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Monday, October 31, 2011

Iron, man (or woman)

There was one particular semester while I was in University studying nutrition, that was kind of painful. We had classes 6 days a week, and on our single "free" day, we had to write eternal chemistry lab reports. The class that took place over the weekend was 4 hours long and was taught by two of the "big" nutrition people in Mexico. For the final, we had to research, write and present a topic in groups. Our assigned project was anemia caused by iron deficiency.


Whenever we could choose our teams, I almost always worked with the same friends. We were good students, but we had very different styles, strengths and interests, so we complemented each other pretty well. Especially when it came to listening, comforting and giving advice every time any of us had a love dilemma, a weird boyfriend or a broken heart (and there was always at least one of us who did, so we usually spent more time talking than working). But we also had fun. Fun in the way I'd never had before I met them. We went rock climbing, dancing, dining, site seeing, and with one of them, I even backpacked around Europe. These girls taught me to be less rigid and less stressed about everything. We wrote amazing papers but we would rarely turn them in on time (which I'd never done before), we would have (or come up with) extraordinary stories to justify ourselves, and the teachers were always graceful.  We worked hard, but we also laughed and cried a lot.
When the weekend morning of our final presentation came, one of us showed up with a hangover and a bad case of I-fought-with-my-boyfriend-last-night. When the projector was on (yes...those were the pre we all use PowerPoint days) and showing our slides on the screen, she couldn't even read. Her eyes were swollen and she had head and heart aches. We all tried to cover up and it ended up being kind of a mess. The teacher was annoyed, but the truth is that I don't remember much of what happened later. I did learn that in order to absorb your iron better when it comes from vegetarian sources, you should ingest it together with something high in vitamin C.
Despite the anemia presentation, we all graduated with honors and attended graduate school in different places.
My friend eventually broke-up with the boyfriend, met a great guy, one that didn't make her cry or feel pain for loving him, and they have two beautiful kids.
Happily Ever after? No. That doesn't really exist for anyone. But I'm sure we all try to be, as happy as life allows us.
And, so where's the iron, man? It's here in the following recipe!
Since anemia caused by iron deficiency is common in young children and women in reproductive age, here's a snack that can be enjoyed by everyone, that is made with plant-based sources of that important mineral. 


IRON CHOCOLATE BARK

This chocolate bark is topped with freeze-dried fruit, to provide the vitamin C mentioned above. So don't skip the fruit, which also brings in nice texture, flavors and colors!
All the ingredients (with the exception of the freeze dried fruits, which are high in vitamin C) is very rich in iron. This is not a low calorie recipe, but one that is very nutritionally dense: full of antioxidants, omega fatty acids, fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, especially IRON.

INGREDIENTS

10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (at least 62% cocoa content, the higher the cocoa %, the more iron it has)
3 ounces (3/4 cup) raw hemp seeds*
3 ounces (3/4 cup) raw chia seeds*
5 ounces (1 cup) raw pumpkin seeds
1 ounces (3/4 cup) puffed amaranth
1.5 ounces (1 1/4 cup) freeze dried mixed fruit
1 teaspoon dry thyme (optional)

* or use 6 ounces hemp seeds total

METHOD
Line a rectangular baking pan (about 8 x 10 in) with parchment paper leaving an overhang in 2 of the sides.

Melt chocolate completely over a double boiler.



Add the hemp and chia seeds (if using), mixing with a spatula until completely covered.



Pour chocolate-hemp mix into the prepared pan and spread evenly all the way to the edges.

Sprinkle pepitas, then amaranth, dried fruit and thyme (if using) evenly and press them onto the chocolate so they stick to the bark. You can use an offset spatula or your CLEAN hands.



Freeze for at least 20 minutes. Unmold by pulling out the parchment overhang.

