In general, you can substitute shortening for butter in equal amounts in baking recipes (not the frosting or icing, though—yuck). Shortening yields higher, lighter-textured baked goods, which is sometimes preferable to butter (depending on what you’re making).
Butter naturally has some water in it; shortening doesn’t. Cookies made with shortening and no extra water added, for example, are higher and lighter, while butter cookies are flatter and crispier. This is because butter has a lower melting point than shortening, causing them to spread faster and more in the short time it takes to bake a cookie. If you use shortening, but want an effect closer to butter, add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons water for every 1/4 cup of shortening.
But, of course, the elephant in the room here is flavor, or more precisely, lack of it, in shortening. If butter plays a central role in the flavor of a cookie or cake (e.g., shortbread cookies or butter pound cake), the end result will be diminished unless you radically alter the flavor profile (e.g., flavorful extracts, spices, glazes, etc).
If you’ve eschewed shortening altogether in recent years, you may be pleased to know that the major brand, Crisco, now makes all of their regular shortening without trans fats. Hurrah! They started making a separate variety of trans-fat free shortening two or three years ago, but I'm assuming they realized that no one wants trans fats so the switch was made. Spectrum Organics also makes a trans-fat free, organic shortening. Just a few years ago, I could only find the Spectrum brand at my natural foods co-op, but now it’s sold in my regular supermarket. Three cheers for healthy progress!
As an experiment, and an excuse to procrastinate from my recipe testing, exam grading, and general housekeeping, I decided to make a batch of cookies I developed for my Enlightened Chocolate book (I also needed to do some advance baking/freezing for a reception this Sunday, so now I have a leg up on one of my to-dos. Welcome to my wacky world of rationalization). I called for butter in my original recipe, but I was curious to compare with shortening. For the record, I used unsalted Land O’ Lakes butter and Crisco plain shortening sticks for the testing.
The photo above shows the cookies: the shortening cookies are at left, the butter cookies at right (note: I had to use a bit of Dutch process in the shortening cookies, which is why they are darker). As much as I love these cookies made with butter, I was surprised to find I preferred the texture of the shortening cookies—lighter, crispier exterior, greater puff, and a pleasantly chewy center. The butter cookies were flatter, crispier around the perimeter and far more chewy overall, reminiscent of a fudgie brownie.
Taking side by side nibbles of the two test subjects, I could definitely discern the absence of butter in the shortening cookies, though. The butter coaxes out the subtle flavors of the vanilla and the bitter, earthy notes of the cocoa. That being said, I don’t think I would notice (or, perhaps, care) if the shortening cookies were my only choice; they were still darn good. I’m thinking I may have to try a combo of butter and shortening. I’ll keep you posted.
Hmm, this makes three dessert postings in a row. Am I revealing too much of my raging Mr. Hyde-like sweet tooth? I’ll switch back to Jekyll mode in the days and posts to come. I have an incredibly easy and delicious fish technique, in particular, I’ve been meaning to share for awhile now, so look for that next. Until then, happy baking!
Double Chocolate Cookies
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened (or shortening)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
Optional: 3 tablespoons chopped nuts or sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate large bowl beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer at high speed until well blended. Beat in the vanilla and egg until blended. Mix in flour mixture and chocolate chips (and optional nuts) with a wooden spoon until just blended.
Drop by tablespoonfuls (or use a small cookie scoop) two inches apart onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake 11-13 minutes or until puffed in the center (just barely set). Remove from oven; cool on pans 5 minutes. Remove from sheets and cool completely on wire racks. Makes 30 cookies.
Nutrition per Serving (1 cookie):Calories 82; Fat 2.8g (sat 1.5g, mono 1.0g, poly 0.1g); Protein 1.1g; Cholesterol 12mg; Carbohydrate 12.6g; Sodium 56mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Tetchy and surly he is not, but smitten by toothsome sourdough, ciabatta, and most any filling—sweet or savory—encased in flaky layers of dough he is.
He considers mile high pies an affront ("why skew the filling-to-crust ratio to such ridiculous proportions?!") and was thrilled when, last summer, a friend presented him with a slice of apple pie and an apology for “making too little apple filling”; he later proclaimed it the best apple pie he’d ever eaten.
I’m happy to oblige his crust predilections in most instances, largely because I’m likewise love-struck, but I’m ready to draw the line with strawberry shortcake.
What do crust and strawberry shortcake have in common? Nothing, and that’s my point. Little girls don’t play with Strawberry Crust dolls, and the American classic calls for cake, not crust. But as sad as it may sound, Kevin grew up with strawberries & crust—pieces of pie crust, cream and strawberries (puréed strawberries, no less! But that's another tragic tale)—so he’s resisted my attempts at cake conversion. He’s a man who knows what he likes, so up until now, it’s been crust or bust.
I was too tired to make an argument for shortcake biscuits or angel food cake when Kevin came home on Saturday with strawberries and a plea for his favorite. But because I was feeling too lazy to make my traditional pie crust, I made the mistake (or was it an unbeknownst act of genius?) of trying a speedy crust in a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Rather than cutting in butter or shortening, you use an equal amount of vegetable oil: simply plop all the ingredients into a bowl, stir (gently) until it begins to hold together, and roll. I gave it a go.
The dough looked promising; it came together in seconds, rolled well, and was easy to handle. I cut it into triangles, brushed with butter and sprinkled with sugar (for more flavor), then slid it into the oven for a quick bake. Pulling the baking sheet from the oven 18 minutes later, I felt a rush of success: the pieces were golden, and when I snapped off a point, it seemed crisp and flaky.
But this was a prime example of the proof of the pudding being in the eating, because the crust was a pastry abomination. The first bite was punishment: tough and tasteless. Fearing dental damage, we tried shoving a few cream-laden shards into the sides of our mouths, letting our molars do the heavy grinding. It was hopeless. We salvaged the strawberries and cream, then tipped the crusty bits into the trash.
