Friday, November 30, 2007
Ok, I admit it, so I stole this idea from David Lebovitz-you can read all about it on Heidi's blog. Incidentally, for the worlds easiest chocolate ice cream, go here. But really folks, this has got to be the EASIEST frozen dessert ever! Here's how it happened: My boyfriend hates regular, unsweetened, unflavoured yogurt (like the kind I make and eat everyday). So he buys Dannon all natural low fat vanilla yogurt, which has vanilla flavour and sugar in it, and eats that for breakfast instead. It is way too sweet for me, plus I like the plain ol' yogurt tang, so I stick to my homemade stuff.
However, when we returned from a week out of the city, Jose discovered that he had forgotten an unopened quart of vanilla yogurt in the fridge. It was now past its expiration date and he refused to even open it, swearing that it must be bad by now and that I could have it. Intrepid adventurer that I am, I checked it out immediately. Despite the Nov 13 expiry date, the yogurt, still sealed under its foil seal, was in perfect condition. I had no intention of eating such sugary contents on my breakfast cereal, so another idea came to mind. It was then that I invented (drum roll please):
The World's Easiest Vanilla Frozen Yogurt (Ever!)
This frozen yogurt has the same calorie content as the unfrozen stuff: 200 calories per cup, with 33 grams sugar, which is why I didn't need to add any.
I didn't think that the vanilla flavour of the yogurt was pronounced enough, so I grabbed a bottle of pure vanilla extract and dumped about 1 tsp of the stuff onto the yogurt, still in its container. Then I stirred everything around until smooth and scraped it into my ice cream maker. Thats all there is to it. 20 minutes later I had some absolutely delicious Vanilla Frozen Yogurt. The next day I decided to try it out with some strawberry sauce. It was fantastic!
The recipe makes enough for one huge or two medium strawberry sundaes and packs a total 105 calories.
1 cup frozen organic strawberries
1 tsp sugar
Place strawberries and sugar in a saucepan over medium low heat. Cook until the mixture thickens slightly. Cool and pour over ice cream. Enjoy and thumb your nose at winter (who says its not ice cream making weather?!)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
This recipe makes enough filling for two 8" pies, feel free to cut it in half if you just want one pie-or you can do like my cousin and give one away!
The juice and grated rind of 1 and 1/2 large lemons. If you want a more lemony pie, you can up this to 2 lemons.
1. Mix the grated rind into the granulated sugar, then mix in the flour.
2. Beat egg yolks into the sugar mixture and melted butter. Beat thoroughly and mix in milk little by little until well blended.
3. Beat egg whites to a peak and fold into the yolk mixture.
4. Pour custard into two partially baked pie crusts. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, 400 degrees for 10 minutes and 375 degrees for 20 minutes until done. Let cool completely before serving.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Thank you to the lovely lady in Victoria who sent me the preserves! They are delicious! And thank you to Molly at Batter Splattered for hosting the Jammin' Jelly Exchange. Now that I have actually posted about the lovely jam I received in the mail, I look forward to seeing what other people have exchanged when the final count comes in. Meanwhile, I can gaze upon my preserves basking by the window (or maybe spread them on some Belizean Creole Bread).
Friday, November 16, 2007
Belizean creole bread would be a plain white bread were it not for the special secret ingredient: coconut milk, which transforms it into something fragrant and delicious, with a soft and airy crumb, easy to slice and even easier to eat; plain, or toasted with jam or butter or a slice of Dutch edam cheese. Back home us kids used to eat it with Unilever's infamous Blue Band Margarine-the tinned margarine of the masses sold across the developing world. Creole bread would also make a great base for some fabulous coconut scented french toast or bread pudding. I have leftovers from my office Thanksgiving party and am looking forward to further experimentation.
Belizean Creole Bread
1 and 1/2 cups coconut milk (preferably organic. I use the lowfat version, but it really doesn't matter which you choose. *)
5-8 cups of white flour (the amount you will need depends upon the humidity in your region. Here in DC I usually only use about 6 cups.)
2 tsps of instant yeast
1/2 cup of vegetable oil (I used canola oil this time but next time around I plan to use organic coconut oil to up the coconut flavour even more.)
