Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chicken Tortellini Cream Soup: a Simple Post-holiday Meal

Well, the holidays are ending and the normal routines of work and home are just around the corner. Looking back on the last week or two, I think I hit a record high with regard to the post-holiday exhaustion. So in the last few days, I have been thinking about how I can make next Christmas just as special for my family without almost killing myself. Yeah well... we shall see how that goes next year.

In the meantime, I am detoxing from the holidays by keeping it simple, and that includes food. A great, simple meal I have now made twice is a chicken torellini soup that is put together with just a few prepared foods but tastes like it is completely from scratch. In actuality, it was a turkey tortellini soup the first time around, with leftover Thanksgiving turkey. But this recent version was made with rotisserie chicken from the grocery store which makes it easy to do any time of the year. I truly believe that some of the best recipes are made with the fewest ingredients, and this is no exception. Ingredient list: rotisserie chicken, olive oil, garlic, leeks, tortellini, chicken broth and cream. So easy and delicious! Wegmans (the best grocery store on the planet) sells a fresh whole wheat three cheese torellini that is to die for, but you can use any tortellini or mini ravioli in this recipe. You can also lighten this recipe up by using fat free half and half instead of the heavy cream, but the cream makes this soup so rich... to me, it's worth the extra fat.

You can whip this soup up quickly on a busy work night and it will seem like you have slaved for hours. And the best thing for the three of us, is that it makes plenty to have again the next day.

Chicken Tortellini Cream Soup

2 T olive oil
1 cup chopped leeks
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken stock
1 rotisserie chicken, meat cut into cubes
1 pkg. fresh tortellini (if using dried, pre-cook and add last)
1/2 to 2/3 cup heavy cream
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese (topping)

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven and saute leeks and garlic until soft. Add chicken stock, chicken and tortellini and cook without boiling until totellini is al dente. Stir in desired amount of cream and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Top each individual bowl with grated cheese.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Feta Issue

I have had a recipe for Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta taped to my recipe book for the longest time. Every time I spot it as my fingers flip through the pages of the food-stained gingham spiral notebook, my mouth starts to water. It's one of Food Network's Ellie Krieger's recipes, so I know it is certain to be healthy and delicious. So why had I not tried in in the four years it had graced the pages of my book? It's the feta.

Tim and I have very compatible tastes, but there are a few foods he doesn't really care for. Feta, that wonderful crumbly, "bitey" cheese is one of them. He finds it dry and tasteless. So there the recipe sat, until I came up with an idea to modify it. Why not change the feta to fresh mozzarella and have an Italian baked shrimp and tomatoes? We both fell in love with it. Delicious, quick and easy! I will definitely be making this again. The original recipe calls for fresh dill but I would recommend substituting basil in the Italian version. Both variations will be posted here. Since there is quite a bit of sauce, I would also recommend serving it over some type of grain. As you see in the picture above, I threw in some whole wheat Israeli couscous which was perfect.

And now my mouth is watering remembering the taste of it, not just the title of the recipe. I guess we'll have to have it again this week!

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta (Ellie Krieger)
1 T olie oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14.oz) cans no-salt diced tomatoes with their juices (I use San Marzano tomatoes and cut them up myself)
1/4 cup finely minced fresh flat leaf parsley
1 T finely minced fresh dill
1 1/4 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Heat oil in oven proof skillet over med-high heat. Add the onion and cook stirring until softened about 3 min. Add garlic and cook 1 min. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to med-low and let simmer for about 5 min. until the tomato juices thicken.
Remove from heat. Stir in parley, dill and shrimp and season with salt and peoper. Sprinkle feta over top. Bake until shrimp are cooked through and cheese melts about 12 minutes.

Italian Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes
Follow directions above substituting basil for the dill and fresh mozzarella cheese for the feta.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Boy Likes Cookies

My son Connor, like most teenagers, would probably eat a lot of unhealthy foods if he were able. But as we remind him on a daily basis, until he is self-supporting, there are some decisions that are made for him, for instance the kinds of foods that are available to him at home. There is no junk food in the house except on special occasions, and when he wants a snack there are healthy choices. At the same time, when he is outside of the home, at a friend's house, at a restaurant, etc. he is free to eat whatever he chooses. That's when he gets the occasional soda, french fries, and well... junk. To tell him he can never have these foods is in my opinion, unrealistic, and I feel comfortable with the fact that since his regular diet is healthy, junk food every once in a while is not going to kill him.

All of this does not mean there are no treats around. If you have been following this blog, you know that I've developed a passion for making delicious healthier desserts. And Connor has loved every minute of it because he has become my tester. Recently, he tested my dark chocolate almond cookies, and as you can see by his goofy grin above, he loved them. In fact, I had to hide a few for myself because he and his father were eating them fast and furiously.

To invent this recipe, I started with my honey roasted peanut cookie recipe (from a previous blog post) and made some substitutions. The original recipe is listed here and the substitutions follow. The almond cookie recipe calls for almond flour, but if you can't get it, just get blanched almonds and grind them up very finely in a food processor. And if you prefer another nut, just substitute. Delicious treats for my (mostly) healthy kid!

Healthy Honey Roasted Peanut Cookies
½ cup peanut oil
½ cup natural peanut butter
½ cup honey
½ cup natural brown sugar (Turbinado)
1 egg
1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts plus more for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat peanut oil, ½ cup peanut butter, honey, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in egg. On a piece of parchment or wax paper, wisk flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Mix dry ingredients into the honey mixture in thirds. Stir in ½ cup peanuts. Drop by tablespoons onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until cookies lightly brown.

Honey Peanut Butter Frosting- Wisk 2/3 cup natural peanut butter with ½ cup honey until smooth. Add hot water a tablespoon at a time if necessary until frosting is spreadable. Spread each cookie with frosting and top with peanuts.

Makes 25-30 cookies

Almond Agave Dark Chocolate Cookies
Follow the recipe above with the following substitutions:
• Use almond butter in place of peanut butter
• Use agave nectar in place of honey
• Use coconut crystals in place of brown sugar (if desired)
• Add ½ tsp. almond extract with the egg
• Add 1/3 cup almond flour with dry ingredients on parchment
• Use sliced almonds in place of peanuts
• Add 1 cup 60% cocao chocolate chips with almonds
• Omit frosting

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Italian Stuffing: Farro Out!

Far Out- FARRO out... get it? Ok, bad joke aside, if you haven't tried farro, do it! Grown in Italy, farro has very similar characteristics to spelt and barley and is an ancient grain with a nutty flavor. It is often used in soups, but can also be used in pilafs or substituted for other grains.

During a recent visit to the Rochester Public Market with my daughters Carly and Gillian, and Gillian's boyfriend Matt, we met Matt's uncle who sells healthy food items, and a bag of farro caught my eye. I bought it, leaving it in my pantry for quite some time as I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with it.

And then it occurred to me that I could make a stuffing out of it, with the farro as a substitute for the bread. To keep true to its origins, I decided that it needed to be full of Italian flavors: garlic, lemon, basil, rosemary, pancetta, pecorino Romano cheese.... Is your mouth watering?

And what to stuff? I decided on a pork tenderloin, but this would be a great stuffing for chicken, turkey, and even for a beef braciola. The recipe makes enough to stuff two pork tenderloins and still have some leftover to bake in a small casserole dish in the oven. With this stuffing, you will want to have leftovers!

I'll definitely be using farro again. Another delicious, healthy grain to add to my growing list!

Pork Tenderloin with Farro Stuffing
1 cup farro
3 cups chicken stock
1 medium onion
2 oz. diced pancetta
Sea salt, pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh spinach
3 cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary, chopped
1 T chopped basil
½ cup golden raisins soaked in 1/2 cup white wine
Rind of 1 lemon
¼ grated pecorino Romano cheese
2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
4 T unsalted butter, softened
2 pork tenderloins
2 T extra virgin olive oil

For stuffing:
Place farro and stock in a pot and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 50 minutes.
Soak raisins in white wine. In large frying pan over medium heat, brown onions in a little extra virgin olive oil. Add pancetta and cook until crisp. Season with salt and pepper. Add spinach, garlic, rosemary, and basil and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Drain raisins, reserving wine for sauce. Add raisins, lemon rind, cheese, breadcrumbs, and pine nuts. Stir together and remove from heat. Cool slightly.

