, complete with disposable cup and ridiculous numbers of calories.

And yes, I’m the person who, when I do break down and hit Starbucks, orders hot chocolate with skim milk but says yes to the whipped cream.  So sue me.

Since this is the time of year when gifts and holiday Stuff is on people’s minds, I’ll probably be joining the rest of the mommyblogosphere over the next couple of weeks posting DIY ideas for gifts and yummies, especially the kind that can be substitutions for otherwise processed or heavily packaged goods. 

For some unknown reason, back in July of all things I posted recipes for homemade hot chocolate–both the stuff you make by the cup in your own kitchen, and a mix that you can just add water to.  Seriously, these are both way way better than the stuff that comes in the little packets, much more chocolaty and just plain tasty than that chick with the braids on the commercials peddles. (Er…does the Swiss Miss still look like that? It occurs to me that I haven’t seen one of those commercials in ages…)

Recently I also found a recipe for homemade chai tea mix, which is another thing I tend to buy at the coffee shop from time to time, and which I likewise hate shelling out the money for.  The recipe, unfortunately, had a high level of Coffee-Mate in it, like so many recipes for hot drinks one finds on the internet, and that stuff is verboten in my kitchen.  So I futzed a little and have put together a recipe that just uses powdered milk. 

Instant Chai Tea Mix

In a blender, mix:

  • 1.5 cup powdered nonfat milk
  • 1-1.5 cup sugar
  • 1-1.5 cup instant unsweetened tea mix (the stuff that under ingredients says “100% tea”)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

Blend to a fine powder. Store in dry airtight container. Multiply recipe as desired.

To serve: in a cup, put 2-3 tbs. mix; pour 8 oz. hot milk or water over it and stir. (Milk is better…water is lower cal.)

(VERDICT: the milk version is really lovely and rich and tastes a lot like what you’d buy at the coffee shop.  The water version is still good, but obviously not as rich. I like two tbs. mix in the milk version and 3 in the hot water version…)

******

That’s it!  If you’re just making it for yourself to drink at home, you don’t even have to do the blender thing; the powdered milk looks funky and doesn’t mix quite as well unless you blend it, but it still works and tastes really good. 

Homemade real chai is even yummier,  and also just as easy if you have already-blended chai tea bags–just brew them in hot milk instead of hot water, sweeten with honey, and you’re good to go.  (That’s the downside of the mix; there’s not really a practical way to get honey into it, and honey is part of what makes chai taste so nice.  I suppose you could eliminate the sugar from the mix entirely and just sweeten on your own…)

So have fun! Cocoa and chai both do really well as gifts packed in nice dry jars with a little instruction sheet alongside. 

And by the way…another little trick I discovered along the way was that instead of coughing up the $$$ for an eggnog latte, I can just make my own coffee at home and put in a little eggnog (homemade or store-bought) instead of milk or cream.  It’s my downfall, because every year I’m able to get a little away from coffee, but then once the holiday season hits I’m drinking down the coffee because I want an excuse to drink just a little bit of eggnog every day…it’s sort of pathetic.

Tomorrow I’ll post my recipes/methods for making our own winter tea blend (another gift idea) and mulling spices.

5 minute chocolate cake in a mug…

Okay, putting this on a “green” blog is a little bit of a stretch, I guess.  Except possibly for the “not eating processed food” angle…

My folks sent me an email with a recipe for chocolate cake that you make in a mug and microwave.  I didn’t try it as it was because it involved something like a quarter cup of oil, and I’m just not willing to do that.  So I futzed and adapted…this final result is pretty good, fairly low fat, and satisfies at least my own “I want serious chocolate and I want it now” cravings…

Cake in a Mug

In a microwavable mug, mix:

  • 2 tbs flour
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 1 (heaping?) tbs baking cocoa

Add an egg and mix well.

Add 3 tbs plain yogurt and a dash of vanilla extract and mix well

Add about 1 tbs mini chocolate chips and mix well (you can sort of skip this step, but honestly it’s what really makes it taste good, it’s worth it.)

Microwave on high for about 2.5-3 minutes. (Note: if it’s working RIGHT you will probably see the whole thing rising up like a souffle over the top of the mug, but not spilling over the edges.  If your microwave heats unevenly, you might see only half at a time rising, which means the other half might drip over the edge.  Thus far I haven’t had one of these explode, though.)

Upend onto a plate. Let cool, slice, and eat.