Cut in random shapes with a serrated knife and enjoy immediately or freeze until you need more iron (or a chocolate fix, or a nutritious snack).
Makes a lot of pieces!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The solution to social rejection

For some reason, when it comes to the most trivial things in life, I always have a philosophy or a theory.
After analyzing for a very long time, I realized some time ago what's the common denominator of all pastry chefs.
Some love adding edible sparkles to their cakes. Others come up with unimaginable flavor combinations. Some can sculpt desserts into real life reproductions, so vivid that it's almost impossible to tell they are made of sugar, flour and eggs. Some are divas and others humble. Some like drama. Some  like their creations to be rustic, homey or simple. Some love the classics and some can only innovate. Some love butter, some avoid it.
But every pastry chef I've met, and I include myself, deals or has dealt with low self esteem issues, and has found a solution to them: their profession!
Think about it: you don't have to be good looking, clever, athletic, strong, fun, intellectual, or appealing in any other way, if you show up at any social event with a homemade cake, tasty cookies, French-named pastries, pastel colored cupcakes, or concoct a souffle.You are automatically popular and well liked. 
And imagine if there's someone with any of the ubiquitous and unfortunate food allergies. What if you brought a moist and rich chocolate cake that has no eggs, dairy, nuts, wheat, etc? There would be no need to sport a cape, you'd immediately transform yourself into a Superhero.
But you might think, who has time for that? Actually, YOU DO!
This cake takes 10 minutes (plus baking time) to put together (yes, you would need to use a scale) and as long as you can make round motions with your wrist, you've got the technique down. Clean up is also express, as there's only one bowl and a whisk to wash. If you are really trying to feel part of a tough crowd, try decorating it with a bit of organic confectioner's sugar. They'll love you!

NOTE:
Since I've been getting a lot of inquiries lately about egg-free baking, here are my favorite substitutions. Eggs are a super versatile ingredient, so each substitute is appropriate for different recipes. Play around or just write a question/comment at the end of this post and I'll be happy to answer.


THE FOLLOWING ARE DIFFERENT EQUIVALENTS OF 1 EGG:
  • 1 tablespoon flax or chia seed meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup date puree (reduce the amount of sweetener in the recipe)
  • 1/4 cup cooked chickpeas pureed with 2 teaspoons water--great for cookies
  • 1/4 cup firm organic silken tofu, pureed
  • 3 tablespoons of flaxseed or soy free Veganaise mixed with 1 tablespoon water
  • When using eggs as a thickening agent, make a slurry with 1 to 2 tablespoons (depending of how thick you want the mix to be) arrowroot or tapioca starch and mix it with 1 cup of the boiling liquid in the recipe. Whisk. Bring to a boil and remove immediately.
  • If the banana flavor harmonizes with the recipe, 1/2 mashed banana can be used instead of 1 egg, although recipe will be sweeter
CRAZY VELVETY CHOCOLATE CAKE
  • Wheat, nut, dairy and egg free
The original recipe for this cake uses mayonnaise, and according to The Cake Bible's Rose Levy Beranbaum (from where I adapted this recipe), it was invented by the wife of a Hellman's salesman with the purpose of increasing her husband's sales ("behind every great man there's a great woman great," right?)
Even if we don't think of mayo as a baking ingredient, this sauce is made of eggs, oil and lemon juice, which are common products listed in cake recipes. I use grapeseed oil Veganaise (thanks GP, for the recommendation in your book), which uses non-GMO organic soy instead of eggs, and now they even make a soy-free version, which is pretty good too, made with pea protein instead of soy. By all means, if you don't need to substitute eggs, use regular mayo, just please use one in which all the ingredients listed on the label are pronounceable and recognizable as food!


INGREDIENTS
7 ounces whole spelt flour
7 ounces coconut sugar or sucanat
1 ounce unsweetened cocoa (I like non-alkalized)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5.5 ounces Veganaise
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8.25 ounces boiling water

organic confectioner's sugar (optional)

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line the base of a round cake pan with parchment paper and set aside (I use a 9-inch round but use whatever you have and adapt baking time. A larger pan will require less baking time and a smaller will take longer).