For tenderloins:
Cut each tenderloin to open up, leaving flat pieces. Pound out to about ½ inch thickness. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Spread a generous amount of stuffing onto each piece of pork. Roll sides or pork toward each other, tucking in stuffing as you go. Tie each roll in several places with cooking twine. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Heat an oven safe nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil and place rolled tenderloins in pan when oil is hot. Sear on all sides. Finish in 325 degree over or until internal temperature is 140-145 degrees. Remove tenderloins from pan and let rest for 5 minutes while making the sauce.

Place pan on stove over medium-high heat. Deglaze pan with the reserved white wine. Reduce by 1/4. Whisk in butter. Whisk until thickened.

Slice pork tenderloin rolls. Serve with pan sauce.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Quick Weeknight Supper Worth Blogging About!

My family loves Thai flavors. So when I spotted this Thai chicken soup recipe in Food Network Magazine, I decided to give it a try. I found it in the "Weeknight Cooking" section of the magazine, where quick recipes abound, perfect for working families. This one boasts a 30 minute start to finish promise. One would think that a soup made in this amount of time might be lacking in flavor. On the contrary, this one is full of it. The creaminess of the coconut milk with the bite of curry and the freshness of lime? A wonderful combination. And believe it or not, I made it a second time with absolutely no substitutions. That's right, the substitution queen has no recommedations for improvement!

So here is the recipe. It's quick, full of wonderful Thai flavors and satisfying. And with only three of us at home, a whole pot of this soup means another meal later in the week.

Thai Chicken Soup
from Food Network Magazine, November 2010

1 T vegetable oil (ok, so I did substitute canola oil...)
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T green curry paste
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 15-oz. can coconut milk
1 T fish sauce
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
4 oz. thin rice noodles, broken into pieces (I used Soba noodles. Ok, so I lied.)
2 small skinless boneless chicken breasts(about 1 lb.) very thinly sliced, crosswise
1 T fresh lime juice
1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro (I used less- 1 cup seemed like A LOT!)

1. Heat the oil in large pot over med-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and curry paste and cook, stirring 1-2 minutes. Add the broth, coconut milk and fish sauce, cover and bring to a boil.
2. Add the bell peppers and noodles and simmer, uncovered until the noodles are al dente, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer until just cooked through, about 3 minutes more. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro. Add more fish sauce and lime juice if desired.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A New Natural Sweetener- Coconut Crystals!

Well, it's new to me anyway. And what a find! As you know, I often use agave nectar to sweeten all kinds of things- from Greek yogurt to baked desserts. But since agave nectar is a liquid, using it as a substitute for white or brown sugar can sometimes be tricky.

So when I noticed this little can of goodness on the shelf in the Nature's Market section of Wegmans, I was intrigued. It's made of 100% pure coconut tree sap, unrefined, organic, and a low glycemic sweetener. Now don't be fooled by the name. This stuff doesn't taste a thing like coconut. It has more of a brown sugar-molasses type of taste and can be substituted for sugar evenly in a recipe.

I decided to try making brownies with it first and since the product came from a coconut tree, and I adore coconut, I decided they needed to be macaroon brownies. Fudgy and delicious, and worth the small amount of sugar in the dark chocolate chips. These were so satisfying that I continued with the brownie theme and invented an espresso brownie with Tia Maria ganache. To die for. The recipes are below, but overall I would highly recommend substituting coconut crytals for sugar in any recipe! If you try it, let me know how it turns out!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Macaroon Brownies
1 pkg 60% chocolate chips
1 stick (4 oz) butter
4 eggs, room temperature
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup coconut crystals
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup chopped almonds, if desired
3 cups unsweetened natural coconut
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup agave nectar

Melt chocolate chips and butter together in a double boiler. Beat eggs, salt, coconut crystals, and vanilla in an electric mixer. Gradually beat in melted chocolate. Fold in flour and nuts. Pour into buttered and floured square pan (I line with parchment and butter again). In medium bowl, mix together conconut, almond extract and agave nectar. Sprinkle coconut mixture evenly over brownie mixture in pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Whole Wheat Espresso Brownies with Tia Maria Ganache
Follow recipe above with the following changes:
(You will need TWO bags of 60% chocolate chips!)

Add 2 Tablespoons instant espresso powder to egg mixture. Omit almonds and coconut layer. Fold in an additional 3/4 cup 60% chips with the flour. In a glass measureing cup, heat 2/3 cup heavy cream in a glass measureing cup in microwave until simmering, but not boiling. Whisk in 1 cup 60 % chips (the rest of the bag)until smooth. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of Tia Maria or other coffee liquer. Refrigerate until thick, stirring occasionally. Spread cooled brownies with ganache.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Julia's Stir-Fry

I love cooking with kids. They can be so enthusiastic and creative in the kitchen when given a chance. For my niece Julia's thirteenth birthday, we shopped for ingredients and cooked dinner together before sleeping overnight and going to the water park the next day. I gave her the choice of a pasta and vegetable dish or a stir-fry, and as she tends to make pasta at home, she chose a stir-fry. In the grocery store Julia was encouraged to make all the choices: the meat, the vegetables, the flavors for the sauce, and the grain.

In addition to my love of cooking and baking, I also appreciate the opportunity of sharing my philosophy on food and healthy eating. I told Julia that people often say to me that they could never do what I do, that they hate dieting. I explained that I don't think of what I do as a diet at all. I simply enjoy the tastes and flavors of whole foods, and knowing that what I am putting in my body not only tastes good but helps to fuel it. It's all about making choices that are both healthy and delicious.

Julia was already on board with this as she made some wonderful choices! Meat- Chicken. Vegetables- orange and yellow peppers, onions, baby corn and sugar snap peas. Grain? Well, she decided that my black rice looked really interesting, and wanted to try it. We picked up some tamari- a special soy sauce, and mixed it with some garlic chili sauce, chicken broth, and sesame oil that I had at home. Her last choice was to top it with roasted cashews and green onions. What great instincts! It was delicious, and pretty spicy too. We served it to Tim and Connor as well as ourselves with high raves. Great job, Julia! Let's cook together again sometime soon.

Julia's Spicy Chicken Stir-Fry
1 1/2 cups black rice
2 1/2 cups water or chicken broth
2 T canola oil
1 lb. chicken breats, cut into chunks
1 T minced fresh ginger
1 T minced fresh garlic
1 med. red onion, chopped
1/2 orange bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
4 oz. sugar snap peas
4 oz. baby corn
1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup garlic chili sauce
2 T sesame oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
Sea salt, fresh ground pepper
1 T cornstarch
1/2 cup whole roasted unsalted cashews
2 sliced green onions

Cook rice according to package directions.
Heat oil in wok or large non-stick fry pan over moderately high heat. Cook ginger and garlic until soft. Add onion, stir-fry 1 minute. Add chicken, cooking until no longer pink. Push chicken to the sides of pan and add rest of vegetables, stir-frying a few minutes. In small bowl, whisk tamari, chili sauce, sesame oil, broth, salt, pepper, and cornstarch together. Taste sauce and adjust ingredients if necessary. (We added more chili sauce to make it spicier!) Pour sauce in pan and stir until thickened. Top with cashews and green onions and toss just before serving. Serve over cooked black rice.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Two Grilled Summer Dinners

As a teacher, I love summers for obvious reasons. As a foodie, I love summers for one big reason- the grill! And our grill is getting plenty of action this summer with the standard cookout fare, as well as some new recipes, like the two dishes pictured above.
First is a strawberry pineapple salsa that I served over black rice and grilled catfish. You can use any whitefish like tilapia or haddock, and the salsa would also be great with fish tacos. I cooked the black rice in lite coconut milk, as directed in my "Fire and Spice" post. The fish was simply salted and peppered before grilling. I used a pineapple salsa recipe I found on the Eating Well website. I didn't have enough fresh pineapple, so I substituted strawberries for the other half. The salsa was delicious and very refreshing over the fish. There was plenty of salsa leftover to serve with chicken or turkey later in the week.

The second dish is a Honey Chili Ginger Grilled Chicken and Peach Salad from Health Magazine. I made this dish as instructed in the recipe, with the exception of substituting arugula for the watercress which I was unable to find at the grocery store, and nectarines for the peaches. I loved the combination of flavors in this dish, the fact that the chicken, corn, and nectarines were all grilled, and the contrast between the spicy chili sauce and the sweet nectarines. The only fault I have with it is that there was very little sauce left after basting to drizzle over the salad at the end. The ingredients were delicious, but it left the arugula rather dry in parts. I think next time I will double the amount of sauce and that should take care of the issue. After this dish, I'm convinced that pretty much any food tastes better on the grill, especially in the summer!
Here is the link to the salsa recipe:http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/fish_pineapple_salsa.html
Don't forget to use strawberries for half of the pineapple if you like the idea!

