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Friday, December 25, 2009

Random Food Gift #12 - Merry Christmas!

Ah, Tea Time Tassies. Just the name gets me excited. My Mom loves these, and she is the dear friend that I made them for! Many a Christmas my Mom would make these and look pleased. I would take a bite and feel pleased. These delightful little cookies are so comforting to me. I love the name, I love the flavor, and I love the loose Christmas tradition they have become. The ingredients are simple and tasty - I used a combination of walnuts and maple syrup, but you can experiment with almonds and vanilla extract or pecans and butter. I hope you make these and feel as delighted as I do about them, and to all a very Merry Christmas!

Tea Time Tassies
Makes 24

Ingredients for the Crust

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 ounces 1/3 less fat cream cheese
1/2 cup Earth Balance (trans fat free margarine)

Ingredients for the Filling

1 cup walnuts
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1) Beat together the crust ingredients with a hand or stand mixer. Form dough into a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour.

2) Finely chop nuts and mix together with other filling ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

3) Grease a mini muffin tin that has 24 cups. Roll dough into 24 balls. Press into muffin cups with thumb.

4) Spoon filling onto dough in slightly rounded teaspoon-fulls. (Don't overfill it - it's a pain to unstick the extra filling from pan!) Bake in a 325 degree oven for 20 minutes. To test if it's done, pop a tea time tassie out of the pan. If the crust is golden brown, it's done. Let cool slightly and remove from pan.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Random Food Gift #11

For my very best friend, my husband, I made muffins. It was only fitting, for Justin is a muffin fiend. He gets so excited about them and looks forward to having one with breakfast and one for dessert. These Sour Cream and Blackberry Muffins are exquisite. After we tried them warm from the oven, we oohed and aahed. But we both agreed that, as tasty as they are, they don't top oat-y muffins. While we prefer Benjamin Muffins or Blueberry Squash Muffins, this recipe is a nice change from our traditional taste. The sour cream makes them so rich-tasting, but the texture is very light. Even though the original recipe from Food & Wine Magazine calls for blueberries, I only had frozen blackberries on hand and I'm glad I did. Big, sweet blackberries burst with flavor and blend nicely with the creamy bread part of the muffin. The overall muffin is not too sugary and just rich enough to feel indulgent. I would consider these more of a special treat than a standard morning muffin (see my ramblings on what the ideal muffin should be). Enjoy!

*Updated 6/22/11. I made these muffins again with blueberries this time, and I changed some of the measurements. You can make the original muffin for a more cake-like muffin (which I think should not be called a muffin) or you can use the adapted whole grain recipe to make a more muffin-like-muffin, but still full of flavor and rich texture.

Sour Cream and Blackberry Muffins
Makes 10 muffins (or 12 smaller muffins)

Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine

Ingredients for the Topping:

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Ingredients for the Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 rounded cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 rounded cup frozen blackberries or blueberries (or any berry, really!)


1) Mix the topping together in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter with two knives or a pastry blender until it's crumbly. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3) In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg until it's frothy. Add the sugar and softened butter and whisk vigorously until well-blended. Add the sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest and whisk well. Add the dry ingredients and mix just until blended.

4) In a greased muffin pan, fill 10 cups 3/4 full and sprinkle with topping. Fill the remaining 2 cups with water. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until a fork inserted in the middle comes out clean (you'll smell the muffins all of a sudden, and then you'll know they are done).

5) Remove muffins from the pan and let them cool on a wire rack. These are so good, even three days later, when stored in an airtight container.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Random Food Gift #10

For my friend Margot and her roomies, I made traditional Pumpkin Bread. Who doesn't like Pumpkin Bread? Classic spices, rich texture, walnuts on top. I was excited to give it to her, but when I showed up to drop it off at her house, we were more excited to see each other than talk about bread. It had been over a month since we last talked, and it was so nice to catch up. I suppose that's the best part about giving giftsto friends - the fact that we're friends, and there is lots to talk about! By the time I left I had almost forgotten the original reason I came in the first place.

The recipe from Cooking Light Holiday Cookbook says to use two 8 x 4 inch loaf pans, but I only had two 9 x 5's and they worked out fine. The bread is just a little short. If you want to make just one taller loaf, you could pour all the batter into one 9 x 5 loaf pan and bake it a bit longer.

Pumpkin Bread
Yields 24 slices (or 12, if you use one 9 x 5 inch loaf pan)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup low-fat milk
1/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
15 ounces (about 1 can) pureed pumpkin
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1) In a large bowl, combine flours and next seven ingredients (through cloves) and mix well with a whisk. Make a well in the center and set aside.

2) In a separate bowl, combine sugar and next five ingredients (through eggs) and stir well with a whisk. Add to flour mixture and stir just until incorporated.

3) Spoon batter into two 8 x 5 inch greased loaf pans and sprinkle with walnuts. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 1 hour or until a fork inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Random Food Gift #9

I couldn't resist making this bread for my friends Jonathan, Alex, Scott, and Jason. They all live in an apartment together and two of them love baking. All four of them love food. I knew it would be a pain to post this recipe due to the long ingredients list and the multiple steps of directions, but I just had to try this Chocolate Babka. It was worth it. My hot oven made it just a touch overdone, but the flavor of the bread still shone through. It was delicious and I would really love to make it again sometime. The chocolate-cinnamon combination is unique and quite pleasing. It took me a whole afternoon to make because it wasn't rising quickly enough in my cold apartment. Hopefully if you try it out, it won't take quite as long.

Chocolate Babka

Ingredients for the Dough

1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
3/4 cup warm low-fat milk (105 - 110 degrees; it should be pleasantly warm but not hot - otherwise, it will kill the yeast)
6 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cup bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour, divided
5 tablespoons softened Earth Balance (trans fat free margarine)

Ingredients for the Filling

1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces finely chopped semisweet chocolate

Ingredients for the Streusel

2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon Earth Balance


1) Dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar with yeast in warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer; let it dissolve for five minutes. Stir in the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, vanilla, salt, and egg yolk.

2) Add bread flour, whole wheat flour, and 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour to milk mixture. Beat with a dough hook attachment on medium speed for about two minutes. Add softened Earth Balance and beat well until blended.

3) Scrape dough onto floured surface (dough will be sticky). Add about 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour to dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking. Knead until smooth and elastic.

3) Place dough in a large, oiled bowl. Turn once to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.

4) When you think the dough is ready, gently press two fingers into the dough. If the indentation remains, the dough has risen enough. Punch dough down, cover, and let rest for five minutes.

5) Line the bottom of a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper. Oil the sides of the pan.

6) Prepare the filling in a medium bowl and set aside.

7) Place the dough on a floured surface and roll out to a 16-inch square. Sprinkle the filling over the dough and leave a 1/4-inch border. Starting at one edge, roll up the dough, and pinch the seam and ends to seal it shut.

8) Holding the roll of dough by the ends, twist it four times as if wringing it out. Fit the dough into the loaf pan, even if it's a tight squeeze. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

9) Mix streusel together with a fork or pastry cutter until it is crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the dough. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf is browned and it sounds hollow when tapped (my hot oven baked the bread in about 35 minutes).

