Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Squares

Chocolate chip cheesecake squares.

Chocolate chip cheesecake squares.

Did I hear someone say “cheesecake”?.   Oh, that was me!  Yes, well,  I fell off the wagon, and I mean big time!  But you will remember it was my birthday and Mother’s Day all in the same weekend.  So that was my excuse for treating myself and, of course, anyone else who was around to some sinfully rich and oh-so-good chocolate chip cheesecake squares WITH toffee cookie crumb crust.  Try saying that three times fast.  I could eat one faster than I can say it, and I bet you could, too.

An elegant, creamy, smooth dessert.

An elegant, creamy, smooth dessert.

There are so many recipes for cheesecake bars and squares out there, that you could pick any one that you like, but I particularly like this one because it not only includes cream cheese, but also mascarpone.  And when you combine those two you can’t expect anything but perfection.

The most commonly used ingredient for making a crust is graham cracker crumbs,  but Mr. D. has an allergy to graham crackers, so in their place I usually use shortbread cookies crushed into crumbs.  In making these bars I would have done the same except when I was shopping for groceries I spied  these cookies called Toffee Sandies by Keebler.  Since I’ve always loved pecan sandies, I thought these would make an interesting crust instead.

The cookies I used.

The cookies I used.

Cheesecake is a dessert that is very forgiving in that you can add many different flavorings, use all kinds of toppings, change the crust, and bake in a variety of pans.  It still comes out creamy and delicious.  So you really can’t go wrong.  If you need a dessert that everyone will love, give this stellar creation a try.

The hint of orange is such a good companion flavor to chocolate.

The hint of orange is such a good companion flavor to chocolate.

CHOCOLATE CHIP CHEESECAKE BARS WITH TOFFEE COOKIE CRUST

Servings:   9

Ingredients:

For the crust

  • 1  1/2 cups toffee sandies—fine crumbs
  • 5 Tablespoons butter, melted

    Cream cheese, mascarpone, chocolate chips and orange zest provide the flavor

    Cream cheese, mascarpone, chocolate chips and orange zest provide the flavor

For the filling:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened  ( 1/3 less fat variety, OK )
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup semisweet (or your choice) chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs

1.  Place the toffee sandies in a food processor bowl and pulse to fine crumbs;  place in a mixing bowl.

2.  Add melted butter and mix well.

3.  Press crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9 x 9 inch pan.  I made one and a half times the recipe, thus you see a larger pan.

Cookie crumb crust in the pan.

Cookie crumb crust in the pan.

4.  Bake crust for 10 – 12 minutes at 325*F.

5.  Allow to cool while you make the filling.

Filling:

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cheeses, sugar, zest and vanilla until smooth.

2.  Add eggs one at a time, beat on low speed just until combined.

3.  Fold in chocolate chips

4.  Pour over crust and smooth with an offset spatula

Going into the oven.

Going into the oven.

5.  Bake at 325 *F for 35 – 40 minutes or until center is just set and top begins to brown.

Out of the oven--only the edges are browned, but the filling is "set".

Out of the oven–only the edges are browned, but the filling is “set”.

6.  Remove pan from the oven, and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes

7.  Carefully run a knife around the edge of pan to loosen;  cool 1 hour longer then refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight before serving.

You will want more than one of these!

You will want more than one of these!

IMG_4066

SOURCE:   adapted from   A Culinary Journey with Chef Dennis

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Pad Thai

Pad Thai with Shrimp

Pad Thai with Shrimp

Recently I was in the mood for some Thai cooking so I decided to make this dish that I had seen made on the Food Network;  Sandra Lee’s Money Saving Meals.  It is extremely easy to make and quite tasty, coming very close in flavor to what I have eaten at a Thai restaurant located near us.  It is the kind of recipe that is very flexible, leaving you lots of room for additions and substitutions.  For example instead of the shrimp you could use chicken or tofu,  add green peas for some additional vegetables and color,  use thin spaghetti instead of rice noodles, and add peanut butter to the sauce if you like more peanut flavor or leave it out completely.  The spice level can also be adjusted by using more or less chile sauce.

