Sunday, January 31, 2010

Red Velvet Cupcakes

One of my friends is a transplant from Dallas who constantly harps upon the good life down there. The perpetual sunshine, the great neighborhoods, great shopping, entertainment and good food - in particular, the numerous places for dessert. She still has a home there and therefore makes regular trips back. On her last trip, she brought me two cupcakes from Sprinkles - her favorite dessert shop. One red velvet, one chocolate. I guess she assumed I was going to give one to my husband. Under normal circumstances, I would have but after one bite into the red velvet, he didn't stand a chance. Extremely moist and very addictive. (Surprisingly they were smaller than expected; guess not everything is bigger in Texas.) Before I knew it, I was looking at an empty cupcake wrapper with the chocolate one meeting the same fate. (Sorry Hun.) He stood a better chance this weekend though with this fresh batch of red velvet cupcakes. This recipe makes one dozen but can be easily doubled.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Makes 12

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp dark cocoa powder
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp red food coloring
1/2 cup fat free milk
1 tsp white distilled vinegar
1 tsp baking soda
Cream Cheese Frosting (see recipe below)

1. Set oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Line standard muffin tins with cupcake liners.
2. Combine flour, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Whisk in the egg followed by the water, vanilla extract and food coloring.
4. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk until fully incorporated.
5. Add the baking soda to the vinegar in a separate container, then pour into the batter. Fold in to incorporate but do not over mix.
6. Fill each cupcake cup two thirds full and bake at 350 degrees F for ten minutes. Rotate and bake another 15 minutes until a tooth pick inserted in the middle of each comes out clean. Cool for at least an hour before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
16 oz low fat cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk all ingredients until light and fluffy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Super Bowl Giveaway

I have some exciting news! Beginning this month, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter will be offering all sorts of giveaways to Healthy and Gourmet readers as part of their Reach Right initiative - an effort to help you make healthy choices this new year.

This month's promotion is a Super Bowl party gift set consisting of:
- Tasty appetizer and dessert recipes
- A serving dish for your Super Bowl spread
- $35 gift card to purchase the ingredients for your spread

All you have to do for a chance to win is post a relevant comment on any one of this month's posts or upcoming posts until Tuesday February 2nd at 4 pm. A winner will be chosen randomly. The winner will then be contacted for mailing information; the gift set will be mailed directly from I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

Good luck!

*Healthy and Gourmet is independent of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and has not received any compensation for this giveaway.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What's wrong with sardines?

At the beginning of the year, it seemed that all anyone in the blogosphere could talk about was Alton Brown and how much weight he has lost. On a recent episode of Good Eats, he addressed the issue and spoke about how he accomplished losing fifty pounds. Whether or not you believe that he was overweight before or that he is too skinny now is a matter of opinion. I, for one, applaud him for taking his health into his own hands. Eating healthy is difficult, especially in a world of quick, cheap, sugary, and addictive foods. When I first came to this country seven years ago, food was my playground. Nothing was off limits. Everything that was advertised on cable television back then but was unavailable in that part of the world was now all I could eat. Or all that I wanted to eat. Taking control of what we eat is a herculean task in this country, and instead of being critical I think we should admire AB's discipline and resolve to become healthier.

AB highlighted three foods he incorporated into his diet in order to lose weight. Smoothies, sardine-avocado sandwiches , and almonds. Of the three, the idea of eating sardine sandwiches was most repugnant as evidenced by hundreds of comments on food websites and blogs.

Sardines are a greats source of omega-3 fatty acids which some studies have shown improve cardiovascular health. They are also high in vitamins D and B12, calcium, and protein. And since they are a small fish, they are low in mercury. (Remember, while most fish contain some level of methyl-mercury- the dangerous by-product of mercury in the environment- large fish such as tuna, swordfish and shark, contain higher levels of this toxin.)

