Friday, July 3, 2015

Healthy Chocolate Truffles


I was first introduced to these delicious little gems last summer while cooking for a First Descents trip in Hood River, Oregon. My co-chef in the kitchen had just learned how to make these at the culinary school she attended. I made sure to write down the recipe before she left and have been making them for every retreat since then. 

These are made with a combination of dates and prunes, (or you can call them dried plums if the word "prune" just makes you think of your Grandmother). It is important to use really good cocoa powder here because there are only 5 ingredients total, so the cocoa powder really makes a difference. Make the recipe at least 5 to 6 hours before you want to serve them as they need to completely firmed up in order to have that "truffle-like" texture. Serve them straight from the freezer too.

I have been doing this recipe in larger batches, about 4 to 6 times the recipe for groups of 25 to 30 people. I think you can do this times 1 or 2 for a smaller group (or just you). They will keep in the freezer quite well, so dont be afraid to make a little extra. The mixture will work better in the food processor if you decide to double the recipe. 

Healthy Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients
1/4 cup prunes, pitted
1/2 cup medjool dates, pitted
3 Tbsp almond butter
1 Tbsp maple syrup, grade b
6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

Procedure:
1. Place prunes and dates in a bowl and cover with hot water for 10 minutes. Drain.
(*Note, this helps to soften the fruit. I left these once for 2 hours and the truffles ended up being way too soft, as the fruit soaked up too much moisture. So 10 to 30 minutes good, but dont go longer than that)

2. Start the food processor running and drop prunes and dates one at a time through the feed tube, until all the fruit is in. Scrape the processor bowl as needed for the fruit to be completely broken down and smoothish.

3. Add the almond butter, maple syrup and cocoa powder and continue running the processor until mixture is smooth. 

4. Place mixture in a small bowl, and place in the refrigerator for an hour. The mixture will be quite warm from the food processor and too sticky to work with. Check after an hour that you can pinch off a piece and roll it into a ball. If it is still too warm, wait another hour. 

5.  To set up your truffle rolling station, have a clean counter with your bowl of truffle mixture, an empty plate or small baking sheet lined with parchment paper, another large clean plate for the finished truffles, and then fill a small bowl with water. (It helps to dip your fingertips into the water before rolling each truffle to keep them from sticking. This will still be a slightly messy process though.)

Place the shredded coconut on another plate, and set it to the side.  

Get your hands a little wet and then with a small spoon, scoop some of the truffle mix and put it in your hands. Gently roll into a ball with both hands and place on the parchment lined plate or sheet. Keep the balls on the smaller side, about an inch to and inch and a half big.  Keep rolling until all the mix is used, wetting your hands as needed. 
*It is ok if the balls are not perfectly round, you will roll them again with the coconut. 

Go wash your hands, dry and then begin rolling those balls into the coconut, getting a light coating, and then place them on the empty large plate. Continue rolling until all truffles are coated. Place plate in the freezer for at least 2 hours. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

My Green Juice!!

I have told you all before how much I love green juice. I did a short juice fast early last year which really showed me just how great homemade juice can taste. I was able to complete a 30 day juice fast in April of this year and still continue to keep green juices as a regular part of my diet. Or, I should say I try to. After those 30 days I needed a break. It is a lot of work making enough juice to keep going every day. Now I tend to make a batch about once a week.

I used to have the centrifugal type juice with the spinning blade like this. After a few years when it started to run poorly, I decided to try the "masticating" style juicer. I have heard the quality of the juice is better with this style and you get more juice out of the veggies too. I found the Omega Juicer at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and with a 20% coupon, I got it for around $200.
I really LOVE this juicer. It takes slightly more time to make the juice, but the quality is far better and it lasts longer. I can have juice for 3 to 4 days and it still bright green and tastes great. I just made this batch this morning and from start (unpacking all the veggies and starting to wash them) to finish (washing the juicer parts and setting them aside to dry) was just under an hour total.

I make a big batch which lasts me 3 days (day #1 is the day I made it) and yields about 16 cups

Shopping Tips:
Lacinato Kale is the best kind of kale for juicing
I usually get a couple extra apples and one or two extra cucumbers just in case any of the greens are a little bitter. Once the juice is made I give it a taste to see if I need a little extra sweetness of apple. More cucumber helps to dilute the strong green flavors. 

