Thursday, July 27, 2006

Chocolate Chip "Dried Plum" Cookies

Chocolate Chip Dried Plum Cookies

If you saw my post on "low-fat" Cream Cheese Brownies, you might remember that I was inspired to make the brownies after reading a Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that was given to me by Dolores, the wife of Eprof2. You may also remember that I vowed to change the reputation of the Prune by calling them Dried Plums from that point forward. So if you are reading this Dolores, I hope you don't mind that I changed the name of the recipe. It's for the best.

Anyway, while I was making the dried plum puree for the brownies, I decide to double it so I could make the cookie recipe as well. And I'm so glad I did! I can see why they are Eprof2's favorite cookie. I could'nt believe the result. They were irresistible. I literally ate one after another as they cooled on the rack. I made only a few minor changes to the recipe. Here it is:

Chocolate Chip Dried Plum Cookies

1/2 cup dried plum puree (recipe below)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour (It just made me feel better to add some whole grain)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar (I only used 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups (9 oz) semisweet choc. pieces (I used semi-sweet chocolate chunks)

Dried plum puree: Combine 2/3 cup of dried plums (about 12 pieces) with 3 tablespoons hot water in a food processor. Pulse on and off until dried plums are finely chopped and mixture is smooth. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Preheat oven to 375. Coat baking sheets with vegetable cooking spray; set aside. In a large bowl beat dried plum puree, butter sugars, eggs and vanilla to blend thoroughly. In small bowl mix flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir dry ingredients into dried plum mixture; mix completely. Stir in chololate pieces. Drop tablespoons (I used a cookie scoop which is larger) onto prepared baking sheets; flatten slightly. Bake about ten minutes (I did some at 9 minutes and they were soft and chewy) until lightly browned around the edges. Remove to racks to cool completely. Makes about 48 cookies.

The texture of these cookies are not like traditional chocolate chip cookies. They do not get crisp if you bake them longer, only dry on the inside. They are not as cakey as cookies made with applesauce, but more of a soft and chewy texture.

I loved them and plan on making them again and again. I froze a bunch of them because I could'nt keep them around me or I would have eaten them all!

What is your favorite cookie?

"Low-Fat" Cream Cheese Brownies

Low-Fat + Cream Cheese Brownies = Oxymoron

I have wanted to make these brownies for quite some time and finally did it. A boxed brownie mix has been waiting patiently in my pantry closet for me to transform it into the rich decadent and fattening dessert it was meant to be. Little did it know I had other plans.

It is always a challenge for me to make delcious and luscious desserts without all the fat and guilt. It’s easy to make recipes low-fat, but the end result is not always very good. My goal for these brownies was to get all the fudgy full fat flavor along with a dence, moist and chewy texture.

Mission accomplished! I have a secret ingredient. And, no it’s not applesauce.

Low-Fat Cream Cheese Brownies

1 box of your favorite brownie mix
Use the ingredients on the box*, except replace the oil with prune puree. Follow the instructions on the box and then spread the batter into the prepared baking pan. Drop the cream cheese mixture by spoonfuls over the brownie batter and swirl with a knife to marbleize. Bake as directed on box, increasing the baking time by an additional 5 minutes.

Prune puree:

To make a 1/2 cup of prune puree, add about 12 prunes and 3 tablespoons of warm water to a food processor. Process until only tiny bits of prune remain. Add a little more water if necessary.

Cream Cheese Topping

Beat 1/2 Package of softened regular cream cheese*, 1 egg white, 2 T flour, 5 1/2 T sugar and 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla until well blended.

*To make these brownies even lower fat, (if your brownie mix advises to use 2 eggs), you could use 2 egg whites and 4 teaspoons of canola oil to replace the egg yolks. In addition, you could use low-fat cream cheese. I would’nt recommend fat-free though, it will change the flavor and texture.

As I mentioned earlier, I have wanted to make these brownies for a while. I actually forgot about them until I recently posted my Italian Prune Cookies. I received a comment from Eprof2 that his wife makes a Chocolate Chip Prune Cookie; his favorite. He was nice enough to give me the recipe and as I was reading it, I remembered the brownies I wanted to make. Both recipes use prune puree in place of the fat. All I can say is you have to try it.

