Do you love whipped cream but wished it would stay fluffy like whipped topping does?  
Cool-Whip, move over; your superior is here!  Airy, melt-in-your-mouth, delicately sweet, no hard-to-pronounce ingredients- what could be better?

Use this for topping pies, gelatin, cakes or cupcakes, or anything else you like!  Stir in a little caramel sauce and it's either an amazing dip for apples or an incredible cake filling.  Fold in some melted and cooled chocolate for a mousse-like topping.  White chocolate is delicious mixed in.

The version below that uses gelatin gives the most firmness.  I've kept it in the fridge for two weeks before, without the faintest hint
Yes, you can use this to decorate cakes!  (Just don't let it get too warm, it will melt if it gets above about 90 degrees F, just like butter does.)  This picture is my niece's wedding cake.

If you can't have dairy, use 8 ounces of chilled coconut cream to replace the dairy cream.  Not cream of coconut, that's different.  Coconut cream is the thick layer you find on top of canned coconut milk; Asian markets sell cans of straight coconut cream.

Stabilized whipped cream
½ pint whipping cream (8 oz)
½ tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. sugar or ¼ c. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. Ultra Gel OR 1 tsp. unflavored gelatin*

If using Ultra Gel, stir it with the sugar, then add cream and vanilla and whip until stiff.  

If using gelatin, put it with a tablespoon of water, let it sit a minute to soften, then microwave for 12 seconds to dissolve it. You could heat gently on a stove, if needed.   Don't let it boil.  Whip cream, sugar, and vanilla until they start to thicken a little, then slowly pour gelatin in while still beating. Whip until stiff.  Chill it if you need it a little thicker.

Store any extra in the refrigerator.
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*Other ways to stabilize whipped cream:
(you can skip the Ultra Gel and gelatin if you use these)

-fold in 4-8 ounces melted and cooled chocolate (the more you use, the more truffle-like the frosting/mousse will be.  Also, the darker the chocolate, the less you need.)

-Beat in 2-4 ounces of cream cheese.

-Before whipping, sprinkle in half a package of instant pudding powder.  (This is really adding  Ultra Gel, which is part of the pudding mix.)

-Substitute 1 1/2 -2 Tbsp honey or corn syrup in place of the sugar, or 3 Tbsp. any flavor jam or jelly.  This will only lightly stabilize it, but works for things you'll eat in the next couple hours.
 
 
Some friends and I are in a healthy-living team competition right now... and there are just some times that the 'normal' healthy food doesn't cut it.  This does!  (So does Bavarian Mousse and the Chocolate Truffle Pie...)

Once again, this isn't technically sugar-free.  It is, however, free of table sugar if you don't add the chocolate topping, as the filling is sweetened with a sauce made with pureed fruit. If you choose to include the chocolate on top, it adds only 3 grams of sugar per serving.

Sugarless No-Bake Cheesecake
Makes 6 servings
Crust
1 1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1/2 c. whole wheat bread crumbs (or other crumbs, or fine shred coconut)
Pinch of stevia, or 1/2 tsp. honey, optional

Line a 7” round pan with foil, then spray with nonstick cooking spray.  (A bread pan is the right size too- use an 8x4 pan for a thicker filling, 9x5 pan for a little thinner.)  Stir together oil, crumbs, and stevia.   Press on bottom of pan, set in freezer to chill.

Filling:
1/2 c. date caramel sauce
8 oz. cream cheese, softened (may use Neufchatel)*
1/3 c. plain yogurt
Pinch salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. instant clear jel (Ultra Gel)

Beat together caramel sauce and cream cheese, until smooth.  Add yogurt, salt, vanilla, and clear jel; beat on high speed until light.  Spoon onto crust, smooth top and chill in fridge at least 30 minutes, but more firm after 2-3 hours.

Optional topping:
1/3 c. extra-dark chocolate chips
1/3 c. plain yogurt

Heat gently or microwave to melt; stir until smooth.  Spread on cheesecake after it has set.


