Monday, September 27, 2010

Homemade Ginger Ale

When you're trying to avoid sugary products it's easy to feel there are no refreshing drink options left to choose from. Juices have high impact on blood sugar and should be had in small amounts; that 24 oz bottle on the store shelf is going to be way too much sugar overload!  Soda is out of the question.  Bottled teas are usually sugar-laden, and Gatorade? Better than soda but still a long way from wholesome. What are you left with but water or empty "diet" products?

Here is an acceptable drink you can make at home. But more than acceptable, it's even healthy!  This is Ginger Ale, not the kind you're used to buying at the supermarket, but the real thing (betcha didn't know there was a real thing), and it's super easy to make yourself. This recipe is based off of the traditional way of making ginger ale, similar to the "ginger water", that farmers and field workers used to use to quench their thirst after hard work in the sun.  The ginger would help the body hydrate without getting nauseous as can happen with plain water.  Ginger also promotes digestion, blood circulation, is great for treating nausea and diahrrea, helps regulate blood sugar, even helps relieve menstrual cramps and gas and bloating.  Sally Fallon, the author of the book I got the recipe from, Nourishing Traditions, advises drinking a small amount of this ginger ale (at room temperature) with meals to help with digestion, especially if the meal consists of all cooked food (low in enzymes) because it helps stimulate the body's intestinal juices.

On top of our star ingredient the recipe includes lime juice, which has myriad benefits to the body, salt (electrolytes, anyone?), and whey.  Whey is something of a wonderfood, containing lactose, calcium, vitamins, minerals and protein; it's excellent for the gut and it helps regulate and reduce sugar spikes because it increases insulin secretion.  Don't worry about how to get whey, I'll tell you how to make your own below, with extremely minimal effort.

There is sugar in this recipe, but it's a nominal amount, you can use less if you please, and as usual we aren't using refined white sugar. Between the sugar regulating properties of both ginger and whey, I think we've come to kind of a safe zone in regards to sugar spiking. Still, like anything with sugar you don't want to consume large amounts, so I wouldn't suggest drinking more than a half a quart in a day (equal to a can of soda but with about 40 percent less sugar); in fact, less is better--I don't drink usually more than one cup, that is, 8 oz.  If I'm taking it with me on the run I put it in a small glass bottle with a cap that used to contain sparkling water, like the size of those mini soda cans.

The flavor of this ginger ale is more akin to Gatorade than to soda, and of course it isn't carbonated like soda, although I believe "ginger beer" is naturally carbonated, but that's another beast altogether.  If you feel you need carbonation you can mix it in a glass with sparkling water, but of course it will be partially diluted. It's a good way to stretch the ginger ale so it feels like you're having more. You can toy around with the amounts until it tastes right to you. 
The amount of ginger I call for is half of what Sally Fallon calls for in the book because it came out far too "hot" for me. This has a bit of spice to it but it's pleasant.If you find you really enjoy this as I do, it's easy to double or quadruple the recipe to have it ready when you want it.  Start to finish you'll spend about ten minutes making this, and the rest is up to nature. 

makes 1 quart

Ginger Ale

1/4 cup plus one tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated (I use a microplane zester)
1/4 cup lime juice (or juice of one lime)
1/4 cup whey (see below)
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice (see "Guide to Natural Sweeteners tab) I find mine at Trader Joe's
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 quart filtered water

Put it all together in a sterilized quart sized jar with a tight fitting lid.  Close the lid, shake it up, and let it sit at room temperature for two to three days.  There may even have formed a slight bit of natural carbonation, so don't be alarmed if you see this.  Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth and return liquid to the jar.  From now on store it in the refrigerator and shake it up before serving.  Due to the whey, ginger ale should last for months and months in the fridge, as whey has been used for centuries as a food preservative.

