Peppery Roasted Almonds

  Internet is alive with a blog post and website extolling the virtues of eating almonds. If you could believe everything that you read, almonds can do everything from curing cancer to reversing heart disease. 

The almond is a nutritionally dense food and a good source of riboflavin and niacin, vitamin E, and the essential minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folate; choline; and the essential mineral potassium. They are also rich in dietary fiber, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats, fats which potentially may lower LDL cholesterol.

I generally like healthy foods, but raw almonds are too bland and flavorless.

This is a simple recipe to spice it up a bit. Feel free to substitute your favorite spices for the pepper. 

 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups raw almonds with their skins

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl until the almonds are well coated. Roast in a single layer on a cookie sheet at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes, shaking the pan once during roasting.

Cool completely before eating. Store in a sealed container for up to two weeks.  

Erika’s Chocolate Chocolate Shortbread Pecan Pie

2-DSC_6408I love pecan pie. I hate corn syrup.  Most pecan pie recipes use the loathsome ingredient, an unholy union for sure, and that is a situation that we can no longer in good conscience tolerate.

What is corn syrup?  It’s a tacky, syrupy substance made from corn starch and contains maltose and  higher oligosaccharides, depending on the grade.  Maltose (malt sugar), also found in beer, is the sugar that converts to fat more easily than any other sugar.  In technical terms, corn syrup is super yucky.

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Now a word about pie crust.  Pies are delicious, so much better than cakes.  But pie crust, well, it’s more boring than delicious. We have relegated it to vehicle status, the humble servant that offers up the pie filling.  We can do better.  And by better, I mean shortbread — buttery, sweet and full of vanilla flavor.  After all, if we are going to indulge, shouldn’t the flavor be worth it?

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say that the world needs a corn syrup-free pecan pie.  And of course the world needs more chocolate.  The logical conclusion that you can (and should) draw, is that I am helping the needy. Je vous présente Erika’s Chocolate Chocolate Shortbread Pecan Pie.

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Ingredients

Shortbread Crust

1 c Flour
Dash Salt
1/2 c butter, softened
1 and 1/2 c confectioner’s sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Pecan Pie Filling

3 T butter
2 c chocolate, chopped and divided (you can use semisweet or milk chocolate, if you live with sissies)
1/3 c sugar
1 c light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1/2 c organic raw sugar
2 c chopped pecans, divided
1/2 c melted butter
2 T milk
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 T flour

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Make the shortbread crust:

Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolk, vanilla, salt and flour and mix until it forms a ball. Roll the shortbread out between sheets of waxed paper and then transfer to a deep dish pie plate. Flute or press edges and place uncooked pie shell in the refrigerator to chill while finishing the filling.

Make the filling:

In a small saucepan, melt together 1 cup of the chopped chocolate, 3 T butter and 1/3 c. sugar over low heat until thoroughly melted. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together brown sugar, eggs, 1/2 c organic sugar until well blended. Add 1/2 c melted butter, 1 c. chopped pecans, milk, vanilla, and flour. Mix until blended and then add chocolate mixture.

Sprinkle remaining pecans and chocolate chunks into the bottom of shortbread crust. Pour filling mixture over it.

Place on center rack in oven and bake for 55-65 minutes.

 

Spumoni Drop Cookies

1-DSC_0881Spumoni (from spuma, meaning foam), is an Italian flavor of ice cream containing chocolate, fruits (usually cherries) and nuts (typically pistachio).  Like Neapolitan ice cream, it is created in layers, and it is very popular in countries with large Italian populations such as the US and Argentina.  (I am a US citizen of Argentine descent, so naturally I love spumoni!)  National Spumoni Day is August 21st in the US.  I love spumoni ice cream, and what’s not to love?  Chocolate, pistachios and cherries…naturally this combination also belongs in a chewy, delicious cookie.

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Spumoni Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 packages instant pistachio pudding mix (I think they are 3.4 oz each)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (12 ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips  (you can use milk chocolate chips in the alternative)
1/2 generous cup chopped maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift flour and baking soda; set aside.

Cream butter and sugars in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the instant pudding and mix well. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture. Fold in chips, cherries, and pistachios. Drop by large spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven until light brown, about 10 minutes.  Take them out when they are a still a bit blonde and let them firm on the pan a few seconds before transferring to baking racks to cool.

