Monday, December 23, 2013

Super Easy Last Minute Holiday Cookie - Better for You and Gluten Free!

I am not a baker. Although you may see tantalizing cakes and cookies in my cookbook, on my website, in my blogs, posts and tweets, I am not a baker. What I am is a better-for-you translator and an tireless experimenter with those delicious pieces of sweet heaven called dessert.

I learned long ago that baking takes precise measurement and lots of science. Got it. I write recipes all the time that work well, so I can handle that part of it. What I don't like is spending all that time without getting more than a fleeting reward. If I am going to dedicate a couple of hours or more in the kitchen - I want results. I want it to taste good and give me more than a sugar hangover.

So, two things that I can guarantee my baked goods possess. Really great taste and nutrition. I work hard to take things OUT of baked goods that are not necessary. That's the experimentation part of  baking for me. Its difficult. (I hear my mother's voice, "If at first you don't succeed, try try again.) So when I take things OUT like fat, sugar, calories, preservatives, I have to put good-for-us ingredients IN.

Like these super duper easy cookies. Six ingredients! Just six, but boy-oh-boy do they sing when combined with a dip in a pool of really dark chocolate. In less than an hour you can have chewy, nutty, coconutty dreams. Just add another thirty or so minutes for the dunk in chocolate. Kids love them, you'll love them and guests will too. Best of all, you can feel good about eating one and serving one to others. Less sugar, less fat, nutrition from nuts, and more taste from a super delicious treat. They are pretty, too!

Orange Almond Snowballs

Makes about 36 cookies

16 OZ Unsweetened Coconut (find this at Whole Foods, Speciality or International Market)
1 Cup Toasted Sliced Almonds
3/4 Cup Raw Fine Sugar
2 Tsp Orange Zest
1/4 Tsp Fine Sea Salt
5 Large Egg Whites

Step One
Preheat the oven to 325F. Combine the coconut, almonds, sugar, zest, salt in a large bowl. Add in the egg whites and mix well.

Step Two
Drop heaping tablespoons of the mixture onto 2 parchment or silpat lined baking sheets. They won't spread, so you can place them about an inch apart.

Step Three 
Bake for about 20 minutes or until the edges brown. Let them remain on the cookie sheet for a few minutes until they can be removed with a spatula and placed on a wire rack to cool.

To make them Chocolate Snowballs:
While the cookies are cooling, melt 8 oz of dark chocolate, (at least 60%) over very low heat in a saucepan. Dip the cookie bottoms in the chocolate and set aside to allow the chocolate to cool and harden.

Monday, December 16, 2013

How to Make a Creamy Soup, Without Cream!

Yes, there is creamy soup without cream. It tastes better than the tongue-coating-viscous creations made by my French colleagues. (Heresy!! But true.) Plus, it allows you to leave the table without feeling like a food coma is immeninent.

Why do we put ourselves through the swallowing the basket ball phenomenon?  At a recent dinner party, I was served an creamy artichoke soup that was "french-style". When the first bite bathed my tongue in fat, I knew. It was NOT a cream-of-artichoke soup. Au contraire, mon amie! It was a cream-of-cream soup. Just the faintest whisper of veggie taste in the bowl. What sadness! What travesty to a fabulous artichoke, full of green rich earthy flavor, tons of fiber and lots of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. 

Creamy soup can be a celebration of veggies. Bright tastes, gorgeous colors, lively layers of flavor with a final pop of delicious herbs and spices. You might even call them...the Super Models of the Food World. 

Oh yes, you can create a creamy soup that not only looks good, but has tons of flavor and lots of healthy bennies for you, too! Three simple steps and that's it. I'm sharing my Parsnip Soup recipe this week. But you don't have to use parsnips. You can use whatever veggie you want to make this yummy, beautiful and rich, rich, rich soup. Just follow the directions below. Your family and friends will think YOU are the super model. 

Step One - Sauté the Aromatics, Herbs and Spices
Start with the aromatics. Of course…onions. Also peppers, carrots, parsnips, fennel, leeks, shallots, potatoes. You get the picture. You can use anything that will add flavor, once caramelized by cooking. Sauté these aromatics in a TB or two of Olive, Canola or Grapeseed oil. The amount of oil you add will depend on the amount of aromatics in your pan. Saute until your aromatics are soft.

But don't just add your aromatics. This is the time to ramp up the flavor and the benefits of your spices. Adding black pepper and turmeric to your sauté will greatly enhance the anti-inflammatory goodies of your soup. (Inflammation has been tied to cancer, heart disease and arthritis. Bad stuff.) Sautéing your spices will also remove the raw taste, and add another layer of flavor to your aromatics*. So sauté spices like the above mentioned pepper and turmeric, smoked paprika for a meaty flavor, cayenne and chili powders for a hit of spice. Ask yourself, "What do I want my soup to taste like?"

