Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Creamy Nutty Oatmeal

When I haven't been to the market in a while, and we are out of fresh fruit, this is what I will typically make for breakfast. It is welcomed and enjoyed though, so nobody is the wiser that it is a fallback pantry meal.

Creamy Nutty Oatmeal
serves 2

1 cup thick rolled oats (not quick)
2 cups milk or soymilk (or 1 cup water and 1 cup milk)
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 tablespoons nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, or your favorite)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 dried apricots, diced or an appropriate amount for 2 servings of other dried fruit
to garnish: freshly grated nutmeg and slices of fresh bananas or strawberries or other fruit (optional)

In a saucepan, bring milk with salt to a boil. Add the nut butter and stir to dissolve. Then add the maple syrup, oats and dried fuit. Simmer, stirring occassionally for about 10 to 20 minutes, until the oats are tender and it is the consistency desired. Serve with freshly grated nutmeg and optionally with slices of fresh fruit.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Peanut Butter Oat Bars

When I saw these bars on Tastespotting, I knew I would try them. Can't beat the combination of oats and peanut butter, unless you do what I did and add some chocolate! It wasn't a part of the recipe, but I highly recommend it. I added a 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips.

Also, I made them whole grain by using spelt and barley flour in place of all-purpose, and I sweetened them with less than a cup of maple sugar. They still turned out lovely and were terrific with coffee. Many thanks to Maria, of the Goddess's Kitchen for posting this Peanut Butter Oat Bar recipe.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chestnut Pancakes (Gluten Free)

DH and I were in Orlando for the day recently and on our way out of the city, we stopped at a natural foods store, Chamberlain's. There we found a few items we have a hard time finding in other places in Florida, such as blue corn meal, maple sugar and other things. DH also put in our cart this bag of chestnut flour:

We have never used it before but have heard that it is delicious. So we decided to try it, even though it is quite pricey. We found online this recipe for gluten-free chestnut pancakes published by the manufacturer of the flour. It only uses a 1/3 cup of the chestnut flour, so if we keep using recipes like this, our small bag of flour should last a little while. We hope so, as we are loving it! The flour itself even smells wonderful! It adds a deep, sweet and nutty flavor. The pancakes are not as light and fluffy as more traditional pancakes, but they are packed with flavor and are very satisfying.

We topped this batch of chestnut pancakes with some caramelized bananas. We have found they are also good with apples or a bit of maple syrup.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Polenta with Gorgonzola and Almonds

Oh my, this is the most luscious polenta we have eaten in a while. We could have eaten the whole pot if not careful. It is so creamy and sweet, with a nice crunch from the almonds. Really it so richly flavored that we would even happily eat it as a dessert. We ate the polenta along with tofu baked in a honey-Dijon sauce and some green beans sauteed with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

The recipe is very easy and quite quick, taking only minutes to prepare. The trick is that the recipe calls for quick cooking polenta, so instead of stirring the pot of polenta for a long time, it only takes 5 minutes of stirring. However, the polenta that I purchased was super quick cooking polenta, and only needed one minute of stirring. A gourmet meal in one minute!

The brand I used was de la Estancia Organic Polenta. It is not an instant product even though it only needs a minute to cook. The package says that it is not pre-cooked nor processed, and that the reason it is naturally quick-cooking is because it has a low starch content and a super fine grind. Since I used this polenta, I did need to alter the amount of liquid ingredients in the recipe. The recipe calls for 5 cups total of liquids, but I reduced that to 3 cups total per the package recommendation. I would read the package directions to be sure of the cooking time and liquid amounts required for the particular brand.

Polenta with Gorgonzola and Almonds
Gourmet Magazine April 2008

3 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
salt (around 1 1/2 teaspoons total, divided)
1 cup quick-cooking polenta
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces Gorgonzola dolce
1/3 cup unsalted roasted almonds, chopped or sliced
freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring water, milk and 3/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large heavy bottomed sauce pan. Sprinkle in the polenta and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, 5 minutes (or per package directions).
2. Remove from heat and whisk in Parmesan and butter. Serve sprinkled with Gorgonzola, almonds and freshly ground black pepper.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tempeh Milanese with Creamy Caper and Lemon Sauce

I found a new way to use the recipe for the Cornmeal-Crusted Tempeh that I posted previously. It actually works great as a vegetarian substitute for Giada de Laurentiis' recipe on the Food Network website for Pork Milanese with Creamy Caper and Lemon Sauce. I combined the ideas of the two recipes.