IMG_4032

This meal could be completely vegetarian by using tofu, and vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth called for.  Although the recipe’s yield is for  four servings, my husband and I ate all of it at one sitting.  It was so good, in fact, we devoured it.  I really like this recipe for its versatility and I am sure I will be making it again.

Recipe:   PAD THAI

Yield:   4 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1  (8-ounce) package rice noodles

    Having everything prepped in advance means this dish goes together in a snap.

    Having everything prepped in advance means this dish goes together in a snap. (Pretend you see 2 eggs here!)

  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon chile sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 3 scallions,  thinly sliced
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped, for garnish ( I did not use these.)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, for garnish

DIRECTIONS

1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and turn off the heat.  Add the rice noodles and let them soften, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Drain.

2.  In a wok or large saute pan, over high heat, add 1 Tablespoon oil.  When it is hot, add the eggs and cook until they are firm.  Remove them from the pan and let them cool a bit.  Roughly chop them and set aside.

3.  in the same pan, add the shrimp and sauté just until pink and cooked through. Set aide with the egg.

3.  In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, chile sauce, lime juice, garlic, and broth.  Set aside.

4.  Add the remaining 1 Tablespoon oil to the pan along with the carrots, scallions, and bean sprouts and stir fry 1 minute.

Stir fry vegetables, then add noodles, shrimp and egg.

Stir frying the vegetables.

Add the reserved eggs, shrimp, noodles and sauce, stirring to coat everything completely.

Add noodles, shrimp and egg.

Add noodles, shrimp, eggs, and sauce.

Cook for another minute or so to warm everything through.  Serve garnished with peanuts and cilantro.

 A delicious and very enjoyable meal.

A delicious and very enjoyable meal.

SOURCE:   Sanda Lee’s  Thrifty Thai,  Food Network

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant, (aubergine in French, melanzane, in Italian),  is a vegetable that I am not overly fond of, and therefore don’t cook it very often.  However there is one dish that I really like and that is eggplant parmesan.  This can be a lengthy dish to prepare  what with slicing and breading, then cooking the eggplant before you even begin to put the remaining ingredients with it and baking it.  In addition, eggplant has the ability to absorb large amounts of oil that it is cooked in,  another reason why I seldom make it.

Eggplant Parmesan and pasta.

Eggplant Parmesan and pasta.

When I happened upon this recipe for EP.Parmesan I really took notice because the eggplant is baked after having been dredged in flour, egg, and panko. There is no oil involved for the eggplant to soak up, and the baked slices come out fork tender with a crisp outer crust.  Then you layer them in a baking dish with sauce and cheese, bake it up, and eat it  knowing you have made a dish that is low in fat ( 9 g. total; 5 g. saturated), yet still very tasty and healthy for you.

This casserole make 6 generous servings, and if you have any left over you might try warming it up, and serving it in a crispy hard roll for a great sandwich.

EGGPLANT PARMESAN

Yield   6 generous servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

    Aubergines from http://www.usda.gov/oc/photo/9...

    Aubergines from http://www.usda.gov/oc/photo/98c0468.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • 2 egg whites, lightly beaten with a little water (or use egg substitute, i.e., Egg Beaters)
  • 1  1/2 cups panko crumbs
  • 1  3/4 lbs. eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 3 cups marinara sauce, plus more if serving with pasta
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 cups reduced-fat shredded mozzarella
  • 10 – 12 large basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 package spaghetti, cooked according to pkg. directions  (optional)

1.  Heat oven to 375*F.  Using a large baking sheet, line with parchment paper and coat with nonstick cooking spray.

2.  Place flour, egg whites and panko in separate shallow dishes.  Dredge eggplant slices in flour, dip in egg, and coat with panko.  Place on prepared baking sheet and bake at 375* for 40 – 45 minutes until easily pierced with a fork.

Eggplant slices breaded and already baked.

Eggplant slices breaded and already baked.