10) Let cool 30 minutes on wire rack. Enjoy the Babka warm from the oven, or heated up in a toaster oven up to three days later.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Random Food Gift #8

When I saw this Almond Cake recipe in the Cooking Light Holiday cookbook, I immediately thought of my friends Kate and Drew. I don't know why, I guess it was because it looked sophisticated, like them and their house. And it might have also been because we cooked an almond-themed Supper Club dinner in Kate's kitchen. (For the Supper Club, some friends and I cook a delicious 5-course dinner and invite guests). I wanted to make this cake gluten-free, since Kate has been trying to avoid gluten, and since there are only 1 1/2 cups of flour in the recipe, I thought it could work. I used half soy flour and half almond meal instead of all-purpose wheat flour. You can use raw slivered almonds and grind them in a food processor to get almond meal, or you can find it a Trader Joe's for a good price (I don't recommend buying it at Whole Food's - it's way overpriced!). The gluten-free Almond Cake worked out great. The texture was perfect and the flavor was nutty and rich. This cake isn't too sweet, which I like, and it was loaded with crispy almonds. You could even serve it at a brunch; I bet it would pair well with a good cup of coffee.

Almond Cake
Yields 8 servings


3/4 cup soy flour
3/4 cup almond meal
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted and divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup low-fat milk
1/4 Earth Balance (trans fat-free margarine), melted
1/4 cup amaretto (or 1/4 cup water + 1/2 teaspoon almond extract)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten


1) Combine flour, sugar, 1/4 cup of almonds, baking powder, and salt and stir with a whisk.

2) Combine the rest of the ingredients (milk through eggs). Add to flour mixture and stir just until mixed.

3) Spoon batter into a greased 9 inch round cake pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of almonds. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for almost 30 minutes or until a fork comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then remove from pan and cool completely.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Random Food Gift #7

For the seventh day of food, I decided to make another long-distance food gift and send granola to my college friend Hong and her husband Dane. They both live just outside of Boston and had the most beautiful wedding this past summer. I thought they might appreciate it (especially since Hong asked if Boston was too far away for a random food gift). I'm not sure if they even received it yet, so if not, surprise! Get excited about a package arriving tomorrow.

The granola recipe is from one of my favorite food blogs, www.nutritiontokitchen.com. I don't usually post recipes by other food bloggers, but Nutty Coconut and Cherry Granola was too good to pass up, and I've been wanted to try it for months. Here was my opportunity. It's crunchy and sweet with a bit of tartness. Perfect for Hong. :)

Nutty Coconut and Cherry Granola


2 1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup shredded coconut, sweetened
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup canola oil
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup dried cherries


1) Preheat oven to 350°F.

2) In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except for the cherries and mix well. Pour mixture onto a pan and bake for about 15 minutes stirring the granola halfway through.

3) Allow the granola to cool on the baking sheet, about 5 minutes. Add the cherries in with the granola and serve.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Random Food Gift #6

Halfway there! It's time to start hurling random food gifts at friends, because Christmas is less than eight days away! I'll be putting up a new post almost every day (assuming technology is on my side). This newest recipe can only be described in two words: cool decadence. When you make these brownies and take a bite, you'll know what I mean. I made these for my friend Steph. She is a huge brownie aficionado. It's not uncommon for her to show up at a gathering with a pan of gooey brownies, or whip up a batch when we're hanging out at her house. So I couldn't choose any other friend than her to make these Peppermint Fudge Brownies for.

The recipe is from the Cooking Light Holiday Cookbook. The only changes I made were to use 2 eggs instead of a combo of whole eggs and egg whites (I hate wasting eggs!), using a whole wheat flour blend, adding a topping of minty fudge sauce, and sprinkling them with crushed candy canes. The batter is very, very thick. I almost felt like I was using fondant for one of those fancy schmancy cakes. You really have to put some muscle into it when you stir in the flour, and then you need to pat the batter down in the pan to lay flat. The texture of the finished product is dense and fudgy, and the mint topping totally completes the brownie. Give them a try!

Peppermint Fudge Brownies

1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon Earth Balance (trans fat-free margarine)
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar (don't use turbinado - I tried it, and it wouldn't mix in well enough)
2 eggs, lightly beaten (or 3 egg whites and 1 whole egg)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup half and half
2 tablespoons of Earth Balance (trans fat-free margarine)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) semi-sweet chocolate

2 peppermint candy canes, crushed


1) Melt the 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon Earth Balance and chocolate over medium-low heat in a saucepan, stirring often. Stir in cocoa powder, cook 1 minute. Stir in sugar, cook 1 minute (mixture will be very thick). Remove from heat, let cool slightly.

2) Lightly beat eggs in large bowl. Gradually add in chocolate mixture, stirring well with a whisk.

3) Combine flours and baking powder separately, then add to chocolate mixture. Stir well.

4) Spoon into greased 8 x 8 inch pan and pat down so that it's flat. Bake in a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 25-30 minutes (My oven bakes it at 25 minutes, so check it then -- if a fork comes out clean, it's done).

5) While it's baking, combine half and half plus 2 tablespoons Earth Balance in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until simmering. Remove from heat and stir in semi-sweet chocolate until melted. Spread over brownies.

6) Once everything has cooled, sprinkle the crushed candy canes over the brownies.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Random Food Gift #5

Alright, I've had my share of mess ups with these random food gifts (flat biscuits, small muffins, too much ginger, crumbly granola bars...wow, I hope you still want to keep reading my food blog!) but this recipe is foolproof. Really! It's not a new recipe for me, but I've been wanting to post it for quite a while, and I figured it would make a great long-distance food gift.

Pepitas Trail Mix. "Pepitas" is Spanish for pumpkin seeds. More specifically, it's the inner green part of the pumpkin seed, toasted and lightly salted, and oh-so-tasty. It's got good fats and it helps curb hunger, which makes it great for trail mix. The only other ingredients in this simple mix are dark chocolate chips and dried cranberries. And there you go. I like to do a 2:1:1 ratio of pumpkin seeds to chocolate and cranberries, but you can fiddle around with it to achieve your perfect combination.

I sent this random food gift to my cousin Stephanie and her husband Brian. I received this email from her after they received it: "Imagine my surprise to look out on my porch this morning and discover that I was one of the lucky recipients of a Random Food Gift! What a lovely surprise! I had to wait all day for Brian to come home so we could sample it. How very DE-LICIOUS! Yum yum yum. We wanted to eat the whole jar in one sitting but managed to restrain ourselves!"

So, I hope you like it!

Pepitas Trail Mix

2 cups pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Mix together and store in a jar -- keeps for weeks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Random Food Gift #4

Just as I love granola, I also love granola bars. But not just any granola bar. Lots of the store bought varieties have tons of sugar and junk added to it. It's junk food disguised as health food. (Like that Eating Right brand that appeared at my local grocery store - one glance at the label, and I knew it was a sham! Trans fat and high fructose corn syrup - ew).

I decided to try to make my own granola bars, and I found a delicious recipe in Ina Garten's "Back to Basics" cookbook. It's quite tasty - lots of dried fruit and almonds. I wanted to try a variation of it with mainly apricots and pistachios. It came out a bit crumbly, so I think I needed to leave it in for 10 minutes longer to get crisp. The taste, however, was delicious! I gave them to my mother-in-law, a fellow health-nut, and she was quite pleased.

Granola Bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup chopped pistachios
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

2) Toss the oatmeal, pistachios, and coconut (and wheat germ, if it's not already toasted) together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.

3) Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

4) Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the apricots and golden raisins and stir well.

6) Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown (my oven needs to bake it for over 30 minutes, so just be sure it's golden brown when you take it out of the oven, and doesn't still look like the same color as when you put it in).Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Random Food Gift #3

Alright, so this recipe has nothing to do whatsoever with whole grains (the entire focus of my food blog), but you need a bit of chocolate every now and then (or every day, which I average). And that's no problem! As long as you control your portion size and eat dark chocolate, it's good for you (say the health studies). It's got anti-oxidants, gives you a natural lift, and I think it might even release endorphins, which makes you happy. I just eat it for the taste. This recipe also includes dried fruit, cashews, and crystallized ginger, all of which do very nice things for you. And furthermore, this makes a beautiful gift. Put it in some parchment paper in a holiday tin, and there you go. A word about the ginger though: I love ginger in a lot of things, but I thought it was a bit much in this recipe. It didn't blend with the other flavors, it just tried to claim all the fame. So the first time you make this, you may want to put ginger only on half and see how you like it. The recipe is from Ina Garten's "Back to Basics" cookbook and, as she says, only use really good chocolate.

