Baking Basics

The Basics for Perfectly Cooked Chicken and the Bon Appetite / HSN Launch

All it takes is a few simple steps and one awesome sautee pan...

I’m not shy about the equipment that I love.  I’ve practically written sonnets to my Le Creuset 6-quart Dutch oven.  I sing along with my 8″ Hammer Stahl chef knife.  I swear by industrial baking sheets and Emile Henry bakeware.

But I can type so freely about those items because I’ve purchased them.

So, full disclosure, I was invited to the HSN launch of the new line of Bon Appetite Collection cookware, and walked away with a 10″ fry pan, a belly full of delicious food and some info on their entire new line.  I wouldn’t be blogging about it were I not completely comfortable in saying that I am impressed and am now a fan.

Yep, it's all in the details people.

At the launch Chef Ryan Scott walked through some of his favorite things about the line which I took into appreciation when making this dish.  Two layers of steel wrap around a core of aluminum, providing incredibly even heat to the entire pan, even with my slightly tilted stove.  The design is practically seamless, so oil comes up to temperature perfectly.  The little hook in the handle is an appreciated touch when you have little hands and a heavy pan.  And the weight is incredible, sturdy and even, and feels so hearty that my roommate mourned that we don’t have cheating husbands on whom to fully test its potential.

Pros:

  • Can trust it from stove to oven as it heats perfectly.
  • Little hook in handle adds extra comfort.
  • Three layers of aluminum and steel gives it the weight and durability of my favorite All Clad pals.
  • The cost is incredibly affordable for such classic and trustworthy elements.

Cons:

  • No cheating husbands on which to test its bat-like potential.
  • I don’t have a full set of pans and a hanging rack to suspend it on.

As far as the rest of the line goes, my wish-list item would be the counter-top pressure cooker.  I use my old-school, $20 from a Portuguese supply store pressure cooker for grains, beans and nada else.  The pulled pork that they cooked in 42 minutes flat in their pressure cooker… incredible.  Juicy and flavorful it contained less sodium and fat because when you pressure cook food more flavor stays in it and therefore you don’t have to add as much into the pot.  It’s got a timer, a sleek design and I can see myself using it in many, many ways.

Check out the HSN for pricing:  I’m impressed by the quality of these products for the prices listed. And each piece of equipment is tested and approved by Bon Appetite and includes some recipes specific to the machine that are incredibly rich and delicious.

Now, onto this “recipe”.

I recently interviewed Chef Daniel Holzman of The Meatball Shops in NYC for an Easy Eats magazine feature coming out in March, a side-tip of which was, when cooking chicken in skillet, not to get impatient and move it around when it sticks.  It will, Holzman affirmed, loosen its grip on the pan when it’s browned properly.  In general most chefs I interviewed were aligned with their advice to keep things simple and use top ingredients (check out Easy Eats for some stellar recipes and interviews).

So, I have this great new pan, some inexpensive free-range organic chicken thighs and legs, and a new tip to play with.  With just a few ingredients and proper technique, here’s how to make flawless, flavorful, juicy chicken… every time.

Chicken cooking, not sticking.

Ingredients:

  • Top-quality chicken thighs, drumsticks or breasts  at room temperature / not straight from the fridge (I had about 1.3lbs of skinless organic drums and thighs)
  • About 2-4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Heat oven to 400°.
  • Heat skillet on medium heat for about 5 minutes while you chop onion and garlic.
  • Lower heat to medium/low and add olive oil, swirling to cover pan.  Bring up to heat but don’t let it thin / smoke (think medium/LOW heat).
  • Pat the chicken dry and salt and pepper one side.
  • Add onion and garlic to pan and saute for 5 minutes or until just slightly soft.  Move onions and garlic to the side of the pan.
  • Add chicken, seasoned side down, in a single layer and brown for about 3-4 minutes.  Do not move the chicken until browned up the sides a bit.  Season top side with salt and pepper, flip, and brown on the other side.
  • When chicken is just browned, pile garlic and onions around it and throw it into the hot oven.  Cook for 10-12 minutes, until the onions and garlic are golden and toasted and the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

There, easy peasy.  Add garlic and onion powder, lemon pepper, a dash of good vinegar… basics.  The result is juicy, perfectly cooked chicken where the poultry sings.

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Basic Gluten-Free Pie Crust (and 3 ways to make it!)

Oh my goodness! I have been here, there and everywhere this past week, with blogging and reading other blogs a very missed activity.

Not that I haven’t been baking.   The kitchen has been plenty dusty with vegan cheesecake, gluten-free vegan mesquite graham crackers (for the cheesecake, but then I had to sandwich them with homemade marshmallows and Kallari dark chocolate…had to, really), the first draft of gluten-free maple cakes for a recipe swap, gluten-free cranberry walnut scones, and more hot chocolate recipes than is good for anyone’s blood sugar.

