Category Archives: Recipes

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Roasted Green Beans, and a simple supper idea

Yes, roasted green beans!  No more soggy beans, or canned beans.

The secret is:  the pan must be really hot.  If you place the beans in a cold pan, and try to roast them like that, they will be rubbery.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Place a rimmed metal sheet pan or metal cookie sheet or metal cake pan in the oven at the same time so the pan heats up.

Just snap the ends off of plain old fresh green beans.  Place them in a bowl and drizzle them with a really little amount of oil:  a good quality olive oil or pure avocado oil is my preference.  What is important in this step is that the beans aren’t drowning in oil.  They should just lightly glisten.  The beans shouldn’t be in a puddle of oil.

Next, season them.  My favorite seasoning for the beans is Montreal Steak Seasoning (I know!  This isn’t steak, but somehow it’s an amazing combination).  I put plenty on the beans, and they taste great!  You can use lemon pepper, or just salt, or pretty much whatever seasoning you like.  I season them generously because I enjoy the peppery bite on the beans.

When the oven is hot and the pan is hot, dump the beans with their oil and seasoning in the pan and quickly try to spread them out so they’re in a single layer.  They don’t need to be neatly lined up like soldiers, just not piled up.

Roast them for about 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan every few minutes so the beans char evenly on all sides (or stir them about with a spatula).  When they’re lightly charred, they’re done.  They’re good as a side dish, or as a snack.

Another idea for a simple supper:  to the green beans in the bowl, prior to cooking, add shelled edamame (out of the pods).   A couple of big handfuls of beans, and about half that amount of shelled edamame (frozen is fine, or pods that you’ve cooked and shelled), with the small amount of oil and a hearty sprinkling of Montreal Steak Seasoning, or lemon pepper or salt.  Do the same thing with the pan: preheat it while the oven’s preheating to 425 degrees.  Dump the beans and edamame on the hot pan and roast until lightly charred.  Then grate fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over them and return to the oven for just a minute or two until the cheese begins to melt.  That’s it!  It’s almost no work, vegetarian, and really simple and satisfying.   Fresh cornbread is a nice accompaniment.

A One-Ingredient Pasta Sauce (well, one ingredient plus some water, to be precise)

You’ll need a blender or food processor for this sauce, but little else.  Here’s how to make a one-ingredient pasta sauce, plus some variations.  I’ll include a brief summary for those of you who prefer just a simple overview, and then I’ll provide details for the readers who like a more complete recipe with explanations.

Ingredient: One winter squash.

The quick version:  roast a squash and puree it, adding just enough water to make a smooth consistency.  (A little pasta cooking water is excellent).  Add to hot cooked pasta, stir gently and enjoy!

Variations:  stir in grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a little freshly grated nutmeg.  Add salt to taste (how much salt you need will depend on the sweetness of the squash you chose, which can only be determined by tasting it).  Instead of fresh water, or water left over from cooking the pasta, use chicken stock for a richer sauce. Top the pasta and roasted squash puree with chopped toasted walnuts, or bacon, or roasted prosciutto.

Now for the detailed version:

You can use an acorn squash, butternut squash, or a pumpkin (make sure it’s a pumpkin grown for baking or for use in recipes, not the large inedible ones intended for carving and decorating only) – almost any winter squash except for a spaghetti squash will work.  Most grocery stores identify the pumpkins that can be cooked as “pie pumpkins” or “sweet pumpkins”, and they call the others “carving pumpkins” or “Jack-O-Lanterns”.  The produce manager can tell you whether the pumpkin is intended for eating or for decorative purposes only.

Line a baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper.  You can either cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and lay the squash halves cut-side down on the pan, or you can simply put the whole squash on the pan.  There’s some debate as to whether a whole squash should be pierced a couple of times prior to baking.  Some cooks say to pierce the squash with a sharp knife or fork, as you would when baking a potato, and some cooks say this allows delicious steam and flavors to escape and they don’t pierce the skin.  I’ve roasted whole winter squashes and I simply make one small knife slit in the skin – I don’t feel like using my oven as an experimental pumpkin explosion testing center.

Anyway, roast a winter squash: halved, seeded and cut-side down, or whole.  Just roast it until the squash is very tender, when a fork inserted into the squash pierces it easily with no resistance.  That will take about 45 minutes to an hour, at 350 degrees, unless you are roasting an unusually large squash, which may take longer.

