Sunday, February 28, 2010

0 Recipe #78: Pomegranate Muffins

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This recipe is a variation on the The "Delicious, Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink" Oatmeal, Nut, & Fruit Muffins/Bread recipe I posted a while back. It contains no flour, sugar, or butter, & still tastes delicious. You don't even need to add salt, because the recipe calls for baking soda, which provides enough sodium/salty flavor. :)

The secret to moist, naturally sweet tasting muffins is the addition of juice & bananas. :) This is a trick I learned from my paternal grandmother. (She usually chose OJ for hers.) And boy, could she bake!

Pomegranate Muffins

1 banana, mashed
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
1-2 Tbsp. freshly-squeezed lime or lemon juice
1 c. pomegranate juice
1 Tbsp fresh orange (or lemon) zest
3 c. oats, ground into oat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1-2 tsp. ground ginger, or to taste
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp clove
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 c. pecans &/or walnuts
1 c. fresh pomegranate seeds (roughly about 1-2 pomegranates)
extra virgin coconut oil, for coating the pan

Directions: Prepare pomegranate: Score the fresh pomegranates & submerge them, one at a time, in a large bowl of water. Break open pomegranate underwater to free the seeds.  The seed sacs (also called arils) will sink to the bottom of the bowl & the membrane will float to the top. Sieve & put the seeds in a separate bowl. Reserve 1 cup pomegranate seeds & set aside. (Refrigerate or freeze remaining seeds for future use in another recipe.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together banana & baking soda with a fork & set aside. In an electric mixer, mix together remaining wet ingredients (egg, lime or lemon juice, pomegranate juice, & zest) on a high speed until ingredients are well combined; mixture should be fluffy & frothy. Then, turn down mixer to medium speed, add in mashed banana mixture & whisk together until just combined. Don't overmix batter or dough will become gluey, making a dense, hard bread. (There should still be banana lumps in the mixture; be careful not to purée bananas or bread will not become as light & fluffy as it should during the baking process.) Turn off mixer & set aside.

Next, sift together all remaining dry ingredients (oat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, & allspice), minus the nuts & pomegranate seeds, into a separate, large bowl. This is a very important step. Do NOT skip it; it will help to further aerate the ingredients. Transfer wet ingredients from mixing bowl to this bowl & gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry (i.e., this is called the muffin method) until just combined. Bubbles should start to appear in the mixture, which is an indication that the baking soda & baking powder are reacting with the wet ingredients. Fold in nuts & pomegranate seeds, & mix only until the fruit & nuts have been evenly distributed, which should only take a few seconds. Do not over-mix the batter or the softer fruits (i.e., the pomegranate seeds) are likely to burst; this recipe tastes better when the arils of the pomegranate are consumed whole.  Immediately pour the batter into a 12-cup muffin tray that's been coated with coconut oil, & bake for 23-25 minutes, or until top turns golden brown. Test with a fork for doneness; if fork pulls out easily without any batter on it, then it's ready. Let cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pan. Serve, preferably warm, & enjoy!

Chef's Notes: Depending on the thickness & height of your muffin mixture, & also your elevation level, the muffins may take more or less time to bake. To be on the safe side, continually check the oven while the mixture is baking to ensure your muffins don't burn. Test occasionally with a toothpick or fork to see if it's ready; if the utensil comes out clean, i.e., without any ingredients stuck to it, you know it's probably ready. You can also cut into it with a knife to check its progress.

Make sure to remove the muffins from the muffin pan soon after cooking, so they don't stick to pan. (Believe me, I've made this mistake before; you don't want to have to employ a large catapult to heave out the ingredients, or be scraping out the pan until next Tuesday.)

When I make this recipe in large amounts, I usually bake it in a sheet cake pan, cut it up into bars, & just leave it in the fridge (in a plastic/Ziploc bag or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or foil) to nibble on whenever breakfast or snack time rolls around. Breakfast-bar-sized portions are about 4 oz., while snack-sized portions are about 2 oz.

Let me know how your version of this recipe turns out! Would love to hear what other ingredients you've tried using for muffins or banana bread type recipes.  I look forward to hearing your comments & suggestions! Thanks & Bon Appétit!


Saturday, February 27, 2010

0 Recipe #77: Grilled Pasta With Goat Cheese & Roasted Red Pepper

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This is an oldie-but-goodie, an original recipe of mine that stems all the way back to 1997.  Hard to believe that this recipe is now over 12 years old!  It's one of Erik's favorites, although I haven't made it in quite some time. Enjoy!

Grilled Pasta With Goat Cheese & Roasted Red Pepper

1 c. dry, uncooked penne pasta
1/2-1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (for cooking pasta)
2 garlic cloves, peeled & minced
1 c. fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 c. sun-dried tomatoes (i.e., the kind that's packed in olive oil), julienned
1/2 c. roasted red peppers, sliced into 1/2" strips (preferably made fresh versus from a jar)
1/3 c. kalamata olives, pitted & sliced into rough pieces
1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 c. goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 c. fresh basil leaves
1/4 c. fresh oregano

Directions: To make roasted red peppers from scratch, wash & dry them, & then place them on a pan brushed with olive oil. For easy cleanup, use an aluminium foil pan or line pan with aluminium foil.

Peppers can be made in the oven or on the grill.  (For those with electric ovens, be sure to use the broil setting.) If you're making them in the oven, adjust oven rack so that it is about 5 inches underneath oven flame. Turn up your oven temperature as high as it will go. Lightly brush peppers with olive oil & place in pan. Roast peppers in 500°F preheated oven until the skin blisters & chars all over, about 25-30 minutes. Be sure to check on peppers, turning them frequently to prevent burning. (You want the skins to blacken, & not the "meat" of the pepper!) When peppers are ready, remove them from the oven and, using heat-proof tongs, transfer them to a brown paper bag (which'll make the skins easier to remove), rolling up the open end to seal tightly. Let stand to cool for at least 10-15 minutes on a heat-proof surface. Remove the skins, stems, & seeds, & discard. Slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch strips.  Measure 1/2 c. of peppers & set aside.  (Remaining peppers can be refrigerated for later use in other recipes. They make a great topping for salads, etc.)

While peppers are roasting, boil pasta in salted water with a drop of olive oil for roughly 8 minutes, drain, & set aside. Take chopped produce (tomatoes, olives, & garlic) & put into a bowl. Sauté minced garlic in olive oil until soft, but do not brown.  Then add pasta, tomatoes, & veggies.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until pasta starts to crisp & brown a bit.  Remove from heat. Add lemon juice & season with salt & pepper. Add goat cheese while pan is still hot & mix thoroughly. Goat cheese should melt slightly, which creates a smoother, creamier texture to the dish. Garnish with oregano & basil leaves, & serve.

