Friday, January 18, 2013

100 Healthy Dessert Ideas Challenge - Texas Sheet Cake

I recently joined Twitter (I know, a little late to the game), and started following several cooking and baking twitter accounts. One account that I followed, Cooking Lite, tweeted a link to 100 Healthy Dessert Ideas. I thought it would be interesting to see how many of these items I could bake. I decided to set a goal of baking one item per week off the list. The first item off the list is the Texas Sheet Cake. 

Cooking spray 
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1-teaspoon baking soda 
1-teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4-teaspoon salt
3/4-cup water
1/2-cup butter
1/2-cup unsweetened cocoa, divided
1/2-cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract, divided
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons butter
1/3-cup fat-free milk
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4-cup chopped pecans, toasted

To toast the pecans, preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a baking tray with cooking oil and then spread the pecans out on the baking tray. Prior to putting in the oven, place the oven rack closest to the broiler. Toast for approximately five minutes. The pecans will give off an aromatic smell when they are toasted. Be careful, as the pecans scorch easily. 

Baking Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375°.

Coat a 13 x 9-inch pan with cooking spray, and dust with 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour. Set aside.

Lightly spoon 2 cups all-purpose flour into dry measuring cups. Level with a knife. Combine 2 cups all-purpose flour and the next four ingredients (through the salt) in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

Combine 3/4-cup water, 1/2-cup butter, and 1/4-cup cocoa in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. 

Add the cocoa mixture to the flour mixture. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until well blended. Add buttermilk or yogurt, 1 teaspoon vanilla and eggs. Beat well. 

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 375° for 22 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Chocolate Frosting
Combine 6 tablespoons butter, fat-free milk and remaining 1/4-cup cocoa in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Gradually stir in powdered sugar and remaining 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Spread over the hot cake.

 Sprinkle cake with pecans and cool completely on wire rack.

The cake came out great. I was a little concerned pouring icing over a hot cake. Most cake recipes call for a waiting period until the cake has cooled down completely to apply the frosting. Needless to say my brother and his friends thoroughly enjoyed the cake. Here's what it looked like the next day:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Falafel Pita and Its Many Toppings

Falafel Balls
The other day I had the most delicious falafel pita from a restaurant near where I live. Within the pita I added Israeli salad (tomatoes, cucumbers and onions dressed in lemon juice, olive oil and black pepper), tahini (sesame paste), hummus, lettuce and pickles.

Although this sounds scrumptious, you are probably wondering what falafel is. Originating in the Middle East, falafel is described as fried chickpeas and can be served as a patty or in ball form. It is often served in a pita, but can be put on as a salad topping or on flatbread. Falafel itself does not have much flavor, which is why it is often paired up with other toppings or side dishes.

Since I am always looking for new things to cook or bake, it got me thinking of how I can make this meal in the comfort of my kitchen. You could pick up all the ingredients up at the store depending on how much time and effort you would like to put into making this dish. If you do have the time, try and make everything from scratch. Food always tastes better when it comes out of your own kitchen :-). 

Here are my suggestions for making this meal:
  • Morning Star makes a great falafel ball or you can make it from scratch. Here is one recipe to use:
  • For Israeli salad, I do not use any specific measurements. I just chop up the cucumbers, tomatoes and onions and add as needed. The same goes with the lemon juice, olive oil and black pepper for the dressing.
  • Sabra hummus is the brand I use.  I like the variety of flavors they offer such as garlic or peppers. When you open the hummus you just need to mix the flavoring in since it is placed on top of the hummus.
  • In addition to the toppings mentioned above, you can also add olives (green, black, Greek or calimata), red cabbage, coleslaw and sauerkraut. 
  • Rice, couscous, French fries and sweet potato fries are all great side dishes to pair with falafel. 
If you are looking to spice up your dinner or need a unique idea for a party, falafel pitas are the way to go. These are also great dishes for people with food allergies since these can be made gluten, dairy and nut free. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tea Types and Flavors

Many people prefer tea to coffee due to teas high level on antioxidants and low caffeine content. One of the many reasons I myself am a tea drinker.  As an avid tea drinker, people ask me the differences between the assortments of teas they come across.  Although all teas come from the same basic plant, Camellia sinensis, their differences lie in their growing conditions, processing and geography.