So here is my recipe:
Ingredients:

2 bunches lacinato kale
2 bunches spinach
5 cucumbers, medium
6 to 8 apples, mainly green, sometimes a mix of green and fuji
1/2 bunch celery
1 head romaine lettuce

First take all the produce out and start washing. I start with the greens. I have a two basin sink so I start rinsing on one side and then place the clean produce on the other side as I work. 
Working through the kale, romaine, spinach and celery. I then just leave it all in the sink. 
This is the change from my older juicer, having to cut up all the apples and cucumber so the pieces fit down the feed shoot.  This is the part that takes a little more time with this kind of juicer, I used to be able to fit an entire apple down the Breville feed shoot.  Do all this prep before you start, so you can easily grab the next vegetable you need and keep moving.
Once everything is prepped, start juicing. This juicer has two containers, one for the juice to drip down into and one for all the pulp. We compost here so I also make sure I have an empty compost bin ready. 
When making a batch this big you will need to stop the juicer a few times to empty both containers. I have a small glass ready to slide underneath to catch the drips when I pull the juice container out. 
I pour the juice into my blender because it is the biggest container I have (8cups). Each time you empty the juice bin, it may taste different depending on which vegetables and fruits you just did. So sometimes it will be sweeter or grassier. It is helpful to blend them all together before you start pouring into smaller containers.  And I pour the juice through a mesh strainer to get rid of any pulp that came out of the juicer. This is entirely optional.
Using the blender as a first step, also makes pouring into smaller containers easier because of the spout.  

A handy tip for what order to juice your vegetables in.....
I always start with the cucumbers. They have a lot of water in them and the pulp can tend to get backed up into your feed tube like this....
When that happens, just take a piece of leafy kale and put it down the feed tube. The leaves will pull that cucumber pulp right down. So I go back and forth between the cucumbers/apples and all the leafy greens. 

This batch gave me 16 cups of juice.
This might be too much for you to drink in 3 days. And 3 days is about all you want this to sit in your fridge. If so, cut the recipe in half. I always end up sharing some with my husband and friends, so this quantity works great for me.

Always store the juice in glass containers with air tight lids. Plastic will work ok too, especially if that is all you have, but don't let it sit too long. I have this one plastic container on the right that will end up being what I drink today, or I will move it into a glass jar. 

Enjoy!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Vegetable Techniques - Asparagus

I LOVE asparagus!  And most people do. Except the kids at the house I cook for. They all did the asparagus pee test and the kids totally could smell the difference the next morning after I made asparagus for them. They have now decided to NEVER eat asparagus again. Well, more for me and their parents then.

If you purchase asparagus and are not using it right away, the best way to store it is trim the ends off, and sit cut side down in a bowl of water. This can sit in the refrigerator for up to a week and will stay fresher than sitting in the vegetable drawer.
The most common way I see asparagus cooked is left whole in spears and roasted or grilled. I think this is great, as long as you dont cook them too long. There should be a little crunch left. The way I make it most often is to trim the ends, cut it on the bias (diagonal), and then do a quick saute.  Thinner works better for this preparation, thicker spears are better for grilling or roasting.

The other way I have been making asparagus lately is to do a quick blanch so that I can use them as a snack, dipped in my favorite salad dressing. This makes for a quick snack when I first come home from work ravenous and will tide me over until dinner.

First the saute...

Ingredients:
1 bunch asparagus,
olive oil
salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
saute pan

Procedure:
Trim the bottom, woody ends off the asparagus, about 3 inches, and discard. Slice on a bias, or diagonal, cutting each spear into about 4 pieces as shown below. Take your time. Slice one spear at a time if you need to until it feels easy, getting a nice diagonal cut.
Heat a saute pan over medium high heat, and when hot, add a little olive oil, about 1 tablespoon.
Add the asparagus to the hot pan and toss to coat with the oil. Stirring frequently for about 2 minutes.
Add some minced garlic and sprinkle with some salt, while continuing to stir frequently, until vegetables are done to your liking.
I sprinkle with salt as I cook the vegetables, taste a piece, see if I like it, add a little more salt if needed. Go with how you usually season your vegetables, or if you are not sure, I ended up somewhere between 1/4 tsp and 1/2 tsp.

