Saturday, August 30, 2008

Low Fat Oatmeal Cookies

A more accurate name would have been "low fat oatmeal chocolate chip cranberry cookies" since each nook and cranny of this cookie is chuck full of goodies. Just the way I like it. These are also great with coffee on mornings.

2 tbsp butter
2 oz fat free cream cheese
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups whole oats
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Beat together butter, cream cheese, sugar until light an fluffy.
3. Whisk in egg, vanilla, extract and milk.
4. In a separate bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and 1 cup of the whole oats.
5. Using a spatula, mix the flour mixture to the cream cheese mixture. Fold in the remaining oats, chocolate chips, and dried cranberries.
6. Drop approximately 2 tablespoons of batter per cookie unto cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, pat-a-rice-cake

If you ever wanted an alternative way of serving rice, rice cakes are it. Either as a side dish or as part of an entree, these are a great way of adding more fiber to your diet. With two cups of broccoli and substituting brown rice for white rice, these small patties pack a heavy fiber punch.

Brown Rice and Broccoli Cakes
Makes 6 to 8

1 shallot, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cup broccoli florets
2 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1/3 cup bread crumbs
3 tbs dijon mustard
3 tbs olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 whole carrot, grated
salt and pepper

1. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, shallots, and garlic. Saute for two minutes. Add broccoli, season lightly with salt and pepper and continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Once broccoli has cooked, and cooled, add to food processor and mince finely.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine minced broccoli, rice, and the remaining ingredients. Combine throughly.
4. Using a 3.5 inch circular cookie cutter, form 1 inch thick rice patties. Transfer to a well greased baking sheet
5. Place oven rack in the middle of oven and turn on broiler. Bake patties for ten minutes on each side. Remove baking sheet from oven, and allow patties to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before servings. This time is also necessary for the starches to set so that they don't fall apart.

Namaste Cafe and a Smoothie Recipe

Two days ago we had lunch at Namaste Cafe, a small Nepalese restaurant in Uptown. The big pluses here are that most dishes are made from organic ingredients and there is a wide selection of vegeterian options to chose from. In fact, each dish has both a meat and vegetable option. Now, I am not vegetarian, but I do try to incorporate a healthy balance of meat and veggies in my routine. Thus, it is always favorable to find an establishment where it is easy to maintain personal dietary habits.

One might be tempted to characterize Namaste as just another Indian restaurant. Absolutely incorrect for, although similar spices are used, and there is definitely a slight Indian undertone, the main dishes are unique to Nepalese cuisine. For example, the soy bean dhal soup is a pureed dhal suspension with the added taste of soy beans. Not your typical dhal. 

This was by no means my first visit to Namaste; I even have my favorites: kamandu curry- a delicious mix of fresh tomatoes, onions, turmeric, cumin and other spices served with either tofu or chicken- and mamacha - small, soft dumplings filled with just a taste of lamb or chicken. It was the first time however that I ordered their mango lassi.

If you knew me, you would know that I never order milk or diary based drinks. I just don't associate them with eating out. In addition, they are usually in such large serving sizes that I can never finish one. (Just a little quirk I have.) Well, there is always a first time for everything. Maybe it was the ambiance: outdoor seating, colorful garden scape, the fact that, in late August, we could still dine outdoors. Surprisingly, Nasmaste's lassi was just the right serving size for me, about eight ounces. I was used to  mango lassis that are thick and too sweet. This was the opposite, light, airy and just the right amount of sweetness. 

The following day, I was inspired to make a "mango lassi smoothie." Smoothies are the ultimate pick-me-up on mornings. They are also a great pre- or post-workout drink. The best part is that you just add all ingredients to a blender and press start.

Mango Lassi Smothie 

1 cup frozen mango cubes
1/2 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup fat free vanilla soy milk
1 tbs. honey
pinch of ground nutmeg

Instructions: Blend. Pour. Enjoy.

Namaste Cafe
2512 Hennepin Ave. S. 
Minneapolis, Mn 55405
(612) 827-2496

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Coconut Shrimp Spring Rolls

I prefer spring rolls with only a few ingredients. What I like most about making them, however, is the versatility. There is an endless assortment of ingredients which can be used for the filling. I, myself, am partial to tofu and shrimp but in the past I have had many traditional and not so traditional combinations of meat and vegetables, the most notable of which was fried rice and raisins.

