Monday, February 9, 2015

DIY Granola: It's Easy!




Granola's hot! And you don't have to break the bank to buy it and worry that it's filled with everything you're trying to avoid--like too much fat, sugar, salt and gluten. The solution? Make it yourself. It's really easy. But first a little history. I find it fascinating, but if you don't, skip to the recipe at the end!

Once maligned as sixties hippy food for "crunchy" liberal types, granola, according to FoodReference.com, traces its lineage back to one health-conscious doctor/nutritionist/would-be Presbyterian minister called Sylvester Graham, an early 19th century evangelist for vegetarianism and inventor of the graham cracker.
Later that century, another health-conscious doctor used graham flour to create twice-baked "health" food he called "granula," which John Harvey Kellogg of Corn Flakes fame, a Seventh Day Adventist who ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Mich., turned into a baked, ground whole grain product renamed "granola."

Fast forward to the 1960s when granola as we know it came to be. Some link that resurgence to the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Festival, which drew 400,000 people to a farm in upstate New York--and where massive amounts of granola were served. Out of this watershed rock 'n' roll moment emerged a recipe for Sunshine Happy Hippy Granola, which isn't all that much different than the recipe below.

Okay. Enough time travel. Back to 2015. Granola seems to have shed its hippy image and simply become hip--and expensive. I've seen prices ranging from $3.99 a pound for bulk granola to $12.99 a pound for a "gourmet" version.


At the top of the price pyramid are gluten-free, non-GMO, organic and/or locally sourced varieties with a range of fancy-sounding names that sound like cookies, cakes or hot drinks and display a knack for creative marketing and packaging ideas. But you can easily make something similar--maybe even better--for less money with less sugar and more of the ingredients that appeal to you and none of the ones that don't. I can't promise that this granola is low in calories--it's not, so watch your portions. And it does include some sweeteners and oil (and you can experiment with adding even less). But it's full of healthy protein, fiber, omega-3, cholesterol-fighting oats and a variety of vitamins and minerals.

My recipe is basically a blank canvas that you can paint to suit your own tastes. Use one kind of nut or several--or none. Use any seeds you prefer--or none. Use agave instead of honey and maple syrup, coconut oil in place of olive. Leave out some oil or the egg white and stir in a tablespoon of pureed pumpkin or peanut butter instead. It's gluten-free if you use the right kind of oats and vegan if you omit the egg white.

After the granola is baked to a golden crisp, I add about a cup of dried fruit and other mix-ins. The range of choices is broad. I usually add currants or raisins, mini chocolate chips and sour cherries or cranberries. Sometimes I mix in dried blueberries or Trader Joe's Golden Berry Blend. But you can go tropical with candied pineapple or dried mango--or try candied ginger and banana chips. The possibilities are infinite--or you can just leave out the fruit and chips and cut some of the calories.

Granola Breakfast Cookies, inspired by a recipe from The Two Bite Club,
using homemade granola in place of store-bought.

Recipes from two food blogs, Food52 and Bon Appetit, served as my inspiration. I wanted to reduce the fat and sugar while retaining the fresh, crunchy sweetness that makes granola so appealing when mixed with milk or yogurt, sprinkled over ice cream or an apple crisp, or used as a muffin topper or a cookie or energy bar ingredient. The  recipe calls for one egg white, though I have used two when the oats and nuts seemed in need of more liquid. I usually mix the egg white in with the other liquid ingredients. This allows me to use less oil. In theory, it also helps the mixture to "clump" a little more than usual when it bakes in the oven, attaining the clusters so prized by granola lovers. Unfortunately, this hasn't worked for me, probably because I stir the granola every 10 minutes or so to attain even browning. Another method I read about for "clumpifying" is to stir in the beaten egg white right before putting the mixture in the oven, then refraining from stirring. I'm afraid this would lead to burnt granola in my oven. However, every oven is different, so do experiment. After all, that's the fun of making granola--and cooking in general!

Fresh batch of granola--not much clumping, but lots of crunch!