It was then that Kevin uttered the words I’ve been waiting years to hear: “Would you mind making your shortcake biscuits?”
I didn’t, so I did.
Lighter Strawberry Shortcakes
I didn’t have to develop this recipe on the spot; it’s a variation on one I’ve developed for my upcoming book, Enlightened Cakes. The leftover biscuits make excellent scones for morning coffee; they also freeze well for future desserts.
4 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced
8 tablespoons sugar, divided use
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup fat-free buttermilk
1 teaspoon water
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
Optional garnish: mint sprigs
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a large cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl toss half of the strawberries with 2 tablespoons sugar and let stand 5 minutes. Gently press strawberries with potato masher to help release their juices, being careful not to crush them to a pulp. Stir in the remaining strawberries. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
In a large bowl whisk the flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 4 tablespoons of remaining sugar. Cut in chilled butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk, stirring just until moist.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly 4 times. Pat dough to a 1/2-inch thickness, then cut with a 3-inch biscuit cutter to form 8 dough rounds. Place dough rounds 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet. Whisk the water and egg white with a fork in a small cup, then brush over dough rounds. Sprinkle evenly with 1 tablespoon of remaining sugar.
Bake 12-13 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and use a spatula to transfer biscuits to a wire rack. Cool completely.
In a medium bowl, lightly whip the cream and remaining tablespoon sugar with electric mixer until soft peaks form.
Using a serrated knife, cut each shortcake in half horizontally. Spoon 1/2 cup strawberry mixture over bottom half of each shortcake. Top each serving with a generous tablespoonful of whipped cream and top half of shortcake. Makes 8 servings (serving size: 1 filled shortcake)
Nutrition per Serving:
Calories 297; Fat 7.9g (sat 4.3g, mono 2.6g, poly .47g); Protein 12.5g; Cholesterol 17.4mg; Carbohydrate 44.8g.
I’d like to say that I’m well-rested—honestly, it’s been a good week for catching up on everything from sleep to editing. But this morning I awoke at 3 am to prepare for, and then drive 80 miles to, a cooking demonstration on a local morning TV show. I’d planned a nap while my babysitter sat with (chased) Nick; but she phoned to let me know she wouldn’t be in today. I stifled a scream and said "ok."
So here I yawn.
But no worries. Somehow it wouldn’t have felt right to return to blogging in anything other than my typical heavy-eyed humor.
The temptation to re-enter the blogworld a few days early was intense; a week-long break felt like laziness, going soft. I tend towards leniency with most everyone, but with myself, it’s all oblique manipulations and pawky obstinacy. A brief reminder of the events leading to my self-imposed absence was enough to keep me away. Here’s an abbreviated list of what suggested a break in my routine was necessary:
(1) One of my dear friends just had a baby and I twice (on two separate phone calls, two different days) referred to her caesarian as a circumcision (My friend Mercy, who reads and posts here often, can attest to this—she was the baffled person at the other end of the line on both occasions).
(2) I forgot my phone number while leaving a message on my physician’s voicemail. It’s not a new number.
(3) I fell asleep on Nick’s floor as we played with blocks.
(4) I thought I had lost my keys and frantically searched for them when I realized (several minutes later) that I was holding them. (To my credit, I was also holding a 30+ pound toddler, a ducky blanket and sunglasses in the same arm/hand; the keys got smushed into the mix).
Well, once again I’ve strayed from a tight entry of crisp certainty to a lyrical flood-tide of effusions. Best to get on with the food! I can think of few better ways to return than with chocolate, namely chocolate mousse.
Chocolate mousse recipes are abundant (try Googling; you’ll get more than a million hits). So why try mine? First (and this one should always be first for a chocolate dessert) it’s irresistible, decadent with deep chocolate flavor. Second, it’s fast and easy to make. Third, it’s foolproof (that come’s straight from this fool’s mouth). And fourth, it’s good for you. That’s right; not just lighter in fat and calories, but darn-right healthful, thanks to the soy and dark chocolate. I’ve already eaten one and a half helpings (purely for my health—ha!).
You can wait for a special occasion to make the mousse, but why? It’s rich enough to qualify as Friday-night comfort food, and you can pick up the ingredients on the way home.
It’s good to be back.
It's really important to use the shelf-stable, vacuum-packed variety of tofu here--it is very smooth and leads to a perfectly silken mousse texture. Refrigerated (fresh) tofu will yield a grainy texture.
I always opt for natural cocoa powder (unless it's marked as Dutch process, it is more than likely natural). It is earthy brown and has a deep chocolate flavor. Plus, it has far more antioxidants than Dutch process varieties (many of the antioxidants are stripped away in the processing of the latter).
Great chocolate leads to a great chocolate mousse, but honestly, this recipe is great with supermarket chocolate, too. If you have bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips, you can use them in place of the choppped chocolate: 1/2 cup is 3 ounces.
Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse
This mousse is so simple to prepare and so delicious—no one ever guesses that tofu is one of the primary ingredients. Experiment and use any favorite liqueur or spirit in place of the Kahlua: Grand Marnier, Irish Cream, Frangelico, Crème de Menthe, brandy and whiskey are just a few of the sumptuous options.
1/2 cup sugar
7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 tablespoons Kahlua (coffee-flavored liqueur)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 12.3-ounce packages reduced-fat silken tofu, drained (e.g., Mori-Nu brand)
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Extra coca powder for sprinkling
Combine the sugar, cocoa powder, liqueur, vanilla, salt and tofu in a blender or food processor. Process mixture until perfectly smooth.
Place chopped chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH 1 minute or until almost melted; remove from microwave and stir until smooth. Add chocolate to tofu mixture in blender or processor and process until smooth.
