The Scoop on Icy Treats

– johanna | May 31st, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats, THE BOOKSHELF

The dog days of Summer are fast approaching. In many parts of our beautiful country sweltering temperatures can bring on the craving for a cool refreshing treat. A simple icy fruit cocktail such as a citrus spiked Granita can instantly placate a parched tongue. Ever wonder what exactly is a granita or how sorbet differs from ice cream? Keep reading for the 101 on these sweet frozen treats and more.

Ice Cream – consists of milk, cream, sugar, and sometimes egg yolks. Constant churning during the cooling process incorporates air into the ice cream giving it a smooth light creamy texture.

Spumoni – resembles Neapolitan ice cream. It consists of three layers of different flavored ice cream: Chocolate, pistachio and cherry or raspberry. Unlike the ice cream version of Neapolitan spumoni has actual bits of fruit and nuts.

Gelato – begins with a base of sugar, milk, very little cream, and sometimes eggs. The Italian gelato differs from ice cream in three ways. First, it uses a lower proportion of cream. The reduced butterfat does not coat the tongue as ice cream tends to do producing a more intense flavor. Second, the gelato mixture is churned at a slower rate. Less churning equals less air and a more dense gelato. Thirdly, gelato is frozen at a slightly warmer temperature. The higher freezing temperature results in a silkier and softer texture.

Sherbet– is often confused with sorbet. Sherbet differs from sorbet in that sherbet contains milk and sorbet is made with fruit.

Sorbet – is a frozen fruit puree made from fruit juice or frozen fruit, and simple syrup. A classic sorbet has alcohol in it and it may be used to cleanse the palate before the main course. To make sorbet all the ingredients are blended together in a blender or food processor; then poured into an ice cream maker. The churning process helps to create a very smooth fine texture. It is possible to make sorbet without an ice cream maker using a container and mixing periodically by hand.

Granita – is made with pureed fruit, a simple syrup, and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice to balance the flavors. The result is a refreshing ice. Unlike sorbet the liquid is poured into a shallow dish and frozen. At intervals, the mixture is scraped with a fork to break up the ice crystals as they form. Because the granita is not churned it is coarser than the sorbet in texture.

Snow Cones – (shaved ice) are coarse grainy cups of shaved ice flavored with sugary syrups. The Hawaiian shaved ice has a ball of ice cream in the center similar to a cream pop.

Italian Ice – is the American invention of the Italian Grattacheca. Grattacheca is similar to shaved ice except that the flavors are added before freezing. Italian Ice is sweetened with real fruit juices and bits of fruit. The ice is coarser than a sorbet and finer than a granita.

Water Ice – is also an American concoction often referred to as “Italian Ice”. Water ice is as smooth as a slushy yet firmer and is eaten with a spoon rather than sipped through a straw.

Slushy – (called slurpee/ICEE) is a frozen drink flavored with sugary syrup. The constant churning motion keeps the slushy smooth. You can make a slushy at home by putting a plastic bottle of soda in the freezer. Rotate the bottle every half hour to distribute the ice crystals evenly until chilled but not frozen.

Smoothie – is a fruit flavored drink. Fresh fruit is blended together with flavored water or fruit juice or milk.

Mochi – is a confectionary treat from Japan. Little ice cream balls are wrapped in soft fluffy dough called mochi, pounded rice cakes, and dusted with rice flour. They come in a variety of flavors but chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, mango and green tea are the most commercial.

Spritzer – is a drink made with alcohol and carbonated water. Spritzers can also be made non-alcoholic by replacing the alcohol with fruit juice. Sub flavored syrup for the juice and you have an “Italian Soda” that is not so Italian but rather another American invention. Add a scoop to either one for a refreshing frozen treat similar to the “ice cream float”.

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Lime Honeydew Sorbet

– johanna | May 27th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Snacks, RECIPES - Treats

The honeydew we bought at the local market was not at its peak. The not so flavorful orb sat in the refrigerator for a few days untouched before I could decide what to recycle it into. Lime honeydew sorbet was the perfect recipe to transform the tasteless melon into an extraordinary culinary treat. It can quell the heat on a hot summer’s day; yet, it is elegant enough to serve at a wedding shower or afternoon tea party.

The sorbet is a beautiful blend of tart lime overtones with a hint of honeydew. I did not have an ice cream maker. Instead I poured the mixture into a chilled 9X9-inch square pan. I stirred and fluffed the mixture after an hour making sure to blend the harder edges into the softer center. I smoothed it and then repeated stirring again two more times. Our version was more icy similar to a granita than a sorbet but the flavor was surreal.