Teas are grouped into several different categories, but three of the most popular are green tea, white tea and black tea.

Green Tea – This type of tea is minimally processed and therefore reportedly provides a high level of antioxidants (University of Maryland Medical School).  Antioxidants rid the body of any harmful free radicals, damaging compounds that can harm cells in the body.  The polyphenols in green tea assist in neutralizing the free radicals in our body, and may even reduce or prevent some of the damage from free radicals.

When the tealeaves are harvested, they are briefly steamed which prevents them from fermenting and changing colors. Once the leaves have been steamed, they are spread out and dried with hot air until the leaves are crisp (George Mateljan Foundation). The result is a yellowish-green color tea we are used to seeing and where the astringent taste of green tea comes from. 

White Tea – White tea is the purest of all teas. The leaves are steamed and dried which result in a high level of antioxidants due to the minimal processing. Additionally, white tea has less caffeine then green tea or black tea and much less caffeine then coffee. This tea is a great choice for people who are looking to reduce caffeine. White tea has a delicate, sweet taste that does not overwhelm your taste palate.

Black Tea – Black tea goes through a higher fermentation process resulting in a stronger flavor then green tea or white tea. Processing black tea is a complex process. It involves removing approximately one-third of their moisture rendering the leaves soft and supple, breaking the cell wall to release essential juices for fermentation and keeping the leaves under high humidity to promote fermentation (George Mateljan Foundation). This will turn the leaves a darkish brown, developing the strong black tea flavor.

For those of you who are not tea drinkers, I recommend starting off with a tea that does not have a strong flavor. White tea is usually a good choice. Tea can be an acquired taste and too strong of a flavor can sometimes turn people off. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What’s In an Espresso Chocolate Bar?

Espresso is known as high caffeine drink, designed to help keep us awake when we are half asleep. However, espresso has another side that does not involve a liquid form. This variety of espresso comes in the form of a chocolate bar for your baking needs.

I came across the idea of using espresso when I was baking double chocolate chip cookies. I was running low on chocolate chips and didn’t have nearly enough to satisfy the recipe requirements. Instead of running out to the store, I decided to rummage through the cabinets to see if there was something else I could use. Hidden in the back of one of the cabinets, and luckily, not expired, was an espresso chocolate bar.

Since I still need approximately ½ cup of chocolate chips, I decided to chop the espresso chocolate bar into very small pieces. I didn’t want anyone to notice there was something different about the cookies until they bit into them. I was pleasantly surprised that the cookies came out as good as they did. The espresso added that extra kick you don’t normally get in cookies.

If you would like to use an espresso chocolate bar in your cookie recipe, you can either halve the amount of chocolate chips to make it 50-50 or make it 75-25 depending on how strong you like espresso. Since espresso has a strong flavor I would be careful of how much you put into your batter. Too strong of a flavor might turn people off especially if they are not coffee drinkers.

Espresso also works well in brownies, cakes, muffins and cupcakes. So if you are looking for that extra kick, chop up some espresso chocolate bar and add it to your favorite batter. You will keep your audience guessing on what the mystery ingredient is. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Zucchini Bread

In my household we prefer to grow as many fruits and vegetables as we can. This year’s crop included blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini.  For some reason we had an abundance of zucchini this year. So much so that we were trying to figure out what exactly you can make with zucchini. We decided to make a couple of loafs of zucchini bread since you can always freeze the extra loaf to eat at a later date.

What I love most about zucchini bread is that you can add almost anything you want to it. I added walnuts or pecans to add an extra crunch to the batter. You can also put in chocolate chips, dried cranberries or raisins if you are looking for a little more sweetness. There are also several spices that mix well together like cinnamon and nutmeg.