Mine were perfect at 4 1/2 minutes in the pan. You can stick one with a fork to see how tender they are or my favorite method is just to eat a piece since that is the real test of whether it is done or not. Yours could take a little longer depending on how thick the spears are and how big you cut your pieces. Just stir and continue sauteing until you are happy with how they taste.

Serve!

And now for the blanching....

Ingredients:
1 bunch asparagus - medium size is best, dont use super thin spears
1 pot of boiling water
colander
bowl of water and ice (optional)

Procedure:
Trim the bottom, woody ends off the asparagus, about 3 inches, and discard.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, or whatever size pot you have that will best fit the size of the vegetables.
Add the asparagus and leave in the water for about 20 to 30 seconds. Again, this depends on how thick your vegetable is. So, since this is a pretty quick step, stay close with a fork and test a spear at about the 20 to 30 mark to see how they are doing. If the fork goes through semi easily, time to drain.
One way to quickly cool down blanched vegetables is to submerge in an ice bath or "shock" them. This is done by filling a bowl slightly larger than your vegetables with water and some ice cubes. You dont want the vegetables to overcook, and this helps to cool them down very quickly. Set up the ice bath beforehand and have it sitting on the counter by the pot.  As soon as your asparagus are done, pull them out with tongs and place into the ice water.
The asparagus only needs to stay in the ice bath for a minute or so. Then take them out and place on a paper towl to absorb any excess moisture. This can now store in a container in the fridge for about a week. Serve with your favorite sauce or salad dressing.  My favorite is this Sesame Ginger Dressing from Whole Foods.
You can skip the ice bath step as well, which I often do. I sometimes just pour the pot into a colander and rinse the vegetables under cold water to help stop the cooking process. This wont cool the vegetables as fast, which means your asparagus will continue to get softer. Just be aware that you might want to drain them after being in the water for about 20 seconds.

I hope you try these out. If you do, let me know how it came out!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Vegetable Techniques - Cooking Broccoli


Broccoli is a great vegetable in that it is pretty easy to prepare and has a mild flavor. I like to use a two step cooking method that starts with quickly blanching it in boiling water, this helps to soften the florets and makes them turn a brilliant bright green color.  Then after draining, I add the broccoli to a saute pan with some olive oil, minced garlic and salt and do a very short saute to complete the cooking process and create more flavor. 

When choosing broccoli in the store, look for a nice even green color with no blemishes or yellow spots. The broccoli stem should feel firm, soft stems or limp florets are a sign the vegetable is getting old. Store broccoli in the crisper drawer of the fridge until you are ready to use it. Broccoli should keep fairly well for about one week.

Ingredients
1 to 2 large heads broccoli
salt
olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced

Equipment
A paring knife
Cutting board
Pot for boiling water
Strainer
Saute pan
Spatula or tongs

Procedure1. Trimming into florets - Slice straight through the broccoli stem as close to the crown as you can get, just where the larger stem starts to break into smaller stems. 
The crown should break into several large florets. Cut through the "trunk" of each floret to make pieces that are all about the same size.

Place these in a small bowl and run them under water to wash away any grit.

2. Blanching - Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil.   If the pot is big enough to fit all the vegetables where they can be submerged, then place them all in at once. If the vegetables wont all fit without being crammed, do half at a time. 

Add a tsp of salt and the broccoli florets and cook until just tender, about 1 to 1 1/2  minutes. 

NOTE:  This is the subjective part of the cooking process. You might like your broccoli really crisp and al dente, or maybe you want it more cooked and soft. The general rule here is to grab a fork and pierce a piece of the broccoli to see how cooked it is, and take it out of the water when it is done to your liking. For me, just as the water starts to come back to a boil, the broccoli is perfect, which is about 1 to 2 minutes from when the vegetables went into the pot.  (The broccoli will only cook slightly more in the saute pan)

Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a colander.
Place pot back on the stove and bring the water back to a boil.  Repeat steps with the remaining broccoli if needed. 

3. Sauteing - here is where the flavor comes in.
Place a non-stick saute pan over medium high heat. Once hot (about 30 seconds later), add some olive oil, this is about 1 tablespoon. 
Add the minced garlic and let sizzle about 10 seconds, not too long, just enough for the garlic to impart its flavor out into the oil.
Add the blanched broccoli florets to the pan and toss to distribute the olive oil and garlic.  Sprinkle with a little salt, and then taste. Because you salted the cooking water, this may not need very much salt. Taste and add more if desired. 
Place on a plate or bowl and serve. 