You might not want to tell anyone your secret though, because as we all know prunes have a bad rap. I am on a mission to change this sad reality. In fact, it was Eprof2 that reminded me that even the prune companies are trying to change this by re-naming prunes...Dried Plums. Very clever. In fact, I will from this point forward refer to them as such!

Do you like Dried Plums?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chocolate Covered Frozen Bananas

Frozen Chocolate Banana Pops

One day last week I was thinking about a treat my Dad used to make for my sister and I when we were kids. Frozen chocolate covered bananas. I don't know why it came to mind, but I decided to try making them. I seems like a fairly simple thing to make, but I wasn't exactly sure if I should freeze the bananas first or not. So I did a search on google and found this recipe. I did'nt follow it exactly but it used it as a starting point.


  • 6 ripe bananas
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • My addition: Toppings (shredded coconut and/or sliced toasted almonds )


Peel bananas; cut in half crosswise. Insert a wooden stick into flat end of each banana half. (I used skewers that I cut in half.) Lay bananas on a shallow pan or baking sheet; freeze for about 3 hours, until very firm. Melt chocolate chips over hot water. With a spatula, quickly spread melted chocolate over each banana, coating well. Chocolate will become firm right away. Quickly dip the banana into the topping of your choice. Wrap each banana in foil; store in freezer.

In trying to save time and clean-up, I decided to melt my chocolate chips in a shallow wide bowl in the microwave. Big mistake! The chips melted fine but I started to wonder if the chocolate would seize up if I were to dip the frozen bananas directly in. So I got a spatula and tried my best to cover the bananas with the chocolate that way. What a pain. And a mess. The chocolate froze almost instantly and I hardly had time to dip them into my toppings. I got the two in the photo to look good, the rest are a mess, but completely eatible.

Lesson learned: Sometimes following a recipe will ultimately saves you time and aggrevation.

Have you ever screwed up something you were making by not following the recipe?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Low-Fat Blueberry Muffins

Fresh blueberries are everywhere
and I got mine on sale.

Only .99 cents/pint!

I just love that and blueberry muffins were the perfect way to celebrate!!

Plus, fresh blueberries are packed full of antioxidents. In fact, 6o fruits and vegetables were recently analyzed by researchers at Tufts University for their antioxidant capability. Blueberries were rated highest in their capacity to destroy free radicals. There are way too many health benefits to list in this post, so I'll let you read for yourself from the website I found touting the nutritional value of blueberries.

The timing was perfect to make these muffins. Firstly, because it will make a great posting for Sweetnicks ARF/5-a-day Tuesday evening round-up. Go check it out! Secondly, a recipe for Cook's Country Low-Fat Blueberry Muffins was just re-printed in the Providence Journal's Food section. Here it is:

Cook's Country Low-Fat Blueberry Muffins

1 cup blueberries (I used 1 & 1/4 cups)
2 cups plus 1 Tbl. all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
4 Tbls. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup nonfat buttermilk
1 teaspoon grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Double wrap the blueberries in freezer bags and freeze overnight, as frozen ones won't all sink in the batter. Don't take them out until the batter is made and oven is preheated.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
Whisk 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk eggs and brown sugar together in medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Gradually whisk in melted butter, then buttermilk, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla until well blended. Fold into dry mixture with rubber spatula (a few streaks of flour should remain).
Remove blueberries from freezer and toss with remaining tablespoon flour in small bowl. Gently fold blueberries into batter, being careful not to break berries.
Distribute batter in muffin tin and bake until light golden brown and toothpick or skewer inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Nutrition information for each of 12 muffins: 190 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 3 g saturated fat.

I have made the original Cook's Illustrated Blueberry Muffins many times. This recipe is different not only because they are low-fat, but because they use a completely different method of making them. In the original recipe, the butter and sugars are creamed together and then the dry ingredients are added in alternately with yogurt. This is supposed to be the key to "big beautiful muffins". In the low-fat recipe, the the dry ingredients are folded in the wet ingredients (non-fat butter milk is used instead of yogurt) quickly leaving "a few streaks of flour" as to not over-blend for fear of a tough, short muffin .