3.  Spread 1 cup of sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9 – inch baking dish.  Place half the eggplant slices over sauce and season with 1/8 tsp.  each of the salt and pepper.

A layer of sauce in the bottom of the dish, then eggplant, then more sauce.

A layer of sauce in the bottom of the dish, then eggplant, then more sauce.

Layer with 1 cup of sauce, 1 cup mozzarella and the basil, roughly torn into pieces.

Sprinkle with grated mozzarella and chopped basil.

Sprinkle with grated mozzarella and chopped basil.

Repeat layering with remaining eggplant, salt, pepper, sauce and mozzarella.

Next layer of eggplant in place, to be covered with more sauce and cheese.

Next layer of eggplant in place, to be covered with more sauce and cheese.

4.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the Parmesan over top and loosely tent with foil.  Bake at 375* for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

All hot and melty with cheese.

All hot and melty with cheese.

5.  If desired serve with cooked spaghetti, remaining Parmesan and additional sauce.

Serve with pasta for a hearty, meatless meal.

Serve with pasta for a hearty, meatless meal.

SOURCE:   Family Circle.com/healthyfamilydinners

Very Berry Strawberry Cookies

Very Berry Strawberry  Cookies

Very Berry Strawberry Cookies

This is the time of year when strawberries are reappearing at the market and they look so beautiful; red, ripe and juicy.  They never fail to get my creative juices flowing.  The native berries that grow here where I live have not ripened yet  (usually not till the end of May), so until those are available I will use the California-grown berries available at the market.

However, I have found from past experience  that baking with strawberries does not produce a true, vivid strawberry flavor.  They are so much more enjoyable in their natural state, luscious and juicy with just a little sugar on them.  So for baking I have been exploring ways to get a true strawberry flavor.  I think I have found the answer, and it happened quite by accident.  One morning I was eating Special K cereal with Red Berries and was struck by how strong the berry flavor was.  These freeze-dried strawberries had the color and flavor I have been looking for.  So I searched the dried fruits section of the supermarket and there I found bags of freeze-dried strawberries.

Freeze dried strawberries can be pulverized into powder.

Freeze dried strawberries can be pulverized into powder.

Bingo!  I was on to something.  Reasoning that if I could crush or pulverize those freeze dried berries and mix the powder into the dough,  I could get the strong flavor I wanted.    I love to experiment,  so I was excited to give this a try.  The results, I’m happy to tell you, were quite good.   Using a recipe I had for a basic sugar cookie that also uses some cream cheese, and adding the strawberry powder to the dough,  I got a tender cookie with a pretty pink color and real strawberry flavor.  They are just great on their own, but you know what?   You can also mix this strawberry powder into cream cheese frosting and make sandwich cookies for a double-whammy of strawberry goodness.  (Notice that I’m not mentioning calories here!)    Ok, Ok, let’s be reasonable.  Let’s enjoy these cookies with a dish of strawberry ice cream instead!!!

The perfect accompaniment to Very Strawberry ice cream.

The perfect accompaniment to Very Strawberry ice cream.

VERY BERRY STRAWBERRY  COOKIES

Yield:   Makes about 4 1/2 dozen 2″ cookies, or 27 sandwich cookies

For the Cookies:

  •  1 cup  ( 2 sticks) butter
  • 1/2 cup  ( 4 ounces) cream cheese at room temperature.  Reduced fat version is OK.
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 cup strawberry powder
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups flour,  I used half white whole wheat flour;

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese  (4-ounces)
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons strawberry powder
  • 1 Tablespoon strawberry jam
  • milk or cream as needed for spreading consistency

To make the cookies:

1.  Preheat oven to 375*F.  Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

2.  Begin by crushing the dry strawberries.  I used a mortar and pestle and was able to get a fine powder with little or no lumps.  If you have difficulty getting it smooth, you can always sift the powder to remove any lumps.   Measure 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons if making the filling.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, cream cheese, salt and baking powder, strawberry powder and sugars.

Mixing up the cream cheese, butter, sugars and strawberry powder.

Mixing up the cream cheese, butter, sugars and strawberry powder.