Let it cool, and then either scrape the flesh from the skin, or cut the whole roasted squash in half and scrape out the seeds and then the flesh.  Transfer just the flesh to a blender or food processor.  Puree it, and add just enough water to make a smooth sauce.  The best choice would be the water left over from cooking pasta: when you drain the pasta just save about a cup of the water.  The goal is to have a sauce that is a similar consistency to a cheese sauce, like when you’re making macaroni and cheese, not too thin and watery, and not too thick.

Now you can use the pureed squash as is – just stir it into hot cooked pasta   Or you can add some grated parmesan cheese and a little nutmeg (freshly grated nutmeg is best).  If the squash was very sweet, you might need some salt, but that’s up to you.  You’ll only know how sweet the squash was by tasting it.

I toasted some prosciutto on a baking sheet until the prosciutto was very crispy and crumbled that over the pasta and squash puree just before serving.  Crumbled cooked bacon would also be good.

Toasted and chopped walnuts or pecans would also be delicious on this pasta, as would chopped dried cranberries, and/or grated Parmigiano cheese.

But, if you just use the roasted and pureed squash, with a little water added to it to make it a smooth puree, you’ll have a very healthy and simple sauce made from just one real food.

A new take on Grilled Cheese

This sandwich is a delicious new way to appreciate avocados, and it’s a fresh idea on the traditional grilled cheese.

Ingredients (for one sandwich)

2 slices firm bread or rustic bread (we used a nice rustic Italian loaf)                                       1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced (mashed would be ok too)                           1 large ripe tomato                                                                                                                                              a couple of ounces of good quality blue cheese (your favorite type)                                         a handful of baby arugula leaves, or baby spinach, or mixed greens

Toast or grill one side of each of the slices of bread.  Lay the bread slices, toasted/grilled side down, on a baking sheet or broiler-safe pan.  Preheat the broiler.

Slice the tomato thinly and lay the tomato on one of the bread slices.  Top the other bread slice with the blue cheese.  A nice thick layer of blue cheese would be nice, but how much you use is up to you.

Broil the slices of bread, with their tomato and cheese toppings, just until the cheese is beginning to melt and turn golden.

Remove the bread slices from the oven, and quickly lay the avocado slices and your choice of greens on the tomato side.  Place the cheese side, with the cheese facing the vegetables, on top of the greens, and enjoy!

I took this one step further.  Prior to starting to make the sandwich, I sliced a couple of nice big tomatoes into one-half inch thick slices and spread them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  I drizzled the slices with a little olive oil, sprinkled them with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, and roasted them at about 400 degrees until they were tender and golden.  Instead of fresh tomatoes in the avocado grilled cheese, I used the roasted slices.

If you’re not liking the whole vegetarian feeling of this sandwich, you could slip a few slices of beautiful cooked bacon into it.  Just lay the cooked bacon underneath the tomatoes before you broil it.

I don’t usually prefer Gorgonzola cheese.  My favorite is Stilton, but a nice Amish blue cheese or Danish blue cheese would be great.  The combination of fresh avocado, broiled blue cheese, tomatoes and hearty bread is really delicious!  This is no ordinary grilled cheese!

Stuffed Pasta Shells, lightened up

I happen to love stuffed shells, filled with a rich egg and ricotta and mozzarella mixture, covered in a hearty marinara sauce.  They’re great on a cold winter’s night, and frankly, they’re about the only way most of us eat stuffed shells.

Recently I made a version that would be nice and light for warmer days.

The quick summary:  I made a simple white sauce and added a little grated Parmigiano cheese.  Chopped cooked chicken and chopped frozen broccoli were stirred into the white sauce, stuffed into cooked pasta shells, and baked until hot.

You could substitute peas or corn or your favorite vegetable or a combination of vegetables, for the broccoli.

More detailed directions here:

Make a simple, light white sauce.  Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan and then add 3 tablespoons of flour.  Combine well and stir for about 4 minutes.  Add 2 cups of milk and stir until thickened over medium-low heat.  Add a handful of grated parmesan cheese and stir until the cheese is softened.  Remove from the heat.  By the way, I substituted canola oil for the butter and used skim milk.

