Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers November


I've concluded that every new culinary adventure tells you something about yourself. This month's Daring Baker challenge was very hard for me to get into. I am not a pastry baker. Frosting tastes like sweetened toothpaste to me. My fourteen year-old son, on the other hand, was very interested in trying his hands at baking a "real" cake. Armed with his enthusiasm, I decided to tackle this challenge.


Although we followed the recipes to the letter, both my son and I found the butter cream frosting to be too much for our taste buds. We tried to tone down the overwhelming sugar rush by adding some cooked cranberries to the mixture but this wasn't enough. In the end, we decided to serve the cake without the frosting.


The cake is a winner. It tastes really dense, almost like a rich butter danish. I was planning on serving it as part of my dessert assortments for Thanksgiving so we decided to add some chopped cranberries to the batter. The addition of a dollop of homemade cranberry sauce and whipped cream dressed up each slice beautifully. It was excellent.


So what did I learn about myself this time around? I have reaffirmed that I am picky when it comes to my sweets. And in the future, I may be more comfortable admiring the work of the very talented Daring Bakers who, unlike me, are willing to jump into a pool of frosting.

A big Thank you to our hosts this month:
Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex at Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray into Food. The Gluten Free version was provided by Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.


The recipe for this moist cake and frosting came from Shuna Fish Lydon of Egg Beaters and can be found here Egg Beaters. I substituted the flour for some Bob's Red Mill GF All-Purpose mix with added xantham.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I looked for a poem for this post that would express my Thanksgiving feelings, but I couldn't find one that properly captured them. I am left with my own thoughts on this, my favorite holiday. I am thankful for my life and my family.

Our table, over the years, has always been buzzing with conversations. It has always been a joyous moment, and the perfect excuse to get together with friends and family. The moment is always magical. The holiday is not too commercial. We don't spend time verbalizing what we are thankful for--words are not necessary when our smiles say it all.

As my kids have grown, the pilgrim paper hats have been replaced by helping hands in the kitchen. We share conversations, dreams and laughter. We fill platters with colorful delicacies. Everyone has a say on what will be served that day. This spirit of cooperation adds so much magic and warms my heart every time, reminding me of the many reasons why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

I hope that your Thanksgiving Day is filled with warmth and good company.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mustard Greens and Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

pumpkin mustard pasta in bowl

I have an announcement to make: my six-year-old ate mustard greens and loved them. My challenge as an adventurous cook is my son's aversion to leafy greens. I am always trying to find clever ways to put a little variety in his diet. He does great with carrots, broccoli and green beans, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

This is one quest that I am not willing to give up on for two reasons:
1) I think the more varied his vegetable intake the better for him.
2) Selfishly, I love a good challenge.

Mustard greens are the ultimate challenge. They not only are guilty of being green but they taste bitter and peppery as well. There are ways of taming the latter, but the color handicap is unsurmountable. Through trial and error, I learned that I can serve him spinach, swiss chard and other foes in the form of pesto sauces over pasta without fear of refusal. This is how I came up with this mustard greens and pumpkin pasta sauce. I hope it works on your little ones as well.

pumpkin pasta with strip

Mustard Greens and Pumpkin Pasta (serves 6)

This can be made with swiss chard or spinach instead of the mustard greens. Cook the greens in a pan with some olive oil and chopped garlic for added flavor.

pumpkin mustard pasta close-up

1 cup sauteed chopped mustard greens
1 cup cooked pumpkin or butternut squash
1 cup lowfat sour cream
1 cup shredded mild cheddar
1/2 teaspoon salt

16 oz brown rice pasta or other

While the pasta is cooking according to package direction make the sauce.
Place the cooked greens, pumpkin, sour cream, cheddar and salt in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth and pour over pasta. Mix well and transfer to serving dish.

pumpkin mustard pasta

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Kid's Favorite: Oven-Baked Chicken Strips

chicken strips with pasta

I remember the first time I ate chicken nuggets. I was twelve. A friend's mom picked me up to bring me to a school event. She stopped by McDonald's to feed her kids dinner. I had never entered a fast-food restaurant and I couldn't believe my luck. When asked what I wanted, I quickly and conveniently forgot that I had been fed a healthy dinner by my mother . I settled on the chicken nuggets. I don't remember if I liked them. All that remains of that night is the memory of how elated I was at being able to add "eating at a fast-food restaurant" to my life-experiences.

