Monday, July 26, 2010

CHOCOMOLE (Dairy-Free Avocado Chocolate Pudding)


Today is a hot July day with the temperatures hovering in the high 90s F. The humidity is very high also, hovering somewhere at about 80%. We took the dogs for a walk in the woods, but we soon gave up. Both dogs and humans followed the path homeward, where the air conditioning soon had us breathing with relief. Before we left the park we caught a glimpse of a whole host of blue iridescent dragonflies. How beautiful it was to watch them! They zipped up and down the sides of a pond, skimming the surface of the water, hunting for something good to eat, I suppose. There is a legend that dragonflies can saw up a person's lips and ears. We were not afraid because we had our dogs to protect us. At home, I concentrated on making a chocolate pudding for Martha Mondays. It's a no dairy, no sugar, vegan recipe from Whole Living magazine, picked for us to make by Sarah from Mum in Bloom.


Mmm! The article from "Whole Living" magazine was convincing: A rich and creamy bowl of chocolate pudding... an irresistible treat for both kids and adults. A lot of us probably make it with gelatin based pudding mixes, loaded with refined sugars. Here is a homemade pudding recipe that is easy to make, and contains heart healthy fats and vitamin E. It's the "chocomole," a chocolate pudding made with avocados, dates, and cocoa powder. The pudding comes out thick, never letting you guess it has veggie based roots. It's a nutrient rich pudding. Something to try if you are lactose intolerant, or are attempting to cut down on the amount of sugar that you consume. The key ingredient, avocados, contains monounsaturated fats which promote heart health. Avocados (which I love), are also full of potassium, soluble fiber, and lots of vitamin E.  So yes, the article convinced me.  This was going to be a healthy and delicious dessert.


Well, I made it and I tasted it. It needed more sweetener, so I added more dates. It needed something else. Almonds go well with chocolate, so I added some ground up almonds. It needed something else. I topped it with raspberries. It needed something else. In went some honey. With the addition of honey it was no longer a vegan recipe, but at least it was an eatable recipe.  So..., in my opinion:
If you're looking for a healthy treat, try this chocomole!!! If you're looking for something tasty to eat, keep looking. This ain't it!!! 
(Please forgive me if you are vegan and reading this post. I do not wish to offend, and I support the fact that all of us have differing palates and eating philosophies).



Since this pudding contains avocado, I thought serving it with tortilla chips might improve the way it goes down. The chips were good! No need for pudding. However, if you must have the pudding, here is how to make it:


Ingredients:


1 ripe avocado, pitted, outer skin removed
6-10 dates, pitted, soaked if necessary
½ tsp vanilla
1/4 cup whole almonds
4 heaping teaspoons cocoa
½ cup water
Sliced fruit for decoration
Maple syrup or honey for decoration

Directions:
  1. Place the avocado, dates, vanilla, almonds and cocoa in a food processor.
  2. Begin to mix, and while the motor is running drizzle the water in, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl if needed.
  3. Process until the mixture resembles a thick chocolate pudding. Let it continue mixing until smooth and creamy.
  4. Serve topped with fruit, and for an extra treat drizzle some maple syrup or honey on top.
  5. This recipe is a vegan favorite - with a maple syrup topping, that is. Once the honey is added, it's no longer a vegan recipe.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

WALNUT SKORDALIA


The July challenge for Daring Cooks is hosted by Margie of More Please, and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. We were asked to make nut butters and then incorporate them in a recipe. As it so happened, I made do with ingredients I had on hand, and boy was I thrilled. No need for a trip to the grocery store. My recipe was simple to put together and very, very tasty. I chose to make walnut butter and then to combine it in walnut skordalia (walnut - garlic sauce). Skordalia is a popular Greek side dish made either with potatoes or walnuts. Its name comes from one of its key ingredients, skordo, which means garlic. It usually accompanies fried fish or fried/boiled vegetables. I have a recipe for skordalia with potatoes here). Walnut skordalia is a regional variation. It's made in Northeastern Greece, in Macedonia and Thrace. Serafia, my maternal grandmother, who was a true and proper Northeastern Greek, always made her skordalia with walnuts, never with potatoes. Of course, it helped that grandfather had planted walnut trees near one of his vineyards. There was always an ample supply of walnuts. Traditionally a mortar and pestle was used to pound the walnuts and garlic. Today, the food processor makes this job much easier.



Pan seared sea bass surrounded by walnut skordalia. Fish and skordalia are a traditional pairing. I have a recipe for pan seared fish fillets here.


The walnut butter was easy to make...


Make a walnut butter: Place two cups of shelled, roasted walnut pieces in a food processor, and pulse until the walnuts are finely ground, as shown in the picture above.