This recipe is also a non-traditional twist but it incorporates flavors that are common in east asian cooking. In particular, coconut, fish sauce, and chili flakes.

Coconut Shrimp Spring Rolls
Makes 6 to 8 rolls

1 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 cup red wine
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp chili flakes ( more or less depending on desired spice level)
1/2 lbs raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
salt and pepper to season shrimp
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut
6 to 8 rice paper sheets
1 to 2 cups warm water in a deep plate or shallow bowl

1. Whisk together fish sauce, red wine, olive oil, and chili flakes. Set this marinade aside.
2. Season shrimp lightly with salt and ground black pepper. In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, cook shrimp for 1 to 2 minutes on each side until cooked through. Transfer to marinade, mix well and set aside.
3. To assemble rolls:
a. Working one at a time, soak a rice paper sheet in warm water until soft and pliable. Set on a paper towel or tea cloth.
b. Place 2 tablespoon of cabbage on the end closest to you. To that, add a teaspoon of toasted shredded coconut and finally two or three shrimp.
c. Fold the vertical sides about 1 inch inwards, then pull the horizontal end closet to you up and over the filling. Continue rolling up and away from you until you reach the other edge.
d. Continue steps a. to c. until all the filling ingredients have been used up.
4. Any left over marinade can be used as a dipping sauce.

Clockwise from top right: toasted shredded coconut, shredded cabbage, marinade.

Cooked shrimp in marinade.

Assembling spring rolls (step 3.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mixed Fruit Pie with Peanut Pate Brisee

You know the song that's stuck in your head that you can't get rid off? You sing it in the shower, waiting in line at the grocery, whenever you have a quite moment it is the first thought that pops into your head. To make matters worse, it is not even a song you like. Most likely an annoying commercial jingle.

Well, this describes my relationship with peanuts, in a nut shell (pun intended.) I like other nuts: cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, but not peanuts. Yet, I do eat them time and again. My own mystery of the ages. Recently, I even had an unsual obsession with peanut butter and had been working on a recipe for peanut pate brisee. 

Peanuts are quite popular in East Asian cooking which is a frequent part of my dining routine, and honey roasted peanuts are a standard street snack in the Caribbean. Thus, my present and past are spotted with peanut (or dare I say "nutty") experiences. Could it be that I find a sense of familiarity or that I want a reminder of those times? Maybe. Either way, mine is an odd relationship with America's most popular legume.

That's right, peanuts are actually legumes much like peas and beans. They grow under the ground unlike true nuts which grow on trees. Just like their legume cousins, peanuts are rich in protein and, like true tree nuts, they are rich in good unsaturated fats. Of course, too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad idea. A diet with too much unsaturated (although they are called the "good" fats) can be harmful. Remember, excess fat can contribute to and/or complicate many health problems.

Mixed Fruit Pie with Peanut Pate Brisee

1 peach
1 apple
2 cups blueberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1 tbsp of all purpose flour
1/4 tsp corn starch
peanut pate brisee (see recipe below)

1. Set oven to 400 degrees F. 
2. Dice the peach and apple. Add to a large bowl, together with blueberries, sugar, lime juice, spices, 1 tablespoon all purpose flour and cornstarch. Mix well and refrigerate until ready to use.
3. On a well floured surface. roll one piece of pate brisee into a 10 " disc. Gently place into a well greased pie dish, cutting off any excess dough. Bake blind at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove from oven.
4. Meanwhile, roll the second half of the pate brisee into 9 to 10 " round disk. Refrigerate until ready to use.
5. Fill bottom pie shell with fruit mixture. Cover with top pie crust, either as a whole or in strips to form a crisscross pattern.
6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 45 to 50 minutes. If the crust darkens too quickly, then cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Peanut Pate Brisee
1 cup peanuts, toasted
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp cold water

1. In a food processor, grind peanuts to a powdery consistency. 
2. Add peanuts, whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, sugar and salt to a large mixing bowl. Combine well.
3. Mix in butter until the flour mixture looks like sea sand. Add 1/4 cup of cold water and combine until it all comes together into a ball, adding the extra 2 tablespoons of water as needed. Continue to work into a smooth ball. 
4. Cut pate brisee into two pieces, wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tropical Fruit Nirvana

My recent acquisition: tropical fruit.   