Honey-Chili-Ginger Grilled Chicken and Peach Salad
from Health Magazine
2 T honey
1 (1-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, grated
1/3 cup hot chili sauce (I used garlic chili sauce)
2 T olive oil
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast, pounded very thin
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
3 ears shucked corn, broken into small pieces
3 ripe peaches, quartered and pitted (I used nectarines)
8 oz. watercress (I used arugula)

Combine honey and next 3 ingredients in medium bowl. Place chicken in medium dish. Spoon 2-3 T chili dressing over the chicken. Coat well.
Heat grill pan, grill, or broiler. Lightly coat grill pan if using. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, grill until cooked through (2-3 min per side). Transfer to cutting board.
Grill corn until tender, about 5 min, brushing lightly with chili dressing while grilling. Transfer to a platter. Grill peach quarters, just until grill marks appear (about 1 min per side) brushing lightly with chili dressing while grilling. Transfer to platter.
Scatter watercress over the platter. Slice chicken into smaller pieces, transfer to platter. Comgine cooked juices and remaining dressing, stir well. Drizzle over salad, serve.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Black Rice Risotto- Worth the Effort!

If you have ever made risotto before, or witnessed someone else making it, you know what a painstaking task it is. Why would anyone stand over a hot stove gradually adding ingredients and constantly stirring for almost an hour? Because risotto is fabulous, that's why.

Until now, risotto has been a delicacy that I have avoided due to my "no white food" rule. Because I only eat whole grains, the long grain white rice that is typically used in risotto is a no-no for me. Then, I saw a recipe for black rice risotto in Food Network Magazine. The recipe is Ellie Krieger's. Dietician, and host of the show Healthy Appetite, Ellie knows how to make food both delicious and nutritious.

I've sung the praises of black (forbidden) rice before in this blog, but it bears repeating that this grain is full of protein and antioxidants. And to me, the nutty, toasty flavor is much preferable to brown rice. I've made black rice a few different ways, but this risotto is my new favorite. I have to admit that while I was stirring and stirring, and stirring, and stirring, I was thinking- this had better be delicious because my arm is going to fall off! Imagine having only 1 1/2 cups of rice and you have to gradually get 6 cups of chicken broth incorporated into it! Luckily, Tim offered to take a few turns and eventually we had cheesy, delicious risotto topped with shaved parmesan and chopped basil. It was definitely worth the effort!

Ellie Krieger's Black Rice Risotto
from Food Network Magazine

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cups black rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

Bring the broth to a simmer in a scaucepan over medium-high heat; cover and keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and cook stirring, 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium low. Stir in the wine until liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes.
Ladle in 3/4 cup hot broth and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed, 6-7 minutes. Repeat with the remaining broth, adding 3/4 cup at a time, until the rice is tender, but somewhat chewy, about 50 minutes.
Stir in salt and pepper to taste and 1/2 cup parmesan. Divide among bowls. Top with the reamining 1/4 cup parmesan and the basil.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Healthy Dessert That Tastes Sinful

What would you like for dessert? A sugar free popscicle? Dry spongy angel food cake? Sugar free jello with fat free whipped topping? How about some candy sweetened with malitol? Never mind the frequent trips to the bathroom. At least you've had something sweet.

I am here to tell you that you don't have to give up desserts if you are trying to keep your weight down. And you can do it without eating foods that are full of chemicals and white sugar. Now many people would say that you could eat a decadent dessert every once in a while on a healthy diet without sabotaging yourself. That is certainly possible, if your will power is high. The trouble is, typical desserts are high in sugar. When your blood sugar is raised, you become hungrier and you tend to overeat. The trick is to substitute white sugar for natural sugars that have a low glycemic index and to use other ingredients that have loads of flavor.

My latest recipe creation combines two of my favorite ingredients- blueberries and almonds which are both delicious and loaded with health benefits! My blueberry almond cake with almond butter frosting is a dessert that tastes incredibly sinful, even though it's not.

Now to be perfectly honest, the calorie content of a slice of this cake is probably relatively high. But it is full of healthy ingredients and devoid of white flour and white sugar, the ingredients that will spike your blood sugar in most desserts. You'll be satisfied with a modest slice and you won't be ravenous later!

I started with a very moist banana cake recipe I've used many times and started adjusting ingredients and amounts until it became a totally different recipe altogether. And the result was a dense, moist almond flavored cake loaded with blueberries and topped with a delicious frosting made from natural almond butter and sweetened with agave. In my recipe, I've suggested substituting honey for the agave, for those of you who do not have agave nectar available. I have not tried it with the honey myself, and I imagine the overall taste of the cake would be different. But you will still get the moist texture and the overall health benefits of the original recipe. As you have read before, I have a bit of a love affair with agave nectar, and if you can't get it I would highly suggest ordering it!

The blueberries are left whole in the cake itself, and some of them stayed whole and some of them collapsed into swirls within the cake which created a nice visual effect in the individual slices. I used more fresh whole blueberries to cover the top of the frosted cake and then made toasted almond clusters to press in between the blueberries. Yes, there is a small amount of butter in the frosting and topping, but not the cake. Butter is one "unhealthy" ingredient that I cannot entirely give up as the richness it delivers is totally worth it in moderation. The cake itself uses almond or peanut oil which are healthier fats.

I guarantee that if you serve this cake, your guests will have no idea that it is a healthy dessert. Enjoy!

Blueberry Almond Cake with Almond Butter Frosting

For cake:
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cups almond flour, or very finely ground blanched almonds
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
3 large eggs at room temperature
½ cup almond oil, or other nut oil such as peanut
½ cup lowfat buttermilk
1 tsp. almond extract
¾ cup agave nectar (honey may be substituted)
1 cup fresh blueberries
For frosting:
¾ cup almond butter
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
3 T agave nectar or honey
1-2 T buttermilk (enough for desired consistency)
For topping:
¾ cup fresh blueberries
1 cup sliced almonds
1 T unsalted butter
1 T agave nectar or honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9 inch round pan. Line with parchment, then butter and flour.
On a piece of parchment or wax paper, combine whole wheat pastry flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, buttermilk, and almond extract. Beat in agave nectar or honey gradually.
Beat in dry ingredients in thirds until well blended.
Rinse 1 cup blueberries and toss with a tablespoon of whole wheat flour. Gently stir into batter. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn onto wire rack to cool completely.
In small bowl, beat frosting ingredients until smooth. Frost top of cooled cake.
In non stick pan, melt butter. Toast almonds in butter until lightly browned and fragrant. Add agave nectar and toss. Remove from heat and transfer to a plate to cool. Almonds will stick together and form clusters.
Place whole blueberries on top of cake evenly. Fill the spaces with almond clusters.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pork with Blueberries? YES!

I am a big fan of blueberries. If you've been reading my posts since the beginning, you know that one of my favorite treats ever is Greek yogurt with fresh blueberries and agave nectar. My latest favorite breakfast dish is Kashi whole grain blueberry waffles with a little butter, a big handful of fresh blueberries, agave nectar, and toasted pecans. Absolutely delicious!

Given my passion for this lovely little fruit morsel, I decided to move it away from the typical dessert and breakfast fare and invent a way to use it in a main dish. Tim had cooked up some pork tenderloin on the grill recently that was so fabulous, we ate the leftovers cold the next day. So that made the wheels start turning in the direction of combining grilled pork with blueberries.

I started with a blueberry marinade by processing a pint of blueberries with balsamic vinegar, agave nectar and oil. I decided that olive oil might overpower the blueberry flavor, so I used canola oil. I think a nut oil would be lovely as well, like peanut or hazlenut oil. I knew it would need some sort of herb, and I decided on lemon thyme. It has such a beautiful fragrance and with that I also threw in the grated rind of a lemon. Lastly, I thought the combination of sweet and spicy would be nice, like my "fire and spice" shrimp in a previous post. So I added some cayenne pepper. The marinade ended up to be twice as much as I needed for the one pork tenderloin, so we saved it to marinate some chicken in later in the week.