The sorbet is best if eaten the first two days. After that it starts to turn icy and loose flavor.

Source: Taste of Home Test Kitchen
3 cups cubed honeydew
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon sweet white wine or water
2 teaspoons grated lime peel

In a food processor or blender, combine honeydew and sugar; cover and process until sugar is dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients; cover and process until blended.

Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. Spoon mixture into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze in the refrigerator freezer 2-4 hours before serving.

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Caesar Salad Dressing

– johanna | May 20th, 2011

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Soup / Salad

Stephen loves Caesar salad. It is his all time favorite meal. Caesar salad used to be our traditional anniversary dinner. That was until we went to the Pasta Moon in, our anniversary vacation spot, Half Moon Bay and tried their Risotto Sea Scallops and tomato basil salad with whipped cheese. It is pretty pricey but well worth the experience.

Stephen was not feeling well when he returned from a week long business trip. We are not used to eating a lot of prepackaged foods or greasy fast food. I roasted a chicken the night before and decided to make his favorite feel good meal, Caesar salad.

I always prefer to make my own salad dressings. I think homemade dressings taste better. Plus you can control what goes into it eliminating some of the fat and the need for preservatives and everything else artificial. We love the flavor and the texture of this version of Caesar dressing adapted from Cooking Light. I have noted the anchovy paste as optional. We never add it simply because I rarely have it on hand.

Source: Cheap Heathly Good
1/3 cup plain fat-free yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

1) Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour on salad. That’s it.

-3 tbsp Mayo in the place of the yogurt.

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The Red Food Dye Nation

– johanna | May 17th, 2011


Photo by: Hemera / Thinkstock

When our oldest was a toddler we used Burt’s Bees baby toothpaste. It tasted like fruit without the zing of fluoride. A couple of years later Burt’s Bees quit making the baby toothpaste. I made the switch to a kids store brand and was met with constant daily battles to get my son to brush his teeth.

A year ago I was in the toothpaste isle picking up new toothbrushes and a tube of paste for us, mom and dad, when I noticed there was a strawberry flavored toothpaste. I thought, hey why not buy it for the kids. I did not even think about what might be in it. My only concern was stopping the daily “brush your teeth” battle that had been going on the past four and a half years.

That evening I took out the tube then squeezed a dot onto the baby’s toothbrush and was shocked. The stuff was flourescent red. My first thought was “how much sugar did they put in this stuff” and my second thought was “Uh, this stuff is unnaturally red.” Normally I never gave dyes a second thought. Yet, for some reason there was something unnatural about that tube of toothpaste that I just could not let rest.

The question coming up a lot lately is, are food dyes ok? Do they spark behavioral issues in kids and health complaints in adults? Have dyes contributed to the rise of ADD, ADHD, and Autism in the past 40 years as a result of their increased consumption? For years the food administration has given their stamp of approval for the use of petroleum based dyes in food. Dyes that are in everything from cleaners to toothpaste to medicine.

In 2007 a study was forth coming siting the dangers of food dyes. As a result of the study the UK food administration required warning labels on all products containing petroleum dyes. The warning labels advised parents of the risk of hyperactivity due to the dyes. Industry leaders Kraft, Mars, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart skipped the warning labels choosing instead to make products shipped to the UK Sodium Benzoate and petroleum dye free. Yet here in the US these same companies continue to sell products for human consumption that harbor harmful petroleum based dyes and preservatives.

Clipart by: unknown

More recently in April 2011 the FDA held a hearing to once again determine if dyes contribute to hyperactivity. Advocates for the removal of all synthetic dyes from food products and medicines claim that non-food based dyes are unnecessary and cause hyperactivity in children. They gave compelling evidence that linked petroleum based preservatives and dyes to the increased number of children with allergies, ear infections, mood, cancer, ADHD, ADD, Autism, and other related spectrum disorders. The panel, minus one, agreed that dyes most likely cause a threat and yes warning labels should be required.

The battle was far from being won. Rather than give a statement based on their findings, the panel was required to answer a series of questions. Questions devised by crafty lawyers that when answered either way would be interpreted as, “food dyes do not cause hyperactivity or allergies in children.” Therefore, the FDA ruled that there was not enough evidence. Thus, companies were not required to post a warning label on consumable products here in America.

Color is beautiful!

After the April FDA ruling, dye advocates launched a campaign to gain support for the use of chemical dyes. The ads adopted images of gray popsicles calling, “a world without dyes…colorless.” Kantha Shelke, a food chemist and spokeswoman for the Institute of Food Technologists, stated, “Color is such a crucial part of the eating experience that banning dyes would take much of the pleasure out of life.”

