Archive for January, 2010

Coconut Milk Panna Cotta

Those Neglected Bananas
   Those four-week-old over-ripe bananas finally were rescued. I love bananas but Don does not. Consequently it took me awhile to get around to preparing a recipe that could not go into the freezer to be used up gradually.

Those Poor Neglected Bananas

Those Poor Neglected Bananas

   I had been dreaming about trying something like this but now it was time to buckle up and go for it. Unflavored gelatin, a can of coconut milk, Mexican vanilla, stevia, and those four bananas went through the blender. The creamy result was poured in a mold and put in the refrigerator to set up. The liquid tasted a bit astringent – bananas and coconut milk each have a bit of that quality. By the time we returned from the fitness center it had set up and was ready to unmold. The astringent quality had mellowed.
   By the next morning (Panna Cotta for breakfast is like having ice cream for breakfast – decadent but still healthy enough) the astringency had mellowed even more. But then I thought I noticed the bananas in the panna cotta were causing it to darken and change color as if the bananas were continuing to ripen even more!
   Never-the-less it is still retains a good flavor – but I’m thinking along these lines:
1) Plan ahead – if it is made with bananas then you really need at least six or more people on hand to share it with.
2) Or, make it with apples – sautéed with a bit of coconut oil, sweetener, and cinnamon so that there is about 1 1/3 (a bit more or less) cups of apple to pulse in the blender. I’m going to try it this coming weekend when we have another cold front coming through (the kitchen will be a warm, cinnamon-scented refuge). My beloved husband loves apples so I can depend on him help me evaluate an apple version.

Banana Coconut Panna Cotta

Banana Coconut Panna Cotta

Ingredients:
4 very ripe bananas, peeled (or about 1 1/3 cups prepared fruit of your choice)
2 packets gelatin (I have agar but haven’t played with it yet to make it totally vegan)
1/4 cup water
1 can coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Do this first:
Assemble and plug in the blender. Place the prepared fruit into the container. If you plan to use a mold you need one that will hold 3 cups of liquid and give it a very thin coat of Pam or coconut oil to help the panna cotta to unmold. You will still need to dip the mold in hot water for it to release neatly onto your serving plate.

Prepare the gelatin mixture:
Add the water to a small stainless steel saucepan. Sprinkle on the gelatin and add in the vanilla. Allow the gelatin to absorb the liquids and swell up. Then place the pan on the stove and turn the heat on very low. Slowly melt the gelatin. Pick up the pan occasionally and tilt to move the grainy bits around so they will melt more evenly. When all of the mixture is nearly melted use a metal spoon to gently pull any remaining unmelted grains out from the edges into the center of the pan (this IS tedious but essential). The gelatin must be completely melted before it will blend with the remaining ingredients. Unmelted gelatin will not congeal and the panna cotta will not ‘set’.

When the gelatin is entirely melted then quickly pour in the entire can of coconut milk, set down the can and stir the mixture to distribute the gelatin throughout the coconut milk. Scrap any remaining milk and solids from the can into the pan. Turn off the heat but leave it set for a few minutes.

Turn on the blender and pulse gently to puree the fruit. It doesn’t take but a few moments. Too much will oxidize the fruit, turn it brown, and degrade the flavor. Pour the warm mixture from the pan into the blender jar with the fruit. There should be about 3 cups of liquid altogether. Blend the mixture for about 30 seconds before pouring into a bowl or prepared mold. Chill for several hours until it is completely set.

Mom

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Monday in the Kitchen

Carrots
   Who remembers anymore what carrots look like fresh out of the garden? It came as somewhat of a startle when a large sack of carrots- roots, frost bit tops, mud, gnats and all showed up in the food pantry last Friday afternoon. The carrots themselves were fat and beautiful but I knew we would have to work fast to get them distributed. We divided out two pound bags and started giving them out with food orders. There was not the usual flood of clients that day (a rare occurrence) so we gave them out to all comers who stopped by the window. At the end of the shift Ann and Megan had already left and I didn’t have time to write up a note and put that one last lonely bag in the fridge. So I brought it home to reacquaint myself with basic veggie preparation.