Since Saul is from the NYC, we typically would make at least two trips out there each year to visit his family and to refill my inventory of the ethnic ingredients and foods I use often but which are quite difficult to find here. And to get fruit. Tropical, exotic fruit. Rambutan. Chennette. Haitian mangoes. Longhan. At the risk of sounding cliche, there is no place like New York ....when it comes to fruit. My experience has been that the freshest, sweetest, ripest, and every kind of exotic fruit can be found there.

The past six months have been very hectic for us which meant that could we did not travel as often. So this month, his father flew to Minneapolis instead, and brought with him everything we would typically get  there. Trinidadian black (rum) cake, which is a popular Christmas dessert on the island but found throughout the year at Caribbean stores in NYC, cassava (yucca) pudding, and dhalpouries, Trinidadian-Indian flatbreads filled with seasoned, ground split peas. And the fruit. So much good fruit. I feel privileged. Like a spoilt child refusing to share her sweets or new toys. 

Being a proponent of new experiences, especially when it comes to food, I am posting pictures with a link to additional information on these three fruit: rambutan, lychee, and longan. They look different on the outside, are very similar in the inside but all have a unique flavor. For those who are new to exotic fruit, I hope this serves as encouragement to try something new soon.


On the inside. Left to right: rambutan, lychee, longan

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pucker up for good health: the benefits of grapefruit

Pink grapefruit 

Among cirtus fruits, the grapefruit is probably many people's least favorite. Its bitter quality is an acquired taste, a taste which some people mask by sprinkling with sugar or drowning in honey. In terms of health, in particular antioxidants, this citrus fruit has many nutritional properties.

An easy way to get around the bitterness, and to avoid loading up on unnecessary sugar calories, is to remove the white pith which surrounds the pulp. Of course, by eating it this way, much of the nutritious fiber is removed. (With the pith, a grapefruit has six grams of your daily fiber requirement; without the pith, you still get about two grams. ) That is not to say that the pulp contains nothing nutritious. On the contrary.

When it comes to vitamin C, grapefruit is almost on par with oranges. It packs an astounding 78% of our daily requirement. And we all know how important vitamin C is to our bodies. Besides boosting our immune system and preventing colds, this vitamin is an important antioxidant, helping to neutralize free radicals both inside and outside of our cells. As a result, grapefruit has been associated with preventing many inflammatory conditions, in particular asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin C's antioxidant property has also been linked to a reduced of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Grapefruit pulp

Additionally, grapefruit is also high in lycopene, another antioxidant beneficial in the fight against cancer. Scientists have found an association between lycopene and the risk of colon cancer: a diet rich in lycopene has been shown to reduce men's risk of developing this form of cancer. Furthermore, it has been found that grapefruit and other citrus pulp contain compounds called glucarates may reduce the risk of breast cancer in women.

So whether you choose to have it for breakfast or freshly squeezed as a drink, or even brulee- which I discovered recently- consider grapefruit as part of your plan for a healthy lifestyle.

Schadt, David. "Just the grapefruit facts- health and nutritional benefits of grapefruit."
           Nutrition Action Health Letter. Jan-Feb, 1997.

"Grapefruit." The World's Healthiest Foods.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hot Pepper and Garlic Beef

1 1/2 lbs round steak, cut in 4 equal pieces
1 small scotch bonnet pepper
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced finely
4 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt 

1. With gloves on, finely mince scotch bonnet pepper. Add to grated ginger and minced garlic and combine well. Divide into four.
2. In a large bowl, assemble steak and seasonings as follow: place one piece of steak on the bottom of bowl and spread 1 tsp on olive oil on top followed by one fourth of the seasonings. Place another layer on top and continue layering with seasonings and meat until all four pieces of steak have been properly coated with olive oil and seasonings. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
3. Remove from refrigerator and season with salt.
4. Heat skillet over medium high heat. Cook each piece of steak for 3 to 4 minutes on either side for medium rare, 4 to 5 minutes for medium.
5. Cover cooked meat with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Cut into thin slices and serve.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Low Fat Almond White Chocolate Blondies

Last night, we went for a walk around the lake. Gorgeous. It was around eight so the tail end of the sunset was just visible on the horizon. Lights from the buildings on the edge were shimmering on the water. There was a slight breeze, gentle, and cool. In other words, a extraordianry late summer night in Minneapolis.