Honey Maple Granola

(Makes 7-8 cups)


Ingredients:

3 cups rolled oats*
1 1/2 cups nuts (I used 1/2 each of walnuts, pecans and sliced almonds)
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds 
2 tablespoons chia or hemp seeds--or a combination (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil (or canola or liquid coconut oil)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 egg white (large egg)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon*
3/4 cup-1 cup dried fruit (optional)
1/4 cup-1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

*Use certified gluten-free oats if you're gluten-sensitive. (Trader Joe's and Bob's Red Mill are two brands I like.)
**Feel free to substitute or add other spices, such as ginger, nutmeg or cardamom, depending on your taste and mix-ins.


Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease or spread parchment on a rimmed cookie sheet (12-by-17-inch pan works well).

2. Mix oats, nuts, coconut and seeds together in a large bowl.

3. In a small bowl, stir together oil, maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, egg white and vanilla. Add to the oats mixture and stir until the liquid is well mixed in.

4. Stir in salt and cinnamon or other spices.

5. Spread the granola evenly in the pan, patting it down with a rubber spatula to make sure the thickness is fairly uniform. If you prefer, you can divide the mixture between two cookie sheets, making a thinner layer of granola. If you do it this way, you will need to check it more often in the oven, as it will bake more quickly and could easily burn.

6. Check the granola every 10 or 15 minutes, turning it carefully with a metal spatula to make sure that it's browning evenly. Flip the pan back to front halfway through. When it's done, in about 50 minutes to an hour, it will be golden brown.

7. Cool for a few minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Then add dried fruit and/or chips. Granola keeps in an airtight container for about two weeks or in the freezer for up to three months. If you freeze it, leave out the dried fruit and add it later.








Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Crazy About Oats


I've been having fun with oats this week--making hot oatmeal with both rolled and steel-cut varieties; putting together overnight concoctions with raw ingredients in Mason jars; mixing up batches of granola and muesli; and finally making a couple of loaves of oatmeal bread with some leftover cooked oats. I'm still jazzed about this once humble grain that seems to have metamorphosed into a new superfood.

I started on this project courtesy of my friend Cherry, who shared a recipe for an overnight oatmeal that she said had helped reduce her levels of unhealthy cholesterol. Then another friend sent me her recipe for oatmeal with almond butter, nonfat yogurt and fresh fruit. My little (new and improved!) brain started to tick.

My ties to oatmeal go way back. One of my early food memories is of my mother stirring a pot of the thick, beige stuff with a wooden spoon. She used old-fashioned Quaker Oats from the trademark red and blue canister with the smiling, black-hatted, white-haired gent on the front. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Mom often served oatmeal, which she called porridge, with a little milk and sugar, plus raisins if we wanted (I wanted!). I still eat it that way, though sometimes I add other dried fruits, a few roasted nuts and some maple syrup.

These days Quaker has lots of competition. Oats--particularly the steel-cut variety and those labeled gluten-free and/or organic--continue to grow in popularity, with their health benefits topping the list of why many people choose to include them in their diets, especially for breakfast. An article in Medical News Today notes that oats are particularly rich in a type of fiber known to help lower the levels of LDL cholesterol, the so-called "bad cholesterol" that collects in our arteries and leads to strokes and heart attacks. Other studies have shown that adding whole-grain foods such as oats to our diets may reduce the risks of colorectal cancer. One benefit I've found is that oats are so filling (must be all that fiber!) that I don't really get hungry again for hours after consuming a bowl of oatmeal.

For Cherry, it's oatmeal's cholesterol-fighting properties that are the attraction. She's been dealing with high cholesterol numbers for several years. Slender, fit and a longtime vegetarian, she says the issue is primarily genetic. Her father died at 57 after suffering a stroke, and her older brother contends with life-threatening cardiovascular disease.  "My life's at stake," she told me.

My friend is experiencing some success in fighting genetics and high cholesterol by changing her diet. "My labs went up and down through the years, so it isn't just oatmeal that helped," she explained in an email. "It was the combination of decreasing my intake of fried foods, desserts, and increasing my exercise routine, plus more water." Cherry, a former nurse, said her levels of the "bad" LDL cholesterol dipped from 115 in 2013 to 75 in 2015. An LDL level below 100 is desirable, she said.

One of Cherry's friends attended a cooking class at Whole Foods and gave her a recipe for an oatmeal, fruit and nut concoction that sits in a jar overnight and is ready to eat in the morning. No cooking required. Apparently overnight oatmeal is all the rage right now. I found pages and pages of recipes when I did a search on Pinterest.

