Friday, September 30, 2011

0 Recipe #283: Italian-Style Jicama-Cucumber Salad

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As requested, here's another easy salad recipe. Made this for dinner tonight. Just wanted to do something different with jicama than the usual preparations. Most of the jicama recipes I've seen either go in one of three directions -- it's either American (the typical apples and oranges thing, etc.), Mexican (lime juice, chilies, corn, cumin, cilantro, etc.) or Asian (carrots, cabbage, soy sauce, ginger, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, etc.). I haven't yet seen any Italian-style interpretations, so of course, that's the direction I decided to take. Unless I'm purposely aiming for the traditional interpretation, I prefer to set my course for unchartered waters and create something that's never been done before. Who me, do the obvious or expected thing? Yeah, right. :)

Italian-Style Jicama & Cucumber Salad

Salad Ingredients:
2 c. jicama, peeled and diced (about 1 medium sized bulb, about 3/4 lb.)
2 8 oz. bags stringless sugar snap peas, shelled (yields about 1/2 c. shelled)
1 c. red onion, peeled and finely diced (about 3/4 small onion)
2 c. cucumber, unpeeled, scored vertically with fork tines all the way around, and diced (about 1 medium-sized cucumber)
1 15.5 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (yields about 1 1/2 c.)
1 c. brined Kalamata olives, drained, pitted and halved (buy pre-pitted kind to save time)

Salad Dressing:
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Optional Ingredients:
1/4 c. basil, julienned
1 8 oz. container fresh cigliegine (cherry-sized) mozarella balls, drained
1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced into 1/2" cubes

Directions: Place salad ingredients into a bowl and set aside. Pour salad dressing ingredients into a salad dressing cruet (or beaker), seal lid tightly, and shake to blend. Pour dressing over salad and toss. Serve and enjoy.

Yield: Makes 8 c., unless optional ingredients are used, in which case, it'll make roughly 10 c.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2 Recipe #282: "Get Well Sooner" Tea :-D

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Behold the amazing health benefits of Chinese star anise, used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.

In addition to hot cocoa, a Z-pak, lots of sleep, and a lovely and delicious cocktail of Nyquil, Dayquil, decongestant, and cough drops (NOT! Hehehe :) ), I've been drinking lots of water and herbal tea lately in attempt to combat a respiratory bug, which, (fingers crossed!), is almost gone. And, you guessed it, one of these herbal teas I've been drinking is the below recipe. :)

Now don't worry, I made sure to test both this recipe and the hot cocoa recipe after my senses of taste and smell had fully returned. :) (So you can relax; I won't be subjecting you to a carrot and garlic sorbet recipe anytime soon. LOL.) Now that these senses have been restored, I can get back to regularly posting recipes again. :-D

Of course, it should come as no surprise that the below recipe is specifically geared towards improving respiratory health. There's been a bug or two going around lately, so if you're also currently experiencing the same symptoms and need a reprieve, try this tea and see if it'll help you.

This tea contains Chinese star anise, which not only helps with digestion but also helps to actively combat flu symptoms (i.e., for both seasonal influenza and other strains -- like swine flu, etc. -- as well). In fact, the shikimic acid contained in Chinese star anise is one of the primary ingredients in Tamiflu, most commonly known as the drug used to fight avian influenza (bird flu). [However, having stated this fact, please note that Chinese star anise should not be used as a replacement for Tamiflu, but rather as a supplement to existing (preventative) health measures. Tamiflu contains a laboratory-synthesized form of shikimic acid extract -- i.e., an active ingredient called oseltamivir -- as well as various other ingredients. So, in other words, it's not just a bunch of ground-up Chinese star anise. ;) The chemical composition of the original source material has been significantly altered in the process.]

