Monday, May 21, 2012

Green Dinosaur Cake!

My son is turning four in a couple of days; this is the first birthday that he is actually really into—he's been counting down the months, weeks and days. So, it was a while back that he decided that he wanted a "green dinosaur cake." I am not a cake decorator by any stretch of the imagination; I set to work on finding an easy way to make this special treat happen.

Luckily, I stumbled across this video, which looked completely doable—in large part because it didn't involve me piping different colors of frosting into some dinosaur-resembling picture on top of a cake. It even had a template for proper cutting. This was the cake for me.


What wasn't for me was the Betty Crocker cake mix and frosting (both full of partially hydrogenated oils and other junk) and the artificial food coloring. So, I knew I had to make some changes.


I adapted my cake recipe from the "Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever" and (as is my way) changed it to make it a bit more nutritious. Now, this ain't health food. But it does follow one of my favorite directives from Michael Pollan's Food Rules: Make your own junk food. When you make your own, you control the quality and quantity of the ingredients. For me, that means using organic ingredients, replacing white flour with whole wheat pastry flour, and significantly cutting the amount of flour and sugar. You can easily make these same changes with whatever cake recipe you use. 


Ingredients
yield: two 9"-round cakes
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup almond flour*
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 heaping Tablespoons cocoa (I used raw cacao powder because that's what I have)
  • 2 sticks (salted) butter
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
*I made sure none of the children attending had a nut allergy

You can find all the recipe instructions at Pioneer Woman's site. My 9-inch rounds took about 25 minutes to bake. Once the cakes cooled completely, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil and froze them. This meant that (1)I could make them ahead of time and (2)it was easier to cut out the dino body parts. I assembled them on a big cutting board.


I wasn't quite sure what to do about frosting. I'm not a big fan of frosting—I prefer baked goods without it (like pound cakes, brownies, coffee cakes). I like whipped cream, but that's not good for an outdoor party on a hot day; none of us particularly like buttercreams. 

So, I tried this flour-based frosting recipe. Sounds kinda gross, right? But it's actually like a sweet bechamel; I figured I could get down with that. I didn't alter the recipe too much because I was nervous about affecting the texture, but I did make a couple of minor changes: 
  • I used a bit less sugar, more like 3/4 cup 
  • After making it, I found the butter flavor too heavy, so I wanted to cut it with something tangy; I whipped two tablespoons of softened cream cheese into it and it came out really delicious.

Then it was time to color the frosting. I have zero experience with this. My mom never used food coloring in anything and neither do I. Even as a kid at a friend's birthday party, I never chose the cupcake with colored frosting—I always felt that I could taste the food coloring and it always tasted nasty to me. And, of course, artificial food dyes may pose risks, including hyperactivity, cancer, and allergic reactions. But I did buy some natural food coloring—pricey, but worth it for my peace of mind—and I tried my best to mix up a green that looked dinosaur-worthy! (A quick note about natural food coloring: the colors are more muted than with artificial dyes, so you can't get super bright colors. I'm okay with that.)

For the chocolate decorations on top, I chose my standard semi-sweet chocolate chips for the dino's back and (pointy-side down) for the eyes; dark-chocolate covered raisins for the toes; I melted some organic milk chocolate in my mini-muffin tin and chilled in the fridge to make the big dots; and I bought a pack of Cadbury Buttons for the rest of the dots. 


The chocolates candies weren't all the same color, I know. It doesn't look like a professional cake, I know that, too. But this cake was more about showing love than achieving perfection. When my son first saw it, he whispered, "Whoa!"

Ignore my dishwashing gloves, please. And the forced smile, too.
This party was for family and neighborhood friends; we'll be having a couple more celebrations with different groups of friends over the next few days. I'll post about some of my other, healthier party treats soon. So stay tuned...