Cherry's recipe requires a bit of work--and expense--to gather the ingredients. But if you shop the bulk bins, you can buy just the amount you need and cut the costs way down. I recently bought organic rolled oats at Whole Foods for $1.69 a pound (the steel-cut variety was $1.79 a pound), far less than comparable packaged products. Dried fruit and nuts can also be purchased in small quantities from the same bulk bins. The spices really add a lot of flavor to the recipe and have many reported health benefits. For instance, antioxidants in cinnamon have been linked to lower inflammation. Chia seeds, another popular superfood known for its omega-3 fats and fiber, is an optional ingredient in this recipe.

Ingredients for overnight oatmeal.

The recipe is also gluten-free (assuming you buy gluten-free oats)* and vegan--and quite delicious, especially with some added fresh fruit. Enjoy!


Overnight Oatmeal

Ingredients: 
  
1/2 cup raw oatmeal (rolled or quick variety)
1 tablespoon seeds, such as chia, pumpkin or hemp
1 tablespoon unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 tablespoon sliced almonds, chopped
1 tablespoon walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon pistachio nuts, chopped
2 tablespoons dried Calimyrna figs or dates, chopped*
2 tablespoons raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup non-dairy milk (preferably almond milk)
1 teaspoon honey or agave syrup

Notes:

*Oats are naturally gluten-free but cross-contamination
 from other grains can occur, so if you have celiac
disease or are otherwise gluten-intolerant, it's better
to buy oats that are certified gluten-free.
**You can use a combination or another dried fruit.

Directions:

1. Mix oatmeal, nuts, dried fruit and spices in a Mason jar or other container with a secure lid.  You can make 2 or more jars at a time.
2. Add almond milk and honey or agave to the jar and shake it vigorously. Put the jar in the refrigerator overnight.
3. The next day add a little more milk, as the mixture may be quite thick. 
4.  Options: If you're like me and prefer your morning cereal warmed up, you can zap the mixture briefly in a microwave or take the chill off it in a saucepan. You can also add fresh fruit or more nuts if you like to the finished product to perk up the flavor. I threw in a few fresh blueberries and a chopped, roasted almonds.





Monday, January 19, 2015

An Elusive But Very Big Bean--And a Soup Recipe


Shortly after the earthquake that caused widespread damage in Napa, CA, last August, my husband and I revisited the city that had so captured our hearts (and appetites) the year before. Some buildings looked untouched while others--many ornate, vintage structures--showed visible damage and were surrounded by rubble from bricks and masonry that had fallen during the 6.0 temblor. Luckily for us, the more modern side of the town across the river fared well and was a beehive of activity. We wandered into The Fatted Calf, a popular charcuterie and butcher shop at the fabulous Oxbow Public Market, next door to the beloved Model Bakery, home to a world-renown English muffin (about which you can read elsewhere on this blog).

After buying a roast beef sandwich from the Fatted Calf, my gaze fell on a bag of the largest beans I'd ever encountered--white beans shaped like limas but about three times the size. Of course, being a longtime legume lover, I had to have them. I can't recall the price, (though at the website, most of the beans can be gotten for $5.95 per pound--plus shipping, which strikes me as eminently reasonable for rare, fresher-than-average beans). I bought the bag with the label sporting the picture of the pretty '40s-style woman with her tongue out, suggesting a hearty appetite--for beans, of course!

Rancho Gordo Royal Corona Beans, the label said, were "a big, fat super-creamy white runner bean that's even bigger when cooked." No kidding!

Heirloom beans are the foundation of the Napa-based company, the brainchild of Steve Sando, who writes a lively blog on the website and co-authored a 2008 book on heirloom bean varieties, cooking techniques and recipes. The website is also a great resource for cooking tips and recipes.

In addition to 37 varieties of beans offered for sale on its website (though not all are always available), the company also sells other bean-friendly goods, like chilies, spices, dried corn, rice and other grains. It has storefronts in Napa and San Francisco, and its products are carried in various specialty stores around the country.

Many of its beans are grown in Northern California, with others from Mexico, and some--like my beloved Royal Corona-- hailing from further afield. I discovered this after I used up the last of my beans in a tasty chicken, bean and kale soup and immediately went to the company's website hoping to order some more.