Before buying &/or using Chinese star anise, please read the intro of this post. It contains some very important health and safety information regarding this spice that you'll definitely want to read before consuming it. Since there's also a small amount of licorice in this tea, please read the advisory for this spice as well, especially if you or a loved one has high blood pressure. (Yep, that's the disclaimer part, where I disavow any responsibility if you use the stuff. :) )

It also contains ginger and cayenne pepper, both of which stimulate the respiratory system. Ginger is good for the digestive system as well as the respiratory system, while cayenne is an excellent aid for eradicating winter colds, (bronchial) congestion, infection, and inflammation. Both serve as helpful catalysts for other herbs as well.

In addition to the benefits you'll get from the spices and herbs in this tea, the hot liquid of the tea will soothe your throat and help rid your body of impurities. So, regardless, it's really a win-win situation. :)

"Get Well Sooner" Tea

1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) Chinese star anise (about 16 small "stars")
1 tsp. licorice root, pre-cut (if possible)
1/2 tsp. ginger, peeled (with a spoon) and diced (about a 1/8" x 1" sliver)
2 tsp. whole green cardamom pods (about 14 pods)
1 tsp. whole cloves (about 14-16 cloves)
8 c. water
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 (6-7") vanilla bean, scored and split open with a sharp knife

Directions: Add all whole spices, minus the vanilla bean, to an extra large tea ball and place into a large teakettle (or if unavailable, a medium-sized pot with a lid). Pour the water into the kettle and then add the ground cayenne pepper. Next, scrape the vanilla essence from the pod into the kettle (preferably using a dull edged knife like a dinner or butter knife, which is more effective than kitchen/chef's knives), toss in the bean as well, and then close the lid. Bring the water to a rolling boil, about 8-9 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to steep for 15 minutes, drain remaining liquids from tea ball, and then discard solids. Pour into tea cups and serve. If desired, add honey &/or (coconut/soy/regular skim) milk, to taste. Tea can be served either hot or cold (as an herbal iced tea).

Yield: Makes 8 c.

Chef's Notes: Some of you might be asking, "OK, so now where do I get all of this stuff?" Below are resources for the less commonly found items:

Chinese star anise: Chinese star anise can be purchased at an international/Asian supermarket or bought online. Some regular supermarkets carry it as well. Just make sure you don't buy Japanese star anise, which is poisonous and only meant for ornamental purposes.

Licorice root: This can be tough to find in a local store, unless you know of (or can find) a store that specializes in herbal medicine. So, the easiest place to get this is online. I like buying the pre-cut kind, since I only use it for tea. :) The flavor of licorice root sweetens and mellows out the bolder (and sometimes slightly more bitter) taste of the star anise.

Green cardamom pods: Please be sure to use whole green cardamom pods (i.e., cardamom in its natural, unprocessed form) and NOT the bleached ones that are sold in generic grocery stores (i.e., the cardamom pods from McCormick's Gourmet Collection, etc.). In the latter case, not only has their color been bleached out, but so has their flavor & nutrients! Natural green cardamom smells wonderfully vibrant & heady. And, when you boil the pods, along with the other whole spices, they will make your whole kitchen smell absolutely divine! Green cardamom pods can be ordered online or found in a local ethnic (i.e., Indian, Asian, etc.) market.

Vanilla beans: Quality vanilla beans can be expensive, especially if you buy them at places like Whole Foods and the like. At Whole Foods, I think it's something like $12 for a single bean, which is a complete rip-off. Or at least that's what it was the last time I checked, the end result being that I left the store empty-handed and went elsewhere. :) So, if you don't want to spend an arm and a leg on quality vanilla beans, I've got a good source for premium Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Beans, and I'm willing to share it. :) I usually buy the 1/2 lb. bag, (which contains about 54 beans), via a distributor on, because it ends up a better value for the money. At $26.50, that's only 49¢ per bean. (There's also a smaller size as well, which contains 7 beans, and currently costs $9.70, or $1.38 per bean.) I've had nothing but good experiences buying from this vendor and would highly recommend them to those of you who need to stock up on vanilla beans. :)

"Heat Advisory": Great use of the phrase, "heat advisory," eh? ;) If you can't already tell from the ingredients, this is a tea recipe to warm the cockles, in all senses of the word. OK, let's not mince words here. This tea is packing some serious heat, both in terms of temperature and piquancy. :) Yeah, a real double whammy. Ka-pow! Heheh.