To make whey:

Put a fine mesh sieve over a bowl.  Line the sieve with either a double layer of coffee filters or cheesecloth.  Scoop around a cup of plain yogurt (use a natural one without additives) into the lined sieve.  Please do not use non-fat, ever.  The fat in the yogurt is what's good for you!  Anyway, allow the liquid drain out from the yogurt and into the bowl.  This is whey!  Leave it sit until you get a quarter cup, and that shouldn't take more than an hour; usually less.  That's it!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Buckwheat Pancakes

Buckwheat is not just a character from the old time tv show, the Little Rascals.  It's also a flower, whose triangular seeds, or groats, can be cooked and used in place of rice or potatoes.  They are also ground into flour that can be used for baking.  Buckwheat flour is completely gluten free and wonderfully healthful--don't worry, it's also tasty!  Read this quote from a website about buckwheat:

"Buckwheat contains linoleic acid, vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, E, P), essential amino acids, minerals - chromium, copper, manganese, folic acid - and is an excellent source of magnesium. These proprieties recommend buckwheat as having a pronounced Yang feature. It has anti-tumor and tonic effects.

Due to the presence of inosit, buckwheat adjusts metabolism, fat and the lipo-soluble vitamins. It also helps the liver in processing hormones, medicines, and glucoses, with a protective hepatic effect. Buckwheat provides the necessary amount of proteins necessary for the body because it contains essential amino acids which the body cannot synthesize and who need to be taken from one's daily nutrition.

Buckwheat decreases the cholesterol level by eliminating fat and assuring protection against arthrosclerosis. It prevents the developing of biliary lithiasis by optimizing the synthesizing of biliary acids and eliminating neutral and acid fat.

Owing to the quantity of magnesium contained, buckwheat has a relaxing effect over blood vessels, improving circulation and decreasing blood pressure. Because it contains plenty of vitamins with B complex, buckwheat is recommended in cases of liver disorders and sugary diabetes, illnesses where it is unadvisable to increase the quantity of sugary substances consumed each day. Due to the fact that it lacks sugary substances makes buckwheat ideal for those who need to keep a restrictive diet.

This herb offers protection against breast cancer as well as against other forms of cancer dependent on hormones. Through the contained antioxidants buckwheat is an antidote for X ray irradiations or other forms of irradiation."

Wow!  Powerful stuff!   

I haven't yet tried cooked buckwheat groats, but I do use buckwheat flour.  My favorite way to utilize it is  in pancakes.  Buckwheat flour is increasingly easy to find. I have seen it in several major grocery chains, but usually I get mine from a co-op store that sells it in bulk.  It's more cost effective this way.  Buckwheat flour is not white like others, but has a purple-ish or gray tinge to it, so naturally it will look different in baked goods.  I enjoy its texture, which is slightly gritty and "toothsome", but not hard or chewy, and it's mild in flavor, even a little sweet.

Since buckwheat flour is not a grain flour, I think of these pancakes as "safe" food, knowing it won't have a negative effect on my blood sugar or digestion.  If you like these you will also like the blueberry buckwheat cake/muffin recipe I'll share soon, which happens to taste a lot like blueberry buckwheat pancakes.

If it's your first time making anything with buckwheat I suggest maybe using half buckwheat flour and half plain flour.  Even with 100 percent buckwheat the texture is still light like a regular pancake.  Although these can be made with regular milk, I definitely recommend buttermilk because it really complements the flavor of buckwheat.

Makes 12-15

Buckwheat Pancakes
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 cup buckwheat flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

The healthiest way to make these is to soak the buckwheat flour in the buttermilk overnight, then go on and add the rest of the ingredients when you're ready to cook.  The buttermilk does great things to the flour, reducing any anti-nutrients or phytates that may be present in the buckwheat that would go on to leach out minerals from your body.  This is true with all grains and seeds, and our ancestors made a habit of soaking and/or fermenting grains before consuming them to help with digestion.

So, after you've soaked the buckwheat in the buttermilk overnight, throw all ingredients together in a bowl and whisk until smooth.  Easy, right?  Cook on a hot, oiled griddle, flipping when bubbles form all around the edges, then cooking about a minute more. Serve with bananas and a drizzle of molasses, if desired.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Raspberry Lime Slushies

In the world of food blogs, I think Smitten Kitchen may be top dog.  The writing is excellent, the recipes delectable, and the photography is pretty.  It is a real pleasure when I'm notified in my reader that Smitten Kitchen has a new post.  This was one post that looked so good I just had to try the recipe, and as has been a new theme with me, I just happened to have all the ingredients at home to be able to do so right away. I even copied her idea for the photograph, even if the quality is far less spectacular. 