Divide mousse evenly among six 6-ounce ramekins or decorative cups (e.g., cappuccino cups). Cover and chill at least 1 hour. Just before serving, sprinkle tops with cocoa powder. Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition per Serving:Calories 209; Fat 6g (poly 0.7g, mono 1.9g, sat 3.2g); Protein 9.0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Carbohydrate 33.2g.
Or, I can follow plan B: cut back on my nutty schedule for a week to save my sanity (and all those around me). There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I would have automatically gone with plan A. But now there is a precious baby and kind, loving husband to consider.
So while it pains me to do so, I will be taking a week-long break from blogging to edit galleys, test some recipes, and otherwise tidy up some projects.
Rest assured, I will be back in a week's time, armed with more tales from my kitchen and some fresh ideas for spring eats.
The culmination of each Friendship Fiesta was an an all-school family potluck dinner, where students brought dishes representative of their cultural background; every year my mother meticulously planned and prepared a showstopper.
Well, every year but one. That was the year her endless list of responsibilities associated with working and raising a family managed to squelch any and all thoughts of the dinner until an hour before commencement.
Panic reigned for a good five minutes before she regained her composure and confidence. In a matter of moments she was all business, shuffling through the contents of both pantry and refrigerator and assessing which elements might be woven together in less than an hour.
Spying leftover roast beef, potatoes and onions, she had a plan: Shepherd’s Pie, one of my favorites and a reasonable envoy of our British heritage. She may have been self-conscious of as she nestled her casserole on one of the crowded potluck tables, flanked by sushi, dolmades and tamales. But there was no need; when we returned to collect the dish at evening’s end, it was scraped cleaned.
What might have seemed little more than a plain meat and potatoes affair was nothing short of a home-cooking masterpiece in my mother’s hands. The making of her shepherd’s pie always began with leftover roast beef. An ancient meat grinder—I have no idea where it came from, or whether my mother still has it—was hauled out and clamped to the kitchen counter to grind cubes of the beef for the pie, a part of the process that never failed to fascinate my siblings and me. Although it undoubtedly slowed the process by a good 15 minutes, my brother, sister and I were each allowed the excitement of giving the grinder a few cranks of the handle, giving us the feeling that our contributions were pivotal to the pie’s production.
While we cranked the grinder, my mother was busy at the stove, tending to a mass of thinly sliced onions, caramelizing in a cast-iron frying pan. Just beyond, a pot of russet potatoes was boiling their way towards tenderness.
Once the beef was ground, it was stirred together with a rich brown gravy and layered into a casserole dish; the onions followed, then came the crown of potatoes, mashed with plenty of butter and warm milk. Into the oven it went. Thirty minutes later, the dish emerged, the golden-tipped potatoes a tease for the richness concealed beneath. Second helpings were the norm, and leftovers were rare.
I won’t go so far as to say that my somewhat new-fangled shepherd’s pie deserves the masterpiece status of my mother’s version, but modesty aside, I must say it is awfully good. I’ve also given it a lighter, springtime twist with fresh herbs and vegetables. It turned chilly here a few days ago, so I’m in the mood for cozy fare, but my palate’s ready for spring; this pie satisfies both desires in one.
Springtime Shepherd’s Pie with Herbs & Sausage
2 pounds peeled baking potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 cup low-fat milk
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup minced fresh chives (or green onions)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 pound turkey Italian sausage, casings removed
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 16-ounce package button mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
3/4 cup frozen petite peas
1/3 cup low-fat milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Topping: Place potatoes in a saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; cook 20 minutes or until very tender. Drain. Return potatoes to pan. Mash potatoes with masher; add the sour cream, 1/4 cup milk and butter. Mash to blend. Season generously with salt and fresh pepper. Stir in chives and thyme. Cover to keep warm.
Filling: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Cook sausage in large skillet over medium-high heat until sausage is brown and cooked through, breaking up with back of spoon, about 10 minutes; transfer to large bowl. Add oil to skillet. Add onions, garlic and zucchini to skillet and sauté over medium-high heat until onions are tender and golden, about 7 minutes. Add mushrooms; sauté 5 minutes longer. Add onion mixture to sausage. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in peas, milk and egg.
Transfer sausage mixture to prepared dish. Spoon mashed potato mixture over; smooth top. Bake until heated through and potatoes begin to brown around edges, about 45 minutes (or about 1 hour for casserole that has been refrigerated). Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1 serving): Calories 229; Fat 6.7g (sat 2.3g, mono 2.5g, poly 0.7g); Protein 18.5g; Cholesterol 31mg; Carbohydrate 24.8g; Sodium 330mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Songkran is an ancient celebration of the start of a new farming cycle, and it always falls sometime between the 10th and the 18th of April; this year, the celebration starts on the thirteenth (today!) and lasts for three days.
To inaugurate the festivities here at Enlightened Cooking, I offer a Thai-inspired mango and chicken salad with an oil-free dressing. The latter is based on a more traditional Thai sauce made with palm sugar (the original is oil-free as well); it gets its oomph from brown sugar, quickly carmelized in a skillet, and further enhanced with lime and fresh ginger. It is scandalously delicious, particularly for brown sugar addicts like myself.
But the fun doesn’t stop there: Songkran is a water festival, a theme symbolizing the cleansing and renewal necessary for the start of a new year. Multiple sources indicate that locals will use anything from water pistols to buckets and empty rubbish bins to soak each other, and anyone else in the vicinity.
While I’m tempted to squirt several of my pilates students who text-message in the middle of performing the teaser (I’m torn between being annoyed and impressed), I plan to celebrate the water theme in three alternative ways:
(1) Paying extra attention to getting my 8-10 glasses of water per day
(2) Taking my first swim of the season (parent-tot swim with Nick doesn’t count)
(3) Submerging in a steamy hot bubble bath each night for the next three days (despite several looming deadlines--this is part of my renewed (mental) health regimen). I can’t remember when I last took one, but I know it’s been close to a year.* Whoohoo!