 

Honey Orange Cake with Honey Cream Mascarpone Frosting with Orange Essence

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Honey is a magical, sweet and healthy food made by bees using the nectar of flowers.   Humans have been collecting honey for at least 8,000 years, as depicted in ancient cave drawings in Valencia, Spain.  The ancient Egyptians, Eurasians, Indians, Chinese, Romans and Mayans all cooked with honey.  The Hindus believed it to be one of the five elixirs of immortality.  For Jews, it symbolizes the new year.  It is mentioned multiple times in the Old and the New Testaments.  It plays a role in Buddhism.  The Qur’an has an entire chapter called the Bee, wherein the prophet Mohammed recommended honey for healing purposes.

2-DSC_0747Most importantly, it is delicious.  Really, truly delicious.

I developed this cake recipe because I had a large jar of raw honey that had begun to crystallize and I wanted to use it it.  I recommend that you purchase and use local, raw honey in your home.

This cake is very sweet with a lot of orange flavor and a subtle hint of spice from the cinnamon.  I topped it with a mascarpone cream icing that is infused with orange essence and more honey (of course) that I put together on the fly.  There is a rough approximation of the frosting that I used at the end of the cake recipe.  It may need a tiny bit of tweaking because I did not really measure…

If you are not familiar with mascarpone, it is a delicious and mild Italian soft cheese, somewhat akin to American cream cheese.  It acts like Viagra for whipped cream in that it will help it to maintain stiffness when time or other conditions will cause ordinary whipped cream to deflate.  If you haven’t got mascarpone, you can use cream cheese in a pinch. However, the flavor is not identical.  Cream cheese has more tang and lacks the subtle, nuanced sweetness of mascarpone.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup raw, locally produced honey
  • 1/2 cup avocado oil
  • 4 organic eggs
  • The grated zest of two oranges
  • 1 cup of fresh squeezed, organic orange juice
  • 2 and 1/2 cups organic flour
  • 3 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour a 9 x 13 baking pan, or spray it liberally with coconut oil cooking spray.

Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon together.

In a large bowl, mix sugar, honey, oil, eggs and orange zest.  Add the flour mixture alternating with the orange juice until just mixed.  Don’t beat it to death.  Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes.

Honey Cream Mascarpone Frosting with Orange Essence

In a KitchenAid mixer, beat together 2 cups organic heavy whipping cream, 8 oz mascarpone, 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 teaspoon pure orange extract until stiff peaks form.  Frost the cake generously and then refrigerate.

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Divine, Sublime Chicken with Lemon, Cream and Sage

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I was going to try to regale you with the history of milk consumption that coincides with the Neolithic Period, but that would just be an obnoxious show, detracting from the truth of this blog:  this recipe is unbelievably, off the hook, incredibly delicious.  Ridiculous.  The best chicken recipe I’ve ever tasted.  It is an intoxicatingly fragrant concoction of lemon, sage and cream with a seductive hint of cinnamon and a decadent, velvety cream sauce.  It is based on celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk, but as usual, I made modifications.  (I think I modify every recipe because I cannot stand anyone telling me what to do, even a recipe.)  I tweaked the cooking method and time a little bit to produce a moister, more cooked and more tender bird.  I also reduced garlic and added some heat.  Life is better a little spicier, and I am a Spice Girl!  Make this recipe and enjoy a celebration in your mouth that you will not soon forget.

One 4-lb. organic chicken that has not been injected full of saline.
Freshly ground, Himalayan pink salt
Freshly milled black pepper
Olive oil
½ stick cinnamon
1 handful fresh sage.  You can use about 1-2 T dried, rubbed sage, if you must, but fresher is better
Zest of 3 lemons
About 1/2 tsp fresh crushed red pepper
6 cloves garlic, skin left on
2 cups organic whole milk
1/2 cup organic heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375°F. Season chicken with salt and pepper and brown it in a cast iron Dutch oven in a bit of olive oil until it is golden brown. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken.  Cookin the preheated oven for 1½ hours, basting with pan juices from time-to-time. After 90 minutes, increase heat to 425°F and cover the chicken.  Cook for 20 minutes more.  Serve hot with a generous amount of the cream sauce spooned over it.