Then there’s been interviewing (on both sides of the table), invoicing, prepping for a photo shoot, doing some research for Easy Eats magazine (a gorgeous digital gluten-free magazine, check it out!) writing scripts for some final episodes of something really fun, seeing friends’ shows, putting my dog into a costume for Halloween (yes, I’ve become one of those people who exploits their defenseless animal for their own amusement), and catching up with a pal on his way to India (not jealous, nope, not at all).

I also had to say goodbye to a dear friend – my macro camera lens.  It was a loaner, one that I fully intended to accidentally keep.  But it had to go home Friday.

While I was sad to say goodbye to the lens, this is what it created, so it was a worthy sacrifice:

It’s a trailer for a friend’s newest novel.  Yes, evidently books get trailers now too.  She’s an incredible writer and a lovely person, so if you have a young-ish lady in your life, grab the book when it comes out in January.

And while I’m at it, here’s another friend’s amazing creation:

This puppet marched alongside a 40-foot Brooklyn Bridge and NY Stock Exchange Bull in the NYC Halloween parade on Monday with the Occupy Wall Street protesters.  My buddy Joe is quite a beautiful artist and just one of those people that makes this planet so fascinating and full of love.

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by inspirational friends, those involved with and aside from food!

Speaking of which, now that Halloween is over can we officially start baking for the holidays?  Please, please, pretty please?!  I’ve already rough-drafted my Thanksgiving menu and pondered the new cookie recipes I’ll be gluten-freeing for Christmas.

After I spent a few hours in a senior center kitchen on Saturday morning (felt a bit guilty that other Meals on Wheels volunteers were out delivering in the snow and I got to stay in nice and cozy and make whipped crean), I hunkered down with my recipes in my home kitchen and forced myself not to put on Christmas music.  That’s what a snow storm in October will inspire in you.  Well, in me, at least.

But now it’s officially November, so here it is: the perfect gluten-free pie crust, ready for your apples or pumpkins or sweet potatoes or whatever it is that means holiday to you.  Shortly I’ll have a gluten-free, vegan pumpkin pie up here for a lovely reader who requested the recipe.  Until then, I’m going to make this crust over and over and toss whatever I have around in it.

Incredibly easy, insanely buttery, delightfully flaky… they’ll never know it’s gluten-free.

Ingredients:

  • gluten-free flour blend: 1/2 cup brown rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca starch OR arrowroot starch, 1/4 cup millet flour, 1 tsp xanthan gum, 2 Tbsp sticky rice flour.
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp palm, sucanat or white sugar
  •  1 stick unsalted butter (higher fat the better)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Method:

If you have a standing mixer, place the flours, salt and sugar in the bowl and fix with a paddle attachment.  Mix flours to combine thoroughly.  Cube or thinly slice the butter, add to the bowl, toss to mix.  Then mix on low until the butter is just incorporated into the flour, making it look like cornmeal or buttery flakes.  Make a well in the center, add the egg and lemon juice, and mix on low until just combined, to the point where it doesn’t pull into a ball but is about to.  Gather with your hands, wrap in plastic, flatten to a disk and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

If you have a food processor, use the directions above but pulse the butter into the flour, and then the wet ingredients into that mixture.

If you have neither, don’t despair!! You have ten awesome little kitchen gadgets at the ready!  Use the tips of your fingers to blend the butter into the flour, being sure not to use your whole palm or the fleshy part of your fingers (you want as little of the heat from your hands transferring to the dough).  Then use a fork to pull the egg and lemon into the mixture.

Once the dough has been chilled to where it’s not sticky but not too hard to roll, flour a pastry board, parchment paper or Silpat with rice flour, and roll to desired thickness.  Fit into a pie plate, tart plate or slide onto a baking sheet for the perfect galette crust!

I filled this galette with:

  • 4 Asian pears, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • zest of one lime
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 2″ piece of ginger root, grated with microplane
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds

Then brushed the top with egg white and baked it for 35 minutes until the edges were lightly browned.  And then I ate it.  The whole thing.  Ok, I shared a little and it took a few days, but someone may have seen me walking to the subway, eating it with my fingers.  May.

Easy, Homemade Clarified Butter (Ghee)

Beautiful Golden Ghee!

The other night I was faced with a predicament – a need for Ghee for a Carob Cupcake recipe and nowhere open to get it.  I did, however, have a pound of organic unsalted butter in my fridge.  My only option – make my own clarified butter.

Which I did.  Rather simply.

Ghee (Indian clarified butter) is delicious – a pure form of butter with no milk solids which therefore doesn’t affect some people with milk allergies.  Some Indian and Hindu cultures use ghee both medicinally and spiritually.