Yield: 2 servings.

Friday, February 26, 2010

2 Recipe #76: Avocado with Sweet Soy Bean Paste

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This is a really simple side dish, but it's very tasty. I got the idea for this Japanese-inspired recipe from a local Asian restaurant that's a favorite of ours. Since they weren't about to give away their secret recipe, I decided to replicate it on my own. And here's the end result:

Avocado With Sweet Soy Bean Paste

1 Tbsp. sugar (I haven't tried honey as a healthier substitute, but it might work as well.)
1/2 Tbsp. mirin
1/2 Tbsp. sake
1 Tbsp. miso paste without MSG
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced lengthwise

Directions: Boil the first three ingredients until they thickens into a sauce. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes, then stir in miso & set aside. When cooled, drizzle sweet soybean paste over avocado & sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

Serving Suggestions: Garnish with shredded lettuce/cucumber, & pickled ginger. You can also add wasabi if you'd like.  You could also steam or sauté eggplant & toss that into the mix. That would be a tasty addition.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

0 Need A Healthy Recipe For Something? Just Ask.....

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Some of you might've seen the earlier "Make It Healthier" challenge that I blogged about earlier.  That challenge is still going on & doesn't really have an expiration date at present. So, if you have a recipe you'd like to see converted into a healthier version of itself, all you have to do is email me the recipe & I'll see what I can do.

At the present, I'm in the midst of working on two challenges, so please note that challenges will be taken on in the order they were received, & schedule-permitting. :) Also, please see this post for further details, before you submit your recipes.  Thanks!

2 Recipe #75: Corey's Kick-Ass Chili Con Carne

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Here's another original recipe for chili, created by yours truly.  This recipe is a favorite in our household.  Hope you like it too!

Corey's Kick-Ass Chili Con Carne

2 lbs. 93% fat-free ground beef (or whatever the highest percentage low-fat beef you can find!)
1 8 oz. can (plain/unflavored) tomato sauce
1 c. fresh tomatoes, diced (or, if you don't have fresh, use 1 8 oz. can of diced tomatoes)
2 c. water (use the above 8 oz. tomato sauce can & fill it twice)
1 c. yellow onion, diced (about 1/2 an onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c. mild Mexican chili powder, or to taste (use 1/4 c. for milder flavor)
4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, or to taste (1/2 tsp. for milder flavor)
1/2 c. masa harina de maiz (corn flour)
6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 c. red bell pepper, roughly chopped
8 oz. pre-cooked kidney beans (Can sizes only seem to come in 10.5, 15, & 16 oz.)
1/2 c. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (for garnish)

1. Brown 2 lbs. ground beef. Drain fat. (Useful tip: Use a pan drainer to drain most of the liquid, & then drain remaining liquid with a heat-resistant turkey baster. It works like a charm!)
2. Return to heat. Add onions & cook until translucent. The add garlic & cook until softened. (Do not brown onions or garlic.)
3. Add tomato sauce, tomatoes, & 2 c. water, & stir.
4. Add all spices. (For hot chili, use 1 tsp. Cayenne pepper. For medium chili, use 1/2 tsp. For mild chili, omit altogether.)
5. Cover & simmer 30 minutes or until meat is tender, stirring occasionally.
6. Mix masa flour with 1 c. hot water. Add masa flour mixture, tomato paste, red bell pepper, & kidney beans, & stir into chili. Simmer 15-20 more minutes. Let cool.
7. Garnish with cilantro & serve.

Yield: Serves 4-6.

Optional Ingredients: Melted chocolate adds a nice touch: Melt a tiny bit of chocolate into the chili during the last 15 minutes of cooking.  You don't want to add too much -- just a hint.

Chef's Notes: If you are serving less than the above yield, either cut the recipe accordingly, or freeze the leftovers; chili tastes really good after it's been frozen. :) Also, if you think you'll be making this recipe frequently, you can always make multiples of the spice mixture portions in advance (minus the fresh onions & garlic, of course), & store them (i.e., in Ziploc baggies) for future use.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

0 Recipe #74: Marinade à la Irwin (For Salmon, Chicken, etc.)

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This marinade is one that I used for grilled salmon during a visit to my family last winter.  My mother was hosting a small dinner party in honor of a special guest & was thinking about making salmon. All the ladies of the household (except, of course, for Lily, the family bulldog - LOL!) pitched in to make dinner: My sister made a sweet potato casserole & acorn squash baked in maple syrup, & I made the main course -- grilled salmon with my own special marinade -- that I whipped up on the fly.

My mom typically does a mustard & soy marinade, but I wanted to do something a bit different. I love the standard recipe version -- it's pure & simple -- but somehow when it's me doing the cooking, I just can't seem to stick with simple.  At a bare minimum, I have to add at least two or more spices, or it's a no-go. ;)

So here's my original marinade recipe for the salmon:

Marinade à la Irwin

3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. lite soy sauce
1 c. yoghurt
2 tsp. mustard
1/2 c. dried dill seeds
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled & minced
1/2 c. capers, for garnish

Directions: Pour all ingredients into a large Ziploc bag.  Mix well. Add salmon fillets/steaks & thoroughly coat them with the marinade.  Marinate salmon for at least 4 hours before grilling. After grilling, garnish salmon with capers.

Yield: Makes about a quart, enough for 4-5 4 oz. portions of filleted salmon.  (Or, probably enough for 3 6 oz. salmon steaks, which is a rough guestimate.)

Chef's Notes: When grilling salmon, the inside should be moist & flaky.  No one wants to eat dry, overcooked salmon; it's a very unpleasant experience. [I would almost rather eat calf's liver, which I absolutely abhor! ;) ]

So the best way to ensure a good outcome is to grill the salmon for about 4-5 minutes on each side. For outdoor grilling, set a timer to help you keep tabs on the fish (!) & then check it to see whether it needs a few more minutes. I would recommend placing a knife into the flesh of the salmon & prying it open to see how pink the flesh is on the inside. (I personally like mine to be a medium pink color; tender, but not too fleshy.) When the salmon flesh flakes with a knife or fork, it's done. Be sure to remove the salmon just as it reaches the flaking point, or it will begin to dry and toughen. Perfectly done salmon is tender, moist, & flaky.

Also, after the initial 8-10 minutes of grilling, it's probably a good idea to stand near the grill & then watch & wait, checking the salmon each time with your knife. That way, you're less likely to overcook it from neglect or forgetfulness, while you're preparing the other dishes for dinner. :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

0 Please Vote For My Apricot Clafouti Recipe on

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I would be ever so grateful to you if you could vote for my original recipe, "Apricot Clafouti w/Lavender & Pecans," in Foodista's recipe competition. The winning recipes (i.e., the recipes with the most votes) will be published by Andrew McMeel Publishing in a beautiful, full-color, internationally-distributed cookbook, entitled the "Best of the Food Blogs" cookbook. To quote the Foodista website, "this cookbook competition was created to celebrate the best food bloggers in the world," & it would be a HUGE thrill to be part of this cookbook!!!!

