Chocolate Brain Pudding

Brain pudding ingredients

I just came across the most wonderful news last night as I was reading through the eighth chapter of Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life by David Perlmutter, MD. The chapter on “Feeding Your Microbiome” lists dark chocolate–along with coffee, tea, and wine–as Key #3 to maintaining a healthy microbiome based on the latest science.

Researchers have long found that flavonoids, compounds prevalent in the plants used to produce these products, provide numerous health benefits for those who consume them (in moderation, of course). What scientists are now finding is that flavonoids also feed the friendly bacteria in our guts, which may in fact account for the other benefits associated with these compounds such as reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, which in turn reduces risk for cardiovascular and other diseases.

Reading this fantastic information reminded me that it had been awhile since I’d made one of my favorite snacks, which I’m now deeming Brain Pudding. The ingredients are shown in the photo above. Full-fat coconut milk serves as the base for the pudding along with a tablespoon of honey, a dash of vanilla extract, a few pinches of cinnamon, and 4-8 squares of melted dark chocolate (how many you use will depend on the size of the squares and how chocolaty you want your pudding). Coconut fat contains brain-boosting beta-HBA while the flavonoids in the dark chocolate feed friendly gut bacteria–and as Dr. Perlmutter’s book reveals, what is good for the gut is good for the brain.

To make brain pudding, simply add all of the above ingredients plus 1/4 cup of milk (we use hemp milk since the mangy munchkin can’t drink cow’s milk) to a small blender or food processor (I use my Magic Bullet) and whip until smooth. I melt my chocolate in a small saucepan on the stove over low heat (the lowest level possible–otherwise it burns) and scrape it into the blender with a spatula. Once the ingredients are blended, pour them into a pint-sized glass jar or container and refrigerate for a few hours to thicken. If you don’t mind the consistency of tapioca, you can also stir in a handful of chia seeds after the pudding has been blended for added nutrition.

Although I haven’t tried it myself since I’m currently a stay-at-home mom, I bet you can make a great to-go pudding snack out of this recipe if you have single-serving containers to pour the pudding into. You’d need to keep an ice pack with your pudding so it doesn’t liquify before you get a chance to eat it, or if you have access to a fridge at work you could store it there (it won’t soften much in the time it takes to get from home to work, and even if it does, it will re-solidify in the fridge).

Chocolate brain pudding is an easy, satisfying, delectable, healthy snack or dessert that you can actually feel good about eating. Isn’t that some of the best news of your day, too?!

Slow-Cooker Chicken and Broth

Slow-cooker chicken broth

If ever there was a busy mom’s meal, this is it! I am forever indebted to my friend Talitha for turning me on to the fact that whole chickens can be cooked in a crock pot rather than the oven because it makes at least one meal each week a cinch.

My kids love chicken, but baking it without a slew of sauce leaves it dry and tasteless–especially when using the boneless, skinless breasts most commonly sold in supermarkets. A whole chicken baked in a slow cooker, on the other hand, turns out tender, moist, and full of flavor. It also makes purchasing organic chicken affordable since whole chickens are much cheaper per pound than individual cuts.

Slow-cooker chicken can be as simple as placing a whole chicken in your crock pot in the morning, setting it on low for 6 hours, then enjoying it for dinner. But the real beauty in this method is the fact that it can become a whole meal–not just the meat–by simply adding your favorite flavorings and veggies to the pot along with the chicken.

Here’s what I do:

  • Place a 3.5-4.5 pound bird in my 6-quart crock pot;
  • Pour 1-2 tablespoons of cooking sherry over the chicken;
  • Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and some chopped garlic and/or onions;
  • Stuff my favorite veggies down alongside the chicken in the bottom of the pot;
  • Place the lid on top and turn the pot on low for 6 hours to perform its magic!

I’ve used chopped carrots (baby carrots would also work well), beets, beet greens, rutabagas, kale, chard, sweet potatoes, and half a dozen other veggies in various combinations to create my meals. If you’re a working mom with little time to spare in the morning, you could cube a few veggies the night before so they’re ready to dump in your slow cooker in the morning. This will be a quick process because the cubes can be large, up to several inches wide, since they will have all day to cook. Greens are best tucked way down towards the bottom of the pot so that they simmer in the chicken’s juices; if they’re placed in the crock last and set on top of the bird, they will end up crispy and dried out.

Another great thing about this meal is that it is very forgiving. A chicken is done when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, but I’ve let my birds reach up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit when I’ve lost track of time (my cooker doesn’t have a timer) and they’ve still turned out tender and juicy. The chicken can also be cooked on high for 4 hours if you forget to prepare it in the morning as I often do.