While the pork was marinating, I put together a blueberry salsa to serve over the top of the pork. I used a half a pint of blueberries, agave, shallots, the juice of the lemon I zested for the marinade, salt and pepper and more thyme and cayenne. The salsa was delicious, but when it was served over the pork, it was clear that some color was needed. For this meal, I just garnished with a fanned strawberry and that helped, but I think next time, I will add some diced tomato to the salsa. I think that will enhance both the color and the flavor. We also thought that the shallots were a little "bitey" in the salsa, so next time, I plan to use Vidalia onion instead.

Thankfully, there was leftover salsa as well, since we completely devoured all of the pork! Now we'll be able to use both the marinade and the salsa with chicken or turkey.

Here is the recipe with the proposed changes and variations. Enjoy!

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Blueberry Salsa

2 pork tenderloins, about 1 lb. each
For marinade:
1 pint blueberries
1/3 cup fine balsamic vinegar
1/4 canola or peanut oil
2 T agave nectar (or honey)
Grated rind of one lemon
1 T chopped fresh thyme (I used lemon thyme.)
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Blend all marinade ingredients in food processor until smooth. Pour over pork tenderloin in covered glass container. Marinade for several hours or overnight, turning once.
Grill pork tenderloins over hottest part of grill to sear. Turn to sear other side, then move to cooler part of grill to cook slowly until temperature reaches 155 degrees. (Temperature will rise to 160 upon standing). Let stand for 5 minutes, then slice. Seve with salsa.

For salsa:
1/2 pint blueberries, halved
1/2 cup diced tomato (optional)
1 T agave nectar (or honey)
1/4 cup finely diced Vidalia onion
Juice of one lemon
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1/2 to 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Toss all salsa ingredients in a bowl. Serve over grilled pork.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Great Italian Meal Without Pasta

If you scroll back to an earlier post, you will find a recipe for mussels that Tim makes with his homemade pesto. Recently, he made the same dish, adding scallops and shrimp. It is one of my favorite dishes ever. I am so spoiled by his pesto, that I just can't bear to buy store pesto ever again. And so yesterday when we were trying to come up with something for dinner, I thought of some kind of a turkey pesto. Tim thought it sounded promising, and suggested tomato and fresh mozzarella on top, like sort of a turkey Caprese. Perfect, I thought. So we bought the ingredients, he made the homemade pesto, and went to pick up Connor, leaving me to invent the rest.

So I sprinkled the turkey cutlets with salt and pepper, spread the pesto directly on them, then coated them with Italian seasoned breadcrumbs. That turned out to be a good choice, as the crumbs really sealed in the juices and the turkey was very moist. During the last part of cooking, I topped each turkey cutlet with a thin slice of Roma tomato and some fresh mozzarella.

Now you might instantly think of serving this over pasta. But if you are trying to reduce the carbs, you won't miss the pasta at all if you use spaghetti squash instead. You already know I'm a fan from the post about Tim's mussels. But let me tell you- mixing the squash with more of Tim's homemade pesto and some freshly grated parmesan makes them out of control!

This is probably one of the most delicious meals we have had in a long time. I will attempt to leave a recipe for it, but it was one of those times when I was just "winging it," so amounts are going to be guesses. I will definitely be making this one again!

Turkey Caprese with Spaghetti Squash

1 medium spaghetti squash
Olive oil, butter
Salt and pepper
4 turkey cutlets
Homemade or store bought basil pesto
3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan
4 thin slices Roma tomato
8 thin slices fresh mozzarella
More pesto and parmesan
Parsley for garnish

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Rub inside of each half with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast rind side up in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix breadcrumbs and parmesan in a pie plate. Sprinkle turkey with salt and pepper. Spread pesto on one side of turkey, then press into breadcrumb mixture until well coated. Repeat with other side of turkey, pressing more crumbs into both sides if necessary. Heat about 3 T each butter and olive oil in a non-stick pan on med-high. Add turkey. Flip when there is a nice crisp, brown coating. Cook for about 2 minutes, then turn heat down to med-low. Top each turkey cutlet with a slice of tomato and 2 slices of mozzarella. Cook until turkey is done and cheese is melted.
Meanwhile, scrape spaghetti squash in long strands into a bowl. Toss with desired amount of pesto and parmesan. To serve, put desired amount of spaghetti squash mixture on plates with tongs, then top with turkey. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Baker's Choice Banana Bread

One of the first recipes I ever made using whole wheat flour was a honey whole wheat banana bread. My mom makes a mean banana bread. In fact it is one of her best and most requested family recipes. So when I started on the healthy track, I wanted to have that wonderful, moist bread that I remember from my childhood, without all the white stuff.

The original recipe I found called for all the traditional ingredients you would find in a banana bread but used whole wheat flour and honey in place of the flour and sugar. It's delicious and very easy to make. But what I like best about it, is that you can make a whole different bread every time just by adding fruits and/or nuts to it. A few years ago, I taught my niece Hailey how to make this bread. As we were baking, I was talking to her about choosing healthy ingredients, (using canola oil, why whole wheat is healthier, making sure that what you eat fuels your body as well as feeds it, etc.) It was a great bonding experience. I told her that she could make this bread "her own" by making some choices. She chose to add strawberries to it, and she definitely had good instincts because it was delicious! She went home with a treat for her family and a recipe for "Hailey's Banana Bread."

This morning I decided to use the two ripe bananas sitting in the bowl on the kitchen table and see what I could come up with as a new bread idea. I ended up with a raspberry almond banana bread, which I would highly recommend! I'm sharing here the basic recipe and then the variations to make the raspberry almond one. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Banana Bread
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup agave nectar (or honey)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
2 medium bananas, mashed
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat flour)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup hot water
1/2 to 3/4 cup berries or other fruit
1/2 cup chopped nuts, if desired

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk canola oil and agave nectar in a bowl until well blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla and bananas. On parchment or wax paper, whisk flour and salt together. Stir into wet ingredients until moistened. Dissolve baking soda in hot water. Stir into batter. Stir in fruit and nuts. Bake at 325 for 55-60 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Raspberry Almond Banana Bread:
For flour- Use 1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 cup almond flour
For vanilla- Use 1/2 tsp. vanilla and 1/2 tsp. almond extract
For fruit- Stir in 3/4 cup halved raspberries
For nuts- Stir in 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, chopped

Monday, May 16, 2011

Are they Still Healthy if I Eat 22 of them?

I've invented two more cookie recipes. It has become a sort of hobby of mine to create healthier versions of desserts. The problem is that I have no concept of reasonable quantities when I begin eating them. So unless I am bringing them to serve at a function, I eat way more of them than I should. And so I try to bake only when there is an occasion so I have plenty of time to work off the extra calories that I obviously consume.

This weekend, I brought my two new cookies to my niece's birthday party. The first is a chocolae chunk mixed nut cookie. I used my basic healthy chocolate chip cookie recipe, but instead of the 60% Ghiradelli chips, I used my new favorite chocolate- Lindt 70%. I've tried lots of different brands of dark chocolate and this is by far the creamiest, most delicious in my opinion. I have been eating a square of it after dinner as a treat, and it has made me so happy, that I just had to try it in a cookie. I'm also a big fan of all kinds of nuts, so I bought a mixture of cashews, macadamia nuts, and pecans, all unsalted, from the bulk section of Wegmans. I doubled the cookie recipe so it would make lots of big cookies, and they turned out really delicious. Interestingly, the chocolate, which I cut into small chunks, ended up spreading out into these chocolatey smears on the cookies, so when you bite into them, you get this yummy chocolate goodness! They were a big hit at the party and at home, and they are unfortunately GONE after only two days.

The second recipe is a blueberry almond cookie that I modified from Giada's original recipe. I loved the idea of those flavors, and I had never had a cookie with blueberries in it, so they sounded intriguing. Substituting was pretty easy (agave for the sugar, whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose), and I ended up using fresh blueberries instead of frozen ones. They came out like little morsels, but I think next time I would make them bigger and serve them as breakfast cookies. They definitely have a "breakfasty" taste and a scone-like texture. I also used more almonds than originally called for, which gave them both a soft and crunchy texture at the same time. I'll definitely make these again, and maybe experiment with different berries and nuts.

Let me know if you try these and how you like them. Hopefully you will have more restraint than I and let them last more than a day or two!

Chocolate Chunk Mixed Nut Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup agave nectar
2 eggs
1 tsp.vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 tsp. hot water
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
7 oz. Lindt 70% cacoa chocolate, diced into small chunks
1 1/2 cups mixed unsalted nuts, coarsely chopped
Beat butter and agave until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanillathen dissolved baking soda. On a piece of parchment or wax paper, whisk together dry ingredients. Mix into wet ingredients in thirds. Stir in chocolate and nuts. Refrigerate if necessary. Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 325 until golden. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely.