The warming properties of this tea are actually what help it to work its magic on the body. So let the cleansing fires begin. :-D Of course, you can be wimpy about it and tone done the heat some, but then you won't reap the full effect of its healing properties. LOL. The choice is yours. :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

0 New Tag Cloud Category: Tag Cloud Updates Now Have Their Own Tag :-D

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Please note that I've just recently added a new tag called "Tag Cloud Updates" under the "General Index" tag cloud on the right sidebar of this blog. Yeah, I realize that might seem a tad bit humorous to have a tag for tag clouds updates.  :-D

So what's the reason for doing this? Well, there are actually two reasons: First, by grouping these posts into their own separate category, this will help people find and keep up with existing and future related updates on this topic, and second, the creation this new category gives me the perfect excuse to write a post about it in order to point out, particularly to those who might have been previously aware, that there are, in fact, subdivided tag clouds on the right sidebar of this blog to help you more easily find what you're looking for. :)

Just so you know, the previous comment wasn't intended to be a smart-ass remark. :) I realize that not everybody pays attention to such details or even visits the blog directly; as many of you surely already know, there are lots of people who read blog posts within their RSS readers, which will only display blog posts, and not the fancy-schmancy gadgets (like tag clouds) that appear on the blog itself. :)

So, what kind of useful information will this new tag provide? Posts tagged with the new "Tag Cloud Updates" tag will include information like how to effectively use the subdivided tag cloud groupings on this blog as well as updates for significant tag additions and other tag cloud changes. I'm obviously not going to post for every tag addition and removal, only the particularly germane ones that would interest a significant cross-section of this blog's readership, like updates regarding the kid-friendly or vegan recipe tags I'd added to this blog earlier this year.

Speaking of which, as the fall holidays will soon be rolling around, now would certainly be a good time to mention that there is a "holidays" recipe tag as well. :) And, on a related note, there are also event/occasion-specific tags like picnics/bbq foods for those of you planning outdoor events this fall, and an hors d'œuvres tag for those of you looking for dishes you can make for either your own or other people's get-togethers and parties. After all, you never know when you'll need to whip up some last-minute dishes for entertaining company, whether it's for an elaborate affair or for friends coming over to your house to watch the ballgame on TV. :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

0 Recipe #281: Unbelievably Creamy & Delicious, "I-Can't-Believe-It's-Vegan," All Natural, Hot & Spicy, Sugar-Free Cocoa :)

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Although there have been some unexpectedly hot days over the past few weeks, the fall weather trend is finally starting to take hold. Overall, it's been a bit chillier outside, most noticeably in the early in the morning and late at night. And of course, colder weather signals the start of "hot cocoa season" as well. :)

Since I haven't been feeling so hot lately due to a nasty respiratory bug I picked up while on vacation two weeks ago, which I'm still trying to get over (!), I also have to admit that I created this recipe as a fun and much more exciting way to load up on hot fluids and beat this darned thing. :) OK, let's face it: There's only so much herbal tea that one person can take before they go bonkers, er, I mean, go in search of other healthy alternatives. ;) Of course, it's not that fun being sick, and frankly, it can get rather boring too, (and then the restlessness sets in shortly thereafter!). So, in other words, by this point, I'm looking for anything to spice up the routine and break the endless loop of sleeping, nose-blowing, and hacking up lungs. ;) And when one is spending most of one's time sleeping and nursing oneself back to health, hot cocoa is certainly a much needed injection of excitement. :-D

And speaking of liquids: In addition to my lovely daily cocktail of DayQuil, Nyquil, vitamins, and decongestant, (and let's not forget last week's Z-Pak!), which've all been taken to combat all of the associated symptoms, I've also been drinking lots of soup, specifically tortilla soup, which I'd recently made a large amount of and then had frozen the excess. It was really yummy, that is, what little I could actually taste of it. LOL. It's kind of like the Mexican version of chicken noodle soup, except with jalapeños and other veggies to replace the carrots, and corn tortillas to stand in for the noodles. :) Of course, I've created a recipe for this as well, and will get around to posting it at some point, i.e., after I regain my strength and have also had the time to properly edit it. You see, the hot cocoa recipe was a lot easier to whip up in my head (I think it took a mere two minutes ;) ), and was also much less involved to write.