I use it in everything.  On eggs, in baked goods, on gluten-free toast.  It is truly medicinal and spiritual.

Here’s how to make it.  Don’t forget to save the solids for sauteing vegetables or adding to hot cereal.

Clarified Butter!

Directions:

  • Use as much butter as you want or have on hand, but remember it will shrink by 1/4 – 1/3 in quantity, so if you have a need for a specific amount make extra.
  • Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan on LOW heat, as low as possible.
  • Add butter and let melt – don’t touch it!
  • Heat for about 25 minutes.  The butter will start to bubble and eventually the solids will rise to the top.  Let it continue to make a crackling noise, bubble and separate.
  • Skim solids from the top continually (reserve and use them in something else!)
  • Heat until the crackling stops.
  • Use a metal coffee filter or two layers of cheesecloth in a colander set over a heatproof bowl and pour butter through. I do this twice.
  • Reserve clear, golden-hued ghee in a clean glass jar and enjoy on everything.

Bubbling away

The Platine Bleue Hen Egg Series

Platine Bleue Hen Eggs

I’m out of town, rehearsing a show in the gorgeous Hamptons, and staying with my director in her… well, let’s just say the house I’m staying in is quite, perfect, in my opinion.  Her and her partner grow almost all of their own vegetables, they live on the bay (so I see water outside my window!) and they COOK for me!! As my boyfriend and roommate don’t really cook (cough), this is a luxury.  Fresh salads of garden spinach, asparagus, vegetable soups… all that AND I’m staying in a en suite attic that Louisa May Alcott would have found much inspiration in.

That said, I don’t quite have a kitchen or my equipment to do much cooking in at the moment, other than the one day a week I run home for a visit.  So there hasn’t been much posting since I’ve started here.

But one of the things I love about doing shows outside of New York City is exploring new areas… and new areas of FOOD!  So browsing through the local health supermarket the other day I found a container of Pete and Gerry’s Platine Bleue Hen Eggs and immediately rushed back to show them off.

Eggs of various blue tones

From Pete and Gerry’s: The indigenous Mapuche people of South America have produced blue eggs since the mid-sixteenth century. Their Araucana chickens developed fully feathered faces as insulation against Patagonia’s frigid winters.

Our cage-free Ameraucana hens are derived from these chickens and now considered a distinct breed. They have slate-colored legs and colorful plumage. Their beautiful, pastel blue eggs have deep yellow yolks and very rich flavor.

Pastel blue inside of the eggs

The eggs vary in tone – some are striking on the outside, some a pale slate color.  The inside of all eggs is a smooth, vibrant pastel blue, which reflects light in quite a magical way.  None of the pictures in this post are altered – this is how the morning light hit them.

To fully experience the allegedly deep and rich yolks, I cooked one over low heat in an ungreased skillet and then boiled the rest, making sure to only let them simmer and sit in hot water until just cooked, then ran them under cold water to stop the process and help the egg pull from the shell.

Incredibly vibrant egg yolk

The word in the hen house spoke truly – look at that yolk!!  So powerful even the “white” around it had no choice but to take some in!  These eggs seem to have a bit more protein than normal hen eggs, and I would challenge anyone to a duel were they to suggest separating these eggs and only eating the whites.The boiled eggs produced the same incredible colors – the yolk practically dousing sunshine.  They also took up a great deal more room of the actual egg – I imagine they would make a stunning frittata or quiche.

Breakfast of Platine Bleue Hen Eggs

But how do these beauties taste?  The yolk, my housemate Jess and I noticed, was so creamy and soft, almost buttery in flavor and quite indulgent.  The white was crisp and clean – the perfect canvas to showcase the yolk.

Dusty conclusion?  Don’t try to show up the simple delicacy of these Platine Bleue eggs by doing too much to them.  Yes, they probably make a killer creme brulee.  But cooked simply and perfectly, seasoned with a tiny bit of sea salt and a side of fresh veggies – there is little more I’d ask for in a breakfast.

A perfect, Dusty breakfast

Cookies for Jesus Christ (Superstar) and rehearsing life

Cross Cookies for Jesus Christ Superstar Benefit

Weeks like this I love my life so very much.  But weeks like this also wear me down to the point where I run to Starbucks (gasp) and order a caffeinated Americano (double gasp)!!!

I’m currently in rehearsals for two productions – a benefit of Jesus Christ Superstar that’s happening this Saturday benefiting Smith Street Stage and a play in the Hamptons I started on this week.  I also am running / ran to my family’s in CT to celebrate the Easter holiday and am covering some writing gigs / an interview for a new gig.

So obviously I had to spend one day in the kitchen cutting, baking, piping and flooding 75 cookies in the shape of crosses.  I mean, what else does a gal do when she’s got an insane week?