Alas, they were out of stock. When I put my name on the waiting list, I learned I was 98th, most likely behind some well-known chefs like Thomas Keller (Bouchon, French Laundry) and David Kinch (Manresa), all major Rancho Gordo fans apparently. In desperation, I wrote to Customer Service and heard back promptly from Pamela López:

"I'm glad to hear you've become a super fan of our Royal Corona!" she said in an email. "I must admit it's my favorite bean as well! Unfortunately for both of us, we won't be getting it  back for some time as it's harvested in Europe; it's from Poland to be precise. So imagine how long it takes for the beans to sprout and then the time it takes to get to the US... The time seems daunting but it's definitely in our near future, hopefully by the end of this year."

Ms. López chided me gently for letting my blog go to seed, so largely thanks to her (and a less subtle nudge from my hubby), I'm writing about that elusive bean, hoping perhaps my name will move up a few notches on the waiting list (please!). Meanwhile, Ms. López suggested that the company's cassoulet beans would be a good substitute, because, though not as large, they are equally creamy and delicious. Cannellini beans might be another good alternative.

One note on canned beans vs. fresh: Although I've used canned varieties on occasion, there is a definite taste and texture difference in beans that have been soaked overnight, then cooked until they've got just the right bite. There is a meaty firmness to cooked dry beans and more character than in the canned variety, which are a little too mushy for my taste. This is particularly true in heirloom beans that are harvested and sold within a short period of time. They also require less cooking time.

So, finally, here's a soup recipe in which the beans really play a starring role.  It's a variation on an Italian bean and kale soup I've made before. In addition to these meaty, creamy beans, a homemade chicken broth adds a great deal of flavor, along with some Parmesan rind added toward the end. You can use canned broth, but again, you'll sacrifice flavor. However, in a time crunch, it works just fine--especially when amped up with a little Parmesan.



Chicken, Bean & Kale Soup

(8 to 10 servings)


Ingredients:

3 quarts (12 cups) homemade* or store-bought chicken broth
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 to 4  carrots, peeled and diced
3 to 4 stalks celery, diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
2 cups kale, washed, chopped and loosely packed
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 to 2 cups cooked Royal Corona, cassoulet or cannellini beans**
Parmigiano-Reggiano rind or 2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves 
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh leaves, chopped
Other spices to taste
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked chicken breast meat, chopped or shredded


Notes:

*I made my chicken stock from the frozen carcasses of two leftover roast chickens, leftover gravy, two uncooked chicken backs, plus chopped onions, carrots, celery and spices that I simmered for about 1 1/2 hours, then strained. I added several cups of Trader Joe's Organic Low-Sodium Chicken Broth when the broth turned out not to be quite enough. If you make the stock ahead of time, a little fridge time will allow you to skim the fat off the top before making the soup.

**Directions for dried beans usually include soaking them overnight, then draining them and boiling until done. There are fast-soak methods that call for boiling dried beans for a few minutes, then letting them soak for an hour or so before cooking.


Directions:

1. In a large skillet over a medium heat, add half the oil and fry chopped onions, celery, carrots and potatoes until softened and golden but not cooked through. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add to a stockpot, along with the chicken broth and bay leaf. Warm over a medium flame until simmering, then lower heat.

2. Add the remaining oil to the skillet and cook kale until lightly wilted on medium heat. Add parsley and garlic, cooking for another minute or two. Add to the stock pot along with the cooked beans and Parmesan rinds, if using.

3. Add salt, pepper, thyme, basil, additional spices and wine, if using. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the flavors are well combined.

4. Add cooked chicken right before serving.

5. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and serve with a green salad and some crusty bread.

Buon appetito!




Monday, July 28, 2014

Farm-to-Cone: Blissing Out at Portland's Salt & Straw


It's our last evening in Oregon after two weeks of happy exploration that have taken us from river gorge to organic farmland to foggy coast and finally to Portland itself. We discover a city that has become a hopping food and wine (and beer) destination. We've just dined well for the second time at PaaDee, a hip yet cosy neighborhood Thai restaurant; we're getting ready to head back to our hotel to pack up for the return journey to L.A. the next morning.