Step Two - Add Liquid and More Veg
Time to add in liquids. Falling in this category are stocks, canned tomatoes with juices, wine, beer, etc.  You'll add the amount of liquid based the quantity of aromatics and any other veggies that you add now, too. I tend to start with 4 - 6 cups and go from there. Beans, legumes or cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower or artichoke hearts go in now, too. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Twenty or thirty minutes at a slow simmering burble should be enough.

Step Three - Puree, Final Herbs and Spices and Garnishing
Time for the puree, adding additional herbs, and garnishing. Yum! In my kitchen, the immersion or stick blender aka "the boat motor", is the way to puree. Transferring hot liquid to the blender is not my idea of fun, and there is more to wash. It takes a bit more time to get the puree smooth with the stick blender. But I'd rather blend longer than wash longer.

Once you've pureed to your hearts desire, now you add in additional herbs, spices and garlic. This includes seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Or, use lemon juice or zest like I did below - it's a great substitute for salt. If you'd like, sauté your spices or herbs and garlic together and add them in at the end. This lets the garlic sing! Your spices or herbs, will be brighter, too. Take a moment to think about the flavors of the cuisine that you are striving to express.  Fresh basil for a rich red tomato and sweet potato soup, licorice-scented tarragon and crisp parsley for a French-style potato and leek soup, grassy cilantro and cool mint for a nouveau Latin American black bean soup. 

And the garnish. My favorite is non-fat greek yogurt along with a crunchy crouton or the snap of acidity from a chopped tomato. Or both. You choose. Just make sure that you give your diner a chance to swirl something through that velvety goodness. If you are serving a vegan soup - hummus makes a wonderful topper with a sprinkle of briny olives and capers. A match made in heaven.

That's it. You have made brilliant soup and raving fans. You've created your own recipe.Try it and let me know all about it. I empower you to start with the Creamy Parsnip Soup below and then create your own deliciousness. Have fun!

*Once, again, proof that cooking better, creates not only better tasting, but better-for-you food, too!

Rich, Warm and Wonderful Parsnip Soup

4 TB EVOO, divided
2 Cups Chopped Yellow Onion
2 Cups Chopped Fennel
1 LB Parsnips, Peeled and Coarsely Chopped
1 LB Gold Potatoes, Coarsely Chopped
1 TB Turmeric
½ Tsp Cayenne
1 Tsp Sea Salt
1 Tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
6 – 8 Cups Veggie Stock
2 Tsp Cumin Seeds
2 Tsp Black Mustard Seeds
1 Tsp Coriander Seeds
1 TB Lemon Juice
1 Cup Nonfat Greek Yogurt
1 Cup Chopped Tomatoes

Step One
In a very large deep sauté pan or wide stockpot or Dutch oven, sauté the onion, fennel, parsnips and potatoes in 3 TB of oil with the turmeric, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook and stir over medium high heat until soft. (About 5 minutes)

Step Two
Stir in the stock, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes.

Step Three
Remove the soup from the stove and allow cooling for about 5 minutes. Then, using the immersion blender, puree the soup until thick and creamy.

Step Four
In a small sauté pan, heat the remaining 1 TB of oil. Cook and stir the garlic, cumin seeds mustard seeds, and coriander seeds in the oil, until the garlic begins to turn golden. Pour the mixture into the soup, and stir in the lemon juice. Serve garnished with yogurt and tomatoes.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bright and Refreshing Orange Cranberry Relish

One of the culinary world's most perplexing issues? Why we don't use cranberries year round.  Tart and tangy, gorgeous little bright-red-orbs-of-flavor. To justify my "lets eat cranberries year round" opinion, I've resolved to use them frozen next summer. I'll share the recipe. Until then, I have to pass on one of my favorite ways to fix them - Orange Cranberry Relish.

I've been around the dinner table long enough to realize how attached people become to their cranberry sauce recipe, even if it's just the wiggly stuff thats plopped out of the can. So don't think of this as cranberry sauce. Think of this as your dinner-helper. Your secret weapon. Orange Cranberry Relish will make everything else taste better. I promise. A perfect partner to a rich pork loin, savory braised chicken or roast beast. A bite of rich, savory meat chased by a bite of tangy, citrus relish is heaven. Did I mention how good it is slathered on one side of a grilled very-sharp-cheddar-cheese-rustic-grain-bread sandwich?

Not only will it make a dinner plate better, it is also creates a fabulous crumble. Just substitute your favorite apple or peach filling for a double recipe of this magic stuff, and your guests will come back for  more. Add a plop of nonfat yogurt, or a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt. The creaminess of the yogurt and the tang of the relish, well you get the picture.

