Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chocolate Puddle Cookies

"Love is not too strong a word to use here. I fell hard for this cookie," wrote Heidi Swanson when she posted this Chocolate Puddle Cookie recipe to 101 Cookbooks last year, and I could not agree more. This recipe has been my go-to cookie for bake sales, potlucks, and out of the blue chocolate cravings ever since. What's its secret? Cocoa powder and roasted walnuts create a rich fudgy feel, but thanks to whipped egg whites and confectioners sugar, the cookie remains light and airy.

The liquidy "puddle" batter produces a gorgeous cracked surface that when gently pulled apart presents an irresistible gooeyness. Baked for only 12-15 minutes, the prep time is even less.  Your best bet is to use a natural unsweetened cocoa powder; its intense flavor will harmonize nicely with the powerful nuttyness of the toasted walnuts.

Due to a lack of  flour, this chocolate puddle cookie is gluten-free. It also features a wealth of health benefits thanks to the polyphenols in the chocolate: Cocoa's flavonoids, a natural phenolic compound also found in fruits and vegetables, reduce oxidative stress. The physiological results are anti-inflammatory and bad-cholesterol-lowering activity, plus a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

Chocolate Puddle Cookies
Yield: 18 large cookies

3 cups walnut halves, toasted & cooled
4 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon real, good-quality vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 320F degrees and position racks in the top and bottom third. Line three (preferably rimmed) baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Chop cooled walnuts coarsely and set aside. Sift together the confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, and sea salt. Stir in the walnuts, then add the egg whites and vanilla. Stir until well combined.
3. Spoon the batter onto the prepared sheets in mounds of about 2 tablespoons each, allowing for PLENTY of room between cookies. Try to avoid placing more than 6 cookies on each sheet, and placing the batter too close to the edge of the pan.
4. Bake about 12 -15 minutes: until the cookies puff up; the tops should get glossy, and then crack a bit.
5. Slide the cookies still on parchment onto a cooling rack, and let them cool completely. They will keep in an airtight for a couple days.

Lamuela-Raventós, R. M. "Review: Health Effects of Cocoa Flavonoids." Food Science and Technology International 11.3 (2005): 159-76. Sage Journals Online. Http://fst.sagepub.com/content/11/3/159.abstract. Web. 28 Nov. 2011.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cranberry Apple Relish with Fresh Thyme

Inspired by the Honey Sweetened Cranberry Apple Sauce sample at last week's Union Square Farmers Market, I threw together this Cranberry Apple Relish with Fresh Thyme for lunch today and wanted to share.
I was in the mood for something Thanksgiving themed but not heavy on the stomach. I was also a little put off by the butter and loads of sugar in the original recipe, so I set out to sweeten my cranberries with apple juice. Even with the natural sweetness of the apple, the effect was still a bit too tart, so I did end up adding in some honey and maple syrup. Sticking with the fresh thyme, the most appealing part of the dish for me, I added in a quick grind of ginger and the dish was done: tart, savory and sweet all at once. The result was a salsa-like consistency that act as a topping to multiple foods: I ate mine with butternut squash and chicken, but I imagine this salsa would go wonderfully with Thanksgiving day leftovers like turkey and mashed potatoes as well! It's kind of addicting, so don't hesitate to eat it by itself either.

Cranberry Apple Relish with Fresh Thyme

2 cups fresh cranberries 
1 cup water
1 cup apple juice
1 apple, diced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Bring cranberries, water and apple juice to boil in a medium sized sauce pan. Turn heat to low and cook cranberries, covered, for about 10 more minutes, or until you hear them pop. Drain excess liquid from pan and add the apple, thyme, ginger, honey and maple syrup. (I recommend starting conservatively on the sweeteners and adding to taste, depending on your tolerance for tartness.) Bring pot to a boil again, mix thoroughly, and serve.
Cranberry Craze
Cranberries are an antioxidant superstar with a short season, so stock up now! Their red pigments contain the bulk of these antioxidant phyto-nutrients, which are shown to combat flammatory diseases, urinary tract infections, and tooth cavities. (All that added sugar makes this last health benefit moot though, so try to keep conscious of your sweetener's quantity.) Check out Clean Plate's Ingredient Spotlight: Cranberries for some more info and recipe ideas on this season's favorite berry.

"Cranberries Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits." Nutrition and You. Web. 23 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/cranberries.html>.
O'Donnel, Kim. "Ingredient Spotlight: Cranberries." Clean Plates. 18 Nov. 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2011. <http://www.cleanplates.com/blog/ingredient-spotlight-cranberries>.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos

Okay, I know I already declared my favorite winter recipe in my Pasta with Kale Pesto and Squash post...but am I allowed to have two? This Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burrito recipe is one of my absolute favorites; in fact it's what hooked me onto Mollie Katzen and her Moosewood Cookbooks. Brimming with flavor and stuffed (literally) with two Superfoods from WebMD's Top 10 List, these burritos contain the most affordable ingredients and are great to make in big batches and freeze for later use.