What little time I've actually been awake hasn't exactly been spent writing or moving around a whole lot. I also haven't been going into the kitchen a whole lot either, as my appetite was pretty much shot, that is, until a few days ago, which is an encouraging sign. :) However, I still am coughing way too much and sleeping like it's going out of style. Hence, the screwy sleep schedule and vampire-like hours I've been keeping as of late. (As supporting evidence, please view the insanely early time stamp of this post. I wouldn't normally be up at this hour, at least not if I can help it. LOL.)

These past few days, I've been mostly trying to conserve my energy, and have only shuffled into the kitchen to put the kettle on or dig into the reserve of tortilla soup I made a few days ago when I had a bit more energy. Frankly, right now, I'm so sick of being sick!!!! I'm more than ready to be healthy again, even if my body isn't completely on the same page quite yet. ;)

Anyhow, enough about my situation for the time being and back to the recipe: The really cool thing about this recipe is that, not only is it a tasty alternative to herbal tea, water, and soups, but it actually has healing properties as well: The honey soothes the throat; the cocoa powder stimulates the brain, wards off disease and stress, and elevates one's mood, which is a huge plus one when is not feeling 100% (!); the cayenne pepper has anti-inflammatory properties, protects against colds and infections, and helps to clear one's respiratory passages; and finally, the coconut milk has many immunity-boosting properties (i.e., it contains nutrients which are anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal, not to mention it's also got electrolytes, which are particularly important to replenish when one is sick or has become dehydrated). See, this hot beverage doesn't just taste good; it actually does something to actively help you feel better. :)

Also, on a semi-related note: My latest discovery (as of 2 weeks ago) is Silk (original flavor) coconut milk, which I highly recommend using for this recipe. :) At only 80 calories per cup, it's a very tasty and healthy alternative to regular milk, soy milk, &/or almond milk. It also tastes really wonderful with a wide variety of foods -- from cereal to hot cocoa and beyond. I also love it because it has no dairy in it, (of which I've made a concerted effort to cut down upon over the past 2-3 years, as it's made a huge difference, particularly in terms of my overall energy levels and respiratory health), and also just so happens to have built-in weight control properties as well. :) Please note, no one's paying me to say all of the above, just so you know. :) I truly and honestly love it.

When I was on vacation, I did have a minor amount of dairy, but can't say for sure that this contributed to my current situation, as I'd also not slept very much the night before we left for our vacation. (I was up late packing! Oops.) It probably didn't help that Erik hadn't been feeling well a few days prior. Those germs had clearly already been circulating throughout our household by then, and that in combination with a lack of sleep surely didn't stack the cards in my favor. Of course, sleep is so important for respiratory health and good health in general. It seems that my body is trying to more than make up for that missed sleep now (!) Any more sleep and my cats will start to wonder if I've joined their ranks. ;)

Anyhow, please take care of yourselves and try to stay well, as there seems to be a lot of different bugs going around lately! Hopefully, this drink will help you keep the cooties away. :)

Unbelievably Creamy & Delicious, "I-Can't-Believe-It's-Vegan," All Natural, Hot & Spicy, Sugar-Free Cocoa

When the weather gets colder, nothing is more soothing than a velvety smooth cup of hot cocoa. Making this hot cocoa recipe is easy (and easily just as sweet and delicious) as pie, but infinitely healthier and far less caloric. :) Just what the doctor ordered. :-D A truly yummy guilty pleasure, but without the guilt. And who doesn't love that?!

