Friday, May 28, 2010

Mini Flourless Chocolate Cake

Featured Ingredient: Almonds

Crammed with magnesium, vitamin E, waist-whittling fiber and monounsaturated fat, crunchy almonds have some serious nutrition firepower. More reason to grab a handful: A study published in this months Archives of Internal Medicine examined data from 25 different studies that looked at nut consumption of 583 people and its relationship to cholesterol levels. It found that eating an average of 2.4 ounces of nuts a day significantly improves cholesterol levels. This from the authors:
“Nuts are a matrix of healthy nutrients, and the most obvious reason for the cholesterol-lowering effect is their unsaturated fat content." "Nuts also contain fiber, vegetable protein, phytoesterols and other antioxidants."

Further, the skin of almonds may exert a prebiotic effect and enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, according to a recent study. Prebiotics act as a food source for good-for-you critters in your gut allowing their numbers to flourish which can improve digestion and immunity.

Although flourless cakes have a reputation for being a high-flying kitchen feat, they’re really not. And, as this recipe demonstrates, you don’t need a springform pan to pull it off. Gluten-free, packed with heart-healthy almonds and almost impossibly rich. What’s not to love? If anyone out there has a suggestion for a yummy topping to accompany these, I’d love to hear about it.

Mini Flourless Chocolate Cakes

2 cups whole almonds (measure before grinding)
1 cup packed brown sugar or palm sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup canola or grapeseed oil
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne or chili powder (optional, but highly recommended)

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease 12 medium sized muffin cups. Grind almonds in a food processor, spice grinder or high powered blender like the Vita-mix to a fine, mealy texture. (You could also use a spice grinder). Add the brown sugar, eggs, oil, cocoa, vanilla extract, almond extract, salt, chili or cayenne and process for about 1 minute. Scrape down the side of bowl halfway through if needed. Transfer the batter to the muffin cups and bake 20 minutes or until a tester inserted into center comes out clean. Let cool 15 minutes before unmolding.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spinach Quinoa Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Spinach

It’s always around this time of year when one of my favorite farmers at the local farmers’ market sells a huge bag of organically grown spinach for 3 bucks. It’s a good excuse to give the frozen kale left over from last fall some time off from the menu.

Verdant spinach is one of the gastronomic highlights of spring – and it’s one of the most nutritious foods you can send down the gullet. It’s crammed with beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and lutein plus zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that work together to protect eye health.

In this crazy easy recipe, the mild taste of spinach ensures that each bite is filled with irresistible goat cheese flavor.

Quinoa Spinach Cakes

½ cup quinoa
4 eggs
3 ounces spinach, stemmed and chopped
1 leek, white and some of the green part, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
5 ounce package soft goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, combine quinoa with 1 cup of water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, 15 minutes or until all the water has absorbed. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, lightly beat eggs and then mix in spinach, leek, oregano, goat cheese, salt and pepper. Mix in cooked quinoa. Divide mixture among 10 medium sized greased muffin cups. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until set. Watch carefully so that the spinach and leeks on top don’t burn.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hemp Milk Panna Cotta

Featured Ingredient: Hemp Milk

Rich and creamy with a great nutty flavor, hemp milk is a most welcomed addition to the non-dairy beverage market.

Made by blending organically grown hemp seeds with water, a glass of hemp milk boasts a healthy dose of those beneficial omega-3 fats that have become a regular blip on the media’s radar. It’s also one of the few dietary sources of a fat called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA may play a role in helping ward off inflammatory diseases such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis and heart disease. Hemp milk is also free of any allergens such as lactose, gluten and oligosaccarhides and dishes out a respectable amount of high-quality protein, iron (absent in moo juice), magnesium, phosphorous and vitamin E.

Made from different cannabis varieties than those used to produce marijuana, hemp milk contains none of the psychoactive ingredient THC.

For the recipe below, I used Hemp Bliss from Manitoba Harvest. They recently reformulated their hemp milk which has resulted in a better tasting product. Hemp milk runs about $3.99 at most health food stores and some larger supermarkets. Make sure to give it a good shake before pouring.