(*To clarify: no baths for a year, but bathing, yes. The only thing I like ripe is my fruit.)
Chicken-Mango Salad with Caramelized Ginger-Lime dressing
I use a lot less fish sauce here than is typical for Thai food; I enjoy the flavor, but a small amount goes far with me. Feel free to increase the amount if it suits your fancy!
You can find Chinese chile garlic sauce (and the fish sauce, too) in the supermarket where soy sauce is shelved. Like the fish sauce, you can add more or less chile garlic sauce to taste.
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons bottled Chinese chile-garlic sauce
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce (or you could use soy sauce)
1 bunch watercress, sprigs picked, washed, dried
1/3 pound snow peas, cut in half on the diagonal
2 medium firm-ripe mangoes, peeled and pitted, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and very thinly sliced lengthwise
3 cups roasted chicken (from a purchased rotisserie chicken), skin removed, sliced
1/4 cup lightly salted roasted cashews or peanuts, coarsely chopped
Lime wedges, to serve
Place the brown sugar in a medium skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until sugar caramelizes. Remove from heat. Add the lime juice, water, chile sauce, ginger and fish sauce (it will bubble up). Stir over medium heat for 3 minutes or until sugar is melted and mixture simmers. Remove from heat. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Season to taste with salt (or more fish sauce).
Meanwhile, combine the watercress, snow peas, mango and bell pepper in a large bowl. Divide among serving bowls. Arrange chicken over salad and drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with cashews, and serve immediately with lime wedges. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/4 of the salad): Calories 293; Fat 7.9g (sat 2.5g, mono 1.8g, poly 2.7g); Protein 23.6g; Cholesterol 50.7mg; Carbohydrate 39.1g; Sodium 368mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
So what does a woman do with a heap of leftover carciofata (see yesterday's post) and a husband grumbling about the tupperware traffic in the refrigerator? She brings a large pot of salted water to a boil, cooks a fistful of whole grain fettucine until al dente, then tosses said carciofata (plus some leftover grilled asparagus hanging around, too) with the drained noodles for a fast lunch. It brought smiles to all, and launched me on a refrigerator purge & scrub that has left me with a flush of righteousness I do not deserve (because I've done little else beyond swilling coffee and skipping church). The carciofata fettucine (I like the way that rolls off the tongue) will go on my list of easy-yet-impressive dishes for company. Cheers!
I have eaten baby artichokes in restaurants, but never prepared them, so I turned to an expert: Mario Batali. I found his recipe for carciofata (an Italian vegetable appetizer rich with sundried tomatoes, baby artichokes, currants and fresh herbs) on the Food Network website and felt certain of impending success. The dish sounded like everything I love to eat, plus the prep time of 15 minutes, cook time of 20, matched my Wednesday evening attention span. Here’s the link:
Mario Batali's Carciofata Recipe
Cleaning the artichokes wasn’t the daunting task I expected: simply snap off the lower petals until you reach the yellow-green core, then cut off the top half inch of the leaves (just below the green tips). Finally, trim all of the remaining green areas from the base and slice in half—that’s it. I found the repetition therapeutic. Here are step by step instructions with photos (this is the webspage for the brand of artichokes I had: Ocean Mist Baby Artichoke Preparation).
In no time, the carciofata reduced to thick, caramelized goodness, brightened by the addition of fresh basil, mint and parsley. I served it up with thick slices of ciabatta toast and grilled (a la Foreman—don’t be too impressed) chicken sausages.
(carciofata just before adding the herbs)
It is delectable. Not, “oh, this is pleasant vegetable side” but “are you sure these are vegetables, because I could devour the whole pan” good. I have a short list of things I refuse to do in front of my husband; licking my plate is one of them. But next day at lunch, while Kevin worked and baby Nick napped, I did just that with the leftovers.
I did tweak the recipe in a few ways:
(1) I used a LOT less olive oil (3 tablespoons instead of 10—good grief, Mario!) I sautéed in the three tablespoons oil and didn’t add any more at the end as he directed.
(2) I used chopped raisins instead of currants (supermarket was out)
(3) I doubled the amount of sundried tomatoes.
(4) Mario says a bunch of parsley equals a 1/4 cup chopped—that must be a tiny bunch of parsley. A little goes a long way with me, so I kept it to 3 tablespoons so it wouldn’t overpower the basil and mint (which are fabulous!)
(5) Finally: no baby artichokes? No problem. I made this again yesterday with 2 8-ounce packages of frozen (thawed) artichoke hearts (I wanted to see if it worked and I couldn’t wait to find out; I’m just obsessive that way). It was equally heavenly (and a lot less work).
Last, in my quest for food enlightenment, I looked up the nutrition for artichokes. I wasn’t expecting much (Thistles? Healthy? I was doubtful), so I was doubly pleased at what I uncovered: they are prickly powerhouses. I have the good news below.
Artichoke Nutrition Notes:Artichokes are rich in iodine, low in calories, and high in fiber, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, chromium, manganese, potassium, iron, and calcium. They also contain a potent photochemical called cynarin, which improves liver and gallbladder function and lowers bad (LDL) blood cholesterol levels. Artichokes are also easy to digest, increase overall energy, and have a neutralizing effect on some toxic substances. In addition, artichokes benefit heart activity and the speed of blood clotting.
I have several solutions. One is to “hrrumph” loudly and curl up on the sofa with a bowl of cereal. Falling asleep works well, too, as does complaining until someone else orders a pizza. Or I can stock the cupboard with a few cans and jars of quick-fix meal ingredients. If I were to limit yourself to one such ingredient, it would be a jar of salsa.
In an age of slow food and cooking snottiness, foods from cans and jars rank low on lists of desirable cooking ingredients. Salsa defies such snobbery, delivering a fresh punch of flavor and spice to snacks and suppers.
