Hoodwinked by Pinterest

Pinterest is typically a place where I love to hang out, a place where I find good ideas. Whether I’m browsing slowly through a boatload of pins on a weekend day, or I’m taking a quick peek during a slow period at work, it’s always entertaining and educational.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came across two recipes in one week that totally bombed for me. I’m used to recipe links leading to dead ends, but getting a recipe, trying it out, and being underwhelmed? That was new…and disappointing.

Which recipes were the ones that failed me?

Whipped cream icing. The promise with this one, which consists of a box of vanilla pudding, a cup of milk, and a container of whipped topping, is that you can have a light icing in minutes. What I got was a delicious vanilla soup instead, or a sauce or dip for fruit, not something that will adhere to cake or cupcakes as I imagined. (To be fair, maybe it would have worked better if I hadn’t used the fat-free whipped topping.)

Popcorn in Pyrex. The claim: place 1/4 c of popcorn kernels in a Pyrex bowl, top with a ceramic plate, zap for nearly 3 minutes, and voila! The reality for me? Nothing but hot kernels, hot Pyrex, and an extremely hot plate. Not one kernel popped. The recipe said you could zap the popcorn again if any wasn’t popped, but I decided not to try again. The recipe didn’t specify a microwave temperature, however; be my guest if you want to experiment.

Those recipes definitely disappointed me, but I’ll be back on Pinterest in no time. Here’s hoping for no more letdowns anytime soon!

Question of the day: Have you ever had a Pinterest fail? What did you make? What happened?

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These Cooking Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Last night, I was preparing fish to bake. It was a 2-lb bag of tilapia fillets, and I planned on doing half with salt, pepper and garlic, and half with Cajun seasoning. While visions of dusting the fish fillets with their respective spices danced in my head, I noticed a warning on the plastic that wrapped each fish fillet. It said that you should remove the fish from the plastic before thawing.

Too late! I routinely thaw the fish individually wrapped, in the main packaging, in my freezer. And they taste just fine, whether I’m baking them or grilling them. No harm, no foul.

Just like my fish experiences, there are other times when you can break the rules that recipes scream at you. Here are 8:

  1. Use your favorite vegetables. When you’re making a casserole or slow cooker dish, go with the vegetables that you like (or the ones that you have on hand), as long as you time their cooking in a way that ensures they get cooked to appropriate doneness.
  2. Go with yogurt. Fat-free Greek yogurt can stand in for cream, or for sour cream. Try topping your nachos or baked potatoes with some, mixing some into your chicken pot pie stuffing, in soups–the possibilities are endless!
  3. Alternatives for desserts. Diet lemon-lime soda and liquid eggs in yellow and white cakes. Diet cola and liquid eggs in dark cakes and brownies. Pumpkin puree in spice cake. Fat-free Greek yogurt works here, too.
  4. Ditch the butter and oil. No, you won’t get the same flavor, but if you want to save on fat and calories, opt for cooking spray or water for sautéing (or nothing at all, if you don’t have your temperature super-high).
  5. Tweak the spices. Fresh or dried? Go with what you have, using more dried if the recipe calls for fresh. Leave out the salt if you have high blood pressure, or switch to a low-sodium salt, because if you’re cooking with certain items (like spaghetti sauce, cheese, or broth), you’re still getting sodium in the mix anyway. There’s a reason many bloggers (myself included) don’t give exact measurements for spices–part of the art of cooking is figuring out what works best for your taste. Experiment and go with the proportions that work for you.
  6. Switch up the meat. Rather than a pork shoulder, try pork loin. Instead of high-fat ground beef, try lean ground beef (93% lean) or learn ground turkey. Don’t be afraid to make a recipe vegetarian, either–for many dishes, you’ll be safe opting for beans or textured vegetable protein (TVP).
  7. Take shortcuts. As a rule, or in a pinch, you can buy rotisserie chicken or rotisserie turkey breast. Or, get the person at the seafood counter to steam the shrimp or crab for you, before tossing with grains, vegetables, or pasta. For vegetables? Buy pre-cut veggies from your produce section, or even frozen peppers and onions from the freezer section.
  8. Don’t braise meat for slow cooking. As with using butter or oil for sautéing, braising does add another dimension of flavor, but if you want to cut corners on time, you can get along fine without doing it.