This lovely bark was a gift to my friends Courtney and Becky. I presented it to Courtney when we went to D.C. to eat sushi and see Over the Rhine. They were phenomenal, and I also discovered a new pair: Vienna Teng and Alex Wong, a husband and wife team that has amazing folksy layered music and lots of unique instruments. But anyways, on to the bark.

French Chocolate Bark

1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews
7 ounces really good bittersweet chocolate (I used 70% cocao)
7 ounces really good semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped if they're big
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped (optional)

1) Heat the oven to 350 degrees. While it's warming up, roll out a piece of parchment paper and, with a pencil and a ruler, draw a 10 x 10 inch square on it.

2) Chop the apricots, ginger (optional), and (if they're really big) cherries into smaller pieces.

3) Spread the cashews on an ungreased baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes. Let cool.

4) Chop chocolate into small pieces. Place semi-sweet and half of bittersweet chocolate into a glass bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and stir vigorously. Microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until chocolate is mostly melted. Add the rest of the bittersweet chocolate and stir until smooth.

5) Spread the chocolate to the edges of your parchment paper square. Sprinkle the dried fruit and cashews on top. Let cool for about 2 hours, then cut into 16 triangles. You can get two gifts out of this recipe.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Random Food Gift #2

For Random Food Gift #2, I chose to bring Fresh Cranberry Muffins to my office. It's not uncommon for me to bring food gifts to the office, so I couldn't not include my co-workers in the 12 Days of Christmas. These muffins have a nice hint of orange that ties all the flavors together. They, too, are out of the Cooking Light Holiday Cookbook. The only change I made was to use half whole wheat flour instead of only all-purpose flour. The recipe is supposed to make 12 muffins, but you really have to stretch the batter to get 12. The size of the muffins is perfect for a small snack, but if you want a more substantial muffin, you may want to double the recipe. If you do double it, you may need to bake it a bit longer. Want to know the foolproof way to know when your baked goods are done? Use your nose. This is some of the best advice my mother gave me. When you suddenly smell it, it's done. You can kind of smell it all the way through baking, but only if you really think about it. You know it's done when all of a sudden the aroma hits you like a wall. This recipe was great, and I look forward to making it again after Christmas. Hope you like it too!

Fresh Cranberry Muffins

1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cups turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries
2/3 cup low-fat milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg

1) Sift together dry ingredients (flours through salt). Stir in the chopped cranberries and set aside.

2) Mix together the wet ingredients (milk through egg) and add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until incorporated and divide evenly among a 12 muffin greased pan.

3) Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean (you may need to bake it a bit longer if you double the recipe and use one muffin pan). Remove from pan immediately and let cool.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Random Food Gift #1

My biscuits are a work in progress. They usually taste great, but it's so hard for me to get them to rise! Rise up, O Biscuits! I try not to (wo)manhandle the dough too much, because I know that can lead to dense biscuits, but they still fall a bit short of the fluffy ideal that I strive for. If anyone has any biscuit advice, please do share it with me.

I came across this tasty pumpkin biscuit recipe in the Cooking Light Holiday Cookbook, and made them for my friend Andrea. We went to college together and lost touch until we discovered that we both live in the Baltimore area. Happy surprise! We went hiking on Sunday, along with our husbands, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring her Random Food Gift #1. Along with the biscuits, I included some homemade cranberry sauce jam. It's a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that was originally for cranberry sauce. I revised it a bit and simmered it long enough to turn into jam. It's tart-sweet and goes well on savory sandwiches or paired with neufchatel cheese on a whole grain bagel.

Pumpkin Biscuits

1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk*
1/2 cup canned pumpkin

Mix together flours through nutmeg (all of the dry ingredients). Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine buttermilk and pumpkin, add to dry mixture and stir just until moist.Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead lightly five times. Roll dough out to about 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into circles with 2.5 inch biscuit cutter (I used a wine glass). Gather up scraps to cut more circles. Place circles onto an oiled baking sheet. Bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for about 11 minutes or until golden (my oven cooks biscuits in about 7 minutes, so don't stray too far while they're baking). Serve warm.

*To make your own buttermilk, combine 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar with enough milk to equal 1 cup. Let stand 5 minutes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Twelve Days of FOOD!

Happy December, everyone! Now begins my favorite time of the year. The lights, the music, the coziness, the decorations...I just love it. What I don't love is all the commercialism, but since I don't go to the mall, watch TV, or listen to the radio (just call me a hermit), I can truly enjoy the season without feeling grossed out by commercialism. So anyways, the Christmas season is not very long, and there are so many good holiday recipes to try. I recently bought a Cooking Light Holiday Cookbook. I need more occasions to make holiday food, so I figured, why don't I just create an occasion? I'm going to give random food gifts! Twelve food gifts to 12 friends. The targets will be in my immediate Baltimore area (and maybe beyond). Never before have I posted 12 recipes in 31 days. Can I do it amidst all of the hustle and bustle of my favorite season? It is a festive challenge, indeed. You might be first!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Curried Lentil and Swiss Chard Stew

I feel like I'm supposed to post something Thanksgiving-y, but I got nothing. Only this amazing stew from Bon Appetit. This is a really good, spicy, rainy day stew. The flavors meld together so nicely, the stew is so thick you could eat it on a plate, and it warms you up as the weather gets colder. Perhaps you could make this after Thanksgiving to take a break from having the same leftovers. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare this stew, so it's nice and quick. It pairs well with a thick slice of hearty whole grain bread.

You can use any kind of lentil, really, but the recipe calls for red. Regular lentils are the cheapest (around $1/lb), next are French lentils (more than $1/lb), and red is the most expensive (just over $2/lb). If you use regular lentils, just be sure to simmer them for about double the time or more. Red lentils cook in about 10 minutes, but regular lentils could take 20-25 minutes. Just test them. If they're tender, they're done.

For the garnish, use plain, low-fat Greek yogurt or plain, low-fat regular yogurt. Don't skip it, because it really completes the soup! The cool, thick yogurt cuts the heat nicely and brings a rich creaminess to this dish. I use regular yogurt and strain it in a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl for 2-3 hours. The stew makes good leftovers warmed up in a pita. Hope you like it, let me know how it turns out!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fudgy Black Bean Brownies

Black beans and chocolate, you ask? Oh, yes. It is, in fact, a nice combination. Other cultures have been using beans and sweets together for a long time (think red bean ice cream), and we Americans are just beginning to catch on. This recipe is gluten-free and potentially dairy-free. The black beans are a stand-in for the high amounts of butter that are usually found in brownies, and they also add some extra protein and fiber to these dense little treats. For the best flavor, use high quality cocoa powder that hasn't been sitting in your cupboard for a year. If you prefer more cake-like brownies, you can add half a cup of whole wheat flour. One of my favorite things about this recipe is that you just throw everything in the blender or food processor and then pour it into the baking dish. I usually love to add walnuts, but I wanted to focus more on the fudgy texture of these brownies. However, if you have to have nuts, go ahead and add them. They won't ruin the final product. Enjoy these much-more-healthy-than-the-original brownies!

