Friday, December 24, 2010

Crazy for Chocolate

Ah, the holidays. A time to bond with loved ones and eat copious amounts of chocolate. As this article I wrote for the January issue of Women's Health discusses, the latter is definitely not a bad thing. The best thing about writing this article was the bonding time chocolate and I had in the kitchen developing the sweet and savory recipes to accompany the article such as these chocolate covered almond balls with a perfect touch of fleur de sel.

The coffee chocolate cake with cashew ganache was not too shabby either.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Clementine Walnut Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Clementine’s

Those crates of clementine’s (the ones here are most often from Morocco or Spain) have become de rigueur during the Christmas season. And rightfully so! Not only do they deliver an explosion of sweetness in your mouth, but clementine’s – a member of the mandarin family – are teeming with antioxidants including vitamin C. U.K. scientists recently found that vitamin C may help you avoid diabetes. While, a study in the Nutrition Journal reported that women with the highest blood vitamin C levels were more likely to have lower blood pressure numbers. The researchers surmise that vitamin C decreases levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of blood pressure raising inflammation. Did you know that vitamin C also helps boost the absorption of iron from plant-based foods? So if you toss in some clemintine segments into a bean salad you’ll soak up more of the iron present in the beans. How cool!

A breeze to peel, clementine’s are really the perfect out of hand fruit snack, but they can also be worked into a number of baked goods such as these muffins. These whole grain gems are good on their own, but truth be told, are much better when adorned with a generous amount homemade jam. The black currant jam we had in the fridge stood up to the challenge perfectly. I’m thinking I could have made these more citrusy by incorporating zest from the clemintine’s. Some almond extract would be great too! Any other ideas out there?

Clementine Walnut Muffins

Adapted from Alive magazine

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/3 + 1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup liquefied coconut oil or other vegetable oil of choice
1/2 cup palm sugar or other sugar of choice
4 clementines, peeled
1/3 cup walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat egg and combine with milk, oil and sugar. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Slice clementine segments in half and fold in about 3 fruits worth, leaving extra for topping. Fold in walnuts. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups and top each with 2 pieces of clementine. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool before unmolding.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Butternut Squash Souffles

Featured Ingredient: Butternut Squash

Well, the weather up here is now officially awful. But at least I have butternut squash. This cold weather gourd is teeming in beta-carotene, an antioxidant used to rev up the immune system to help keep winter sniffles at bay. Antioxidants like beta-carotene are also protective molecules that help fight off free radicals before they unleash their fury on cells in the body.

Winter squash are as versatile as they are nutritious, starring in soups, stews and even baked goods. As I recently learned, pureed squash also works wonderfully in soufflés. This was my first crack at adapting a ramekin soufflé recipe to the muffin tin. No problem with the rising and fluffiness, but about half of them took a noise dive in the center shortly after they were removed from the oven. I’m thinking this is kind of normal, but if there are any soufflé experts out there who could weigh in on this I’d appreciate it.

No matter how they looked, this is one dish where the combination of ingredients creates a flavor greater than the sum of its parts. You could also use other winter squash, pumpkin and sweet potato in this recipe.

Butternut Soufflés

Adapted from Martha Stewart
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup grated Swiss, Gruyere, or Emmental cheese
3 large eggs, separated

Steam or boil butternut squash until very tender. Puree with a potato masher or in a food processor. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until onion is softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in flour; cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes.

Gradually whisk in milk and whisk constantly, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Whisk in 1 cup of the butternut puree, then egg yolks, one at a time.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt with a whisk or hand held mixer until stiff peaks form. Whisk 1/4 of whites into cheese mixture. Gently fold in the rest.

Divide mixture among 12 prepared muffin cups and bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Resist the temptation to open the oven door as this can muck up with the rising.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Baked Rutabaga Potato Mash

Featured Ingredient: Rutabaga

As the snow flies here, it’s time to embrace the rutabaga which is always a guaranteed find at our farmers’ market when the weather truly turns frightful.Thanks farmer Rob!

The yellow tinged creamy flesh of the rutabaga is milder and slightly sweeter than its family member turnip. Among the nutritional benefits are solid amounts of the antioxidant vitamin C, waist-winnowing fiber and potassium to keep blood pressure numbers in check. Like many other root vegetables, they have laudable storage properties lasting when properly stored in a cool, dry place, for a number of weeks.