Nowadays, I only eat chicken nuggets when they are homemade. My kids are the ones who do not like fast-food. Thank you SuperSize Me! Truth be told, they weren't fans even before they saw this documentary.

Here's a version of chicken strips that is both healthy and delicious. It is based on a recipe I found on

chicken strips served

Oven-Baked Chicken Strips with Spices (serves 4)

olive oil cooking spray
1/2 cup of almond meal
1/4 cup of garbanzo bean flour, or other
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup of egg whites
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken tenders

Preheat oven to 375F.
Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Add a thin layer of oil (sprayed on) to paper.
In a bowl mix the almond meal, flour, and spices. Add the olive oil and work in with a spoon or your fingers until evenly distributed.
In another bowl, pour the egg whites.
Take the chicken strips and coat them in the egg whites. Then, one by one, dip them in the almond mixture pressing each side to coat. Place the crumb coated chicken strips onto the prepare cookie sheet. Spray some olive oil on top of the strips.
Place in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes. Chicken strips are cooked inner-temperature reaches 160F when checked with a meat thermometer. Keep an eye on it to avoid burning and to keep the chicken moist. Serve with your favorite dip.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pears Like You Have Never Had Before

caramel choco pear

There are days when you want the rewards without the efforts. As much as I enjoy cooking and inventing recipes, simplicity is always a plus for my busy schedule. We run around between our jobs, schooling, kids' social lives and other various commitments, yet the food that we eat is an important part of that routine as well.

I really care about what I feed myself and my family. I like preparing foods for the ones I love because it is truly is the ultimate gift of generosity. It's a gift of time as well as substance. Desserts have a way of making everyone smile around the table that spinach will never rival (and I love spinach). It is the great equalizer: adults get in touch with their inner-child, as they anticipate the first bite, and children bubble with with excitement. Everyone has an achilles tendon when it comes to their favorite treat: the one they cannot possibly resist. Mine is the combination of dark chocolate and caramel, and perfectly caramelized pears or apples, and buttery tarts, silky puddings--okay, I admit it mine is a list that would go on and on.

caramel choco pear close-up

Here's one easy concoction that combines some of my favorite flavors and is sure to satisfy most sweet tooth. It is so easy to put together that it can fit into anyone's busy schedule.

Chocolate Caramel Baked Pears
This dessert is wonderful served with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream. You can use a mixture of dark chocolate and caramels instead of the chocolate covered caramels.

4 ripe pears, halved and center core removed (use a spoon or melon-baller)
4 oz dark chocolate covered caramels, chopped
1/4 cup hot water

caramel choco pear served

Preheat oven to 375F.
Oil a ceramic lasagna dish.
Place pear-halves skin side down in the prepared dish. Stuff the center cavities with the chopped caramels.
Carefully, pour 1/4 cup of hot water in between the pear-halves. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes and then remove the foil and bake 10 more minutes or until pears are tender and center is melted. Serve warm.

caramel choco pear spoon

More desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth...
Blueberry Pudding Cake
Caramel Apple Cake

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Picture Perfect Edamame Millet Bowl

edamame millet platter

What is it with little children and mixed ingredients? If I serve my six
year-old millet, carrots, seaweed and cilantro, he will happily eat them as long these foods are not mixed together. However, if I dare to serve them in a one-dish-meal: it's all over. I know he will outgrow this aversion eventually. It's fascinating though--it's like an artist refusing to mix paint because it alters the purity of each color.

edamame millet close-up

I have obviously outgrown this tendency since I love one-dish-meals. I play around with the colors, textures and flavors. It's comfort food to me. This edamame millet bowl is so delicious. The millet provides a great change from rice. You can use whatever seasonal vegetable you have on hand. Try to contrast the textures and sweetness/saltiness ratio and you'll have a winning dish. The secret, frankly, is the sauce which is generously poured over the mixture.

edamame millet served

Edamame Millet Bowl with Ginger Miso Sauce (serves 8)
Feel free to use your own mix of vegetables such as: baby spinach leaves, asparagus, and corn. Cook your millet the same way you would brown rice. I like to saute the grains in a little bit of olive oil for a minute or so and then add the water (1:2 millet to water ratio) and salt to taste. Then, simmer covered for about 35 minutes or until the water has been absorbed and then fluff with a fork.