I've been super busy lately and maybe this kind of recipe is a little late-season to post, but it's like a last hoorah to summer.  Fall is in the air, at least here in the Pacific Northwest, and truthfully, that's how I prefer it.  But if you can still find raspberries at a fair price, go for this slushie!  My kids adored it, and that's always what I aim for.  It's really something to hit a bullseye with them in regards to acceptable food choices, and doesn't happen often enough.

Now, the original recipe called for a full cup of fresh lime juice.  People, that's like six limes, and too tart for our taste, so I've cut that amount in half, and incidentally doing that also means that you can drop the original amount of sugar by half.  Big plus.  I could even stand to cut the sugar more, but my kids disagree.  If you love sour, by all means go for the full cup of lime juice, but you'll need to add more sugar to taste.  Should I even mention that a sploosh of vodka would be divine in this?  Not that I would know, since unluckily there hasn't been any around whenever I've made this.  Such a shame too.

In addition to using an "acceptable" sugar, if you want to help your body metabolize the sugar better, eat something with fat and/or protein in it around the time you consume this.  It will slow down the impact of the sugar in your bloodstream.  I found that a splash of heavy cream in this is wonderful, and it really rounds out the acidity as well as provides the fat and protein.  It makes it dance on the line of slushie and smoothie, and I like that.

Serves 4 generously

Raspberry Lime Slushies

4 cups ice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup water
1 cup raspberries
1/3 cup evaporated cane sugar, or 1/4 cup honey, or stevia to taste (maybe a packet or more)
Heavy cream, optional
1 cup soda water, optional

Place all ingredients in a blender.  Pulse for a bit to kind of crush the ice, then blend until smooth.  Add a bit of heavy cream if desired, maybe a quarter cup or more to taste, or if you add it in the individual glasses just a tablespoon will do to enhance the flavor.  Add soda water to taste, if desired, to give a fizzy effect. Serve in four glasses, with a fun straw, of course!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer Fruit Galette

I have to laugh about this galette.  You see, I never planned on making a galette.  We'd just gone blueberry picking and I was making a blueberry pie that I decided to use a lattice crust for, therefore I had some extra pie dough.  Looking over on my counter I saw that I had a bag of mixed peaches that could be used with the extra crust.  How handy!

After a harried day errand running with the kids, I couldn't remember why I bought the peaches, specifically because I remembered seeing them in the discount basket at the health food store, lifting them up, assessing them, and deciding they were a little too far gone to buy, hence the discount.  Here's the funny part.  There was this guy standing in the produce section who was, ahem, kind of handsome.  Okay, very handsome (a throwback to my husband in his glory days, in fact).  He saw me lift up the peaches and put them back down, and very helpfully offered to take out the worst ones for me, if I pleased.  Apparently he was an employee of the store!  And here I thought he just liked produce!  I still didn't want the peaches, but *giggle* I couldn't say no to that smile!  I let him take out the worst ones and replace them with not as bad ones and off I trotted in a stupor to the checkout stand.

Well, thank you Mr. Good-looking, because if not for you, I would never have made this super yummy peach galette.  It really was delicous, especially with my genius addition of toasted walnuts. If you happen to run into a handsome green grocer who nudges you into buying some over ripe summer fruit, this is what you can use them for: peaches, plums, nectarines, even pears would be good in this. 