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
*If you want to stick with tradition, make your coconut milk from scratch instead of buying it in a can: pierce the eye of a mature coconut with an ice pick and drain the coconut water into a pot. Then break open the nut with a hammer or heavy knife and remove and finely grate the coconut meat-you can use a heavy duty food processor for this. Heat up the coconut water to medium heat on the stove and mix the grated meat into it, then turn off the heat and let it stand for about 15 minutes, stirring and mashing around the grated meat so that the water turns milk-coloured and opaque. Then strain the whole shebang through a cloth. The resulting white liquid is the real deal-fresh coconut milk, always much superior to the canned stuff. If you put it in your fridge, coconut cream will rise to the top, which, when thoroughly chilled, can be whipped just like dairy cream. So one day, when you feel like doing something different, pick up one of those coconuts at the supermarket and give fresh coconut milk a try!
1. Proof the yeast. Mix together the 1/2 cup warm water, 2 tsp yeast, 2 tsp sugar and 2 tbsp of flour in a small bowl and set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Warm milk, fat, sugar, and salt in the microwave for about 20 seconds-stir together and set aside. Don't let the mixture boil, you just want to heat it up a bit. Sift 5 cups of flour into a large bowl.
3. Once the milk mixture has cooled enough that you can comfortably stick a finger in it, mix it into the yeast.
4. Add wet ingredients to the flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. If sticky, add flour until you have a dough that you can knead.
5. Dust your counter with flour and knead the dough until smooth, about 5-8 minutes. If the dough becomes sticky as you knead just sprinkle with flour as required. You may have to add up to a cup of flour at this stage depending on the humidity of your kitchen.
6. Put in greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until double in size. Punch down and knead for two or three minutes. Make into two large or six small round balls. Place on a greased pan-let rise again, bake at 400 F/205 C for 30-35 minutes until the tops brown and the bottom of a loaf, when tapped, sounds hollow.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The two desserts that I just had to try were almost opposite from each other in texture, taste and type. One, Mercede's recipe for cardamom biscuits or kleeja, was dry, sweet but not too sweet, and slightly crumbly (like a good British-style biscuit should be) with a wonderful flavour and aroma of cardamom. Perfect for dipping in tea, coffee or some masala chai. Plus, they seem to keep well in a tin, which is great in case you have friends unexpectedly drop by one afternoon.
These biscuits were a big hit at the office, and disappeared with astonishing rapidity. They are also easy to make, rolling out nicely with no chilling time needed, and are only 50 calories each if you use a 2 inch cutter to make them. If you like cardamom, as I do, I highly recommend them. Once you try these cookies you will probably end up making them regularly just so you can have one around to nibble on with your afternoon tea (or latte). Plus, for all you vegans out there, I think this recipe could easily be veganized with some soy milk and that the results would still be great. Visit Desert Candy here for the recipe.
The other dessert I tried was Molly's recipe for pumpkin-cranberry pecan upside-down cake. I love upside down cakes, as does my father. His birthday cake every year is a pineapple upside down cake dripping with butter, sugar and pineapple-y syrup. This seemed like a great seasonal twist on my standard pineapple. I was, however, put off by the 2 sticks of butter, to Molly's dismay. I know, I know, upside down cakes require butter. There is no such thing as a dry upside down cake, and to achieve that beautiful and tasty topping, lashings of fat and sugar are required.
To salve my health-obsessed conscience just a tad I cut the amount of butter in the recipe to 1 and 1/2 sticks and it still oozed and dripped sugary-buttery goodness in every slice, to everyone's delight. The cranberries and pecans cooked to syrup- glazed perfection and the pumpkin batter was the best complement I can think of. Did I mention that four of us ate half the cake in one sitting? And that I am making it for Thanksgiving? This cake is so beautiful when turned out that it is THE perfect thing to make for holiday season potlucks. Everyone will ooh and ahh and you won't get to take any home. For the recipe to make this delectable creation, visit Batter Splattered here.
Serves about 6, approximately 345 calories per serving, without the traditional white rice.
1 and 1/2 lb organic lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
6 oz. of pitted Spanish olives with the pimiento stuffing in the center
4 oz (half a cup) of raisins
2-3 bay leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
8 0z (1 cup) of a plain tomato sauce
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp cider vinegar (not traditional, but adds a nice flavour)
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Some people add 1/4 cup of capers to their picadillo, which you may do if you like. José and his mother make it without.
