Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Zany Brainy


Any event or holiday that has food as its focus can be scary and alienating for children with food allergies, Celiac and sensitivities.  A holiday that involves Snickers bars freely being handed around is a nightmare!

As a parent you always strive to create a safe environment for your children--on all levels. As a food allergy/Celiac parent, you need to do that with alternatives to "hazardous" food for your children.  It may involve offering fun alternatives to food, like parties that focus on crafts and activities--not candy. Or a special outing, such as an arcade or an indoor trampoline park or bounce house place.  As well, you can involve your kids in making their own treats. A recent visit to my local dollar store yielded a very cool (and cheap!) brain mold for gelatin or mousse and some cute pumpkin silicone ice molds I thought would be perfect for homemade chocolates.

The technique I use for melting the chocolate for the brain mold can also be used to make chocolates for any sort of mold, or even just put in circles on waxed paper or in paper cupcake tin liners.  You can add any of the following to the chocolate to make your own candy depending on individual's permitted foods:
-crisp rice cereal
-crushed GF Chex cereal
-chopped nuts
-caramel sauce
-marshmallow crème
-maraschino cherries
-dried fruit

To fill molds with instant kosher gelatin (which is normally fish based a bit looser than brands like Jello) I use  1 1/2 cups of water instead of the 2 cups called for on the box.  That works perfectly.  You can add gummy worms to the gelatin for an interesting and creepy element. First add a cup or two of the liquid gelatin to the mold, chill to set, then add your gummies and the remainder of the gelatin. This should keep the candy from sinking to the bottom of the mold. 

The mold I used is about 5 cups. A Pyrex bowl ay be used as well. For the mousse, you can also wrap individual bowls or custard cups in plastic wrap and dip the bottom the melted chocolate. Sprinkle with sprinkles, chopped candy or chopped nuts, if desired. Chill face down, then release and peel off the plastic wrap for decorative chocolate "bowls" for the mousse, ice cream or fruit.
Check out my youtube video of the chocolate brain at this link!

Chocolate Mousse Brain (Vegan)
2-10 or 12 ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
2 Tablespoon softened coconut oil or vegetable shortening, divided
1-14 ounce can coconut milk (full fat), shaken
1 Tablespoon instant coffee granules (optional) or 1 teaspoon any flavor extract

In a medium microwave safe bowl, combine 1 bag of chocolate chips and 1 Tablespoon coconut oil or shortening.  Microwave for 2 minutes on high. Stir until chocolate chips are fully melted.  If they are not melted after first 2 minutes, return to the microwave and heat in 15 second intervals, stirring after each one.  Stir until chocolate mixture is thoroughly combined and smooth. Pour into prepared chocolate mold, turning mold until it is evenly coated. Pour off any excess and reserve for another use.  Chill mold in refrigerator until firm.
In a medium microwave safe bowl, combine coconut milk, chocolate chips, 1 Tablespoon coconut oil or vegetable shortening and coffee granules.  Microwave for 2 minutes on high. Stir until chocolate chips are fully melted.  If they are not melted after first 2 minutes, return to the microwave and heat in 15 second intervals, stirring after each one.  Stir until chocolate mixture is thoroughly combined and smooth.  Set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Pour into  chilled mold. Cover with plastic wrap and return to refrigerator until thoroughly cooled and set (several hours). 
When ready to serve place a plate over mold and flip over. Gently remove mold. If it doesn't easy loosen, run a paring knife around top edge of chocolate before flipping, and wet a cloth with hot water to place around outside of mold.
Serves: 10-12

Monday, October 9, 2017



When I think of a corned beef dinner, I conjure up images of a bland, boiled chunk of meat floating in a steam table in some institutional setting, or else an obligatory meal that no one really likes for Paddy's Day. But, a sale on corned beef brisket at my local store made me give it another try. I'm glad I did, because the result was delicious and tender, and not at all reminiscent of steam tables and the smell of bleach.

I recently had a rather unfortunate run in with my first attempt at cooking corned beef. The recipe instructed me to bake the meat in a pan of water for 3 hours, put on a sweet and tangy sauce, and then bake for another half hour. When served it was on the tough side and did not impress my guest at the festive meal at which it was served. So I decided I needed to go rogue and turn to either my trusty crock pot slow cooker or electric pressure cooker. Both have reliably delivered tender roasts in the past.  In the interest of time I went with the pressure cooker and some more flavorful cooking liquids than water. I wanted to use beer, but since gluten free beer is expensive and would have required a trip to the store I turned to ginger ale. I felt the spicy yet mild tang of ginger would meld well with the corned beef, and the sugar in the drink would work to soften the tough meat. Instead of water I used a Tetra Pak of beef broth I had on hand, in an effort to further boost the flavor.  A few spices later and I was in business. This recipe proved super easy.

After an hour of twiddling my thumbs wondering if I just ruined another holiday roast, I was relieved to see the pressure cooker had worked it's magic.  As an aside, I highly recommend the new breed of electric pressure cookers. They are "dummy proof" by allowing you to just press buttons for the type of food you are cooking (i.e. soup, beans, or meat), as well as working as slow cookers and rice cookers in some cases.  I purchased mine for about $70 on a good sale (combined with coupons) at Kohl's.  They range in price up to $300, but I find the cheaper one works fine. Recently, Good Housekeeping recommended several reasonably priced brands, included Farberware, which retails for under $100. 

After removing the corned beef from the pressure cooker, I coated it with a sweet sauce and baked another half hour to give it a lovely glaze.  My guests were delighted as they bit into the tender, falling apart meat of the tangy corned beef.  I was delighted that I had "cracked the code" to a tender corned beef!

You may substitute any jarred apricot sauce or use apricot jam in place of the duck sauce. For a "boozy" version, add 2 Tablespoons bourbon to the apricot jam before pouring over meat. When using jam, heat in a microwave safe bowl for about 30 seconds, until it becomes liquidy and easy to pour. 

Tangy and Sweet Pressure Cooker Corned Beef

1 large onion, thinly sliced
2-3 pounds corned beef brisket or kolechal (shoulder meat)
1 - 12 ounce can ginger ale
32 ounces beef broth (low sodium is fine)
1/2 Tablespoon pickling spices
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (about 2 grinds on the pepper mill)
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup duck sauce or apricot sauce

Place onions in bottom of cooking pot of electric pressure cooker. Rinse meat well in cold water, and place on top of onions.  Pour the ginger ale and broth over meat. Sprinkle spices over meat. 

Place cover on pressure cooker, and engage all safety valves.  Set for 1 hour on meat setting.  After timer goes off allow the cooker to come to room temperature naturally, about 20-30 minutes (do not release steam valve right away).  By doing so you avoid a "shock" to the meat fibers, which can affect the tenderness of the meat.  Before opening, release steam valve to ensure all the steam has dissipated.

Place meat in a baking pan. Discard the cooking liquid, reserving the cooked onions. Place onions in pan around the meat. Pour duck or apricot sauce over meat. Bake in a 350F oven for 30 minutes.  Rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves: 8 to 10

But wait! There's more....
I used another favorite kitchen gadget, my vacuum sealer to store the meat. It comes out moist and fresh tasting, even after freezing. If you are freezing the corned beef, I suggest applying the sauce, but do not cook the additional 30 minutes. Then cook at 350F for 30 minutes once you have thawed the meat.