Oh, and I’m also returning to the city tonight to prep my gluten-free Portuguese masa bread dough to be baked Friday morning for Easter on Sunday and collecting ingredients to drive to the Lower East Side and make malasadas (Portuguese fried dough / donuts) for a party after the Superstar benefit Saturday eve.  That is, the dough will somehow be made between rehearsal and dressing for the event and they’ll be fried after… in a small black dress and very high shoes.

Like I said, love and coffee.

But for now I can take a deep breath and look out at the water from my view in this beautiful house I’m staying in while rehearsing out in Westhampton – my director’s house is really one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, with an overflowing vegetable garden, art from all over the world, old furniture and rugs and an incredible energy.  I can be thankful, and quiet for a bit, and reflect on how much fun it was to cut, pipe and flood all these cookies before sticking them into bags.  I didn’t get to letter them as I had wanted to, as I literally just ran out of time in my week.  But I’m satisfied.

No recipe to post today, just links and tips for cutout cookies.

Cross cookies bagged and ready to go

Cookie:

Classic Sugar Cookies Recipe from Saveur Magazine

Tips for successful cut-out sugar cookies:

  • Get your butter soft, but not completely at room temperature.  I usually microwave mine for about 30 seconds, turning halfway through, to get it soft.  Too warm and it will practically liquify.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy.  Not long enough and they won’t provide enough structure when baking.
  • Only mix dough until incorporated.
  • Refrigerate.  I know sometimes dough is firm enough that you could just roll and cut, but this will change the texture when baking and contribute to loss of shape.
  • After cutting, stick back into the fridge on cookie sheets and let sit until the oven is hot.  Continue rolling and fridging successive sheets – don’t let them sit at room temperature.  Keeping the butter in the cookies cold prevents spreading when they’re baking.
  • Make sure your sheets are cold between rounds: I wash and stick mine in the freezer for a few.
  • Refrigerate dough for a little bit before rolling again.  The Saveur recipe is great at having you split the dough up into four disks instead of two, so you can always have something chilling while rolling something else.
  • This recipe made me 80 cookies about 4 inches high!

Piping and flooding makes for a smooth and hard surface

Icing Tips

I used a basic royal icing recipe with Meringue powder.  If you haven’t used meringue powder or powdered egg whites before, I highly recommend them.  They make getting a stiff but workable icing so much easier, with greater room for dusty mistakes!

I used a classic proportion of 4 cups of powdered sugar per 3 tablespoons of meringue powder.  I whipped them in my standing mixer and then added about 6 tablespoons of warm water.  At about 6 tablespoons it was perfect for piping.

  • Keep the icing covered in a towel between separating / changing consistency
  • Don’t worry about over or under watering – add more sugar or water as necessary
  • Always mix this thoroughly – when it comes to stiff peaks and has a glossy shine, it’s ready.  For me this took about 7 minutes on medium/high speed.
  • I found my piping texture to be a little looser than recipes I looked at – loose enough that it flowed too much out of a pastry bag.  So I used a paintbrush with ease, glopping some on and then spreading it around.  It set and dried smoothly.

Fluffy Vegan Frosting


“I’m the most delicious gluten-and-dairy-free Red Velvet cupcake you’ll ever eat.  And now that I’m topped with light and fluffy vegan frosting, that’s so spreadable and pipeable, you’ll never wanna stop making me.  Kisses.”

– Cupake

I swear the cupcake insisted that I write that – I was completely at its mercy.  Maybe because I ate several of his fellows before changing frosting tips to see if I could pipe letters, which I did with ease.

The cake in this cupcake is truly divine – both moist but light, full of cocoa flavor but not too chocolatey.  Several friends who have no gluten or dairy problems could not tell that they are both, one even suggesting I match it up with a gluten-full cake and blind taste test some people for the fun of it.

Please try it, and tell me what you think.  I dubbed it Little Red Velvet Riding Hood Cupcake.  But if you just wanna call it Mmmmm, that’s okay too.  Recently I’ve been calling it “Oh my Dog!”, while it’s still in my mouth.

Now, the only reason I’m reposing this cupcake is because of the frosting issue.  The first I tried was lovely – a sweet vegan “cream cheese” frosting – but it came out more like a glaze, and no amount of whipping or refrigerating gave it a stiff enough consistency for me to pipe or even pile high.

So I tried a Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero and BOY-OH was I happy!  Insanely easy and amazingly fluffy, the frosting stayed stiff enough to pipe with several different tips long after I had colored it and bagged it.  Because it’s made with vegan butter and shortening – which are obviously both vegetable-oil based – it whipped easily at any temperature and functioned well.