   Into the sink with all of them, spray hard to soften and rinse off most of the mud, and untangle the tops (they were a large, green&brown, unruly fright wig mass) – they filled up the sink. Then I cut off the roots and carefully picked out the good green tops and threw away the brown ones. The roots were scrubbed with a brush to remove the last bits of mud from the crevasses, the greens were rinsed again and all of it set aside to drain. The top part of the carrot where the greens join the root was too hard to clean so that bit was trashed as well.

Tops to the Trash

Tops to the Trash

   Why bother with saving the greens? As I learned after my previous post on Carrots the green tops are not only edible but they are fabulously nutritious and all of that is usually thrown away by the time carrots arrive in the produce section of your grocery store as I was notified by the World Carrot Museum.

All Cleaned Up and Ready to Cook

All Cleaned Up and Ready to Cook

Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf
I hadn’t cooked quinoa in quite a while – too busy with baking experiments and other activities. But when I came across this recipe at Karina’s Gluten-Free Goddess blog for Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf something clicked into place. Mushrooms and green peppers in the fridge?, check, garlic?, check, parsley?, no but I have used carrot tops as a substitute before – so I really, really had to make this dish!

Time Out for Lunch!

Time Out for Lunch!

All About Stevia
   Ricki’s blog, Diet, Dessert, and Dogs is one of my favorite reads. Today she had a very interesting discussion going, All About Stevia. This product is something I have been playing with since Rita bought me a bottle of Sprout’s brand of liquid stevia over the holidays. So far I really like it as a sweetener in my lattes, both café latte and chai latte. The recent recipe for Banana Coconut Muffins has been well received by my taste test crew – with no added sugar, the sweetness all comes from a banana and that liquid stevia. And finally I have really gotten into Ricki’s super healthy creation Chia “Tapioca” Pudding. I’ve been having it most mornings for a couple of weeks.

Chia Seeds
   Chia has a fascinating nutritional profile and is now starring as one of the newest ‘super foods’. Soaked chia seeds are gelatinous in texture and a spoonful of chia seed mixed into liquid will set up as a soft pudding. I use 1/2 cup of warm almond milk adding one tablespoon of chia, eight drops of stevia, and four drops of vanilla. When set aside for several hours it becomes very much like a tapioca pudding because of the swollen seeds. They are seeds and may not be suitable for consumption by anyone that has texture issues! Chia is available pre-ground and if you plan to use ground chia I say buy it that way – I keep both on hand. My attempt to grind them with a mortar and pestle would make a good you-tube comedy – not one of the seeds were ground; instead they popped out all over the counter like a flea circus. The whole dry seeds are extremely hard and also have a static charge – not easy to chase and gather them back up.
   Ground chia is one of several substitution possibilities for replacing egg in baked goods for vegans or for those folks with egg allergy. Sprouted chia seeds can be used in salads and for sandwiches as well as on your Chia Pet.

Neglected Bananas
    Four weeks ago I bought bananas to ripen for banana muffins and possibly banana bread. Two batches of those Coconut Banana Muffins later and there were still four v-e-r-y ripe bananas hanging out in the guest room. So this afternoon I conjured up a new recipe that I had been thinking about, put it together, and I’ll post about it tomorrow. It’s been quite a long day in the kitchen.

Mom

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Kitchen Sink Colander

   We had Arroz Clásico as side with dinner tonight. Heading off to do errands I decided to leave myself a ‘breadcrumb’ to remind me that I was helping with dinner tonight so I placed the container of rice on the kitchen counter. When I returned from errands we went to the fitness center. Returning home I told Don that I was going to get the rice started so it would be thoroughly cooked and tender. He mentioned that he had noticed the container that I had placed on the counter. And then he added that since we had planned and discussed Arroz Clásico he felt that the macaroni container was in error and had replaced it with the rice container. It is so reassuring that when you get flakey there is someone to cover your back!