Place water to boil in a kettle or in a small pan with a lid (keep it covered or the water will evaporate), over low heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, coconut sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt until blended and large clumps are disintegrated.

Add Veganaise and vanilla and whisk a bit to moisten the dry ingredients, but it won't mix completely.
Add boiling water and whisk vigorously until very few small clumps are visible, but don't mix for too long, you want to put cake in the oven while batter is still warm!

Pour batter onto prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until cake springs back when pressed lightly in center.
Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Loosen sides carefully with a spatula or a knife and unmold. Let cool completely. Serve, decorate or wrap tightly with plastic once completely cooled and freeze.

DECORATION
You can use a store-bought stencil (
Oriental Trading has lots of seasonal and inexpensive ones) or make your own with stiff paper and craft punches, scissors and/or an exacto knife. For some shapes, even parchment paper works.
Place stencil over cake and sift confectioner's sugar over it, so the sugar will fill out the stencil spaces. Once spaces are completely covered, lift stencils up carefully and voila...








Skip a visit to the shrink. Bake a cake and you'll feel loved!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Meat eaters and plant eaters...

We spent a wonderful couple of days in White Plains, NY visiting some friends who invited us to celebrate the first days of the Holiday of Sukkot.
We couldn't have felt more welcome (well...maybe next time a pre-booked personal masseuse would be a nice touch?Mmmm...just throwing it out there...).
Our hosts--and everything else--were amazing. Our kids were quite angry when we made them come back to Manhattan. And who could blame them after a 3-day-long playdate in the warmest of homes? 
It's impossible to leave the City and not study and compare urban and suburban lives. The answer is clear to me because I love Manhattan's chaos and inspiration all around (plus I'm a masochist), but my poor kids...They don't even know how to get in and out of a minivan! They stare at the car seats as if they were alien contraptions and they kept asking me if nighttime in White Plains was also nighttime in NYC. The stairs and the basement were the stars of the show. My daughter was in awe of the mailbox, which is actually a box right next to the entrance door, a rarity she'd never encountered.
My son didn't even see the mailbox, as he couldn't stop playing with his fellow dinophile (yup, I made the word up) and his extensive dinosaur collection. Their playtime looked exactly like an episode of nerdy Dino Dan. They would arrange the toy beasts dividing them into meat and plant eaters, would teach each other the unpronounceable names of all the prehistoric creatures and comment on their characteristics to attack or defend themselves. Then the boys would ask me to read and re-read the board book Dinosaur ABC (currently called Dinosaur A-Z). That's when my ignorance-induced humiliation started... The 3 and 4-year-old kids had to correct me each time I tried to say the name of any of the animals I was reading about. Even if the book came with phonetic spelling (I find that of little help as you can't take away the Spanish speaker in me. I still think of the vowels having only 5 sounds: a, e, i, o, u), plus the tongue twisting names paleontologists have decided to give to all those ancient beings, made me be at a total loss. At the end of the visit, I think I got the Diplodocus right (once!).

And now that we are back in the City, I'll convince my son to love it again with our newly purchased membership to the Museum of Natural History, where he can enjoy his dinosaurs at leisure.
After so much meat and plant eating knowledge acquired this past weekend, I'm including one recipe for the meat eaters and one for the plant eaters in my home, hoping that both dishes get eaten by all in this urban household. The chicken recipe is gluten free and can be adapted to be egg free.