Fudgy Black Bean Brownies

15 oz. rinsed black beans
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 tablespoons plain, low-fat yogurt (or low-fat sour cream, canola oil, or butter)
1 teaspoon instant powdered coffee
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup chopped semi-sweet or dark chocolate

Put everything except the chocolate chunks in a blender or food processor. Blend until the beans are pureed. Add the chocolate chunks (and nuts, if you want them), and pulse a couple of times until it's incorporated. Pour into a greased 8 x 8 square glass baking dish, and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean. Let cool for a bit, and cut into 16 small squares.

Nutrition Information: Calories - 100; Fat - 3.6g; Saturated Fat - 1.6g; Trans Fat - 0g; Cholesterol - 40.5mg; Sodium - 58mg; Carbohydrates - 16.9g; Fiber - 2g; Sugar - 12.4g; Protein - 2.9g.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rosemary Kale Soup

This is, in my opinion, the very best way to eat kale. I love this soup. And it has kale in it! Who would have thought? Greens are really good when you know how to prepare them. Thank you, Justin, for discovering this recipe. By the way, I'm really into vegetable broth. Some day I'd like to make my own, but for now my favorite is the Rapunzel brand of vegetable bouillon cubes from Whole Foods. Sure, chicken broth has its place, but vegetable broth is perfect in certain soups. In this Kale Soup, it shines.

I just have to tell you about some of the wonderful health benefits of this soup. (It's tasty, too, so don't be fooled by the healthiness of it).

Kale: High in fiber, Vitamin A, Calcium, and beta-carotene (an anti-oxididant that may help prevent cancer and heart disease).

Cannellini Beans: High in fiber, protein, loaded with thiamine (good for your brain), iron (good for your blood), and folate (keeps your arteries clear).

Chickpeas (aka Garbanzo Beans): High in fiber, protein, folic acid (helps your red blood cells), and manganese (does a lot of good things!).

Rosemary: May have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Garlic and Onions: Oh, what an amazing combination. There are just too many good things about them to name but they are tasty and good for you.

A note about complete proteins - although Cannellini beans, chickpeas, and many other beans and legumes are high in protein, they don't make complete proteins like meat and dairy do. In order to get a complete protein, you need to pair them with whole grains. You probably already do this without realizing: beans and toast, peanut butter sandwich, hummus and pita bread, etc. Match this soup with a fresh batch of Rosemary Parmesan Foccacia, and there you go - a complete meal.

I got this recipe from Cooking Light Magazine, and the only changes I made were to substitute the black beans with chickpeas, use less cannellini beans, and double the rosemary. I felt that chickpeas are a better match with Cannellini beans and kale. The recipe list may look long, but this is a quick soup to make (30 minutes, says the magazine), so it's good for weeknights. Fresh rosemary is best (so fragrant and tasty!) but if you use dried, use half as much and add it earlier in the recipe. As a general rule, add dried herbs early, and fresh herbs last.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Celery Root and Apple Pureé

This is one of the most surprisingly good recipes I've ever tasted. I thought it would be good, which is why I made it in the first place, but I had no idea how savory and complex it would be! This pureé is restaurant-quality. I never knew you could cook with the root of celery before coming across this. The recipe comes from Ina Garten's "Back to Basics" cookbook. In this cookbook, she talks about key spices and ingredients to use in order to really bring out the flavors of certain foods without overpowering them. The combination of fragrant fennel with celery root and the addition of tangy apple cider and apples make this pureé worthy of taking the place of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. And I think mashed potatoes are pretty amazing, so you know that this recipe must be great!

There is quite a bit of peeling and chopping involved with this recipe, so it's better to make it with someone else to help share the work. I used Earth Balance, which is an all natural trans-fat free margarine, instead of the butter, and I used almost 3/4 cup instead of the full 1 cup. I also used low-fat milk instead of heavy cream. The potatoes in this dish make it thick and creamy enough without justifying the extra fat in heavy cream. With those two lower-fat changes, this is a comfort food you can eat more often than just holiday dinners.

Celery Root and Apple Pureé
Makes 4-6 servings

about 3/4 cup Earth Balance
1 cup large-diced fennel bulb, tops and core removed
2 pounds celery root, peeled and diced
8 ounces (about 1 cup) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, diced
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 cup low-fat milk
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add fennel, celery root, potatoes, apples, salt, and pepper, and saute until the vegetables begin to soften, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add cider, tightly cover the pot, and simmer over low heat for about 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are very soft. When the vegetables are cooked, add the milk and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and pulse until the mixture is blended but still a little chunky. If you like, sprinkle some fennel fronds on top for a garnish.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hearty Broccoli Soup

I'm a fan of broccoli. My favorite way to have it is steamed with a little bit of butter and salt. It's so simple and delicious. The only problem with it is that it gets cold really fast. Whenever we make it as a dinner side, as soon as I add the butter and salt, I tell Justin, "Come on, we have to eat now! The broccoli is getting cold!" By the time I get to my third broccoli spear, sadly, it's already cold.

So this hot soup recipe is a nice alternative to cold broccoli. It's thick and cheesy but not high in fat. I found the original recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks called Simply in Season. I made a couple changes to it, such as replacing most of the milk with water (there is plenty of creaminess without all that extra dairy) and using whole wheat flour instead of regular. You could use light cheddar cheese to make it really low in fat, but I think it would sacrifice some of the taste. Besides, one cup of regular cheddar throughout a whole batch of soup is perfectly acceptable. Your body needs some fat!

Another thing I did with this soup is use some broccoli leaves as well. The head of broccoli I received from the food co-op still had quite a bit of leafy greens on it, so I threw them in with the soup. The following week I received only broccoli leaves with no spears. I made the soup again, and the leaves worked just as well as regular broccoli. You could also use cauliflower instead, or you could do a combination of broccoli and cauliflower and swap out the carrots and celery. The sky is the limit with this hearty soup. Give it a try!

Hearty Broccoli Soup
Makes 4-6 servings

2 cups diced potatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1/2 cup minced celery
4 cups water, divided
2 cups chopped broccoli and/or broccoli leaves
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup low-fat milk
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Cook together potatoes, onion, carrots, and celery with 1 cup of water over medium heat for 5 minutes until soft. Add 3 cups water, vegetable bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper and heat to boiling. In a separate small bowl, stir together flour and milk until smooth. Add to soup and cook just unil thickened. Turn off heat and add cheddar; stir until melted.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts

How many of you out there like chard? My guess is not the majority. I used to not even know what chard was before last year. After joining a food co-op, I received it monthly and had to figure out what to do with it. I have to admit, I wasn't too crazy about it at first. But then I came across this recipe on Epicurious with raisins and pine nuts, and it doesn't just make it bearable, it makes it tasty! This is a good recipe all on its own. I made a few changes by cutting out some of the oil and increasing the amount of raisins and pine nuts. I had to share it with you, especially if you also wonder what to do with this leafy green. Without further ado, here it is:

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts
Makes about four servings

1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard (preferably rainbow or red; from 2 bunches)
3/4 cup pine nuts
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins, finely chopped
1 cup water

Submerge chard into a big bowl of water. Swirl around to get rid of any dirt. Pat dry. Tear chard leaves from stems, then coarsely chop stems and leaves separately. Toast nuts a dry 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden, about 3 minutes, then transfer to a bowl. Heat oil in pot and add onion, stirring occasionally for 1 minute, then add chard stems and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add raisins and 1/2 cup water and simmer, covered, until stems are softened, about 3 minutes. Add chard leaves and remaining 1/2 cup water and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until leaves are tender, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with pine nuts.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Saturday morning pancakes. Have I mentioned it's a tradition? I just love it - after a long week, the combination of a Friday night movie and Saturday morning pancakes can rarely be topped. It doesn't always happen every weekend, but Justin and I definitely take advantage of it when we don't have other plans. And sweet potatoes are so tasty and versatile. We've made sweet potato pancakes before, and they have always been good, but the real kicker of this recipe is the Brown Sugar Syrup, which Justin found online. It truly completes the pancakes. The delicious base recipe I use for the pancakes is from Gourmet Magazine, and I found it on Epicurious. Add a cup of mashed sweet potatoes, sprinkle some toasted pecans on top, and it's like eating the Autumn season for breakfast!