**In other news, we've been nominated for the Top 25 Foodie Moms blog contest at Circle of Moms. If you're a fan of our blog, we would love to have your vote! No need to register—just scroll to "Full Belly Sisters" and click on "vote." You can vote every day (and we will love you extra if you do!). Thanks to all of you who have shown such enthusiastic support for us on this blog, on our Facebook page, and in real life!**


Friday, May 11, 2012

Green Stir Fry with Broccoli Rabe, Asparagus & Chicken

This wonderful guest post comes from Ann at the Fountain Avenue Kitchen. You know how there are people whose blogs and recipes make you want to sit down to a meal with them? That's how I feel about Ann. Comfort and warmth radiate from her posts. And I am totally on board with her approach to food: cook like your grandmother (or great-grandmother, depending on how old you are.) As Ann writes on her blog, her grandma's kitchen "was where I first pulled up a stool and watched the magic of turning basic, fresh ingredients into culinary wonders.  The cooking style wasn’t fussy, but it was wholesome, delicious and affordable." 

This echoes a great item in Michael Pollan's Food Rules: don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. (It's a good rule of thumb when you're grabbing for that hot pink Go-Gurt in the supermarket!) 

So, enjoy this simple and delicious real-food recipe!


A trip to the farmers market and a beautiful, green bunch of broccoli rabe inspired this stir-fry.  Broccoli rabe (a.k.a. broccoli raab or rapini) is one of the more bitter vegetables, but I love it.  If it's not your cup of tea or it isn't available, simply substitute a combination of broccoli and kale, or any other green veggies of your liking.



This stir-fry has become a favorite recipe in our family, partly because it tastes fabulous and also because it is both healthy and versatile.  Another big factor for me is that it is an easy, one-dish meal.  The veggies and sauce can be prepped in advance and—unlike many homemade stir-fry sauces—this one has minimal ingredients. 
My favorite tip when using chicken in a stir-fry is to ask the person at the meat counter to cut it into stir-fry-size pieces.  Many grocery stores and markets will gladly do this.  It's a great time saver and eliminates one messy step.  I keep a package of this bite-size chicken in my freezer to use with whatever vegetables I have on hand.  Even half an onion and a bag of frozen veggies can make a good dinner in a hurry!
Although I used chicken thighs here, breast meat is a great option, too. One benefit of the chicken thighs is that you can cook them longer than breast meat without drying them out.  I love when you get those crusty bits on the bottom of the skillet that can be mixed into the sauce with a quick deglazing of the pan.  If you prefer a vegetarian option, simply increase the veggies or add cannellini beans or tofu and make this a vegetarian meal.
The simple sauce really pulls this dish together nicely.  Sriracha is a Thai-style hot sauce, available in the Asian section of larger grocery stores.  I keep the spice to a minimum; feel free to add another teaspoon if you like to amp it up!
Ingredients
serves about 4
  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil or peanut oil
  • 1 1/4- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe
  • 1/4-1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8-1/4 cup sesame seeds or chopped peanuts or cashews, optional for garnish

Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus and cut into 1-2-inch pieces. Remove any thick stems from the broccoli rabe, and then chop the remaining stems and florets and place with asparagus.  Chop the leaves from the broccoli rabe and reserve in a different pile.



In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, brown sugar, and sriracha.  Set aside.
In a large cast iron skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil and sauté the chicken over medium-high heat until it is well browned and beginning to caramelize.  Remove to plate. 

Deglaze the skillet with the wine or stock, scraping up all those little crusty bits on the bottom of the pan.  There is serious flavor here!   
Mmm...tasty, crusty bits! So much flavor!
Add asparagus and broccoli stems and florets to the skillet; sauté until crisp tender, stirring frequently and adding another tablespoon or two of oil if needed.  Add the chopped leafy parts of the broccoli rabe and sauté until the leaves wilt but are still bright green.  I like to use a spatula and flip the bottom layer to the top a number of times so that the leaves get incorporated into the rest of the veggies and wilt evenly.

Add the chicken back to pan and pour the sauce all over.  Mix thoroughly and cook another minute or two or until chicken is thoroughly heated.


If desired, garnish with sesame seeds or peanuts and add salt and pepper to taste.



Tuesday, May 8, 2012

FBS at Brooklyn Health Fair!

If you're in the New York City area, come meet us—and get a free lactation cookie!—this weekend at Premier Pediatrics' Brooklyn Health Fair. We'd love to see you there.


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