2 Tbsp. (European-style) Dutch processed cocoa powder*
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, or to taste (Or leave out completely, if you can't hack the heat ;) )
1/16 tsp. (a pinch of) salt
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 c. water
1 c. Silk (original flavor) coconut milk
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Directions: Place cocoa powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and honey in the bottom of an extra large tea cup, and stir until the mixture turns into a thick and syrupy consistency. Set aside. Fill a tea kettle with water. Put the tea kettle on, and then boil the water on high until the whistle blows. Measure a 1/2 cup of boiling water in a metal measuring cup, then gingerly pour it into the tea cup. Stir thoroughly until dissolved, wait about a minute or so, then add coconut milk and vanilla. Serve immediately (i.e., while piping hot!) and enjoy. :-D

Yield: 1 serving.

Chef's Notes: *IMPORTANT: Please note that Dutch processed cocoa powder is not the same thing as unsweetened cocoa powder! It doesn't taste the same either (unsweetened cocoa powder is very bitter!), so I strongly recommend that you follow the recipe as directed. :) You've been forewarned, so if you use the unsweetened stuff instead and then start puckering your lips, don't look at me. ;)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

0 Recipe #280: Three-Bean Salad -- A Hill of Beans Actually Does Amount to Something Worthwhile After All :)

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I'm thinking that whoever coined the expression, "it doesn't amount of a hill of beans," probably didn't like beans all that much. LOL. And he or she certainly hadn't tasted this salad recipe. ;)

Instead of doing the usual string bean pasta salad thing, try this recipe to add something new and exciting to your weekly meal rotation. The different flavors of beans really compliment one another, making the whole taste greater than the sum of its parts. :) Plus, you'll be adding a lot more fiber and nutrition to your meals as well, while at the same time skipping more caloric choices like pasta and mayo.

Now it's true that this recipe does contain some avocado, which is high in calories and fat. However, the amount used in this recipe is moderate, and per serving, falls well within daily recommended guidelines (i.e., 1/4 to 1/2 of an Avocado per day). As I'm sure you've already heard a zillion times before, avocado is one of the highly touted superfoods. It contains healthy oils (i.e., monounsaturated fats), and in moderation, can be a highly beneficial addition to one's daily diet. Eating avocados can lower blood pressure and contribute to overall brain health.

The beans in this salad -- edamame, chickpeas, and black beans -- are not only packed full of fiber, but they also have long-lasting protein and carbs, which will keep you going throughout your busy day. This dish is also an excellent source of fuel for athletes, as the mix of slow-burning carbs and blood sugar sustaining protein will produce a steady and prolonged stream of energy.

Anyhow, enough health and nutrition info. Let's get onto the recipe itself. This dish is super-easy to make. The only thing you'll be cooking is the edamame, which only need to be boiled for a few minutes. Everything else is raw food, and requires minimal kitchen prep (i.e., just a bit of chopping). Your meal can be on the table for your hungry diners in under a half-hour. How great is that?!

Several friends had requested that I create/post more salad recipes here, especially family-friendly recipes which could also be packed for on-the-go meals, so here you go. :) This salad can also be served as a side dish and would make a quick-but-tasty dish to bring to parties and picnics as well. Enjoy!

Three-Bean Salad

6-8 c. lightly salted water (for boiling edamame)
4 (heaping) c. fresh (or frozen) whole edamame, in their pods
1 c. canned black beans (almost a full 15.5 oz. can of pre-cooked beans)
1 c. canned chickpeas
1 dry pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4"-thick rounds
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher (or coarse ground sea) salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes, or to taste*
1 c. Haas avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced (about 1 medium-sized Haas avocado)
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, finely minced

Directions: On high heat, bring a large, covered sauce pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil (about 8 minutes), and then uncover and add edamame. Cook until al dente. If using fresh edamame, boil for about 5-6 minutes. For frozen, boil for 4-5 minutes. When cooked properly, beans should be firm, not mushy. (If they're mushy, they've been overcooked, which will make them taste dry and blechy.) Better to air on the side of caution: Remove a sample bean from the pot using a slotted spoon after it's been cooked for the minimum required amount of time, run under cold water to cool, and then taste-test to check for doneness. When beans are ready, immediately remove pot from stove and drain into a colander.** Rinse with cold water and let cool for an additional 5 minutes or so. Shell and place beans into a bowl. Discard (or compost) pods.