And the taste!  Like a classic butter-cream it tastes primarily like sugar and vanilla.  But unlike butter-cream it didn’t taste overpoweringly so.  The shortening gave it enough body so that the sugar content was slightly lower.  Don’t get me wrong – this is very sweet.  As someone who struggles with hypoglycemia, I did a decent job at staying away (after one cupcake of course!)  But it’s not going to overwhelm your taste buds nor distract from the cupcake you put it on.  And because of the light and fluffy consistency, it particularly matched the classy cake underneath it and would do as well with a rich chocolate – ooh, or banana!

Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting

The recipe is from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.  Click on the title above for their recipe.

This frosting is fluffy and easy to work with

This frosting is fluffy and easy to work with

Having fun with frosting

French Macarons Take One: A Dusty Day

First draft of macaron shells - need work but a decent start

I need to start this blog off with counting my blessings.  Because I have a very, very good life.  I’ve spent many years being sick – literally not being able to work or eat or socialize, depending on those around me for too many things.  Now I have work, family and friends that I love.  I have a safe home that is a haven.  I can savor food and have to worry about gaining weight rather than not weighing enough.  I do not doubt that I am loved.

But I also have a chronic illness, one that I like to pretend isn’t around anymore.  It’s not easy to forget – I have bad joints, arthritis in my spine and digestive issues still.  But I am fortunate that it’s not with me as daily as it used to be.  And so it hits me hard on days like today, when  I’m feeling sad, vulnerable, unsettled… depressed.  I know the patterns of my body.  I know where this is coming from and when it will leave.  And I am very aware that EVERYONE has days like this.  It’s just that, with the addition of having a Lyme Disease ridden history, it hits my body in more places.  My joints ache terribly, and I want to smash my bones with a hammer.   My normal logic and sensibility is no match for the shakiness in my stomach which at times is overwhelming.

So I have no option but to ride out the wave and, as the sun shines into my quiet kitchen, I’m going to find something else to focus on instead.   It’s time for something complicated.  Something that’s going to take all my attention.  It’s time for French Macarons.

Proof of how beautiful the light was in my kitchen

Oh, another delightful thing I’m thankful for is the addition of some wonderful new ladies into my life.   A few weeks ago one of such ladies sent me a link for a macaron baking class two blocks from my boyfriend’s apartment.  And then, days later,  another amazing lady brought up her new obsession with macarons and stated that we need to learn how to make them.

I understand the obsession with these tiny, melt-in-your-mouth bites of heaven.  And after baking them, I get why I need to take a class to learn how to perfect them.  I’ve basically made little delicious crunchy meringues and not macarons.  Twice.  The second batch being worse than the first.  But everyone’s gotta start somewhere, right?

For my first go-around I’m using a recipe from Martha Stewart for the basic chocolate macaron, and then I’ll be creating an Irish cream filling with whiskey, coffee and vanilla, with a dash of chocolate extract.  I followed the recipe to every point.  The second go I’m making them plain, coloring them green and filling them with Irish-tea flavored frosting.  And while I constantly reference Martha’s site for recipes, I usually feel they need more detail.  So I’ve scrounged on the web for answers to my questions, and here are my thoughts from what I’ve learned and what I’m going to try the second time around:

  • Take time with “room temperature”: I let my egg whites stand for about two hours, but many recipes say to leave them even for 24 hours.  Good to know.
  • Grind the almond flour: Most recipes say to pulse the almond flour and confectioner’s sugar together.  I think they’ll fold better if I regrind the almond flour first and then pulse the sugar in.
  • Trust what “stiff peaks” look like and don’t risk over-mixing: The recipe says that whipping to stiff peaks takes about 8 minutes.  Mine took about 2.  The first batch I whipped an extra 2 minutes, fearing that I wasn’t whipping enough.  The second time (because my first batch wasn’t perfect) I let them go for about 6 minutes, resulting in a VERY dry batter.   I know what “stiff peaks” are.  Next time I’m trusting that.
  • Know the batter consistency: There is nothing in the MS recipe that says what the batter should be like.  One site refers to it as “flowing like lava” or “ribboning”.  Jackie Writes‘ website shows in pictures that the batter should drip slightly but be rather thick.  I’m going to have to play with this.  It may be time to buy a digital scale and start measuring, something I’ve always wanted to do but never invested the time in.
  • Pipe them thin: This has something to do with the consistency, obviously, but they should be rather thin.  And they’ll puff up, not out, so piping them into the proper size is important.
  • Let the macarons sit:  The MS recipe says to let them sit for 15 minutes, but doesn’t stress this importance.  So I stuck them in AT 15 minutes.  Other recipes say to let them sit longer. Some 30 minutes, some 2 hours.  This is important to let the shell set on the top of the macarons.  I was worried when I saw this happening.  It also appears to let the batter spread better.  Lesson learned.
  • Watch the oven heat: This is something obvious.  I haven’t bought a thermometer for my oven in the apartment I moved into this past August.  Silly of me.  Get moving, Jacqueline.