There are only a few days left to vote; the voting closes on February 28th.

If you do vote, please let me know, so I can thank you! Foodista's current vote-tallying system doesn't seem to associate names with votes, so there's no way to tell who's voted.

Thanks so much in advance for your votes!

Warm regards,

0 Recipe #73: Almond Pie Crust -- Unique & Delicious!

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I came up with this recipe while baking a series of lowfat, sugar-free desserts, (so that I could try them out in my test kitchen for publication on this blog). At the time, I needed a pie shell, but didn't have one on hand. Also, the versions I'd seen online didn't fit the bill; they were all tremendously unhealthy on the whole.  So I created my own recipe.

I ended up filling my newly created pie shell with a homemade & healthy version of lemon custard, although you can use it for any type of filling.

Almond Pie Crust

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter (Or, for an even healthier version, you can substitute with 3 Tbsp. nonfat yoghurt)
1/3 c. honey
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour (or, for even more flavor, try using almond meal instead)
1/2 c. unblanched, slivered almonds, crushed into smaller pieces

Directions: In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, honey, & vanilla. Next, whisk in all dry ingredients. Combine until doughy mixture forms & the almonds are crushed into small pieces. Gently form into dough ball (making sure not to overwork the dough) & roll out onto even surface. Lay dough layer over glass pie plate & press into shape.  Dough will most likely be a bit brittle, & may come apart, but that's OK. When you work the dough into the pie plate, make sure to spread it evenly with your hands so that there are no thin spots or whole. Bake for 10-15 minutes & let cool.  Add pie filling.

Chef's Notes: Use nonstick rolling pin when rolling out dough. However, if dough is too soft & pliable, it'll stick to any rolling pin.  The best way to work with this type of dough is to press the dough together while it's still in the bowl, making a rough ball shape, but not actually rolling the dough ball.  Pressing the dough together quickly into a rough ball shape will ensure that the dough binds but remains firm. When you roll out dough, roll from the center outwards, making sure to even out the dough to approximately the same thickness.  Do not worry if the dough is slightly misshapen or uneven in spots; you can easily fix this once you place the dough layer over the pie plate.

Monday, February 22, 2010

2 Recipe #72: Grapefruit Pie

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Since I noticed that this blog has relatively few dessert recipes, I decided that, while desserts aren't a typical focus for me in my day-to-day life, I should probably still rectify that & add a few more healthy dessert recipes for those who might feel differently.

I didn't grow up eating dessert after dinner, & still haven't become accustomed to this idea. To me, traditional desserts are something reserved for special occasions & not an everyday kind of thing. And, unless you count the occasion fresh fruit served after the meal, our family is usually so full from the fiber-rich, vegetable based dinners that I make, that we usually don't have room for dessert anyhow. :)

I hope that, by providing you with tasty & truly satisfying, healthy alternatives to the usual fat & sugar laden "traditional" desserts, that it will help bring you closer to your health & weight management goals. Of course, these goals are most effectively achieved when combined with exercise. Healthy eating, while certainly very important, is only half of the equation. Speaking of which, I need to get my rear-end to the gym soon before it mushrooms into two gigantic basketballs. :)

Anyhow, enough verbiage.  Here's the recipe:

Grapefruit Pie

1/2 ruby red grapefruit, peeled & sliced into thin wedges
1/4 c. grapefruit juice
1 tsp. grapefruit zest
1 c. nonfat yoghurt
1 packet Knox plain gelatin
1/2 c. cold water
2 egg whites, room temperature
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) apricot nectar
1/4 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. honey
1 nonfat (or lowfat) graham cracker crust pie shell (NOTE: The 9 oz. "Keebler" brand "Ready-Crust" is the kind I use.)

Directions: Wash grapefruit, peel, break into even wedges, & set aside. Pour 1/2 c. water into a sauce pot. Then add gelatin & let stand for 1 minute. Bring mixture to a rolling boil, about 2 minutes, & then remove from heat. Stir until dissolved, mixing continuously to prevent gelatin from congealing or sticking to the sides of the sauce pot. Allow to cool for about 2 minutes & set aside. Mix egg whites in a mixing bowl until stiff peaks form. Then toss the gelatin mixture & all remaining ingredients into a mixing bowl, minus the grapefruit wedges & the pie crust (!). Mix on high for 2-3 minutes, or just enough mixture is until frothy & smooth but still fluffy. Be careful not to overblend, or the mixture will liquify & not retain its fluffiness. Pour the contents into pie shell & freeze for 4 hours. Refrigerate grapefruit slices until you are ready to serve pie; then garnish pie with slices & serve. Remove from freezer 30 minutes before serving. Pie should be slightly frozen when served, but not "hard as a rock" or liquified. It should have a soft, creamy texture. To test, take toothpick and stick it in pie. If you are able to stick the toothpick into the pie and remove it easily, it is probably ready to serve. If you are not serving the pie immediately, place it in the fridge to keep cool until you ready to serve it.

If you are serving the pie the next day, it can actually be frozen overnight (or longer).

Yield: 1 pie.

Chef's Notes: If, for some reason, you can't find a low/nonfat graham cracker crust pie shell, or you'd like to make it yourself,  just combine about 1 3/4 c. low/nonfat graham cracker crumbs, 4 Tbsp. nonfat plain yoghurt, & 3 Tbsp. honey in a bowl, make into a dough ball, roll out, & then press into a pie plate. Alternatively, the combination of 2 c. low/nonfat graham cracker crumbs & 4-5 Tbsp. OJ also works quite nicely. This should work for most (i.e., read "standard-sized") pie plates.

Alternate Ingredients: You could also substitute the grapefruit juice & zest with another citrus fruit like lemons, limes, or oranges.  If you use oranges, then you probably don't need to add the honey to the filling.  Oranges are already sweet enough as is. :)

Also, I wouldn't recommend substituting the grapefruit wedges with lime or lemon wedges in the above example; that would make for a rather face-puckering experience. :) Instead, top the pie with other, "gentler-tasting" fruits like orange or strawberry slices, etc.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

0 Recipe #71: Crustless Mini Quiches

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You'll probably recall that quiche was really in vogue in the 80's; and then somehow, soon after, the mockery began. :) Do you when the slogan, "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche," became all the rage?!  If you don't recall that, my guess is that you probably weren't born yet. :) Then they seemed to gradually fade into the background, as people got sick of eating them & subsequently discovered that, yes, there were other things on the menu they could eat. :)
Truth be told, I've had a love-hate relationship with quiches, which probably explains why the last quiche I ate was probably sometime around 1982. LOL.