To the white sauce, add about a heaping cup of chopped cooked chicken (leftover, or rotisserie) and an equal amount of chopped cooked or frozen vegetables (all one kind or a combination).  Stuff into cooked pasta shells and place in an 8 inch square baking dish.  Bake at about 350 degrees until heated throughout, about 30 minutes.

This amount makes a relatively small dish, not a big family casserole.  It can be doubled (or tripled).

 

 

 

 

More adventures with baked avocados: Roasted Guacamole!

Ok, I know.  This is NOT true guacamole.  Guacamole is an amazing blend of fresh avocado, lime juice and salt, with the addition of certain raw vegetables according to one’s preference and traditions.  There are hundreds of variations.  Some people prefer a specific type of onion, or leave the onion out altogether, and some add garlic.  Some cooks insist that tomatoes do not belong in guacamole and some wouldn’t call it guacamole if it didn’t have tomatoes.  Some people use hotter peppers, and some are minimalists, using simply avocados.  Then there are the people who add in sour cream or their own favorite additions, or who will argue over whether the guacamole should be creamy or chunky.  But nearly every guacamole recipe involves time and fine chopping or mashing, and requires that it be served immediately.

Thanks to my daughter, our family has a wonderful guacamole recipe.  It involves a lot of fine dicing (usually that’s my job) and then she is the perfecter of the proper ratio of spice, saltiness, raw vegetables, and acid, mixing with precision.  It must be served immediately, and it’s delicious.  Fresh guacamole starts to turn an dull brown after it’s exposed to air, and the myth of keeping an avocado pit in a bowl of guacamole to preserve it is just that: a myth.  A thin layer of water or olive oil will help keep leftover guacamole fresh for a short time, but the best way to deal with guacamole is to devour it completely right away!  More chips!  Tequila, anyone?

But since I’ve been experimenting with baked avocados lately, I wanted to try a simple roasted “guacamole”.  This will not be a beautiful blended typical guacamole, but more like a rustic roasted avocado salsa.  The upside of this is that it only takes seconds to prepare, and there’s no fine dicing needed.  You only need to know how to pit an avocado, and how to hack a vegetable in half.  Plus, since everything’s roasted, there’s no need to rush to serve it while it’s still bright green;  it’s already golden brown and tender! It could be served with chips, or as a topping for tacos or fajitas or nachos.

To prepare it, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  (That’s not essential, it means you can simply toss the parchment paper and have no cleanup afterwards.)

Gather your favorite guacamole or salsa ingredients.  I peeled and cut an avocado into quarters and then cut a few jalapeños, tomatoes, onions and limes in half.  Make sure to use several limes.   Throw everything on the baking sheet.

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Feel free to add different types of hot peppers and/or garlic and use more or less of a certain ingredient, according to your taste and what’s available.  Generously salt everything, and drizzle a bit of olive oil over all.  Roast at about 400 degrees until it’s all golden and tender.  This might take a half hour, but there’s no tending to it, no need to stir or fuss.

When it’s done, remove the limes and squeeze the juice from them over all the roasted guacamole/salsa.  You can let your family or guests choose their roasted ingredients, or you can place everything on a cutting board and roughly chop and combine everything.

This photo shows what it looks like just after roasting, before chopping into more manageable pieces,  with the lime still in there.   It’s not beautiful, but it sure is delicious!

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Baked Avocados – For an Easy Breakfast or Amazing Nachos!

How does this sound?  Breakfast that you can roast in a fruit and customize in dozens of ways?  No bowl needed, almost no cleanup?  Plus it’s healthy and delicious! (Avocados are technically a fruit).

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First, the basics:  you’ll need an avocado and two eggs.  This works best with a large avocado and smaller eggs.  Since I only had large eggs on hand, I cracked the eggs, one at a time, into a small bowl and poured off about half the egg white (I saved the extra egg whites in a bowl in the fridge to stir into scrambled eggs next time I make them).

Then, halve and pit the avocado.  Don’t do anything else to it.  Into the hollow area of each of the avocado halves, where the pit was, place one egg.  Put the avocados in a small baking dish (you can line it with parchment paper if you want, for easier cleanup).  Bake them at 350 degrees until the eggs are set.   Breakfast is ready!  (You can cook the eggs thoroughly, or you can take them out when the whites are set and the yolks are still a little runny:  your choice, your preference).

