Archive for May, 2012
A friend of mine recently asked me to make cupcakes to bring to a bridal shower. This friend has health issues that necessitate her to be on a gluten-free diet and she asked that I make the cupcakes gluten free. She’d tried some of my baked goods and had really enjoyed them. She wanted hers to be pumpkin and chocolate—40 of each. The verdict from the shower was that everyone loved the pumpkin, but the chocolate not so much. The chocolate had received positive reviews when I brought samples to work but even then I knew that the texture wasn’t quite right. They were very dense and rich and everyone thought they were great. One person told me that after she ate one, she wasn’t hungry for hours and she thought this was a good thing, but I knew that heartiness just isn’t what you want in a cupcake.
I tried it again, and I wasn’t able to quite get it right before the shower. I simply didn’t have the time.
The pumpkin, on the other hand, was a hit. I took the basic combination of ingredients for pumpkin cake and altered the recipe to make it less sweet than most cakes and, of course, gluten free. Actually, I should probably say “low gluten” instead because I substituted all-purpose flour with spelt flour. Spelt is a low-gluten wheat variant, so most people with wheat sensitivities can tolerate spelt, but those with full-blown Celiac Disease usually cannot.
I also wanted to make it lower in sugar, so I cut back on the amount that I saw most pumpkin cake recipes call for. And because I substituted brown sugar for white, it made it a little fluffier (not sure why) and more flavorful.
Now here’s where I had to make a decision between whole-food/holistic-eating versus weight loss diets. In the first category lies the basic tenet that you should eat foods in their whole forms—i.e., all its edible parts. In the case of dairy, that means with full fat. When fat is removed from dairy, the enzymes which make it digestible are also removed, making it a bigger issue for lactose-intolerant people than full-fat dairy would be.
BUT everyone is concerned about their weight, cholesterol, etc. My friend was concerned about bringing the cupcakes to the shower in the first place because the bride is a little overweight. She asked me if I could make them even lower in sugar than my samples. I told her that if I took out any more sugar, they would taste like nothing. Then she asked me if I could keep the frosting off, and I explained that cupcakes without frosting are muffins and hardly party fare. At first, I offered to try and experiment with alternate sweeteners (honey, applesauce, maple syrup, maple crystals) but I was faced with a time crunch. Experimenting like that—substituting ingredients that are vastly different than the original—often takes multiple tries to get right. I didn’t have the luxury of time in which to do that.
So, to compensate, I made the decision to use low-fat cream cheese for the frosting. My teachers at the Natural Gourmet Institute would tsk-tsk me, I’m sure. But I think they would also agree that we have to compromise sometimes—they themselves taught me that we can’t be “good” one hundred percent of the time. All we can do is do our best as often as possible. So, here’s my recipe for a gluten-free, low-sugar, low-fat (not vegan) but really tasty (no, really!) Pumpkin-Coconut-Walnut Cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.
Yield: 20 cupcakes
3 cups spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 to 2 cups brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
1 (15-oz. can) pumpkin
2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
½ cup desiccated (unsweetened) coconut
¾ cup chopped walnuts
¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 (8-oz.) packages low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 20 paper muffin cups into muffin tins.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
3. In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating in each one before adding the next. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and beat until well blended. (The mixture will look curdled but that’s okay.)
4. At low speed, add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the pumpkin mixture. Increase speed and beat until well blended. Fold in the coconut and walnuts.
5. Place about ¼ cup of the batter into each paper cup. (Pour water into any empty muffin wells, about ¼ of the way up, to prevent them from scorching.)
6. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to racks and let cool completely. Meanwhile make the frosting.
7. Beat the butter until white and fluffy. Beat in the cream cheese and then the vanilla. Begin adding the sugar a little at a time; alternate beating at low speed (when first adding the sugar) and high speed (to blend it in well). Stop adding when you’ve reached the consistency you want. Continue beating until completely smooth.
8. When cupcakes have cooled, spread or pipe on the frosting. Decorate as desired.
I picked up some mixed dal at an Indian store in Jackson Heights and since the weather was about to take a turn for the worse, I decided to make mixed dal soup. Mixed dal is a mixture of different split lentils and they make delicious meals. They’re also packed with protein, and with a few greens thrown in, you’ve got a complete, filling, satisfying meal. And it was just right on a rainy, dreary day. So here’s my version of mixed dal soup.