1. Heat the olive oil on medium high heat in a large pan or pot. Brown the ground beef. Add the onion, green pepper and garlic and continue cooking until the meat is well browned.
2. Once the beef is browned, add the olives, raisins, bay leaf, tomato sauce, wine, cumin, salt, pepper and vinegar and capers if you are using them.
3. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring regularly, so the flavours have time to meld. This is traditionally served over white rice, with tostones or fried plantains.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Wild food gathering has always been a fascination of mine, ever since I was introduced, at an early age, to my father's copies of Euell Gibbons' treatises on the subject. Starting with The Beachcombers Guide and moving onto to other books such as Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I read and re-read his books on harvesting wild foods from land and sea until I practically had them memorized. Mr. Gibbons knew his stuff and when he wasn't talking about his experiences living off the land in Hawaii, he waxed rhapsodic about things like wild orach, crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay and savouring wild persimmons plucked straight from the tree in the depth of winter.
Euell described the wild American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) as "soft, sugary lumps of goodness". That is a pretty accurate description. These gooey, sticky treats are at their best when dead ripe. It is this softness which makes the American persimmon so unwelcome in modern supermarkets, as it cannot be shipped by any means. Luckily, to quote Mr. Gibbons, wild persimmons grow "from Connecticut to the Gulf of Mexico and west to the Great Plains". If you don't have access to a wild persimmon tree you can still make a delicious persimmon bread using very soft Hachiya persimmons, which are a cultivated Japanese variety.
In my case I was lucky enough to identify a large persimmon tree growing at one end of my running route through Rock Creek Park in Washington DC. Once I realized what the orange spheres were, I starting carrying a plastic bag in my pocket, and planned my exercise so I would end the run at the tree, where I picked the partially smashed fruit off the ground from where they had fallen and then walked home with a bag full, getting weird looks from passersby on the trail as they tried to figure out what the hell I was doing.
What I was doing was gathering the ingredients to make the most delicious persimmon bread ever. So far that is the only thing I have made with the persimmons, although they would lend themselves beautifully to puddings, custards, pies and other preparations. But I like this bread so much that I haven't bothered so far. Try it for yourself and let me know if you agree.
This makes one loaf, which, if you slice it into 16 slices, is 148 calories per slice (if you use eggbeaters or egg whites instead of whole eggs).
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar, not packed
2 eggs or 1/2 cup eggbeaters or egg whites
1 cup of persimmon pulp (wash the fruit thoroughly and push them through a colander or sieve to remove seeds)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1. Mix together all dry ingredients except the sugar.
2. Stir together the sugar, oil, persimmon pulp and eggs or eggbeaters in another bowl.
3. Stir wet ingredients into the dry ones until just blended, adding walnuts as you do so. Dump your batter into a greased 9 by 5 inch loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-50 minutes. The final product is a dark coloured loaf with a delicious flavour that I especially love toasted. It is delicious plain, but also pairs well with cream cheese.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Well, I am pleased to announce that after a long, long wait (the camera had to be sent to an official Nikon technician center in New Jersey, where they took almost two months to fix it), my camera is back!! I look forward to grabbing my macro lens and getting some quality closeups for future posts.
In the meantime, I apologize for the not-so-great quality of some of the photos that have been posted here lately. When I see the gorgeous pictures that some of my favorite bloggers are taking, I feel a twinge of embarrassment for the crappy lighting and blurry closeups. (I am going to have to do a roundup of my favorite photos soon, because there just isn't room to list all the different blogs and blog posts with wonderful photography going on these days! Keep up the good work guys!)
But I do have something to blame: daylight savings time is working against me! When I get home it is dark, when I leave for work, it is dark. Hopefully once it ends this Sunday I will be able to get some pictures with natural light instead of the awful lighting we have in my apartment, and we can all ooh and aww over my perfect photos of perfectly plated food...oh wait...I think I must have nodded off there-it sounds like I am dreaming again. Its been a loooong week. But its Friday night now, and I have celebrated by baking this delicious sounding Pumpkin Gingerbread. It smells wonderful and I am sure it will taste so as well. I guess I'd better go try some and see!