Sweet Potato Pancakes
Makes about 10 pancakes

3/4 cup oats (rolled or quick cooking is fine)
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons Earth Balance (or other trans-fat free margarine), divided
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 cup coarsely mashed cooked sweet potatoes

If you don't have buttermilk, measure 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and add enough milk to it in order to make 1 cups. Let stand 5 minutes. Mix together first seven ingredients, set aside. Mix together egg, buttermilk, two tablespoons of melted butter, and brown sugar. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stir just until combined, and fold in sweet potatoes. Pour by 1/4 cupfulls onto buttered hot griddle. When bubbles form on top, flip and cook a few minutes longer. Drizzle with brown sugar syrup and sprinkle with toasted pecans.

Brown Sugar Syrup
Makes just a bit more than enough for one batch of Sweet Potato Pancakes

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
pinch salt

Measure out ingredients into saucepan. Bring to a boil, and once sugar is dissolved, the syrup is ready.

Toasted Pecans
Heat dry saucepan over medium heat. Add about 1 cup of pecans to pan. Toast for about 5-7 minutes, stirring often. Once you really start to smell the pecans, they're close to done.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Perfect Picnic

Justin and I went to the DC zoo on this rainy Saturday, and we packed a perfect picnic lunch for it. We got a bit of a late start, so as we drove around looking for parking, we eagerly looked forward to eating our sandwiches as soon as we arrived. I came up with two different kinds that are a far cry from your typical PB&J. The first was a sunflower seed butter and apricot combo, and the second was fig, honey and provolone. Both were on multi-grain bread (the whole grain kind), and they were delicious! I think the fig, honey, and provolone sandwich would be even better if you toasted it and made it like a grilled cheese. I'd like to give that a try next time. If you have a toaster oven at your work like I do, it would be a great sandwich to bring in.

Along with our sandwiches, we had a gingergold farmer's market apple (nicely sweet-tart, and very crisp) and homemade double ginger cookies. After we found our parking spot, we enjoyed the sandwiches while the rain gently fell on the windshield. It was quite peaceful, and quite a delicious picnic lunch. The zoo was great, too! And can you believe the bird in the picture is a type of pigeon? Imagine if those were strutting around our cities.

Sunbutter and Apricot Sandwich
(Makes one sandwich -- I won't specify how much sunbutter and jam to use, that's up to you, but I like a lot)

Two slices multi-grain bread
Sunflower Seed Butter
Apricot Jam (the good kind, with apricots as the first ingredient and no high-fructose corn syrup)
3-4 dried apricots, minced, and scattered over the jam

Spread a thin layer of sunbutter on the first piece of bread, give a good heaping of apricot jam on top of that, sprinkle with apricot bits, then put
globs of sunbutter on the second piece of bread and top. By putting sunbutter on both pieces of bread, it will prevent the sandwich from getting soggy from the jam if you don't plan to eat it right away.

Fig, Honey, and Provolone Sandwich
(Makes one sandwich)

Two slices multi-grain bread
3 figs, rinsed and sliced into 1 cm pieces
1 slice provolone cheese
about 1 1/2 teaspoons honey

Layer the provolone on the first slice of bread, then place the figs evenly on top, and lastly drizzle the honey over the figs. Top with the second piece of bread.

Farmer's market apples: My favorites have been Gingergold and Honeycrisp. Also delicious are Gala, Fuji, and Golden Delicious. Most markets have descriptions of each apple, so they can help you find your favorite.

Double Ginger Cookies: I warn you, I'll give you the link to this recipe, but either the baking time or the oven temp are off. The directions say to bake the cookies for 18 minutes. I baked mine for 12, and they burned. The second time around I had them in for 9 minutes, and they still burned!! I had to scrape off the bottoms to salvage them. The flavor is very nice if you can get the baking time right, so it's worth a shot. But be aware that they don't get dark, so it's hard to tell if they're done or if they're going to burn. Here's the link, if you're brave enough.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Benjamin Muffins

Happy Autumn! In honor of the new season, I'm posting some very delicious, very Autumn muffins. These muffins were first made in honor of my cat, Benjamin. He had to be put down in August because he was very sick, and the medical treatment was more than we were able to afford. Before he got really sick, the vet suggested that I add pumpkin to his food to give him extra fiber. I had just started doing that before he died a couple of days later. Since I had a bunch of pumpkin in the fridge afterward that I didn't know what to do with, and because I needed a task to bring closure, I decided to make pumpkin muffins and name them after Benjamin. When Benjamin was alive, he used to flop down on the kitchen floor and hang out with me while I baked. He was good company.

These muffins are super moist because the pumpkin adds so much to them. There's no need to use butter when you have a main ingredient like pumpkin. You could also substitute sweet potato. The muffins are very high in fiber, not only from the pumpkin, but also from the cranberries, whole wheat flour, oats, and nuts. I was pleasantly surprised with the combination of flavors. Hope you enjoy them. And do take a moment to think of Benjamin while you make them.

Benjamin Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all purpose unbleached flour
4 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
big pinch nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 can pumpkin
3 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup cranberries

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a muffin pan.

2) Mix together dry ingredients in large bowl. Make a well in the center; set aside.

3) Mix together wet ingredients, including pumpkin. Add to dry ingredients and stir just until combined.

4) Fold in pecans and cranberries

5) Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until fork comes out clean.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Two Fig Breakfasts

I've discovered a love for figs this summer. Previously, I had truly disdained them because my only experience with them was through Fig Newtons. Ew. I always wanted to like Fig Newtons because they looked so nice and figgy, but they never failed to disapoint me. Also, I had heard about figgy pudding in old Christmas songs and thought it sounded lovely. Then I had flaming figgy pudding one year at Christmas (after it was blown out, of course) and you know, it wasn't all that great. I couldn't get past the burnt taste.

But this summer, I had seen fresh figs looking beautiful at Whole Foods. I was tempted every time. They are a little pricey, though (about $4 for 10 figs), so that deterred me for a few weeks. Then they went on sale for $3! It was time to give figs another chance. I chose Black Mission Figs, and they were pretty good. Then the next time, I bought the light green figs (even though they weren't on sale this time...I couldn't help myself). I love to cut one up and put it on my generic brand of Grape Nuts cereal (called "Crunchy Nuggets") along with a drizzle of honey and some almonds. It's just the best. So hearty and satisfying. And, you know, if you have one fig per day, like I did on my cereal, it's actually not too expensive. They go a long way.

Then the other discovery was with Whole Wheat Fig and Barley Pancakes. Toast some almonds to sprinkle on top and drizzle with warm honey...mmmm. It's not as cost effective as one fig per day, but it's a really tasty recipe adapted from the basic pancake recipe in the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. Here are the two figgy recipes (Newton- and flame-free).

Figgy Cereal

1/2 cup Grape Nuts style cereal
1 fig, cut into chunks
drizzle of honey, about 2 tablespoons
palmful of slivered almonds
milk as you like

Just throw everything in a bowl, mix around, and add the milk.