Mixed Dal Soup
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced small
1 medium carrot, diced small
1 celery rib, finely chopped
¼ lb. sweet potato, diced small
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup mixed dal
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, toasted (optional)
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1 teaspoon garlic salt
freshly ground black pepper
½ lb. bok choy (green tops only), chopped
1. Heat the oil in a medium-large pot. Add the onion, carrot, celery, sweet potato, and kosher salt and sauté 5 minutes, or until vegetables have softened and onions are translucent.
2. Add the dal, caraway seeds, fennel, garlic salt, pepper, and 4 cups water; mix well. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and cook, partially covered, until the dal are completely soft and disintegrating, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally.
3. Add the bok choy and continue cooking a few more minutes until the greens have softened.
4. Taste the soup for seasoning; adjust as desired. Serve hot.
Makes about 6 servings.
Cassoulet is a traditional French dish containing various kinds of meat and beans cooked in a casserole dish. Originally from southwestern France, cassoulet is a rich and hearty dish and is usually labor-intensive. You can take a few shortcuts for a quicker, easier cassoulet, but it will turn out rather flat. It’s meant to be a complex, savory dish and you won’t get that depth of flavor if you take shortcuts, so it’s worth taking the time to prepare each component. It’s not that complicated—you just have to be a little patient. Just taking the extra step to cook the beans alone will give a layer of flavor that you simply won’t get from canned beans.
In the U.S., cassoulet often refers to any number of bean dishes cooked in a casserole dish. The word cassoulet comes from cassole, an earthenware casserole dish in which cassoulet was first made. For a great historical account of cassoulet, visit Clifford Wright’s site HERE.
What makes this vegetarian version of cassoulet so delectable is roasting the vegetables. Roasting coaxes the sugar out of vegetables, turning them into something divine. Keep an eye on your veggies and stir them occasionally for an even browning.
What I used in this recipe is brown vegetable stock, which is wonderful to use in many dishes. It’s worth sit to spend the time making it—then just throw it in your freezer for when you need it. However, I know that time is a precious thing these days, so you’ll see that the recipe just calls for vegetable stock. The end product won’t be as rich, but it will be good.
As I said, the beans are made from scratch—that is, you start off with dried beans and cook them until tender. This will give you a much better quality and better tasting dish. You’ll want to throw a piece of kombu in with the beans.
Kombu is a type of seaweed—algae, to be specific. Adding a piece of kombu to a pot of cooking beans makes it more digestible because the amino acids soften the beans’ skin and eliminates some of the gassiness. Kombu is a mild-tasting seaweed so it won’t impart a fishy taste to your dish, as long as you use only a small piece, which is all you need anyway.
Yield 6-8 servings
1 cup dried lima or white beans (navy, Great Northern, cannellini), soaked 12 hours or overnight
5 cups vegetable stock
1 piece kombu (1 to 2 inches)
Sachet (sprig rosemary, 2 bay leaves, few peppercorns)
6 tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
3 large carrots, cut into ½-inch chunks
3 large parsnips, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 small sweet potato, cut into ½-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
¼ tsp fresh thyme
¼ tsp crushed dried oregano
¾ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
3 tbsp olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Drain and rinse the beans and place them in a medium to large pot, along with the kombu, vegetable stock, and sachet. Bring to a boil; lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until beans are tender (1 to 2 hours, depending on the bean).
3. Toss the carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of the oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out onto a greased baking sheet in a single layer and roast until browned. Stir occasionally. Pick out the garlic and finely chop or mash (they will be very soft). Set aside.
4. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil and a medium pan. Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn up the heat to medium-high and continue cooking until they are nicely browned. Transfer to a bowl.
5. In the same pan, heat 1 teaspoon oil. Add the tomatoes and roasted garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
6. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of oil, parsley, thyme, and oregano. Set aside.
7. When beans are cooked, add the onions and tomatoes to the pot and simmer another 5 minutes. Set a mesh strainer over a bowl and drain the bean mixture; remove the sachet and kombu and discard. Reserve the liquid. Pour the liquid back into the pot and cook down over medium heat until thick (it should coat the back of a spoon).