Hemp Milk Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce

This iconic Italian dessert is usually made in ramekins with generous amounts of sugar and cream (the loose translation is “cooked cream”). Muffin tins work just as well as ramekins as does hemp milk and yogurt instead of calorie laden cream. Lemon and blueberries bring brightness to this fanciful dessert and make it possible to cut back on the amount of sugar needed. If you want to forgo the sauce and simply top the panna cotta with whatever berry is in season go for it. Silicon muffin cups are ideal for this recipe making extraction a breeze.

Panna Cotta:
1/2 cup lemon juice, about 2 squeezed lemons
1 packet gelatin
1 1/3 cup plain hemp milk
2/3 cup plain yogurt (the yogurt should have a bit of fat in it so don’t use fat-free)
3 tablespoon sugar
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup blueberries
2 tablespoon pure maple syrup

In a small bowl, dissolve gelatin in the lemon juice. Let sit for 10 minutes. It will form a gelatinous mixture. In a small saucepan, bring hemp milk to a slight simmer. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Stir in the thick lemon juice and the lemon zest. Stir in yogurt and vanilla extract. Divide mixture evenly among 10 greased medium sized muffin cups lightly. Place muffin tin in the fridge for at least 4 hours to let the panna cotta set. Meanwhile, combine blueberries and maple syrup in a blender and pulse several times. You want the blueberry sauce to remain clumpy. To remove panna cotta from the cups, gently guide a butter knife around the edge of each cup. Serve on a plate topped with blueberry sauce.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oyster Mushroom Cups

Featured Ingredient: Oyster Mushrooms

Ewww. Fungi. True if it’s the fuzz on a loaf of rye or in the corners of the gym shower. But mushrooms, redolent of the earth and presenting in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes and hues, are fruiting bodies worth cozying up to. Thankfully, farmers’ markets and forward-thinking grocers are offering us more curious varieties than ever such as oyster mushrooms.

This mushroom's oyster-shaped caps usually grow in layers on dead deciduous wood but are now widely cultivated. They are an good source of B vitamins and contain only 12 belly-friendly calories per ounce. Some research has shown that a compound called lovastatin that is naturally occuring in this delicious fungi can improve cholesterol numbers. Further, a number of studies demonstrate that a polysaccharide called beta-glucan in mushrooms can ramp up immune cells such as marcophages and natural killer cells to help temper tumor growth.

Oyster mushrooms have a slightly sweet, woodsy flavor that is delicious in soups, stir-fries and when combined with spring vegetables such as asparagus. To be honest, these veggie packed phyllo cups are a little messy to consume making them not ideal for a first date but the presentation is great and each mouthful is packed with spring flavor.

Phyllo cups with asparagus, leeks and oyster mushrooms

Phyllo is paper thin sheets of flour dough available in the freezer section of most supermarkets. Extra phyllo can be wrapped tightly, sealed in a plastic bag and frozen for future use.


4 sheets phyllo pastry, defrosted in the fridge overnight

½ pound asparagus, chopped

1 leek, finely sliced (include some of the green part)

1.5 ounces (about 1 cup) oyster mushrooms, sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup dry white wine

Fresh thyme

High-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano


Very carefully place one sheet of phyllo pastry on a work surface and keep the remaining sheets covered with a damp kitchen towel to keep them moist. Brush vegetable oil (or melted butter) over the entire surface of the sheet and cover with another sheet of phyllo. Brush with oil and repeat with another 2 sheets so you have four layers. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the layered sheets into quarters and slice each of the four squares evenly to form 8 squares. Tuck each phyllo pastry square into a 8 lightly greased muffin cups making sure the bottoms lie as flat as possible. Bake at 350° F until crisp and golden, about 10-12 minutes. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. While the phyllo cups cook, add asparagus and leeks to a skillet and cook over medium for 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Mix in wine and cook for an additional 2 minutes. To serve, place phyllo cups on serving plates and spoon in asparagus mixture. Garnish with thyme and grated cheese.
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rhubarb Crisp

Featured Ingredient: Rhubarb

Springs iconic fruit (actually a vegetable botanically speaking) is now adorning rough-hewn tables at farmers’ markets coast to coast. A welcome harbinger of warmer days ahead.

From a nutritional standpoint, rhubarb is a good source of two bone-builders: vitamin K and calcium. And a diced cup has only 26 calories making it a very belly-friendly addition to a diet.