"Let's just drive around a little," my husband Jeff suggests. "We really haven't seen much of Portland." We head toward a cool, artsy neighborhood he's read about, zigging and zagging down tree-lined streets with craftsman-style homes that make me want to move here permanently. A long line of people snakes down one side of Alberta Street. It's not a movie screening--just a lot of families making a beeline for what's become one of the most talked-about ice cream shops in Portland--Salt & Straw.


The wait is about a half hour, but we decide it'll be fun. We need something sweet to offset the salty, sour, spicy noodles we devoured at PaaDee.




I hobnob with the family in front of me. They include an excited 3-year-old boy whose father is twirling him upside down to keep him entertained. When his head accidentally bumps the pavement with a resounding thud, his parents comfort the child with descriptions of the delightful treat ahead. Walking distance from their house, Salt & Straw is the family's ice cream go-to destination, not just in summer but year-round. The flavors change seasonally, with all things berry popular in mid-July. This is the start of the berry season in Portland, with farmers market stands sporting colorful flats of raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, plus local berries seldom found elsewhere. Among these is the famed marionberry, a hybrid blackberry developed at Oregon State University in the 1940's and extremely prolific and popular in Portland and surrounding Willamette Valley.



The little boy, whose tears have miraculously vanished, has his heart set on the Strawberry with Lime Cilantro Cheesecake. "All the flavors are great here," his mom says--with the possible exception of the turkey ice cream that showed up last fall in time for Thanksgiving.

When we finally arrive at the front of the line, a young woman offers us tastes of as many flavors as we want. I try some of the top-sellers, including Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero, Birthday Cakes & Blackberries, and Cucumber & Raspberry Sorbet. Somehow, I manage to skip Black Raspberries & Smoked Ham. Some popular non-berry flavors include Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbon, Chocolate with Gooey Brownies, and Pear with Blue Cheese. Just the names make my mouth water!

I settle for the vanilla (actual name: Double Fold Singing Dog Vanilla) and the raspberry sorbet. Jeff goes for a fresh waffle cone filled with Birthday Cakes & Blackberries and Sea Salt with Caramel. Unusual--and delicious! We both leave with satisfied smiles on our faces.  Not a bad way to end a vacation!


Just a word on Salt & Straw: Started almost exactly two years ago by two cousins, its website bills it as "Portland's farm-to-cone ice cream shop." The ice cream is made in small batches using "the best sustainable and organic ingredients Oregon has to offer," along with some ingredients sourced from "handpicked" farms and producers around the world, the site states. The Alberta store's interior is fairly retro, with reclaimed-wood shelves, vintage ice cream scoops and other goo-gas that date back to another era. Yet the flavor mixes have a definite 21st Century tease-your-tastebuds edge. 

For the moment, there are just three shops in Portland, but the word is out: Salt & Straw is coming to Los Angeles' Larchmont Village next month--and already has an ice cream truck roaming Southland roads. According to L.A. Times Daily Dish, the new store will feature California flavors and ingredients, like Stumptown coffee, olive oil and goat cheese. Sounds ok to me--just no turkey ice cream, please--unless you call it something else!


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Reduced-Guilt Banana Bread



I debated whether to call this post Low-Fat Banana Bread or Multigrain Banana Bread, as the recipe from the Weight Watchers cookbook that inspired it labels the loaf. However, as I'm obsessive about food and always guilty about putting cake and other sweets in my mouth, I just thought I'd add the "Reduced-Guilt" modifier. Still, after you've downed two or three (or four) pieces, the guilt factor does go up, no matter that the points-plus count per Weight Watchers says only 4 points per slice (about 3/4 inch thick each of a 9-inch loaf). The only solution I've discovered is simply to give the treats away or hope that someone hungry comes to visit.

As for banana bread, it's truly a go-to staple for me, as it may be in many households where bananas are often neglected once they go from yellow to speckled brown to black. The reason for this, as I found after a quick Google search, is an enzyme called amylase that breaks down the starch in the banana and turns it sweet. Another enzyme softens the banana, while oxygen turns the peel brown. You can read more on this at the eHow website if you're so inclined. But the obvious truth that any banana lover discovers is that the fruit, when not eaten within a few days, ripens, turns black and has a soft and sweet but mushy interior. This is optimal for making banana bread but less so for slicing into your morning cornflakes.