I've saved the best for last dear reader. This magnificent relish has only THREE ingredients. Yes, just three. A bag of cranberries, (that's about 4-5 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries), a whole, very clean orange, (yes the whole orange, quartered - the peel and all), and about 3 - 4 TBs of honey to your taste. A good whizz in the food processor and that's it. Done. Keeps great in the fridge for 3 - 4 days. But it won't last that long. This too, I promise.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Very Veg Gratin - Meatless Luscious Fun!

Very Veg Gratin Served with Brown Rice
This recipe was rebellion! I was invited to a "girlie party" a couple of weeks ago, Loads of fun, a creative hostess and an interesting group of women, "Foxes in Socks".

Why was I using my recipe to be rebellious? See...I knew many of the guests. AND I knew what kind of food people usually bring to a holiday party. Chips and dips, big meats, sausages and lots of really-yummy-but-super-bad-for-us desserts.

I decided to be different. I would bring an alternative dish, rich with veggies and spice, warm and inviting. And of course, since we were also PBBS (Please bring a bottle to share), I paired it with wine*.  How did my gratin fare on a table full of goodies? Very well, thank you. The lone vegetarian of the crowd was especially pleased, but even better was enthusiastic praise from the carnivores who savored the creamy texture of the veg and the crunchy pecan topping. Yes readers, I was happy.

Of course, you are all wondering now, "Did she not try the Brats and Sauerkraut? Ignore the Dirty Martini Dip with Potato Chips? The Wild Mushroom Casserole made with 2 cups of heavy cream? I am NOT a Food Nazi. I tried a bite of every thing on the gorgeous table. It was yum and so much fun to share the abundance from old and new friends. I even scarfed down the best of a piece of caramel cake that was topped with birthday candles, just for me.

You can have the same pleasure of serving friends and family a counterpart to the usual fare. Consider making this recipe when planning your Christmas feast. (Yes, I know it has a couple of steps more than my regular recipes. But, its worth it!) Or, a plan ahead weekday meal paired with a crunchy vinaigrette dressed salad. Layer it up ahead of time for a weekend gathering - be like me and share it for a potluck - your chance to be a rebel, too! When they scoop down into the many creamy layers, you'll have undying gratitude from the whole bunch. ALL the carnivores, veggies and vegans at your table.
Very Veg Gratin Ready for the Oven!
Very Veg Gratin

4 Red Onions, chopped
3 TB Olive Oil, divided
2 TB Balsamic
2 TB Red Wine
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

8 Carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4" rounds
2 Tsp Garam Masala

1 Recipe Creamy Cauliflower, Fennel and Rosemary Puree - last week's blog post 11/25/13 (Make a double or triple recipe and save one for this dish - OR you can use mashed potatoes or parsnips)

2 Cans (15.5 OZ) Pumpkin

1 Cup Chopped Toasted Pecans

Step One
Saute the onions in 2 TB of the oil until soft, turn the heat to low and add the balsamic and red wine. Sprinkle with salt and a good bit of black pepper and continue to cook until the liquid is absorbed.

Step Two
While the onions are cooking, cook the carrots in a 400F oven. Toss them on a sheet pan with the remaining oil and the garam masala, salt and pepper. Roast until browned about 20 minutes.

Step Three
When your onions, carrots and puree are ready, its time to layer. Spray a large flat casserole dish with non stick spray. Layer the pumpkin first, then a scatter of onions, followed by carrots and then puree. Repeat and top with the chopped pecans. Cook in a 350F oven until warm about 30 minutes.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Creamy Cauliflower, Fennel and Rosemary Puree

I've always been more than a little suspicious of the "Low-Carb" recipes that imitate mashed potatoes. Mostly, I've found them lacking in flavor and mouthfeel, watery and just not good. Lets face it, mashed potatoes are good. So, I say - go for the mashers when you are serving your turkey and dressing.

Or not! Once you've tried this recipe, full of flavor and with a substantial texture from the fennel, you may reconsider. Or, add it to the table. Sous Chef Lea and I created this recipe on the fly - wanting to make a side dish that packed lots of flavor, more fiber and fewer calories.

See if you don't agree that this Golden Fennel Puree is Turkey worthy, too!

Golden Fennel Puree with Rosemary

3 Large Fennel Bulbs, cut into ½” pieces
1 Large Yellow Onion, chopped
2 TB Olive Oil
1 Tsp Sea Salt
½ Tsp Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

1 LB Parsnips, Peeled in 1” Chunks
1 Large Head Cauliflower (or 3 bags Florets)
1 Large Clove Garlic, peeled
2 TB Unsalted Butter
¼ Cup Skim Milk
1 TB Freshly Chopped Rosemary
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Step One
Preheat the oven to 400F

Step Two
On a half sheet pan lined with aluminum foil or parchment and sprayed with nonstick spray, toss the Fennel, Onion and Salt and Pepper with the 2 TB Olive Oil. Roast for 45 – 60 minutes or until the fennel and onions are tender.