Summer Fruit Galette

One recipe pie dough (single crust)--use your favorite recipe
Four well-ripened summer fruits, give or take
Honey, agave nectar, or evaporated cane juice
A handful of toasted walnuts
A couple pats of butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Roll out the pie dough into a 12 inch or so circle.  Place on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with toasted walnuts.  Slice fruit thinly and arrange on top of the pie dough and walnuts, leaving the outer few inches bare.  Sprinkle with granulated evaporated cane juice or other sweetener, and cover with several pats of butter.  Fold in the outer edges of the dough.  Bake until bubbly and the crust is browned, about 15-20 minutes (make sure to watch it, as I wasn't paying attention to the amount of time I had it in.  I could be wrong.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Melty Malt Ball Cake

Hooray for cake!  It's the most celebratory thing to eat, and everyone should enjoy it from time to time.  I usually don't feel guilty about eating cake, but if you do, hopefully you won't feel as guilty about eating it now that the sugar is both lessened and replaced with better-for-you sweeteners. 

I really debated about whether or not to post this one, because the whole thing was something of a disaster, through no fault of the recipe itself.  Besides the inconvenient truth that I added a full cup too much flour, the frosting is supposed to sit in place and stay nicely centered on top and in the middle, not dribble down the cake.  In fact, moments after taking this picture, the malt balls began sliding to their death one by one.  But the cake, the recipe, the idea: all good.

I'm aware that in trying to stay refined sugar free, malt balls are a rule breaker, but since the cake was inspired by them and this was how it is pictured on Nigella's cake, I couldn't resist adding just a few to the top.

I came across this recipe out of Nigella's book Feast, which was in the chapter called "Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame".  I am convinced that, in order to die fulfiilled I will need to bake my way through that chapter, one glorious cake at a time.  I chose her recipe, "Chocolate Malteser Cake", because it looked the most fun, and I love the colors, and I love the flavor of Whoppers.  I guess that's what a malteser is in England.  I also figured, since my son is not a fan of chocolate cake, this would he'd like, because it's malty first and chocolatey second.

(Disclaimer: if the cake looks dry in the picture, this is because of me adding too much flour.)

I'd never heard of malt powder before, and didn't know where I should look for it.  I looked all up and down the baking aisle, thinking it was a baking product.  Ages later I found malt powder near the powdered chocolate milk mixes.  Hmm. I guess malted "milk" powder...makes sense.

To the right is the cake in its second attempt, which turned out marvelously!  It didn't rise as high, however.  I used a whipped cream frosting instead of buttercream. The reason the first buttercream was a disaster was because I searched for a buttercream recipe to replace the given one wherein I could replace powdered sugar with honey.  Voila, it exists!  And it was sworn to make a fantastic frost-able frosting, but how wrong that was.  I ended up using quite a bit of powdered sugar to try to redeem it, to no avail, hence the glossy, drippy frosting you see above.

Normally buttercream frostings are too sweet for me.  That's why here and in other cakes I make I usually frost cakes with simply sweetened whipped cream, which is nice and light and barely sweet, so that the cake itself is the center of attention. I'm sure Nigella uses buttercream here to mimick the intense sweetness of malt balls, but the whipped cream frosting was divine, even reminiscent of a Hostess Ho Ho, especially if you crush up the Whoppers and put them in the frosting between the layers.  Mmmmm.  I'm sure you could get the same effect with plain shaved chocolate to give that chocolately crackle. Remember to keep the cake refrigerated after frosting.

If you do decide on a buttercream, you can find a less refined powdered sugar, labeled "organic powdered sugar".  Here is one example.  I will include my malty whipped cream frosting recipe at the end, and you choose which you'd rather use.

Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

Chocolate Malt Ball Cake

1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey or agave nectar, or 1/2 cup evaporated sugar cane crystals
3 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I use half whole grain, half AP)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preaheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter and line two, eight inch cake pans with parchment paper. 

Whisk together the sugars and eggs while you measure out the rest of the ingredients (if you have a stand mixer).  Heat the milk, butter, and malted milk powder in a small saucepan until the butter melts and it's hot but not boiling.  When the sugars and eggs are light and frothy, beat in the hot milk mixture, then fold in the flour mixture that you've earlier measured out. 

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes. (Note, in her show she recommends kind of "slapping" the pans down on the counter after filling them with batter to work out the air bubbles, so they'll rise evenly). 