Then this morning I awoke, nasal. Sneezing. Itchy eyes. Itchy throat. Even my eyebrows were itching! A full blown allergy attack. And it's all my fault. I had totally forgotten that peak pollen times are early in the morning and late evenings. My entire day can be ruined from an allergy attack if I don't take proper precautions, namely an allergy pill before bedtime. So mesmerized was I by the seemingly idyllic lake walk, that medicating was the last thing on my mind. Well I paid for that lack in judgement. All. Day. Long. Few things are worse that an allergy attack for me.

On the up side, I discovered something about myself: even at my most irritable, I still enjoy cooking. My plan for today was: exercise, shopping, and baking. I cancelled the first two but, after taking zyrtec and being semi-unconscious until 2 pm, I made my best recipe for blondies.

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda 
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup part skimmed ricotta cheese
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
1 egg
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup slivered almonds plus 1/4 cup
1/3 cup white chocolate chips

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Toast 1/3 cup of almonds and set aside.
3. Combine flour, almond powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
4. Using a hand held electric mixer, whisk together the ricotta and sugar, until light and fluffy, about one minute.
5. Whisk in egg, followed by sour cream, and almond extract.
6. Add flour mixture in two batches, whisking well between additions.
7. Fold in white chocolate chips and toasted slivered almonds. Pour into an 8x8 baking pan. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup untoasted almonds. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
8. Remove pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cook for 15 minutes. Cut blondie into squares and cool completely.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Edamame Succotash

One aspect I admire in the traditional Native American culture was their ability to work with nature, not rushing the seasons but making good use of the bounties of each one. Succotash is an example of this wholeness with nature. Invented by the Native Americans themselves, this dish consisted mainly of lima beans and corn, two crops that grew abundantly, each with unique characteristics. Lima beans are full of protein while corn packed a high concentration of starch. Combined, they made a wholesome, nutritious meal which supplemented daily activities.

Succotash has survived history while being transformed into a dish that spans more than just a combination of lima beans and corn. In the southern United States, a mixture of vegetables and lima beans are combined with butter. In some parts of the midwest, green beans and lima beans are combined. In other places, kidney beans are substituted for lima beans.

In a small kitchen in Minneapolis, edamame and lima beans are mixed with red peppers, red onion and rosemary pecans, and tossed in a tangy key lime dressing.

Edamame Succotash

1 cup shelled edamame, already steamed
1 can red kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup diced red onions
1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
1 red red bell pepper, diced
1 cup rosemary honey pecans (optional; see recipe below)
key lime dressing (see recipe below)

Combine all ingredients and toss well. Chill before serving.

Key Lime Vinaigrette
5-6 key limes, juiced
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp pepper flakes
3 tbsp grape seed oil
1 tbsp red wine
sea salt and pepper

1. Whisk together lime juice and sugar until sugar disolves.
2. Add pepper flakes and grape seed oil until a slight emulsion forms. Whisk in red wine and season with salt and pepper.

Rosemary Honey Pecans
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper
4 cups pecan halves

1. In a sauce pan over medium heat. add honey, rosemary and chili powder. Cook for two minutes until honey has liquified.
2. Remove pan from heat and toss pecans thoroughly until well coated. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Spread out on a baking sheet and allow to cool.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Roasted Cornish Hens for Two

Last year, a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, we were at the airport getting ready to board a plane for a quick trip to New York. At the newsstand, I picked up a cooking magazine with instructions on planning a flawless Thanksgiving dinner. Since that upcoming Thanksgiving would be my first time hosting dinner at our new apartment, the first time I would make dinner for Thanksgiving period, I thought, why not give it a try. After all, I really wanted to host an unforgettable dinner so I could use all the advice I can get. The day came and went and my mission was accomplished and I was left with the best technique for roasting the perfect turkey. The key is brining. The result is the most succulent meat.

