Funfetti Popcorn Mix (Dye Free)

What better way to celebrate a 2nd birthday than with sprinkles?! Our daughter’s very first friend, Zoe, turned two today and we just had to make a fun treat to take to her party!

Funfetti Popcorn Mix

When it comes to kids’ birthdays, I’m a big fan of treats that aren’t loaded with sugar or artificial junk. I pulled out my new favorite sprinkles and some dye-free M&M’s for inspiration. I also knew there would be cake, so baked goods were off the table. We know a lot of folks with nut allergies, so I’ve made it a rule to avoid them for parties. To easily adapt the recipe for what you have on hand, see the variations at the bottom of the recipe for ideas.

Funfetti Popcorn Delivery

While daddy and Adelyn wrestled and watched “George George“, I whipped up this quick Funfetti popcorn mix. It took about 20 minutes and just a handful of ingredients! This is a sweet, savory and naturally colorful birthday treat. It was also easy to transport – just two 1-gallon ziplocs!

I popped the organic corn on the stovetop with a little coconut oil to give it a birthday cakey flavor. To my surprise, this treat was as popular with the adults as it was with the kids. By the time we left, there was an empty bowl with a few unpopped kernels and some rogue sprinkles.

For more ideas and tips on making dye free sweets, check out my Natural Food Coloring Pinterest Board.

Disclosure: I wasn’t paid or perked to link to the products mentioned, I’m just always on the hunt for baking items free of artificial food coloring. I love sharing that there are alternatives out there!

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Natural Food Coloring Guide

If you’ve been reading this blog long, you’ve figured out that I’m a pretty nerdy baker.  A chemical engineer by training, I love to analyze and experiment with my recipes. After posting a very popular Red Velvet cake made with beets, I began investigating the science behind what it takes to make a cake red and expanded it into a review for the ChEnected blog.

In my research for the article, I became more and more convinced that I’d like to wean myself off of the Wilton colors I had been using in my decorating and focus more on naturally derived options. Since having a little girl just over a year ago, my label-reading skills have kicked into overdrive! But you might ask yourself, what colors can I make with natural food coloring?

Well, since you asked… all of these:

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Aren’t they fun?! Of course you’ll notice right away that they aren’t the super saturated colors you get with artificial colors, but I’ll always prefer beets to coal tar in my food!

Natural Food Colorings

The benefit to using mainstream food coloring is that you get concentrated vibrant color in a very wide range of shades. But after experimenting with using beets to color red velvet cake and icing, I knew there had to be other options out there. With a lot of Google research, I found a handful of companies making natural food coloring products.  I even created a Pinterest board to keep track of natural food coloring producers I could find and some DIY recipes.

I’m going to share a few things I learned along the way so that you’ll know what you can expect of natural food colorings and what is wishful thinking. Choosing plant-derived food colorings might seem like an obvious option, but there are some caveats that you’ll have to be willing to accept:

  • First off, they can be expensive – as much as $20 for a set of basic red, blue and yellow. For me it’s worth the extra cost to feel good about what I’m feeding folks.

  • They also have a pretty short shelf life. No preservatives are added and many of the liquid based ones I came across suggest refrigerating or freezing them. (Even then you seem to have about a 6 month window to use them up.)

  • The colors are not as vibrant as traditional food colorings. In my experience blue is the hardest color to achieve, but all of the tones will be more muted that you might expect if you are used to working with artificial colors. They’re earthy. I’m okay with that.

  • They behave a little differently than commercial food colorings and are particularly heat and pH sensitive. You might have to brush up on your chemistry skills to achieve the colors you want.

Color Garden Pure Natural Food Colors

As part of my hunt for natural food coloring options, I recently came across Color Garden. These are a line of natural food colorings used in Whole Foods bakeries that are just becoming available to home bakers. I asked them if they’d send me some to play with and they did! (This post isn’t sponsored, they just sent the awesome kit below for me to test out.)

colorgardennaturalcolors

My first order of business was to see what kinds of colors you can really expect out of natural food coloring. The Color Garden colors come in Red, Orange, Yellow & Blue. Each box  is a set of 5 packets meant for one-time use.

Next I headed to Whole Foods to check out their bakery cakes for some color inspiration.

wholefoodsnaturalfoodcoloring

I had fun making a huge batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream and then creating a bunch of different colors with it. In doing so, I learned a lot about how the natural food coloring behaves and created a handy guide in the process.

What you need to know about Color Garden Natural Food Colors:

  • Each packet of Color Garden contains about 170 drops of natural food coloring.
  • They are meant to be flavorless, though in high concentrations, I could detect some flavor and a cabbagey scent resulting from the blue food coloring.
  • The red and yellow hues prefer an acidic environment to retain their color, whereas the blue needs a basic environment.
  • When mixing acidic red and basic blue, instead of getting purple like you’d expect, it turns gray due to an acid/base reaction.
  • Interestingly, over time, the gray frosting became more purple, but a deep purple frosting was difficult to create.
    graypurplecolorchange
  • Black is another obvious challenge that is difficult to meet with natural options.

