May 31, 2019

Sugar Free and Low Carb Brownie Bites

'Baby Bites' (little bitty cakes) and Brownie Bites are apparently a 'thing' right now.  While planning our daughter's wedding she wanted "baby bites" and the bakeries around here are making a killing on these things.  (No we didn't pay bakery prices for any of our desserts for the reception... did you miss my post about the rustic bark 'tree' cake I made for them instead of spending $1000 on a cake...? No way did I pay bakery prices for the reception dessert table.)

One of the items we did not include at the wedding was brownie bites, but I did make them for my husband this week.  I'm not a fan of chocolate in the least, so apparently I'm not a good judge of chocolate desserts.  Because I tasted these and thought "meh" but later my husband came home from work, tasted them and announced they were 'fabulous' and ate about 5 of them while he was standing there.

What do I know, right?

There is no guilt with these little brownie bites because they are wheat free, low carb, sugar free.

Brownie Bites

1 c walnuts or pecans
1/4 - 1/3 c cocoa powder (Start with 1/4 and add more if you think it needs it)
dash salt
1/2 c almond butter
1/2 c granulated sweeteners - use 2 mixed for best flavor
1/4 c sugar free chocolate chips
1 t vanilla

In a food processor with an S-blade, process your nuts and salt until paste.  Add everything else except the chocolate chips; after it comes together into a dough ball, pulse in the chocolate chips.  Make small balls/bites in the size you wish by either rolling between your palms or using a little cookie dough scoop.  I froze ours, and we just grab out a couple as needed.  They thaw within minutes on the counter but my husband loves them frozen.  I also cut them into quarters and added them to freshly churned homemade vanilla ice cream and cheesecakes.

You might also be interested in these related products, available from Amazon;

HERSHEY'S Kitchens Sugar Free Chocolate Chips, 8 Ounce (Pack of 12)
Cuisinart DLC-8SBCY Pro Custom 11-Cup Food Processor, Brushed Chrome
Swerve Sweetener, Bakers Bundle, Granular and Confectioners, 12 Ounce, pack of 2


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May 29, 2019

Homemade Sugar Free Sweetened Condensed Milk

Originally posted in 2015

Through the years, one product I've never found is a good sweetened condensed milk that is sugar free and low carb.  Granted, I don't often use this product, so I only wished for about once every three or four years - but when making key lime pie I always missed it!   Last year I ( I posted) about my trial of the sugar free sweetened condensed mix I bought.  (Low Carb Condensed Milk Mix (Sweetened) - LC Foods)  It was not a hit.

Over the summer I tried a new homemade ice cream recipe that used a can of sweetened condensed milk.  I loved the recipe!  I did not love the sugar content.  So once again, the idea to make a sugar free version got under my skin.  I just have been too busy to actually do it.  But today was the day.  Determined to make a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream and a cherry dessert for my family, both of which could use my 'testing' products, I made 2 batches of the follow recipe.

Why two?

I wanted to see if the brand of sweetener I used made a difference in the final product; taste or texture.  The two I chose are the two "go to" sweeteners I like to have on hand;  Ideal Granulated and Just Like Sugar.  In the end, Ideal won, hands down!  I'm thrilled with it.  Because I think natural sweeteners taste best when 2 are blended, I added 15 drops of a liquid sucra-sweetener to each but that's optional for you.  I used the better tasting Ideal version for the ice cream, and the dessert.  I used the Just Like Sugar version in a chocolate ice cream, knowing the addition of other ingredients would mask the taste a bit.  I'm very happy with how all 3 of my desserts turned out today!  I prefer Ideal for the taste but if you have something else you like, give it a try!  Play with the recipe and make it your own.

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 can Nestle Table Cream (Media Crema)
2/3 cup sweetener (I used Ideal Sweetener with about 15 drops of a liquid sweetener added as well)
2 T unflavored Whey Protein Powder (I use Isopure - zero carbs, zero sugar)
1-2 t vanilla extract

Whisk together and place over medium heat until smooth and thickened. Use in a recipe of choice or refrigerate. When you refrigerate it, it gets very, very thick, just like the 'real' sweetened condensed milk.  