I really liked the muffins, but the next time I make them I will definately add more blueberries. One cup was just not enough to make every muffin burst with berries.

What is your favorite muffin? Do your muffins rise with high tops? If so, what is your trick?

Quick & Easy Summer Dishes

Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

This was a very simple dish to prepare, partly because it was made with leftover ingredients.
It consists of:
Cooked Fiore Tri-Colored Pasta
Grilled Chicken Breast (I cut up a leftover grilled chicken breast, that was marinated in pesto, into bite size pieces)
Pesto (I made pesto a few weeks ago and froze some in 3 small containers-I used one for this dish)
Fresh Chopped Parsley
Jarred Red Roasted Peppers
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Grated Parmigiano Cheese

I mixed all of the above ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerated it overnight to marinate. I told you it was easy!

Chicken and Broccoli Salad
This was another dish that I threw together from leftovers. I used another leftover grilled chicken breast (that was marinated in pesto), cooked broccoli, black and green olives, cannolini beans, romaine lettuce, fresh chopped parsley and basil and garden herb croutons.

I tossed it all together with e.v. olive oil and sprinkled the top with some grated parmigiano cheese. It sounds simple, because it is- but let me tell you the flavor was fantastic. I was suprised at how good it tasted. I think the croutons did it!!!!

Today I was thinking about marinades. As I mentioned above, I had originally marinated the chicken breasts in pesto before grilling them. There are so many different marinades that work well with chicken, but somehow I always tend to gravitate towards pestos or olive oil and vinegar based ones. I once used a bottled ginger and garlic dressing and it was the most tender piece of chicken I ever made, and I can' t figure out why.

3 Questions I would really like answered: Do you marinate your chicken before cooking? Do you think it makes the chicken more tender? What is your favorite marinade?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Chicken Marsala,YUM!

I finally found a Marsala recipe I love!
And would'nt you know it's by Giada DE Laurentiis. Again.

I love chicken marsala, but have had a hard time finding a recipe that lives up to my expectations.

I happened to be thumbing through my Everyday Italian cookbook and saw a recipe for Veal Marsala that I never noticed before. I thought, hmmm, maybe I could substitute with chicken. I had chicken breasts and portobello mushrooms
in the fridge. So I did change the recipe, but it turned out great anyway!
Since the recipe called for veal, I pounded the chicken fairly thin and then followed the recipe. If I had to do it again however, I would lightly flour the chicken breasts before cooking, because they came out a little tough.
The sauce is what really made this dish.

Veal Marsala
(or Chicken Marsala in my case)

8 veal cutlets (about 3 ounces each) (or 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded thin)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 to 4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 ounces assorted mushrooms, sliced (I used portobello)
1/2 cup sweet Marsala (I used dry)
3/4 cup low-salt chicken broth
Leaves from 1 fresh rosemary sprig

Sprinkle the veal with salt and pepper. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 4 veal cutlets and cook until golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer the veal to a plate. Add another tablespoon of butter and oil, if necessary. Repeat with the remaining 4 cutlets. Set the cutlets aside.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add the shallot and garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add a tablespoon of the olive oil, if necessary. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender and the juices evaporate, about 3 minutes. Season with salt. Add the Marsala. Simmer until the Marsala reduces by half, about 2 minutes. Add the broth and the rosemary leaves. Simmer until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Return the veal to the skillet. Pour in all of the pan juices. Cook just until heated through, turning to coat, about 1 minute. Stir the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter into the sauce. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Using tongs, transfer the veal to plates. Spoon the sauce over the veal and serve.

What are your favorite mushrooms?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I Said It With Cookies!

What brings a smile to just about anyone's face?

Ok, get your mind out of the gutter. I'm talking about cookies. Chocolate chip cookies to be exact. Everyone loves them and they're easy to make (especially if you use a mix, which I did).

I made these as a birthday gift for my brother-in-law who happens to be lactose intolerant (I think this allergy is even worse than mine. Imagine not being able to have a glass of milk, a piece of chocolate, ice cream, butter, cheese, or just about any packaged product that contains whey, even bread.) So it was a serious challange to make chocolate chip cookies since many of the recipes, mixes, and chocolate chips contain milk or some form of milk(milk protein, whey, milk fat, etc.).

