Monday, February 15, 2010

dried fruit compote with vegetarian panna cotta

My friend Naomi and I were discussing how difficult it is to find preservative free dried plums (also known as prunes). Typical dried plums in the grocery store are made with potassium sorbate. According to my Food Additives Dictionary potassium sorbate is a "white crystalline powder used as a preservative; a mold and yeast inhibitor; and a fungistat...low oral toxicity but may cause irritation of the skin...PAFA is currently searching the toxicology literature concerning this additive." Many people who are sensitive to preservatives and additives try to avoid these ingredients, especially as they can cause allergic reactions such as nausea, diarrhea, and possible rash. For a complete list of additives to avoid check out the excellent Fed Up With Food Additives Site run by Sue Dengate.

Prunes are simply another name for dried plums. They are high in beta-carotene, an important anti-oxidant, potassium, and fiber. Prunes also help increase how well your body can absorb iron. Sweet and easy to prepare they are good to eat either plain, cooked, stewed, and can be baked into a variety of dishes as well.

Naomi lives in California and is fortunate enough to have a plum tree. She harvested her plums and dried them herself. Unfortunately she left the pits in them which makes them more difficult to eat and use. Thinking about this reminded me of a dish that I make, usually in the winter, as a treat; dried fruit compote served over panna cotta. Taking dried fruits and turning them into a compote is a delicious way to rehydrate and use them. Although typically made with pitted fruits I would think that the rehydration process would make it okay to use these pitted prunes and remove the pits while you eat it.

The compote is so good it can actually be served by itself put the panna cotta makes it a special dessert. I am fond of this Vegetarian Panna Cotta recipe from
Enlightened Cooking but feel free to use your favorite in it's place.

Dried Fruit Compote, serves 4

Take 1 C. each dried prunes, apricots and raisins (I prefer Thompsons)*
apple juice to cover fruit
zest of 1/2 orange
1/4 c. evaporated cane juice sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/4 t. fresh nutmeg

Put fruit and apple juice into a sauce pan
bring to a boil
cover and reduce to a simmer
add sugar and flavorings
simmer another 20-30 minutes (compote will thicken as fruit softens), stirring occasionally
remove rind, cinnamon and cloves
set aside to cool completely before serving

* Apricots and Thompson's raisins are easy to find without preservatives both in the grocery stores (usually marked either "organic" or "unsulfured")

As a side note it turns out that Trader Joe's and Earthbound Farms both have preservative free dried plums. My friend Jodi shared that they can also be ordered online from
Nuts Online and Amazon.

Photo courtesy of Glysiak | Wikimedia Commons

Friday, February 12, 2010

luscious limas

Recently we had a our friend Eric over for dinner. As part of the meal we served this lima bean dish which is one that everyone likes. Eric not only had seconds, he asked for the recipe. I figure anytime you have a teenaged boy willingly eating lima beans and asking for more you've got a recipe that is a definite keeper.

A great source of fiber, lima beans are also a fabulous source of iron with just 1 C. providing almost 25% of your daily value; they also provide good levels of folate and potassium. Frequently paired with corn to make succotash or added to soups lima beans are tasty and work well as a a dressed up side dish.

Luscious Limas

1 med. red onion diced
2 ribs celery diced
2 C. lima beans
1/2 C. vegetable broth
olive oil
1 t. nutritional yeast
salt and pepper

saute the onion in the olive oil until just starting to soften
add the celery and saute 2 more minutes
add the lima beans and vegetable and cook on med-low until limas are cooked through
add extra broth if needed
sprinkle with nutritional yeast
add salt and pepper to taste


photo courtesy of: Albert Cahalan | Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

diana's delights

I brought a batch of cookies to my book club meeting last night and they were a big hit. Everyone enjoyed them and I came home with only my plate and a few crumbs.