Whole Wheat Fig and Barley Pancakes
Yields 10 good-sized pancakes

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1 1/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup chopped figs
1/2 cup cooked barley (optional)

1 cup toasted almonds
Earth Balance or butter for cooking pancakes

Mix together dry ingredients in large bowl. Mix remaining egg, milk, and yogurt in separate bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir just enough to combine. Fold in barley and figs. Pour by 1/4 cupfuls onto greased griddle set at 400 degrees (or, if using a pan, it's probably medium heat) until bubbles form on top. Flip and cook for almost as long on the other side. While the cakes are cooking, heat a wide bottomed pan over medium heat. Add 1 cup slivered almonds and toast for about 5 minutes, shimmying the pan often. Check them frequently to make sure they don't burn. Top the pancakes with warm honey and toasted almonds.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Salmon Burgers

Salmon is my favorite fish, and could very well be my favorite source of meat protein. The texture is so smooth and buttery, and the flavor is great on its own or with other ingredients added to enhance it. Unfortunately, the high cost of salmon steaks and fillets prevent me from having it too often. That's why I was delighted to discover a recipe for Salmon Burgers using canned salmon. Granted, it's not as cheap as tuna fish, but it's a whole lot better than the $14.99/lb sample of salmon I recently had at Whole Foods. (It was divine, I tell you. Divine.) And actually, the cost of the salmon burger and bun (excluding any topping you might add) is less than 2 bucks! I think that's a good deal.

I used wild caught Whole Foods 365 Days brand of canned salmon. Canned salmon usually still has bones in it. The easiest way to take out the bones, without getting it all mixed in together, is to turn the can of salmon upside down on a plate or cutting board. Separate the round of salmon in half, and run your fingers down the middle to get rid of most of the bones. Don't worry about getting every last bit; they're soft and it's not a big deal if some of them end up in the burger.

I'm pretty sure I came across this recipe on the Alaska Seafood recipe, but it's not up on their website anymore. It's so easy. The main flavors are salmon, dijon mustard, and soy sauce. Just mix everything together and form into patties. We cook the burgers on the griddle. We've never tried them on the grill, but they seem substantial enough that they would hold together. This recipe makes four servings.

Salmon Burgers

15 oz. canned salmon, bones removed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1.5 tablespoon dijon mustard
3/4 cups plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup sliced green onion
1 egg

Mix it all together, form into patties, and cook on hot griddle (400 degrees) for about 5 minutes on each side. Serve on whole wheat buns with your choice of veggie toppings. Don't bother with ketchup or mustard; this burger doesn't need either one!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Crispy Oven Chips

There are people out there who probably think I'm crazy for using my oven in August. Since I bake all the time anyways, it's no big deal to me, and I don't notice an overwhelming difference in the comfort level of my apartment. Besides, I only recently perfected recipe for oven chips, so now I want to make them whenever we get potatoes. (If anyone has a suggestion for what to do with potatoes that doesn't involve heat, I would be interested in hearing it!).

These chips are so good plain or with some organic ketchup. In the past, potatoes have been overlooked for their nutritional benefits, but there is really a lot of good in them! They are a good source of carbohydrates, which anyone who does any physical activity needs. They are also a good source of protein, Vitamin C, and Potassium. I use extra virgin olive oil to give a good dose of healthy fat, and I sprinkle salt, pepper, and garlic powder to give it a nice flavor. And the secret ingredient? Halfway through baking, I scatter sesame seeds over the chips to give them extra crunch (plus extra fiber and protein). This is a great snack, side, or appetizer. Pair it with some organic ketchup, and then you get lycopene to boot!

Crispy Oven Chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

several potatoes (on the small side)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

(These measurements are estimates. Use more or less seasoning depending on your taste). Scrub potatoes well. Slice into 1/8 inch thickness. Drizzle a pan with a tiny bit of olive oil and use fingers to spread around pan to coat. Lay potatoes out on pan, being careful not to layer them too thick to avoid one slice getting buried under another. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle seasonings over potatoes, excluding sesame seeds. Toss to coat evenly. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, scatter sesame seeds, and use tongues to toss potatoes, making sure to rotate slices so that they brown evenly. Bake for 25 minutes longer. Remove from oven and enjoy! (Serves about 4 sides).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Blackberry Buckle

Today is Justin's birthday (yay, happy birthday Justin!!) One of his favorite desserts/brunch foods is Blueberry Buckle. Has anyone else heard of this, or is it just a Michigan thing? I had never heard of it before meeting Justin. It's very similar to coffee cake, but with berries. He requested it special for his birthday, so I set out to the farmer's market last weekend to get the main ingredient. Alas, there were no blueberries, only blackberries. I wanted it to be very fresh and flavorful, so I went with the blackberries instead of getting blueberries at a grocery store from somewhere far away. He didn't mind.

It's a recipe that started with his Grandma Kuk, and was then revised to be healthier by his mom. I have revised it even further to be even healthier (oh, there's always a way!). I have such a sweet tooth, and I love baked goods, but if I made them with the full amount of butter and used only white flour, I would have to exercise a lot more than I do. It's a fun challenge to try and make a not very healthy recipe much healthier by adding whole grains or using a lower fat substitute for butter and oil.

I substituted plain low-fat yogurt for the butter in the cake part of the recipe, but I used butter (actually, Earth Balance) for the crunch topping. Some things aren't worth trying to make healthier, and crunch topping is one of them. If you haven't noticed, I like to add nuts and oats to just about anything I can. I didn't want to do that to this recipe, since I already strayed from the original by using blackberries, but I found a way. I used a blend of almond flour, whole wheat flour, and oat flour. It was just a little experimentation, but it turned out well. You could just use a blend of whole wheat flour and white flour, or even all whole wheat flour, and it would still taste great. And feel free to use whatever berries you have. This recipe is fun to play around with. Hope you like it, because Justin and I sure do!

Blackberry Buckle
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cake Part:
1 cup turbinado sugar
1/3 cup plain, low-fat yogurt (drained of any extra liquid)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup almond flour (you can also just grind almonds in a food processor)
3/4 cup oat flour (same as above)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 cups blackberries (or any other type of berry)

Crunch Topping (mix with two knives until crumbly):
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 cup Earth Balance (a lower fat version of butter without the trans fat that most other margarines have)

Blend yogurt and sugar. Add eggs and blend. Stir in milk. Add dry ingredients. Blend in berries. Put in greased 12X9 inch pan. Top with crunch topping. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes until fork inserted comes out clean.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rustic Lemon Cornmeal Cake

Before my tastes started becaming more “refined”, I would never choose a lemon dessert over a chocolate one. I liked chocolate best, and that was that. But after experimenting with new recipes and broadening my tastes, I found that I actually prefer fruit desserts to chocolate ones. Of course, chocolate is still tops, but I’d rather have it in the form of a smooth, dark chocolate bar or a really good cup of cocoa. I’ve found that creamy chocolate ice cream or thick chocolate cake is both too rich and not chocolate-y enough, which is kind of a paradox.

For dessert, I’ve come to prefer fruit crisps or light cakes. This Rustic Lemon Cornmeal Cake recipe would have never excited me two years ago. I discovered it on epicurious.com, though, and it had a crazy amount of 4 star (or rather, 4 fork) reviews. I had to try it.

Let me tell you, I love it. It’s hard not to eat the whole cake. I made it for guests that were over this evening, and they loved it. I offered them half of the leftovers, but (I think out of politeness) they only accepted about a quarter of it. Now I have to restrain myself!

As I do in most desserts, I replaced half of the butter with plain low-fat yogurt, and substituted half of the all-purposed flour with whole wheat flour. You can’t even tell a difference. The cake is still light and moist (ew, I hate that word, but it’s apt), and quite lemon-y. We served it with fresh blueberries on top.

• 1 1/2 cups (packed) powdered sugar, sifted
• 2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon Juice

• 3/4 cups all purpose flour
• 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
• 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
• 3/4 cup sugar (I used turbinado)
• 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup buttermilk*
• 2 large eggs
• 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
• 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted, cooled
• 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt

For glaze:

Combine powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice in small bowl. Stir with spoon until smooth and paste-like, adding more lemon juice by 1/2 teaspoonfuls if glaze is too thick to spread. Set aside.