Next, add black beans, grape tomatoes, scallions, garlic, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. Then season with kosher salt, black pepper, crushed red chili pepper flakes, and cilantro, and toss. Add the avocado last, about an hour before serving, and gently toss, making sure to coat it with the lemon juice mixture to avoid oxidation. Marinate in a covered glass or ceramic dish in the refrigerator for at least a 1/2 hour before serving, to allow the flavors to meld. Serve chilled (or at room temperature) and enjoy!

Yield: 6-8 servings as a main course, 8-10+ as a side-dish.

Chef's Notes: This dish tastes even better if you marinate it overnight. Just make sure that if you're going to do this that you thoroughly coat the avocado with the lemon juice mixture to preserve its fresh, vibrant color and prevent oxidation.

*I used 1/4 tsp. crushed red chili flakes, but then again, I like hot and spicy food that's has more heat than the average American (north of the Mason-Dixon line, that is) can probably handle. ;)

**Edamame can very easily become overcooked and mushy if you're not paying close attention to the precise amount of time it's been sitting in boiling, or even just hot, water. The beans will continue to cook even when you remove the pot from its direct heat source, so this is why they should be immediately drained and rinsed with cold water.

Optional Additions: Corn kernels, artichoke, or gourmet brined olives like Kalamata or Greek olives (in which case you could just nix the salt in the above recipe altogether).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

0 Recipe #279: Cherry-Almond Amaretto Muffins

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There were lots of leftover cherries after making the cherry clafouti, so I had to figure out what to do with them. Of course, I could've just eaten plain ole' cherries, but that would've defeated the purpose of the exercise: to come up with new and exciting ways of using available ingredients in order to create a new recipe, and also have some fun in the process. :)

And, it's so much fun to be creative in the kitchen! Also, the recipe blog beastie needs to be fed a continual supply of new and completely original recipes. Otherwise, it'll starve and get cranky. ;) LOL.

I love challenging myself to come up with new recipes, particularly when I'm faced with a situation that puts me into problem-solving mode. :) After all, necessity is the mother of invention, and nothing gets my creative juices going like the time-sensitive lifespan of perishable goods. :)

Often, the question I'm asking myself is this: "How do I find a way to use a particular ingredient (or ingredients) that's either on my cupboards or in my fridge?" For example, my mother recently gave me a whole lot of fresh fruits and vegetables because she was going away and didn't want them to go to waste. The only catch is that I was also going away not long after that. So, I was in a mad race to use them up. Nothing like a race against time for a little motivation. :)

Of course, it's best to use perishables at their peak freshness for flavor and also for health and safety reasons as well. ;) However, sometimes a person's faced with the imminent "vacation scenario." We've all had it happen to us before: While you're away having fun in the sun, those fresh fruit and vegetables you weren't able to use before your trip will just be sitting in the fridge for a week or two losing their freshness. And we can't have that. :) I don't know about you, but the thought of impending spoilage and waste would really bug me. This realization might very well keep a person up at night. LOL. But seriously, I hate wasting food -- my mother trained me well -- and so, I'll typically only buy as much as I can use for any given week. However, when I'm gifted with additional food that I didn't expect, that can make the situation a bit more challenging.

Thus far, I've been able to use up 2/3 of the cherries my mother gave me for this recipe and the previous one. So, expect another cherry-based recipe. :)

Cherry-Almond Amaretto Muffins


Wet Ingredients:
1/2 c. applesauce
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. lime zest
1/4 c. cherry juice
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2  Tbsp. Amaretto
1/2 Tbsp. almond extract (or substitute this with another 1/2 Tbsp. Amaretto if you like)

Dry Ingredients:
1 c. wheat flour (or if unavailable, unbleached, all-purpose flour)
1 c. whole oats, finely ground (into oat flour) in a food processor
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Nuts & Fruit:
1/2 c. almonds, slivered
1 c. fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1/3 c. dried cherries

