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.