But salsas are more than south-of-the-border concoctions that give tortilla chips a reason to exist. The potent tomato, onion, pepper and chile combination is familiar in multiple ethnic cuisines (think Italy, Greece, Cajun, Morocco, & all-American) and, if you are willing to think outside of the box, is an ideal quick base for a host of streamlined meals when the “no-way-am-I-going-to-cook” mood occurs.
I discovered salsa’s potential versatility by accident after helping a friend pack up and clean out her kitchen before a big move. As we reached the end of our chore, we realized we were famished, too tired to drive to the store, and void of any imagination to create something from her meager but eclectic assortment of packaged foods.
Then I remembered a jar of salsa we had packed. We fished it out, boiled and drained the remains of three near-empty pasta boxes, added the salsa and a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkled it all with the grated vestiges of a nub of Parmesan cheese. It was delicious.
Since then, I have purposely stowed at least one jar of salsa in my cupboard for cooking angst emergencies. My pasta with toasted chickpeas, feta & mint is one of my favorite salsa solutions. It has the double benefit of being scrumptious and nutritious. If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, they will taste even better the next day for lunch or dinner. The canned chickpeas in the dish are another excellent pantry staple; they are one of the few vegetables whose flavor and integrity are not compromised by commercial canning.
The quick-fix couscous paella and black bean soup will likewise restore your faith in the kitchen. Making each is a snap. By the time you finish eating, you will wonder where your earlier cooking anxiety came from, as well as where it went.
Couscous Paella with Shrimp
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 and 1/3 cups thick and chunky style salsa
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika OR 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 and 2/3 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 and 1/4 cups frozen peas (no need to thaw)
1 pound frozen shelled and deveined large shrimp, thawed
1 10-ounce box couscous
1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, sliced
Heat oil, salt, salt, black pepper, thyme, hot paprika (or pepper flakes) and turmeric in a large skillet; cook 1 minute. Add broth, water, peas and shrimp. Simmer, covered, 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in couscous; cover; let stand 5 minutes. Serve, garnished with olives. Makes 6 servings.
Pasta with Toasted Chickpeas, Tomatoes, Feta & Mint
3/4 pound orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) or small shells
1 16-ounce jar thick and chunk style salsa
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint plus sprigs for garnish
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
1 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained, patted dry
4 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Meanwhile, combine salsa, 2 tablespoons olive oil, chopped mint, green onions and chopped cilantro in large bowl. Season to taste with salt .
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add chickpeas and sauté until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Toss chickpeas and pasta in with salsa mixture in bowl. Toss in feta & season with salt and pepper. Makes 6 servings.
Lightening Fast Black Bean Boup
2 15-ounce cans lack beans, undrained
1 16-ounce jar thick and chunky salsa
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon limes juice
2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth (more or less to desired thickness)
Optional toppings: chopped cilantro, more salsa, sour cream, avocado slices,
Puree the beans and their liquid in a food processor or blender; transfer to medium saucepan. Puree salsa in blender until smooth; transfer to saucepan. Stir in the cumin and lime juice. Slowly whisk in the broth until mixture is desired thickness. Heat over medium heat until hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper and, if desired, top with any of the options. Makes 4 generous servings.
(NUTRITION INFO IS ON ITS WAY--WILL CALCULATE THIS EVENING)
I find the concept of superfoods irresistible. Forget deprivation, elimination of entire food groups, and/or the tricking, smashing, and brain-washing of fat cells. Instead, fill your life, and your bowl, with foods loaded with super-levels of nutrition and taste; these superfoods will make you feel good, look great, and rejoice, rather than despair, come breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The premise is simple: certain foods are nutritional powerhouses, and incorporating them into your meals can make profound differences in overall health and well-being. Superfoods tend to come in bright bold colors and flavors, and rich textures—for example, blueberries, leafy greens, pomegranates, whole grains, and (Hallelujah), dark chocolate. Here’s a list of a few more that top most nutritionists’ lists:
Berries of all varieties
Tea (green or black)
Several best-selling books on the topic may go too far, ascribing superfoods with fountain of youth qualities that stretch the boundaries of reality, but the fundamental science is well-supported by leading nutritionists across the board.
What I find most exciting about the notion “superfoods,” though, is it goes beyond nutritional science and enters the realm of social science, by offering a new way to conceptualize eating good food, and some simple how-tos for putting the knowledge into practice.
Most of us learned in kindergarten that eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains makes good sense; the lesson is reinforced for the remainder of our lives. It sounds so simple, and it would be: if we were robots. But instead we’re temperamental, unpredictable, social beings, and that makes all of our choices and activities—like eating—complex. So while I like to keep up to date with nutritional news, recommendations and breakthroughs, I rarely begin a meal with the acuity of a scientist. I eat what I crave, and what I think will make me feel good (satisfied, comforted, relaxed, energized).
And that’s where I see the superfoods concept as helpful. It gives good food a fresh identity (i.e., eat more of these foods because, well, they’re super in every way and they make you feel super). Not health food, not diet food, not punishment, not restriction, but superfoods, my friend. As in Superman, Superhero, Superstar, Super-Duper, and the Superfriends hall of justice.
I think the symbolic shift is key in the little choices I make in those split seconds each day: hmm, perhaps I’ll put some spinach on my sandwich, eat a cup of yogurt for a snack, or nibble a bit of really good chocolate. Not because I should, or because I’m on a diet, or because I’m punishing myself….but because I want to, it’s doable, it tastes wonderful, and (how about that) it makes me feel great, too. Huh; who knew being trendy could be so delicious.