If you would like to create your own naturally colorful frostings, download my Natural Food Coloring Guide as a PDF. It explains exactly how many drops of each color you’ll need to create all the colors in the first image above. I hope it’s a great resource as you explore how to make your confections naturally colorful!

Psst: I will be teaching a cake decorating workshop at Becoming 2013 using the Color Garden Pure Natural Food Coloring. There are 8 spots left so we’d love you to join us for a fun weekend of becoming more creative, frugal and purposeful.

Caramel Soaked Cake with Burnt Caramel French Buttercream

caramel cake

 

I’ve been baking (and now posting!) again. It’s glorious!  Between a new baby and a major house remodel this year, my kitchen (and energy levels) were a bit out of sorts. I’m happy to say that my new kitchen is gorgeous and 90% finished. I am busy at work breaking it in!

For some reason last year when my daughter (still sounds strange) was born, it didn’t hit me that her and my hubby’s birthdays are 9 days apart…. This year I fit in a decadent cake for Jason while planning baby A’s big first birthday bash. I have all the juicy details of her party to share, but first the caramel-soaked cake that my not-a-day-over-21 (ha!) cutie requested.

cutcaramelcake

Bam! I sat over a hot flame on my new gas oven preparing not one, but 3 batches of caramel for this bad boy. It was my first time making a french buttercream and it was the highlight of the cake for me. Especially the subtle dark caramel notes and the creamy texture. The cake held up in the fridge for the better part of a week, but the caramel sauce began to crystallize a bit after that. The white cake recipe was pretty good, but I expected it to be more moist with the caramel soaked in. You could easily substitute your favorite white or yellow cake recipe. (while you are at it… share the link in the comments!)

We may have eaten a few slices for breakfast with coffee and then had it for dessert that night too… It was seriously a treat and when I make it again, I’ll share with friends – maybe. Keep in mind that this recipe has a good number of steps and you might use all of your saucepans a few times.  You can prepare the cake layers one day and then frost/drizzle on the second day if you are short on time.

Here is the full recipe and instructions if you want to reproduce this tasty treat in your own kitchen. (Trust me you do).

Inspiration from here, here, and here.

 

 

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Lemon Ricotta Fritters w/ Berry Compote

 

When my mom comes to visit, we cook. Can’t help it. Actually come to think of it, it doesn’t matter where we are there is always good food around. I have to admit, when my mom is in my kitchen – I feel like an amateur. I always learn a new trick or two and her food just tastes better than mine!

It’s funny because being critical of our food is also kinda hereditary. We have a running joke that if mom thinks something she made is good, then it will be one of the best things we’ve ever eaten. And these lemon ricotta fritters were just that!  Seriously, they were gone before we could get a proper picture….

Lemon Ricotta Fritters

(Thanks to hubs for instagramming the shot above or there would be no photo evidence!)

A light dusting of powdered sugar and a little berry compote to dip them in and we were savoring every last nugget! We started with this Bobby Flay recipe, though we added more lemon zest and improvised on the berry compote. Here’s our version:

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Double Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

These double chocolate hazelnut cookies are the perfect pick-me-up!  A close friend of mine was having a tough week, so I whipped up a batch and mailed them to her.  Apparently more than a few were crushed in transit, but she said they made the perfect topping for ice cream!
Double Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

If you use the wheat flour, hazelnuts and a high octane dark chocolate, these are super satisfying without making you feel too guilty.

Here is what they should look like going into the oven.  Feel free to eat them when slightly warm. I had to test them as soon as they were done to make sure they were good enough to share!

Unbaked Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

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Moist Chocolate Cupcakes & Vanilla Bean Buttercream

When I bake for a special occasion, it’s rare that I try out a completely new recipe. Normally I like to play it a little safe and make something I know is going to turn out. But I was still on the hunt for the perfect chocolate cupcake recipe after making several that weren’t chocolatey enough or were too dry. Our friend Jill turned 30 this week and that’s definitely an occasion for chocolate if you ask me (I also hit 30 this year)!

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes

I found a few recipes that use a combo of buttermilk and hot water to infuse moisture into the cake (inspiration here and here). That, along with some new natural cocoa powder were just the ticket to creating a fluffy moist cupcake with a deep chocolate flavor. The homemade vanilla bean buttercream was also a thing of beauty. I’m normally a chocolate-on-chocolate kinda girl, but a quick Facebook poll said most folks prefer vanilla frosting, who knew? I used my favorite buttercream standby and fancied it up with vanilla bean paste.

The most surprising thing about the cake batter is how thin it is when it goes into the pan. I was concerned that we’d end up with chocolate goo, but now I’m pondering ways to use the hot water technique for other cupcake batters because it was THAT good! These aren’t gluten, fat, sugar or guilt free, but they are just the ticket for a big celebration!

Note: You will see a few special ingredients like coffee extract and vanilla bean paste. I provided Amazon links to the products I use, but I like to purchase them at a major discount from Marshall’s or TJ Maxx!