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Now, you can just dig a spoon into this and eat it.  The avocado is warm and delicious and smooth, and when you’re done, throw the “bowl” (the avocado peel) away!  No cleanup! Sprinkle with salt and pepper if you like, or cumin, or paprika, or hot sauce.

And here is the part where you can customize this, top it, spice it up, and make nachos!

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On top of the hot avocado and egg, you can add chopped tomatoes and grated cheese, chopped onions, or salsa (extremely mild or devilishly hot), or fresh pico de gallo (or all of those!)  You could top it with cooked crumbled sausage (hot or mild), or chorizo, or even soy chorizo (which is surprisingly good!).   You can keep your choices healthy, or vegetarian, or dairy-free, or make them as spicy and meaty as you like.  Add just a few simple toppings, or bury those avocados in a mountain of extras!

Another option is to make the baked avocados into amazing nachos:

 

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It couldn’t be easier:  spread some tortilla chips on a plate.  Using a spoon, scoop the baked avocados and eggs out of the avocado peel, and place them on the chips.  Just smash the avocados so they spread out on the chips (or, if you want to be neater, use a knife to cube up the avocados).  I topped them with cheese, tomatoes and salsa.  You can add lettuce, cooked black or pinto beans, salsa, fresh vegetables, roasted corn, cooked ground beef or sausage, or just keep it simple.  You could even omit the eggs and bake the avocados with halved cherry or tomatoes instead of the eggs.   Keep it super simple with just good salsa from a jar, or get creative with toppings!  Make it a healthy breakfast, or a delicious dinner!

So what would you put on these Baked Avocado Nachos?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

Baked Stuffed Tomato Pies with a Savory Crust

Here’s something new to do with large tomatoes.  You could use a large heirloom tomato, or one of the bigger ones that are still hanging on in your garden.  This can be a side dish, or a hearty entree, depending on the filling you choose and on the size of the tomatoes.

First, prepare a filling.  Really the only rule to follow is that any raw meats or proteins should be cooked before stuffing them into the tomato.

I used mozzarella cheese, some Panko bread crumbs, fresh chopped basil, cooked chopped bacon, grilled corn, salt, pepper and some freshly grated Parmigiano cheese.

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You could use Mexican inspired fillings, like cooked taco-seasoned ground beef, chili peppers, shredded Cheddar cheese, sliced jalapenos, and chopped fresh cilantro.

Another nice choice might be broiled shrimp, chopped or sliced garlic, lemon zest, and chopped scallions, with Panko bread crumbs and just a bit of mayonnaise to moisten the stuffing.  Season with a spicy Cajun seasoning if you like.

Or for a more gourmet choice, how about rare or medium-rare steak (cut into bite-sized pieces), grilled corn, chopped seeded tomatoes and a little blue cheese?

Go completely vegetarian with roasted or grilled chopped vegetables (zucchini, summer squash, corn, tomatoes, mushrooms,and any other seasonal vegetables that are available and affordable)!  Mix the vegetables with a little Panko bread crumbs, some fresh herbs and a little olive oil.

Or make a Greek stuffed tomato, with cooked lamb or beef pieces, chopped red onion, Kalamata olives, chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese, with fresh oregano.

The filling should be moist.  The Panko bread crumbs can be eliminated but they do add a little crunch and texture.  For a gluten-free option, crumble up some lightly toasted gluten-free bread and substitute that for the Panko crumbs.

Completely scoop out the insides of the tomato, and lightly fill with the mixture (don’t pack the filling in).

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Place the tomatoes in a baking dish, or if you’ll be cooking this on an outdoor grill, in a grill-safe pan or dish.  Drizzle with a little olive oil.

You can roast the tomatoes now, or bake them, until the tomatoes are soft and the filling is heated throughout (about a half hour at 375 degrees).

For something extra delicious, top the tomatoes with a savory crust.  I made a basic pie crust with flour, butter and ice water, and added chopped fresh basil to the crust.  I cut out a circle of dough roughly the size of the tomato and baked the tomato with the dough on it.  It was like a fresh tomato pie!  You could use a store-bought crust or even thawed puff pastry crust, and you can omit the basil or substitute another appropriate herb.20140727_175438

 

 

 

 

 

If you need a pie crust refresher course, it’s really easy.  The basic rule is 1 part flour, 1/2 part butter or other shortening (vegetable shortening or lard or a combination of those), and 1/4 part ice water.  So if you use 2 cups flour, use 1 cup shortening and 1/2 cup ice water.  For a smaller recipe, use 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup shortening and 1/4 cup ice water.   Simply place the flour in a bowl, use a pastry cutter or a fork to distribute the shortening into the flour (or pulse in a food processor) until the flour and shortening resemble coarse wet sand and stir in the ice water.  Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, and form the dough into a disk.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for about 45 minutes or an hour.  Then roll or pat the dough to the desired thickness and cut to the desired size.