Aside from the fact that they were the hallmark of über-preppiness & everything 80's, I found other reasons to give them a rest after the craze was over. :)  First of all, the ones that are typically served at parties & restaurants are usually really fattening. They are highly caloric & loaded with salt, butter, & after eating one, I feel like I could slide off my chair from the grease factor. :) 

To be honest, I'm not a big hors d'œuvres person in general. In fact, they usually make me want to run in the other direction as quickly as possible, mostly because they're either not made with the healthy-gourmet in mind or they're just not very good.  For health-conscious people with taste buds, this doesn't leave many options, except for avoiding the hors d'œuvres tray at parties or, if so inclined, making our own healthy versions. :-D

So, that's what I ended up doing.  It happened completely by accident.  If you'd told me that I'd be making mini quiche that night, I would've laughed you right out of the kitchen.  

I was in one of those "use-up-the-odds-and-ends-in-the-refrigerator" moods, and here's what I found there: 2 eggs, 2 scallions, butter, & half an onion. What could I make with that? The dilemma was that I was trying to come up with a vegetable-based dish, but didn't have many vegetables left. :) It'd been snowing up a storm, & so the supermarket was low on practically everything perishable.  According to Erik, the shelves in the produce section had been emptied out to the extent that it looked like it'd been ravaged by a bunch of wild beasts. :) 

Then I looked in my cupboards.  I had a can of cracker meal, a head of garlic, & way too many spices than a normal person should have. :)  I have to say, at that very moment, I wasn't feeling very inspired. ;)

So, I decided to wing it & to let inspiration come to me as I cooked.  It's a strategy that had worked in the past, so I figured, "What the heck. Sure, why not. What have I got to lose?!"  There were some good signs to indicate that this method might actually be successful that evening: I'd been on a roll & had cooked several tasty dishes "on the fly" earlier in the day (that would be eaten later in the week). So I had a good feeling that it would turn out alright. :)

It started out typically enough: I diced the 1/2 onion & scallions & tossed them into the pan with some olive oil.  Then I sprinkled some salt on them to help them "sweat" (a gross culinary term, I know!) and cook down a bit. Next, I added an infinitesimally small sliver of butter (for flavor), a dash of black pepper, some dried oregano, & fresh, minced garlic. OK, that smelled pretty good. I tasted the mixture. Not bad. OK, actually, on second thought, that was rather tasty. I then deglazed the pan with white wine and then wondered what the heck I was going to do next. Sometimes this is the way I cook. There's no plan. I just do it, and something magically comes to me out of thin air. Those are the fortunate days. :)  

I was stumped for a bit, and scanned the fridge a second time to make sure I hadn't missed anything. The only thing I saw were 2 eggs. Hmmmm. I wasn't big on the combo of scallions & eggs in omelette form, but perhaps if I made it into something else it would work. Then it suddenly dawned on me: quiche. I could make quiche. Of course, first I scoffed at the idea, but then decided that perhaps I could make it work. So, I added the eggs, quickly stirring them so they wouldn't congeal into an unsightly blob of egg white + yolk, and then added the cracker meal from the can that had been staring back at me in the pantry. It spoke to me: "Use me up already, will ya?!" :-D OK, it didn't really say that. We all know cans of food can't talk. LOL.

The next thing that popped out at me was a jar of sesame seeds.  OK, that might work. So, in it went. After stirring all the ingredients together & cooking them for a little longer, I tossed them into a mini casserole pan & cooked it in the oven, so that it would brown. I thought that a really tiny casserole dish would take about 20-25 minutes, at most, to cook. Well, 45 minutes later, it was still not cooked. The oven had been cranked up from 350 to 375° F. An hour later, it was finally starting to brown. So, I came up with a better idea: The next time, I'm going to bake the quiches in muffin/cupcake pans, so they won't take an eternity to finish! Hahaha!

The other benefit to baking them in a muffin/cupcake pan is that they are bite-sized & perfect for a mid-day snack. Plus, it's certainly a much more nutritious snack than a candy bar snagged from a junk food machine out of total desperation. :-D

So, the below recipe is the direct end result of the above process. (Update from 3/11/10: I recently made some minor modifications to the recipe, so that it would taste more like "quiche," & less like "stuffing." ;) ) Needless to say, it's a much healthier version of quiche than I'm typically accustomed to seeing. As they say, "If you can't find something the way you like it, make it yourself." :) 

And lucky you, all you have to do is follow the recipe. The best part is that this activity shouldn't take nearly as long as I spent creating the recipe & testing it. :) Hope you enjoy the fruits of my labors!

 Crustless Mini Quiches

1/2 onion, diced
2 scallions, sliced horizontally into 1/2" rounds
1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of salt
1/8 Tbsp. (or less) butter
black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, peeled & minced
1/4 c. white wine
3 eggs
1/8 c. cracker meal (or if unavailable, substitute almond or matzo meal, or bread crumbs)
1 tsp. sesame seeds

Directions: Preheat oven to 375° F. Sauté onion & scallions in olive oil on medium heat.  Sprinkle a pinch of salt on top to help them cook down a bit. Next, add sliver of butter (for flavor), a dash of black pepper, oregano, & garlic. Deglaze with white wine. Then crack 2 eggs & quickly combine/scramble with other ingredients to prevent egg from congealing. After liquid has cooked down to about 1/3 of its original amount, add cracker meal & stir. Cook until liquid has almost completely vanished. Mix in sesame seeds & remove pan from heat. Pour mixture into greased muffin/cupcake pan. Cook in oven for 20-25 minutes, or until top has been adequately browned.  Stick fork in one of the quiches; if it comes out clean, it's most likely finished cooking. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes.  Then dig in. :)

Yield: Approximately 3-4 mini quiches. This is a guestimate, as I've only made the quiche in a mini-casserole pan thus far.  If you'd prefer, you can also make this dish in a larger pan & have it for lunch. :)  It's the perfect size for a quick & easy meal.

Optional Ingredients: This quiche would taste really good with mushrooms, asparagus, artichokes, &/or sun-dried tomatoes (i.e., the kind that's not packed in oil), even though I didn't have them at the time I made this dish. Add 1/4 c. sliced fresh mushrooms & 1/4 c. julienned sun-dried tomatoes at the same time the onions & scallions are cooking.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

0 Recipe #70: Frozen "Banana Coconut Cream Pie" Custard

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Here's another newly-minted, original recipe, from my kitchen to yours. It's especially great for using up left-over bananas. :) Enjoy!