Whether you’re starting to cook more healthy now as part of a resolution, or you’re plugging away at healthy eating as a long-term lifestyle, there are areas where it’s perfectly fine to bend or break the cooking rules to bring your food to the table faster, or more in line with your taste preferences. I wish you hours of happy rabble-rousing in your kitchen!

Question of the day: What rules do you break in the kitchen? What tips do you have for making your life as a cook easier?

Coconut Cream Yogurt Options

I want to confess that I like coconut. Coconut shrimp, coconut cream pie, tropical mocktails, you name it. The sweet, nutty taste, the unique texture that shows up unexpectedly… You’ll never get a complaint from me.

I had some coconut left over from making skinny pineapple cupcakes a while ago, and I had a sweet tooth after lunch one day, so I put this together.

Recipe

  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1-2T shredded coconut (I used sweetened because that’s what I had on hand, but next time I’ll seek out the unsweetened.)
  • 1/2 to 1 packet of sugar-free vanilla-flavored milk mix

Mix everything together!

Notes: I didn’t think of it at the time, but you could omit the vanilla powder and add some finely diced pineapple to this instead, going with the sweetness of the pineapple, or adding a little Splenda. Making it ahead of time may soften the coconut a bit as well.

To go a little heavier, make an Almond Joy-type dessert by omitting the vanilla powder and adding a little bit of crumbled almond and fat-free chocolate sauce into this, in place of the vanilla powder–I’m guesstimating a tablespoon of nuts and a tablespoon max of the sauce. Or, make it for breakfast with almonds and banana, with or without the vanilla powder.

I found the vanilla milk powder mix in the coffee aisle of my grocery store. It also comes in chocolate and strawberry flavors. Let me know of any experiments you make with them!

Strawberry Angel Food Cake Dessert

I’ve been happy with my recent experiments with angel food cake, so I decided to try again, with strawberries.

I went to the market recently, and one of the first things I saw by the entrance was a sale on pints of strawberries. I bought a couple for my family to eat as-is, but after noticing how ripe and delicious they were, I decided to go back and buy a few more to make into a dessert.

I learned after making the pineapple coconut cupcakes that icing has love and hate factions in my house, so I made these without icing. But if you’d prefer to add icing, be my guest!

Recipe

  • 1 box angel food cake
  • 2 pints of ripe strawberries
  • Sweetener to taste (Honey, agave nectar, Splenda, sugar–whatever you prefer. I went with Splenda.)

Preheat your oven to 375.

Rinse your strawberries and remove the tops. (I used a paring knife, cutting a circle in each strawberry that was deep enough to encompass everything in one go-round.)

Pulse some of the strawberries in a food processor, adding more in batches until all have been used. I did this lightly, a few pulses at a time, so there were small chunks of strawberry, as opposed to a completely pureed mush.

Place the cake mix in a large mixing bowl. Add the strawberries and the juice a little at a time, until you can stir the batter and it resembles a typical angel food cake batter. (For me, this was at about 2/3 of the strawberries used, but I discarded some from the packages before processing, so might mean a little less strawberry for your batter.)

Line muffin pans with muffin cups–paper or foil. Add batter to each of the cups, to just shy of the top of the cup. I got about 28 cupcakes once all the batter was poured. (I’m fortunate enough to have 3 muffin pans, but make the cupcakes in batches if you need to.)

Place the pans in the oven, and bake until the cupcakes are golden and the tops are set. (Some words of caution: It might be difficult to see the cupcakes reach a golden color, because they will turn pink from the strawberries. Also, the cupcakes tend to burn quickly, so check back regularly.) Let the cupcakes cool when you take them out of the oven. Add icing at this time if you want to.

While the cupcakes are baking, take the remaining processed strawberries and add your sweetener to them, to taste. Mix thoroughly, then cover and refrigerate them. You’ll be using this to top the cupcakes, as a strawberry sauce. (Again, my strawberries were in small chunks, but if you’d like your topping a little smoother,  you could pulse it a bit more in the food processor until it’s more like a puree.)

Whenever you’d like to eat the dessert, take one or two cupcakes, remove the paper, split them in half, and place them in a bowl. Top them with some of the sweetened strawberries (I used 1/3 to 1/2 of a cup). Optional: You could also top the pureed strawberry with a little whipped cream.