Tattfoo Tan believes that Mother Nature has it all taken care of. Tattfoo Tan, is a Malaysian-born artist who resides in Staten Island. He developed The Nature Matching System “as a reminder to consume your [natural] daily recommended doses of color.” Tan wanted to understand the connection between the color of food and its nutritional value. Tan matched 88 natural colors using photographs of the fruits and vegetables found in the Union Square Green Market in New York and Photoshop’s eyedropper tool. Tan agrees “neon orange Cheetos is something spectacular to look at but the nutritional value is zilch.”

So what is the truth?

We know commercial food coloring is derived from coal tar oil, petroleum, and insects because it is cheaper to make; but, it comes with a price. The FDA is confident that all of the toxic proponents in the petroleum is eliminated during processing. They counter the accusations that dyed foods contain toxic chemicals from the petroleum, with: natural foods contain more petroleum from the fertilizer and the means of transporting crops than the amount of trace elements found in the actual dyes and preservatives.

We know that organic natural fruits and vegetables can be used to make an array of colorful dyes. The food industry refutes the idea of using natural dyes. They claim natural food dyes are too unstable, too muted and, uninteresting. They are convinced that no one will want to eat natural dyed foods. They believe that the public prefers the neon orange Cheetos to the pale peach natural Cheetos. The bright red strawberry Jello to a muted brown. Natural food companies such as India TreeSurf Sweets and Yummy Earth are determined to meet the need of color.

Who do we believe?

Voices from Dr. Feingold to Gwyneth Paltrow preach the benefits of a clean whole foods diet void of the unnecessary preservatives, artificial flavors, sweeteners and dyes. The FDA on the other hand in unison with countless doctors, scientists and organizations swear synthetic additives in food are not harmful. I decided to test the theory in my own home on our son who has Aspbegers.

The Test…

For one month we threw out all preservatives, artificial flavors and sweeteners, and dyes. It was very difficult at first because our city does not have a health food store and the kids are creatures of habits. They wanted their favorite foods.

Almost everything had to be made from scratch. Because companies are not required to list the ingredients in the products they use from outside sources I ordered the Feingold grocery list to help navigate the store isles when I needed something convient. Even though the label looks clean that is not always the case.

In one week I noticed a considerable change in my son. He could think more clearly. He was not bouncing off the walls in a rage. He was writing and reading without tantrums. The defiance leant way to a more agreeable attitude. He is happy and still full of life but the regular ticks are minimal.

The real test came on Easter Sunday. The kids ate a handful of jelly beans and for four days they were absolutely out of their minds. The defiance, screaming, and tantrums were back. The other children were moody, defiant and hyper.

I’d say from personal experience the answer for us is clear. Synthetic replacements in the form of preservatives [BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), BHT (Burylated Hydroxytoluene), TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone)], artificial flavors and sweeteners (aspartame and splenda), and dyes are indeed harmful and do cause adverse reactions; especially in individuals with predisposed allergies and learning disorders.

What now?

The next question is, will the FDA ever be responsible and require warning labels on products or warrant the elimination of such harmful chemicals? Nah, probably not. Or at least not in the near future. The pool of individuals sensitive to artificial flavors and colors is too small. If you call every one kid in 28 small. Fortunately there are reputable companies springing up to lead us into a colorful yet nutritious tomorrow.


–Visit Indie Candy and Natural Candy Store for natural baking supplies including food based dyes.
Eco Kids: for all natural craft supplies such as egg dye and playdough.
–Join the mission for Better School Food.
Spoonfed: Tips to help kids adopt a healthy diet comprised of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.
–Natural recipes for dyes: Rhythm of the Home, Natural Cookie Frosting, Natural Colored Rice Balls, Natural Easter Egg Dye, Darling Clementine, Homemade Playdough Dye, Natural Dyed Jello.

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Beef and Bean Chimichangas

– johanna | May 13th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Breakfast, RECIPES - Main Dish

Our oldest son announced one evening during dinner that he was moving to Mexico because he loves bean burritos so much. Can you tell tacos and burritos are a reoccurring weekly menu staple at our house?

This week I decided to change things up a bit by using a recipe for beef and bean chimichangas. I swapped the can of chili beans for a can of pinto. The flavor was a hit. We ate them as tacos the first night. Then in quesadillas for lunch the next day. We used up the remaining leftovers in a breakfast burrito the third day.