The recipe is one that I created for my daughter, Diana, it is her favorite cookie. This is a recipe that I give out freely in my cooking classes and I thought I would share it here for those who read the blog. There are two changes in the recipe below from what I hand out in class. The original uses fresh ground wheat and I've changed it to King Arthur Whole Wheat for those who don't grind their own flour. I also substituted evaporated cane juice sugar for the sucanat. To learn more about grain substitutions you can read this post and my notes about sugar substitutions can be found here.

Diana's Delights

½ C. butter
1 C. evaporated cane juice crystals
1 egg
½ t. vanilla
1 C. + 2 T. sifted whole wheat flour
½ t. salt
½ t. baking soda
1 C. rolled oats
½ C. chocolate chips
½ C. shredded coconut

preheat oven to 375ยบ
cream butter and sucanat together
add egg and vanilla and mix well
add flour, salt and baking soda and mix well
add oats, chocolate chips and coconut and mix well

scoop 1 tsp balls of dough, roll into rounds and place on greased cookie sheet
bake 10 minutes
let cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet before moving to wire rack


servings vs. portions

I don't normally cross-post my columns here but have recently written two columns that I feel are very important for folks to understand when it comes to their health and controlling what's on their plate.

The first deals with serving sizes and the second addresses portion control. Most of us don't stop to think that the two are not equal but they aren't. In brief, serving sizes are the information on the side of the package (set by the USDA) that says how much of something we should eat; portions are what we actually serve ourselves (and usually it's more than we should).

To learn more read the articles and, as always, if you have any questions please feel free to leave comments or send an email.

Be well.

Monday, February 1, 2010

rescuing biscuits

"Even in failure there is success" or words to that effect.

I recently tried to create a biscuit recipe using 100% whole grain flour. To get to the rescuing part skip to the end; to learn how I got there, read on.

I'll start with a confession and tell you that I while I consider myself to be a fairly good baker and certainly do well with most baked goods there are two things that I'm still working hard at improving. One is pie crusts and the other is biscuits. They usually taste good and are certainly edible but don't always come out the way I envision them.

We recently had a curried sweet potato zucchini soup for dinner and I wanted to serve biscuits with it. Being the whole grain advocate that I am I, of course, wanted them to be 100% whole grain biscuits. One of the challenges of baking with whole grain flour is the way it changes the moisture content and also the loft, or rise, of whatever you are making. This can even be true in recipes where you make a simple switch from all-purpose to whole wheat flour. The additional fiber affects the dough.

As you can see from the picture, the biscuits did rise. But they didn't rise as much as I had imagined they would. Because of the amount of baking powder and baking soda I wasn't sure how much salt to use. They wound up not having enough so they were a bit bland. Although they were tasty enough with the soup, which was very flavorful and satisfying, they were not going to be tasty enough for jam biscuits to go with breakfast the next morning. As a matter of fact they hardened up just enough that I didn't think anyone would want to eat them.

This is where my curious nature sometimes comes into play. Faced with a half a batch of leftover biscuits (the recipe made a dozen) I wondered what you could do with leftover biscuits. My initial thought was to split them, lay them on the bottom of a casserole dish and then pour some sort of a hot fruit compote over them and see if that would work as a bottom crust. When I thought about it further I decided that might not be the best option because it would then probably result in a mushy mess at the bottom of the compote; I couldn't be sure that the biscuits would hold together enough.

Then inspiration struck (here's the rescuing part) since they weren't too salty I wondered if they could be turned into something sweet? I ground them up in my cuisinart. It turns out that 6 biscuits makes approximately 1 1/2 C. of biscuit crumbs. Combined with 6 T. of butter, 2 T. of sugar and a dash of cinnamon they create a nice graham cracker-type crust at the bottom of a pie dish. Topped with a sweet cheese filling (I used quark) and some sour cherries it made a tasty dessert.

While I certainly do not plan on making biscuits for the purpose of their crumbs I now know that at least they can be used to make a decent crust if needed.