Resources

Please drop a line with any advice!

Piped Macarons Pre-Baking

Baked macaron shells - great taste but too crispy and small.

Tapioca and Buckwheat Gluten-and-Dairy Free Crepe Batter

 

Savory Breakfast Crepes

Yesterday I woke and immediately started daydreaming about Sunday breakfast.   With all the writing and social networking that goes with my job(s), sometimes I just get cranky for time IN the actual kitchen.

Crepes.  I don’t know why, but I started daydreaming about crepes.  Filled with eggs and goat cheese and something bright colored to remind me what spring looked like.  Luckily I was only a few blocks from Whole Foods, where a bunch of gorgeous little tomatoes from Mexico found their way into my basket, along with some fresh cilantro and small Mexican champagne mangoes.  The sun was out, the air was warm, I walked home with my jacket unbuttoned and my raggedy hair blowing in the wind.  New Yorkers had a bit more of a spring to their step, and I didn’t realize at the time how this quick break from the cold would make smiles turn up a bit more on most of the lovely people I’d encounter in my day.

Anyway, back in the kitchen.  I had decided on using a little buckwheat – which is common in some crepe recipes but used sparingly as it can be a bit bitter – and tapioca flour to pull along with the eggs and soymilk I was using for the crepe batter.  A tiny bit of butter and salt, and that’s it!  I utilized the whipping strength of a blender and the ease of a non-stick skillet to aid in making sure that the eggs would be beaten light and fluffy and the crepes easy to flip.  When the first one actually WORKED I called my boyfriend to the stove, giddy like a school-child out the first day of holiday.  We delighted in a few seconds of cheery contentment, flipping gluten-and-dairy-free crepes onto a waiting pan while eggs slow-cooked nearby.

This recipe is quite simple, and quick, and with a little practice I soon had a stack of warm crepes that I filled with sauteed eggs and served with a guacamole-type mix and the freshly sliced champagne mangoes.

It was a good, good, good day.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cup soy or unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/3 cup buckwheat flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp melted butter or olive oil

Directions

Whip eggs and milk of choice in blender until creamy and a bit fluffy (if you don’t have a blender you can use a standing or hand mixer, or just whip the heck out of them with a whisk).  Add the flours 1/3 a cup at a time, whipping thoroughly with each addition.  Add the melted butter or oil and salt and whip quickly to incorporate.

Heat a large non-stick skillet on medium high heat and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Hold skillet away from heat and let cool for 5 seconds, then pour enough batter in the center of the skillet, swirling quickly to cover the entire surface, until the bottom of the skillet is just covered with batter.  Return to heat and cook for 15-20 seconds or until the sides of the crepe start to curl.  Flip gently and cook on the other side another 20 seconds.  Remove to plate.  Repeat until you get a pretty stack of crepes!

Before I started cooking the crepes I had a second skillet going on low heat with melted butter, slowly stirred eggs, fresh cilantro, soft goat cheese and the skins of these tomatoes:

I then reserved the insides of them and mashed them with avocado, more cilantro, a squirt of fresh lemon juice (in the absence of lime) and some sea salt and pepper.  And then adorned the dish with the fresh champagne mangoes.  They’re a little tarter, firmer and less fibrous than regular mangoes.

While the tomatoes weren’t quite what I wanted (beautiful in color but still lacking that perfect summer tomato sweetness), it was a gorgeous dish, paired with orange juice and locally roasted coffee.  The perfect start to one of the best Sundays I’ve had in a long while.

 

Creamy egg-filled crepes with champagne mangoes, avocado and Mexican tomatoes

Sweet Alternatives for a Healthy Valentine

I have a super-sweet tooth, which definitely comes into conflict with my (mostly) sugar-free diet and serious hypoglycemia. So this week I’m highlighting my tricks on foods that satisfy the urge but will leave you feeling energized and full at the same time, without rocking the diet or endangering your health… just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Tip before launching into the list: food combining. I’ll go into details another time, but starches don’t mix well with fruits, causing digestive upset and weight gain (they also don’t mix well with meat… but more on that later). So in satisfying the cravings for sweets, keep this in mind for optimal digestion and weight maintenance. I know I used to love fruit on cereals, or with toast or on cakes, but it’s just so much more worth it to abstain.