   While I was peeling, trimming and slicing the onion with tears running down my checks and sniffling away I remembered my Dad called these ‘mean’ onions. Then my attention wandered on over to the kitchen sink colander, a Christmas stocking stuffer that is becoming another favorite kitchen gadget.

Sink Colander
Sink Colander

      Colanders in the sink used to be standard equipment before the days of garbage disposals. All the peelings, cores, and trimmings went in the colander to drain before being trashed or composted. We had a septic tank at our place the country and didn’t have a disposal. When we moved we chose not to use the one already in this house. I run the disposal to clean it out occasionally but had started using a lot of paper towels to bundle the stuff that goes in the trash. That is not really green or earth friendly, is it? I like the way this colander hooks over the center of the sink and is right under the water spigot if needed. So now we are saving on paper towels. When I get my act together there will be even less paper.
  
   Another thing that was really great about this product – it was part of a school fundraiser for one of the grandchildren. No high calorie, high fat candy bars or cookie dough – this is something useful and reusable.

Mom

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Cabbage Casserole

   When Don used to travel for work and I was at home at the house in the woods with only the cats for company, cooking everyday for myself was not a priority. There were too many other projects going on around the place. This was my home-crafted bookcase period (eventually seven of them), learning to crochet afghans and throw rugs, and attempting to landscape in caliche soil with alkaline well water compounded by the persistent Central Texas wildlife and blistering heat.
   Cooking this hearty casserole that lasted several days freed up more time for those other endeavors. This was (and still is) one of my favorite combinations. It is easy to adjust the seasonings to your own preferences or seasonal vegetables. This can be cooked in a crockpot, in the oven, or on the stovetop and for me that usually depends on the weather. If it is winter the oven or stovetop adds more warmth to the house. In summer the crockpot helps to avoid that.
   This week’s batch omitted the rice (the post-holiday low-carb version) and with no rice to be cooked the casserole only needs reheating to serve.

Cabbage Casserole

Cabbage Casserole

Cabbage Layer –
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds cabbage, thinly sliced (at least 6 cups)
(Sometimes I add grated carrots or other veggies languishing in the fridge)
Sea salt and pepper
1 teaspoon thyme (from a jar)

Meat Layer –
1 pound extra lean ground meat – we used turkey
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Sauce –
1 can diced tomatoes
3 ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon basil
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 packet or cube of instant bouillon (whatever flavor you prefer)
8 ounces water (if you use rice)

Rice (optional) –
1/2 cup converted rice, dry

Cabbage Prep:
Place all ingredients in a very large skillet or pot and sauté until the cabbage is bright green and onions are transparent.
Meat Layer Prep:
Cook all ingredients until all traces of pink are gone and set aside. Grocery stores now carry pre-seasoned ground meat and sometimes I just cook up a package of the lean ground turkey with Italian seasoning (ever lazier – that’s me).
Sauce Prep:
Puree the tomatoes in a blender. Add the other ingredients and blend.

Assembly and cooking:
Layer these ingredients into a casserole starting with 1/3 of the cabbage, followed by 1/2 of the meat, 1/2 of the rice, cabbage, meat, rice, and finishing with the cabbage. Pour the sauce over all and work it into the casserole layers with a spoon. Bake it at 350*F for 45 – 60 minutes – checking to be sure the rice is done.

This batch provided enough for two hearty dinners for both Don and me – we don’t call it leftovers we call it planning ahead!

Mom

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Ken’s Salad Dressings

   In the post-holiday, workout, trim-back-down season it gets crowded up at the fitness center. We’ve been going a little later in the evening when it is easier to make use of the equipment without a lengthy wait. Part of the strategy also is to cut back on calories and for me that means load up on the salads and fresh veggies – not much baking going on right now.

   Theoretically I know that it doesn’t take that much effort to whip up a homemade salad dressing and wow, they are so much tastier than bottled dressing from the grocery store. But I don’t have the dedication to do that every time so there is always the gluten-free dressing in the fridge or pantry for a fall-back option to keep the diet on track. Ken’s Salad Dressings has many options ranging from fat-free, light, regular, gourmet and a few other choices. I am a big fan of Balsamic Vinaigrette and Chunky Blue Cheese – not your low-cal versions by any means but if it tastes really good it helps me to stay on track.