Step Two
While the fennel is roasting, cook the parsnips, cauliflower florets and garlic in boiling salted water until tender – about 20 minutes. Using the immersion blender, puree. Then add the fennel mixture and puree again

Step Three

Melt the butter with the skim milk and rosemary over medium low heat. Add to the fennel mixture and stir. Taste for salt and pepper.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Creamy Shallot and Manchego Soufflés

Soufflés Out of the Oven and Ready to Serve!
Let's just admit it. We all like to have our own teeny tiny personal servings of food. I'm not sure where this comes from - whether its that we don't like to share:) OR we like to play with our food. What ever the reason, when I start serving my guests in individual ramekins or pots, the oohs and ahhs are especially lasting and loud. And what's not to like about getting your own hot, cheesy and light, full of flavor soufflé? Nada.

You may have heard that soufflés are hard to make. That they are fussy and French and not worth the effort. Au contraire, mon ami! Some may be difficult, but not this recipe. You can watch them puffing up in the oven in just a bit - and even when they deflate as they cool - they are STILL just as yummy, light and savory. What's more, they are layered, so after you slide your spoon into the cheesy warm crust, you'll discover another layer of flavor - packed with the aroma and flavor gorgeous green basil and parsley. If you look closely at the tray coming out of the oven above, you can spy just a hint of color under a couple of the small dishes.

Most of the folks that I know serve a special appetizer or soup before the big Turkey Day dinner. Shake it up this year and WOW them all with these delicious little pots of goodness!

Creamy Shallot and Manchego Souffle

3 Large Shallots, Chopped
1 TB Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper to taste
1 ½ Cups Basil Leaves, Packed
½ Cup Parsley Leaves
¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ Tsp Salt
¼ Tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 Garlic Clove
2 Cups Light Ricotta Cheese, Room Temperature
4 (8 Oz) Pkg Light Cream Cheese, Room Temperature
1 Cup Grated Manchego
3 TB Cornstarch
5 Large Eggs

Step One
Sauté the shallots until wilted.

Step Two
In a food processor, puree the basil, parsley, oil, salt, pepper and garlic until smooth.

Step Three
In a mixer, beat the ricotta, cream cheese, Manchego and cornstarch until smooth and light - about 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and fold in eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Remove one third of the cheese mixture to a bowl.

Step Four
With a spatula, fold the basil mixture from the food processor and the sautéed  shallots into the two-thirds cheese mixture until well blended.

Step Five

Pour the basil cheese filling into the bottom of each ramekin, and spread an even layer of the plain cheese mixture on top. Set the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sweet Potatoes with North African Spices

Who doesn't have fond memories of the Thanksgiving table, laden with goodies including the ubiquitous sweet potato casserole. A home run with the kiddos, sometimes most of their plate is taken up with the creamy, sticky, way-way-way too sweet side dish.

Chefs have been trying to reinvent the marshmallow topped accompaniment for years. I've done everything from making my own marshmallows to dousing my potatoes with bourbon. (Not a good ideas for the younger crowd!)

This year, I'm shaking it up. Our holiday favorite will be served toasty warm and sprinkled with Dukkah, a West African spice mix that is easy to make, versatile, and incredibly good. We'll peel and chop the sweet potatoes, toss them in a little salt, pepper and olive oil and place them on a sheet tray. Pop them in at 425F until they are golden around the edges, remove them from the oven and sprinkle them liberally with the savory seasoning. We'll enjoy the sweet taste of the potatoes, the antioxidants from the spices and won't feel cheated at all since they are SO luscious served  up at our Thanksgiving table like this:

African Spice Dip or Mix
(Dukkah – Egypt or Hausa Spice Mix – West Africa)

1/2 Cup Salted Peanuts

1/4 Tsp Ground Ginger

1/4 Tsp Freshly Ground Nutmeg

1/4 Tsp Ground Cloves

1/4 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

1 Tsp Chili Powder

Additional Sea Salt to taste, if necessary

Grind the peanuts to a coarse powder in a mortar, blender or food processor, then add the ground mixed spices, chili powder and a little salt if desired

Serve with Goat Cheese topped Apple Slices. Use for a rub on Chicken or Pork, or top a winter greens fruit salad with it, Use as a dip for fresh fruit like Apples or Pears, or serve it with Crusty Bread and Olive Oil. Or Use it to with roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash like we have here.