Zucchini Batter Recipe
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-teaspoon salt
1-teaspoon baking soda
1-teaspoon baking powder
3-teaspoon ground cinnamon
3-teaspoons of nutmeg (optional)
3 eggs (or 1 egg and 1/3 cup egg whites)
1-cup vegetable or canola oil
2-¼ cup sugar
3-teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1-cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1-cup chocolate chips (optional)

Zucchini  Bread Batter
Grease two 8 by 4 inch pans. I used a 9 ¼ by 5 ¼ by 2-¾ inch pan greased with butter and flour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a bowel.
Beat eggs, oil vanilla and sugar together in a large bowel. Add sifted ingredients to the mixture and beat well. Stir in zucchini, nuts and chocolate chips until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes. Inserting a toothpick in the center to determine if the zucchini bread is done. The toothpick will come out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes then remove from pan and completely cool.
Zucchini Bread 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Coca Cola Cupcakes

My brother is always asking me to bake his favorite cookies, brownies or cupcakes. A few days ago my brother brought a Coca Cola cupcake recipe to my attention. Putting soda in cupcakes was something different, but having experiences of cooking with Coca Cola, I knew that the soda does add sweetness to whatever you are cooking. I figured I would give the recipe a shot.

The one concern I had with this recipe was that it might add too much sweetness since the recipe also calls for sugar and coco powder. To my surprise, the cupcakes were not overly sweet and tasted great. The Coca Cola added that extra something to the cupcake. 

Cupcakes Batter
2 cups Coca Cola (do not use diet!)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs 
Coca Cola Cupcake Batter
Whipped Cream Frosting 
1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons of powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Optional: Maraschino cherries (for topping)

Whipped Cream Frosting 
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously spray the inside of the cupcake liners with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small saucepan, heat the Coca Cola, cocoa powder, and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten, then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. The batter will be slightly lumpy. Do not overbeat, as it could cause the cake to be tough.
Coca Cola Cupcake Batter
Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake liners/tin and bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a small skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, beat whipping cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract until medium peaks form. Transfer to pastry bag with a 5B star tip.  In a circular motion, pipe on whipped cream and top with one cherry. 
If you do not have a pastry bag, you can use a knife or or place the frosting in a plastic bag and cut the tip to frost the cupcakes. 
Coca Cola Cupcake with Whipped Cream Frosting
I did experience some trouble getting the whip cream frosting to thicken up. There are several reasons as to why the whip cream frosting didn’t thicken up including not beating the batter long enough or the mixer was not on a high enough speed. To remedy this problem I added in three to four tablespoons of cream cheese and about three tablespoons of cream of tartar. The cream of tartar helps stabilize the whip cream frosting.

Thank you to for sharing this delicious recipe!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Got Smoothie?

Smoothies are the perfect cold summer drink. They are healthy and refreshing, helping you get your daily vitamins and minerals, depending on what ingredients you use. Just beware that smoothies made at smoothie places or restaurants may not be as healthy as you would like to believe. They often contain large amounts of sugar and very little fruit, juice or yogurt. Making them from scratch is a sure fire way to guarantee a healthy beverage and know what exactly is going into your smoothie.

My personal favorite smoothies are peanut butter banana smoothies and strawberry mango smoothies. Below are the recipes I use. 

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
One banana
Three to four tablespoons of peanut butter
½ cup of milk
Approximately five ice cubes (you can use more or less depending on how thick you want your smoothies)

Put the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. I recommend liquefying and then purifying the smoothie. This will crush the ice, as well as mix the ingredients together. 

What I like most about this smoothie recipe is the peanut butter and milk provides protein that keeps you full for several hours. It is also great for a breakfast on the go.

Strawberry Mango Smoothie
Three to four strawberries de-stemmed
½ of a mango, peeled and cut
½ cup milk
One six-ounce container of plain yogurt
Approximately five ice cubes (you can use more or less depending on how thick you want your smoothies)

Put the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. I recommend liquefying and then purifying the smoothie. This will crush the ice, as well as mix the ingredients together.