After careful investigation, I found a mix that does not contain any milk-Ghirardelli Chocolate Chip Cookie mix. However, butter is the suggested fat ingredient to make them, but I had a plan. From past experience, I know the Fleischmann's unsalted margarine does'nt contain any form of milk, so I used it instead of butter. The result was still very good.

I packaged them in a recycled basil container and covered the label with my own. It worked out well. Although 4 cookies would'nt fit, so I had to eat them! Actually, I shared them with my mom and my co-workers. I'm so sweet, are'nt I?

Do you ever give food or sweets as a gift?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Life Is Like A Bowl Of Cherries...

And I'm stuck with the pits.

I absolutely LOVE fresh cherries. I have been snacking on them a lot lately, and I have noticed that my mouth has been irritated. I have had problems in the past with mouth irritation due to the Sodium Laurel Sulfate(SLS) in toothpaste or when I eat too many nuts. It started several years ago out of the blue. I resolved the problem with the toothpaste by switching to Rembrant for sensitive teeth or the one for cancer sore sufferers. Neither one of these have SLS in them. And if I limit the amount of nuts I eat in a week, I usually don't have a problem.

Lately I have noticed a similar irritation when eating cherries. How sad for me. I was so bugged by it that I searched online for some clues as to what could be going on. I found out some interesting information.

In the world of food allergies, there is something called Cross-reactivity which is when people are allergic to foods the are similar or somehow related. A type of cross-reactivity is Oral allergy syndrome. This is when people who have pollen allergies (such as a ragweed allergy) may develop swelling, itching and redness of lips and mouth when they eat fruits or veggies that contain a protein that reacts with the pollen. Weird! Who would have thunk it?

This is a diagram from the website that I got the information from...

If you are allergic to:

You may have a reaction when you eat:

RagweedBananas or melons such as watermelon and cantaloupe
BirchAlmonds, apples, apricots, carrots, celery, cherries, hazelnuts, kiwis, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, or potatoes
MugwortAvocados, bananas, carrots, celery, chestnuts, or kiwis

In my case, I am supposedly allergic to Birch. I never knew about this allergy, but it seems to make sense because Almonds, Hazelnuts and Cherries are all listed. I'm not sure why I have'nt noticed a reaction to the other foods listed, unless you could have the reaction to some but not necessarily all.

It's all quite confusing. All I know is, it stinks. Why could'nt the reaction happen with something I don't like. As I said, "If life is like a bowl of cherries, I'm stuck with the pits!"

By the way, for those of you who don't have a problem eating cherries, you should eat them more often. Besides containing great levels of antioxidents, they also have a reputation for reducing inflammation. According to the USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS), and I'm quoting right from their website, "Results of a preliminary study by ARS scientists and their university colleagues suggest that some natural compounds in plump, juicy Bing cherries may reduce painful arthritic inflammation. Eating cherries may also help lessen the severity of other inflammatory conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer."

Plus, you can eat to your hearts content because there are only 65 calories in a 1 cup serving!

Does anyone else out there have an allergy like this?

Italian Prune Cookies

I decided to pull up a post from April to join Sweetnicks
for their ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday evening round-up.

These cookies rule! I have wanted make them for so long, but I didn't have a recipe. I finally made them for Easter. Although it was not an easy recipe to find.

Every time I did a search, Jewish Hamatachen would come up. I finally found one on all The recipe comes up as Prune and Raisin Filled Cookies. Here is the link.
I altered it by using canned prune puree in place of the raisin prune filling in the recipe, which made it a little easier.

I cut the recipe in half and I'm glad I did because it made three large loaves even with just the half recipe. These cookies are definitely a labor of love. The dough is a little difficult to work with. So if you love prune cookies make them, if not, go to your local Italian bakery. That's if they even make them. They are hard to find. Specialty Italian cookie stores are your best bet.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I've Been Tagged...And You Could Be Next!

Mooncrazy from Peanut Butter Etouffee has tagged me... "the 5 things meme"...
so here it is:

Five things in my freezer
Italian green beans, chicken breasts, Breyers no sugar added vanilla ice cream, chicken broth ice cubes, and multi-grain low-fat Eggo's.