In Giada's recipe, she dips the cutlets into flour, eggs, and then breadcrumbs before frying. Instead of doing that, I dipped my cooked/marinated tempeh into buttermilk and then the cornmeal mixture from the tempeh recipe I posted from the Candle Cafe Cookbook. The coating stuck very well to the tempeh and became crispy once fried. I have no idea why I dipped them into buttermilk before the cornmeal mixture, it's not a part of either recipe, but it worked out nicely. It is optional.

The tempeh was delicious dipped into the Creamy Caper and Lemon Sauce. I was supposed to add parsely to the sauce, but I didn't have any.

We ate the tempeh with roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes and red onions along with some garlicky kale. The bowl of Creamy Caper and Lemon Sauce is not visible in the above photo, but we found that everything tasted great dipped into it, not just the tempeh.

I suppose this can be the featured Meal of the Week #5. Here is the summary of the meal:

  • Protein: Tempeh (the main source) plus whole grains and dairy
  • Dairy: Mascarpone cheese and milks
  • Whole grain: Cornmeal, Barley Flour and Potatoes
  • Fruits/Vegetables: Kale, Cauliflower, Onion, Sweet Potatoes
  • Fats/Sugars: Olive oil on all of the vegetables, grapeseed oil for frying tempeh, whole milk/cheese, a bit of maple syrup in the tempeh marinade

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Agave Nectar or Miel de Maguey

When we were in Mexico in February, we picked up this jar of Miel de Maguey, which is agave nectar. We really wish we had bought more, as it is superb! It is so delicious, with a much deeper and more fruity agave flavor than any we have bought in the US, and I have tried every one I have seen. This jar we are savoring and are using it on dishes where we will be able to taste and appreciate the special flavor.

It was interesting to note while we were there that many Mexicans use agave nectar as a medicinal supplement rather than as a sweetener. When we were talking about how popular agave nectar is here in the States as sugar substitute, it was interesting to find out that in some parts of Mexico it is more commonly just eaten by the spoonful like a dose of medicine. So, I had to explain how to use it as a sweetener. That was a little surprising to me, since besides honey, agave is a sweetener native to Mexico. The nectar from the agave plant has been extracted and used for food since pre-Columbian times. Sugar cane was brought to Mexico in more recent history. Perhaps it was because I was talking to people in Yucatan, and agave is not a crop grown there. In Yucatan, bee honey is a big industry and has always been used there as a sweetener.

For those who are curious, here is a translation of the health claims written on this jar of agave nectar: "rich in fiber, dietetic oligosaccharide, aids digestion and promotes the development of intestinal flora. Natural source of protein, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and antioxidants. More than a sweetener." Now in contrast, here are the health claims written on a some of the bottles of agave nectar that I have found in the US which are marketed to Americans: "a new natural sweetener... low glycemic index that is beneficial for many... diabetic friendly..."

I personally ignore health claims written on food products. I don't trust them. And there is good reason to be skeptical. Agave nectar sold in the US is not without controversy, as apparently some brands that say they're 100 percent pure, really aren't, the glycemic index differs greatly between brands, etc.

I use agave nectar because I like how it tastes, how it dissolves so easily into liquids and because it works well in many of my recipes. I use it sparingly when I do use it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Crespella Part Deux

A few days ago I posted the recipe for Oven Crespella with Chocolate Sauce from Gourmet Magazine. Well, DH and I have been talking a lot about it over the last week, and we collaborated a new way to use the recipe. So, yesterday DH made this new version of Crespella as a celebratory cake to mark our one year anniversary of healthy eating. OK, so maybe eating a cake is not exactly most logical way to celebrate healthy eating. But, this cake has no refined ingredients, barely any sweetener, etc because of the modifications we made. Yes it is still high in calories and fat, but we are sharing it with friends, and we are not feeling guilty eating it.

We call the cake Crespella Cream Pie. To assemble, make two crespellas and some of Dorie Greenspan's Vanilla Pastry Cream and your favorite recipe for chocolate sauce, frosting or ganache. A note on the pastry cream recipe: I personally don't feel it needs so much sweetener. The whole milk and vanilla bean already give it a rich flavor, so I usually just use two tablespoons of maple sugar or agave nectar to sweeten it.

To assemble:

  1. Place one of the crespellas on a cake plate.
  2. Spread the pastry cream on top.
  3. Arrange slices of banana over the pastry cream.
  4. Spread some of the chocolate sauce onto the bottom of the other crespella and lay it on top of the bananas. That will help glue the bananas in place once it sets in the refrigerator.
  5. Then either frost the cake with the rest of the chocolate sauce immediately or after the cake has set in the refrigerator. In Florida where I live, it is sometimes so humid that refrigerating first helps the cake keep its shape while frosting. Then store the cake in the refrigerator.