Glossary of Superfood Terms
You’ve probably seen or heard some or all of these terms thrown around the news; it can be confusing, especially since there is overlap in what some of them mean and do. Here is a basic glossary of terms:
Antioxidants. A general term for a wide range of substances that slow the body’s normal process of oxidation, meaning a reaction to oxygen that releases “free radicals” that damage cells and break the body down. Digestion releases free radicals from food. Antioxidants help prevent this and also are thought to destroy free radicals and slow oxidation, reducing allergies, heart disease, cancer and aging effects. Dozens of antioxidant nutrients have been identified so far, and there are likely many more. Many vitamins have antioxidant effects, including A (which is a carotene), C and E.
Flavonoids. Perhpas the best-known, most touted antioxidants (tea and dark chocolate are chock full of them) among a group called polyphenols. Flavonols, a subgroup of flavonoids, is also used. Relatives are anthocyanins (which give blueberries their claim fame).
Carotenoids. These are the pigments that protect dark green, yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables from sun damage; they work as antioxidants in humans, too. Beta-carotene (also called Vitamin A) is the best known. Other famous carotenoids (there are many dozens) are lycopene and lutein.
Vitamins. Nutrients considered essential to health; a shortage of vitamins can create health problems.
Phytonutrients. Plant-derived compounds that are believed to improve your health, but aren't essential to your health. An example is areservatol, a phytonnutrient found in red wine that has cancer-fighting properties.
Roast Turkey Hoisin Wraps with Spinach & Scallions
Hoisin sauce is the Chinese equivalent of bbq sauce—it adds tremendous flavor to these wraps, giving them a taste similar to Peking duck. You’ll find it where soy sauce is shelved in the grocery store.
2 cups roasted turkey cut into strips (I bought a 1/2 pound piece from the deli—unsliced—then cut into strips at home)
5 tablespoons bottled hoisin sauce, divided use
2 medium-size flour tortillas (regular or whole wheat)
1/2 of a seedless cucumber, roughly cut into thin strips
4 green onions (scallions), trimmed and roughly chopped
2 packed cups prewashed baby spinach
Combine the turkey and 2 tablespoons of the hoisin sauce in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat 30 seconds until warmed through. Place the tortillas on a dinner plate and heat in microwave 15-20 seconds until warm.
Spread the tortillas with the rest of the hoisin sauce, then use to wrap up turkeywith the cucumber, onions and watercress. Cut in half and enjoy while still warm. Makes 2 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1 wrap):
Calories 232; Fat 6.9g (sat 1.1g, mono 2.3g, poly 2.7g); Protein 18.2g; Cholesterol 32mg; Carbohydrate 29.8g; Sodium 741mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
(1) Packing wraps to go: You can pack these for lunch at work; just place the cucumber, scallions and spinach in one container, and the hoisin chicken in the other (for ease of transport, combine the chicken with all of the hoisin. At work, heat the chicken, tortillas, and assemble as described above)
(2) Vegetarian option: use well-drained, extra-firm tofu (as is, or quickly pan fry first), cut into strips, in place of the turkey.
Superfoods in this Wrap:
Spinach, Green Onions and Cucumber: All three are “green foods,” and as such have marked beneficial effects on cholesterol, blood pressure, immune response and cancer prevention. These effects are attributed in part to their high concentrations of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll, the phytochemical that gives leaves, plants and algae their green hues, is the plant equivalent of the oxygen-carrying red pigment hemoglobin in red blood cells. Dietary chlorophyll inhibits disease bacteria and exerts therapeutic effects on bad breath and internal odors.
Lean Turkey: Skinless turkey breast is one of leanest meat protein sources available. It also offers a rich array of nutrients, particularly niacin, selenium, vitamins B6 and B12, and zinc. These nutrients are heart-healthy and are also valuable in helping to lower the risk for cancer.
So last night I finally got around to using the farro that’s been sitting in my pantry for several months. I've been hearing and reading farro fanfare and praise for a few years, but had yet to taste it, so when I spotted it last summer (on a visit to the Whole Foods mothership store in Austin) I snatched up two boxes for future experimentation.
You may be asking yourself “what the heck is farro,” a question that was on my mind for some time. The short answer is that it’s a grain. Beyond that, the definition gets trickier. Simple searches bring mixed results; some claim it’s spelt, others that it’s wheat, but neither is the case. It’s similar to both, but farro (pronounced FAHR-oh) is a distinct plant and grain all its own, called emmer.
Poured straight from the package, farro looks a lot like brown rice, or, as Kevin noted when he wandered into the kitchen, “It looks…biblical.”
His wrinkled nose was a hieroglyph of his disdain; I knew he wasn’t envisioning a side-dish miracle akin to water into wine. More likely, it was Noah and his ark: the grains look like something stowed onboard for 40 days and 40 nights of rough weather, and even rougher meals.
(The words “similar to spelt” didn’t exactly generate waves of excitement, either. I was tempted to goad him further with a mock agenda for the rest of my week: weaving my own clothes and boiling homemade lard soap.)
But there is something to Kevin’s biblical sidebar, because as it turns out, farro is an ancient grain, perhaps one of the oldest cultivated crops of all. From a modern perspective, it has tremendous appeal: the instructions for preparation are straightforward and fast (much like making pasta: boil in salted water until tender), the nutrition is off the charts (rich in fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E, easily digested, and low in gluten), and, if Italian cooking experts Mario Batali and Giada de Laurentis are to be trusted, it is incredibly delicious and versatile.
So mid-afternoon I followed the directions on the box, and half an hour later I had a bowlful of fluffy grains ready to cool for a supper salad. I tasted a spoonful: distinctly nutty in flavor, the flavor reminded me of toasted oats or walnuts. It is also very light, both in flavor and texture, with a pleasant chewiness: definitely French bistro, not hippy commune cafeteria.
I tossed it with a few favorite Mediterranean flavors—lemon, basil, pine nuts, and tomatoes, and served it up alongside the steaks Kevin grilled. I had already gobbled half a dozen forkfuls in the making of the salad and knew I was smitten, but I was anxious for Kevin’s appraisal. He tucked in, and began a tentative chew. Then he looked up, marveling. Perhaps not a miracle, but, without doubt, a revelation.