I decided to employ this method with cornish hens; it is a smart way of roasting poultry to get added flavor and to prevent the meat from drying out without having to add a ton of butter. You are probably thinking this is a lot of work for such a small bird. Yes it is but the results are worth it. And with a little planning, this should not be a tedious endeavor.

Roasted Cornish Hens for Two

For the Brine:
10 - 12 cups water
3/4 cup sea salt
3/4 cup honey
1 large bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns

1 tbsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
2 small bunches fresh cilantro

2 whole cornish hens (1 to 1 1/2 lbs each)

1. Bring the brine ingredients to a boil. Allow to cool to room temperature. Place hens in brine, cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least eight hours. Remove the birds from the brine and rinse with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
2. Set oven to 400 degrees F. Place hens in a roasting pan and season liberally with dried thyme, salt and pepper, remembering to also season the cavity. Stuff the cavity of each bird with a handful of fresh cilantro. Roast in oven for 1 hour, rotating 180 degrees halfway through. If you find that the birds are getting too dark too quickly, cover with foil and continue to roast. Remove from the oven, and let rest, covered in foil, for 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Saul's Birthday Cake

Today is Saul's birthday! Here is the cake I made for him.

Vanilla Cake with Fresh Raspberry Filling

1 1/3 cups cakes flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup part skimmed ricotta cheese
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 vanilla bean pod
1/2 cup low fat evaporated milk
4 eggs whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

1/2 cup fat free cream cheese
1/4 granulated brown sugar
1 pint fresh raspberries (plus more for garnish)

Frosting (see notes below)
8 oz fat free cream cheese, softened
2/3 cups plus 4 tbsp confectioner's sugar, softened. See notes. 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans. Set aside.
2. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. 
3. With an electric hand mixer, whisk together butter and ricotta cheese. Add 3/4 cup of the sugar and cream together until the mixture becomes fluffy and has lightened in color, up to three minutes. 
4. Split the vanilla bean pod and carefully scrape out all the "pulp". Add vanilla "pulp", evaporated milk, and vanilla extract. Mix well. In two batches, add flour mixture, beating well between additions. 
5.  In a separate bowl, whisk eggs whites and cream of tartar until medium stiff peaks form. Add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. Mix in a half of eggs whites into  batter, until properly incorporated. Gently fold in the remaining half. 
6. Divide the mixture into two 8" cake pans, previously greased and floured. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Carefully remove the cakes from pans and cool completely on wire racks. 
7. To assemble: Place one cake round on a cake dish or cake stand. Spread filling mixture evenly on top, being careful not to spill down the sides. Place the second cake round on top of the filling. Cover with frosting. Garnish with reserved raspberries.

To prepare filling:
Whisk together sour cream and sugar. Gently fold in whole raspberries.

To prepare frosting:
Whisk together all ingredients until light and fluffy.

1. To sweeten the frosting, you can use up to 1 cup of confectioner's sugar. I achieved the right level of sweetness with a little less. 
2. You can also shape the cakes into squares the way I did here. 
3. I tend to use dark brown sugar in most of my recipes because I find it enhances both the flavor and color. However, light brown sugar or granulated sugar can be substituted. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My First Blog Award!

Today I was awarded my first blog award from Srimathi of Five Minute Wonders!! What a pleasant surprise. It always feels good to be recognized for one's efforts. Thanks Srimathi!!!

I will keep the goodwill flowing by passing it on to:

Reeni of Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice

Michael of Herbivoracious

A Late Summer Fruit and Ruby Tartlets

It is difficult to imagine anything but snow and sleet in Minnesota, but we do get gorgeous spring and summer days. It even gets all the way up to the nineties. This year for the first time, I spent the entire summer months here. No traveling, just enjoying the local scene. I must say, I was quite surprised. Summers here are filled with activity or so it seems. I get the feeling some times people prefer to simply be outside without having an agenda. Quite a difference from the winter months when there really seems like NO ONE is outdoors.  