Frozen "Banana Coconut Cream Pie" Custard

2 frozen bananas
1 tsp. vanilla
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp. honey
1/4 c. unsweetened, lite coconut milk from a can
1/2 Tbsp. honey
shredded coconut, to sprinkle on top

Directions: Toss all ingredients, except for shredded coconut, into a blender & pulse until thick & creamy.  Dole out into small glass dishes & garnish with shredded coconut.

Yield: Makes 2 servings.

Chef's Notes: This recipe literally takes less than 5 minutes to make. You might recall seeing a similar recipe here on this blog; this is a slight variation on that earlier banana custard recipe.

Friday, February 19, 2010

0 Recipe #69: Carrot, Zucchini, Black Olive, & Sun-dried Tomato Torte

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I grew up eating a variation of this recipe (with zucchini, carrots, & potatoes) that my mother used to make for us when we were kids. For the record, this recipe isn't an exact replica of my mother's at all -- in fact, I didn't even have a copy of that recipe in my possession when I created this one -- and so, I'm recreating the feel & memory of her recipe while putting my own spin on it. This time around it's carrots & zucchini with a zing!

As you can see, I'm not really in the mood today to write much of a preamble to this recipe, so let's just cut straight to the recipe, shall we?

Carrot, Zucchini, & Sun-dried Tomato Torte

3 c. shredded carrots (about 1 16 oz. bag of peeled, mini-carrots) (NOTE: You can buy pre-shredded carrots in a bag or just shred them in a food processor)
3 c. shredded zucchini (about 2-3 medium-sized zucchini)
1 c. shredded potato (about 2 medium-sized red-skinned potatoes)
3/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes (i.e., the kind that's not packed in oil), julienned
8 black olives, pitted & sliced into rounds
1/2 c. finely diced yellow onions (about 1/2 an onion)
2 medium-sized cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 c. almond meal (or if you can't find that ground almonds made in a food processor will do just fine.)
1/4 c. Jason’s bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. cumin
salt & pepper to taste
1 small jalapeño pepper, sliced into rounds & then quartered
1 c. low-fat mozzarella or Monterey Jack shredded cheese to melt on top (optional)
butter for greasing the Pyrex/glass pan

Directions: Preheat oven to 375° F. Shred carrots, zucchini, potato, onion, & garlic in a food processor. Transfer ingredients to a bowl & add eggs, lemon juice, almond meal, bread crumbs, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, jalapeño pepper, & all spices. Mix thoroughly. Transfer mixture to greased 9 x 12 inch pan & spread evenly across pan. Sprinkle cheese on top (optional step). Bake 1 hour, or until adequately browned.

Yield: Serves 6-8 (as a main course).

Alternate Preparation Suggestions: Substitute 1 c. yellow squash for 1 c. carrots.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

0 Thank You, FoodCandy, For Featuring This Blog On Your Front Page

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I woke up to some good news: Waiting for me in my email Inbox this morning was the following message from FoodCandy:

Featured syndicated blog post
Dear cyberpenguin,
Your syndicated blog post Taste-Testers, I'd Like To Hear From You! has been featured on the front page of FoodCandy - enjoy the celebrity!

Of course, it was thrilling to find out that the publishers of FoodCandy had picked my blog, & also that this selection had fortuitously coincided with the publication of my most recent post requesting taste-testers, since, of course, it's crucial that the cookbook have feedback from cooks, bakers, & chefs before it goes into publication. Yay!

I really hope that the taste-testers post gets some response, or encourages people to try the recipes, so they can provide some much-needed feedback. My fingers are crossed......

For posterity, here's a snapshot of their front page, to prove that it's real. :)

0 Recipe #68: Tomatillo, Tomato, & Multi-Colored Pepper Omelette

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I whipped up this original recipe on a whim while vacationing with family in Mexico. Strangely enough, inspiration came in the form of a grocery run. Looking at all the fresh fruits & vegetables gave me some fantastic inspiration for meal ideas. Thankfully, we had a walk/live-in kitchen as part of our accommodations.

For some reason, I often cook when we go away on vacation, & happen to enjoy it immensely too. It's not that hard to see what it is about vacation spaces that get the creative juices flowing: First, it's an opportunity to be creative in a new environment, a place devoid of attachments, which has not yet been stamped with the balmy mist of memories. It's a clean slate, ripe & ready for new ideas. That gives a person a certain kind of freedom not found in one's existing home kitchen space. (Mine in particular is more cramped than I would like, which is also another challenge; a multiple course dinner has to be perfectly timed & coordinated in order for everything to come out of it without incident & without feeling like I'm cooking on top of myself!)

I've also found that, in general, it's often much more fun to cook in someone else's kitchen, even if that "someone" is a hotel conglomerate. ;) When I'm on vacation, cooking is rarely ever a chore. This is actually when cooking becomes fun again. I don't cook on vacation because I have to cook; I cook because I want to cook. And if I'm not in the mood to cook for some reason, we go out to eat. It's as easy as that.

Also, I find that when I'm in a "vacation state of mind" that I come up with lots of creative ideas without really even trying that hard. They just spring forth, as if out of nowhere.

Plus, when I'm vacationing with my family, I know they really appreciate it as well. They are on vacation too, so it gives them a chance to let someone else do the cooking for a change, that is, when we aren't going out to eat at a restaurant.

Just a brief word about creativity & fresh ingredients:

Since it was too difficult to buy all the spices I would've liked during our time in Mexico, I had to keep things extremely simple out of necessity: The original omelette I made consisted of eggs, tomatillos, grape tomatoes, & multi-colored Bell peppers, cooked in olive oil (instead of butter), with no other condiments. Definitely not my usual style. I prefer to cook omelettes in a small sliver of butter, because, IMHO, they taste much better & brown more effectively this way.

However, in the absence of spices, I was able to utilize the different flavors of the vegetables themselves in such a way that additional seasoning could be left out without sacrificing any flavor. It's amazing how creative you can become when you're working with bare-bones ingredients. :)

In any event, there were several advantages to making meals while on vacation in Mexico. For one, the fruits & vegetables are absolutely wonderful! There are the most gorgeous lemons, limes, papayas, pineapples, all kinds of peppers, jicama, etc. Everything is so fresh & ripe, & is beautifully displayed. It doesn't take much to start salivating just looking at it all. I tell you, I was in fruit & veggie heaven. :-D

And for this particular recipe, I was especially fortunate. The tomatillos, tomatoes, & peppers, were all so amazingly fresh & tasty, it was unreal.  And let me just say that the tomatillos I found in Mexico were NOTHING at all like the 'puny little suckas' I've seen in many US-based grocery chains. Let me tell you, they are HUGE. As big as some hot-house or vine-ripened tomatoes here. Any bigger & you could probably use it as a doorstop. LOL.