For cake:

1) Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides; line bottom with parchment (I use the bottom of the pan to trace a circle on the parchment paper; then I cut it out and it’s the perfect size).

2) Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl; whisk to blend. Whisk buttermilk, yogurt, eggs, lemon peel, and vanilla in small bowl. Pour buttermilk mixture and melted butter into flour mixture. Using rubber spatula, gently fold liquids into flour mixture until just blended (do not stir). Scrape batter into pan; spread evenly.

3) Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean and cake pulls away from sides of pan, about 30 minutes.

4) Immediately run knife around sides of cake. Place rack atop cake in pan. Using oven mitts, hold pan and rack firmly together and invert cake onto rack. Remove pan from cake. Place another rack on bottom of cake; invert 1 more time so that cake is top side up.

5) Stir glaze until blended. While cake is still very hot, drop glaze by tablespoonfuls onto cake; spread to within 1/2 inch of edge (some glaze may drip down sides of cake). Cool completely. Serve with berries of your choice.

*For buttermilk, you can combine 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar with enough milk to equal 1 cup. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Parmesan Rosemary Focaccia

I made this bread to use as buns for the Italian-style turkey burgers Justin and I made for guests last night. It came out really well, and looked so lovely with the crispy Parmesan cheese on top and the bits of rosemary. I must say, I’m not much of a rosemary fan, but it adds so much to this focaccia and really completes the bread.

I got this recipe from a downloadable recipe book that Manna Harvest sent me. (I had been poking around their website and added items to my cart that I never ended up buying). I followed the recipe exactly, which is rare for me, but it didn’t look like it needed any improvement. For those of you who have made bread and think it’s too much of a process, or for those of you who want to make bread but feel intimidated by the process, this is a good bread to make.

Yes, it’s still a process, but the mixing and kneading part isn’t too hard. It uses simple ingredients and takes a couple of hours from start to finish (with only about 30 of those minutes being active time). Make a double batch and freeze some for later. You can slice it lengthwise to use as sandwich bread, add it as a side to make a meal out of salad, or just snack on it. So…go for it!

Parmesan Rosemary Bread
Makes 1 “tray”

1 ½ cups unbleached bread flour
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
1 package instant yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1) In a large bowl, stir together flours and sea salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Sprinkle sugar and yeast into the well. Carefully pour the warm water into the well (I let the tap water get really hot and use that). Let stand until yeast begins to act, about 5 minutes (meaning a froth-like film will appear on top of the water).

2) Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into well. With a wooden spoon, stir the mixture in the center of the bowl. Gradually widen the circle of stirring to take in all of the flour at the sides of the well. Turn out on a floured surface and knead just until smooth.

3) Pour ½ teaspoon of oil into clean large bowl. Place dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with damp cloth and let rise until doubled, 30-45 minutes (I turn the oven on warm when I start making the dough, then turn it off right before I put it in the oven to rise).

4) Punch the dough down. Use 1 teaspoon olive oil to coat a smallish baking sheet and place the dough on the sheet. Gently press the dough out to about ½ inch thickness in order to cover the entire sheet, including corners. Drizzle remaining olive oil on top.

5) Use the handle end of a wooden spoon to dimple the dough at 1 ½ inch intervals. Sprinkle with rosemary and parmesan. Place in oven in the middle (it should still be warm from the previous rise). Let rise until doubled, 20-25 minutes. Turn the oven on to 375 degrees (without removing the bread). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Let cool (I kept the bread on the sheet, but balanced it on top of an overturned muffin pan to air the bottom of the sheet).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gourmet Camping

Camping. What does it make you think of? Bugs? Fire? S'mores? Hiking? Something that people don't usually think of when they get excited about camping is food. It's usually low-quality food that tastes great because you're so hungry after hiking all day. And there's nothing wrong with that, once in a while, but why not go all out on your camping trips? Think about it. Often people don't have time to cook during the work week. Camping is the perfect setting to take your time, because you happen to have a lot of time. It doesn't mean you have to lug a bunch of special kitchen tools to make a great campfire meal, it just takes creativity and prep work.

I love camping. I grew up doing it, and luckily, Justin is more of a camper than I am, so we're sure to be pitching many a tent in years to come. This past weekend, Justin and I went camping with my lovely cousin Steph and her wonderful husband Brian. We had oh so much fun gallavanting around Hocking Hills State Park. They were in charge of three lunches and snacks, and we were in charge of two breakfasts and two dinners.

Steph and Brian make their own bread (and it's so delicious!! The recipe is found in More with Less, called Oatmeal Bread, and they add flaxseeds and more whole wheat flour to the original recipe). We had filling sandwiches with deli meat, spicy mustard, and smoked provolone. They also made a big thing of Sweet Corn, Tomato, and Basil Salad, which came from one of my favorite food blogs. Snacks included carrots, trail mix, pretzels, and fruit. We had the same lunch and snacks for all three days, but this was just fine with us. It was delicious.

Day 1: Dinner for 4

Since Justin and I get veggies every week through our food co-op membership, we wanted to make sure to put those to good use on this trip. Our first meal was Cucumber Yogurt Salad (which we made the day before), whole wheat flat bread, and spicy Italian turkey sausage. It was fun to toast the sausages on a stick (except both of mine started to fall off and I had to finish cooking them in aluminum foil on the coals -- I think the trick is to poke the stick all the way through the sausage lengthwise). The coolness of the cucumber salad was a nice complement to the spicy sausage. Some of us wrapped the sausage in flat bread and some of us just had three separate components.

-Shady Grove Farms Spicy Italian Turkey Sausage (1.5 pieces per person)

-Whole Foods Whole Wheat Flatbread (1 piece per person, warmed in aluminum foil over fire grate)

-Cucumber Yogurt Salad (make ahead and keep chilled until ready to serve)

-S'mores (these need no description!)

Day 2: Breakfast and Dinner for 4

For breakfast the next morning we had blueberry- and peach-filled pancakes. They were so delicious, and a really great way to start a long day of hiking. We used Krusteaz Whole Wheat Complete Pancake mix. I added about a teaspoon of cinnamon to the mix (using the 18-21 pancake ratio -- it really only makes about 12 good-sized pancakes). Then I added 1 cup each of blueberries and diced peaches. We sprinkled the extra fruit on top and drizzled with honey. We used a camping pans to cook them over our Coleman stove. Wonderful!

Dinner that night was a bit more involved, but still very easy. My inspiration came from a couple of Real Simple recipes that I had torn out of the magazine last June and then forgot about. The first was a salad of Chard with Pine Nuts and Feta (we could have scavenged those pine nuts! says Steph), and the second was grilled potatoes and onions which led me to make...Hobo pies! Hobo pies are veggies, beans, meat, cheese, or whatever you want to put in a tightly packed aluminum foil pocket and cook over hot coals. They're really versatile and you can spice them any way you like. We used potatoes, red onions, cannellini beans, balsamic vinegar, oil, Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning, salt, and pepper. We peeled and chopped and dumped everything in a big bowl, then divided it into four portions, placing each portion into a square of aluminum foil. Be sure to fold over and seal each pocket well, and then fold and seal it again with a second piece of aluminum foil. The last thing you want is to watch your delicious Hobo pie go tumbling into the coals. This was a wonderfully filling and healthy meal, especially with some of the leftover Sweet Corn, Tomato, and Basil Salad that needed to be eaten.