Fun fact: I also created the scalloped cupcake liners using coordinating scrapbook papers. I traced out a template that I found online and used my Silhouette cutter to get 36 perfect cupcake wrappers! This is a new tool for me, so if you have any other fun project suggestions I’d love to hear them!

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3 Ingredient Ice Cream: Banana, Coconut & Vanilla!

Banana Icecream

 

 

If there’s one thing that is frustrating to give up when you’re pregnant it’s ice cream. Am I Right?  Ladies? Yeah, torture. Since avoiding excess carbs and sugar, I’ve had to get really creative to still get my sweet fix. Especially now that we’ve skipped spring in the South and headed straight for summer temps.

Inspired by two simple recipes, I created a creamy satisfying Sunday afternoon Sundae for Jason and I using 3 ingredients: Frozen bananas, coconut milk and homemade vanilla extract. (You could skip the vanilla, but it just has a great richness that adds to the “ice cream” taste).

If it weren’t for my Pinterest addiction, I would have never known that you could whip frozen banana chunks into cold a cold creamy dream. Top it with some whipped coconut cream and you have a dairy, sugar and definitely guilt free dessert! This would be very satisfying for folks with a dairy allergy too.

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Cranberry Flax Crunch Cookies

Healthy cookies that taste great….it’s a tough challenge.  The key is to balance the ingredients and use just enough of each to give them flavor, without lots of added sugar and carbs.

Oatmeal Cranberry Flax Cookies

If it’s not totally obvious, I have a sweet tooth. Deprive me of goodies completely and I’m not a happy girl – especially pregnant. Browsing through my monthly cooking magazines,  I came across this recipe for Oatmeal, Cranberry and Flax cookies from King Arthur. I’ve had success with many of their recipes in the past, so I decided to give this one a go.

Of course, I always like to put my own touch on things so I added a handful of shredded coconut and some dark chocolate chips.  Can you tell I was afraid it would taste like I tried to make healthy cookies?  I also halved the recipe because, well, then I can’t gobble up 3 dozen. Here’s what they looked like going in the oven:

I love that there is just enough butter to help them brown, a hint of sweetness from the cranberries and brown sugar and the oats really hold it all together. The chocolate and coconut gave it just a touch of richness that made you really feel like it was a treat. Actually, the best part of the recipe is that there are basically 2 steps.  It couldn’t be simpler!

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Creamy Jalapeño & Chive Hummus

Hummus from Dried Chickpeas

Eating healthy is always on our list of priorities, but it’s even more important now that I’m carrying a tiny human to feed. I’ve been following 101 Cookbooks, an inventive natural food blog for several years, but always felt the ingredients were something you had to have a Whole Foods budget or a California market to get your hands on.

When we moved to the Atlanta area, I discovered the Dekalb Farmer’s Market and it has quickly become a weekly shopping destination for me. From blood oranges to kohlrabi to dried chanterelles you can find just about anything you could imagine at an awesome price.

Jalapeno Chive Hummus

On my last trip, I picked up almost 2 lbs of dried chickpeas for a whopping $2.97.  I followed Heidi’s recipe pretty closely, although I made a half batch of the hummus part but made the full jalapeno sauce portion.

I also didn’t have parsley on hand, so I swapped it for fresh chives instead. I expected a lot of heat from the jalapeno, but it gave a surprising freshness to the sauce… the heat really took until the next day’s leftovers to show up. Overall this was a smooth, satisfying accompaniment to some toasted oat pitas.

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Peach Blueberry Buckle

The only thing that can make great coffee better is an awesome baked good to go alongside it. Jason and I have been huge fans of the caramellato at Octane Coffee in Atlanta since before we moved here. Their main location is walking distance of his office and it’s a fun funky place and these folks have serious brewing skills. Need I say more:

Octane Caramellato

They recently opened a new location (near Grant park) and half of the store is “Little Tart Bake Shop”. One step inside and I fell in love. It’s bright and open, industrial and decorated with common materials but in a chic fun way. Large typography on the wall, huge mirrors-turned-dry erase-menu and lots of coffee alchemy going on. (It inspired us to incorporate more of the industrial look into our house renovation). On our first trip, we ordered several goodies because we couldn’t decide what to try, so many sweet & savory options.

By far our favorite was a golden blueberry buckle. A cross between a blueberry muffin and a scone, it was flecked with huge caramelized blueberries in a fluffy buttery crumb. I’ve been wanting to recreate it at home and I quickly learned that the interpretation of a buckle is widely varied. Some describe it as more of a coffee cake with a streusel on top. Others just a rustic dough baked on parchment into a biscuit shape. I decided to make a very large version of the Little Tart interpretation:

What sold me on this recipe was the addition of peaches or nectarines, a perfect compliment to the blueberries! I nixed the streusel for a wash of milk, sugar and cinnamon that gave the top a beautiful sticky golden covering. I opted to make one large buckle, but you could easily do this in 12 muffin tins for individual portions at a brunch. Enjoy!

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