For this tomato pie, I used all butter and kneaded in several large basil leaves that I finely chopped.  I wanted a savory rustic crust and didn’t make the butter pieces too small.  I also sprinkled some coarse salt over the crust before baking the tomato.

Let me know what fillings you can think of for these individual baked tomato pies!

Crispy Asparagus Bites

This “recipe” is pretty open-ended, but easy to follow.  The precise amounts of ingredients will depend on how many asparagus spears you plan to use, and how many crispy bites you’d like to end up with.

Quick recipe (detailed instructions below):

Wash and dry asparagus spears.  Trim the bottom ends off.  Lightly dredge in seasoned flour, then in a basic egg wash, and finally in Panko bread crumbs combined with grated parmesan cheese (the cheese is optional).  Bake on a baking rack placed over a sheet pan at 425˚ for about 15 minutes or until golden and crispy.  Cut with kitchen shears into approximately 2 inch lengths, and garnish with lemon zest or a little fresh lemon juice or minced preserved lemon peel and a little freshly ground black pepper.  Serve immediately or chilled or at room temperature.

The recipe, step-by-step, with more detailed instructions:

First, wash the asparagus spears.  I used one and half bunches of regular thick-stalked asparagus.  Dry them with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.  Then, trim the woody thick ends off.  To do this, bend one asparagus spear down near the end with both hands, as if you’re going to break it in two.  You’ll feel it begin to snap, and then a section of the bottom of the spear will automatically snap off.   It’s usually about a 2 or 3 inch section. Where it naturally snaps off is where it should be trimmed.  You can just line up the rest of the spears and cut the rest of the ends off with a knife to match the size of your sample spear.

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You’ll need three shallow containers:  one for flour, one for an egg and water mixture, and a third for bread crumbs.  I used three cheap oblong plastic storage containers that were long enough to hold the entire spear.  You could use cake pans, or even gallon-size zip top plastic bags.  You’ll also need a sheet pan or cookie sheet, and a baking rack (the kind you’d cool cookies on).  Preheat oven to 425˚.

In the first container, place enough all-purpose flour to coat the spears.  Add a half-teaspoon of salt and stir with a fork or clean hands so the flour and salt are combined.  (You could also add a little cayenne pepper or paprika or garlic powder, if you want a little spice kick.  I just stuck to flour and salt.)  The spears don’t have to be buried in the flour, just tossed to coat thoroughly.  For my one and a half bunches of asparagus, I used about a heaping half cup of flour.

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In the second container, mix 2 eggs and about a quarter cup of water.  The desired result is enough egg mixture to be able to coat the asparagus spears, so that the bread crumbs (in the next step) will stick to the spears.  Again, the spears do not have to be completely immersed in the egg mixture, just coated all over.  Lay a few spears in the egg mixture, and use your clean hands to make sure each spear gets an “egg bath”.

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In the third container, place about a heaping cup of Panko bread crumbs.  Panko crumbs are flaky and made from bread specifically crafted to produce these light crumbs.  They’re inexpensive and, in a regular grocery store, they’re usually found with the other bread crumb types or in the Asian section.  If you’d like, grate some fresh parmesan cheese (a couple of tablespoons) into the Panko crumbs.  Remove the asparagus spears from the egg bath, lightly shake off any excess egg, and place the spears into the bread crumbs, rolling to coat thoroughly.  The spears will not be completely coated like a corn dog, but there will be crumbs clinging around the entire spear.  You’ll still see plenty of the green asparagus through the crumb coating.

Place the baking rack on the sheet pan or cookie sheet.  I put parchment paper over the sheet pan just to catch any crumbs that fell off, for easier cleanup.  Lay the spears gently on the rack, making sure they are not too crowded.  Air should be able to circulate around each one.

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Bake them for about 15 – 18 minutes, until the crumbs are golden and the asparagus is crispy.  They won’t be crunchy like a potato chip, but they will not be soggy.