Now here’s for the bonus broth:

Once you’ve cooked and consumed your chicken, you can place the bones and any remaining skin, meat, and fat back into your crock pot along with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, any veggie scraps you have lying around (beet tails, celery leaves, etc.), plus about a teaspoon each of salt, pepper, and any other spices you like (I often add coriander). Fill the pot up with water to about an inch from your lid and turn it back on low for 8-24 hours to make your own chicken broth. When you can dedicate about 15 minutes, turn off the pot, pour the liquid/bones/veggies/etcetera through a colander to separate out the broth, then pour it into glass jars for future use (a canning funnel is extremely helpful during this step).

Whenever a recipe calls for a cup or two of chicken broth, pull it out of the fridge (it will last about a week here) or freezer (it will last up to a year here) rather than using the nasty, preservative- and sodium-laden stuff they sell at the supermarket. I also use mine in place of plain water whenever I boil rice, lentils, or beans; the grains and legumes will absorb the nutrients from the broth as they simmer, enriching your meals with extra vitamins and minerals. When someone is sick, heat up some broth for a soothing, nutrient-filled drink or simmer some chicken and noodles in it for homemade chicken-noodle soup.

A note about storage: I’ve tried to store my bone broth in mason jars but the glass has sometimes cracked while thawing after I pull it out of the freezer. I’ve found that using the glass jars from other items I’ve used up such as coconut oil, peanut butter, jelly, etcetera, works better (for some reason, these jars don’t crack). It also helps to first place the broth-filled jars in the fridge for several hours before freezing so that the initial temperature change is more gradual.

So there you have it! A super easy chicken dinner that will feed the whole family with just a few minutes of prep, plus leave you with yummy homemade broth for recipes down the road. The only downside I’ve yet discovered with slow-cooker chicken is that the skin doesn’t get crispy, but with so many “upsides,” I’ve been more than willing to learn to love moist chicken skin as much as the crispy kind. Okay, maybe not as much as the crispy kind–but it no longer bothers me at all, and if it bothers you, simply pull it off and save it for your broth 🙂

Simple, Succulent Squash

Pumpkin body suit

If you’re into tormenting your tiny tots then the above photo shows at least one alternative use for fall pumpkins besides carving jack-o-lanterns!  The idea to place my child inside a hollowed-out pumpkin wasn’t mine–I think I may have seen it on Pinterest–but I couldn’t resist sharing this picture of the mangy munchkin to begin my post on squashes.

Many people, myself included, like to adorn their homes with squashes in the fall.  Coming in all shapes and sizes, from short and squat to robust and round to simply bizarre, and covering all colors of the rainbow (except for maybe blue), squashes indeed make beautiful decorations for kitchens, entryways, and front porches.

But what do you do with so many squashes once the fall season is over and it’s time to bring out the Christmas decorations?  Eat them, of course! Squashes are among the cheapest and easiest fall fruits (yes, they’re a fruit) to prepare, and they pack a powerhouse of nutrients including potassium, carotenoids, folate, and fiber.  Best of all, kids love them and babies can eat them, too.

To prepare squash, split any variety (acorn, butternut, kabocha, pumpkin, spaghetti) down the middle with a large knife, scoop out the seeds, place the halves flesh-side down in a pan or casserole dish with an inch of water, and bake at 350 degree for 45-60 minutes. An especially large pumpkin may need to be cut into quarters or sixths and baked a few sections at a time.  Squash is done when a fork sinks easily into the flesh.  To serve, simply scoop out the flesh and add butter and cinnamon to taste.  That’s it!  If you have an infant, he or she may not like the texture (my girls didn’t when they were younger); in that case, run several spoonfuls (butter included) through a food processor for a few seconds to smooth it out.

If you’re feeling ambitious you can turn your baked squash into a gourmet soup using the recipe below (my own creation), which is easy to modify to suit your own palate.  For example, cinnamon and nutmeg can replace the curry and paprika.

Simple Squash Soup

  • 1 large squash (butternut works especially well)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 6-8 ounces coconut milk or heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
  • ground pepper to taste

Depending on the size of your squash, you may need to alter the quantities to get the right taste and consistency.  I use a stick blender to puree the ingredients together but a blender or food processor would work just as well.

Squashes are a staple in our home since they are so simple to prepare and because they have just the right amount of sweetness to entice children.  They also store easily if not eaten all at once: just place any uneaten halves or sections face down on a plate and put in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.  When you’re ready to finish, either heat it up in the microwave or melt a pad of butter in a saucepan and scoop the flesh into the pot with the butter until warmed.

If you’re looking for a new food to add to your meals, I highly recommend simple, succulent squash!