*Since Neufchatel is softer, you'll need to increase Ultra Gel to 2 Tbsp.  Or serve the cheesecake frozen.
I've made this using cottage cheese instead of cream cheese, it still works.  Just plan on using a blender or food processor to mix the filling, and it'll take a couple minutes to get smooth.
 
 
Ever since I tried a Mango-Orange-Banana smoothie at a little ice cream joint in Logan, mango with orange has been a favorite combination.  We make our own version of that original smoothie, which our kids call "Dad's Famous Mango-Orange Smoothie"- because he's the one who makes it the most often.  Maybe I'll post that recipe sometime.  (Meanwhile, it's in The Chameleon Cook- you could always buy one from me!)

Anyhow, waffles or pancakes are the standard Saturday morning breakfast around here, and the typical American pancake syrup is way too sweet for our liking- or at least too sweet for the mom in me.   As a result, we have all kinds of things to go on our pancakes- Apple Cider Syrup, homemade Elderberry jelly thinned with some water, a can of peaches drained and pureed then spiked with a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg, Golden Delicious apples sauteed in a bit of butter and stirred with a little brown sugar, ... and this, today.  

I was more than a little surprised to find frozen mango chunks at our local dollar store.  It sure saves time peeling then cutting the fruit away from a large pit.  The 10-ounce bag I bought from Dollar Tree is enough for two batches of this.

Mango-Orange Sauce
Makes about 1 3/4 cups

1 cup mango chunks
1 1/2 c. orange juice
2 Tbsp. instant clear jel* or Ultra Gel
1-2 Tbsp. honey or sugar
a couple drops orange essential oil, optional


Put everything in a blender or food processor, and turn on high until smooth.
If your mango is frozen, this mixture will be pretty thick at first.

Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream or sour cream, or a dollop of vanilla yogurt.**The Instant Clear Jel thickens the sauce. If you can't find it, substitute 1 Tbsp. cornstarch OR 2 Tbsp. flour, then bring the sauce to a boil to thicken it.  
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To make the waffles, use the Basic Quickbread Formula with 2 c. liquid, 1/2 c. oil, 2 T. sugar, and whip the egg whites.  This ends up looking like this:

Waffles
Makes 6-8 waffles

2 cups buttermilk, OR kefir, OR milk mixed with 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 eggs, separated
1/4-1/2 c. oil OR melted butter or coconut oil
2 cups flour (I use whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar

Preheat your waffle iron/s.  Beat the egg yolks with buttermilk and oil.  Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar, and stir until just a few lumps remain.  Batter will be a little bit thin. With clean beaters in a clean grease-free bowl, beat the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form.  Fold them into the batter.  Cook in waffle irons, using about 1/2 cup batter apiece- depending on how big the waffle iron is!    If waffles aren't being eaten as fast as they come out, put them on a cooling rack so they don't get soggy as quickly.






 
 
A surprising amount of people think you can't make frosting without powdered sugar.    I shouldn't be too surprised; I used to think that, too!

Frostings made without it are usually exceptionally smooth; powdered sugar sometimes comes across as a little chalky.  This is because at least some brands add cornstarch to the powdered sugar.

Anyway, here are some creamy, fluffy, dense, or fudgy frostings you can make without using powdered sugar:  Enjoy!

Chocolate Blender Frosting- or caramel, coconut-chocolate, hazelnut-chocolate, and more!
   version made with milk chocolate chips

Cheesecake Cloud Frosting
Blueberry Cheesecake Cloud Frosting
Strawberry Cheesecake Frosting
Cherry Cheesecake Frosting

The frosting in the photo above is Apricot Cloud Frosting: use pureed apricots in place of the pureed blueberries, also add 1-2 tsp. almond extract.

Cooked Frosting (the no-Ultra-Gel version of Cloud Frosting)

Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting (doesn't go runny)

Marshmallow Frosting

Ganache(may be whipped)

Seven-Minute Frosting-
includes variations for Peppermint Frosting, Seafoam Frosting, Strawberry Fluff Frosting, and Chocolate Fluff Frosting.
 