In the past, I have made a riff on the iconic mashed potato by using rutabaga instead with good results, so this time around I tried combining the two winter stalwarts into a baked version. I tossed in some sauerkraut to give these a hint of sour flavor which is really nice, but you could simply omit it if you’re not a fan or don’t have any on hand. I garnished them with some baby mustard greens I grow on the windowsill, but I’m thinking these would rock with a drizzle of maple syrup as well. The nutmeg is the wild card ingredient here giving these a bit of warming flavor.

So embrace the rutabaga and get mashing!

Baked Rutabaga Potato Mash

1 lb. rutabaga, diced
1 lb. potato, diced
1 cup sauerkraut, chopped
2 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 eggs
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add rutabaga and potato to the water and simmer until tender. Drain and mash with remaining ingredients in a food processor or using a potato masher. Divide among 12 muffin cups (you may have some left over so just serve that as normal mash) and cook for 30 minutes. Let cool before unmolding.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Polenta Pizza Cups

Featured Ingredient: Cornmeal
Made by grinding the dried kernels of maize, or corn, into various degrees of fineness, cornmeal is a rather lowbrow pantry item with a lot of great uses in the kitchen from coating the bottom of pizzas to adding wonderful texture to blueberry muffins.

A Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study found that cornmeal is a very good source of bioavailable carotenoids. Carotenoids are among the different classes of antioxidants that help neutralize those pesky free-radicals before they can bounce around the body causing cellular damage.

If you’re a fan of polenta, you’ll totally dig these no-bake, gluten-free pizza cups. Perfect for lunches, you can also turn them into a hot meal by heating them up in the microwave and serving them with tomato sauce. Truth be told, these are actually better warmed up. It made more than what could fit in 12 muffin cups so I just spread the remaining mixture in a lightly greased cake pan and put that in the fridge as well.

I’ll be making these again, so I would be interested in hearing any other ingredient ideas.

Polenta Pizza Cups

Adapted from Alive magazine

3 cups diced cremini mushrooms
1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal or instant polenta
1 cup milk
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon coconut or other vegetable oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and onion to the pan and cook 6 minutes. Stir in dried oregano and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in basil, tomato and chili flakes and remove mixture from pan. Bring 3 cups water and the sea salt to a boil in the pan and slowly pour in cornmeal. Stir constantly until all the water has absorbed, about 2 minutes. Pour in milk and stir until absorbed. Stir in mushroom mixture and cheese. Divide among muffin cups and place in the refrigerator until set.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chocolate Sauerkraut Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Sauerkraut

That spoiled cabbage dish the Germans adore turns out to be downright good for you. It’s a love or hate it type of victual and I’m in the former camp.

As a finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by bacteria, vinegary sauerkraut is a source of probiotics. Most often we are told to dread bacteria, but probiotics are beneficial critters that once consumed populate the gut to improve digestive and immune health. Now you see why the Germans have foist this dish on the rest of the culinary world. Here is Waterloo, Ontario there is a strong German heritage so finding fresh sauerkraut is not a problem. And you definitely want to hunt down the fresh stuff as this will provide the biggest probiotic punch.

I had some sauerkraut left over from a recipe I developed for Men’s Journal magazine so I decided to toss it into the batter for these cakes and see what happened. Tuth be told, you can’t really taste the sauerkraut in these. It’s really just there to add delicious moistness to the cakes which turned out really well. So, yes, sauerkraut and chocolate can co-exist – go figure! I used brewed coffee as a liquid, but you can probably use milk or just water instead if desired. Like the sauerkraut, you can't really detect the java. I served these with my signature cashew chocolate sauce.

Anyone else try to sneak leftover sauerkraut into baked goods?

Sauerkraut Chocolate Cake


¾ cup finely chopped sauerkraut

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp cayenne powder (optional)

2 eggs

½ cup coconut oil (liquefied) or other vegetable oil of choice

2/3 cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

¾ cup brewed coffee, room temperature

Chocolate sauce:

½ cup raw, unsalted cashews

4 oz chopped dark chocolate or a little more than ½ cup dark chocolate chips

2 Tbsp pure maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350°F. Rinse sauerkraut well to remove some of the vinegary taste and set aside. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cayenne. In a separate bowl, lightly beat eggs and mix with oil, sugar, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix gently. Mix in coffee, a quarter cup at a time. Fold in sauerkraut. If the batter looks too dry, add more coffee. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool before unmolding.

To make the sauce, place cashews in a bowl with water and soak for a couple hours. Drain cashews and place in a blender. Add just enough water to cover them. Process until smooth. In a small saucepan, combine cashew cream, chocolate and maple syrup. Cook over low heat until chocolate is melted, stirring often.