I've made some terrific banana bread laden with butter, sugar and nuts--and calories. The one in the Weight Watchers Power Foods Cookbook uses a variety of flours, including oat bran, corn meal and whole wheat; oil in place of butter; and egg whites instead of whole eggs. The sugar content is lower than some other recipes I've tried, but not entirely absent; I've upped the sweet and crunchy factor by adding a topping of a few chopped nuts, a bit of sugar and cinnamon, and voila--Reduced-Guilt Banana Bread! (Couldn't call it "no-guilt" for obviously reasons).

Here's the recipe:


Reduced-Guilt Banana Bread


(Adapted from Weight Watchers' Power Foods Cookbook)

12 servings

Ingredients


1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour*
1/4 cup oat bran**
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal (fine or medium grind)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
 3 egg whites or 1/2 cup egg substitute***
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
3 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

*The original recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour.
**I used a mixture of oat, wheat and corn bran.
***I used Trader Joe's Cage-Free 100% Liquid Egg Whites.

Topping


3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


Directions


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 5x9-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.

2. Whisk together the flours, bran, cornmeal, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

3. Mash ripe bananas with a fork in a small bowl and set aside.

4. With an electric mixer on medium speed--or by hand with a wooden spoon (my method)--beat the egg substitute or egg whites together with the sugar and oil until creamy. Add the mashed banana and vanilla or almond extract. Mix in the mixer or by hand until thoroughly combined.

5. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir the flour mixture into banana-egg mixture until just combined.

6. Mix together the topping of sugar, nuts and cinnamon and set aside.

7. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, making sure it's evenly distributed. Sprinkle the nut and sugar mixture evenly on top.

8. Bake the loaf for 45 to 50 minutes, checking with a toothpick or skewer to make sure the center is done (if batter clings to the stick, it needs a few more minutes).

9. Cool in the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes before running a knife along the edges, turning over the pan and gently tapping onto the rack. Allow to cool completely before slicing (unless you can't resist cutting off a piece, which I never can!).


Points & Calories


(1 3/4-inch slice)

154 calories
5 points





Friday, January 31, 2014

Ricotta Pound Cake with Lemon Glaze


It's no secret that I love to bake. Given any excuse--company coming, neighbor in need, dinner invitation--I'm offering (begging!) to bring dessert. It gives me a chance to make something dense, sweet and caloric--and then to watch it disappear before I have a chance to lose my will power. Of course, I do grab a sample or two along the way--how else to know if it came out right?

For a recent family gathering, I decided to make a ricotta lemon pound cake recipe that I discovered on the web after tasting something similar at a friend's house. Unlike many pound cakes I've sampled over the years, which are often a little on the dry side, this one had a rich, creamy texture, with a distinctive tangy lemon flavor from the glaze I dripped over the top and sides. The magic combination of sliced strawberries and a side of Three Twins vanilla bean ice cream made this a memorable dessert that will surely have an encore very soon at my table.

The recipe for the cake is from the website What2Cook. The glaze is adapted from one I found in The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. The cake took me about 15 minutes to throw together, the glaze about 5 minutes. Using orange zest and juice in place of lemon would yield a result that was a little less tangy but equally delicious.


Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake

(From What2Cook.net)

Ingredients (Cake)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (13 ounces) whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 to 2 lemons
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


Ingredients (Glaze)

1/4 cup (2 ounces) fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
Zest of 1 small lemon



Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan (or 3 mini loaf pans) with butter. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.

2. Cream together butter and sugar in a mixer, adding the ricotta and blending until smooth--about 3 minutes.

3. With the mixer running, add the eggs one at a time. Then add the vanilla, lemon zest and juice, mixing until combined.

4. Add the flour mixture a little at a time until just incorporated. In order not to over-mix, I usually remove the bowl from the mixer and use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula for this step.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan or mini pans. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes for the large loaf, 40 to 45 for the smaller ones, or until a toothpick comes out clean or the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. If loaf is browning too fast but isn't done inside, loosely cover it with foil for the final minutes.

6.  Let the cake cool for at least 15 to 20 minutes before trying to remove it from the pan. As it's fairly moist, taking out the loaf while it's still hot might cause half of it to stay behind--not a happy outcome! When it's cool, run a knife around the edges, turn over the pan and gently tap it onto a rack. Allow the cake to cool for a few minutes or overnight before applying a glaze or, alternately, sifting some powdered sugar over the top.