Ingredients:

In addition to the walnut butter you will need:
1 cup of stale bread pieces without crust
3, 4, 5, or more garlic cloves. How much depends on social engagements and digestive tolerance. (I used three).
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
water


Directions:

  1. Soak the bread in a bit of water. When it has softened, squeeze out the excess water. Discard the water and place the bread in a food processor.
  2. Add all the other ingredients, including the walnut butter. Process until well blended.
  3. Taste, and if the mixture feels thick, thin it out by adding a little water and then processing. In the end, the skordalia should have the consistency of thick mayonnaise.
  4. Remove to bowl, cover and chill. Serve as an accompaniment to fried fish or vegetables.

  5. ***Walnut skordalia also makes a delicious dip or appetizer. Serve it in a bowl surrounded by toasted bread rounds, or top some bread with skordalia and shrimp. The appetizers in the picture below were made with sliced French bread sprinkled with olive oil and toasted, then topped with skordalia and with shrimp which had been seasoned with lemon juice, black pepper and parsley.

Friday, July 9, 2010

GREEK SALAD FOR A CROWD


Hello, everybody! Today's topic is Greek salad, a salad that's pretty popular these days.  Here is a recipe a little different from the every day Greek salad but just as good.  It has enough portions to feed a crowd, so it's something good to make if you are having company or a large family gathering.  Of course the portions can be cut in half if you're not feeding lots of people.  I think the star of this salad is the feta vinaigrette (scroll down), which is delicious, delicious, delicious!

The recipe is based on one from the book "How to Roast Lamb," written by chef Michael Psilakis. The book has been part of my collection since this past Christmas, when I bought it with a gift card I received. Don't bookstore gift cards make the best gifts?  I made the salad for Easter, and now I am making it again for a summer time barbecue I am hosting.  It can be assembled up to an hour ahead of time, and kept in the refrigerator. The vinaigrette can be made ahead of time also.  Dress the salad just before ready to serve. 
These are the next day left-overs.  I love left-over salad!

Ingredients: (Serves 10 to 15 as part of a buffet)
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 or 3 heads of romaine lettuce hearts, outer leaves removed.  Use the crunchy younger leaves. For the salad you see in the pictures I used two heads of romaine
1 fennel bulb sliced very thin
roasted bell peppers, or 3 small store-bought roasted red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
about 24 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved.  I used some heirloom cherry tomatoes here
1 English cucumber, peeled, halved, and sliced.  If it has too many seeds, remove them
5 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh dill, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
About 15 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
15 whole caper berries *** see note  (if you don't like caper berries, use large capers)

3/4 cup Feta Vinaigrette
2/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled or cubed
4 pepperoncini (small, pickled, yellow, mildly-hot peppers, store bought in a jar), sliced.  Or use more of them and leave them whole



Directions:

Getting the salad ready, with my heirloom cherry tomatoes, and with the caper berries right on top.
  • In a large bowl mix all the ingredients except the vinaigrette, feta and pepperoncini.  Toss really well to combine.  
  • Wash your hands well.
  • Drizzle salad with vinaigrette and toss the mixture  with clean hands (I love this part! That's called getting to know your food).
  • Wash your hands well.
  • Scatter with feta and pepperoncini.
  • Ready to serve
Feta Vinaigrette 
(makes 1 1/4 cups, and it's kind of thick, but it dresses the salad well, and it tastes absolutely delicious).


Ingredients:
1 small onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for the onion
Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (if you prefer red-wine vinegar, use it)

6 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dried Greek oregano


Directions:
  • Preheat a grill pan.
  • Brush onion slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Place onions on grill pan and cook, turning, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to a small bowl; drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Toss to combine.
  • Transfer the grilled onion to the bowl of a food processor along with the vinegar, basil, thyme, feta, mustard, garlic, shallots, oregano, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper; pulse to combine.
  • With the processor running, slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup olive oil until dressing is smooth; season with salt and pepper.
I've made this vinaigrette again and again!  The original recipe calls for red wine vinegar, but I substitute with white balsamic, which I sometimes combine with lemon juice.  I just don't like strong vinegar.  One final comment: the grilled onions? A brilliant idea!!!



***Note: What is a caper berry? There is a difference between the caper and the caper berry. Caper is a bush that grows wild in rocky coastal areas throughout the Mediterranean region. The capers that we eat are the pickled buds of this bush. If the buds are not harvested, they will flower and then turn into fruit. That fruit is the caper berry. Greeks pickle the caper berries and use them in cooking or serve them as a mezé. Both capers and caper berries have a piquant, mustard like flavor. The caper berry has a stronger taste and is larger and fleshier than the caper. It's a lot easier to find capers at the store than caper berries, so go ahead and substitute if necessary.


I found this picture on the internet... Seen are caper leaves, the caper flower, various sizes of pickled capers, and a jar of caper berries.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

CORDON ROSE CREAM CHEESECAKE

Raspberries, or strawberries... it's all good!