8. Return the bean mixture to the pot and mix. Simmer another 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium casserole dish (about 9 x 6). Spread the roasted vegetables on top of the beans. Finally, sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top.
9. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes or until browned.
Once again, Cinco de Mayo is upon us. Just like everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Mexican on Cinco de Mayo.
Cinco De Mayo, meaning The 5th Of May, commemorates a crucial moment the Mexican conflict against the French army at The Battle Of Puebla in 1862. A fairly small Mexican militia (estimated at about 4,500 men) stopped and defeated the French army, numbering about 6,500 soldiers. Although the victory was short-lived (Napoleon sent more troops to Mexico, eventually taking control), the battle remained an important benchmark event for Mexico because it boosted morale and created a sense of unity among its people, which gave them the impetus to depose French rule a year after the French took control. The holiday is primarily a regional one, celebrated in, of course, in the state of Puebla.
Also like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo has become a bigger holiday in the U.S. than it is in Mexico, and the same way it brought the people of Puebla together, so it brings Mexicans in the U.S. together. For Americans, Cinco de Mayo means breaking out the tequila and eating some great Mexican food. The standard chips, salsa, and guacamole is a good start (who doesn’t like that?), but to really make it great Cinco de Mayo, try making some dishes that will wow your friends.
Here are a few of the many sites where you can get amazing Cinco de Mayo recipes:
If making a rocking margarita is your concern, here are a few sites for you:
At the Natural Gourmet Institute, we had Mexican day, which was our next-to-last class, and we cooked up some unbelievable food (see photos). Mexican cuisine, in my opinion, is one of the best in the world (although I can do without the chapulines—crickets). One of the dishes we made was mamelas, small disks made of masa harina and topped with any number of fresh ingredients. They make great tapas or appetizers. The original recipe belongs to the Natural Gourmet Institute, and I’ve added a few of my own notes, plus my own recipe for Pineapple-Mango Salsa. Below that is a recipe for Jicama with Lime, Salt, & Chile Powder, which makes a fantastic accompanying salad. It has those south-of-the-border flavors we all love with a satisfying crunch from the jicama.
Happy Cinco de Mayo and Buen Provecho!
2 cups masa harina
½ tsp sea salt
1 ¼ cups warm water or as needed
3 tb extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together masa harina, ¼ tsp sea salt and oil.
3. Pour warm water into masa harina (mixture should be soft but not too sticky).
4. Roll into walnut-size balls.
5. Flatten balls with tortilla press.* (Mamelas are not paper thin. About 2x as thick as tortillas.)
6. Place on non-greased cast iron pan** until slightly scorched on both sides.
7. Top with your favorite toppings and bake in oven an additional 5-7 minutes.
*If you don’t have a tortilla press, simply roll them out with a rolling pin as round as possible.
**If you don’t have a cast iron pan, you can broil them or use a regular pan and oil the mamelas slightly.
Top each mamela with any (or all) of your favorite toppings. Here are some favorites:
Black bean salsa
Pineapple or mango salsa
Cheese (cotija, queso fresco, cheddar, Monterey jack, pepper jack)
Copyright © Roberta Roberti
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
1 cup diced mango
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
2 tbsp finely minced cilantro
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp guava paste or guava fruit spread
1 tsp sea salt
Combine pineapple, mango, onion, cilantro, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. If you are using guava fruit spread, add it along with the lime juice to the salsa and mix well.
If you’re using guava paste, combine it with the lime juice and mash it until the paste is soft. Stir it vigorously into the salsa.
Makes about 2 cups.
Jicama with Lime, Salt, & Chile Powder
Copyright © Natural Gourmet Institute
Yield: 6-8 servings
3-4 tb lime juice
1 medium jicama (about 2 pounds)
2 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp chile powder
1. Place lime juice in a medium bowl.
2. Peel jicama and cut into batonet or julienne slices* and place into bowl with juice.
3 . Sprinkle with sea salt.
4. Let marinate 30 minutes.
5 . Just before serving, sprinkle with chile powder.