RICE CRISPY CHICKEN
  • Gluten, dairy, and nut free
  • To make it egg free, substitute 1/3 cup grapeseed Veganaise thinned with a bit of water for the eggs
  • Super ingredients: chicken and potato flour (despite being mostly carbs, potato flour is surprisingly rich in iron)
INGREDIENTS

1.5 pounds thin chicken cutlets
1.25 ounces (1/4 cup) potato flour (NOT potato starch)
2 large organic eggs
2 cups crispy rice cereal (you can use crispy brown rice, which has a bit less sugar and a bit more fiber, or Rice Krispies that has a bit more sugar, but is also enriched with vitamins or minerals)
salt, pepper and sweet paprika to taste
About 1/4 cup olive, sunflower, safflower or grapeseed oil for frying

METHOD
Rinse and pat dry the chicken.
Put the potato flour in a bowl and season it with salt, pepper and sweet paprika.
Beat the eggs with a fork in another bowl and place the rice cereal in a plate or shallow bowl. Then work the assembly line: dredge each cutlet in the potato flour in both sides, shake off the excess.

Then dip the dredged chicken in eggs (or thinned Veganaise)
and place it on rice cereal and turn it around to make sure both sides are covered.



Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Once cutlet has browned, flip it and cook the other side. Cut a piece in the middle of the cutlet to make sure chicken has cooked completely. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.

Serve hot.

RED CHARD CHIPS
Unfortunately, I can't claim authorship for this recipe, but it's fantastic, delicious, nutritious and a great fall and winter dish.
It can be made with Kale too, but I find red chard to work particularly well, plus this leafy vegetable could be the definition of a super ingredient!
  • Vegan, dairy, egg, gluten, nut and soy free
  • Super ingredients: Swiss chard is incredibly rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, especially K, A, C and E and minerals like iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium. It's also high in fiber. Basically, it's the ideal food!
INGREDIENTS
1 bunch organic Red (or any kind) Chard
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Rinse chard well and dry it either in a salad spinner or patting it with a towel.

Remove thick stems from the leaves and discard stems or save them to flavor vegetable soup.

Divide leaves on 2 sheet pans lined with parchment paper
 and add 1 tablespoon of oil to each pan.

Rub oil onto leaves and spread them on one layer.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes (check constantly after 12 minutes, as they burn fast).

When crunchy, take out of the oven and sprinkle with salt and pepper (don't salt before baking as they become soggy!).


Serve warm or at room temperature. It keeps well for 3 days at room temperature in an air tight container.

I'd love to say that this happened because they ran to the table to eat their chard...

Enjoy!!!








Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My favorite things

Sometimes I wish I were Oprah, but I'd be my happiest if I were Gwyneth Paltrow. Or even like her. Or just her friend. Or her acquaintance?
I've been obsessed with GP since she started acting (yes I watched Hook). About 15 years ago, I saw a fashion magazine with her picture on its cover: she had chopped her hair super short and looked amazing. Those were her Sliding Doors days. I ran to the salon, photo in hand and asked for the hair-do. I looked awful! That's when I found out I wasn't her. Surprise!
But as life happens, my hair eventually grew back, and hers did too...
I've watched all her movies and I rarely miss an interview. I desperately await for Thursdays so I can read her in GOOP, follow all her advice and sign up for all her recommendations. I even answered a survey! Everything to support her. 
She had a "friendship divorce," while I was having my own friendship divorce. She likes Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food, and it happens to be one of my favorite cookbooks. She has 2 kids: an older girl and a boy. So do I! She likes to cook, I do too. I pre-ordered her cookbook and read it from cover to cover, and made many of the recipes (not to be partial, but all were amazing, even to my husband's disbelief). She's into natural, healthier eating. So am I. She's fabulous, beautiful, talented, spiritual, tall, has great taste. Coincidence? We're like twins! (OK, if you've never read me before: I'm being sarcastic and a bit delusional).
She's my role model (she better never get divorced, do drugs or abuse her kids) and my dream would come true if I ever met her and got her to try my chocolate chip-mesquite-green tea cookies.
And since I'm talking about my favorite things, besides Gerta, my brand new ice cream maker, I have a few other faves in the kitchen and I'd love to encourage my (2) readers to try them:
  • Kitchen scale-My students never believe me when I introduce the scale as the fastest, most efficient, least messy and most exact baking tool. There's this belief that a kitchen scale is a sophisticated, professionals-only piece of equipment. But trust me: since it can be tared every time a new ingredient will be added, it turns lots of recipes into a one-bowl task and it makes sure the recipes work every time, as it eliminates measuring discrepancies caused by human error. I own the Escali Primo (don't worry, my amazon.com % doesn't seem to be working, so I'm not even making $0.005 out of recommending this, and for $25.00 it's a great value), and if I can operate it, so can you!