Pineapple Angel Food Cupcakes

I’m one of those people who’s more of a salt/fat aficionado, rather than a sweets person, but I do love coconut cake.

After I made the pineapple upside-down cake knockoff recently, I thought coconut might be a nice addition to a pineapple cake. Then, I decided to experiment with making cupcakes instead, for portion control. This recipe is the end result of my dessert brainstorming.

  • 1 box angel food cake mix
  • 1 20-oz can crushed pineapple
  • 1 bag dried coconut (The kind I have is sweetened, but I’d like to seek out the unsweetened next time. I didn’t measure out how much I used, but it was nowhere near the whole bag, or even half of it, for 12 cupcakes.)
  • 1 container cream cheese or buttercream icing

Heat your oven to 375. While the oven is warming up, place the cake mix in a mixing bowl. Add the crushed pineapple; mix thoroughly.

Line muffin pans with muffin cups. (I went with the paper ones, but the foil ones would work, too, I’m sure.) Spoon the cupcake batter into the cups. I filled them almost to the top. You should get about 30 cupcakes, give or take a few, depending on how heavy your batter hand is.

Bake the cupcakes until the batter is set and the tops are golden.(Be forewarned: monitor them closely because they burn on the bottom quickly.) Let the cupcakes cool, then top with icing, and then coconut.

Variation: My son isn’t a fan of coconut, so I only topped half of the cupcakes with coconut, topping the others with icing and sprinkles instead. (The sprinkles were his request; you could, of course, omit them.) To make less caloric, you could pass on topping the cupcakes altogether. One last thought: Part of me is curious to know if it would work to add coconut to the batter with the crushed pineapple. Another experiment for another day!

Papaya and Lime: Perfect Together

When I go to Whole Foods, I always buy the container of cut-up papaya and lime wedges. I don’t know who decided to pair papaya and lime together, but I thank that person from the bottom of my heart. I like the delicious tang that a spritz of lime juice adds to the buttery, sweet chunks of papaya. The combination makes a good snack, dessert, or side to a breakfast or brunch.

Not only do papaya chunks taste good, though; they have a good set of nutrients–vitamins C, E, A, folate and potassium, as well as fiber and papain, an enzyme that aids in digestion.

As much as I enjoy my special treat at Whole Foods, I figured I could find a cheaper way to make it myself. And I did.

Here are instructions on how to cut a papaya. I found the instructions after the fact, though; this is what I did instead:

  1. I cut off the ends,
  2. cut it in half width-wise,
  3. peeled the halves by standing them up and running a knife down the sides,
  4. cut them in half,
  5. scooped out the seeds, and
  6. cut it into chunks.

I put the chunks in a Ziploc bag, then followed with two limes cut into eight wedges each.

If you’ve never had this tropical treat, I encourage you to give it a try!

Skinny Pineapple Cake

I’m glad to have this light dessert as part of my meal-ending rotation! I can’t recall ever having pineapple upside-down cake, but one of my friends swears by it. So when I saw a 2-ingredient pineapple cake recipe, from WW Recipes, I started thinking of ways to convert it to something like an upside-down cake to give it a little more flavor. Here’s the lowdown on my 4-ingredient cake:

  • 1 box angel food cake mix
  • 20-oz. can of crushed pineapple, in juice, undrained
  • 12 maraschino cherries
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar-free caramel sauce (I used 1/4 cup, but I think 1/3 cup might cover the cake better next time.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the cake mix in a bowl. Add the pineapple; stir until the ingredients are well mixed and the batter is moistened. Pour into a 13 x 9 pan sprayed with cooking spray. Place the cake in the oven, baking to the typical package instructions.

When the top of the cake becomes golden and a little crusty, before the entire cake is completely set, add the 12 cherries to the top of the cake, gently pushing into the surface of the cake a little bit. Pour the caramel sauce on top of the cake, gently spreading around with a silicone spatula. (Looking back, though, it would definitely be easier to spread the caramel and then place the cherries.)

Place the cake back in the oven and continue baking until you can put a toothpick in the cake and have it come out clean.

Cool and cut into 12 slices.