I should warn you–what comes out of the mug is seriously fugly. More poo-looking than the Laralike Bars I made last week.  Big and pocked and sort of lumpy-gross looking.  But once you slice it up it looks better, and it tastes really nice,with a dense consistency sort of like pound cake or those flour-less cakes you can get, studded with melted chocolate chips–besides, what true chocolate-lover would be put off by looks? This is rich and heavy and chocolaty, begging for some nice vanilla ice cream on the side…

peace,

J

UPDATE:  I found a variation on this recipe, with peanut butter…it is likewise really really delicious. Here it is:

In a mug, mix well:

  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1 tbs cocoa powder
  • 4 tbs milk
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbs granulated sugar
  • 2 tbs peanut butter, softened
  • a few drops vanilla extract
  • 1 tbs chocolate chips optional

Microwave 1 ½ minutes, treat as in previous recipe. (This one is even better!)

“Real” hot cocoa

I could pretend this is about recipes for children, but the truth is that I love hot cocoa and drink it almost daily, especially since I’m trying to at least sporadically get off of coffee. 

Powdered pre-made cocoa=bleech. In my obviously fairly biased opinion.  It’s too sweet, sorta fake, and I don’t really know what’s in there besides lots and lots of sugar and a comparatively small amount of actual chocolate.  Thing is, once I discovered how unbelievably easy it is to make “real” hot cocoa, I’ve effectively stopped drinking it except in a pinch at chorus rehearsals when I need a little sugar hit during a break. (okay, it’s not that bad. But it doesn’t compare to the real stuff.)

So: Unbelievably Easy Single Serving Hot Cocoa

  • heat 1 cup (8 oz) milk in the microwave; pyrex cup is good for this
  • while it’s heating, put 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 tsp sugar into a mug. (To taste–my kids like less cocoa and more sugar–yeah, big surprise!–but when I make it for myself I’ll often almost double the cocoa. Just for the antioxidants. ;-))
  • (optional) if desired, add a sprinkle of cinnamon, a few drops of vanilla, or half a teaspoon of instant coffee powder
  • when milk is hot, pour a little–just a couple tbs.–into the cocoa/sugar mixture; mix to form a paste. This will keep it from being lumpy. (Don’t even consider skipping this step; it’s key.)
  • Pour the rest of the milk in, stir, and enjoy.

Another way is to use hot tap water to make the paste, pour cold milk into the mug, and heat that in the microwave, but I’ve had too many experiences of the paste rising to the top and forming a big bubble that explodes all over the microwave.  The instant pre-made stuff is prone to that too, by the way.

Of course, you can also make your own hot chocolate mix using cocoa, powdered milk, and sugar–this would be in the “cooking in quantity” category, and on a green level (like the above) would have its own positive garbage-reduction impact; take a little reusable container to work to keep in the desk, keep some at home, etc. and you avoid those unrecyclable foil-filled envelopes.  (Do they still use those? You can tell it’s been a while since I’ve bought them…) Also, naturally, you have the ability to know exactly what’s going into your drink–organic milk, free trade organic cocoa, and such, if that’s your thing.  It certainly is mine. I haven’t done a free trade rant on this blog yet, but one of these days I’ll get to it; in the meantime www.thestoryofstuff.com talks about “externalizing costs” for the things we buy so cheaply, which is another way of saying that I get it cheap because someone else is shouldering the cost, whether it’s people or the planet itself…which is Not Really Fair, when you think of it, ya know?  Especially if there’s a bunch of corporate weenies between me and the cacao farmer who are getting filthy rich in the process.  (Okay, I guess that was a mini-rant.)

Where was I? Ah yes, instant hot cocoa recipe (and I have to say I’m fairly incensed at how many of the recipes for “make your own instant cocoa” one finds online have Coffee-Mate of all things as their main ingredient.)

This makes a great “teacher gift” for kids to give their teachers at the holidays, by the way.  Unless your kids go to the same school as mine, in which case I have dibs.

Instant Hot Cocoa Bulk Recipe (easy to remember)

  • 1 part unsweetened cocoa (fair trade and organic!?:-))
  • 2 parts sugar
  • 3 parts nonfat dry milk

Put 1/3 cup mix into a mug; pour hot water over it.

Could that be any easier? You don’t even exactly have to know what kind of measuring-thing you have, just as long as the ratios are pretty clear.  Obviously you can play around with the ratios a bit, depending on how chocolatey you want it, or how sweet (this recipe is pretty sweet–it’s my “kid” version).  And you can add cinnamon to the mix if you choose–maybe 2 tsp per cup of actual cocoa powder (reduce or increase as you wish).  If you want to get really schmantzy, store a couple of vanilla beans in your sugar for a month or two, and you have vanilla sugar, which is great for almost anything but really shines in hot cocoa.