I  have spent many summer vacations on the east coast; bordering on unbearable. The humidity can be almost suffocating. The same can be said for the hottest days in the Caribbean. So, when I hear Minnesotans talk about the humidity, I just shake my head and think they  have no idea how great this is.  More than just the climate. The greenery, sports, attractions, and not to forget the  food. The restaurant scene takes on a life of its own from May to August. Outdoor dining, grilled summer vegetables, Minnesotan wines, and  the icing on the cake, easy parking. Although Minneapolis is the  second largest city in the midwest, after Chicago, we feel almost privileged  because of the joyful ease with which restaurant parking can be here. It is as though you own the city: decide to eat out, get dressed, get in car, pull up to restaurant, and, right there, is parking. Usually. 

Although it might be sort (the nights are now a little cooler, an indication that summer days are numbered,) summer 2008 in Minneapolis is fabulous. Weekly canoe trips, outdoor dining, lake walks, summer fruit. Oh sweet, delicious, colorful, summer fruit. Raspberries, watermelon, blueberries, but alas, all good things come to an end. Luckily, when one door closes another opens, or more,  appropriately,  when one fruit harvest ends another begins. 

Enter the pluot.  A late summer fruit, (harvested at the end of July and available into August) this hydrid plum-apricot has a sweet, delicate flavor reminiscent more of a plum than an apricot. Of the different varieties available, my personal favorite is the  Dapple Dandy. Blotchy on the outside with a bright, ruby red interior (hence the name of this recipe), it peels readily which makes it easy to use. Even though summer is coming to an end, there is not reason not to explore the juicy bounty of tail end. And what better way that a little piece of tartlet heaven?

Ruby Tartlets 
Makes 8

1 cup pecans
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 egg
2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 can low fat evaporated milk
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp corn starch
3 tbsp fat free cream cheese
2 large pluots, peeled and sliced thinly

1. Set oven to 375 degrees F. Spray muffins tins and set aside.
2. In food processor, grind pecans until almost the same texture as the graham cracker crumbs.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground pecans, graham cracker crumbs, egg, oil and sugar until it all comes together.
4. Divide pecans mixture in each muffin cup, two and a half tablespoons in each. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, spread out the mixture so that it comes up the sides of each cup. Bake for 20 minutes. Immediately remove from muffin tin and cool on a wire rack. Reduce oven to 350 degrees F.
4. In a heavy sauce pan over medium high heat, whisk together evaporated milk, honey, cream cheese and corn starch. Cook custard for 20 to 25 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thickened.
5. Place tart shells onto a well greased cookie sheet. Spoon enough custard into each shell, being careful not to spill down the sides. Arrange three or four pluot slices on top of custard and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until custard sets further. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Homemade Cheese Bread

There is only one baked good that has the ability to make me pace around the kitchen, peeking into the oven every two minutes,  like a five year old waiting for cookies to cool. Bread.  Pan . Pain. Brot. Pane.  Whatever you may call it, baking bread is truly joyful baking. Since those sunny weekends of my childhood when my grandmother and mother would bake for the following work week, I have had an addiction to making and, of course, consuming bread. Undoubtedly, baking takes me back to those carefree days and in a strange way, I feel connected to my family at that moment. Evidence, maybe, that the family that cooks or bakes together stays together, even though they may be separated by hundred of miles?

There is also a great sense of accomplishment creating the perfect loaf of bread. For me, this took a lot of practice. I initially started as a "combiner" combining flour, yeast, sugar, etc., in the way my mother taught me, without an appreciation for the specific role of the ingredients or the method. Kneading the dough is the most important part of the entire bread making process. This I learned the hard way. Literally. I remember once combining the ingredients for dinner rolls  and kneading it for just a few seconds, just long enough for it all to come together but not long enough for the gluten to develop.  I must have also erred on the liquid measurements. Instead of dinner rolls, I essentially made edible tennis balls that night. Thankfully those days are long gone, and I am proud to post this cheese bread recipe. (Bread and cheese. Who can go wrong?)  The best part: no waiting for anything to cool!

