Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making Sunshine on a Rainy Day

It has rained here for two and a half days and I am ready for some sunshine.  But of according to the weatherman if I want sunshine this week I am going to have to make it myself.  So that is exactly what I did - I made a glass of sunshine in the form of a mango smoothie.
Smoothies are one of my all time favorite everyday treats.  I make mine with organic yogurt, frozen fruit or berries and enough skim milk to get it to the right consistency.  I always use the whole frozen fruit or berries instead of fruit juice and ice because it really pumps up the nutritional value while providing a richer, creamier, taste experience.   (And how often can you say the nutritionally better option really does tastes superior??)
Why do I call smoothies my everyday treat?  Because look at all the healthy stuff you have going in there!  Just keep your portion size reasonable if you are concerned about calories and you can treat yourself one any day you want.
One of my really great mommy tricks is swapping in a delicious smoothie in place of ice cream.  My little boy can’t tell the difference.  So he is getting a great serving of fruit and yogurt instead of the loads of empty sugar calories in ice cream.  And the best part is I am the hero mommy who served him “dessert”.  Winning!
Today’s I am serving up a mango smoothie because it really does remind me of sunshine in a glass.  It is super simple - frozen mango chunks, yogurt and milk.  That is it.  Tomorrow when I don’t need sunshine quite so much, I can mix one up with frozen strawberries and kiwi or maybe I will do frozen blueberries and blackberries.  Who knows? The possibilities are only limited by the frozen fruit in your freezer so blend on and enjoy this everyday treat!
Sunshine in a Glass
(a.k.a. Mango Smoothie)
1 heaping cup of frozen mango chunks
1 (6 - 8 oz) container yogurt
1 cup skim milk (use more of less to get to desired consistency)
Place everything in a blender.  Start blending on LOW until well blended. Then increase the speed to HIGH and blend until smooth and creamy.  
This recipe makes 2 reasonable servings or 1 extra large serving (shown in the pictures).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Even a Food Lover Needs Food on the Go Sometimes

There are people who eat to live and then there are those of us who live to experience food. We delight in sampling new things and detest wasting calories on the on mundane tasteless convenience and fast foods that many American’s diets have been reduced to. But even a food connoisseur needs food in a hurry sometimes. That is why I love one of the current urban food trends – food trucks. Apparently I am not the only one who thinks this is a hot food trend. Mintel (a leading food and drink marketing research company) highlighted food trucks this month in its Menu Trends email.

A food truck is basically a mini restaurant stuffed in the back of a truck. You can think of it as the marriage of an urban restaurant concept and an old fashion food cart. The menus may be limited, but the menu items have interesting twists making them the perfect fast food option for a food lover like myself.

In addition to putting an emphasis on interesting food choices, food trucks put a lot on emphasis on being mobile. They regularly move around the cities requiring potential customers to visit a truck’s website or follow it on twitter for the day’s location. It can make finding your lunch a lot like a game of Where’s Waldo!

Did I mention food trucks are definitely an urban trend? Since I live in a very non-urban area, I can only experience food trucks when I travel, so on my recent trip to Los Angeles I seized the opportunity and went looking for food trucks.

I found several but one particularly memorable one was the Shrimp Pimp truck. Like most food trucks the Shrimp Pimp has a narrowly focused menu. I tried the Drunken Shrimp Tacos for lunch. They consisted of sherry ginger marinated shrimp popped on top of jicima, a green pepper slice, mandarin orange and fresh cilantro and all wrapped up with a corn tortilla. A totally tasty lunch time treat.

Next month I am headed to New York City where I hope to explore a whole new genera of food trucks - maybe Kogi BBQ or Rickshaw Dumplings or Waffles and Dinges - with so many choices it is heard to know where to start!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The King of Cakes for Mardi Gras

I have to admit I have never been that interested in Mardi Gras.  It has always seemed like a made up excuse to drink way too much and behave badly.  Imagine my surprised when 18 pages into this month’s Saveur magazine I learned that Mardi Gras is really a celebration of of the Epiphany (the wise men’s discovery of Jesus).    Of course the article really didn’t expound on what the Epiphany has to do with consuming vast amount of Hurricanes and yelling for beads on Bourbon Street, so we will have to make our own speculations how we got from a pinnacle Christian event to the modern day Mardi Gras celebration.
Anyway, the article got me thinking about King Cake, the popular custom of baking a cake in honor of the three wise men.  This cake is traditionally a sweetened yeast bread (similar to a danish) stuffed with cream cheese and a tiny plastic baby then sprinkled with garishly colored cinnamon and sugar or drizzled with icinng.  The bright colors are not just because they match LSU and Tulane colors but rather that to represent justice (purple), faith (green) and power (gold).
For the past 2 years a dear sweet co-worker of mine has ordered a King Cake and had it shipped to our office to celebrate Mardi Gras.  It is such a sweet gesture, but truthfully the cake from the mail order company is not very good.  It taste a lot like the cellophane-wrapped sticky buns you get in a vending machine and convenience stores.  

I got to thinking there has got to be an easy short cut route for making a King Cake when you don’t live near the bakeries that make them fresh.  I came up with the below semi-homemade recipe.  It is not only simple it tastes really good.    So the only thing you may need to order in advance is the little plastic baby that is typically inserted in a King Cake (lucky recipient of the baby in their piece of cake wins the honor of providing the King Cake at next’s event).  

I started my recipe with three cans of 8 count uncooked cinnamon rolls.  The beauty of using these prefab cinnamon rolls is they are tasty, super easy and that each can comes with a little icing cup.  Three cans = three icing cups, which happens to be the exact number of colors of icing you need for King Cake.  I used gel food coloring get the really vibrant Mardi Gras colors.  The only other thing you need to add is the cream cheese filling.  I made the whole cake start to finish in under 45 minutes and that was with a toddler trying to “help” me cook.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

King Cake
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

  • 3 cans of uncooked cinnamon rolls
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 (8 oz) packaging of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • a dash of vanilla
  • gel food coloring

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place cream cheese in a bowl.  Add sugar and a dash of vanilla.  Use a hand mixer to cream together the mixture and set aside until ready to add to cake.

Pop open the cinnamon rolls and set icing cups aside.  Use and rolling pin to roll each cinnamon roll out into an oval shape and about 1/4 inch thick.

Place two of the ovals over lapping end to end.  Brush the dough with the beaten egg where they over lap and roll again until 1/8 of an inch thick.

Place the pieces in an over lapping circle.  Brush the places where they overlap with egg and press together.

Spoon the cream cheese mixture in a ring around the center.  Fold the end of the dough back over the cream cheese.  Brush the place where dough over laps with egg and press together.
Bake for 25-27 minutes.  Check the cake after 15 minutes if it is starting to get to brown, loosely lay a piece of tinfoil over the cake and continue backing.
While cake is baking mix gel food coloring into icing cups to achieve desired color saturation level.

After baking, cool the cake completed.  Drizzle with alternating colors of icing and serve. (You may need to microwave the icing a few seconds to get it to drizzle.)