Note: it’s really important to pour the water over the mix, not the mix into the hot water, especially with your own recipe.  Otherwise it lumps and gloops horribly.  Some recommend that you blend or food process (or sift or sieve, but who has time for that?) the mix after combining the ingredients, because the powdered milk doesn’t always dissolve well; I have never had any problem at all with that in hot water, but your mileage may vary.  Sometimes I put it in a ziploc bag and pound it a bit, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference in my final product.

Those of us watching our calorie counts–well, do the math. 1 cup of nonfat milk is what, 100 calories? 2 tsp sugar is 32, 1 tsp cocoa powder is something like 7.  Not bad for a fairly decadent-tasting chocolate fix.

peace,

J

p.s. unsweetened cocoa powder should be very firmly distinguished from what you can now sometimes find under the label of “drinking chocolate”–this stuff is much more expensive, takes much more per cup, has way more calories, and is absolutely to die for.  It’s sort of to ordinary hot cocoa what espresso is to coffee, and is usually drunk in espresso-like quantities.  At least in public. 🙂 I don’t generally go near it because it would quickly ruin me for the regular stuff, nor have I explored how to make it myself (same reason), but please feel free to explore your own personal nirvana.

How many calories does a dancing deer burn?

About a month ago, I decided I needed to lose about 30 lbs.

I adopted this really bizarre and radical diet plan; it goes something like this: consume fewer calories than I burn.  I know, amazing, isn’t it? Eat a balanced diet, healthy whole foods, just fewer calories than I am burning.

In that month, I lost 10, and then I pretty much stopped.  Probably because I couldn’t deal with obsessing about food that continuously.  And I think my metabolism must have caught up…or down…with the reduced calorie intake, because I’m still eating something like only 1500 calories a day and not an ounce has come off in the past week…

Anyway, one of the challenges has been to find ways not to feel too utterly deprived while still keeping the calories down.  There are, of course, all the delightful “100 calorie snacks,” most of which are highly processed and generally quasi-food versions of partially hydrogenated cookie products (and 100 calorie oreo snacks that are just little vaguely chocolaty cookies without the cream? For God’s sake, even if one is going to indulge in the crap that is Oreos, why would one do it without the white creamy goop in the middle? I mean, really.), and other specifically “diet” “treats.”

Then there are the really delicious things, the stuff one really shouldn’t be eating…

Which brings us to brownies.  Specifically, if one isn’t going to make them onesself, the ones made by the Dancing Deer Bakery, sold at our local Whole Foods.  Again, I don’t mean to go in for heavy product placement, these just happen to be my personal vice of delight.  (They can be purchased online at www.dancingdeer.com although the prices there are slightly ridiculous, something like $20 for 8 brownies. They are actually almost worth it, but Whole Foods sells 4 brownies for I think $6.)   The only brownies I’ve ever had better than this are when my mom makes them from unsweetened chocolate and God knows how many sticks of butter.  These come in packages of 4, yellow label on the wrapper…give them a try.

So here I am on a “how I’m losing weight” entry rhapsodizing about my favorite brownies…what’s that about?

It’s about the fact that, once I checked out the nutrition label and did a little pre-planning, they were suddenly within reach again.

Okay, here’s the deal: one of those big 3-inch square brownies is 300 calories.  Too much to take at one go, especially if I’m trying to stay at 1200-1500 in a day.  But…if I buy the package, open it, and immediately cut all 4 brownies in half, I then have 8 desserts at 150 calories apiece; my discretionary calories do allow that.  If I were feeling really virtuous, I could cut them into 4 pieces, at 75 calories apiece.  Cut them, bag them, put all but one away, and then head to wherever I’m gently gnoshing and slowly, blissfully, eat my delicious concoction of butter and chocolate and eggs and peanut butter. (Peanut butter is my favorite…the peppermint ones are lovely too…then again, there’s the caramel pecan…see what I mean about obsessing over food?)

This doesn’t work, of course, when I’m premenstrual, or when I’m having a really crappy “give me chocolate and give it to me now” kind of day, but most of the time it flies okay.

And Trader Joe has their little tins of chocolate wedges, 35 calories apiece…there’s one with chili powder and cinnamon in it that’s lovely and has a nice little bite to it…

(Okay, who am I kidding? I just want more…)