Then, to finish them, I used kitchen shears to cut each spear into bite-size pieces, about 2 inches long.  I think they’re easier to eat that way, and more appealing to kids.  For people who aren’t accustomed to eating asparagus, tasting a bite-size little crunchy bit is less intimidating than picking up an entire spear, and even if you’re an asparagus lover, the smaller pieces are neater to eat than a whole crumb-covered spear.  They’re also easier to pack (easier than finding a container long enough to hold entire spears).  I added a touch of lemon over them:  you could use the zest of a fresh lemon peel, or a spritz of fresh lemon juice, or – even better – if you’re lucky enough to have some preserved lemons (that’s for another blog post!), a little finely minced preserved lemon peel.  I also grated a little freshly ground black pepper over them.  Lemon pepper (if it’s not loaded with salt and sugar) would be a great seasoning to shake over these little bites, too. They can be eaten right away, or enjoyed chilled or at room temperature.  I packed them loosely in a container and brought them for a crispy picnic treat.

 

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

What’s in the chocolate syrup that is stirred into milk and served to those kids who are always smiling in the commercials on TV?  What does it have to do with wood-pulp industry by-products?  Read on…

Recently, I looked at the labels on the bottles of chocolate syrup in the supermarket.  Most of them listed “high fructose corn syrup” as the main ingredient, then corn syrup, and another sugar.   Cocoa was on the list of ingredients, but often 4th, after all the sugars.  Then there were the polysorbates, the mono and diglycerides, xanthan gum, artificial flavors and vanillin.  Vanillin?  If you want to delve deep into chemistry, just look up “vanillin” online.  It’s pretty depressing: vanillin is synthesized from a by-product of the wood pulp industry called lignin, or an even more mysterious word called guiaicol (described as a yellow-tinged oil) and at that point the multi-syllabic words and chemical processes made my brain tired, and I quit reading.  I am pretty sure that Walter White, the chemistry teacher from “Breaking Bad”, would be a helpful resource when trying to understand how vanillin is manufactured.  But whether or not you stayed awake in chemistry class, it doesn’t take long to realize that vanillin is not what we want to be consuming or feeding to our families, especially in something as simple as chocolate milk.  Many websites advise avoiding vanillin in the diets of children with ADHD (along with other artificial colors and flavors).

I looked up homemade chocolate syrup recipes online and for the most part, they called for sugar, cocoa powder, and a few harmless extras like salt, or butter or vanilla extract.

But I was trying to find something even more basic, and healthier.  Most of the ordinary cocoa powders that are on the grocery store shelves today are labelled “Dutch process” or “processed with alkali”.  That’s not an entirely bad thing.  Pure cocoa powder (the kind our grandmothers baked with) can be a little bitter.  So a Dutch chemist figured out how to process the cocoa to make it less acidic.  [This is why some vintage recipes that call for “cocoa” don’t come out quite as nicely as you had expected.  Some of the recipes, passed down from years ago, used cocoa that had not been Dutch processed, and the leavenings are affected (the baking soda and baking powders, for example).  So it’s important to know if the recipe you’re using calls for Dutch processed or natural cocoa.  If it’s from a magazine from the 1940s, or on your grandma’s recipe cards, use natural cocoa.  Recipes today often specify “Dutch process cocoa” and the other ingredients are adjusted accordingly.  It’s possible to buy natural cocoa, but it requires reading all the labels and some stores don’t carry anything but the Dutch processed types.]

Processing cocoa with alkali strips it of some of the healthy properties of chocolate, or else the healthy properties are greatly reduced.  You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate has anti-oxidant properties, and contains flavanols, which can help lower blood pressure and contribute to overall health (when consumed in moderation which, sadly, means we cannot exist on a diet of 100% dark chocolate).  When cocoa is “dutched”, those anti-oxidants and flavanols are significantly lessened.  So it’s not so much the process as the loss of the healthy attributes of pure chocolate that make Dutch process cocoa not as preferable a choice when using cocoa.  The problem is, it’s getting harder and harder to find natural, unprocessed, old-fashioned cocoa.