Farro & Cherry Tomato Salad with Lemon-Basil Dressing
1 and 1/4 cups farro
1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup finely sliced basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1 basket cherry tomatoes, halved
4 cups pre-washed baby arugula
2 ounces goat cheese (or you could use feta), crumbled
In a medium saucepan, combine 3 and 1/2 cups of water with the farro. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the farro is almost tender, about 20 minutes. Add 1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt and simmer until the farro is tender, about 10 minutes longer. Drain well. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.
To make dressing, place all ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well.
Place pine nuts, olives, tomatoes and arugula in a large bowl with the farro. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Season generously with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Top with goat cheese. Makes 6 servings.
Some online sources for farro:
http://www.amazon.com/ (in their gourmet food section)
I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them. --Nora Ephron
I have long felt that the potato is a friendly vegetable. Unassuming, dependable, its carbohydrate-packed goodness puts you at ease. It’s not fussy; in fact, the potato is equally happy in posh surroundings, dressed to the nines, as it is in a down-home diner, blanketed with country gravy.
The typical potato may endure any number of indignities, far more than most other vegetables: poked before baking, roasted until its skin blisters, suffocated with mayonnaise, cut with sharp implements, and in trendy culinary circles, “smashed,” all by people who simultaneously proclaim their love and affection.
But the potato is unwavering in its desire to please. You can subject potatoes to all varieties of manipulations and mistreatments and still be hard-pressed to find a dud of a spud.
Despite their rough-and-tumble appearance, potatoes require a dose of TLC to keep them comfortable before they rendezvous in the kitchen. Most importantly, remove them from their plastic bags as soon as you’re home from the market (plastic will make the potatoes mold quite quickly). Storing them with onions and garlic will also hasten mold production.
Finally, think about temperature: an overly warm area will cause softening, shriveling and sprouting within a few days. Before you skip to the ‘fridge, slow down. Cold storage produces a funny, sweet taste, the result of the potato starch converting to sugar. The best choice is a cool, dark, dry place, such as the back of a pantry.
Potato dishes are countless, but I’m offering just one to accompany this post: a recipe for potato-leek soup, pushed into the realm of decadence with a bit of bacon and a sprinkle of blue cheese. Potato soup may not be revolutionary, but this version is remarkably delicious, satisfying, and (hallelujah), still light.
Potato-Leek Soup with Blue Cheese and Bacon
Decadence. Pure decadence. That’s what this soups both sounds and tastes like. But hurrah, it is still enlightened. The trick? I use just enough bacon and blue cheese for flavor, and replace the heavy cream with canned, fat-free evaporated milk. You’ll be thrilled with the results.
I’m a fan of Yukon Gold potatoes, for this soup and for roasting and mashing (in a pinch, though, good old russets will do, too). Yukon Gold spuds were created in Canada (Hence the name) and became almost instantly popular because their pale yellow flesh looks and tastes as if it has been slathered with butter.
2 slices bacon, chopped
4 large leeks, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
5 and 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 12-ounce can fat free evaporated milk
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup minced chives or green onions
Cook the bacon in a large saucepan set over medium-high heat until bacon is crisp; transfer bacon to paper towels to drain (do not pour off fat from pan).
Add the leeks to pot, turn heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the potato and broth; bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the evaporated milk, blue cheese and nutmeg and simmer for 10 minutes longer.
Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, then return it to the pan. Season the soup with salt and pepper, garnish with chives and cooked bacon and serve. Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/6 of the soup, about 1 and 1/2 cups):Calories 176; Fat 1.1g (sat 0.3g, mono 0.4g, poly 0.2g); Protein 7.3g; Cholesterol 2.3mg; Carbohydrate 25.5g; Sodium 595.3mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Vegetarian Option: You can easily convert this soup to a vegetarian meal by using vegetable broth in place of chicken broth, and by skipping the bacon and instead cooking the leeks in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Nutrition Notes for Leeks:Leeks, like their cousins, onions, are nutritional stars, offering plenty of potassium, some folic acid, beta-carotene (in the green stems) and vitamin C. They may also help to reduce cholesterol levels and offer some protection against cancer.
I planned the last week of meals carefully; not so tonight. By the time the light had gone, the evening was underway and my supper ideas were scarce. I headed to the deep freezer, peered in, and found an excess of frozen ground beef. What to do with that? Something quick, no doubt, but in the best possible taste for a fifteen minute (could I cut it to ten?) preparation. I pulled a pack from the frozen depths and headed to the microwave for a quick defrost.
Meatballs suddenly seemed just the thing: undemanding, but a step up from burgers or meatloaf. Once I had gathered what I needed from the pantry and produce drawer—raisins, couscous, a half a container of leftover fresh mint, and a few more bits & pieces—and Nick was playing in another room with Kevin, the kitchen felt transformed to a haven of plain dealing, the tile floor, smooth counters, and utensils a guarantee of good things. All at once, my off-the-cuff dinner switched from exertion to ease.
In half an hour dinner was served and glasses of wine (and one sippy cup of milk) poured. There was no fanfare, no exclamations of joy from Kevin or Nick, nor accompanying pride from me. But we cleaned our plates. Ta-da!
Mediterranean Meatballs with Couscous, Chickpeas & Herb Salad
I like to use my cookie scoop to make the meatballs; it keeps the meatballs uniform in size (for even cooking) and eliminates a considerable amount of time and mess.
1 and 1/2 pounds extra lean ground beef
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided use
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup couscous
1 2/3 cups boiling water
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1 large lemon, zest finely grated, juiced
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup raisins, finely chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place beef, feta, and 2 tablespoons mint in a large bowl. Sprinkle garlic and salt over. Gently toss beef to blend. Using damp hands, divide beef mixture into 1 and 1/2-inch meatballs. Using damp hands, shape each into ball. Place balls onto foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake 11-13 minutes or until well-browned and cooked through.
