Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Goodbye Starbucks Hello Home Brewed Iced Coffee!

Hello friends. It's Summer! Of course that means pool, fun, travel...wait...hmm gas prices are up over $4.00 gal again. For me that means less going out and more staying home by the pool. But what do I do when my 'bored' kids want a frappuccino, or I want a refreshing iced coffee? Considering the cost of those drinks and the cost of gas it's not very practical to drive to Starbucks, at least not very often. Many of you know I worked at Starbucks for a time so I can say, with certain confidence, that I can make a better drink at home!

If anyone has researched making coffee at all you will see there are more arguments on the correct way to brew the coffee than in a political debate! Some argue that cold brewed is the best while others say the Japanese method of brewing double strength over ice is best.
The theory of cold brewed is that it allows the true flavor of the coffee to come through without leeching out all the acids and oils with hot water.
Those that brew over ice say that when the hot coffee hits the ice it instantly cools it and locks in the flavors.
I have not tried the Japanese method simply because I prefer to make a big container of coffee that will last me a few days. I can't afford some fancy machine and I have no idea if I could do it with my regular coffee maker or if that would shatter the carafe. So I use the cold brewed method.
It's really a personal preference. Brewing the coffee one cup at a time just doesn't work for me at the moment. I know, that is not very 'connoisseur' of me!

Let's get started cold brewing our coffee!
The ratio for cold brewing is 1 part coffee to 4 parts water.
The size of the container you use depends on how much you want to make. I have been re-using a large iced tea bottle but have now moved up to a 1 gallon container. Make sure it has a top or have plastic wrap to cover it completely.
You will need something like a wooden spoon, long enough to reach the bottom of the container so that you can mix the grounds. A second container to strain the coffee into. A fine mesh strainer and either white paper towels or cheesecloth.

I am using a 1 gallon container so adjust your measurements accordingly.
Pour 2 cups medium grind coffee into the container. Add 8 cups cool, filtered water, gently stir to make sure all the grounds are wet. Wait about 10 minutes then give them another stir. Cover and let steep for a minimum of 8 hours up to 24 hours. YES that long but trust me its worth it! Honestly though I brewed one batch 8 hours and one 24 hours and really didn't notice a difference but I used a different type of coffee for each batch so that may be a factor. Also keep in mind that the longer you steep the stronger the brew.
Ready to filter? OK. Take out that other container. Get your strainer and line it with your cheesecloth or paper towels (make sure you use double thickness of either) and start pouring. I won't lie this is time consuming. The coffee has to filter through all those grounds and sediment. After doing this you will understand why I brew a lot at one time. Pour your strained coffee into a pitcher or other container and store it in the fridge.

To use pour over ice and flavor as you like. Remember though that this is very strong so, depending on your personal tastes, you will probably want to dilute it a bit with water. I usually go somewhere around 60/40 coffee to water, but that is all up to you!
My favorite way to fix my iced coffee is to fill my cup with ice, add a little bit of water, some *sugar free simple syrup, the coffee and a splash of half n half.

For a frappuccino you will need a blender, cold brewed coffee, ice, *flavored syrup (like caramel or hazelnut), milk, xantham gum and whatever other add ins, like choc chips or coffee beans. Put it all in the blender whip it into a wonderful frozen drink. For about a grande/venti size (give or take as I don't measure) you will want to use about 2 cups of ice, a cup of your coffee, 3/4 cup milk, 5-6 pumps of syrup and about 1/8 tsp of xantham gum. Just remember it's your drink and it should be as sweet and strong as YOU like.  As for the xantham gum, Starbucks frappuccino is made from a powder mix. It is mixed with milk and stored in the fridge until ready to use. It uses xantham gum as a stabilizer to keep the frappuccino from separating. If you don't care about separation and stirring your drink then you can skip it. Xantham gum is natural and flavorless.
You can get xantham gum from most any store, or in bulk from stores like Whole Foods or WinCo. Try Bob's Red Mill from the baking isle.
Smart and Final sells bottles of the Torani caramel sauce as well as chocolate so you can drizzle those inside your cup and on top, with or with out whipped cream, to make it a more 'authentic' frappuccino.
I use both *Torani and *DaVinci syrups. I prefer the DaVinci because they have a non-flavored sugar free simple syrup. Both brands make a ton of flavored syrups both with and without sugar. Smart and Final carries Torani, as does World Market. I purchase my DaVinci syrups from their website.  Or you can make your own.

*One thing I would like to mention, thanks to a friend for the reminder, I use the sugar free syrups in moderation and only in my cold drinks. Since they are liquid they mix well in cold beverages, unlike other sweeteners that may not dissolve. One thing I really hate are clumps of sweetener at the bottom of my drinks and having to stir so much melts the ice too fast and dilutes the drink. But they are, after all, made with Splenda and you by no means have to use them! I am showing you how to copy Starbucks. They use these syrups. So go ahead and use your favorite natural sweetener in your drinks. Also you can certainly use almond milk or coconut milk for your drinks as well. Go ahead and whip up some coconut cream for topping those frapps, yum!