Blueberry Almond Cookies (modified from Giada's Almond Blueberry Cookies)

2 cups whole wheat pastry or white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2/3 cup agave nectar
1 egg york
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons lemon zest, about 1 lemon
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.
In another medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar using a hand mixer. Add egg and beat to incorporate. Add milk, almond extract, and lemon zest.
Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold in the almonds, then the blueberries. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Using two small spoons, dollop mix onto cookie sheets. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 15 minutes.
Cool the cookies on a wire rack.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Heavenly Healthier Cheesecake

For the longest time, I have wanted to try making a cheesecake sweetened only with natural sugars. Finally on Easter, I decided to give one of my many collected but unused recipes a try. As you might guess, I started with a base recipe and made some changes to suit my preferences. I also made a few errors which as it turns out actually improved the end result. I'm very happy to say that in one trial, I came up with a cheesecake recipe that I can be proud to serve to folks who desire a decadent dessert, as well as one that we healthier eaters can enjoy guilt-free.

The recipe I started with came from about.com and the originator was Laura Dolson. What I liked most about this recipe is that it gave directions for both baking the cheesecake in a water bath (which is the traditional method for avoiding cracks)and a second method which involved heating the oven at a high temperature, then lowering it immediately for a "low and slow" method. A water bath is not required, however checking the temperature in the center is essential to be sure it will be baked completely. Intrigued, I used the latter method, and it produced excellent results!

One of the changes I made included using agave nectar as the "sugar substitute" to sweeten both the batter and the crust. I also decided to use real vanilla bean. It's expensive, and quite honestly this cheesecake overall is pricy to make, but worth every penny in terms of flavor.

The crust, as suggested in the original recipe, is made with almond meal or almond flour, butter, and sugar substitute (agave). Unfortunately, it took me three tries to get a crust because I kept getting distracted by other Easter duties and burned the first two! This was of course very irritating because almond flour is one of the ingredients that make this thing pricy! But I carried on in spite of myself.

My next error, caused once again by distraction, was in leaving an egg out of the batter. I had set the four eggs out ahead of time to get them to room temperature (which is recommended for all baking) and somehow one of the little buggers rolled behind my wood block cutting board. I didn't notice it until the cheesecake was already in the oven. This dessert seemed doomed from the start!

As it turned out, using three eggs instead of four was a blessing in disguise. It turned out super creamy and everyone said they liked the texture much better than regular cheesecake. If you like your cheesecakes firm and dense, by all means, use the fourth egg. But I am keeping the error in my recipe as the creaminess is heavenly.

I brushed the cooled cheesecake with some agave and garnished with the vanilla bean pods. Then I served it with some fresh strawberries that I sweetened with agave and thickened with a litte potato starch. By the way, I am eperimenting with thickeners as I am not a big fan of cornstarch. The potato starch worked very quickly and didn't add any flavor to the topping, but made the color a little cloudy. After some research, I think I will try a little arrow root next time.

I hate to mess with a delicious thing, but I am dying to try this again with the lower fat cream cheese (neufchatel) and maybe substituting the sour cream for Greek yogurt, to make it healthier still. I will post an update if and when that happens to let you know if those adjustments produce something equally as special.

Agave Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

1 1/2 cups almond flour
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 Tablespoon agave nectar
Crust: Mix above ingredients together in a bowl and press into the bottom of a springform pan. Bake at 375 degrees until set and crust is a light brown. Set aside. Raise temperature of oven to 400 degrees.

3 (8 oz.)pkg. cream cheese at room temperature
3 eggs (preferably organic), at room temperature
2 vanilla beans
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup sour cream.
Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping bowl often. Open vanilla beans with a knife and scrape the insides into the bowl. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth, scraping bowl. Pour batter onto crust. Place in the center of oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 200 degrees. Bake an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, until temperature in center reaches 155 degrees. Cool completely.

For strawberry topping: Wash and slice strawberries. Mix with 1/4 agave nectar in a saucepan. Heat over med-low heat for about 5-10 minutes. In small bowl, mix 1 Tablespoon potato starch (or other thickening agent) with 1 Tablespoon water. Slowly stir this into strawberry mixture until it thickens. Remove from heat and cool.

When ready to serve, heat about 1/3 cup agave nectar until thin. Brush onto cold cheescake. Garnish with vanilla pods. To serve, spoon strawberry topping over individual slices.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lasagna Roll-ups

The week before vacation is always "clean out the fridge" week. Like most families, we try to use whatever is in our refrigerator that would otherwise be out of date when we returned. So about mid-week before our annual trek to the Carolinas for spring break, I decided to pick up some Naan so we could make pizzas and use the fresh mozzarella that I had leftover when I built the lasagnas the previous Sunday. Unfortunately, when I arrived at our Wegman's parking lot on the way home from work, I realized that I had left my purse in my desk drawer. Being 40 minutes away, I was not about to go back for it. So I drove home and resigned myself to inventing something with whatever we had remaining in the refrigerator and pantry.

For the kids, I ended up making turkey fajitas with the tortillas I had left from the last batch of chicken enchiladas and some turkey filets that were leftover from dinner a few nights prior. I had salsa, a few different cheeses, onions, peppers, and sour cream. That worked out well, and the kids loved them. But it was only enough for two. Tim and I still had to eat! So while I was cleaning up from dinner number one, I noticed the leftover whole wheat lasagna sheets that I had saved after building those lasagnas. I am not sure why I saved them at the time. After all, there were only three. But now it occured to me that I could layer them with some kind of filling, roll them up and bake them. I started with some leftover vegetables we had a few nights before: spaghetti squash and mushrooms. Then I took the leftover ricotta cheese and mixed it with some egg and a pinch of nutmeg and spread that over the vegetable layer. Next came the roasted tomatoes I got from the olive bar, some of that fresh mozarella I inteded to use for pizza, and the last of the leaves off my basil plant. I rolled the lasagna sheets up and put them in a square baking pan with some of the leftover sauce from the lasagna, sprinkled grated cheese on the top and baked it in the oven at 350 until bubbly. Pretty delicious and completely on the spot.

Now I am thinking about having those fresh lasagna sheets in the fridge from time to time. I can make a totally new roll-up depending on what ingredients I have onhand. This was one of those times when a big mistake (leaving my purse at work) resulted in a much better dinner than I had originally planned!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fire and Spice

Recently, I was looking for a new way to use one of my favorite ingredients: forbidden or black rice. At the same time, I had a hankering for shrimp. So I thought I would sautee some shrimp and serve it with a black sticky rice and add pineapple and scallions.

So I did what I usually do- a little research. It's easier for me to start out with an existing recipe and then modify it to get exactly what I want. And although I didn't find just the right black rice recipe to satisfy me, I found this great recipe for shrimp fried coconut rice with pineapple on a site called suite101.com. Now this was something I could work with!

Although this recipe called for jasmine rice, black rice was easy to substitute and so much more flavorful and healthy! I also decided that I wanted it to be spicy, so I added some chopped red chilis- hence the title of this post: Fire and Spice. Although it was a great idea, I got a little carried away with the fire and cut up way too many chilis. It ended up too spicy for Connor, a little too fiery for me, and just right for Tim. I lost track, but at best recollection I think I used about 5-6 chilis. Three should be about right for me next time!

The recipe also called for some sugar, which was easily substituted with my good old agave. I think the sugar could also be just omitted, as the dish is probably sweet enough from the coconut and pineapple. I also cut the rice down by half. The recipe indicates that it is a Thai dinner for two, but even after cutting the rice down by half there were still leftovers. I also used a pound of shrimp instead of counting out twelve. Finally, I sprinkled some natural coconut over the top which was quite delicious. My recipe after adjustments should serve three people. And by the way, the picture above shows the leftovers. I hadn't taken a picture the first time around when it was a bit more colorful and garnished with the coconut.

If you'd like the original recipe it is located here: http://www.suite101.com/content/shrimp-fried-coconut-rice-with-pineapple-a148777

My adjusted recipe is below. I will definitely make this again, despite the lingering fiery mouth that ensued. It heated well in the microwave the next day and I scarfed the leftovers! I tasted a bit of it cold before heating, and I think it would make a great cold salad as well.