Five things in my closet
Way too many clothes, way too many shoes, old handbags that I'll never use again, Christmas decorations, and the old box from my cell phone.

Five things in my car
An insulated coffee mug filled with water, an unending supply of dental floss, bushels of napkins from various lunch spots, Purell hand sanitizer(I never leave home without it), and a Shell gas credit card.

Five things in my purse
Cell phone, massive quantities of receipts, the office pool Powerball slip in a handy carrying sleeve, a handful of pens, and several varieties of gum.

Five people I'd like to tag: "Only if you want to!"

Jen from Casual Slack
Paula from Cookbook Junkie
Claire from Cooking Is Medicine
Crystal & Ryan from Cyan Cafe
Lexi from Winters at the Beach

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Oven-Fried Chicken

Crunchy and Good For You!

I made this a few weeks ago and finally got a chance to post it. I'm sure you have all heard of using corn flakes on fried chicken. Well, fried chicken got a makeover in this issue of Cook's Country Magazine. It's baked and better for you.

I liked the recipe but I had a few snags. The bone-in chicken I bought did'nt have much of a bone in it and when I cut off the ribs as the recipe says, one of the breasts got kind of got wimpy. I ended up taking the bone off all together so they would all cook evenly. I tried to compensate with the baking time, but it came out just a tad on the dry side. I felt like I needed some kind of sauce on it. I will try it again with meatier and more substantial breasts.

Oven-Fried Chicken Serves 8
Cook's Country Magazine

2 cups buttermilk(I did'nt have any, so I mixed 2 cups of milk with 2 T white vinegar)
2 T Dijon mustard
2 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp hot pepper sauce (I omitted this)
8 split bone-in chicken breasts (10 to 12 ounces each), skin removed and ribs trimmed with kitchen shears
2 1/2 cups crushed corn flakes
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 tsp ground poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper(I used only a dash)
2 T vegetable oil

1. Whisk buttermilk, mustard, 2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. black pepper, and hot sauce together in large bowl. Add chicken, turn to coat well, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
2. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil, set wire rack on sheet, and coat rack with nonstick cooking spray.
3. Gently toss corn flakes, bread crumbs, remaining 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, remaining 1/2 tsp. black pepper, remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, poultry seasoning, paprika, and cayenne in shallow dish until combined. Drizzle oil over crumbs and toss until well coated. Working with one piece at a time, remove chicen from marinade and dredge in crumb mixture, firmly pressing crumbs onto all sides of chichen. Place chicken on prepared rack, leaving 1/2 inch of space between each piece. Bake until chicken is deep golden grown, juices run clear, and instant-read thermometer inserted deep into breast away from bone registers 160 degrees, 35-45 minutes.

I have found some pretty good ideas and recipes from Cook's Country Magazine. Because I subscribe to Cook's Illustrated Magazine,(which comes out every other month), I received 2 free issues of Cook's Country which they are trying to promote and sell. They were clever about it, the Cook's Country Magazine comes out on the months that the Cook's Illustrated does'nt. So in essence, they are filling in the gap.

What are your favorite cooking magazines?

We Can All Eat Healthier with a Little Help From Our Friends

This was my friend Jen's Lunch the other day.
A Salad!!!!!

You may wonder why I decided to post about Jen's salad. I was just so proud of her. Well if you knew Jen you would understand. Her typical lunch consists of a Dunkin Donuts bagel with cream cheese and a large iced coffee with sugar and milk, which she eats at around 8:45 am.

On any given day there may be a choice of the following:
*Newman Oreo cookies
* Processed String Cheese
* Mountain Dew(although she has cut way back on the Dew partly because of my constant nagging)
*A slice of American Cheese on White Bread
* Nature's Valley Fruit and Nut Granola Bars
*Occasionally a small bag of Smartfood Popcorn
*On an off day, a can of Slim Fast

So as you can see the only Green thing she eats may be a little mold on her cheese (just kidding Jen). I have been trying for years to get her to like food and to try cooking things she does like.

Jen just isn't into anything that involves being in the kitchen for more than 5 minutes,
if that. If dinner requires more than opening a box of cereal (in her case Cocoa Crispies), putting it in a bowl and pouring milk over it, she's not interested. Ok, sometimes she does cook pasta and her husband helps with the rest of the meal.