Cordon Rose Cream Cheesecake, a New York style cheesecake, is the best cheesecake in the world!!! No exaggeration whatsoever. The recipe comes from the book "The Cake Bible," by Rose Levy Beranbaum, published in 1988. This is an outstanding dessert cookbook, still available for sale.
I love cheeesecake, and I have tried many cheesecake recipes. This one is the best, the creamiest, and the most flavorful. It's firm enough to be unmolded and served without a base, but it can have a ladyfinger base, as shown by Ms. Beranbaum here, or a cookie crumb base, as it has on my post. Truthfully, I prefer it without a base. I just don't want anything to interfere with the custardy, creamy goodness of this cheesecake.


Purchased in the early 1990s - I love this cookbook; its author is a baker extraordinaire. I must admit though, I am still scared to attempt to make some of her more complicated recipes.


Ingredients: 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups sour cream

about one cup of cookie crumbs, (made up from your favorite cookies), to serve as a crumb crust.
fresh raspberries or blueberries, rinsed and allowed to dry thoroughly
1/4 cup raspberry jelly or blueberry jelly
1 tablespoon Chambord or water
A 9-inch by 2 1/2-inch or higher springform pan, greased, outside of the pan wrapped with a double layer of heavy-duty foil to prevent seepage, bottom of pan lined with greased parchment paper.

A 12-inch cake pan or roasting pan to serve as water bath.

Here is a version I made without a base, and with a strawberry-blackberry topping


Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • In a food processor beat the cream cheese until soft. Add the sugar and beat until very smooth.
  • Add the cornstarch, and pulse to blend. Add the eggs one at a time with the motor running. Add the lemon juice, vanilla and salt and mix until incorporated.
  • Add the sour cream and mix just until blended.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Set the pan in the larger pan and surround it with 1-inch of very hot water.

WOW! A cheesecake that did not crack in the middle! Make sure your pan is well greased, so the cheesecake can separate from the sides of the pan as it settles. This will keep it from cracking.


  • Bake the cake for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven without opening the door and let the cake cool for 1 hour. (OK, I opened the oven door and took a peek, then decided to let the cake bake for an extra 10 minutes, then I let it cool in the oven for one hour).
  • After one hour take it out of the oven and remove the aluminum foil from around the pan. Place it on a rack and cool it to room temperature (about 1 hour).
  • Cover with greased plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To unmold:
  • Have ready one serving plate
  • Have ready a flat plate at least 8 inches in diameter, covered with a plastic wrap.
  • Place the springform pan on a heated burner and move it around for 15 seconds.
  • Wipe the sides of the pan with a hot, damp towel.
  • Run a thin metal spatula around the sides of the cake and release the sides of the springform pan.
  • Place the plastic-wrapped plate on top and invert. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment.

crumbled up chocolate chip - pecan sandies (store bought), can become the base
  • If you want a cookie base, now is the time to sprinkle cookie crumbs on the cake.
  • Reinevert onto the serving plate and use a small metal spatula to smooth the sides. If you like, sprinkle some crumbs on the sides, too.
  • Refrigerate until shortly before serving.
For a simple topping:
  • Arrange raspberries or blueberries on top of the cheesecake. Remember that they should be thoroughly dry.
  • In a small saucepan or microwave oven, heat the jelly until melted and bubbling. Strain it into a small cup and stir in the Chambord or water. Brush it onto the fruit, or pour the jelly on the cheesecake and place the fruit on top.


Friday, July 2, 2010

GRILLED RED SNAPPER

Once upon a time the poor little fellow in the picture above was happily swimming, minding his own business. He could not foretell the future. Otherwise he would have probably swam faster, or slower, or in a different place. Sorry my lad. The ignobility of life touches all of us, in various ways, sooner or later.

The red snapper came from the store cleaned and ready to cook. I rinsed it, seasoned it, placed it in aluminum foil and cooked it on the grill.
Ingredients:
1 red snapper, large enough to feed four people.
lemon slices
olive oil
lemon juice
1 large onion sliced into rings
fresh parsley
fresh thyme
fresh basil
salt and pepper
garlic powder
Directions:
How much seasoning and herbs to use? I did not really measure them - I just used what I felt was enough to flavor but not overpower the fish.
Rinse the fish inside and out and pat it dry with paper towels. Rub it with olive oil and lemon juice, season it with salt and pepper and garlic powder. Cut slits on each side of the fish and put a slice of lemon into each slit. Stuff the cavity with parsley, thyme and lemon slices. Lay the onion rings, some parsley, thyme and basil in the middle of a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil that is large enough to enclose the fish. Place the fish on top of the herbs and seal the foil really well, crimping the edges together to form a packet. Spray the grill with cooking spray and heat it up. Place the fish on the grill and cook it with the cover closed. Cooking should take twenty minutes to half an hour. It will be ready when the meat is soft and pulls apart easily. When it has finished cooking remove it from the foil and place it on a serving platter. Discard the herbs and onion rings that the fish was cooked on. Sprinkle some olive oil, lemon juice, and basil leaves on top. Let it rest for 5 minutes and serve.