Spicy Shrimp with Tropical Forbidden Rice
1 cup Chinese forbidden (black) rice
1/2 cup water
1 cup light coconut milk
1 T canola or peanut oil
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp agave nectar (optional)
1 T fish sauce
3-5 chopped red chilis
4 oz. chopped fresh pineapple
2 green onions, chopped
Rinse black rice until water runs clear. Add rice, water, and coconut milk to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook about 15-20 minutes or until rice is sticky and soft. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or large pan and then add garlic, chilis and white onion. Cook on medium heat 1-2 minutes or until onion is shiny.
Add shrimp and stir fry until shrimp just turns pink all over. Add agave, fish sauce, and rice and toss.
Add pineapple and green onion and cook about 2 minutes more or until heated through.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Family Favorite- Chicken Enchiladas!

There are a few dishes my family asks for time and time again, and my chicken enchiladas is one of them. I would love to give credit to the inventor of the recipe, but I have had it scribbled down in my recipe book for so long, I have lost sight of its origin. This is another one of those recipes, however, that quickly becomes your own when you make specific ingredient choices.

Beginning with the tortillas: Tim and I want 100% whole wheat, Connor and Carly want the white flour tortillas, and Gillian will eat them either way. So I buy both and make about half and half. The tortillas are then stuffed with a mixture of chicken, spices, corn and scallions that are then mixed with cheeses and sour cream. This makes a delicious filling that can be different every time you serve them, again, due to the variety of choices you have.

This time, I used rotisserie chicken to save time, and chose a salsa Jack cheese for the inside and a milder 2% milk fat cheddar for the top. The reason for this was to reduce the fat somewhat, but I was also concerned that the salsa Jack would be too spicy for some of us. As it turned out, the Jack mellowed a bit after cooking, so the "heat" factor should not have been a concern.

In addition to the shredded cheese, the filling contains 4 oz. cream cheese and 1/4 cup of sour cream. I mistakenly bought a 3 oz. bar of cream cheese, so I substituted a little goat cheese to make up the difference.

Lastly, the recipe calls for prepared salsa, both to cover the bottom of the pan and to mix in the filling. You may certainly make your own salsa but I use several different kinds of jarred salsas- Wegmans has some great ones if you are fortunate enough to live near a Wegmans! My favorite so far has been the lime garlic. YUM!

The enchiladas are baked in the oven with more salsa, more cheese, and then sprinkled with more chopped scallions when done. Serve with sour cream and hot sauce if you like them spicy. We had these last night and I just dropped some off at Carly's so she could bake some in her new apartment. So delicious!

Baked Chicken Cheese Enchiladas

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
2 cups prepared salsa
2 cups grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/2 tsp.cumin
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne
salt, pepper
4 scallions, thinly sliced
10-12 soft round tortillas

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In medium bowl, cream together cream cheese and sour cream. Stir in 1/2 cup salsa and 1 cup of the cheese.
In second bowl, toss together chicken, corn, cumin, oregano, cayenne, salt, pepper and half of the scallions.
Add chicken mixture to cheese mixture and stir to combine.
In a baking dish, spread 1/2 cup salsa on the bottom. lace about 1/3 cup filling on a tortilla and roll up. Transfer to baking dish with seam side down. Repeat process for remaining tortillas.
Pour remaining salsa over tortillas, spreading to coat, and top with remaining cheese.
Bake 20-25 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining scallions before serving. Serve with sour cream and hot sauce.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Irish at Heart

I have very little, if any, Irish blood. Tim, however, has a considerable amount, mostly from his paternal grandmother's family, and he embraces this part of his nationality, much like I do with the Italian half of mine. And so, ever since we were married, I have made a big deal out of St. Patrick's Day, making it his special day. As our birthdays are only one day apart, and he has always made that time of year all about me, I always felt he deserved this day!

When the kids were little, he used to pretend to go off on an errand, which in reality meant his traditional visit to an Irish pub, and we would decorate the house in typical St. Patrick's Day flair: green streamers, shamrocks, a wreath on the door, chocolate coins, you name it. Then he would arrive home, feigning surprise and we would sit down to an Irish feast.

Although we no longer decorate the house so elaborately, nor do we "surprise" him, the traditional Straight Family St. Patrick's Day dinner is still alive and well. In fact, the kids anticipate the meal the same way they do Thanksgiving. Over the years, the main dish has varied from Irish stews, to several different lamb recipes, to pot pies and even a steak and Guiness pie. But the sides and dessert have remained basically the same: praitie oaten, Irish soda bread (or Irish brown bread) and chocolate Guiness cake.

I found the recipe for praitie oaten years ago while doing a search of Irish recipes online. These are fried cakes made from smashed potatoes, oats, butter and salt, then fried in more butter. My family is obsessed with them. Although a breakfast food in Ireland, it quickly became the first required St. Patrick's Day dish. I make a ton of them and the kids have the leftovers for breakfast the next morning. These are pretty special. I am not a potato eater, but I can't resist them!

I used to make an Irish soda bread recipe that was passed along to me by an Irish-Italian friend I met when we lived in South Carolina. Dense and flavorful with caraway seeds and raisins, it was similar to a scone and great with coffee. The problem always was, that Tim and I were the only ones who liked it, and it seemed like a waste to make it. Additionally, it is made with white flour so eventually I stopped eating it. Now that Tim is on the healthy track with me, the Irish soda bread fell off the St. Patrick's Day tradition wheel. This year, I made an Irish brown bread that everyone liked, even Carly- who typically scoffs at whole grains. The recipe came from Epicurious, and the only change I made was that instead of using half whole wheat and half white flour, I used all whole wheat pastry flour. Here is a link to the recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Irish-Brown-Bread-109216

Despite the aforementioned healthy track Tim and I are on, no St. Patrick's Day would be complete without chocolate Guiness cake. This is definitely the best cake I've ever made, and is quite an impressive tower of indulgence. It is supposed to be a three layer cake, but this year for the first time, I decided to split the layers to make it six. The ganache is so delicious and beautiful, more layers of it can only mean more happiness. This recipe is based on a chocolate stout cake from Epicurious, but I have chosen some very specific ingredients. The recipe here will be my version. You can search for the original recipe at Epicurious.com. The cake is made with Guiness stout, of course, and two cups of Irish butter, simmered on the stove, then mixed with Dutch cocoa. This is mixed with your typical dry ingredients and sour cream. The ganache is made with heavy cream and Ghiradelli 60% chocolate chips. Absolutely heavenly. And worth the extra workout time the next day.

The main dish this year? Irish pot roast. It was great being able to start it on the stove and finish it in the crock pot, which kept me free to work on the other dishes. Since we didn't have lamb this year, which can be pricey, I splurged on the grass-fed beef. The pot roast was delicious, although the 4-5 hours on high was not long enough to ensure that all the meat would be tender. If I do this again, I'll cook it on low for 8-10 hours instead. Here is a link to the recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/irish-pot-roast-362523

Mary Sue Milliken and Suesan Feniger

3 large potatoes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup rolled oats (I use 2 cups)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for frying (I used Kerrygold Irish unsalted butter)
Place potatoes in a bowl and wash under cold, running water until water runs clear. Place in a medium saucepan with 1/2 tsp. of the salt. Add enough water to generously cover. Bring to a bowl, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered until soft, about 15 minutes. While potatoes are warm, mash with a fork, in a food mill, or gently in a food processor.
Let potatoes cool a little, then mix in the oats to make a soft dough. Add the butter and remaining tsp. of salt and mix well. Roll dough to 1-inch thickness and cut out 3-inch biscuits with a round cutter.
Heat 1 T butter in a large skilled. Add half of the cakes and fry until golden brown on both sides. Repeat with remaining cakes, adding more butter when necessary. Serve warm.

based on a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine

2 cups Guiness
2 cups unsalted Irish butter (such as Kerrygold)
1 1/2 cups Dutch-process cocoa
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 T baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream
3 cups heavy cream
2 pkg 60% cacao chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three high-sided round cake pans. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring Guiness and butter to simmer in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend.
Using mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on low speed, then fold until completely combined. Divide batter equally among pans. Bake cakes until tester comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer to rack, cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes onto rack and cool completely.
Heat cream in a saucepan until simmering. Whisk in chocolate chips until smooth. Refrigerate until spreading consistency.
Split each layer in half. Frost each layer and then frost sides and top. You will have just enough icing if you spread it thinly between layers.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sweet Potatoes Take Center Stage!