4.  Once the mixture is nice and light and fluffy, beat in the egg and then mix in the flour.

5.  Scoop by the tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheets.  Flatten each cookie into a 2″ circle with the bottom of a glass dipped into sugar.

Drop by tablespoon onto baking sheet and flatten into  2-inch circles.

Drop by tablespoon onto baking sheet and flatten into 2-inch circles.

Bake for 14 – 16 minutes, until barely golden around the edges.  Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.  Makes about 54 cookies.

To make the filling:

1.  Beat the cream cheese until soft and fluffy.  Add the strawberry jam, and blend into the cream cheese.  Add the sugar and strawberry powder gradually  along with small amounts of milk or cream to achieve a spreading consistency.

2.  Generously frost the bottom side of one cookie and top with another to make a tasty sandwich.  Makes about 27 sandwich cookies.

These are not going to last long.

These are not going to last long.

You can never have too much of a very good thing!

You can never have too much of a very good thing!

SOURCE;  a Carolyn Original based on a modified recipe for sugar cookies from Taste of Home

French Onion Steaks

French onion Salisbury steak.

French onion Salisbury steak.

Years ago, when real steaks were out of the question because of their cost, Salisbury steak was a classic dish made with ground beef, and “fancied” up with a flavorful gravy and given an impressive name.   This was, of course, before my memory, but  my parents talked about  Salisbury Steak dinners, frozen and packaged as TV dinners.    I don’t know if these dinners even still exist,  perhaps not—they were awful, I hear.  Please don’t tell Swanson I said so!  : – )

Anyway, I came across this recipe in a rather old issue of Cook’s Illustrated that pairs the classic Salisbury Steak with another classic, French Onion Soup, giving that old recipe a new spin.  It even includes a crouton and melted cheese.

Dredging the lightly seasoned steak burgers in flour enhances browning and also gives body to the onion sauce.  Stove-top braising keeps the ground-beef patties moist and tender.  Sweet onions, like Vidalia give a milder flavor to the French onion sauce.  For a bolder taste, use yellow onions which are available year round.  If you are not an onion fan, I think this dish will win you over.

FRENCH ONION SALISBURY STEAK

SERVINGS:   Makes 4 steaks

For the steaks:

  • 1  1/4 lb. ground chuck  ( 80 – 85% lean)

    French onion Salisbury steak.

    French onion Salisbury steak.

  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsp. minced scallions
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp, black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

For the sauce:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Cups sliced onions  ( 2 large onions)
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • Cheese Toasts ( recipe below)
  • minced fresh parsley for garnish
  • Shredded Parmesan

1.  Combine ground beef, 1/4 cup parsley, scallions, salt and pepper.  Divide into four even portions and shape each into  3/4 – 1 – inch thick oval patties.

Form beef into 4 oval-shaped patties.

Form beef into 4 oval-shaped patties.

2.  Place 2 Tbsp. four in a shallow dish; dredge each patty in flour.  Remove and save 1 tsp. flour.

Dredge each patty in flour.

Dredge each patty in flour.

3.  Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add patties and sauté 3 minutes on each side, or until browned.  Remove from pan and keep warm.

Brown well on each side.

Brown well on each side.

Set aside while you make the onion sauce.

Set aside while you make the onion sauce.

4.  Add onions and sugar to pan;  saute 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and tomato paste;  saute until paste begins to brown, 1 minute.  Sprinkle mixture with reserved flour; cook 1 minute.  Stir in broth, wine, salt and thyme.

Saute onions, garlic, tomato paste and thyme.

Saute onions, garlic, tomato paste and thyme.

5.  Return meat to pan, bring sauce to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Return beef patties to the pan and continue cooking in the sauce.

Return beef patties to the pan and continue cooking in the sauce.

Serve steaks on Cheese Toasts with onion sauce ladled over.  Garnish with parsley and Parmesan cheese.

IMG_4008

CHEESE TOASTS

  • 4 slices  Italian baguette, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices 
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
  • pinch of paprika
  • 1/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. shredded Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400*F.  Lightly spray a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.  Place bread slices on baking sheet.