Some other advantages to cooking in Mexico: Also, in addition to the vivid colors & inspirational vibes of Mexico itself, it was nice to finally cook for more than just two people! :-)

So, now that I'm back in my own kitchen, & no longer have to "bare-bones" it anymore, I've modified the basic recipe back into something a bit more elaborate, as a way to include some of the ingredients I would've liked to incorporate at the time but couldn't find.  These ingredients -- particularly the spices -- provide a bit more balance, rounding out the flavor combinations a bit more. Ahhhhh.  Just the way I'd intended.

Tomatillo, Tomato, & Multi-Colored Pepper Omelette

1/8 tsp. butter (or less), to season pan
3 eggs
1/8 c. non-dairy "lite" creamer
1 oz. crumbled non-fat feta
1/4 fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2 medium-sized tomatillos, husked & rinsed, & then quartered
1/4 c. mixture of red, orange, yellow, &/or green bell peppers
4-5 grape tomatoes, sliced into rounds
sea salt & fresh cracked pepper to taste
1 tsp. jalepeño pepper, quartered or finely minced (optional)

Directions: Prepare all vegetables/fruits, cilantro, & cheese, & put into individual bowls. Set aside. Beat eggs in a bowl, & then mix together with creamer. Season nonstick omelette pan with butter. Heat omelette pan to medium-high heat. Pour in egg mixture. Sprinkle feta cheese & on top, followed by tomatillos, grape tomatoes, & peppers (including jalepeño pepper, if so desired). Grind fresh black pepper over omelette face & season lightly with salt. Turn down heat to medium-low. Add cilantro. Fold omelette over as soon as eggs solidly congeal in pan.  Sprinkle remaining cilantro on top of omelette as garnish.

Important Tip: Make sure you do not fold the omelette prematurely, as it will be hard to flip the omelette later in order to cook it evenly. Flip omelette when it's reached a light golden brown color, and cook for another 1-2 minutes, or until a light golden brown on both sides. Be sure to watch omelette carefully so it doesn't burn. Transfer omelette onto a plate. Et le voilà. You have a beautiful & delicious omelette!

Yield: Makes 1 serving.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

0 Taste-Testers, I'd Like To Hear From You!

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I'm really curious to know, have any of you tried any of the recipes on this blog, and if so, what did you think?

If you're going to respond to this, please keep in mind the following: While I welcome constructive comments/criticism & don't want anyone to feel like they've got to butter me up with compliments (pun intended!), please remember that there's still a human being with feelings behind this blog. :)

If you like or don't like a particular ingredient, that's a matter of personal preference. However, what I'm particularly interested in hearing about is:

(1) How did the recipe taste to those of you who were interested in the majority of the ingredients;

(2) What did you think of the balance of flavors? Were they to your liking? If not, please specify why & mention any suggestions for recipe alterations you might have;

(3) What was your experience like making the recipe(s) -- Were the instructions clear enough? How did you find the baking/cooking process?

Your feedback is an invaluable resource & would be greatly appreciated, especially as I go about the process of creating & compiling recipes for my upcoming cookbook. It's important that the recipes be appealing as well as easy to follow.

Thank you in advance for your input!


2 Evolving Tastebuds....

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I noticed something interesting that happened yesterday & would like to share it with you:

As part of my "research" for the "Make It Healthier" Challenge, I asked Erik to bring home an orange scone from Panera on his way back from work. As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm not in the habit of eating pastries, & as best as I can recall, had never tried an orange scone before. Since I'm supposed to make one for the challenge & had no point of reference from which to work, I decided that eating a single scone in the name of making a healthier version of it would be an acceptable "opportunity cost." I'd just taper the caloric content of my dinner a bit. No problem. Ah, the things I'm willing to do in the name of healthy cooking. ;) It's pretty ironic, eh?!

Anyhow, Erik couldn't find an orange scone, & instead brought me a blueberry one. Part of me wishes that I'd also given the instructions, "If you can't find an orange one, please don't bring any home, because the whole point is to taste an orange scone, & frankly, I don't need or want the extra fat calories." :-D

It was a kind & thoughtful gesture, while not entirely helpful towards the end of figuring out what Panera's orange scone tasted like. :) However, while not well-versed in the art of orange scone eating, I have tasted a scone before! Oh well.

Anyhow, since it was too late to return it, I took a bite. And whoah. My first thought was how incredibly rich it tasted. A bit too rich, actually. Then, I did a double-take because I thought about that for a moment.

Only moments later, I overheard someone saying the following truism, "You don't miss what you never had." Was it a mere coincidence, or possibly fate? Somewhere, someone was having a good laugh. :)

And yes, just in case you didn't realize it, those two thoughts are related. ;)

If need be, let me connect the dots:  I didn't grow up eating rich food, so I don't miss it. However, I also think that if you didn't grow up this way that it's still possible to adapt over time to different flavor concentrations, namely, healthier food containing a lot less sugar & fat. Heck, it's even possible to LIKE food like this. :)

This reminds me of a particular bio-chemistry lab we did in high school: We all tasted various concentrations of sugar & salt.  Some people were highly sensitized to it, & others needed greater concentrations to "taste" the flavor of these compounds.  Of course, I was in the former group, because my mother didn't believe in putting a salt shaker or a sugar bowl on the table. So thank you, Mom! :-D

Of course, it's possible to change one's tolerance for salt & sugar in the same way that it's possible to change one's taste for fatty & sugary foods.  It takes time to adapt, but it's possible.

This explains why some people report that whole milk tastes like cream after drinking skim milk for so long.  Honestly, to me, even 1 & 2% milk tastes creamy. It's all in your frame of reference.

The point I'm trying to make is that your taste buds are surprisingly adaptable.  People who poo-poo healthy food have just not adapted their taste buds (& their mind-frame!) to a new & healthier way of eating. :)


P.S. BTW, this adaptability doesn't just apply to health & healthy eating.  Have you ever noticed how your taste buds have adapted & evolved a great deal from when you were a child?  (Well, hopefully they have! :) ) This is no accident.  There is a scientific, biological basis for why this occurs.  I don't feel like going into the explanation, but if you have the time, go & watch PBS's NOVA ScienceNOW episode, entitled "The Science of Picky Eaters." It's really quite fascinating!

Recipe #67: Spaghetti With Fresh Basil & Oregano In A Garlic White Wine Reduction

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This recipe is oh-so-simple to make but what a real crowd-pleaser it is.  And surprise, surprise, it's actually healthy for you too. :) What makes it so healthy is a reduced amount of olive oil, fresh spices, & the use of an Omega-3-rich pasta, Barilla Plus, which is a tasty multigrain pasta containing 17 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fat, 260 mg Omega-3's, & 7 grams of fiber per serving.  Here's the recipe.  Enjoy!