This led me to trying to make as simple a chocolate syrup as I could.  After a little experimenting, and remembering that raw local honey and maple syrup are good choices of sweeteners, I made this:

Homemade Chocolate Honey Syrup

3/4 cup raw local honey                                                                                                                                     8 ounces pure unsweetened chocolate (I used two 4 ounce Ghiradelli 100% Cacao bars)     1/2 cup water                                                                                                                                                         1/2 tsp salt (I used Redmond Real Salt, which is unrefined and contains minerals)               1 tsp vanilla (good quality, without additives or caramel coloring;  see note below)

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and melt to combine over low heat, stirring occasionally.  Store in a jar or bottle.  Since this is just honey, chocolate and water basically, it really doesn’t need refrigeration, as none of those are routinely refrigerated. 

I found that the next day, the syrup was pretty thick, so I stirred in another half cup of water (didn’t heat it, just stirred the water in.)  It all combined smoothly.  You can adjust the water amount until it’s as thin as you’d like.  

I’m going to experiment a little with this recipe.  I’m going to make another batch and instead of just melting it, I’m going to boil it for about 3 minutes to see if that results in a slightly thinner product.  If you try that, let me know what you think!

My daughter taste-tested this and loved it.  She said she could taste the honey but that wasn’t a negative point.  I did use a rather strong local honey, which was what I had in the pantry,  so if you prefer a milder taste, try to find a local honey that is milder or sweeter.  Many local farmers’ markets or stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s will have several honey options to choose from.  You can usually get good advice from those sources about the different tastes of different honeys, and which are milder and which are stronger.

Use this chocolate syrup to make chocolate milk (your choice of milk: oat milk, almond, soy, lactose-free, or regular dairy milk).  Drizzle over ice cream or pound cake.  If it’s too thick, heat it a little or stir in a little water.

Note:  I make my own homemade vanilla extract, from brandy or vodka and vanilla beans.  Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa from the Food Network, has an excellent and simple method of making vanilla extract that is available online.  This allows you to use vanilla that consists of just two ingredients, without caramel color, or additives.  But it’s important to remember while homemade vanilla takes just a few minutes to make, it requires several months to develop the flavors.  You can make a couple of bottles in minutes, and then store them in a dark cool place for several months until they’re ready to use.  So start now and the vanilla will be perfect by late summer or for holiday gifts or hostess gifts in the fall and winter.

 

Edamame: the Nutritious, Bright Green, Young Soy Bean

Edamame (pronounced ed-ah-mah-may) is a young soybean pod, picked when they’re a beautiful green color and edible, but not fully ripened.  They’re generally sold frozen, in one pound bags, with nothing added (no salt or any other ingredients).   Sometimes they’re available fresh, but most of us will find them in the frozen section of the market.  The pods resemble pea pods, and usually have two to three beans inside.  Edamame are a nutritious source of protein, fiber, vitamins and iron, and they’re an inexpensive and delicious snack or light meal.

To cook them, fill a large pot with water and add about 2 teaspoons of salt.  Bring the water to a full boil and then put the entire bag of whole edamame pods in.  You’ll notice that the pods sink to the bottom, but quickly, they’ll begin to all bob to the surface.  Boil for about 3 minutes, remove from the heat and drain them in a colander.  If you are boiling fresh – not frozen – pods, boil them for about 7 minutes.   Keep the pods intact; don’t remove the seeds.

Sprinkle them with good quality sea salt and serve with plenty of lime wedges. My daughter tosses hers with a little butter.  I prefer mine with just lime juice and salt. Eat them by holding a pod to your mouth (kind of like holding a harmonica) squeezing the pods between your teeth until the tender seeds pop out.  Only the seeds are eaten and the pods are discarded.

They’re delicious with crusty bread or pita chips, or just by themselves.

Other ways to enjoy edamame:  the seeds can be removed from the pods after they’re boiled and mixed with other seasonal vegetables (such as roasted corn kernels, chopped red bell pepper, halved cherry tomatoes) and served as a side dish.   Add cooked pasta to the cooked edamame seeds, chopped fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, grated carrots, chopped red pepper, a little grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil for a delicious pasta salad.  The cooked seeds can be combined with cooked rice, chopped cooked chicken, sautéed red bell peppers and a little soy sauce.  Or you could cook a pound of edamame for about 15 minutes until they’re very soft, and purée the seeds with 4 ounces of a mild soft, fresh cheese (such as goat cheese, soft feta,  or brie), 1/2 teaspoon of dill,  the juice of a lemon and a little salt to make a delicious dip.