Combine butter, garlic, and paprika; spread on one side of each slice of bread.  Combine cheeses and sprinkle evenly over butter.

Top each bread slice with seasoned butter and cheeses.

Top each bread slice with seasoned butter and cheeses.

Bake until bread is crisp and cheese is melted, 10 – 15 minutes.

Cheese toasts.  Make extra to eat out of hand along with the meal.

Cheese toasts. Make extra to eat out of hand along with the meal.

French onion Salisbury Steak, served with spinach and strawberry salad.

French onion Salisbury Steak, served with spinach and strawberry salad.

SOURCE:   Cooks Illustrated

A Day to Celebrate

My perennial garden with garden house.

My perennial garden with garden house.

What is there to celebrate today?—-ME!   Today is my birthday, and I’m taking the day off because its going to be a very busy day.

Just thought I would share a few thoughts with you before the day gets started;  a break from my usual blog format.

This evening I am dancing in a special show called a “Showcase Ball”,  where I’ll be dancing a solo routine with my teacher/dance partner.  We’ve been working on this since  February;  first choreographing and learning the routine, then practicing it, then tweaking and polishing it till it’s performance ready.  Hope all goes well.  I don’t usually get nervous at these performances, but you never know what may happen and I need to stay focused.

Early morning sun filtering through the young leaves of a red maple tree.

Early morning sun filtering through the young leaves of a red maple tree.

So far this month, the weather has been spectacular.  The sky is the deepest blue, and the light green of budding trees silhouetted against it is so awesome .   All the homes in my neighborhood have beautiful flowering trees in full bloom.

Flowering Crab-apple tree.

Flowering Crab-apple tree.

White flowers now, red berries in the fall that the birds love.

Kousa Dogwood tree;  white flowers now, red berries in the fall that the birds love.

Purple phlox, and chartreuse Euonymus, a striking color combination.

Purple phlox, and chartreuse Euonymus, a striking color combination.

There is so much beauty everywhere I want to photograph it all.   I think May is the prettiest month, and I feel so lucky that it’s my birthday month.  It makes me want to celebrate.

A tiny beauty peeking out.

A tiny beauty peeking out.

Another tiny beauty; a species tulip.

Another tiny beauty; a species tulip.

More of the same.  Aren't they cute?

More of the same. Aren’t they cute?

The photos I’ve included in this post were taken in my yard.  Although I love to see mass plantings of one kind of flower for its impact value, when I take pictures I like to focus on just one or two flowers and bring out the details.  I also look for color combinations that I find striking.

A white daffodil, so lovely!

An all white daffodil, so lovely!

Flowering Qince

Flowering Quince

Grape hyacinths, a mass of them planted outside the garage welcomes us home.

Grape hyacinths, a mass of them planted outside the garage welcomes us home.

I hope you enjoy my photos.  You probably have some of the same in your yard, but its kind of fun to see others, too.

This azalea provides a bright spot of color at the side of our deck.

This azalea provides a bright spot of color at the side of our deck.

Sunday, coming up, brings with it Mother’s Day.   Another wonderful day for celebration.  Honoring our mothers  (and fathers, too, on their day), is a wonderful thing to do.  We owe them so much—we wouldn’t be who we are, or where we are without them.  So if you still have your mother with you,  give her a big hug and kiss, and do something really nice for her.  And for all you mothers out there I hope you have a wonderful, love and family-filled day.  Be good to yourself, and have a great weekend.  See you on Monday with another really yummy recipe.

View of the perennial border.

View of the perennial border.

Early May morning.

Early May morning.

All photos taken by yours truly.  If you would like to reuse them, you may do so only with my permission.

Spinach and Strawberry Salad

A salad of spinach, strawberries, goat cheese and almonds.

A salad of spinach, strawberries, goat cheese and almonds.

Some spring seasons have come and gone when I haven’t devoted much time to utilizing strawberries.  This year for some reason I feel as though I’m on a mission to use them in as many ways as possible.