Spaghetti With Fresh Basil & Oregano In A Garlic White Wine Reduction

8 oz. (2 servings) Barilla Plus spaghetti, measured with a spaghetti measure
3-4 medium-sized garlic cloves (or 2 very large ones), roughly chopped
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/3 c. white wine
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. butter (or just a very small sliver!)
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
10-12 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
1-2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves (discard stems)
freshly shredded Asiago cheese

Boil spaghetti for 10 minutes, adding a small drop of olive oil & a pinch of salt to the sauce pot while it cooks. Drain & set aside. In a separate sauté pan, cook garlic in olive oil until tender on medium heat.  When garlic is just starting to brown ever so slightly, deglaze with white wine & reduce until there is only a thin layer of liquid. Stir in the spaghetti. Season with salt & pepper, & add the tiny sliver of butter to give the dish achieve a richer flavor but without all the fat calories. Mix well & cook for about a minute more.  Remove from heat. Dress spaghetti with lemon juice & sprinkle with oregano, while ingredients are still in the pan.  Mix thoroughly. Top with shredded Asiago & fresh basil leaves, & serve. That's it; you're finished cooking!

Serving Suggestions: Serve with any one of the tasty salads from this blog. :-D

Chef's Notes: This recipe literally takes 5 minutes to make.  You can have dinner on the table in mere minutes, toss the dishes into the dishwasher, & have the rest of the night to enjoy your evening.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

0 The "Make It Healthier" Challenge: Ladies & Gentleman, Start Your Engines.... Ready, Set, GO!

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OK, I asked for a challenge, & got two (!), courtesy of my friends, Neal & Steve.  So, now the challenge is officially ON!

The first one (from Neal) is to make a healthy version of General Tso's Chicken. This one's a real challenge in the true sense of the word, because I'll be revamping a "restaurant style" General Tso's chicken recipe, & not some lame imitation. :) No false advertising, please; I'll be revamping the real deal!

Well, at least the steamed broccoli looks healthy. LOL.

I'd like to recreate the same crunchy texture & taste, but without all the oil & the deep-frying.  I think it's achievable. Impossible without frying it, you say?!  Nothing is impossible.  I'm up for proving any potential nay-sayers wrong. :-D

The second challenge (from Steve, with some additional input from Andy ;) ) is to turn Panera's orange scones into a healthier treat.

Since I've never had Panera's orange scones before (& am not even sure if I've tried an orange-flavored scone before! The memory's a little hazy on that point), I'll first need to find a recipe which approximates the flavor & texture of the scones. I highly doubt that Panera will be giving away their orange scone recipe anytime soon, although surprisingly, they do have three of their recipes listed on their official website, but of course, none of them are scones! However, Steve & Andy have been providing me with background information about the scones, so hopefully that'll help me to pick a good recipe to work with that approximates the original.

Speaking of which, I just found a few copycat recipes & a photo of a Panera scone. (Please note that the above photo isn't a picture of Panera's orange scones; in fact, the only web photo of a Panera scone that I could locate was a tad bit blurry, & also, let's just be kind & say that the photo composition itself left a little bit to be desired. ;) )

What I will tell you is that the Panera scone has orange icing on top that's literally orange. To be honest, the intense orange color of the icing scares me just a bit. I'm hoping that they didn't use a ton of food dye to get it that color.  Makes me think of Halloween. ;)  I'm not really into cooking/baking with food dye, so let's hope I can make the scone taste like Panera's, even if it doesn't physically resemble it.

This endeavor is also going to be a real challenge, for several reasons: First of all, I'm not in the general habit of making or consuming scones (or pastries in general for that matter), so I obviously don't have a lot of experience making them.  Second, I'm not generally a huge baker in general, although that is starting to change more recently, especially now that I've been feeling the need (feelin' the need... for speed! Haha, sorry, couldn't resist!) to balance out this blog's selections with some more healthy dessert recipes. :)

Although I'm of British extraction, (heck, I was raised to drink my tea with milk --  a very British thing indeed!), apparently the pastries thing didn't transfer over into my gene pool. :)  I chalk it up to my upbringing, in part: My mother generally poo-poo-ed sweets & pastries, & heavily discouraged us from eating them.  Then again, she discouraged us from eating a whole host of things that we were probably a lot healthier for not eating. :) Truth be told, I didn't even try cotton candy until I was well over age 30, & then quickly deduced from that experience that I hadn't been missing much! It felt like I was eating nothing, but with a sugary aftertaste. ;)

This isn't to say that we weren't allowed to eat any sweets growing up, but rather, that it was heavily frowned upon.  As kids, we still ate ice cream & other sweets on occasion, but probably not as regularly as most other kids.... My dad's also an oral surgeon, so that might have had something to do with it as well.  I mean, what would you think if your dentist or oral surgeon's kids had cavities? ;) LOL.

All the same, the challenge of making tasty, low-fat, sugar-free scones does sound intriguing.

So here we go......

Once I finish creating & testing the recipes, which is most likely going to take a couple of days, then of course I'll post them here.  Wish me luck.....


0 Recipe #66: Carrot Ginger Soup

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This soup has a warm, tangy, savory flavor to it, due to the addition of ginger & cumin. It bears Indian culinary influences &, if I do say so myself, is quite tasty. Enjoy!

Carrot Ginger Soup

1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 x 1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled & diced (For a zestier soup, add a 2 x 1/2 inch piece of ginger instead.)
1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 large bay leaves
1-2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 16 oz. bag of peeled mini carrots
1 small bunch fresh cilantro with stems intact, about 1 cup, roughly chopped
3-4 c. water
1-2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 c. lite, plain soy milk
salt & pepper to taste

Directions: Boil the water in a large sauce pot. On medium heat, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent, using a medium-sized sauté pan. Add ginger to sauté pan & keep cooking for about another minute or so.  Then add carrots, cumin seeds, & bay leaves to sauté pan, cooking for another 2-3 minutes, stirring continually to keep the ingredients from browning/burning. Then add chopped cilantro. If necessary, add a bit of water to the pan to keep ingredients from burning.  As soon as the water reaches a full boil, transfer the sauté pan's contents into the sauce pot & reduce heat to medium-high, cooking until carrots begin to soften. When carrots have softened (don't cook too long or they will turn to mush!), remove from heat.  Let cool.  Discard bay leaves & transfer soup to blender.  Add soy milk & lemon juice, & season accordingly with salt & pepper. Pulse until smooth & creamy.  Enjoy!

Yield: Makes about 4 servings.