Frosting-Nigella's recipe

2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup malted milk powder
1 stick plus one tablespoon soft, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons boiling water
malted milk balls to garnish

In Nigella's words (I love how she talks!):

Once the cakes are cold, you can get on with the icing. I use a processor just because it makes life easier: you don’t need to sieve the icing sugar. So: put the icing sugar, cocoa and Horlicks  in the processor and blitz to remove all lumps. Add the butter and process again. Stop, scrape down, and start again, pouring the boiling water down the funnel with the motor running until you have a smooth buttercream.

Sandwich the cold sponges with half of the buttercream, and then ice the top with what is left, creating a swirly pattern rather than a smooth surface. Stud the outside edge, about 1cm in, with a ring of Maltesers or use them to decorate the top in which-ever way pleases you.

Chocolate Malt Whipped Cream Frosting (my recipe)

1 cup heavy cream (organic is best)
1/4 cup (or less) evaporated sugar cane crystals or organic powdered sugar
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
1 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa

Whip all ingredients together until the cream  can stand in stiff peaks when a spoon is removed.  Be careful not to overbeat or you'll end up with butter!  Just make sure it's stiff enough to spread without drooping. 

Spread half the frosting on one cake layer, then put second layer over top and frost the top of it.  Decorate with malted milk balls, if you wish.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Warning: these are rich!  They most definitely require a glass of milk alongside, especially when they're fresh from the oven.  I have a little food crush on a certain celebrity chef from whom I derived this recipe. Of course they needed some reworking to make them white sugar-free, but no flavor was lost in the process.  I don't know if PB choc chip cookies are a trend in Australia; I've never heard of combining peanut butter cookies with chocolate chip cookies, and now I've heard of them twice from chefs that are both Australian.  Anyway, although I would prefer either a peanut butter cookie or a chocolate chip cookie, the fact that I couldn't stop eating these means they must have been pretty good. 

If you want to keep with the sugar free theme you'll have to get chocolate chips that contain no white sugar.  It's easier than you think, and not budget-blowing.  Trader Joe's carries them!  Well, for me it's easy as TJ is close to home.  You'll see in the list of ingredients "evaporated cane juice" as the sweetener, and that's good.  It's less refined than white sugar.  It's still sugar, mind you, but with less nutrients stripped away, and I've found that my system takes less of a sugar hit than it does with white sugar.  Then there is a product called "grain sweetened" chocolate chips, which really is budget blowing, but if you feel more comfortable using those, by all means do.  If you can't find either of those you can more easily find a chocolate bar made with evaporated cane juice and chop it up to add to the cookies.  I know Walgreens, for one, carries Endangered Species brand chocolate bars (boy, do I LOVE their Dark Chocolate w/Raspberries) and a few others that may also be white sugar-free.  You just have to look at labels.

I replaced the white and brown sugars with honey and molasses.  If you don't like molasses, don't be alarmed.  You really can't taste it in the finished product. I used it to give that brown sugary taste without using actual brown sugar.  Look at the sloppy mix in the bowl!  I kind of like it.  Be sure to use room temperature eggs, however, or the liquids and butter will start to seize up with the coldness of a refrigerated egg.  This I learned from experience.  I just learned that to bring eggs to room temperature you can soak them in hot water for ten minutes.

I liked the texture of these cookies.  When using liquid sweeteners in place of white sugar I've found the baked goods can have something of a dryness to them, especially after a day or two.  It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?  But here the cookies were firm in hand (but not too firm) and just a bit sandy in the mouth, and I found that agreeable.  It's also a subtly sweet cookie, and the chocolate chips are a nice burst of sweet, melty flavor. 

I ate these for breakfast for several days, in the vein of Bill Cosby's skit about chocolate cake: they have flour, peanut butter, eggs...they're kinda healthy!  The only thing I would do differently next time is to cut up a bar of milk chocolate in place of semi-sweet.  I bet that would be even better!  Or peanut butter cups.  Oh yes, I think that's what it will be.  I may allow the sugar rule to slip for that!