In spite of all these benefits, some people just can't get past the overwhelming fishy taste and smell. Me, I enjoy the stuff but it's probably because I grew up eating it. And even before AB combined it with avocado on his show, such sandwiches were common in my kitchen; the smooth, subtle avocado flavor perfectly counters that distinctive sardine taste. I like to add some other vegetables to the mix though, like fresh tomatoes or bell peppers in the summer.

AB's recipe for Sherried Sardine Toast is here, and the photo above is my simple combination of sardines in olive oil, sliced avocados and red pepper flakes on sliced whole wheat baguette. But if the benefits of eating sardines still aren't enough to get you to try the stuff, that's easy to understand. I feel the same way about sauerkraut and jello.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Kiwi and Green Grape Salad

More often than not, fruit salads can easily deviate from salad classification to the dessert category: sweet fruit plus sweet dressing equal a sweet dish. Of course many people like it this way, myself included , but sometimes I like starkly contrasting flavors in my fruit salad. Here, salt and garlic add a different dimension to a combination of kiwis and green seedless grapes. What do you think?

Kiwi and Grape Salad
Serves 4

4 ripe kiwis
2 cups green seedless grapes
1/4 cup agave nectar/honey
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp grated garlic (one small garlic clove)

1. Peel the kiwis and cut into slices. Cut the grapes into halves. Add both sets of fruit to a large bowl.
2. Warm the agave/honey on the stove top or in the microwave to lossen it up, making it smooth and runny. Whisk in the salt and garlic, and pour over the fresh fruit. Combine.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Oven-Fried Plantains

We spent the holidays in New York; the last time we were there was more than a year ago. I am always amazed that even in below-freezing weather there seems to be the same number of people on the streets as during warm, balmy summer days. The same number of people on Time Square, the same number of street-food vendors, the same number of people patronizing those vendors, the same number of people in the subways, in theaters, shopping. This is one of the things that defines a visit to the city for me: the hustle and bustle of the masses, each person with their own agenda, each a part of the rhythm of the city. That, and all the good food!

New York is definitely a food lover's paradise, with its seemingly endless number of restaurants, fruit stands and street vendors. And I always make sure to get my fill of Trinidadian food. (Queens, New York has the largest population of Trinidadians outside of the Caribbean, and therefore a sizable selection of such restaurants.) Besides the cooked stuff, I also like to take a few vegetables back home. This time: bhodi (a type of long string beans,) cassava (yucca,) and plantains.

Plantains are one of my all time favorite foods. I grew up eating it a lot of it. Usually, it was boiled and served as a base for meats and vegetables, or fried and eaten with roti (Indian flatbread.) The fried version is my favorite- not hard to imagine since everything fried seems to taste so damn good. It's not very common that you see plantains in Minneapolis grocery stores - no surprise there either - although I have found it on occasion. And I know of only one restaurant that has it on the menu: Victor's 1959 Cafe, a Cuban restaurant. Tostones is their fried green plantains but what I would specifically make a reservation for their platanos maduros - fried sweet plantains. Crispy on the edges and soft, chewy, and sweet on the inside. I'll have two orders, please.

Three days after we returned home, I set out trying to find a way to fry my plantains. Only, I didn't want to fry them; plantains are starchy so they can absorb a good amount of oil, a fact a wanted to get around. The obvious choice was to cook them in the oven. To be honest, I half expected that they would turn out rubbery and dried out. But it worked! I got almost the same results: crispy around the edges, and totally cooked through in the center. Not only does this method require less oil, it takes less time. Here's what I did, using four (4) ripe plantains:

1. Set oven to 450 degrees F. Peel and discard the plantain skin.
2. Cut each plantain in three equal pieces, cross-sectionally, then cut each cross-section into three equal slices, length-wise.
3. Lightly brush with vegetable oil* on each side, place evenly spaced on a baking sheet, and bake in a 450 degree F oven for 6 to 8 minutes on each side.
* Three tablespoons of oil was more than enough for four average size plantains.

Happy New Year!