  • Coconut milk, used as cream (canned, or home-made)- I haven't been too shy about explaining how much I admire coconut's versatility, especially as an all-natural dairy substitute. A couple of months ago I heard from Fran Costigan that if you refrigerate a can of coconut milk (doesn't work with the "light" version) overnight, the milk separates into 2 faces: a solid one with most of the fat and a liquid part. It's true! If you separate the creamy one and whip it, it can be used as whipped cream. I sometimes add a couple drops of lime juice to cut into its richness and soften the coconut taste of it and sweeten it slightly with a teaspoon of honey, maple or coconut syrup (sugar can be used too).

  • Mesquite Flour (or powder)- Made by drying and grinding the pods of the mesquite tree, this meal is low glycemic and gluten free. It's rich in fiber, high in protein and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron and zinc, and it's been suggested that can help regulate blood sugar levels. But my favorite quality? It's flavor. It imparts an elegant, warm, subtle taste and aroma with cinnamon, chocolate and caramel notes. More precisely: it tastes like a hug. An expensive hug that is, but once you try it, you can't go back!

  • Date paste-OK, we've gone+ through that one already!
My other favorite: My own mesquite-chocolate chip-green tea cookies. I'll share that recipe later, but since Gerta and I are now BFFs, she has to participate in this post.


MESQUITE-CHOCOLATE CHIP ICE CREAM
Since acquiring Gerta, all I can do is think of how to turn the World into ice cream. So I was inspired by my own cookie recipe to create a mesquite frozen dessert. It doesn't have ANY sugar added, but just a tiny bit of pure maple syrup and some kept-in-my-freezer-home-made date paste. I served it last night topped by my home-made chocolate shell (Just melt 4.5 ounces of bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate with 0.75 ounces of virgin coconut oil over a double boiler. Serve over ice cream and it will solidify immediately when the chocolate sauce touches the cold dessert), and no one could stop eating...
  • Vegan; gluten, nut, dairy, egg and soy free
  • Super ingredients: mesquite flour, green tea, coconut milk


INGREDIENTS


  • 1 (13.6 fl. oz) can coconut milk (I like Thai Kitchen Organic, which doesn't have preservatives, don't use "lite")
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) unsweetened plain rice milk
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) arrowroot starch
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoons (6 ounces) date paste
  • 2 Tablespoons (1 ounce) pure maple syrup 
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 bag green tea
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (3 ounces) chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life)
METHOD
Refrigerate coconut milk can overnight.


Separate coconut "cream" and place in a medium saucepan. Reserve coconut liquid for another use (just do not keep in the can!).*


In a small bowl, mix with a fork or whisk 1/4 cup rice milk with arrowroot. Set aside.


Add the remaining rice milk, date paste, maple, bag of green tea, vanilla and salt into the saucepan with the coconut cream.
Over medium heat and stirring occasionally with a whisk, bring to a simmer.


Pour in arrowroot-rice milk slurry in and keep whisking.
Bring mixture just to a boil.


Strain immediately into a large bowl and cool completely (could be covered and refrigerated overnight at this point).


Pour ice cream base into ice cream machine and follow the manufacturer's instructions.


Add chocolate chips into machine once ice cream starts hardening a bit.


Serve, pour some chocolate shell on top and enjoy!


*Great in smoothies or to finish soups or sauces