 
There is NOTHING like fresh strawberries and whipped cream!

If you start with a premade crust, you can make this pie in about 15 minutes.  The recipe is sized to fit in an 8-inch crust.  Almost all of the time here is hulling and slicing the berries.  The sauce is a cinch.  


There's also a simple variation for non-stringy Strawberry Rhubarb Pie!

Ingredients:
1 8-inch pie shell  (for some good recipes, see Crash Course in Pies)
1 lb. ripe strawberries, washed
1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. Instant Clear Jel*
1 drop orange essential oil, OR use 1 Tbsp. orange juice OR 1/16 tsp. orange extract

Topping: (optional but YUMMY!)
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. Instant Clear Jel*
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla

For the filling: Hull the berries (remove the green leaves).  Put a small handful of the ripest berries in a blender; puree.  Add a little water if needed to make 1/2 cup puree.  Add the sugar, Clear Jel, and orange oil; blend about ten seconds.  (If you don't have a blender, you can mash the berries by hand.  Or you can use all water and no berries, but the flavor and color of your pie will not be as good.)   Slice the rest of the berries and mix it with the strawberry sauce.  Pour into the pie shell.   Store in the fridge until time to serve.

For the topping: in a medium bowl stir together sugar and Clear Jel.  Add the whipping cream and vanilla; beat to stiff peaks.  Spread or pipe onto the pie. 

*The Instant Clear Jel thickens the sauce and keeps the whipped cream from going flat.  If you can't find it for the sauce, substitute 1 Tbsp. cornstarch OR 2 Tbsp. flour, then bring the sauce to a boil to thicken it.  Cool before adding sliced berries.  For the problem with the whipped cream, eat the pie quickly!  Actually, there are other things that you can use (yes, cornstarch works, but who wants to cook then chill cream again?), a couple include:
-1 tsp. unflavored gelatin softened in 1 Tbsp. water then melted and whipped in to the cream,
-or 1/2 package instant vanilla pudding powder (omit the 2 Tbsp. sugar)
-or whip with 4 oz. softened cream cheese and an extra tablespoon of sugar

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie: instead of using the handful of berries for the sauce, slice one stalk of rhubarb.  Cook it with the sugar, then puree with Clear Jel and orange oil.  If you want the pie with chunks of rhubarb, cook 2 stalks instead, use half for the sauce and half stirred into the filling.

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Here I used a premade crust (found it at the dollar store!)- but I've got to admit the homemade ones taste better.  Our favorite was a crumb crust made with butter and then baked, this brought out a butterscotch flavor.  If you don't want to bake, just freeze it for ten minutes.  The crumb crust does fall apart when you serve the pie; if an intact slice is important to you, use a rolled-out crust.

 
 
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 A little of this, and a little of that... to make a brightly flavored salad! 

There are a couple ways to make this, depending on what you have on hand.

2 (29-oz) cans of sliced or cubed peaches, preferably in light syrup or juice
1/4 c. instant clear jel (like Ultra Gel)*
6-8 drops lemon essential oil *
6 oz. (1 cup) fresh blueberries


Combine the juice or syrup from the cans,  clear jel, and essential oil.  Whisk together until slightly thickened- it will thicken more within the next 5-10 minutes.  Stir in peaches and blueberries.  Flavor improves the longer it sits, but it's good right away, too.

Makes 8-10 servings. 

*If you don't have instant clear jel on hand- first, I recommend it!  You don't have to heat it to get it to thicken food.  I use it in sauces, fruit glazes, pie fillings, puddings, salad dressings, jam, cold soups (you can use it in hot soups, but flour and cornstarch are cheaper), frostings, and more-  you can substitute 1/4 c. flour instead, or 2 Tbsp. cornstarch.  Whisk it in to the juice, then bring the mixture to a boil, whisking often.  Let cool a few minutes so it doesn't cook the blueberries.