When I was growing up we lived next door to a farm where every year one large field was planted with strawberries.  When they began to ripen,  several of us teen-agers were hired to help with picking and the berries were sold at a road-side farm stand.  Picking strawberries by hand is an experience not to be missed (or forgotten, either).  The work is hard on the knees and back,  but the opportunity to sample warm, sweet, juicy strawberries, right off the plant more than made up for the aches and pains in the back and knees.

Strawberry Field

Strawberry Field (Photo credit: timtak)

On most days when I got off work, I was sent home with a basket of berries for my folks.  As I recall the only ways my mother served strawberries was as a shortcake or fresh strawberry pie.

We did not have access to California grown strawberries in the supermarkets as we do now.  So when the berries were ripe (usually end of May through to July 4, if the weather was good)  we ate berries often, made jam, and froze some sliced and ready for recipes in the months ahead.  And since they are fruit they were designated as dessert.  Now-a-days we add fruits to main entrees, and salads, and I like the sweetness fruits add to a dish.   The recipe I have for you today is just such a combination;  a spinach salad with strawberries, goat cheese, or feta, and almonds.  The dressing is a balsamic vinaigrette, which really complements the strawberries and helps to bring out their sweetness.  This is very easy and quick to make, and goes with a variety of main dishes.  With all that spinach, its also healthy and good for you, so try this while berries are “in season” where ever you live.

A pretty salad on the plate.

A pretty salad on the plate.

SPINACH AND STRAWBERRY SALAD

SERVINGS:     4

Ingredients:

  • 1  ( 5 – 7 oz. pkg.) Baby Spinach 
  • 2  cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 / 2 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • salt and pepper

1.  Combine spinach and strawberries in a large bowl.

2.  Whisk together the vinegar and oil in a small bowl.  Add the basil and season with salt and pepper.

3.  Add vinaigrette to salad and toss gently to evenly coat.  Divide salad among four plates.  Sprinkle each salad with cheese and almonds.

SOURCE:   TASTE OF HOME

Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta

Lemon panna cotta.

Lemon panna cotta.

Panna Cotta is a dessert that I’ve been wanting to make for such a long time, but just never seemed to get around to it.  I have collected several recipes for making it, all just a little different from each other.

Panna Cotta, which means “cooked cream” is Italian in origin, and can be made with milk, cream, half and half, buttermilk, or any combination of these.   I also have a recipe  using yogurt.  Panna cotta is a cool, silky, creamy dessert that is often served with fruit or caramel sauce.  The higher the fat content of your base liquid, the richer the dessert will be, and of course, more calorie laden.

A light refreshing dessert.

A light refreshing dessert.

Happily this is a dessert that can be adjusted in terms of calories and fat content.  The recipe I’m offering here is a lighter version that makes good use of lemon for flavoring and still produces the silky texture of the classic with a pleasing hit of sweet and tang.  Meyer lemon–a lemon-orange hybrid–is sweeter than conventional lemon.  If you don’t have access to Meyer lemons, you can use a regular lemon and enjoy a dessert that’s a bit less sweet.  I used a regular lemon in my panna cotta and it had a nice mild lemon flavor, and was neither tart nor overly sweet,—-just right!

Silky, smooth, creamy and cool.

Silky, smooth, creamy and cool.

I also sliced some strawberries, added about 2 Tablespoons of sugar and 1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar to them, and then served a few spooned over the panna cotta for a very pretty presentation.

MEYER LEMON PANNA COTTA

Servings   4

Requires just a few ingredients.

Requires just a few ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Meyer  or regular lemon
  • 1/2 cup  plus 3 Tablespoons 2% reduced-fat milk, divided
  • 1/2 cup half and half  ( I used light cream)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1  3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin, ( 1 envelope)
  • 1  1/2 cups reduced-fat buttermilk
  • cooking spray
  • Mint leaves and lemon rind strips (optional)

Directions:

1.  Remove rind from lemon using a vegetable peeler, avoiding white pith.  Squeeze 3 Tablespoons juice from the lemon and save.