I am in love with the sweet potato. And it's not only because it is loaded with vitamins and other essential nutrients. It's not only because it is a good source of fiber, or that it is low in calories and devoid of fat and cholesterol. Although it is certainly true that it is a nutrition powerhouse, I'm in love with the sweet potato because it is a delicious gift to someone like me, who gave up processed sugars a long time ago. And it doesn't need brown sugar, marshmallows, or maple syrup to be enjoyed. It is sweet on its own with a little butter and cinnamon. Mmmmmmm...

In a previous post, I shared a family favorite recipe for twice-baked sweet potatoes with fontina that I found in one of my favorite cookbooks. I've made this several times as a side dish, but each time I found myself enjoying the side dish, and pushing the entree to the side.

And so, I decided that it is time to let sweet potatoes take center stage. Which led me to my latest recipe creation: Sweet Potato Wedge Salad with Pecans and Cinnamon Dressing. I've seen several sweet potato or butternut squash salad recipes that called for some kind of cheese and usually dried cranberries, but most of them called for dicing the sweet potato or squash, and that would just not do. So I decided the salad needed to be topped with large wedges of roasted sweet potatoes! And from there, I started adding some of my favorite ingredients: The greens? Arugula! The crunch? Pecans! Oh, and I have been loving shallots lately, let's add those! And of course the best salad cheese EVER- goat cheese! Wait. Let's roast the shallots with the sweet potatoes and sprinkle the goat cheese over them as soon as they come out of the oven so the cheese gets all melty... Mmmmmmm...

As for the dressing, I decided on a cider vinegar and grape seed oil combination, sweetened with agave nectar and some mustard for a little bite. (If you can't find agave nectar, you can substitute a mild honey.) This is tasty on its own, but then I thought to add cinnamon which as it turns out was a great choice.

Although I invented this recipe as a main dish, I served it to my family with a roasted chicken, just in case. It went over so well, everyone had seconds. Tim proclaimed that he didn't need the chicken, they all fought over the leftover dressing, and Carly took a picture of it with her phone!

A few things I would do differently: Some of the shallots were a bit black so next time I will add them in about halfway through cooking time. I would have also preferred the pecans to be more coarsley chopped. Both of these adjustments will be included in the recipe I'm leaving you here.

Let me know if you try my new salad. And share your ideas for bringing sweet potatoes onto the main plate!

Sweet Potato Wedge Salad
with Cinnamon Dressing, Pecans and Goat Cheese

2-3 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and each cut into 8 wedges
2 large shallots, sliced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, or enough to coat
Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese
4 cups arugula, rinsed and drained
½ cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans
4T cider vinegar
2 T agave nectar
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T water
½ tsp. cinnamon
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
3 T grape seed oil

Toss sweet potatoes in extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet. Roast in 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, add sliced shallots and toss, turning the sweet potatoes. Roast 15 minutes more or until tender. Sprinkle with goat cheese. Set aside.

In large bowl, toss arugula with pecans. In small bowl, whisk vinegar, agave nectar, mustard, cinnamon salt and pepper until smooth. Slowly whisk in oil. Reserve a few tablespoons of dressing. Pour the rest of the dressing over arugula and pecans in bowl. To serve, place arugula mixture onto each plate, divide goat cheese topped sweet potato and shallots among each plate. Drizzle with remaining cinnamon dressing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Heaven

I promised a recipe for honey roasted peanut cookies, and yes, you will find it here, as well as a chocolate peanut butter pie that I'm sure will grab your attention. But first, the cookies. The inspiration for this recipe came from a contest in the latest issue of Food Network Magazine. Each month, a secret ingredient is featured on the last page and the winner of the contest receives $500 toward a foodnetworkstore.com purchase. Since I sweeten some of my desserts with honey, I thought I would give it a try.

I have been meaning to try making a healthy peanut butter cookie, and since honey was the secret ingredient, and honey roasted peanuts are a popular snack, I came up with the title of the recipe- Honey Roasted Peanut Cookies before I even came up with the recipe itself!

These cookies are made with natural peanut butter, roasted unsalted peanuts, and of course, the secret ingredient, honey- which sweetens the cookie as well as the frosting. I made them chunky by adding some whole peanuts to the cookie dough. I was pretty happy with the turnout, and although I wouldn't call it outstanding, I'll send this recipe along to the contest anyway, just for giggles. Here is the recipe:

Healthy Honey Roasted Peanut Cookies
½ cup peanut oil
½ cup natural peanut butter
½ cup honey
½ cup natural cane sugar (Turbinado)
1 egg
1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts plus more for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat peanut oil, ½ cup peanut butter, honey, and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg. On a piece of parchment or wax paper, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Mix dry ingredients into the honey mixture in thirds. Stir in ½ cup peanuts. Drop by tablespoons onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until cookies lightly brown.

Honey Peanut Butter Frosting- Wisk 2/3 cup natural peanut butter with ½ cup honey until smooth. Add hot water a tablespoon at a time if necessary until frosting is spreadable. Spread each cookie with frosting and top with peanuts.

Makes 25-30 cookies

As I mentioned earlier, that is not the end of peanut butter heaven. I must tell you about a peanut butter luster pie that I have been making for years. It is a truly decadent dessert and it has been requested so many times by family members and friends. My friend Jason tried it for the first time recently and he sent me an E-mail saying, "That was honestly the best peanut butter pie I have ever had. I am nominating you for the Golden Apple Award (a local teacher award) for your baking skills alone." But I cannot take the credit for the recipe. I got it from a Pillsbury Classic Cookbook published in 1990. The originator is Helen Macinkowicz of Michigan. It is quite honestly an outstanding slice of heaven, however, as my friend Stacey says, "It's set-it-on-your-ass good." In other words, it's so fattening, you might as well just set it on your ass, because that's exactly where it's going! Quite true, with 680 calories and 50g of fat for a mere one twelfth of the pie.

And so, as you might imagine, I became inspired to create a healthier version of that much loved pie. I started off with the whole grain crust I've referred to in a previous post that can be found on the wholefoods website. Unfortunately, I was short on whole wheat flour by about a quarter cup. I decided to use a quarter cup of almond flour along with the cup of whole wheat pastry flour, figuring that a nut crust might go well with a peanut butter pie. Unfortunately, the crust came out way too crumbly, and I am not sure whether that was due to the almond flour or that my dough may have been too wet. The next substitution was the chocolate. The original pie called for a chocolate frosting to be spread along crust before filling it with the peanut butter layer. Instead of making a frosting, I melted dark chocolate and added some butter and just spread that on the crust. For the peanut butter layer I kept the butter but used raw cane sugar in place of the brown sugar. I used organic peanut butter instead of natural peanut butter because I have had a hard time finding a natural peanut butter that is creamy enough to bake with. The organic peanut butter I used had no trans fats and a very small amount of organic sugar. In place of the cool whip, I whipped up some heavy cream. Here's where I made another error. The original recipe calls for beating the cool whip into the peanut butter layer on low speed. When you do that with whipped cream it separates a bit- which is not good!! Next time, I will fold it in gently. I definitely should have known better.

As it turned out, the pie was beautiful to look at and according to my son Connor, tasted delicious, but the texture was not right at all. So it's back to the drawing board. If I manage a healthier version of the chocolate peanut butter pie that I am happy with, I will definitely pass along the recipe. But for now, you'll have to be satisfied with the set-it-on-your-ass version. It's worth some extra time on the treadmill!

Peanut Butter Luster Pie
from Pillsbury Bake-Off 34

15 oz. pkg Pillsbury All Ready Pie Crusts (I made an all-butter food processor pie crust)
Chocolate Layer:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 T butter
2-3 tsp.water
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
12-oz container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 T butter
2-3 tsp. milk
1 1/2 tsp. corn syrup
Frozen whipped topping, thawed (I used real whipped cream)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare pie crust according to directions. Bake at 450 degrees for 9-11 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely.
In small saucepan over low heat, melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1 T butter with 2 tsp. water, stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar, blend until smooth. Add additional water if necessary for desired spreading consistency. Spread mixture over bottom and up sides of cooled crust. Refrigerate.
In medium saucepan, combine 1 cup butter and brown sugar. Cool over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is smooth, stirring frequently. Refrigerate 10 minutes. In large bowl, beat peanut butter and brown sugar mixture at low speed. Beat 1 minute at med-high speed. Add whipped topping, beat an additional 1 minute at low speed or until mixture is smooth and creamy. Pour over chocolate layer, refrigerate.
In small saucepan over low heat, melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1 T butter with 2 tsp milk and corn syrup, stirring contrantly, until mixture is smooth. Add additional milk if necessary for desired spreading consistency. Spoon over filling, carefully spread to cover. Refrigerate at least 2 hours to set topping. Garnish with whipped topping and peanuts.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookie Challenge

Who doesn't love chocolate chip cookies? And since I eat dark chocolate every day for-uh- health reasons, yeah, that's right, health reasons, I wondered if I could make that daily treat extra special occasionally with a healthy chocolate chip cookie.