Another option is to use a 4-serving-size package of instant lemon pudding in place of the clear jel and lemon oil.  The pudding is essentially instant clear jel + sugar + flavors and colors.

This is good with all kinds of fruit.  Try it with apple, orange sections, mango, banana, pineapple, raspberry, strawberry, apricot...
Frozen fruit works as well, but frozen blueberries will release their juices and turn the whole salad purple.  Just so you know.
 
 
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Do you have to go colorless when avoiding artificial colors?
 
The NYTimes recently ran an article called "Colorless Food?  We Blanch", claiming nobody would want to eat food anymore if manufacturers didn't use artificial colors.   It was a little ridiculous.   One response to it is found here.

Yesterday I needed to make a pink and purple unicorn cake for my daughter.  And one extra detail- no artificial colors, or one son couldn’t have any of the cake.  At least not with any frosting.

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My husband now has a new favorite frosting, as does a neighbour who stopped by:  Fluffy Blueberry Cheesecake Frosting, which was my answer to needing a purple mane, tail, and border. 

(If you just want the frosting recipe, go to the bottom of this post.  To read about making a non-artificial pink-and-purple unicorn, read on. :-)



To make the basic pony part, I greased a pony-shaped cake pan, mixed up 4 cups of liquid with enough gelatin, and let it set up in the fridge.  I use unflavored gelatin; Knox comes that way in packets, but I buy it in the bulk section of a local health food store.  To make the pony pink, I used fruit punch as 3 cups of the liquid, and 1 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt; I used kefir ‘cause that’s what was in the fridge!) to make it opaque pink instead of transparent red.  Use twice as much gelatin as you would normally; otherwise it will fall apart when you flip it out of the pan. (Mine did, thus the recommendation to double the gelatin!)  It might anyway, but at least you’ll be upping the chance for success.

I baked a rectangular cake big enough for the pony to fit on and frosted it with Fluffy Cheesecake Frosting.   I set the pony pan in a sink of hot water for just a couple seconds, then flipped the pan over the cake so the pony landed in the right place.  Then I decorated with the purple frosting, and carved a horn out of a stick of jicama.  (I was going to use the tip of an ice cream cone, but we were having jicama for dinner.)  Voile!  Everyone’s happy!

Fluffy Blueberry Cheesecake Frosting- makes about 2 1/2 cups
(See here for Strawberry Cheesecake Frosting)
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (or 6 oz. other berries)
½ c. sugar
1 Tbsp. Ultra Gel
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz butter, softened
½ tsp. vanilla 

Combine blueberries and sugar; either puree them in a blender until smooth, OR cook and stir until boiling; cool.   Beat cream cheese until smooth, add butter, sugar, blueberry mixture (cooled if you cooked it),  Ultra Gel, and vanilla.  Beat until smooth and fluffy.  Let stand 5 minutes. 

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Ultra Gel needs five minutes to fully absorb liquid; that’s why I’ve added the 5-minute wait time.  These frostings are easy to adjust- if too thick or pasty, add a little (1-2 tsp.) water, or as needed.  If too thin, sprinkle on another 1 tsp. Ultra Gel and beat it in. 


The cream cheese frosting recipe I tweaked to get this, above, as well as the white base layer:

No-cook “cooked”
Fluffy Cheesecake Frosting
½ c. sugar

1 Tbsp. Ultra Gel
8 oz. cream cheese
4 oz butter (1 stick), softened
¼ c. milk
½ tsp. vanilla

Stir together sugar and Ultra Gel, set aside.  Beat cream cheese until smooth, add butter, milk, vanilla, and sugar mixture.  Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Let stand 5 minutes.

 

Another variation I’ve come up with, in case you don't use table sugar at your house:

Fluffy Honey –Cheesecake Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. butter, softened
1/3 cup honey
3 T. water, milk, or cream
½ tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. Ultra Gel

Beat cream cheese until smooth; add butter, honey, water, and vanilla.  Sprinkle the Ultra Gel  on top, then beat all until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Let stand 5 minutes.