Some related products available through Amazon if you can't find them locally;

Ideal Sweetener No Calorie 10.6 Oz 6 Packs
Nature's Best Isopure, Whey Protein Isolate, Unflavored (Zero Carb)
Nestle Media Crema Table Cream - 2 7.6 Oz. Cans
Nestle Cream (Pack of 6)

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Greek Inspired Salad with Chicken from my Cosori Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot)

Earlier this week I made a quick late lunch/dinner of a Greek inspired salad topped with chicken I quickly made in my electric pressure cooker.  I own a Cosori but I know most people bought the Instant Pot brand.  Same thing... you can use either or even the Bella brand, etc.

I used chicken thighs straight from the freezer, which resulted in more liquid, which I simply poured some off.  If you use thawed chicken it gives it a nicer crust.

Lemon Garlic Chicken

2 T butter
4 chicken thighs
1 t sea salt
3/4 t pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c rice wine vinegar
2 T lemon juice
1 t mustard
1/2 t dried basil
1/2 t dried oregano

Set your instant pot to saute' and heat the butter in it.  Season your chicken with the salt and pepper, and add it to the pot - skin side down to crisp the skin if you are using 'with skin'.  Add the garlic and cook 4 minutes until golden brown.  Flip and add the rest of the ingredients.  Cancel the saute' process.  Seal the lid and cook on manual for 10 minutes.  14 if your thighs were frozen to start with.  When it's finished, do a quick release on the valve.

Remove the chicken and let it set while you mix up a salad;

Lettuce, kalamata Greek olives, tomato, onion, feta, cucumbers...   add about 1/4 cup of the liquid from the instant pot to your salad - drizzling over it.  Top with the sliced, cooked chicken.

I didn't take photos of the chicken or the finished meal - but I did snap the salad while the chicken was cooking!  :)

You might be interested in the recipe book this recipe was based on:

  Keto Instant Pot: 130+ Healthy Low-Carb Recipes for Your Electric Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker

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May 28, 2019

Cheesecake baked in my Instant Pot (Cosori - electric pressure cooker) Cinnamon Swirl Cheesecake - Sugarfree and Low Carb

When eating sugar free and low carb, it seems cheesecakes are a dessert that is a 'fall back' dessert.  Need a last second dessert?  Craving something sweet?  Need a dessert to serve guests?  Bored and want to bake something?  Cheesecake.

I guess the best thing is that they can be made into literally any flavor you like.  You can even make them 'savory' with garlic, spinach, etc. if you wish.  But most are made sweet; and vanilla is a great default because you can top it with anything from chocolate to fruit, to jam, sprinkles, crumbs... whatever.  But also, play with the crust flavors and ingredients and of course, add layers or swirls to the filling.

SO many ways to play with a basic cheesecake recipe!

This particular recipe is based on one in the cookbook:  Keto Instant Pot: 130+ Healthy Low-Carb Recipes for Your Electric Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker

Cinnamon Swirl Cheesecake 
- sugar free and low carb

4 T real butter
1 1/2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
1/3 c granulated sweetener like Ideal, Swerve, Just Like Sugar, etc.
1 egg - beaten
2 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla
dash sea salt

Cinnamon Swirl:
6 T real butter
1/2 granulated sweeteners - mix 2-3 brands for best flavor
1 t vanilla
1 T cinnamon
dash sea salt

32 oz. cream cheese (that's 4 pkg. of 8 oz.)
3/4 c granulated sweeteners - Just Like Sugar, Swerve, Ideal, etc.
1/2 c unsweetened, original almond milk
1 t vanilla
1/4 t almond extract
dash sea salt
3 eggs

Wrap heavy aluminum foil around the outside of your springform pan.  (A 7" pan will usually fit in a 6 qt. instant pot or cosori cooker.)  You are wrapping it to keep water from seeping in.  Wrap the bottom and up the sides, making sure it doesn't rip.