While meatballs bake, place the couscous in a large, heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water. Cover bowl and stand for 3 to 4 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with fork to separate grains. Add the chickpeas, parsley, lemon zest, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, onion, raisins, tomatoes, and remaining 1/2 cup mint to couscous. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon couscous salad into bowls. Top with meatballs and a dollop of yogurt. Season with pepper. Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/6 of recipe—meatballs and salad):Calories 381; Fat 14.2g (sat 5.5g, mono 5.6g, poly 0.8g); Protein 26.6g; Cholesterol 63.8mg; Carbohydrate 36.8g; Sodium 816mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Happy April everyone, and in particular, April Fool’s!
I can’t resist the opportunity to serve fool on fool’s day, but before I do, allow me to offer some seasonal folly to inaugurate a new month.
For whatever reason (procrastination, perhaps?) I went on a mid-morning quest today, looking for April holidays pertaining to food and drink. Could April be national strawberry month? Might it include international asparagus day? I Googled with baited breath; I'm thrilled to report the results. First, the food:
April Food ObservancesNational Soy Month (hoo-ha! you know I’ll be doing some things with this one)
National Pecan Month
Fresh Florida Tomatoes Month
April 17th-April 23rd: National Egg Salad Week
April 21st-26th: National Fish Fry Week
April 5th: National Raisin & Spice Bar Day (huh?)
April 6th: Three notable anniversaries: (1) Teflon was invented by Roy Plunkett on April 6, 1938; (2) The TV Dinner was introduced by Swanson on April 6, 1954; (3) The Hostess Twinkie was sold for the first time in the US on April 6, 1931.
April 12th: National Licorice Day
April 19th: National Garlic Day
April 20th: Pineapple Upside Down Day
April 21st: National Chocolate-Covered Cashews Day
April 22nd: National Jelly Bean Day (I can’t wait! Regular readers know of my passion for jelly bellies in particular; I’m heading to the store today to stock up)
April 25th: National Zucchini Bread Day
April 26th: National Pretzel Day
More April FollyAs random as the above list is, the following April observances are the treasures. Apparently April is a busy month for observing and celebrating, and these are some of my favorites. They may not be causes célèbres, but they are unquestionably celebratory causes; I’m marking one and all on my calendar. (Note: ‘tis April Fool’s Day, but the items in the following list are all real, dear food friends—I do not kid!)
Camilla’s Preferred List of April ObservancesInternational Twit Award Month (are nominations accepted?)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Month (really? a whole month?)
Prevent Lyme in Dogs Month
Southern Belles Month
April 3rd: National Tweed Day (tally-ho!)
April 3rd-6th: National Mule Days
April 4th: World Rat Day
April 5th: Tangible Karma Day
April 7th: No Housework Day (only 1 day???!!!)
April 12th: World Baby Massage Day
April 16th: National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day
April 17th: National Blah! Blah! Blah! Day
April 19th: World Cow Chip Day
April 20th-26th: National Cowboy Poetry Week
April 28th: Bulldogs are Beautiful Day
And last, but certainly not least:
April 29th: National Hairball Day
Food as FoolOh me and my digressions. I am glad I now have a place to record and share them.
Now, for another form of foolishness, I offer one of the foods of my people: fool.
The Brits do know more than a thing or two about food, so I get testy whenever blanket remarks are made about dreadful English cooking. One of my boyfriends of yore made such statements on a regular basis; each slur caused me to experience an intense hiccup, making me flail my hands and tell him off, even though it was when I was alone again in my dorm room, days later. I knew from experience how delicious traditional English food can be, having eaten my fair share of my Gran’s roast beef, ethereal Yorkshire puddings, and perfectly seared lamb chops with fresh mint sauce.
And for a taste of dessert brilliance, there's British fool, a centuries-old dessert preparation made from cooked or raw fruit and heavy cream. The recipe is a breeze: puree or mash the fruit with a touch of sugar, then fold into stiffly beaten whipped cream (there should be streaks of the white cream showing where the fruit has not been completely folded into the cream). While I would like to think that the name is a whimsical moniker bestowed by a cheeky English cook, the more accepted etymology is that fool is a derivative of the French word "fouler" which means "to mash" or "to press".
Heavy whipped cream is not exactly enlightened fare, so I’m offering my healthy fool (surprise; that's also my nickname), made with thick yogurt, lemon curd and raspberries. The yogurt base means I can eat it morning, noon, or night, too—that’s my kind of dessert.
The inspiration for the lemon curd comes from two consecutive weekends spent stirring the stuff, first for an Easter lemon curd cheesecake, and then for a lemon meringue pie (a birthday gift). You can make the lemon curd from scratch, or spoon it straight from a jar (it’s typically shelved with the jams and jellies).
To a day of foolishness!
Enlightened Lemon Fool with Fresh Berries
If you want to make the lemon curd from scratch, I recommend the lemon curd recipe from Cooking Light, which is lighter, but still has the essential eggs and butter to make it real lemon curd.
1 cup lemon curd (jarred or homemade)
2 cups nonfat yogurt (the thicker, the better; if you can buy Greek yogurt, do)
1 pint basket of fresh raspberries (or you can use frozen, thawed, undrained raspberries)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Place the lemon curd and yogurt in a large bowl. Fold together for a rippled effect (do not stir, you want there to be streaks). Divide the mixture between four glasses and chill.
Just before serving, gently crush the raspberries and powdered sugar together in a small bowl, then spoon with their juices over the chilled fool and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1 serving of fool):Calories 213; Fat 1.5g (sat 0.8g, mono 0.4g, poly 0.0g); Protein 5.7g; Cholesterol 5mg; Carbohydrate 41.7g; Sodium 60mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)