Special Materials/Equipment:
12 paper (or foil) baking cups (or 6 large ones if you're using a 6-cup muffin tray)
12-cup nonstick muffin tray (or 6-cup nonstick muffin tray for larger muffins)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F.  Pour applesauce, lime juice and zest, cherry juice into a small mixing bowl. Then stir in baking soda together so that it starts a chemical reaction. (You should start to see bubbles upon contact. Mixture will become fizzy and fluffy when stirred.) Mix until just combined. Set aside. In an electric mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, honey, vanilla, Amaretto, and almond extract on high speed until well-combined; mixture should be fluffy & frothy. Turn down mixer to medium speed, pour in the bowl of liquid fruit mixture, & whisk together until just combined. Don't overmix or batter will become gluey, making a dense, hard bread. (There should still be some small lumps of applesauce in the mixture; be careful not to purée mixture or muffins won't become as light & fluffy as they should during the baking process.) Turn off mixer & set aside.

Next, sift together all remaining dry ingredients 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. Gently fold in nuts & fruit. (Bubbles should appear in the mixture, which is an indication that the baking soda & baking powder are reacting with the wet ingredients.) Place paper (or foil) baking cups in each muffin cup depression. Spoon out batter into each baking cup and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Test with a fork for doneness; if fork pulls out easily without any batter on it, then it's ready. Cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pan. Serve, preferably warm, & enjoy!

Yield: Makes 12 small (or 6 large) muffins.

Chef's Notes: The paper (or foil) baking cups are used for easy clean-up and also to reduce total fat content. It's also less messy, as you don't have to butter the muffin tray. :)

Depending on the thickness or height of your mixture, and also your elevations level, this dish may take longer to cook. 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.

Be sure to remove the muffins from the tray soon after cooking, so if they don't stick to the tray. This is especially likely to happen if you've used paper baking cups, as oftentimes the moisture from the muffins will seep through the paper, and then they'll stick to the tray. (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 you'll be scraping out the pan until next Tuesday.)

You can also bake this dish in a sheet cake pan, cut it up into bars, and 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. You might have to cook the dish slightly longer if you bake them this way, so adjust baking time accordingly. Best to check the oven at regular intervals, testing with a fork for doneness. Bake until golden brown.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

0 Recipe #278: Cherry Clafouti With Almonds & Pistachios

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If you're a fan of fruit-based deserts or are as much of a clafouti enthusiast as I am, then you'll probably want to check out the below recipe. :)

Instead of creating yet another cherry clafouti recipe with all of the usual ingredients, I thought I'd make it a bit more interesting by adding almonds and pistachios. These nuts are a natural complement to cherries and change up the texture a bit, giving it a bit more variation. Clafouti (or clafoutis, if you're speaking French ;)), is typically a soft, melt-in-your-mouth kind of desert, except for the crust, which has a gentle give to it and, depending on how it's made (&/or how long it's cooked!), can also have a little bit of crunch. Adding nuts takes it from "same-o', same-o', blah-blah-boring," to something new and unexpected.

What makes this recipe special is its use of fresh cherries. When clafouti is baked in the oven, the cherries come out of the oven warm, soft, and squishy, literally oozing with flavor. :) Since the custard-like base of this dessert tastes intensely rich and creamy in both its flavor and consistency, the simultaneously tart and sweet flavor of the cherries provide some much-needed relief to the continuity of this smooth and potent profusion. Not only do the flavors counterbalance each other, but each element helps to cut the intensity of the other.

The really nice thing about this desert is that, unlike your standard clafouti recipe, this version is actually healthy for you, even it does taste like regular ole' clafouti. Well, that's the general idea. :) It contains ZERO refined sugar, which, when compared to most desserts, is a delightfully refreshing surprise. And of course your guests will just blissfully enjoy their dessert without any prior knowledge of this fact. :)

A lot of fruit-based desserts -- especially pies, cakes, and tarts -- typically call for canned cherries, which are almost always swimming in loads of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). These cherries have been sitting in the can for who-knows-how-long, just soaking up all of that nasty stuff. Not only will they make your blood sugar sky-rocket to the moon only to come crashing down just as quickly, but then that sugar crash will make your body crave even more simple sugars and carbs to quickly get your energy level back up to where you can function normally again. ;) If this cycle is perpetuated over many days, weeks, months, or, heaven forbid, years, you can only imagine what this'll do to your body, not only in terms of weight gain, but also in terms of your general health. So, that's reason enough not to ingest the stuff.