Homemade Cheese Bread
Makes 2 loaves

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp  sugar
1 cup warm water (110 to 120 degrees F)
1 cup grated cheese (of your choice)

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix yeast, sugar and only 1/2 cup of the whole wheat flour. Add the warm water, mix until combined and set aside for ferment until foamy, about ten to 15 minutes. 
2. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 cup of whole wheat flour, all purpose flour and salt. 
3. Once the yeast mixture is foamy, add the dry flour mixture. Using a large spoon or your fingers ( I prefer the latter),  combine flour and yeast mixtures until combined. 
4. Remove to a floured work surface. Flatten slightly and add grated cheese on top of dough. Carefully knead cheese into dough, about 5 minutes, until a smooth elastic ball forms and all the cheese had been properly incorporated. Place dough in a well greased bowl, cover with a tea cloth and set in a dry warm place to rise, about an hour, until doubled in size.
5. After an hour, punch the dough to remove air. Divide into two pieces. Form each into a smooth ball and flatten slightly, until 3 inches thick. Place on greased baking sheet, cover with tea cloth and leave to rise again until doubled in size, an additional hour. Make slanted score marks on each loaf using a sharp serrated knife. 
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake bread for 25 to 30 minutes until beautifully golden brown on the outside. 
7. Remove from oven, but please, do not wait to eat!!! Warm bread is one of life's simple pleasures. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sweet Potato Salad

I prefer to use sweet potatos over regular white potatoes whenever I can. They are a low glycemic index food which means that it doesn't create that sudden spike followed by a quick drop in your blood sugar level like regular potatoes. Why is this so important, you may ask. Low glycemic foods release sugar into the blood stream at a more even rate than high glycemic foods which are broken down quickly and its sugars released almost all at once. This sudden spike in blood sugar level results in higher than normal insulin levels in the blood stream. Many researchers have agreed that this reaction leads to complications in weight management, not to mention the link to diabetes, colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, this is by no means a comprehensive list.  I am not trying to advocate a strict low Gi diet. My goal here is to increase people's awareness of how some foods affect our health and well being. This is not to say that I would not eat regular white potatoes; but everything in moderation.  

Now that I have bored you with my review of biochemistry class, (I'm surprised I even remembered that much) let's talk about this salad. So that the flavor of the potatoes wasn't masked, I used ingredients that would highlight it. Nutmeg and celery are the two that really play up the sweet potato flavor here. To contrast the textures, red onions and green beans were added to provide a refreshing crunch. The creaminess comes from a mixture of greek yogurt and cream cheese. Strange choices for any potato salad but they provide a level of creaminess close to mayo.  In the end, this salad can be a meal on its own. 

Sweet Potato Salad

5 cups cubed sweet potatoes (about 2-3 large ones)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 cup chopped green beans
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup non fat greek style yogurt
2 tbsp fat free cream cheese
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper

1. Add diced potatoes, and eggs (whole) to stock pot. Cover with water, add thyme, season with salt and pepper and boil over medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes until potatoes are fork tender. The eggs should also be hard boiled by then. At this point, add green beans to the  pot for 30 seconds. Drain everything. Peel the eggs and chop finely. 
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together yogurt, cream cheese, ground nutmeg,  and season with salt and pepper. Add all the cooked potatoes, greens beans and eggs along with the raw vegetables and raisins to the yogurt mixture and combine well. Refrigerate and serve.

Fruity Spice Muffins

There is thin line between a muffin and a cup cake. Traditionally, cupcakes were simply miniature cakes, light and sweet with fluffs of frosting on top. Muffins, on the other hand, were more dense, usually made with heavier ingredients such as bran, oats, dried fruit and nuts. Today, the once lowly muffin has been elevated to superstar status, and can be spotted draped in frostings, glazes, and fruit compotes. Its texture is also becoming lighter and sweeter like its cupcake cousins. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate the two. 

Not that I'm complaining. Muffins with frosting, cupcakes with fruit and nuts, cupcakes with muffin tops. To me, they are all small parcels of goodness. If prepared with a mind towards good healthfulness, muffins, and even cupcakes, can be a clever vehicle for so many nutritious and wholesome ingredients. 