Makes about two dozen

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/4 cup flour (I mixed whole grain and white spelt flours, but use whatever you please)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup peanut butter (natural works best, and creamy or chunky to taste)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In one bowl, mix dry ingredients.  In mixing bowl beat together peanut butter, butter, molasses, honey, egg, and vanilla until well blended and creamy.  Stir dry ingredients in, in two batches.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Scoop dough onto cookie sheets, 2 inches apart.  Flatten slightly with the back of a spoon.  Bake for about 12 minutes, allow to cool.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Creamy Orange Juice Popsicles

My kids looooove popsicles.  But I don't love the corn syrup and artificial flavorings and colors they contain.  The colors are so strong they have been known to stain my kitchen table, not to mention clothing and anything else it gets on. 

I took the kids shopping and we found some popsicle molds so we can make our own more wholesome versions at home.  We went crazy the first couple of weeks trying out new flavors, and also learned what not to do.  Freezing straight up juice makes the popsicle into a block of ice.  Not that the kids care, but it's nicer to have something that you can bite into without breaking a tooth. 

I read that in order to have a softer popsicle you need at least some liquid sweetener and/or gelatin.  This recipe includes gelatin, and it had good results.  There is not too much cream in these, just enough to round out the acidity of the orange juice and make it a little more mouth watering, but you could change the ratios and add more so that it tastes more akin to a "dreamsicle".

Sugars are not all made equally, and I'm aware that pasteurized juices are not much better than white sugar, but for me and the kids it's a lesser of two evils kind of thing.  We'll take the juice!  This recipe was adapted from a popsicle made with fresh carrot juice.  Imagine that...  I don't have a juicer or I would have tried it myself.  

I think this one's a keeper.

Creamy Orange Popsicles

1 3/4 cup orange juice, divided
1/4 cream
2 tsp honey
1 tsp unflavored gelatin

Heat 1/2 cup of the OJ with the gelatin in a small saucepan, stirring until dissolved.  In a small bowl or pitcher, whisk together the remaining OJ, honey, and cream.  Add gelatin mixture and stir until smooth.  Pour into 4 popsicle molds and freeze for around 3 hours before unmolding under warm water.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chocolate Ice Cream Sweetened with Agave Nectar

It's the height of summer and what is better on a hot day than ice cream?  But if you're on a sugar free or low sugar diet ice cream is on the avoid list.  Not anymore!  I came across a recipe on David Lebovitz's site for chocolate ice cream sweetened with agave nectar and I knew I had to try it.  My best friend has an ice cream maker attachment for the Kitchenaid Mixer, and I was so excited when she went out of town and let me borrow it.

Agave nectar is a relatively new "discovery", and it's made from the Mexican agave plant.  Its consistency is similar to that of honey, but runnier, and the flavor is more mild.  It makes an excellent sweetener and it's low on the glycemic index, so it won't spike your blood sugar like white sugar does (but remember that it's still a sugar and should still be limited).  I suppose you could label this ice cream "sugar free". 

Agave nectar can be pricey, but I've found it well within budget at Trader Joe's.  You can buy a darker agave nectar or a light; I used the light.

I found this recipe to be rich in flavor, and if I make it again I might cut back on some of the cocoa powder or even the chocolate.  It's a putsy recipe with several steps, but it melts like velvet in your mouth, so I'd say it's worth the effort.  I made the mistake of not letting the freezer bowl freeze long enough before I put the mixture in, so it didn't freeze correctly for me.  Just be aware of that. 

Here is where you can find the recipe.  Oh, and look at that, here's another recipe for strawberry ice cream that gives instructions for using agave nectar, and it's dairy free.  Enjoy and happy summer!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Honey-nut Pears

There are some recipes that aren't recipes at all.  Like this one.  My aunt is a subscriber to a few magazines, and when I lived near her she would sometimes clean house and bestow her ageing collection of magazines on me.  One of her subscriptions is a Martha Stewart publication, I think Everyday is the name.  I would look forward to these the most for their beautiful photography and delicious recipes.  When I saw the recipe card for this one I couldn't help but want to try it, even though I'm not a fan of pears. 