From Slimming to Sinful… My Sweet List

  1. ALMOND BUTTER: My favorite sweet-craving alternative is Almond Butter on millet toast or slathered on an apple. Nuts combine well with healthy starches, together making a perfect protein, while giving a boost of protein and filling the belly comfortably. They’re high in monounsaturated fats, so they attack heart disease while being lower in calories than most nuts and super-concentrated with vitamin E. For women, almonds have been known to calm menstrual cramps when consumed daily. And for pregnant women, eating raw almonds is killer when battling nausea.
  2. KOREAN YAM: If you’re an urban-dweller, chances are you’ve seen Korean Yams in your local bodega and had no idea what they were. Also called Chinese Yam and Japanese Mountain Yams, they’re my FAVORITE root vegetable, much like a sweet potato but with a white flesh and a bit drier, sorta resembling boiled chestnuts in taste. From my research I’ve learned they’re great at aiding digestion and fighting fatigue due to the amount of mucin in them, which also aids in relieving constipation and reducing cholesterol! Amazing how the body craves what it needs. My favorite way to eat them is just to wash, poke some holes in and bake them. Or slice and season with a little oil, salt and pepper, and bake until crispy.
  3. SWEET POTATO: One of my little indulgences is Sweet Potato Chips from Terra Chips. Sweet potatoes, canola, sunflower/safflower oil… I’m in heaven. They really satisfy both the sweet and savory cravings. Just be careful – one serving goes down really quickly! To do even better for your body and bake fresh sweet potatoes, try slicing them in chunks or fry shape, and bake with a little oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, cumin, cinnamon… whatever spice combination you want to try… until they’re dark and crispy. A 400 degree oven or hotter usually seals the deal. My mouth is watering…
  4. Cinnamon: So simple, but adding cinnamon to foods tricks the mind, as cinnamon is associated with sweetness. So literally throw it on things you wouldn’t normally think to pair it with: roasted chicken, sauteed greens, on all fruits and plenty of vegetables. It’s great for you, so enjoy!
  5. Beets: Yes, beets are sweet, and great for the liver. To cook to sweetest potential, peel, slice and roast with a little cinnamon and salt still blackened at the edges. Or grab Terra’s Sweets and Beets mix for a ridiculous snack satisfier.
  6. Raw Cacao Nibs: A live super-food, I’ve very recently started adding raw cacao into my diet, and am SO HAPPY to have tried it out. The health benefits are too abundant to repeat here, so just click to be directed to LiveSuperFoods.com, a phenomenal website on all good-things live, with very reasonable prices – I have a feeling I’ll be ordering with them soon. To sum-up: raw cacao has more antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, and 4-times as much as a cup of green tea! Without the additions of processing and sugar, it’s not an indulgence – it’s medicine! The taste is nutty and a bit sharp, and the smell is INCREDIBLE! My boyfriend thought I was baking while sitting next to him, about 2 teaspoons of nibs mixed in my cereal! My favorite way to eat them is on my Uncle Sam’s cereal, or mixed with nuts and goji berries. Speaking of which…
  7. Gogi Berries: Another live super-food that’s been on my list for a while, goji berries are tiny, red and sweet, packing lots of anti-oxidants and strengthening the immune system. You can even get goji-berry juice for a power shot or an addition to smoothies. I add them to apple sauce and power-protein mixes for some sweet satisfaction!
  8. Organic Nectars Raw Agave Gelato: I’m currently exploring agave syrup from Organic Nectars out of Woodstock, NY, a town I’ve never been to but mentally have been stalking for their great products and housing of Phillip Petit.  It’s made from cashews and agave. Way decadent.  And because the agave is raw, it’s not heated and reduced to a syrup that’s worse for you than corn syrup (ew).
  9. COCONUT MILK: Coconut milk is great for you, especially if you have chronic conditions. Blend it with fruit for a smoothie, throw it in an ice-cream maker with crushed fruit for sorbet… have fun!

And now my recipes for guilt-free yummy desserts!

  1. Superfood Ooey-gooey winter warmth: This combines sweet bananas with protein packed nuts for a warming and indulgent treat. Note: this is practically the only time I ever use a microwave… in general, I truly believe stove-top warming is the way to go to avoid unnecessary rays. And careful if consuming too late at night, as the sugar in the banana and the spunk in the cacao can keep you up thinking. Slice an entire banana and microwave in a small bowl for 50 seconds, so that the bottom of the bowl has really soft banana but the top layer is pretty intact, warmed through. To the bowl add any combination of the following: 1 teaspoon almond butter, 10 or so almonds or walnuts, a sprinkle of goji berries, a tablespoon of raw cacao nibs, a generous dose of cinnamon, some natural applesauce… be creative!
  2. Coconut Custard: I’m just gonna skip the blah-blah introduction and go right into a recipe I got from Lissa De Angelis of NEW LIFE – NY YOGA magazine for a decadent coconut custard, so easy to make! 1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 2) Puree 2 organic eggs, 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk, 1/4 cup maple syrup, raw honer OR agave syrup, 2 squirts vanilla cream or plan stevia, a few grains of sea salt. 3) Pour into 6 individual ramekins or an oven-proof container. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional) 4) Place ramekins or container into a bath of water and place in oven. 5) Bake until the custard has set, about 30-45 minutes. 6) Cool slightly and serve warm or at room temperature.
  3. Hot Apple Cider: For cold New England winters, nothing beats a hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick. Yes, that’s it… no more too it… just wanna remind you it’s out there for you…
  4. Baked Apples: Again, an oldie but goodie you may have forgotten about – one of the sweetest desserts is the simplest! Take a (preferably) local, organic apple, core it and fill with cinnamon and some sultanas (golden raisins) if you’re not too sugar-sensitive, wrap in foil and bake at 350 until super-soft. To make it a little more filling and add some protein, add some chopped nuts or a drizzle of nut-butter. I find myself often hungrier after I eat an apple, so adding the protein really helps keep me full.