My first discovery came to me when I was searching for a healthy dessert to make for my friend Stacey's birthday. I found a recipe for an almond cake covered with dark chocolate (delicious as it turned out the for the trial run, but a disaster for the actual day, which is another story...)and there on the site was a chocolate chip cookie recipe that is made with almond flour! I have been a fan of almonds and the flavor of almonds my entire life, so this definitely sounded intriguing. These cookies have no flour, no eggs, no butter, and are sweetened with agave.

Elana's chocolate chip cookies. These are a bit of a pain to work with. The batter is thin and if you're not careful, they will fall apart as you are transfering them from the pan, even after cooling. They come out very flat but tender and very tasty! Everyone in my family loved them so unfortunately they were gone way too quickly. The recipe can be found on the Madhava Agave Nectar website, but I've seen it elsewhere on the Internet, so I don't think it originated there. Here is the link: http://www.madhavasagave.com/RecipeDetail.aspx?RecipeID=56

The second attempt was my own invention. Inspired by the almond flour in Elana's recipe, I took a traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe I've had for years and made some substitutions. The white flour became half whole wheat pastry flour, half almond flour and I used agave in place of the sugar. This cookie, in contrast to Elana's has the butter and eggs that you would typically find in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but are made healthier with no processed sugars or flours. I added some toasted almonds and a little almond extract and had my new invention- a healthy almond dark chocolate chip cookie!

I'm finding that I am enjoying making healthy versions of desserts. Next up- honey roasted peanut cookies. Recipe coming soon!

Maria's Almond Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
(may be doubled)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 egg
1/2 tsp.vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1/2 tsp. hot water
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup almond flour (or very finely ground blanched almonds)
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup 60% cacao chocolate chips
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Beat butter and agave until smooth. Beat in egg, vanilla, and almond extract, then dissolved baking soda. On a piece of parchment or wax paper, whisk together dry ingredients. Mix into wet ingredients in thirds. Stir in dark chocolate chips and toasted almonds. Refrigerate if necessary. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 325 until golden. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

This Food is Forbidden!

Chinese Forbidden Rice. Admit it. Any food that is called "forbidden" is something you just have to try. Also called Chinese black rice, it is considered a "superfood," being one of the highest foods in antioxidants (more than blueberries!)and it also improves blood circulation. Forbidden rice has the darkest bran layer, and therefore the most fiber, vitamins, and minerals than any other whole grain rice. And THIS is exactly why it became known as forbidden rice in ancient China. Because it was thought to ensure a long life, only the emperors were allowed to eat it. And as for the taste? It's pretty special- a little chewier than brown rice with a bit of a nutty flavor. I am a big fan! Unfortunately, I have only been able to find it so far at a health food store. Unless I have just missed it, I don't think it's available at Wegmans- yet.

You can cook forbidden rice exactly the way you do brown rice. Boil it in water and a little salt, if desired. Use about a cup of rice to about a cup and a quarter of water. As soon as it starts boiling, turn the stove to low, cover, and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. You can make it in place of regular or brown rice in any recipe, or just serve it as is, either on the side or under a dish with a sauce.
I've also tried a few recipes I've found online. My favorite by far is Fried Forbidden Rice by Sang Yoon. Fried with roasted garlic, bacon, onion, and tamari sauce and topped with scallions, the nutty rice took on the Asian flavors nicely! I made this recipe exactly as written with one exception. The original recipe requires that you cook the rice and let it dry overnight before adding it in the recipe. I didn't really have the time for this, so I just cooked it and spread it out on a pan, draining it with paper towels to absorb the liquid. The dish was delicious so I'm not sure the cooking ahead is really necessary.

The next one I'm going to try is a forbidden rice salad from Whole Foods that is apparently their best selling salad. I'll post the results and recipe after I've tried it. Let me know if you dared to try forbidden rice! And please pass along any great recipes you find. I am planning on making this "superfood" a staple at our house!

Fried Forbidden Rice ACTIVE: 25 MIN TOTAL TIME: 1 HR 25 MIN plus overnight chilling SERVINGS: 6
1 head of garlic (about 12 cloves), cloves peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for drizzling
2 cups black rice (13 ounces; see Note)
2 cups water
1/4 pound lean bacon, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
4 scallions, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°. Put the garlic cloves on a double sheet of foil and drizzle with vegetable oil. Seal the foil around the garlic and bake for about 1 hour, until the garlic is soft and caramelized. Let cool, then refrigerate overnight.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, cover the black rice with the water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the rice is just tender. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Spread the rice on a large rimmed baking sheet and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
In a large, deep skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate.
Pour off all of the fat in the skillet and add the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the bacon, black rice and roasted garlic and stir-fry over moderately high heat until warmed through, about 3 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce and season with salt and white pepper. Transfer to bowls, garnish with the scallions and serve right away.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Return of Quinoa with a Twist- It's for Breakfast!

Since I started on my weight loss/healthy eating journey almost ten years ago, I've relied on mostly one ingredient for breakfast: the incredible, edible egg. Previously given a bad rap for its cholesterol content, it is now known that eggs actually contain the good cholesterol that our bodies need. The advantage to having an all or mostly protein breakfast is that it keeps your blood sugar steady so that you are less hungry during the day. Although there are many ways to vary the egg breakfast (omelets with different veggies, meats and cheeses, open faced egg sandwiches on whole grain, etc.), sometimes I just want something else.

Cereals are tough for me because it has been difficult to find one that is low enough in sugar without tasting like cardboard. I do enjoy the weight control oatmeal occasionally, loaded with berries, but recently I've been wanting to try making my own oatmeal to have something that is more natural. So I started digging through recipes online, in recipe books and magazines and after perusing several oatmeal recipes, I came across a breakfast quinoa that looked very interesting. It called for red quinoa, almonds, apricots, orange and cinnamon and was topped with fresh ricotta cheese. YUM!

If you read my previous post about quinoa, you know that it is a protein powerhouse. So now I can eat some fruit and grain for breakfast but still get that boost of protein that I need first thing in the morning! The original recipe can be found in the February issue of Food and Wine magazine. I'm sure you are already guessing that I made substitutions! First, it called for pure maple syrup but I used agave nectar instead because I prefer the flavor and it has a lower glycemic index and will keep blood sugar levels down. I also substituted fresh dates for the apricots because I am not a huge fan of apricots. If you are going to do this, don't buy the sugared dates in the baking aisle that look like rabbit pellets! Buy the organic dates. They are delicious, all natural, and the pits are easy to remove. There is just no comparison! Well, after that substitution (which was a delicious one), I realized that apricots were probably chosen in the original recipe for color. As you can imagine, the dates blended right in with the red quinoa and aside from the almonds, the dish was rather monochromatic. So I threw in some golden raisins and that helped a bit!

The great thing about recipes like this is that you can substitute for the sweetener (either agave like I did or honey), the nuts, and the dried fruit to make it YOUR quinoa breakfast. And by the way, it was absolutely delicious. The recipe can be made up to five days ahead and reheated. It also can be served cold which we will definitely try with the leftovers tomorrow.

So now I have another option for breakfast other than eggs. I'm still going to go back to some oatmeal recipes and if I try anything fabulous, I will be sure to post it here!

Sweet Breakfast Quinoa (from Food and Wine)
1 cup red quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I used dates and added golden raisins)
2 T pure maple syrup (or agave nectar or honey)1/2 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup fresh ricotta

In a small saucepan, cover the quinoa with the water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until water has been absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 15 min. Lightly fluff with a fork and cover again.
In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the almonds and cook over moderate heat, stirring a few times, until golden brown, about 2 min. Add the apricots, maple syrup, orange zest and cinnamon and stir well until heated through.
Add the quinoa to the skillet and stir gently to incorporate the almonds and apricots. Top each portion with a tablespoon of ricotta (I also added more orange zest) and serve.