4 cups of cooked millet
2 cups shelled edamame, steamed
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup cooked pumpkin, cubed
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup baked tofu, diced
1 sheet of roasted nori seaweed, sliced into thin strips

1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon GF soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons white miso paste

Toasted seeds for garnish

Mix all the warm ingredients in a large bowl or platter and set aside.

In small pot, under medium heat, bring to a boil the ginger, orange juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and reduce for about 10 minutes, stirring every once in a while. Turn the heat off. Put the miso in a small bowl and add about 1/4 cup of the orange/ginger sauce. Mix well until fully combined. Add miso mixture to the rest of the pot and mix well. Pour sauce over the millet edamame mixture. Mix to combine, garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

Other great tofu recipes:
Tofu Saute in Peanut Sauce
Pomegranate Marinated Tofu
Caramelized Tofu

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dreamy Mocha Pie

pie mocha heart

Dessert is such a loaded word. It is a vessel for all our expectations and desires. I always start out with an idea of texture in mind: crunchy, creamy or crumbly. The sweetness needs to be balanced and not so overpowering that it takes away from all the other flavors involved. I dream of the possibilities and try to bring them to life in my kitchen.

pie mocha layers

I made this delectable mocha pie on Friday and the silence that followed the first bite we each took spoke loudly of how incredible it was. My husband was out of town. It took great self-control to save him a nicely-sized slice of this heavenly pie. I was really proud of myself--there are not a lot people I would sacrifice like that for.

pie mocha slice

Dreamy Mocha Pie (serves 8)
Feel free to use 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour + 1/2 cup whole-wheat white flour instead of the gluten-free flours and omit the xantham gum if you are not concerned about gluten or wheat.
Agar agar is a seaweed. It mimics gelatin. It's available in health/natural food stores.

Pie Crust:
1 cup GF baking flour mix (1/4 cup tapioca flour, 1/2 cup garbanzo flour, 1/4 cup sorghum flour or a store bought GF mix)
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1/3 cup egg whites
1 tablespoon ice water (or more as needed)

12.3 oz carton silken firm tofu
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon agar agar flakes, diluted in 1/4 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon GF vanilla extract

1/4 cup half and half
1 cup light sour cream
4 teaspoon instant expresso powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar

cocoa powder to sprinkle on, optional

Preheat oven 375F.
In the bowl of a food processor mix the flours, xantham, salt and sugar. Add the butter and process until crumbly. Scrape the sides of the bowl a few times if necessary. Add the egg whites and ice water and pulse until a dough forms (add more ice water, if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time ). If the dough is too soft to roll, leave it in the fridge for an hour. If not, roll it on a floured board. Place the pie crust in a ceramic pie dish, adjust the edges to your esthetic taste. Prebake the pie crust until slightly golden (about 15-20 minutes).

While the crust is baking. Clean the food processor and put all the ingredients for the filling in it. Blend completely, scraping the sides as needed, until perfectly combined. Pour the filling in the crust.

Prepare the topping by mixing the half and half, sour cream, expresso powder and granulated sugar (I used my mixer for this step). Spread the topping on top of chocolate filling and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Sprinkle some cocoa powder on top before serving.

This bite is for all the veterans out there... Happy Veteran's Day!
pie mocha bite

Artsy-Foodie's Tip:
This crust is wonderful because it keeps its structure even after a few days. It doesn't get soggy. You can use it for savory pies: just omit the sugar, increase the salt by 1/4 teaspoon and add some chopped fresh herbs as well. It rolls out nicely and transfers to the pie dish without much fuss--a big plus for gluten-free bakers.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Soup Dilemma: To Dunk or Not to Dunk?

butternut soup with crackers

I grew up eating unadulterated soup. Crackers or bread were not part of this heart warming ritual. At the most, we would add a spoon-full of creme fraiche to cool off a cream of vegetable soup.