Easy, Healthy, Yummy, Lamb and Roast Veg Dinner

There are just some things about living in NYC’s lower east side that you’d be a right nut not to love.  In a total of twenty minutes, I procured a pound and a half of gorgeous local Frenched lamb rib chops from Whole Foods and dried fruits, nuts and a creamy, sharp goat cheese from Russ and Daughter’s (and if you’ve ever tried to go in there on a Sunday, you’d appreciate the spaciousness and quiet going in there early on a Thursday evening provides).  Then I hauled the lot up to a roomy apartment with a great view to gaze out at while I got some work done.

Ok, I don’t live in the LES.  But the current man-in-my-life does, and he’s stuck out of the country on, um, legal matters (insert ominous music).  And while absence does make the heart grow fonder (and crankier), the presence of his apartment and darling roommate do somewhat soften the blow of not knowing when he’s coming back (ooh, it’s scandalous).

(I kid – he’s Canadian.  Not that scandalous.)

So, food and the Canadian.  What’s the connect?

Since I’ve started dating Mr. Current MIML, my playing with meat has lessened to a great degree.  MIML doesn’t eat much meat.  No pork, beef or lamb.  Very little duck.  He does eat shrimp.  I find this out a few dates in and my left arm starts to hurt a bit.  I breathe again when I realize that MIML’s roommate devours meat and likes to cook.

Hence my presence at their apartment this evening with said booty.

I chose lamb ribs because, well, the market had no duck.  And the boys don’t have a proper dutch oven for me to slow-roast anything.  Or a deep saute pan for anything on the stove.  Lamb ribs only require a sheet pan and season delectably with salt, pepper and rosemary, so the list of ingredients that had to be added to their cupboard was minimal.  These ribs cook quickly and are succulent and juicy, an impressive dish for one so simple.

You hear me out there?  If you want to serve up a savory dish that requires little time in the kitchen and will easily impress both a friend who doesn’t know how to George Forman a hamburger and one who believes foie gras is a food group, roast some lamb ribs.  Don’t try to over season or over sauce.  If they’re cooked perfectly, all they need is a minimal amount of love to shine.

The roommate suggested roasted cauliflower with dried apricots and pine nuts.  Russ and Daughter’s didn’t have pine nuts, so raw cashews took the prize.   Delicious addition.  In a relaxed atmosphere we created a simple, healthy, delicious lamb dinner that was the perfect accompaniment to red wine, good conversation, a comfy couch and The Social Network (mixed feelings on that one).

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs lamb rip chops, Frenched (about 5 chops – I got three for the gentleman and two for myself.  Add one or two more each if you’re really hungry)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped small
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly cracked pepper (I usually stock a four-pepper blend – white peppercorns add a fine dimension to meat, in my opinion)
  • 1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
  • 1/4 pound raw cashews, chopped
  • 1/4 pound dried apricots, quartered
  • extra virgin olive oil (we used Whole Foods’ organic blend).

Directions

  • Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Place florets in a baking dish and season with salt, pepper and olive oil to taste. Make sure they aren’t crowded in the dish.  Stick on the middle/low rack in the preheated oven.  These will cook for about 20 minutes before you add the lamb.
  • Meanwhile, chop the cashews and toast lightly in a dry frying pan on low heat, until they start to smell nutty and are slightly brown.  Remove from heat to cool.
  • Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray and lay lamb ribs out.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and about 2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary.  With your (clean) hands, rub the spices in on both sides until evenly coated.
  • When the cauliflower has been in the oven for at least 20-25 minutes and is starting to soften, place the lamb in, uncovered, on a high rack (2nd down in the oven works best).  Cook for ten minutes, flip and cook for 5-7 minutes more, depending on how rare you like your lamb.
  • Remove all from the oven.  Let the lamb sit for 3 minutes before removing to serving plates.
  • Meanwhile, toss cauliflower with apricots, cashews and a little more olive oil / salt and pepper if necessary.

Buen prubechu!

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