What is a Superfood? Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD describes them as "multitasking" foods: providing disease-fighting nutrients, filling so you can enjoy lots of food without excess calories, and easy to include in everyday meals. Beans make the list because they are loaded with both insoluble and soluble fiber: the former which helps lower cholesterol, the latter which fills you up for portion control. Sweet potatoes owe their recognizable orange color to an abundance of vitamin A, and also contain large amounts of vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. In this recipe, the signature sweet flavor of the sweet potato contrasts beautifully with the spice of the chili pepper, coriander and cumin; each flavor is enhanced by a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

A few time-saving tips for this recipe: microwaving the sweet potatoes (about 3 minutes, or until soft)  instead of boiling and heating your tortillas in a pan with a quick spray of olive oil instead of baking them will eliminate over half the prep time. While the original recipe recommends serving with salsa- and I'm sure low-fat sour cream and guacamole would be fitting toppings as well- I love the flavor and texture of these burritos so much I personally prefer to eat them plain.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos (thank you Mollie Katzen!)
Yield: 6-8 servings

5 cups peeled cubed sweet potatoes I didn't peel mine because a lot of nutrients are concentrated in the skins!
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons canola oil
3 ½ cups diced onions
4 large garlic cloves minced or pressed
1 Tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4 ½ cups cooked black beans (three– 15oz. cans low sodium cans , drained)
2/3 cup lightly packed minced cilantro
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
8 eight-inch whole wheat tortillas
Optional- salsa

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan with the salt and water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, warm the oil in a medium skillet or saucepan and add the onions, garlic, and chiles. Cover and cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the cumin and coriander and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the black beans, cilantro, lemon juice, salt, and cooked sweet potatoes and puree until smooth. (You can also mash the ingredients in a large bowl by hand using a potato masher. The result will be a less smooth but nicely textured filling.) I used an emulsion blender; the texture was spot-on. Transfer the sweet potato mixture to a large mixing bowl and mix in the cooked onions and spices.

Lightly oil a large baking dish. Spoon about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of the filling in the center of each tortilla, roll it up, and place it, seam side down, in the baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until piping hot. Optional: Serve topped with salsa

Zelman, Kathleen M. "List of 10 Super Foods for Your Diet." WebMD - Better Information. Better Health. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/10-everyday-super-foods>.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chestnut Truffles

A virgin to Roasted Chestnuts, I was hooked after my first bite of this creamy white kernel, encased in a rich hard shell radiating warmth in my hands. The taste it produced was completely novel: a surprisingly soft texture produced a mild nutty yet earthy flavor, but the texture almost reminded me of a baked potato. Nutritionally, I was not far off: chestnuts are actually dietetically similar to starchy foods such as sweet potatoes; but contain protein too.  Unlike other nuts, this one is relatively low in fat but rich in minerals, vitamin-C, fiber and phyto-nutrients. It is also gluten-free.
I could've just stopped  after roasting the chestnuts: they were such a tasty snack and I enjoyed cracking them out of their shells, like pistachio nuts.  However, I loved the idea of using this low cal medium in a chocolate dessert to bring out the unique nutty flavor in a healthy way.  The result was this Chestnut Truffles Recipe.
The taste of these truffles are very interesting to say the least. The chocolate and powdered sugar serve as a sweet foil to the notes of bitterness in the brandy and nuts. I guess I would describe them as kind of surprising: when you bite into the traditional hard shell of chocolate and expect a sweet cream or ganache, you are hit with that expected consistency but a totally different flavor. I recommend this: roast the chestnuts, and if you love them try the truffles. If you're not feeling the flavor, skip them :)

These truffles make a great holiday gift! After you dip them in chocolate, you can roll them in cocoa powder and powdered sugar for some aesthetic variety. I only discovered, this however, after a botched chocolate-dipping experience left my truffles looking spiky and messy. I've changed the directions from the original recipe so you can avoid this and produce a smooth, perfect truffle. My solution: heat more chocolate than you need (you can never have too much chocolate anyway) and dip dip dip!

Roasted Chestnuts (these are roasted in the oven rather than over an open fire, but feel free to sing while you make them)

1 lb chestnuts

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a baking sheet with foil.
2. Cut the flat side of each chestnut with a sharp knife. making an X. You MUST do this so they don't explode!
3. Cook for 15-20 minutes. After cooking, remove both the outer shell and inner skin. This will be easiest if peeled when still hot.

Like them? Love them? Can't wait to cook with them? See below!

Chestnut Truffles (from Eating Well)
Yield: about 4 dozen truffles

1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
1/2 cup brandy
1 15-ounce can unsweetened chestnut puree*
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
 8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, coarsely chopped, divided
Optional: unsweetened cocoa powder, powdered sugar 

*You can buy chestnut puree, but its more fun to make it yourself. After roasting and peeling the chestnuts, puree them in a food processor, adding water until puree reaches desired consistency.