She does'nt eat meat but she's not a vegetarian either. Actually she does'nt really like food at all (except junk food, admittedly). She is always saying that she wishes there was a pill you could take to replace eating, like on the Jetson's.

The funny thing is, that she is an awesome graphic designer so you would think being as creative as she is, she would like to cook and like food. Nope!

Jen is actually really funny and a super person, so I hope this does'nt sound like I'm bashing her. I'm just having a little fun with her!

After seeing that salad I think there is still hope for Jen. Check out her blog Casual Slack, it's pretty funny!

Left-over Grilled Chicken... Re-Invented!

Remember the Crostini with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Chickpeas
I made a few posts back?

Well I had leftover dip and decided to put it to good use.

The day after I made the Crostini, I made grilled chicken on my new grill pan. Which by the way I love, even though it smoked my house out. Anyway, I decided to make a pasta dish with the leftover grilled chicken and crostini dip.

This not really a recipe, but I'll tell you what I did:

1. I cooked some fresh peas and fresh corn in boiling water for about 5 minutes. (I should have cooked them longer because they were a little hard.)
2. I cooked some whole wheat penne and reserved some of the pasta water.
3. I put the pasta in a serving bowl and used the same pot that I cooked the pasta in to heat up the dip to which I added the reserved pasta water.
4. I added the left-over grilled chicken to the dip to re-heat for a few minutes and poured it over the pasta in the serving bowl.
5. I added the peas and corn to garnish and dug in.

The dip actually made a really good sauce for my pasta. I almost forgot I was eating whole wheat pasta. By heating the dip and adding the pasta water, it really toned the raw garlic flavor down and it was excellent. There was no need to add any other flavorings, spices or even oil since the dip had it all.

I think I actually liked the re-invented chicken better than the original.

Do you have a favorite "re-invent" recipe for any of your left-overs?

Fresh Green Peas in a Pod

Food is So Cool!

I found a great website that touts the health benefits of various fruits and vegetables. I learned a lot. For instance, did you know that peas are part of the legume family and provide good to very good amounts of 8 vitamins, 7 minerals, dietary fiber and protein? They are scientifically known as Pisum sativum. Sounds scary, does'nt it?

I was amazed to read that only about 5% of the peas grown are sold fresh; the rest are either frozen or canned. I did know however, that frozen peas are preferable to canned peas because they retain their flavor and have lower sodium content.

Feeling a little feel fatigued and sluggish? Eat your peas! According to the website green peas are one of the important foods to include in your diet because they provide nutrients that help support the energy-producing cells and systems of the body.

I was also suprised to find out the classic way of cooking garden peas. It bewildered me so much that I wanted tell you all about it.

Here it is:
Line a saucepan with several leaves of washed, Boston or Bibb lettuce and then place the peas on the lettuce. You can then add fresh herbs and spices if you desire. Cover the peas with more lettuce leaves, add one or two tablespoons of water, and cover the pan. Cook the peas for about 15 to 20 minutes, after which they should be tender and flavorful.

Pretty wild, huh? I wish I would have had this info before I cooked my peas. I just boiled them for about 5 minutes and they were still a little hard. Flavorful but hard. I used them more as a garnish than an ingredient in a leftover chicken dish I concocted. I'll post it soon!

Check out the website it has a lot of interesting facts about the history behind the vegetable, its calories, health benefits, cooking methods and more!

How do you feel about peas?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mom's Blueberry Pie

Fresh blueberries and homemade crust.
That's right this one's from scratch.

As usual the pie was amazing. My mom just has a knack for baking pies. Of course they are my favorite dessert too! This was actually one of the smallest pies she has ever made. She only had 2 cups of blueberries, so she made due with what she had.

My mom is kind of known for her delicious pie crust. It all started when she came to this country from Italy many years ago. Someone had given her a pint or two of blueberries and she had no idea what to do with them. She had never had Blueberry Pie before or Apple Pie for that matter. (In Italy they make a lot of strudel type desserts with apples, etc.)

She told a neighbor about the berries and she instantly replied "Oh perfect, now you can make a pie". The neighbor graciously instructed her on how to make the crust using flour, salt, sugar and lard. She made it that way for many years until she discovered Crisco Shortening. Now she only uses Crisco for all her crusts-savory or sweet.