7. For the glaze: Combine the lemon juice, sugar and zest in a small sauce pan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Don't allow the mixture to boil. When the cake has cooled, poke small holes in the surface with a toothpick or cake tester. Gradually drizzle the glaze over the top, spreading with a pastry brush or spatula onto the top and sides. Garnish with sliced strawberries or other fruit if you like.



Monday, January 27, 2014

1 Egg + 2 Egg Whites + Veggies = Boffo Omelet


We're still on a weight-loss kick at my house, though my husband's been much more rigorous about it than I--and the results are in: He's lost 10 pounds! As I haven't had the courage to step on the scale following the shock of discovering in the doctor's office that I'd piled on a few over the holidays, I can't report on my progress. Of course, this head-in-the-sand approach is a definite no-no when it comes to taking off weight. But I have been eating healthier, which is a start anyway.

Here's a delicious, easy-to-make omelet that was inspired by one of my favorite Weight Watchers recipes for a one-egg, two-egg white omelet. The combination, on the WW plan is only two points, as the two egg whites aren't counted, though, obviously, they do have calories (about 34 in 2 large egg whites, plus about 72 calories for a large egg). The benefit for those of us with cholesterol issues is that egg whites have no cholesterol, though they also have fewer nutrients than yolks (check out the American Egg Board's Incredible Egg nutrition page), which contain generous amounts of Vitamins A, D and E, though, surprisingly, egg whites have slightly more protein. I like adding the one egg for extra flavor and color, though you could make the omelet with all egg whites (I'd use four egg whites total).

While my husband sticks faithfully to his 2-ingredient omelet--Trader Joe's ReddiEgg (or TJ's 100% Liquid Egg Whites), plus a generous sprinkling of Trader Giotto's Parmesan & Romano cheese (see my post on Living With a Picky Eater)--I like to make myself the two-point omelet, which I jazz up a bit by frying a few onions or scallions, sliced mushrooms, chopped red pepper and a sprinkling of Parmesan--fresh grated, if I have it. This last adds another point or two and a few calories, but a lot more flavor. Of course, salt, pepper and a few spices don't hurt either. The best trick is cooking the omelet in a nonstick pan; I'm partial to my 8-inch Bialetti ceramic fryer. I heat the pan a few seconds and use just a spray or two of oil on the surface before adding the veggies, followed by the beaten egg. Served with a spicy splash of Sriracha or salsa, wrapped in a tortilla or served au naturel, this omelet is a boffo breakfast to jump-start your day. But watch out: It's so easy to whip together, it may become habit-forming!


Parmesan Veggie Omelet

1 large egg
2 large egg whites
2-3 tablespoons chopped veggies*
Vegetable oil spray
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese**
Salt and pepper, to taste
Italian or other seasoning of your choice, to taste


*I used 1 green onion, 1/8 of a red pepper, 2-3 chopped mushrooms, but chopped spinach, tomatoes or other choices would also work.

** Sometimes I add or substitute a tablespoon or two of no-fat or low-fat feta.



Directions

1. Put the whole egg in a small bowl. Separate 2 eggs and add whites to the egg, saving yolks for another use. Beat eggs lightly with a fork until combined but not whipped to a froth.

2. Dice green or regular onions and red pepper, if using. Thinly slice mushrooms. Chop red peppers. Heat a small skillet or omelet pan, preferably nonstick, on low to medium heat. Spray lightly with oil. Add veggies and fry for 1 to 2 minutes on medium heat until lightly golden.

3. Add egg mixture to the fried veggies, adding another spray of oil if need be. Sprinkle with cheese, salt, pepper and additional seasoning.

4. Lightly tip pan to make sure that egg reaches to the edges. When egg has set for a minute or so, use a spatula (rubber or plastic for a nonstick pan) to pull edges of the egg toward the middle slightly, tipping pan to allow the liquid egg to flow into the spaces along the edge of the omelet.

5. When the omelet is almost set, flip it over on itself and ease out onto a plate.

6. Garnish as you wish, with a sprinkle of parmesan, paprika, a dash of hot sauce or salsa. If you wish, add a slice of toast or wrap up in a tortilla--or serve with a dollop of yogurt or cottage cheese on the side.