 1. Dissolve dry milk in brandy in a small bowl; set aside. Combine chestnut puree, sugar and vanilla in a heavy medium saucepan; heat over medium-high heat, whisking until smooth. Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until thickened and stiff, 6 to 10 minutes. (Reduce heat if the mixture begins to scorch.) Whisk in the brandy-milk mixture and continue cooking until the mixture is thick enough to stand in peaks, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to lukewarm, about 20 minutes.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Form the chestnut mixture into 1-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. (Don't worry if the batter is too sticky to form a smooth ball; you'll be able to adjust the shape more easily after they cool.) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 20 minutes.
3. Heat 6 ounces chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water. Stir often, until the chocolate melts and reaches a temperature of 120°F. Remove the top of the double boiler from the heat. Add the remaining 2 ounces chocolate and stir until the chocolate is smooth and shiny. Or in a microwave in 30 second spurts, stirring after each session.
4.Dip each chilled ball of chestnut filling into the chocolate mixture. If it is too hot too touch, drop each ball into the chocolate-filled bowl and roll it around with a wooden spoon until fully covered, then scoop out back onto the baking sheet. Transfer the coated truffles back to the baking sheet.* (There will be about 2 ounces of chocolate left over; reserve it for another use.) Let the truffles stand at room temperature until the chocolate has set, about 5 minutes.

*If adding an extra layer of coating, scatter enough cocoa powder and powdered sugar on the parchment paper to cover the surface, and roll each truffle in the powder until all surfaces are covered.
"Chestnut Nutrition Facts." Nutrition-and-You. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/chestnuts.html>.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Baked Squash with Red Quinoa and Pumpkin Seed Stuffing

This recipe is seasonal, healthy, creative, fun, and flexitarian. What's not to love? The "stuffing", reminiscent of Thanksgiving thanks to its signature mix of diced onions and celery, sage, and cranberries, elicits all the excitement and anticipation of the upcoming holiday. Various dried fruits plus cinnamon and nutmeg add sweetness to the quinoa, while toasted pumpkin seeds bring a fun crunch. Nestled inside an earthy Delicata squash half, this Baked Squash with Red Quinoa and Pumpkin Seed Stuffing actually looked like a hotdog!

I am also digging the versatility of this dish. You can serve it as an appetizer, or toss your quinoa stuffing with chickpeas to create a balanced full meal. Feel free to scoop out the squash as you eat and mix it with the stuffing, or eat your squash half for dessert by topping it with brown sugar or maple syrup.

So what makes a dish flexitarian? Coined by Chef Peter Berley, author of The Flexitarian Table (where this recipe came from), the term flexitarian is a union of the words "flexible" and "vegetarian".  Flexitarian food is "convertable, so you can prepare a meat version and vegetarian version simultanously without going to extra trouble- you just separate the ingredients into two bowls or pots before you incorporate the protein," Berley explains.  Case in point: this recipe is originally vegan, but you could add crumbled feta if you are a vegetarian, or diced sausage if you are a carnivore.  The whole point is to include people who eat in different ways, and respecting the different needs of everyone who comes to the table. As the sister of a lifetime vegetarian, this philosophy certainly resonates with me!

A few notes on the tweaks I made to this recipe: I completely eliminated the butter, whose absence was not missed in calories nor taste. I also felt that the dish lacked acidity, so I added a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Red wine or apple cider vinegar would be acceptable too.

Baked Squash with Red Quinoa and Pumpkin Seed Stuffing
Serves 8
2 cups quinoa 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
 I used 2 tbsp olive oil                                                         
1 1/2 cups diced onion
sea salt or Kosher salt 
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery                                                                                                         
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage                                                                        
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped the size of raisins
1/4 cup dried currants
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds                                                                                  
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
freshly ground black pepper
4 medium Delicata squash, (any farmers market winter squash works) halved lengthwise, seeds and membranes removed            

extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing

1. Adjust a rack to the middle shelf of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
2. Simmer the quinoa in 4 cups of water until fluffy, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. While the quinoa cooks, melt the butter (or oil) in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until softened, stirring frequently, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the carrots, celery, ginger, and sage.
4. Cover the pan and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 5 to 7 minutes (add a tablespoon of water, if necessary, to prevent scorching.)
5. In a large bowl, toss together the quinoa and vegetables. Stir in the dried fruit, pumpkin seeds, nutmeg, and cinnamon, season with salt and pepper.*
6. Brush the skin of the squash lightly with oil. Place the squash, cut side down, in a baking pan large enough to hold them in a snug single layer.
7. Pour 1/2-inch of boiling water into the pan and bake for 20 minutes (you want the squash to have softened slightly, but not completely). Transfer the squash to a plate and let rest until cool enough to handle.
8. Stuff the squash halves with the quinoa mixture, return them, stuffing-up, to the pan, and bake until the flesh can be easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 20 to 30 minutes more.
 *Add vinegar to taste.

Berley, Peter. Introduction. The Flexitarian Table. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Print.