Chocolate Walnut Bars with Sultry Caramel Sauce

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The word caramel was first recorded in English in 1725. It came via French from the Spanish “caramelo.”  Whatever its origin, caramel is decadently rich, sweet and sultry with its buttery finish and soothing texture.  I wrote this recipe on a chilly, windy, midwestern day with damp air and blowing leaves, the kind of day that makes you happy to be indoors with a warm and fragrant kitchen and a personable dog near by.  It is fabulously sugary and fatty and spares no calories.

1-DSC_0592Chocolate Walnut Bars

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup chopped walnuts, divided into two 1/2 cup portions
2 cups unbleached, organic flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large organic eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups high quality, dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Caramel Sauce

1 and 1/2 cups organic sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and spray foil with a coconut cooking spray or butter.  In your food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of walnuts until coarsely ground then whisk them together with flour, baking powder and baking soda.

Beat the butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl.  Add vanilla.  Gradually beat in the dry ingredients and then the chocolate and then the remaining 1/2 cup of walnuts.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and bake until just done, about 30 minutes.  Place pan on a rack to cool.

While the bars are cooling, make your caramel sauce.  Place sugar and water into a heavy saucepan and heat until boiling over medium heat, swirling constantly.  Once the syrup is just boiling, reduce the heat enough to keep it boiling but not so hot to burn the sugar.  Continue to swirl and heat the syrup until it turns a rich brown color.  Be very careful because it is easy to burn caramelized sugar.  Once the color is sufficiently rich and brown, turn off the heat.  Carefully add the heavy cream, butter and vanilla.  It will bubble up furiously at first.  Turn heat back to low and stir and heat the caramel mixture until all of the caramelized sugar has dissolved and the sauce is finished.  Allow sauce to cool.  It will thicken as it cools.

Serve Chocolate Walnut bars warm with warm Caramel Sauce spooned over them.

Grain Free Cheese Bread

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I have the unlucky genetics to be a borderline diabetic. Fortunately, I have never been obese and I am able to control my blood sugar completely through diet and exercise, which has added benefits to my blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress level.

One of the biggest challenges of eating to keep my blood sugar on an even keel is the total elimination of grains and simple carbohydrates from my diet.  For breads and baking, almond flour and coconut flour have been my saving graces.  Almond flour, though delicious and easy to use, has a tendency to cause me stomach upset.

Almond flour has other drawbacks as well.  A single cup of almond flour contains approximately 90 almonds.  Eating almond flour “tricks” your body into consuming many more calories through almonds than you would normally eat if you were consuming whole almonds.  Gustatory learning is an important evolutionary mechanism and generally, interfering with it just seems like a bad idea.

Almonds are also very high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).  While not inherently bad, when consumed in high quantities, they can have effects, including the following:

  • Suppression of mitochondrial energy production (slowing metabolism);
  • Increase in inflammatory response in the body;
  • Impairment of the action of certain digestive enzymes;
  • Slowing of thyroid function;
  • Inhibition of detoxification enzymes;
  • Depletion of antioxidants in the body;
  • Inhibition of production of progesterone and androgens while activating production of estrogen, which may contribute to weight gain, PMS, hormonal acne and more.

Coconut flour is the byproduct of coconut milk, the leftover coconut “meat,” dried and ground into flour.  It is gluten free, grain free and nut free.  It is high in fiber and relatively high in protein.  It also has a very dense and silky texture and a very small amount goes a long way in a recipe.

The problem I have found with coconut flour is that often it produces baked goods that are too dry and too crumbly.

This recipe makes a small, single loaf. It forges a delicious partnership for breakfast and is both flavorful and filling.  I developed this recipe to try to address texture. This is lighter and more moist than other coconut flour breads I have tried.

DSC_0115Coconut Flour Cheddar Bread

3/4 cup coconut flour

6 eggs

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder

1/3 cup sour cream

3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350°.  In a medium sized bowl, mix eggs, butter and sea salt until well blended.  Combine sifted coconut flour and baking powder and whisk them into the batter until lump-free.  Mix in sour cream until blended.  Add 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese.  Spoon the batter into a very well greased loaf pan.  Top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.  Bake for about 40 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on a rack.  Serve warm, generously buttered.