I do believe my next kitchen experiment will be to make a natural simple syrup. Maybe even flavored ones. I will post that if it works out :)

Enjoy your coffee and your Summer!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Going Gluten Free, Sugar Free and Low Carb

As some of you may know by now I have made the decision to go gluten free, sugar free and low carb.  I made this decision back in Sept.  I started my journey in order to combat what I thought, and still do, is an overgrowth of Candida in my system.  I had so many different ailments going on that I just shrugged off as hormonal changes. One of the big problems was the weight gain I have had the past couple of years and the fact that no matter what I tried I could not drop any weight. I knew stress was a factor (still is).  I also knew that not being able to even lose a pound was making more stress and of course that got me on a nice roller coaster ride of pain, no energy, insomnia, bad moods...OK you get the point.  A friend of mine, after hearing some of my complaints, said "you sound like you have candida".  After much research I realized that she was probably right.  I did a spit test (gross) and that was more than just positive.  So I decided to start a Candida Diet. Since then I stopped eating sugar and flour (gluten) and I have lost 35 lbs without effort.  I don't want to get into the full blown Candida thing right now but I encourage anyone who has a lot of ailments without any real cause to look it up.  I feel better.  I am not following the anti-candida diet quiet so severely now, mainly because the "die off" made me really sick and miserable. Yes please use Google :)
So now I am following it modified. But really, when I look at the way I am eating now, it is really close to the diet anyway.  I have also looked into eating Paleo. Paleo is really restrictive though and with kids and a husband who wont follow it its hard to do.  But I really want my family to eat healthier.  I want my kids off sugar or as much as I can get them off of it and I don't want them eating gluten as it also causes many of the ailments as candida. When you think about it, it makes sense, eating bread and gluten products causes an insulin response which converts those bad carbs to sugar which feeds the bad bacteria (candida).  It goes on and on and wont stop unless you stop feeding the little buggers! OK enough of that.
In my quest for better health I have been looking all over the web for recipes. There are a zillion!  I have purchased a few cookbooks. All are good but not all of them will fit with my family.  That's where I start winging it!
The recipe that I am going to share is one that I played with and modified until I got an amazing result. I hope that you enjoy it.

Mixed Berry Mini Cupcakes
Sugar Free, Gluten Free and Low Carb

1/2  cup almond flour
2 T  coconut flour
4 T  butter, melted
4 T   granulated sugar substitute**
1 tsp granulated sugar substitute for the berries
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp strawberry extract
1/8 tsp salt (kosher, sea salt or celtic sea salt)
1/2 cup pureed mixed berries plus 1T for frosting, optional

~*~This recipe is doubled in order to make 24 mini cupcakes.~*~
For mug cakes cut the recipe in half or just make 4 cakes :)

I use frozen mixed berries but you can use fresh as well.  Place the frozen berries in a saucepan, sprinkle with 1 tsp of sweetener, heat on med/low until they thaw and start to release their juice.  Let them cool a bit then puree them, set aside.

Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl, add melted butter, extracts and mix.  Add the beaten eggs and mix again, then add the pureed berries and mix until well incorporated. 

Now you have a choice of how to cook these.  I made these in a 24 count mini cupcake pan but you can also make regular size cupcakes or for fun and if your in a hurry you can make this as mug cakes.

For cupcakes heat the oven to 375.  Measure about 1 tsp of batter per cupcake and bake for 18-20 or when a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool before frosting.
Cooking is similar for regular cupcakes but you might need to adjust the timing. Check with a toothpick after 20 min and use your best judgement.  When I give these a go as regular cupcakes I will update this post.

For mug cakes, lightly spray each mug with your spray of choice, then divide the batter equally between the mugs.  Microwave for 90 seconds then check for doneness.  Add a few seconds at a time if needed.  Don't over cook!  You can either eat them right from the mug or use a small knife around the edge and release onto a plate.

You can eat them as is or top with 

Whipped Buttercream Cream Cheese Frosting

This will make enough for 24 mini cupcakes with a bit left over.  

4 oz cream cheese softened
3 T  butter softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar substitute**
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp strawberry extract
1 T berry puree, optional

Using your mixer cream the butter and cream cheese with the sweetener until fluffy, add the heavy cream, the extract and continue to beat on high until it starts to get thick and fluffy.  At this point you can add the puree and then continue to whip until it holds its shape.  Please note that if you use the pureed berries that the frosting will not be as thick but you can chill it for a few minutes before frosting the cakes.

A word on sugar substitutes
There are many out there.  Some are pure garbage and are unnatural, others are natural with added garbage that usually translates to sugar.  YES some of these no calorie sweeteners contain SUGAR.  You gotta read those labels!  "In the Raw" is a prime example.  I purchased a box of "Stevia in the Raw"only to realize the first ingredient is dextrose--SUGAR!

There are a couple of sugar alcohols that are good to use, erythritol and **xylitol. They can sometimes cause digestive issues in sensitive people but I have not had an issue with either.  Most the reports I have read say similar that their are no digestive issues with them.  Neither has caused the problems that maltitol causes and that is what you will find in a lot of commercial "sugar free" foods.

You can use pure Stevia but use sparingly as it is 300 times sweeter than sugar. The brand of sweetener I use in my baking is Swerve.  It is erythritol and oligosacharides.  It is natural, non-glycemic, non-gmo.  I purchase it from  You can find good granulated sweeteners at the better markets or health food stores but if you can't then the best option at the regular grocery store is Truvia.  It is a mix of erythritol and stevia and natural flavours.  The "natrual flavours" is questionable but this is a better choice than Splenda.  Just stay away from the baking blend since it is mixed with sugar.

I really recommend that you Google these sweeteners to get a better understanding of them.  It will really help if you do decide to go sugar free and want to convert recipes.  Some say they can be swapped cup for cup with sugar but others cant so please Google them!

**XYLITOL is toxic to pets especially dogs.  It affects the blood glucose level in pets to dangerous levels and can cause death.  Do you chew sugarless gum?  Most is made with xylitol.  What I have read on the subject is that sugarless gum or mints are the #1 cause of emergency room visits for dogs.  So even though it is beneficial for humans our pets cannot eat it so no goodies for the pets!