For this recipe, I chose the traditional route with tons of dried apricots, chunks of apples and wholesome oats. Such as easy and delicious way to incorporate extra fiber into your diet.  

Fruity Spice Muffins

1 apple, cored, peeled and diced
½ cup dried apricots, diced
¼ cup dark raisins
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all purpose flour (plus 2 tbsp to coat dried fruit)
1/3 cup whole rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ cup low fat half and half
¼ cup fat free yogurt (see note below)
¼ cup sparkling water
¾ cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray and set aside. Dust fruit with reserved 2 tablespoons of flour and set aside.

2. Combine whole wheat flour, white flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together half and half, yogurt, and sparkling water. Add sugar, honey and vanilla extract and whisk well until sugar is completely dissolved. Whisk in egg.

3. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture and fold until just combined. (Usually requires about 10 to 12 folds.) Gently fold in fruit.

4. Using a 2 inch ice cream scoop, scoop batter into muffin tins. Bake for 20 minutes until muffins spring back to your touch. Remove from tins, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Note: For muffins, I prefer to use fat free Icelandic yogurt because, so far, it is the creamiest fat free yogurt I have food on the market. (Icelandic yogurt is strained to produce this thickness and creaminess.) Regular, commercial fat free yogurt has a greater water content that interferes with the liquid measurements in this recipe.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Cheesecake with Fresh Blueberries and Clementine Syrup

Two words to describe the perfect slice of cheesecake: pure decadence. I'm talking about the type from your neighborhood bakery or your favorite restaurant. Made with rich, creamy, delicious cream cheese. I do allow myself that indulgence once in a while but I have created the perfect recipe for when these cravings happen at home. Actually, I had not initially set out to create a healthy cheesecake recipe; I was looking for a way to incorporate tofu in dessert. Tofu is so versatile but up until recently, I shamefully had only ventured to use it savory dishes. All that has changed.

I can imagine some people will gag at the thought of a tofu cheesecake and I want you to know I understand these reservations. At first, some things seem not to go too well together. For example, chocolate and chili, basil and ice cream, honey and mustard, Minnesota and summer (just kidding!) However, the result of these odd couples are very distinct and pleasing taste sensations.

Once you have tasted this cheesecake, you will notice two things: (1) it doesn't taste as though it contains tofu, and (2) the texture is both light and creamy. Besides being a great dessert, this recipe is a good way to get more protein in your diet. Protein from dessert? Who would've thought?


1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup crumbled graham crackers
1 egg white ( save yolk for filling)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp orange extract (optional)

8 oz fat free cream cheese (or low fat if you prefer)
12 oz silken tofu
1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk (saved from crust)
2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp orange extract

1 1/2 cups blueberries
juice of four clementines (or oranges)
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp orange extract

To prepare crust:
In a food processor, grind pecans and graham crackers. Empty into a mixing bowl and add vegetable oil, egg white and orange extract. Mix well. Press unto the base of a well greased 8" spring form pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and set aside. Reduce oven to 325 degrees F.

To prepare filling:
Using a blender (see note below), blend together all of the filling ingredients until a smooth, silky consistency takes shape. Pour onto crust in spring form pan, and bake at 325 degrees F for one hour.
Remove from oven and immediately pass a knife along around the sides. Place cake in pan on a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes. Chill overnight in refrigerator. Remove sides of pan.

To prepare the topping:
In a heavy saucepan, heat clementine juice, water, honey, corn starch, and orange extract. Whisk rigorously and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and allow to cool thoroughly. Once syrup has cooled, evenly spread two tablespoons onto top of chilled cheesecake. Toss the blueberries in the remaining syrup and arrange them in a decorative pattern on top of cake. Any remaining syrup should be drizzled over finished product.

Note: I strongly recommend using a blender to make the filling as opposed to using an electric hand or stand up mixer. The mixers do not produce the smooth, silky quality necessary for the filling. What they do produce, however, is a filling with a lumpy, unattractive texture. I hope this serves to deter you from using your handy dandy mixer, just this once.