Peel the lemon very thinly to flavor the milk and squeeze the lemon for juice.

Peel the lemon very thinly to flavor the milk and squeeze the lemon for juice.

2.  Combine lemon rind, 1/2 cup milk, half and half, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan;  bring to a simmer over medium heat ( do not boil).  Remove pan from heat;  cover and let stand 20 minutes.   Discard lemon rind.

Heating the milk mixture with the lemon peel.

Heating the milk mixture with the lemon peel.

3.  Sprinkle gelatin over remaining 3 tablespoons milk in a small bowl, and let stand at least 10 minutes.

4.  Return half and half mixture to medium heat; cook for 1 minute or until very hot.  Add the gelatin mixture, stirring with a whisk until dissolved (about 1 minute).  Stir in buttermilk and 3 Tablespoons lemon juice.

5.  Lightly spray  4 ( 6-ounce) ramekins or custard cups.  Divide the lemon mixture among the cups.  Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.

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6.  To serve:  run a knife around outside edges of panna cotta.  Place a plate upside down on top of each cup; invert onto plate.  Garnish with mint and lemon rind, if desired.    Or you may wish to serve with a fruit sauce or sliced fruit as I did.

Panna cotta served with sliced strawberries.

Panna cotta served with sliced strawberries.

Nutritional Profile:    Calories  185;   Fat  6.3 g.;  Protein  7 g.;  Carb  26 g.;  Sodium 258 mg.

SOURCE:   Cooking Light

Borscht

Borscht with sour cream and dill.

Borscht with sour cream and dill.

Since getting back on track with a lower carbohydrate diet,   I have been looking more closely at the kinds of carbs a recipe contains. Simple carbs are out and complex carbs are in, at least for a while.   I want my meals to still be interesting, tasty, satisfying, provide variety and be visually appealing, and of course be nourishing, and healthy.  I don’t think that’s asking too much do you?  With all those requirements in mind, I turned to this recipe for a soup called Borscht.

This is a soup I have known about for a long time, but never tasted.  I knew that its origins were in Eastern Europe, particularly Russia, and that it contained beets.  And that is as much as I knew about it.  Probably what kept me from attempting to make it was the beets which I was never fond of until recently when I learned to roast them.  With the encouragement , no urging, of my dance partner who is Russian I decided to try to make it.  Well, with the internet being the wonderful tool that it is, my recipe search easily turned up  many, many, recipes.  As I began to look at some of them I found them all to be quite different  from each other, the one commonality being beets and the water they are cooked in.  This appears to be a soup that every family has a recipe for, and makes with their own special touches.

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I selected one that included a lot of vegetables, a beef broth base, and seasonings that I had on hand.  It is a multi-step recipe that I made on a weekend day and the hands-on time I spent on it was about one hour.  So if this recipe appeals to you and you want to give it a go, plan adequate time for prepping all the vegetables.  Once everything is in the pot, it takes care of itself and gives you back a beautiful deep red colored soup, chock full of vegetables and goodness with a wonderful complex flavor that is hard to define.   The quantity of the original recipe is HUGH, so I made only half the amount and it was still enough for 6 -8 servings. That is the size I am printing here.  If you would like to serve an army, then just double all quantities.   I served it topped with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill.    We absolutely loved it,  have had it twice as our main meal, and I have been eating it for lunch also.

BORSCHT

SERVINGS:   6 – 8

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced

    Isn't this a beautiful color?

    Isn’t this a beautiful color?

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 2  carrots, chopped
  • 2 cups cabbage, chopped
  • 3 large beets (size of oranges or apples)
  • 2 cups beet water
  • 2 cups potatoes, chopped in fairly large dice
  • 6 cups beef broth (or vegetable broth for a completely vegetarian version)
  • 1  1/2 cups of your favorite pasta sauce
  • 2 cups beet greens, kale or spinach, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1  teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill, or 1 – 2 teaspoons dried dill
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sour cream and more dill for serving

PREPARATION

1.  Prepare beets by scrubbing really well, leaving skins on.  Place beets in a large pot, cover with water and boil until cooked through, adding water if necessary to keep them covered.  This may take and hour or longer, so you can do this the day before.  When beets are tender, strain beet water into a bowl or large measuring cup and reserve.  Run beets under cold water removing the skin and when comfortable to handle, grate with a box grater.