Make the crust by melting the butter in a saucepan on the stove over medium low heat, adding the chocolate and stirring it to melt - be careful not to burn it.  Then add the sweetener, egg, cinnamon, salt and vanilla.  Remove from heat and stir to combine and thicken.  Spread this in the bottom of a 6 or 7 inch springform pan - one that fits in your instant pot.

Make the filling by beating the cream cheese smooth and slowly adding the sweeteners, milk, extracts and salt.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low after each to mix in.  As soon as the filling is smooth, pour half of the batter over the crust in your springform pan.

Make the cinnamon swirl by heating the butter in a pan on the stove over high until it starts to caramelize by getting little brown flecks in it and starting to turn golden.  Quickly add the sweetener, vanilla, cinnamon and salt, whisking in briskly.  Remove from heat.  Let it cool slightly and it starts to thicken up.  Spoon half of this over the batter in your pan and use your spatula or a butter knife to swirl it in; cutting through and dragging the cinnamon through the filling.  Now pour the rest of the butter over, and then top with the last of the cinnamon filling.  Swirl it again with a spatula or knife.

Set a trivet in your Instant Pot or Cosori and add 1 cup of water.  

Pans are hard to lift out of a pressure cooker so use a long piece of aluminum foil to make a 'sling' or lift for it.  Pull out about 2 1/2 feet of foil and start to fold it up the long way so you are making a 2 inch wide 'rope' of sorts.  You want a long piece of foil that is about 2 inches wide so you can lay it across the inside bottom of your instant pot and still have it long enough to go up the two sides and have enough to grab with your hands.  

You will lay the aluminum foil 'sling' in your cooker, then put the springform pan with the cake over it.  Use the ends of your sling to lift the springform cake pan in and out of the instant pot.  

Cover your cheesecake pan with 3 pieces of paper towel - this is going to absorb condensation so all that excess water doesn't run into your cheesecake.  Tuck the ends of the aluminum foil sling inside and put the top of your Cosori or Instant Pot on.

Seal and set the timer for a manual cook time of 26 minutes.  Let the pressure release naturally when it's done.  Use the foil sling to lift the pan out.  Allow it to cool and then refrigerate it for at least 4-6 hours before serving.  It's best if you can chill it for 8-10.  I freeze mine!  On a hot summer day, a slice of frozen cheesecake is heavenly.

Keto Instant Pot: 130+ Healthy Low-Carb Recipes for Your Electric Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker

You might also be interested in these natural sugar free sweeteners (I used in this recipe);

Just Like Sugar 1 Lb Brown
Just Like Sugar Baking Sweetener - 16 oz
Just Like Sugar Table Top Natural Sweetener (Chicory Root Sugar Substitute), 16 oz


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May 22, 2019

My Rustic Tree Bark (Birch Bark) Wedding Cake - All edible bark! (With product links and photos!)

Originally posted years ago, the links have been checked and still connect to the products on Amazon but if you happen to find a broken link (it's been a few years now) just either let me know, or feel free to search for the term once you land there. 

Many professionals and social media people with businesses and video channels use my ideas and recipes, and they make hundreds and thousands of dollars while I'm lucky if I make $.50 cents a day from product links so I appreciate those of you who purchase something through my links at the bottom of the page.  Thank you so much!

Our daughter's wedding is over!  It was this past weekend, and in order to not only control costs, but also because we didn't want to give control over to others and be disappointed, we did all our own... well, everything

The venue provided chairs and tables but literally everything else was done by us (me).  The decorations, the flowers, the centerpieces, planters, the... cake.  Yes the cake.  Although that was not originally in the plans!

I'm not a cake maker/baker.  Oh, a birthday cake here or there for my family members but anything more than that? Nope. But our daughter is a very 'nature' type girl and her life is surrounded with plants, flowers and nature. So that was the theme of the wedding and she decided she wanted a rustic cake as well.  One that looked like real tree stumps.