-Krusteaz Complete Pancake Mix (add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and two cups of fruit to the 18-21 amount, and you'll get about 3-4 thick pancakes per person)

-Coffee (boil water on Coleman stove and use with French Press, or use stovetop percolator)

-Chard with Pine Nuts and Feta
(I didn't follow this exactly -- I just threw all the ingredients together and didn't sautee anything. It still tasted great!)
1 bunch rinsed and chopped chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) crumbled low fat Feta
dash Balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
Combine everything in large bowl and toss.

-Hobo Pies
1 1/2 pounds peeled, diced potatoes
1 red onion, sliced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
1 14 oz. can cannellini beans, drained
a good sprinkling of Mrs. Dash
salt and pepper

Peel onions and dice. Slice red onion. Place in large bowl. Add oil, vinegar, beans, and seasonings. There's really no need to measure ingredients, just eyeball it. Or, prepare the dressing beforehand and pour over potatoes, onions, and beans once you're ready to make the Hobo pies. Toss everything together and divide evenly among four large squares of aluminum foil. For each portion, fold one half of foil toward the middle, then close the other half over the middle. Roll in the edges to form a tight seal. Repeat with another square of aluminum foil over the original packet. Place over hot coals and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove with sticks. If potatoes break easily with a fork, it's done.

Day 3: Breakfast for 4: Fruity Oatmeal and Coffee
As you know, I love oats. I haven't been eating oatmeal in the summer, since it's hot, but the cooler morning air at Hocking Hills made it so that oatmeal was a great breakfast option. We added everything to these oats. We were planning to add honey, cinnamon, and raisins, but then we also had leftover blueberries, peaches, and bananas. The result was jam-packed oatmeal with lots of flavor and fiber. It's good fuel to either do more hiking or take down your camp site. We had chosen a walk-in site, so we lugged all of our stuff a quarter mile in a few trips. We didn't regret it, though, since the main campground had people packed in like sardines. This oatmeal gave us great energy to pack up our gear.

6 cups rolled oats
5 cups water
1 cup diced peaches
1 cup blueberries
2 bananas
1 cup raisins
cinnamon to taste (I used about 3 teaspoons)
honey to taste (I used about 1/2 cup)

Bring water to a boil. Add oats, simmer until most of the water is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Add cinnamon and honey, stir well. Stir in fruit. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summer Smoothie

Growing up, my older brother was always making smoothies. He would add a bit of fruit and a bit of ice, blend it up, taste it. Add a little more milk, maybe a little juice, more ice. Always more ice. Then he would share some with us, and it unfailingly tasted great. We all loved going to Orange Julius with my mom when we went on mall trips as young kids. The Orange Julius’ tasted so smooth and creamy, and I loved the name of them: Julius. I liked saying it.

Yesterday afternoon, I decided to make my version of a smoothie. It’s not just fruit, dairy, and ice. There are a few surprising ingredients as well: almond meal, oats, and wheat germ. I use yogurt instead of milk, and it makes one thick, satisfying smoothie. You can use any fruit you want. The general rule is a few pieces of fruit at ¼ cup to ½ cup each.

Summer Smoothie
Serves 1

1 tablespoon almond butter
¼ cup yogurt
1 small banana
½ peeled peach
¼ cup blueberries
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
2 ice cubes

Add everything to blender and blend. Adjust the amount of ice or add milk depending on how thick you like your smoothie. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blueberry Squash Muffins

I just love muffins. They’re so friendly. But before I say any more about muffins, I need to clarify which kind I like. There are the kind that are just cute-shaped cakes that don’t do much more for you than normal cake would, and then there are the kind that are more bread-like and wholesome. Not too dry, but not really oily either. With oats. This is the kind I love.

Justin loves them too. Last summer we were visiting my grandparents’ house in western New York. My aunt had brought muffins, and my grandma had made granola, and there was good toast, and a lot of breakfast options in general. So I asked Justin if he wanted a muffin or toast with his granola. He had just woken up and was still kind of stumbling around. He hadn’t said too many words yet. In a rather mid-westerner accent, he croaked out “MAHFIN.” I started laughing at him and promptly imitated the way he said muffin. Now it’s a running joke whenever there is a muffin in the room.

So for this batch of muffins, I had a lot of yellow squash on hand. Also, my co-worker had brought some blueberries into work that, surprisingly, no one was really eating. So I snagged those (don't worry, I'll bring in the muffins tomorrow for everyone) and decided to combine the two ingredients into a delicious, wholesome, and very friendly muffin.

I based these particular muffins on a zucchini bread recipe from foodnetwork.com, and I tweaked it quite a bit. I usually substitute plain yogurt or applesauce, or both, for oil found in baked goods recipes, but this time I used a combination of all three. I used yellow squash instead of zucchini, added blueberries and walnuts, and used a blend of whole wheat, oat, and white flour instead of just using white flour.

Blueberry Squash Muffins
Makes 12

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all purpose unbleached flour
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated yellow squash or zucchini
1 cup blueberries
1 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray and lightly flour muffin tin.

1) Stir dry ingredients, except oats, in large bowl. Stir in oats last. Make a well in the center. Set aside.

2) Whisk together wet ingredients in medium bowl. Add wet ingredients to center well and stir just until combined (don’t over stir – it will give you dense muffins).

3) Add squash, blueberries, and almonds and stir just a bit more until everything is combined.

4) Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until fork comes out clean.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Old Favorite

Sometimes what you plan to cook doesn’t end up happening. I used to get all upset over this, but after a few times of not having a key ingredient, or discovering the key ingredient has gone bad, I decided it’s better to either just try something new or fall back to an old favorite. Luckily, my laid-back husband has already adopted this policy. Last night I had to work late because of a meeting. The plan was for Justin to cook a whole chicken, and we would eat some of it with leftover pasta salad and coleslaw. The rest of the chicken we would use later in the week or freeze (whole chickens are great deals, as my sister had been telling me for years). Unfortunately, I far underestimated the time it would take for the chicken to defrost in the fridge. Justin had to defrost it in many changes of water. He realized that by the time it was defrosted and baked, it would be bedtime. So he whipped up one of our old favorites: rice and beans. He still made the chicken, and it was done by bedtime, but we just threw it in the fridge to pick apart later.

I discovered my love of black beans while spending time in Central America. Oh, they are so delicious and healthy. They’re packed with fiber and, when paired with rice or another grain, are a great source of protein. Studies have been showing that fiber helps fight fat. When the fiber is digested, it actually takes some fat out of the body with it. (I’ll dig around for the article and post it here when I get a chance). This is great news if you’re trying to lose weight, or even if you’re not trying to lose weight but want to enjoy a small dessert, like I do just about every day.

So back to the rice and beans. It’s basically the recipe from the back of the Goya can, but I’ll post it here so you can be inspired to make it yourself. (And actually, it’s a much better deal if you buy dried beans and prepare those according to the package directions. Less sodium too.)

I like to have rice and beans with cheese quesadillas on the side. Use whole wheat tortillas and a few slices of cheddar. Add some crushed red pepper if you’re adventurous. Fold it over and cook on a skillet over medium heat for a couple minutes on each side. You can also chop up a tomato to have on the side, slice an avocado, make salsa…this old favorite can be dressed up in many ways!

Rice and Beans
(Serves 4-6)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup minced onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup minced green pepper
2 cans, or 32 oz., black beans
1 cup water
2 teaspoons oregano
2 packets Sazon Goya (a seasoning found in the Hispanic section of grocery stores)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar

2 cups brown rice
4 cups water

1) Make brown rice (I use a rice cooker – if you don’t have one, combine rice and water in saucepan, bring to a boil uncovered, then cover and reduce heat to low. Rice will take about 45 minutes).
2) Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and pepper; cook for about 8-10 minutes until tender.
3) Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. The mixture will thicken a bit.