Pears are strange for me.  I only like them when they are at a specific stage of ripeness.  They have to be not too firm but not too soft.  When they're firm the texture is unpleasant, and when they're too soft I find them too juicy, and the flesh takes on a strange texture on my tongue.  I also don't like how they brown and bruise so easily.  But with this dish I find it's best to use a riper pear, because the juice mixes with the honey to form a sweet, syrupy sauce, and the flesh yields nicely against a spoon.  The nuts are a wonderful, crunchy, contrast to the soft pear.  It doesn't taste like pears and walnuts and honey, but a decadent dessert.

I find a bit of black pepper adds a nice compliment to the flavors, but that's certainly optional. 

Honey-nut Pears

1 ripe pear
A handful of toasted walnuts or pecans
Black pepper (optional)

Cut the pear in half and scoop out the seeds and the vein that runs to the stem.  Fill the indentation with toasted nuts and squeeze desired amount of honey over top.  Sprinkle with black pepper and serve with a scoop of plain yogurt, if desired.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


We all know that yogurt is a super food that is full of beneficial bacteria to keep our intestines working to the best of their ability, and it contains calcium and protein as well.  But the packaged yogurts on the market are so laden with sugar and artificial additives that I doubt there is much nutritional value left in them at all.  This is where we use a little knowlege to become smart shoppers so that we can have our yogurt and eat it too! You might be afraid that I am about to recommend plain yogurt, because surely you've tried plain yogurt and found it to be disgusting.  You may have added fruit to it, but ultimately you probably also ended up adding sugar.  You may even have vowed to steer clear of that stuff forever.  What you may not be aware of is the many varieties of plain yogurt with varying flavors. 

My first taste of plain yogurt was memorable, and not in a good way.  It was produced by a large name brand and it was either fat free or low fat, and little did I know it wasn't pure yogurt but contained fillers like gelatin and carageenan.  And it tasted disgusting.  But I've learned over the years that the real thing is absolutely delicious, and that the flavor varies with the fat content and the method of production.  Some yogurts are extremely tart and acidic and others are smooth and mild flavored. 

On the shelves you may find non-fat plain yogurt, yogurt with cream on top, Greek yogurt, and you may have heard of Skyr, a thick Icelandic yogurt.  I have found that the higher the fat content the better the yogurt because it's got a smooth consistency and it tends to be mild on the tongue.  Greek yogurt is thick, or strained, with a consistency similar to sour cream, as is Skyr, and as with anything, the flavors vary with the brand.  Some brands taste a bit like cottage cheese, others are quite acidic.

I've tried a lot of brands of yogurt.  I might be a yogurt snob, either that or my tongue is simply sensitive to variations of flavor, and I have found "the one"--Trader Joe's brand Greek whole milk yogurt. The flavor is so wonderful that it can be eaten PLAIN without so much as a pucker or a gag. And it really does well as a sour cream in recipes.  If you demand a little sweetness, there are many things you can add to plain yogurt, but two of them stand out: fresh blackberries and/or honey. 

Why blackberries?  Blackberries have a note of sourness to them that compliments plain yogurt beautifully while adding a subtle sweetness, while I find other berries to be too sweet.  A small amount of honey rounds out the two flavors nicely.  For something that leans more to the savory side, another wonderful accompaniment to plain yogurt is walnuts. 

They add a perfect earthiness to the yogurt, and the crunch is a great variation in the mouth.  In fact, this is often dessert for me nowadays!

I don't believe that we need to cut out fat in all our foods.  If we cut out too much fat our palates are not satisfied and we crave more and more food, looking for that thing that will satisfy our taste buds, and this leads to over eating.  A full fat yogurt is actually good for the body, and it's so decadent that the palate is satsified with one serving.  Sometimes a spoonful or two is all I feel I need.

I have a new health weapon in my arsenal for my children as well.  Instead of buying the sickly sweet varieties at the store with all those additives, I buy a large container of plain yogurt with cream on top and mix into stevia and vanilla to taste.  I store it in colorful little containers that are ready to grab.  It tastes wonderful and their systems are saved from the sugar hit.  Honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar are also tasty sweeteners with yogurt.