I like to end the day, especially in Fall and Winter, with a nice bowl of soup. I pair it up with homemade bread, muffins or crackers whenever possible. It adds another dimension to the meal. The sweet creaminess of butternut squash goes especially well with parmesan crackers. I added some pumpkin seeds to the recipe for some added crunch. Now, that you have the perfect recipe, all you'll need is to decide whether it's appropriate to dunk or not.

butternut squash soup up-close

I am all about playing with my food, so I say: dunk, dunk, dunk.

parmesan pumpkin crackers

Parmesan, Pumpkin-Seed Crackers
This recipe works well with all purpose flour. If you are not concerned about gluten or wheat, omit the xantham gum and use 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose instead of flours called for in this recipe.

1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons shelled pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup lowfat milk
1 large egg, beaten

Egg Wash:
1 large egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water, beaten

In a mixer, combine all the dry ingredients. Then drizzle in the olive oil. Turn mixer on for two more minutes. While the mixer is going, prepare the egg in a bowl and mix with the milk. Drizzle in to form a batter. Mix well for about 3 minutes. Wrap the batter with a piece of parchment paper coated with some oil. Store in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350F.
oil a cookie-sheet

Spread a thin coating of gluten free flour onto a board and a rolling-pin. Roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. With a knife cut strips 3/4" wide. Gently take the strip and shape them into a twig. You can be as creative as you would like with the shape as long as it is fairly thin. I pinched and twisted mine to make them look as organic as possible.

Arrange them onto the cookie sheet. Baste them with some egg-wash and bake for 20-30 minutes, rotating the pan every 10 minutes or so. The cracker sticks should be golden. Serve with your favorite dip or soup.

parmesan crackers

butternut squash soup

Velvet Butternut Squash and Lima Bean Soup (serves 10)

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups sliced leeks, whites only
8 cups cubed butternut squash
16oz frozen Lima beans
2 teaspoon dried sage leaves
2 teaspoon sea salt
8 cups water
1/4 cup light sour cream
salt to taste

In a large pot, heat the oil and then add the leeks. Saute on medium heat until translucent. Add the butternut squash, beans, sage leaves and salt. Mix well and saute for an additional 2 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes or until squash and beans are really soft. Add sour cream. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let cool for ten minutes. Blend until really smooth. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Serve with bread or crackers.

More related recipes:
Daring Bakers Lavash Crackers
Miso Soup

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

election oatmeal treats


Today, I have great hopes that I will stop being consumed by the news and this never-ending political campaign. I also hope that it will all end on a sweet note. I realize that this means different things for different people. So this is what I propose:
-If you are happy with our new president, you can celebrate with these wonderful cookies.
-If you are unhappy with our new president, you can cheer up with these wonderful cookies.

Not a bad deal, eh?

election cookie one per vote

I have to wonder what I will do with my free-time? For the past year, I have spent so many hours listening to the radio, watching news shows, reading countless articles, and biting my fingernails (when I should have been eating cookies). I never miss a chance to vote. I take my role as a voter so seriously that I even took a political science class to brush up on my knowledge. It gave me a great understanding of our government and what influences its policies. Here's what I've learned: relax and greet anything you can't control with a laugh and a good cookie.

election cookies up-close

Peanut Butter Oatmeal cookies (makes 19)

1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup salted peanuts
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups GF rolled oats
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven 375F
Oil cookie sheet

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse 20 times, scraping the sides halfway.
Carefully remove the blade from the bowl.
Form each cookie by scooping 1 rounded tablespoon of batter. Roll it into a ball and place on cookie sheet. Finish forming all the cookies.
Oil the back of spatula and use it to flatten each cookie slightly.

Bake for 15 minutes or until bottom and tops are slightly golden. Cool on a rack and enjoy! Store in an airtight container.

Election oatmeal

More scrumptious cookies to get through election day...
Lebanese Walnut Cookies
Pistachio Cranberry Wedding Cookies
Cardamon Dark Chocolate Cookies

And one last fun picture... teapot created by my daughter.

election cookies on teapot
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