She didn't care about details so much as the overall feel of a realistic looking tree bark cake.  And while searching online for bakers and cake decorators in our area that had photos in their galleries showing they could possibly pull off a creative edible bark cake... our daughter was disappointed.  Mostly it was buttercream, usually poorly done (for professionals) and wasn't real looking at all.

She asked if I could make her cake.
Uh... No!?  Your WEDDING CAKE? 

Two weeks went by.  Conversations with a local cake decorator (who was the best one we could find to tackle this style cake but even hers wasn't really the realistic version we wanted) were dragging as our daughter absolutely felt she wanted me to try to make it.

She asked me again.  Intimidated, I still said no.

But I thought about it for two days.  And I looked online at cakes others had made and thought to myself; "Oh I would be disappointed if our daughter's cake ended up looking like that..."  Or, "Why, I am sure I could do better than that one!"

I didn't know HOW to do it... but I'd make it happen.

Not having a plan, I went to Michaels and Walmart and I bought anything and everything I thought I might use to make a tree stump cake with edible bark.

  • I didn't know what I was doing.
  • I didn't watch video's or go looking for photos others did.
  • I did my own thing and just kept at it until I was content with how it was turning out.
And that is how I made our daughter's cake.

I did go online to order round edible, printed tree stumps to use as the top of the cake that could be seen.  I ordered from 3 different companies because I wasn't sure which would have good products.  They were vastly different shades and thickness; none perfect, but well enough I could make them work for the top of the cake that would be seen. 

How I made my edible bark

I used Oasis wafer paper, fondant, a random paintbrush I bought new at Walmart, and some water. (PRODUCT LINKS ADDED BELOW THIS POST.)

I did a crumb coat on most of them, but realized with this particular way of decorating, it really didn't matter.
USE FROZEN CAKES while putting on the fondant as it just makes it easier if they aren't soft and pliable.

IF YOUR CAKE IS TALL (like mine - 4 or 5 layers) then consider using a decorators styrofoam piece for the bottom to withstand the weight of the layers of real cake on top.  Secure all layers using either jumbo smoothie straws or wood dowels.  Each layer of cake will be on a cake board, cut smaller than the edge of your cake - although I put one of my layers directly on the cake as one edge of the board kept showing! 


My first try, I used a pure brown Wilton fondant in chocolate. The under color should be either black, gray or brown. On the rest of the cakes I used a mixture of them.  All ended up a different color but it doesn't matter, as long as it's not pure white.
I kneaded it like play-doh until I could roll it out.
I did pieces about 6-9 inches long to make them manageable.
Roll the fondant out pretty thin - but not quite as thin as you want the finished product to be.
Fondant is HEAVY though and so it has to be thin enough to adhere to the cake.

My first round was 4 inches tall.  I measured to get about that size but you don't have to be precise because the fondant is going to get bigger when it roll it thinner, and as you work with it.  Plus, the bark comes up over the edge so you don't need a straight edge and it doesn't have to be exactly the right size.

So I ripped the wafer paper - do not cut it.  Having a 100 pack of wafer paper made it easy to rip them because I knew I had more than enough if I 'messed up' anything.  Although I quickly found you can't really mess this up.  Nature is very forgiving on things looking like they do... even on rustic cakes.

I laid the wafer paper on the fondant and rubbed it a bit.  The fondant is sticky (I used NO powder sugar or anything but plain fondant) so the paper starts to adhere to it.

Dip a 1" wide new, clean brush, into plain water.  Don't overload your brush!  Just moisten it.
Start to brush all over the paper.
Go very light in some areas and more wet in others.
Don't saturate the paper though!  It WILL rip and disintegrate.  You want it to be moist enough that as you press and roll on it, it will crackle and rip to look like real wood.

Lightly moisten the wafer (rice) paper.

Roll a rolling pin over the paper to pull it gently as you press - ripping and crackling the wafer paper.
Do as much or as little as you like, judging as you go.

You can trim the excess fondant off with a sharp knife.
See how the darker areas are where the paper was more wet and pulled apart.
The barely moist is where it was showing through, but leaving the wafer paper intact.