It wasn't the leeks that got me to try this recipe though-it was the mustard. Being a fan of the pungent and spicy, I have a serious disdain for that polyester yellow stuff that masquerades as mustard at hot dog stands and fast food restaurants across the USA. So this May when I came across a recipe for leeks in a mustard vinaigrette that advised using the most pungent French mustard you could find (preferably flown directly from France itself), I knew I had to try it. This recipe is from the Washington Post. I indicate my changes in the recipe below. My version is a bit healthier, thanks to the cut in oil, while retaining the all important sharp mustardy flavour of the dish.
Extra-Sharp Leeks Vinaigrette
5 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, roots trimmed, halved length-wise (see picture above) and rinsed.
5 tablespoons of hot Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup, which you may use if you prefer)
1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Cleaning leeks is easy, just cut off the tattered bright green tops and the white roots on the very end, then slice them in half lengthwise. Run the sliced leeks under some water and rinse them thoroughly so that any dirt that may be hiding in the layers of delectable leaves is properly flushed out. To make sure that a large portion of the leek is white, farmers usually heap up the soil around the base of the plants to hide that part from the sun, and this can sometimes cause dirt to sneak in between the leaves. This cleaning procedure ensures that none of it ends up in your final dish.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. The original recipe says that one should "reunite the leek halves; bundle leeks and secure with kitchen string." I must admit that I don't own any kitchen string, so I just place the leek halves directly into the water and handle them gently so they don't fall apart. Feel free to tie them together if you like. Either way, simmer the leek halves until fork-tender, which should take about 15 minutes. Drain the leeks and let them cool.
3. Whisk together the mustard, lemon juice and vinegar, then slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking as you go. Add salt and pepper to taste. Slice each leek lengthwise into thirds and toss with the vinaigrette. You probably will have some extra, which you can use for other things, such as dressing up the winter salad that I posted about a few days ago. The other nice thing about this recipe is that you can make it ahead of time. The leeks keep perfectly well in the fridge for days, either with or without the vinaigrette.
This makes a great side dish for a traditional "meat and potatoes" kind of meal. Take it from me and don't try eating it in huge portions-the mustard, vinegar and leeks can be overpowering if consumed in quantity. But as a side dish, this is delicious and adds a nice exclamation point of flavour to your dinner or your Thanksgiving table, if you are in the USA and planning your menu for that holiday.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
That being said, in my part of the world we usually eat what are known as red kidney (RK) beans, and those particular beans are definitely a Belizean favorite. They are also a popular component in Cajun food and chili here in the USA. You can learn the basics about kidney beans, including calorie info, here: RK Beans at Whole Foods. This post explains how I prepare Belizean Stew Beans, a staple that is the backbone of the Belizean diet. We eat it almost every day, and turn leftovers into refried beans for breakfast. While many people put a pigtail in the beans for added flavour, I usually stick with a vegetarian version. (Not to mention that I haven't seen pigtail for sale anywhere in DC lately).
The classic way to serve stew RK beans is with white rice, a side of coleslaw, some fried plantains or bluggos (a cooking banana not available in the USA) and, if you are lucky, some Belizean stewed chicken (recipe coming up soon) or fried fish.
I learned to cook beans as a kid, and quickly discovered that my parents had completely different styles of cooking as evinced by the way they prepare beans and rice. My mother meticulously measures everything out, while my father simply "eyes" the quantities and measures the water in relation to the amount of beans and the length of his index finger. I liked my Dad's way better, since all it involved was dumping the beans in the pot and adding "enough" water, but I shall try to inject some measurements here to give you an idea of how it works.
Belizean Stew Beans
About 4 cups of dried Red Kidney beans
Ground cumin: about 1/2 tsp or to taste
Whole cumin seeds: about 1 tsp or to taste
Dried oregano: about 1 tsp or to taste
1 or 2 bay leaf (in Belize I usually use a leaf from the allspice tree instead)
Freshly ground black pepper: about 1/2 tsp or to taste
Onions: 1 large or 2 medium, diced.
Garlic: about 4-6 cloves, or to taste, each one cut into two or three pieces.