Maybe I'm a little biased because it is my mom, but, I have yet to taste a better crust.
The only thing that I don't like about it is that it is so fattening. (Crisco will kill you if you eat too much of it.)

She will be making a Strawberry Pie next- it's her first attempt. She had planned on using the strawberries on Strawberry Short Cake, but washed the berries when she got them home from the store and that's a no-no because they will not keep as long once they are washed. So I hinted that she should make a pie so they don't go to waste! Good thinking huh? Of course I'll be heading over for dinner that night!

As for the recipe, you'll have to ask my mom if she wishes to divulge it. Just leave a comment and I'll see what I can do!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

CROSTINI with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Chickpeas

This is yet another recipe from Giada DE Laurentiis and it's really good.

I was craving something crunchy the other night, but I didn't want to eat junk food for dinner, so I racked my brain to think of something healthy that would also satisfy my appetite for the crunch. And this is what I came up with.

Actually, it has a lot of protein due to the chickpeas, the tomatoes supply the lyposene and other essential nutrients and I used whole grain bread. So I think I did pretty damn good.

Crostini with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Chickpeas
24 Appetizer Servings

1 Baguette, cut into 24 diagonal slices 1/3 inch thick (I used pre-cut & bagged whole grain)
2 Tablespoons evtra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1 (151/2-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I used true lemon granules)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons dreid basil leaves
2 tablespoons dred Italian parsley
Lemon Zest for garnish (I omitted this)

To make the crostini: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, and lightly brush with oil. Toast in the oven until golden, about 8 minutes. (You can toast the bread 1 day ahead. Cool, then store airtight at room temperature.) (I grilled mine on my new grill/griddle pan! About 3 minutes each side.)

To make the dip: Mince the garlic in a food processor. Add the chickpeas, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, salt, and pepper. Process until the mixture is almost smooth. With the maching running, gradually blend in the oil. Process until the mixture is completely smooth, scraping cown the sides fo the work bowl cooasionally. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and dried herbs. Blend until the tomatoes and herbs are finely chopped. (The dip can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) To serve, spoon 1 teaspoon of the dip on each crostini, and garnish with lemon zest or fresh herbs. (I spooned on a lot more, hey it was my dinner you know!)

I really liked this recipe. It does have a little bit of a bite however, due to the raw garlic. So keep this in mind for when you intend on eating it and with whom!
I was glad the recipe called for dried herbs because I could use what I had in my pantry but I wonder how it would be with fresh herbs-Probably even better!

What is your favorite appetizer, that you could just as well eat for dinner?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Pesto Brown Rice

My favorite summer scent is: BASIL

It just love it. It smells so fresh and natural. I don't even know how to describe it. I bought a big bunch at the market. It was so fresh and cheap too, only $1.59.

I didn't really have a recipe in mind when I bought it, but when I got it home the first thing I thought of was pesto.

I used a different recipe than usual. It came from Cook's Country Magazine recipe contest winner, Elaine Sweet of Dallas Texas.

Garden Pesto Sauce
Makes enough to sauce 2 pounds of pasta
This sauce is quite thick, so be sure to reserve some of the pasta cooking water to thin it out.

1/3 cup silvered almonds, toasted (I omitted these)
2 cups packed fresh basil
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1 pound plum tomatoes, cored & seeded (I used less)
1/4 cup drained capers
3 anchovy fillets, rinsed & drained (I omitted these)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I omitted this)
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Cheese (I used 1/2 pecorino & 1/2 parmesan)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

1. Pulse almonds in food processor or blender until finely chopped. Add basil, parsley, tomatoes, capers, anchovies, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pecorino and blend until smooth. With machine running, add lemon juice, then add oil in steady stream until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Toss pesto with cooked pasta and reserved pasta cooking water, if necessary and serve.

The other thing I did differently was to mix in the cheese after everything was completely processed. I got this tip from Giada DE Laurentiis. She said that if you process the cheese, it heats up and loses its true flavor. I don't know if I would even notice the difference, but I figured why not keep it as fresh as possible.