Also, did you know that canned cherries in syrup have twice the amount of sugar and total carbs, not to mention a little over double the calories? Scary, huh?! And just think of how much extra exercise you'll need to do to burn that stuff off. ;) And what all of that refined sugar will do to your complexion and the rest of your body is even scarier. Now doesn't that just sound SO appealing?! NOT. :-D However, this evil cycle of unhealthy eating and weight gain can easily be prevented by replacing HFCS with a moderate, daily intake of fruit.

Like veggies, fruit contains soluble fiber, which, during digestion, causes the body to slow the rate of nutrient absorption as well as the breakdown of carbs into simple sugars. (This is what happens when soluble fiber in the gastrointestinal tract is absorbed by water and then transforms into a viscous, gel-like substance.) This process, in turn, helps to create a longer-lasting feeling of satiety (as compared to simple carbs/sugars), regulate blood sugar, and provide sustained energy (due to the soluble fiber's slower calorie burn rate.) Fresh cherries, in particular, are high in pectin, a soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol.

Not only that, but fresh cherries are relatively low in calories. To be exact: per 1 c. serving, sweet cherries have 97 calories, while sour cherries have 87. They're also loaded with vitamins (C, A, E, K, and all of the B vitamins except for B12) and are an excellent source of potassium, an essential electrolyte that's great for post-exercise recovery. :) They have about 2 g. of fiber per cup. And the good news just keeps on coming. :)

Cherry Clafouti With Almonds & Pistachios

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) cherry juice*
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/3 c. sugar-free cherry 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 c. dried cherries (without added refined sugar)*
1/4 c. pistachios, shelled
1/4 c. slivered, blanched almonds
1 c. fresh cherries, pitted and halved

Directions: Place pistachios and almonds onto an aluminium foil-covered toaster tray (for easy clean-up), pop into a toaster oven preheated to 350°F, and toast for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes, or until golden brown. When the nuts have toasted for the first half of their total cooking time, remove tray from toaster oven, gently rattle from side to side, and then return to toaster oven. (This will allow the nuts to cook more evenly and also prevent them from sticking to the foil.) Nuts can burn easily if unattended, so watch them carefully. (The nuts are toasted first so that they remain firm while they are baking in the clafouti's liquid ingredients. And of course, this also enhances their flavor as well.) Set aside and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add sour cream, milk, cherry juice, lemon zest, lemon juice, cherry preserves, honey, and vanilla, and mix together thoroughly. Slowly whisk in flour, salt, and cardamom. Add dried cherries, pistachios, and almonds. Pour mixture into a glass pie plate (about 9-10" in diameter), making sure to evenly distribute the pistachios, almonds, & dried cherry pieces. Add fresh cherry 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, or until golden brown. Turn off the oven and allow to set inside the oven for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for at least 5-10 minutes. 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: For this recipe, you can use either sweet or sour cherries, or a mix of both, whichever you prefer.

*You can find cherry juice and dried cherries without any added (refined) sugar at Whole Foods. (These products might also be found at Trader Joe's or Wegmans as well. Probably best to call first before stopping by. :) )

"Eden Selected" sugar-free dried cherries, (which can be purchased at Whole Foods) are really tasty and make for an excellent snack as well. :) Sugar-free cherry juice can be found at regular supermarkets like Giant, etc. In my experience, sugar-free cherry preserves are typically harder to come by in most stores, but if you can't find it locally, it can always be ordered online, or, if you're feeling exceptionally ambitious, made from scratch. :) (Or, as a measure of last result, you could use low-sugar preserves, which are now offered by some of the more commonly used, big-name brands.)

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