Recado*: a piece about 1 tsp in size.
Salt: about 1 tsp or to taste
About 1 tbsp coconut oil (optional)
*This is a mix of annatto paste with other spices (black pepper, cumin, oregano, salt to name a few) which is formed into balls or blocks and sold across Mesoamerica. I do not know if it is readily available in the USA or not as I always get it from home. If you can't find it in your area (look in stores selling Mexican food), you can substitute about 1/2 tsp chili powder. You can read about recado rojo here. There is also a pitch black version, recado negro, which is spicier.
1. People are often scared of cooking beans from scratch because they think that it is difficult or will take too long. While most dry legumes (lentils are an exception) do need to soak before being cooked, this can easily be worked into a busy schedule. Personally I like to set the beans to soak in the morning, and then cook them in the evening. You can also set them to soak the night before and cook them the next day. If you need to have dinner on the table in 20 minutes, don't serve them the same night you cook them, as it takes an hour or two for the beans to get tender. Instead, let them cook away while you go about your evening routine, and the next day you will have a big pot of beans that can be used in hundreds of different and delicious ways.
So: the first step here is to take the beans, dump them into a large pot and add water. Swish the water around, look for any debris and strain the beans. Then refill the pot with water, about twice as much as you have beans. You want the beans to be sitting under several inches of water. Set them on a counter top, cover with a lid and forget about them for 5-12 hours.
2. When you wake up the next morning or get back from work that evening, the beans will have absorbed most of the water in the pot and will be leathery and flexible. Top off the pot with more water so that you again have at least 2 inches of water above the level of the beans. Set the beans over medium heat with the lid on and leave them to simmer. At this point you can go do other things. Do your laundry, cook your dinner, pay bills, watch TV, whatever. Just try to check the beans once every 20 minutes or so, give them a good stir and see whether they are soft yet. If you need to, add a little extra water (sometimes the beans will soak up a lot of it as they begin to cook).
3. When they are mostly soft (slightly "al dente" to taste), add the chopped onion, the garlic, the bay leaf and all the spices EXCEPT the salt. Let cook some more until the beans are completely soft, then add the salt and the coconut oil if you are using it (DO NOT substitute coconut milk, it will not be the same). Important: The reason the salt is added last is that if you add it before the beans have cooked completely, it toughens them, with less than yummy results (leathery bean skin is not what you want in your final product).
4. At this point the beans are done. You should have a pot full of soft beans swimming around in a delicious dark red broth of their own juices. However, they always taste best when they have been cooked or reheated several times. This allows the flavours to meld. So if you aren't planning on eating them immediately, let them simmer for a while longer (I usually let them cook on low heat until I go to bed.)
Now that you have a big pot of delicious stewed RK beans, what to do with them? Well, make some rice and fried plantain and eat them of course! But there are a lot of other options as well. If you think you wont use them up quickly, portion the beans out into plastic containers and freeze them for later. You can use these frozen beans to make anything calling for canned ones, just zap them in the microwave to defrost them first. But make sure you cook up a big pot to start with because you will want to use some stewed beans to:
1. Make some authentic homemade refried beans! Just toss beans in a pan with a little fat (olive, canola or coconut oil, or even lard if you want), hot sauce and/or other spices to taste and cook over medium/low heat. Since these beans are already seasoned, you probably won't need to add too many ingredients. Mash the beans up with a fork or potato masher and stir regularly until they reduce. Stash these in the fridge where they will keep for at least a week. Serve with eggs and tortillas for breakfast, make bean burritos for your work lunch or a quick dinner, or concoct some nachos for game night.
2. Make chili! There are a million chili recipes out there, and some people argue that chili shouldn't have any beans in it, but I think that is a regional preference-I know I like mine with beans as do a lot of other people, judging from some of the recipes out there. I'm sure I don't need to provide you with a chili recipe-just use your personal favorite (if it contains beans) and substitute some of your stewed beans for the canned ones-I assure you the results will be better!
3. Make minestrone! My mother often would whip together some type of minestrone to use up leftover beans. Its a great way to add some veggies to your diet too! Normally minestrone calls for cannellini beans, but RKs work fine in some versions (you will have to experiment to see if you agree).