Easy Spinach Florentine
In the cold weather something hot is good too and I pull together this tasty, low-cal dish in a jiffy with these ingredients:

1 cup cooked greens, from a can or microwaved from frozen (your favorite greens)
Garlic powder
Sea salt
1 generous tablespoon of Ken’s Chunky Blue Cheese

Ken's Chunky Blue Cheese Salad Dressing

Ken's Chunky Blue Cheese Salad Dressing

Put the ingredients in a microwave safe dish and microwave for 30-40 seconds. Dig in. It is healthy, low in carbs and calories, high in vitamins and a bunch of other stuff that is really good for you. Do something good for yourself and it gives you a lift!

Mom

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Coconut Banana Muffins

   The treasured souvenir that I brought back from our Mexico cruise after Thanksgiving was some of that fabled Mexican vanilla – a few bottles to share and one for me. It has been such a treat that my supply is rapidly dwindling. I searched the internet for a more local supply and this is what I found. Molino Real Vanilla 

Molino Real Vanilla

Molino Real Vanilla

 

   These petite muffins are densely nutritious and very filling. They make a wonderful first breakfast with a cup of coffee or tea and/or a delightful little afternoon snack. The Mexican vanilla described above, along with the coconut flour, gives them a delightful fragrance. I shared these with friends at The Caring Place for expert opinion as they are not very sweet. Clara, who has gluten issues, gave it two thumbs up. Ann, who does not have gluten issues and has much baking experience, also gave the recipe a high rating. I love it when friends from both sides of the gluten equasion equally enjoy a recipe. I used dried cranberries which added a bright touch of color to a light colored muffin. 

Out of the Oven

Out of the Oven

 

Adapted from Salba Banana Coconut Muffins (GF)  at the Salba.com

Coconut Banana Muffins
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 room-temperature eggs
1/3 cup mashed banana (1 small, ripe banana)
1 teaspoon alcohol-free vanilla flavor or vanilla extract
12 drops of liquid stevia or 2 small packets granular stevia 

1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tablespoon shredded coconut, unsweetened (desiccated)
2 tablespoons whole or ground chia seed
2 tablespoons raisins, cranberries, blueberries or finely chopped nuts or cocoa nibs 

Preheat oven to 400ºF.
   Sift and whisk together the baking powder, salt, cinnamon and coconut flour (it keeps better in the freezer but it does get clumpy) in a medium mixing bowl. Add the chia seed, coconut, and optional ingredients and whisk again to blend the dry ingredients.
   Whisk together oil, eggs, banana, and vanilla in a small bowl. Pour into the dry ingredients and whisk until well mixed. Measure spoonfuls of batter into silicon muffin cups or a muffin pan greased with coconut oil. I used a large size kitchen scoop (50 ml – 10 teaspoons) and filled the silicon muffin cups to the inside line which produced seven muffins.
   Bake 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes and then pop out of the pan or liners. Serve immediately or wrap individually for later use. The flavor seems to improve/mellow after wrapping and cooling and the fragrance comes through the wrapping!
   Even with the banana and cranberries these muffins have only about 11 grams of carbs with 4 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and a  very low GI index which makes them ideal for these post-holiday low-carb high-protein diets. 

Mom

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Sunsweet Ones – Individually Wrapped Dried Plums

   These Sunsweet ONES are one of my ‘emergency food’ selections. Heading out the door for a round of errands I grab my bottle of water and throw a few of these in my pocket or purse. They are a sweet treat in a naturally healthy package of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and anti-oxidants. Each one is about 25 calories so you can choose to have one or a handful. They do not melt or ooze a sticky mess in the bottom of your pocket or purse. These ‘ONES’ became a favorite after several individually wrapped chocolate mints melted into the bottom of my good summer bag. ‘Emergency food’ saves time, is gluten-free, healthy, and usually more economical than grabbing something at a convenience store when you are having one-of-those-days.

Mom

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