This sauce was good, however, I think I prefer the basic basil pesto that I'm used too. I can't be really sure though because I used it on brown rice which has a much different flavor and texture than pasta. I did freeze a portion of it, so I'll have to try it on pasta and see what the verdict is then.
Also, because I didn't have almonds or anchovies on hand I omitted them and I wonder if this made a big difference in flavor. I would guess that it did. Maybe I should have waited to make this recipe until I had all the ingredients. Oh well, there's always next time.

Do you ever change a recipe because you don't have all the ingredients? Are the results good or bad or somewhere in between?

Stuffed Mushrooms

I didn't intend on making stuffed mushrooms when I bought the package of white mushrooms in the market.
And I usually wouldn't make stuffed mushrooms in the summer. Actually, I usually only make them for special occasions, but I guess I went a little crazy and stuffed away!

Why not, who needs a holiday or event to enjoy something you love?

The recipe is by Giada DE Laurantiis who hosts Everyday Italian. No she's not related to me ( I mention her quite often), I just happen to like many of her recipes.

It is a very simple recipe and uses ingredients that are always on hand.
The only thing I did different is added some chopped mushroom stems to the stuffing. I figured why waste them. Ok two things, I omitted the mint. I don't usually have that on hand.

Do you have a recipe that you reserve for holidays or special occasions?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Vanilla & Chocolate Ice Cream with Chocolate Dip

My Favorite Summer Treat!

Ice cream has to be one of my most favorite things to eat, especially in the summer. There's nothing like this cold and refreshing treat to cool you off when it's hot and sticky outside. The only bad thing about ice cream is that I want more when I'm done. And it's dangerous, because there is an ice cream stand right around the corner of my house, which is where the above cone came from.

I remember when I was a kid, I would always get chocolate chip ice cream dipped in cowlic from Newport Creamery. . YUM! Actually, this is probably still my favorite.

I love when the ice cream starts to melt and you have to try to eat it from the bottom before it gets all over you. It's quite the challange. What can I say, it makes me feel like a kid again!

What's your favorite summer treat?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Vinny's Spaghetti Pie

I had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner one night and had some left over spaghetti in the fridge. That same night I was watching Sara's Secrets on the Food Network and she had the actor Vinny Vella (Soprano's, Analyze That, Casino, etc.) on as a guest cook. He made a gravy, meatballs, sausage and a spaghetti pie. The timing could'nt have been better.

I had all the ingredients I needed to make it so I went for it. Here's the Recipe...

1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly chopped parsley leaves
4 eggs
Olive oil, as needed
1/4 clove garlic, cut into razor thin slices
1/2 pound leftover cooked spaghetti (with tomato sauce clinging to it)
Whisk together the milk, Parmesan, salt, pepper, parsley, and eggs.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a little olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add the leftover spaghetti, pour over the egg mixture, and cook, without stirring, until the bottom is browned, about 5 minutes.

To flip the pie, set a plate the size of the skillet on top. Invert the skillet so the pie falls on to the plate. Invert the pie onto another plate, cooked-side up. Return the skillet to the medium-high heat, add a little more oil, and slip in the pie. Continue cooking until the bottom is browned, about 5 minutes more.

Transfer the pie to a plate, cut into wedges, and serve.

I love turning left overs into a completely new dinner. This recipe was pretty good. By frying the spaghetti, a crust forms and that's my favorite part. YUM!

Do you like left overs? Or do you use them to come up with a new dish?

Roasted Garlic and Olives

Olives and garlic. What a great combination.
Roasted olives and garlic. Even better.

Transform ordinary canned black olives and jarred manzanilla olives into something extraordinary.

We all know that roasting garlic sweetens and mellows the flavor. Well by roasting the olives, it deepens the flavor and changes the texture into something you might find in the olive case at your local Italian market.

It's simple. Place 1 can of black olives, 1 small jar of green manzanilla olives and 10-12 unpeeled cloves of garlic in an oven safe dish. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with your favorite seansoning (I used McCormick Garlic & Herb Seasoning), mix to coat and place in a preheated 425 degree oven for 35-45 minutes or until the garlic looks a little brown and the olives begin to wrinkle.

Do you have any quick fix recipes that transform an ordinary pantry item into something special?