Source: For the Love of
1 tsp olive oil
1 lb of lean ground beef
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
Dash of red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1 can of chili beans, drained

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the ground beef and break up the meat into crumbles. Add the onion and garlic as well as the seasonings then cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the drained can of chili beans to the beef mixture and stir until well combined. Set aside.

-Swap the ground beef for ground turkey.
-Use pinto beans instead of chili beans. Or omit the beans all together.

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Family Togetherness: Game Night

– johanna | May 10th, 2011


Art by: Word Art World

A few months ago I attended a math workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to provide an arsenal of fun game oriented ideas to teach math. One of the speakers brought up an interesting point. He told us that board games inadvertently teach our children math. (I guess I probably already knew that but sometimes I need someone else to say it for it to really sink in.) With preschool aged children board games can encourage counting, learning patterns, shapes and colors. As they grow they learn to take turns, cause and effect, and logic.

While it is wonderful that games offer an avenue to learn from, families can also benefit from the time spent together. Last year before we moved I sang with a woman’s choral ensamble. One evening I was surprised to learn that the director, whose children no longer live at home, was eager to make it home in time for game night with the family.

Game nights can be anything from sports to board games. Some nights game night is playing hide-and-seek. Our kids love “monster coming”. My son’s friend plays Dominoes when her extended family gets together. I have fond memories watching my mom play 10 pennies with her family. A friend from college always played cards with his family. We started game nights with the kids when they were young. It did not always go smooth. Sometimes we changed the rules around to fit their understanding.

Games nights teaches us to work together. If a team member draws poorly we can teach our kids that we do not criticize. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses. When we play games with our children we can mirror how we expect them to treat others. If we lose we do not shout and get angry. We can show respect for the other players and exhibit patience. The kids learn to take turns and the responsibility to be honest. As a family we can talk and listen and laugh together. The act of communicating while having fun is the fabric that strengthens family ties.

Here are some of our favorite games. What are your favorite board games?

  • Dominoes
  • War
  • Matching
  • UNO
  • Blokus
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Go Fish
  • Chess
  • Checkers
  • Scrabble
  • Operation
  • Allowance
  • Clue
  • Life
  • Monopoly
  • Racko
  • Cards: Old Maid, Go Fish, Spoons,
  • Mario Wii
  • Scavenger Hunts
  • Soccer

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Chuncky Guacamole

– johanna | May 6th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Sides

I don’t eat guacamole very often, never at home, because no one around here likes it. Guacamole is reserved for the special occasions when we have company who might like it as a topping with a mexican dish or on Super Bowl Sunday with chips.

I have made guacamole a few times in the past with dismal results. The first time I made it was at a dinner party. I arrived early to help the host with any last minute details. My task was to make the guacamole. Smash the avocados, season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. All the subsequent times I have tried to reproduce the recipe resulted in failure. Then I found this recipe for guacamole and could not fight the craving off any longer. I had to have another go at making a great bowl of guacamole. The guacamole turned out so delicious Stephen is now a convert.

The fresh lime juice and cumin really helped set the stage. Creating a nice subtle combination of flavors. Only use fresh ripe quality ingredients for the best results. Serve with tacos, corn chips or in sandwiches.

Source: Fix Me A Snack

2 ripe Haas avocados
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 – 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from one half of a lime

Slice the avocados in half. Discard the pits and remove the flesh from the skins. Place the flesh in a small mixing bowl. Add the garlic, cumin, salt, cilantro,and lime juice. Mash it all up with a fork. Serve with tortilla chips.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator placing a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the guacamole in order to prevent browning.

Yield: 1 1/4 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes

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May Website Review: The Little Travelers

– johanna | May 3rd, 2011

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF

I have been following The Little Travelers for sometime. I love the idea of making a new dish representing a different country each week as well as the magical stories about this adorable family and their adventures. Angelina Hart is the creative genius behind The Little Travelers. She grew up in America the daughter of two German immigrants. Her passion for travel is the inspiration behind The Little Travelers. Angelina explored parts of the world before taking a hiatus to become a stay at home mom. When her daughters were 3 and 5 the urge to travel propelled the trio to set off on a journey to Japan.

The Little Travelers a unique insight into the vast beauty of the landscapes and enriching cultures that make up our world. Each adventure, big and small, is a refreshing lesson on the importance of allowing our children to be kids. Angelina’s laid back style promotes a love of learning in her children. Through their travels they have learning to savor some of earth’s most intimate details.

Documentaries are available for purchase. They contain their daily life living in places such as Japan, Germany, Bali, The British Isles, and Iran. Mom’s blog is a perfect place to start perusing. Jump over the kids blog to see what they are cooking up this week.

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