I also like to sprinkle the broccoli with a little red pepper flakes. This is how my favorite Italian restaurant back on the East Coast used to serve it. Although theirs was dripping in olive oil and had enough garlic to ward off any vampires. 
Serve and Enjoy!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Broccoli and Zucchini Fritters


Maybe I have a thing for small finger foods or fritters and patties (I just happen to be eating a leftover fallafel patty right now), but I just love these veggie fritters. If there is some cooked broccoli in the fridge, most likely it will just sit and I wont eat it. But, turn that broccoli into this fritter, and I can stop myself. 

These are a great way to use up leftover veggies. Broccoli makes up the bulk of this fritter and the flavor, but if you have some other, similar vegetables you want to use up, you can sub that in instead of the broccoli, or in addition to. Some cauliflower would be really nice as would corn and some steamed kale. 

Makes 10 2-inch fritters


Ingredients:
1 medium zucchini
1 medium head broccoli, about ½ pound  
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ small yellow onion, small dice, about ½ cup
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 large eggs
¼ cup cooked quinoa or millet
1 tablespoon brown rice flour
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
Small squeeze lemon juice
Several grinds of black pepper
Olive or coconut oil for frying

Optional
  • ½ jalapeno, minced
  • ¼ cup shredded cheese (parmesan or cheddar)
  • Replace yellow onion with 5 green onions, thinly sliced, about ¼ cup total - if using green onion, no need to precook

Procedure:

Place a paper towel on a cutting board. Using the largest holes on a grater, grate zucchini onto the paper towel. Wrap the zucchini in the towel and gently squeeze over a bowl or the sink to remove as much liquid as possible, being careful not to tear the paper towel. More liquid will come out than you think.
Place zucchini in food processor.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. While waiting for the water to heat, cut up broccoli into small florets. Peel any broccoli stems, and add them to the florets. Once water is boiling, add the broccoli and blanch for 3 minutes, or until a fork pierces stem easily, but broccoli is still firm. Drain and place colander over a bowl and set aside.

Place a small saute pan over medium high heat, add 2 teaspoons olive oil, and when hot, add onion. Saute for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is soft. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds while stirring. Transfer to food processor.

Crack eggs into a small bowl give them a quick whisk and then add to the food processor along with the blanched broccoli, quinoa, rice flour, tapioca starch, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until broccoli is broken down, but still chunky. Pour into a large bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a non stick griddle or pan, over medium high heat. Using an ice cream scoop or ¼ measuring cup, scoop batter and place it into the pan, then flatten the mound slightly with the scoop or spatula.   Repeat with additional batter, leaving a couple inches between each fritter. Fry about 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown underneath and then flip each fritter and cook on the other side until equally golden, about another 2 minutes.  Note: the egg will separate from the batter the longer it sits. Give it a good stir before scooping to help distribute the egg.

**Note: I like to make smaller patties, and find that using a large spoon to place the batter in the pan works just fine too. 

Transfer fritters to a paper towel lined plate or baking sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining batter. If you will be eating the fritters immediately, then transfer to a serving dish. Or place on a baking sheet and keep warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.


Note:
I like to have everything cut pretty small for these, so if you have a hard time dicing the yellow onion and don't want to have huge pieces of onion in your fritter, try grating the onion using the largest grate. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Almond Milk

Making fresh almond milk might seem like a luxury until you do it a few times and see how easy it is to make. It really helps to have a Vitamix blender, but a regular blender is fine too. For someone who has just started to go off dairy, it feels like you need to have another milk to substitute especially if you eat things like cereal and smoothies. I have been buying almond milk for years and even got my husband to use it at home, but recently I have been enjoying making my own. 

I just recently finished a 30 day juice cleanse and after coming out of the cleanse I didnt want to muck up my digestion again with all the sugars and gums in store bought almond milk. So I have been making it part of my routine to soak some nuts every 3 days.  (Then I can make this chocolate shake any time I want.)  