Rhubarb should normally be cooked with some sort of sweetener. Without a bit of the sweet stuff, rhubarb is often bracingly sour. It’s been dubbed the "pie plant" because the tart stalks make a divine pie filling when baked. But rhubarb figures well in a variety of desserts such as this take on classic rhubarb crisp.This would probably be also awesome with strawberries and a big dollop of vanilla ice cream. Bake up a batch and let me know how it works out for you.

Upside Down Apple Rhubarb Crisp

1/2 cup graham crumbs
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
¼ cup pure maple syrup
1 rhubarb stalk, finely sliced
½ apple, diced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Juice of ½ lemon

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, combine graham crumbs, almonds and maple syrup. Mix until everything is moist. Divide graham mixture among 6 medium greased muffin tins and press down until flat. In the same bowl, combine rhubarb, apple, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon and lemon juice. Place and even amount of the rhubarb mixture on top of the graham crust in each of the muffin cups. Place in oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the fruit has softened. Let cool before unmolding. To unmold, gently guide a butter knife around the edges of the muffin cups and lift carefully.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Quinoa Pumpkin Mini Loafs

Featured Ingredient: Quinoa Flour

There are few whole-grain flours that can stand up nutritionally to gluten-free quinoa flour. Quinoa was a sacred source of strength for the Incas and its flour contains all the essential amino acids making it a fairly good protein source. Plus there is hefty dose of fiber, zinc, folate, iron and about 40 percent your daily recommended magnesium per cup serving. A 2009 study of more than 64,000 women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that those who had higher intakes of this often underconsumed mineral were at lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. You can find quinoa flour such as that from Bob’s Red Mill ( at some health food stores and specialty baking shops.

But its robust flavor can easily over power a baked item, so start by adding it as no more than a half of the total volume of a flour blend. If baking on the wild side and using quinoa or other gluten-free flours on their own, add xanthum gum or guar gum to the mix, which binds gluten-free ingredients so cookies and muffins don’t turn into a pile of crumbs. A rule of thumb for cakes, muffins, cookies and quick-breads is 1/2 teaspoon of xanthum or guar gum for each cup of gluten-free flour used.

A recipe such as this is usually in loaf form. But I prefer to break it apart using a muffin tin to slash cooking time and give me something I can eat out of hand. The end result is very light and incredibly moist treat.  Try it out and let me know what your taste buds think.


¾ cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup quinoa flour (see recipe note)

1/2 teaspoon of salt

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup neutral tasting vegetable oil such as grapeseed

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoons molasses

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

½ cup dried cranberries or cherries


Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together the flours, salt, sugar, and baking soda. Mix the pumpkin, oil, eggs, water, spices and molasses together. Combine wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until all the flour is mixed in. Stir in the nuts and cranberries. Pour into 10-12 greased muffin cups. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let rest 5 minutes before unmolding.

Recipe Note: If you don't have quinoa flour you could use whole-wheat flour instead.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Curry Asparagus Mini Frittatas

Featured Ingredient: Asparagus

Springs iconic vegetable is back in business. Perhaps no veggie requires more patience than asparagus. The plant needs to grow for at least three years before it is ready to harvest.

This member of the lily family contains more of the B-vitamin folate than other vegetables. On top of helping reduce birth defects and symptoms of depression, folate aids in lowering levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the body. High homocysteine levels have been found to be associated with heart disease. Asparagus also has a wealth of vitamin K, which promotes bone health and blood clotting.

For this recipe, it is best to choose thin stalks. A farmer at my local farmers’ market tossed some purple asparagus into my bag so I used those along with the more common verdant variety. There is not a lot of taste difference between the two. You could also add a sharp cheddar cheese into egg mixture and salsa is a great condiment for these pipsqueak frittatas.

4 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
7 ounces asparagus, bottoms snapped of and chopped
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix together eggs, milk, tomato, and curry powder; set aside. Heat a skillet over medium with a bit of vegetable oil and sauté asparagus, mushrooms, bell pepper, thyme, salt and pepper until asparagus is tender, about 5 minutes. Divide mixture among 10-12 medium greased muffin cups, making sure that each one gets an even amount of egg. Place muffin trays in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the egg has set. Let rest for 5 minutes before unmolding.

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