Monday, February 15, 2010

0 Recipe #65: Apricot Clafouti With Lavender & Pecans

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As many of you know, I like to create desserts that are low in fat & refined (cane) sugar, but high in taste. :)  This recipe is no exception.  After tasting this recipe, you will hardly believe that it doesn't contain an ounce of (cane) sugar! And yet, it's a sweet, delectable treat for the senses. The freshly baked apricots create a sweet but slightly tart flavor & wonderful texture, & the lavender & cardamom add subtle notes to the overall effect. This dessert was a huge hit at our house. Hoping it'll wow you as well. :-D

This picture was snapped right after it came out of the oven.  Piping hot goodness. YUM!

Apricot Clafouti With Lavender & Pecans

3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 c. low-fat sour cream
1/2 c. milk
1/3 c. all-natural (no-sugar-added) apricot nectar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/3 c. sugar-free apricot preserves
1/3 c. honey
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. dried culinary lavender buds
12 dried California apricots, diced
1/2 c. pecans
4 fresh apricots, pitted & halved
Directions: Preheat oven to 375° F degrees. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Add sour cream, milk, apricot nectar, lemon zest, lemon juice, apricot preserves, honey, & vanilla, & mix together thoroughly. Slowly whisk in flour, salt, cardamom, & lavender buds. Add diced, dried apricots & pecans.  Pour mixture into a glass pie plate (about 9-10" in diameter), making sure to evenly distribute the pecans & dried apricot pieces. Add apricot halves, gently pressing them into the liquid mixture, so they form a decorative pattern. Allow to set for 10 minutes. Then cook for 40-45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly & then serve immediately, as this dish tastes best while it's still warm & fresh, straight from the oven to the plate.

Yield: Serves 8. Or 4, if you're all going to have seconds. :)

Serving Suggestions: Serve with a hot cup of (herbal) tea or a cold glass of milk.

Chef's Notes: Although clafouti is traditionally made with cherries, you'll still often see recipes using other fruits (like pears and plums, etc.) that are still labelled as "clafouti," especially those hailing from the good ole' US of A. Technically speaking, when other fruits are used, it's really called a flaugnarde. Ah well, details, details.

A picture of the clafouti taken moments later after the first, now missing a few slices. :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

0 Some Healthy Treats For Valentine's Day

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Happy Valentine's Day, Everybody!

I hope that you're enjoying the spirit of today's holiday, as well as the steady flow of posts here over the past few weeks. :)  For some reason, I've been in a writing mood.  Ever since 2/4/09, it seems that I've been able to come up with a post at least once a day every day.  Look out, people, I'm on a hot streak! :-D

In honor of Valentine's Day, I'd like to offer some ideas for healthy & very yummy Valentine's Day treats. Instead of consuming loads of candy & chocolates, how about these alternatives instead?

Please note that all of the below treats are made using heart-shaped cookie-cutters. It's nice to have some some non-traditional & much healthier uses for them as well!

(1) For breakfast, make whole-grain, buttermilk, blueberry pancakes in the shape of a heart & serve with fresh strawberries.  Omit the butter & oil, & just make them using 1 c. (whole wheat or multi-grain) flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 c. non/low-fat buttermilk, & 1/2 c. blueberries. (Makes 10 pancakes.) Instead of using sugary maple syrup, try topping them with homemade strawberry sauce sweetened with honey, & a dollop of either plain non-fat yoghurt or lowfat sourcream. Surprise your parents/mate with breakfast in bed.

So, how do you get the pancakes to form into a heart shape?  Well, there are a few ways to do this.  One way is to free-form it in the pan & get a Picasso-esque, uniquely shaped heart. :)  Depending on your skill level &/or luck of the draw, you could end up with this:

 Or this.... :-D

If you'd rather not chance it & prefer heart-shaped perfection, the second way is to use a heart-shaped cookie cutter, put it in the skillet, & pour the batter into the heart-shape.  Alternatively, you can use a cookie cutter to cut out heart-shapes after the pancakes are finished; make use of all pieces of your pancake cut-outs by arranging the round pancakes with the heart-shaped holes in a stack & then decoratively layering the heart-shaped cut-outs around the side of the plate in a cascading fashion.

A word of caution about cookie-cutters, don't use a plastic cookie cutter for obvious reasons. Or you'll have a heart permanently fused to the pan. LOL. Instead, try a melt-proof/heat-resistant material that doesn't give off noxious fumes when it is heated. ;-O  Toward that end, metal & silicon heart shapes work really well.

They even sell specially-made, metal, heart-shaped pancake molds for this purpose.  Personally, I don't make pancakes frequently enough to merit a purchase like this, so the heart-shaped cookie-cutters that I already have in my kitchen drawers will do just fine.

Also, I'd probably recommend picking them up with silicone mini-mitts/grippers (or an old-fashioned potholder if you don't own a pair of grippers), so the fingers don't accidentally get scorched when it's time to lift them out of the pan. :)

Or, if you prefer, you can now buy full-sized silicone mitts & pot holders as well:

If you want to go the extra mile & seek out an even easier option, you can buy a non-stick pan that already has heart-shaped depressions in it for pancakes, pour in the batter & make multiples.  See below for some examples & additional pancake-related ideas:



(2) Here's a kid-friendly idea: Cut heart shapes from red fruit roll-ups (i.e., get the all-natural kind, with no added sugar) and give them to your kids. They'll probably have as much fun playing with the shapes as much as they'll have eating them. :) Or, you can place the cut-outs on top of kid-friendly desserts to give them more of a decorative touch.

(3) To make a fun Valentine's Day salad for lunch or dinner, use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out shapes from sliced vegetable rounds (i.e., cucumber, zucchini, carrots, radishes, etc.). Toss with other salad ingredients & serve.

(4) If you are having a Valentine's Day dinner party, you could also use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to make shapes for fruit, vegetable, & or cheese platters. Just use your imagination & your trusty heart-shaped cookie cutters. :)

(5) Make a heart-shaped grilled-cheese, tomato, & basil sandwich by making heart-shaped cut-outs of the toasted bread & cheese. Grill & remove from heat. Then add sliced tomato & basil, et le voilà. Serve with low-sodium versions of organic tomato soup or tomato & roasted red pepper soup. If you don't feel like making the soup from scratch, organic/health-oriented stores like Trader Joe's carry cartons of these soups.

(6) For dessert, use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out shapes from red jello. For a healthier, sugar-free jello, try the following: 1 packet unflavored gelatin, 1 c. boiling water, 1 c. pomegranate juice, 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1 tsp. honey (optional), 1/2 c. fresh strawberries, & 1/2 c. raspberries. Dissolve gelatin & honey in boiling water, & let cool for a few minutes. Stir in pomegranate juice, lemon juice, & berries, & set jello in fridge. For extra effect, horizontally slice some star-fruit & toss into the mix. Top with lite Cool Whip & blueberries.

OK, that's all for now. I've got to go & get ready for Valentine's Day dinner very soon. :) Hope you all have a festive evening!


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