Either serve cold or at room temperature.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Meal of the Week #4

A crew of painters we met through friends has been painting the exterior of our house this week. They have actually done other work on our house in the past, so we've come to know them pretty well by now. I have been getting great practice with my Spanish, and I really cannot believe how much easier it comes to me these days. Anyway, DH and I decided to offer them a buffet style lunch, as they are finishing everything today. (They did work on our kitchen when it was being remodeled too, so the gesture was also in recognition and appreciation of how much we have been enjoying our kitchen). So, this is the Meal of the Week.

In approximately the order shown in the photo, from top to bottom:

  • Roasted vegetables, salsa de chiltomate, refried black beans, chopped hard boiled eggs.
  • Whole wheat empanadas filled with varying combinations of cheese, veggies and beans.
  • Wedges of limes, pickled red onions, avocado and tomato salad
  • Corn tortillas (under the cloth) and cantaloupe.

We also put out (after the photo was taken) some Mexican crema and some crumbled Mexican queso fresco. Also not shown was a pitcher of homemade Jamaica, which is iced tea made from the dried leaves of the hibiscus flower. Jamaica is a very common thing to drink in Mexico.

Every one of our guests commented about how healthy the meal was. Everyone ate everything on their plates, even after second and third helpings. From the smiles, easy going laughter and camaraderie at the table, we could tell they were all very happy. And then they all got straight back to work. So, it was a success.

Summary of Meal

Protein: Black beans, eggs, whole grains, cheeses
Dairy: Cheese, cream
Whole grains: Whole wheat and spelt empanadas, corn tortillas
Fruits/Vegetables: Cantaloupe, Limes, Avocado, Tomatoes, Onions, Asparagus, Zucchini, Summer Squash, Peppers
Fats/Sugars: Sweetener for Jamaica, cheeses, olive oil in roasted veggies

Friday, April 11, 2008

Oven Crespella with Chocolate Sauce

I guess it has been a while since I posted! Not to worry! I am returning with this tasty treat which was featured in the new issue of Gourmet (April 2008). DH made it, as he couldn't keep his eyes off the photo in the magazine. But, I think DH's turned out even nicer. He added his own touches. The original recipe calls for Nutella. Don't get me wrong. Nutella is awesome. It's just not something we keep in the house, especially since we did away with sugar. So, DH made his own chocolate sauce. Plus, he decided to soften some dried figs in some honey-butter for an extra special touch.

We had never had a crespella before, so we don't know how it is supposed to turn out. But we were intrigued to try it because, from the recipe, it seems basically to be a baked pancake. And, as you know, we Love pancakes. It was pretty simple. DH made the batter, poured it in a pan, and then after it baked, he flipped it out of the pan and onto a serving plate. The recipe didn't say to present it like that, but we think it turned out lovely.

The recipe didn't say to do this either, but look how pretty it turned out. DH spread his chocolate sauce and figs on the top, as if it were a cake. [Added April 14, 2008, see this posting for yet another version of Crespella: Crespella Cream Pie].

So, in the end, was it still a crespella? We say, who cares, it was incredibly delicious! The edges were crispy but inside it was soft with an almost custard-like layer. And it even tasted great cold after being stored in the refrigerator.

Oven Crespella with Nutella Sauce
adapted from Gourmet Magazine, April 2008

serves 4 to 6, active time 15 mins, 40 mins start to finish

3/4 cup flour (or a mixture of whole grain flours)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar (DH used a small amount of agave nectar as substitute)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons whole milk, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup Nutella, chocolate hazelnut spread (or chocolate sauce)
optional garnishes: confectioners sugar

accompaniment: chopped berries (figs or bananas are great with it too)

1. Heat an oven-proof skillet in the oven as it is preheating to 450 degrees.
2. Whisk to combine the flour, eggs, sweetener, vanilla, salt and 1 1/2 cups of the milk. Take skillet out of oven (careful it is hot). Place the butter in the skillet and return it to the oven. Leave it there for about a minute, so the butter gets golden. Remove the skillet from the oven.
3. Pour the batter into the skillet and then bake until puffed, set, and golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the Nutella with the remaining milk until smooth. Thin with more milk if necessary. (Or make your favorite recipe for chocolate sauce).
5. Cool pancake in skillet on a rack for 5 minutes. (It will sink). Dust with confectioners sugar (if desired) and drizzle with the sauce. Serve with berries or fruit of choice.