 

Blueberry Cheesecake French Toast

The first known written reference to French toast is in the Latin recipe collection known as th Apicius, dating back to the 4th or 5th century.  That recipe involved bread soaked in milk, but no egg, and is simply called aliter dulcia, meaning   “another sweet dish.”  Since then, it has gone by many names, including “Arme Ritter”  (German for “poor knights”), “tostées dorées” (“golden toast”),  “pain perdu,” “Pavese,” and “pain doré.”  Versions of French toast were made throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, sometimes as an accompaniment to game birds.

I am not exaggerating when I say that in my opinion, cheesecake is one of the greatest inventions of humankind, which is why using cheesecake influence to use up stale bread inspired me to create this particular recipe.  It can be made with either fresh blueberries or with a blueberry compote and is equally delicious either way.

Blueberry Cheesecake French Toast

Ingredients

1 loaf day old bread (you will need approximately 8 slices of sandwich-sized bread)
1 cup cream cheese, softened
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen or 2 cups blueberry compote (recipe at end)
1 egg
1 cup half and half
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Butter (be generous here)

Directions

Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until sugar granules dissolve. Spread cream cheese on half the bread slices.  If using fresh blueberries, sprinkle blueberries on top of cream cheese and then sandwich with the remaining bread slices.

Whisk the egg, milk, cream and cinnamon.

Heat a non-stick fry pan over low-medium heat and add a generous pat of butter. Dip sandwiches into the egg mixture for about 20-30 seconds on each side and then fry, being careful not to let the butter burn.  Cook  for 4-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Serve topped with maple syrup or blueberry compote.  A quick blueberry compote can be made by simmering 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries with 3 tablespoons of water, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of sugar over medium heat until syrupy.

Almond Flour Sandwich Bread

1-DSC_0022Almonds hail from the Mediterranean area of the Middle East and as far east as Indus.  Throughout history, as far back as 1600 BC, they have been culturally significant, from the Biblical reference to Aaron’s rod, which blossomed and bore almonds, to the 100 AD Roman custom of showering newlyweds with almonds as a fertility charm.  In the mid 1700s, the Franciscan Padres brought the first almond tree to California from Spain.  However, it wasn’t until a century later that trees were successfully planted and cultivated inland.  Today, almonds are the largest nut crop in California.

Almonds have significant health benefits.  They lower cholesterol, reduce LDL, raise HDL and are loaded with good fats, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium.  Almonds appear to not only decrease after-meal rises in blood sugar, but also provide antioxidants to mop up the smaller amounts of free radicals that still result. (Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Journal of Nutrition)  One study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders  suggests that an almond-enriched low calorie diet that is high in monounsaturated fats can help weight loss more than a low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates.  Almonds provide an excellent source of manganese and a good source of copper, trace minerals that are essential cofactors of a key oxidative enzyme called superoxide dismutase. Superoxide dismutase disables free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production centers in cells), thereby having a positive impact on energy.  They are also loaded with protein and help prevent gallstones.

I developed this bread recipe on my own after trying several almond flour recipes at various cooking sites on line.  This is gluten free, grain free and sugar free.    It is also delicious and makes a very worthy substitute for sandwich bread or toast.

Almond Flour Sandwich Bread

Ingredients:

3.5 cups almond flour

1/2 cup organic flax meal

10 eggs

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

6 tablespoons butter, softened (olive oil or coconut oil are also outstanding substitutes)

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1.5 teaspoons baking soda

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk together all dry ingredients.  Whisk together all wet ingredients.  Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until blended.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Five Minute Brioche Rolls

This is from Lea & Jay, which is a super blog with wonderful recipes and photos of food and travel.

Lea & Jay

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Well, it’s August now, which must mean Summer is going to be winding down soon (please Jesus!). Though I bet there are a fair share of you who are still getting some visitors turning up on their door. It doesn’t really happen too terribly often to us here in swampy, mosquito infested Virginia. But I bet those of you with more desirable locales are enjoying the company of some visiting friends and family. And if folks don’t appear this summer, the holidays aren’t too far around the corner. This recipe for Five Minute Brioche rolls is a godsend when you have folks staying with you for a few days. They will think you truly are some sort of domestic goddess as you appear from the kitchen daily, with not even one hair out-of-place, bearing a different type of freshly baked, delicious roll. Say… Pain au Chocolat rolls for breakfast, a…

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