You will need a Nut Milk bag  to strain the pulp as well as a large, 4 cup measuring cup to pour the milk into. A bowl works also, but I like using a measuring cup to strain the milk into because it has a spout and makes pouring out the milk much easier after.
I use dates as the sweetener along with a pinch of sea salt and sub out half the almonds for brazil nuts. I really like mixing the two nuts as brazil nuts are higher in fat, resulting in a creamier milk, and also have a very mellow flavor. You can make this with all almonds if you prefer. The best nut milk comes with soaking the nuts for 24 to 48 hours. You can get away with just a quick soak, but you will get far more out of a longer soak. 


Ingredients
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw brazil nuts
2 dates
water
salt

You will need:
Nut Milk Bag
Vitamix or blender
Large measuring cup

Alternate flavorings
dash cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean

Procedure:

Soak nuts by placing in a bowl and covering with water to about 2 inches above the surface of the nuts.  Best is soaking 1 to 2 days before blending. This helps to soften the nuts so that you can get the most of out them. The softer they are the more easily they break down in the blender, which means better milk.  If you did not plan ahead, then at least soak the nuts for 2 to 3 hours before blending.
Drain soaking liquid, place nuts in blender and fill water to the 4 cup mark. 

Remove pits from the dates and add them to the water, if you have the time, let sit an hour, this also helps to soften the dates so they break down easier in the blender.


Place lid on blender and blend on a low setting, for about 30 seconds, then increase to a high setting for 1 full minute. 
Set the nutmilk bag into a large measuring cup. This will help to hold the bag in place. Pour almond milk into the nutmilk bag. 

Close the top of the bag and gently lift out of the measuring cup or bowl, letting the milk drip out of the bag. 

Once the flow starts to slow down, gently close one hand around the top of the bag, squeezing down on the pulp. Eventually, you will be using both hands to  twist the top of the bag to make it smaller and smaller, applying pressure on the almond meal inside to squeeze out as much milk as possible. 

Discard the almond pulp and immediately rinse out the bag. Pour almond milk into an airtight container with a lid and store in the refrigerator up to 4 days. 

If you would like to see a good video on making almond milk, check this one out. She gets into the straining part at 2:30 minutes in.

Enjoy!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Individual Huevos Rancheros


It was after I found out about my gluten allergy that I first discovered Huevos Rancheros on the breakfast menu. Before that, having beans and corn tortillas didnt much interest me in the morning. Once I had to avoid pancakes and waffles, I was looking for something more than just potatoes and eggs to fill me up. I now love the combination of tortillas, enchilada sauce and refried beans with my eggs to start the day.

A couple summers back I was cooking for a large group out on a farm and wanted to make them something different for breakfast.  They needed something filling to keep them going with a long day of farm chores. I created this constructed version of the huevos rancheros which they all named "mexican breakfast pizza". Some people ate it with a fork while others just picked it up and ate it like a taco.
I think this makes for a beautiful breakfast.  I say this recipe feeds 6, but fair warning, many will want more than one.

Individual or "Constructed" Huevos Rancheros


Ingredients

6 corn tortillas
1½ cups refried beans, black or pinto
¾ cup enchilada sauce
2 tbsp olive oil, divided (or a little bacon grease works great too)
6 eggs
chopped cilantro

Optional:
1 cup cooked chorizo
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Procedure:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place corn tortillas on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Spread ¼ cup refried beans on each tortilla. Then top each with a tablespoon of enchilada sauce, smoothing it out over the beans. 
Sprinkle with cheese and cooked, crumbled chorizo (if using).  
In a small non-stick frying pan, heat 1 tsp oil, and when hot, add eggs, and fry until whites are set, but not fully cooked, about 1 minute. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper while frying. 
Place egg on top of the prepared tortillas. Repeat with the remaining eggs, adding a little oil if needed to keep eggs from sticking to the pan.
Place baking sheet in oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until egg is slightly cooked, but yolk is still jiggly when the pan is shaken.  The whites of the eggs should be firm, the cheese melted, but the yolk still soft. How long this takes depends on how cooked the whites were when placed on the tortillas. If the whites were completely opaque, then this should only be closer to 5 or 6 minutes, if the whites were still transparent and runny, then keep in the oven closer to 8 or 10 minutes.

Remove pan from oven, drizzle a little more enchilada sauce over the tortillas and finish with a sprinkle of cilantro.  Serve immediately.

Chorizo:
**If adding chorizo, crumble and pan fry the chorizo first. Then place on the tortillas after the beans and enchilada sauce, but before the fried egg.