2.  In a VERY large soup pot heat olive oil, when hot add garlic and onions and stir for a few minutes until translucent.  Add celery, carrots, and cabbage and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add potatoes and continue to sauté for 10 minutes.  If veggies are starting to stick, add a small amount of broth.

3.  Add beef broth, pasta sauce, 2 cups beet water and bay leaves and continue cooking until vegetables are tender.

4.  Add grated beets into the soup, the vinegar, brown sugar and cumin. cooking for another 10 minutes or so.

5.  Add chopped greens and 1 teaspoon dried dill or fresh dill.  Cook a few minutes till greens are wilted.  Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve this hearty soup with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of dill and be sure to include a dark whole grain bread to round out the meal.

A loaf of dark rye or whole grain bread is the perfect accompaniment.

A loaf of dark rye or whole grain bread is the perfect accompaniment.

P.S.  My dance partner rated my first time effort at “4 stars out of 5”, based on how his mother makes the soup.

SOURCE:   slightly adapted from VanCityFoodie blog

Honey-Date-Thyme Scones

Honey-Date and Thyme Scones.

Honey-Date and Thyme Scones.

Today I just had to bake something.  It didn’t have to be sweet; I simply wanted something hot and flaky fresh out of the oven.  I rationalized that if there was no sugar in it,  made with part whole wheat flour, and included honey and dates, how could it possibly be bad for me.   And also because they contain the herb thyme, these scones are technically savory, not sweet.  I will have one when they come out of the oven, the rest will be saved for breakfast(s).

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I don’t know why I’m obsessing so much about this and feeling guilty, the weight is coming off as planned, but I don’t want to hit a plateau and then say to myself, “that’s because you ate the scones”. Guess I’ll just have to chance it, because the aroma of these scones baking makes them too good to pass up.  Soooo, if you’re on a diet journey like I am and you’re craving something really good, but also good, i.e.. healthy, for you, give these a try.  And try not to feel guilty!

HONEY-DATE-THYME SCONES

Yield:  12  3″ scones

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups self-rising flour, (see below for a substitute)**
  • 1 stick salt-free butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp.  Honey,  overflowing
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, plus 12 small sprigs for decorating

**In place of self-rising flour, use 3 cups regular all-purpose flour, plus 1 Tbsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt.  I used half white flour and half whole wheat flour, i.e. 1 1/2 cups of each.

Directions:

1.  Grease 2  baking sheets or line with parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 350*F.

2.  Measure out flour in a large bowl.  Cut in butter with a pastry cutter till coarse crumbs form.  Stir in thyme leaves.

3.  In a smaller bowl combine milk and honey and stir with a whisk to blend well.

4.  Add liquid ingredients to dry and mix lightly,  do not over mix.  If the dough remains shaggy and doesn’t come together add a drizzle of milk until it just holds together.  Stir in the dates.

5.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead 2 -3 times.  Roll out to  1 -inch thickness.

Roll out to about  1/2-inch thickness.

Roll out to about 1-inch thickness.

Cut out with a 3 – inch biscuit  cutter and place onto prepared baking sheets.

6.  Brush the tops of scones with a little milk or cream and lay a small sprig of thyme on top of each one.

Cut out with biscuit cutter. Brush tops with milk, and garnish with sprig of thyme.

Cut out with biscuit cutter. Brush tops with milk, and garnish with sprig of thyme.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes at 350*.    My scones were perfectly baked at 20 minutes.

Browned and flaky, fresh out of the oven.

Browned and flaky, fresh out of the oven.

Serve warm with  a little butter to melt into all the crevices.

Serve warm with a little butter to melt into all the crevices.

SOURCE:    slightly adapted from   lepirate.com  (blog)