Now you take a smaller DRY brush and dip it into some of the edible black and brown pearl dust to 'paint' your bark.
Dry brush over the crackled areas, the black and/or brown you choose goes into the cracks and starts to make them look more like bark.

Birch has streaks of black with tiny indented black pock style marks so you can fake those with a brush later too.

LEAVE SOME WAFER PAPER HANGING OFF THE ENDS.  This, you curl around your paint brush and hold a minute to give it the curled bark look.  Having it on the ends also helps to hide the seams when you apply it to the cake and butt two pieces of fondant/wafer paper bark up against each other.

You will be finishing the brown and black painted/dusted on details later so once you have a good start, use clear piping gel as GLUE to adhere the fondant bark to your cake.

Using a new brush, lightly brush the back of the fondant all over with the sticky piping gel.

I draped it over my hand and wrist to hold it while I painted the back.

You also apply the tree rings this way IF you are using printed rings.  Some layers I put the rings on first, then the bark.  But this first one, I did the bark first, then the ring.  I think it's easier if you do the rings FIRST, then the bark. 

I had just finished putting all the 3 side pieces on, as well as the top tree rings.

Now it was time to keep embellishing the top rings and the sides with more dry pearl dust put on in the cracks, but also, I found using a wet brush, mashing it in a small circle into the wafer paper and then applying dry edible brown/black dust made some great 'knots' in the wood!

Here you can see it starting to come together as I 'painted' on more dust to the bark.
Don't forget to barely moisten the edges of the wafer paper and roll them around your paint brush to give them that peeling bark look.  And brush the edges of the bark rolls.

I used a brush with either water and/or a little piping gel around the top edge, covered with dry brown/black edible dust to go around the top, trying to hide the seam between the tree rings and the fondant/wafer paper bark.

I used the dull edge of a butter knife to push into the top of the tree rings and give it some depth.  I also used the brown and black edible powder dust in various spots on the top rings to make them look more dimensional.  My thumb ruined a spot where it ripped through the sugar paper due to it being wet from the piping gel 'glue' so I made it into a knot by adding dry black pearl dust!

These ends sticking out are where you barely moisten it with water and roll it around your paint brush for a few seconds to curl it.

BEFORE I started to dab and dot and 'paint' the bark with dry pearl dust in brown and black....

Random photos while working on the dry dusting part....  where the paper below was brighter white, it's because it's a piece I added when the bottom layer was too mushy.  I barely moistened the new top layer, brushed with dry pearl dust and it blended right in for the finished product.

CONTINUE with all the layers YOU wish to use.
I made 5 layers (including my first trial 6" X 4" layer) but because of the weight of the cake, and the fact that I had two layers the same size, I put one off to the side more as decor.  ALSO - when I cut the 2nd layer to make it more round, it ended up being basically the same size as the first layer.

But I didn't really care and neither did my daughter.  We just stacked them with wooden dowels for support between the layers on cake boards, and 'went with it'.  That's how we did the whole wedding... LESS STRESS when you shrug off mistakes or things that don't turn out and you just keep going!

You might be interested in these items - all related to this post.  I ordered some things online (wafer paper in the 100 piece pack size) as well as buying some at my local Michaels (which was VERY expensive and I wouldn't suggest that - I could have gotten it much cheaper online but at the time I didn't know WHAT I was going to do or how I'd make it so I was just buying anything I THOUGHT MIGHT WORK or I MIGHT USE.  Lastly, picked up the gel and some more fondant at Walmart while buying groceries.)

Wilton Pure White Rolled Fondant

Wilton Decorator Preferred Chocolate Fondant

Wilton Easy Glide Fondant Smoother

100 Count Edible Rectangle Wafer Paper

Clear Piping Gel

Pearl Dust Coloring for Food, Black 

Pearl Color Dust, Brown

4-Piece Round Cake Pan Set - Includes 6", 8", 10" and 12" Aluminum Pans - 3" Deep




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