Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sugar-Free Plum Butter

Plum Tree at our Community Garden

 It's early July, and plums are dropping like sticky rain all over Berkeley. From the tiny maroon fruits that blend into the leaves on the street trees, to the teeny bright red ones landing in the back yards, the full-sized purple and deep red ones, everyone with a plum tree has more than they can possibly manage.

Our neighbors Lisa and Brooks put out the call: come pick some plums - please! Naturally I hustled right on over, not having any idea what kind of plums were on offer. If they were large, I was thinking of galette or German pflaumenkuchen, if small, plum butter.  When I arrived, I found tiny ruby fruits covering a gigantic tree in their back yard, plonking all over the patio and grass, squishing under foot. Plum butter, here we come!  Good thing I bought some more canning jars.....

When the fruits are small, there is no need to do anything to them but rinse and drain them, sort out any rotten ones, and put them on the stove to cook with a little lemon juice and some calcium water.  You can filter out the pits and skins later using a food mill. If you don't have a food mill (I don't) a colander and a big pestle, wooden spoon or muddling stick will do just fine.

There are several flavor directions you can go in with plums to enhance their flavor; this recipe uses vanilla, which rounds out the flavor beautifully. I have also seen recipes calling for a piece of cinnamon stick instead, which sounds very good.  I wonder about star anise......

This recipe is completely, utterly delicious. I wonder if Lisa and Brooks have some more plums to spare....

Sugar-Free Plum Butter

6 pounds plums
2 vanilla beans, split OR 2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup lemon juice (I used Meyer variety)
4 TB calcium water
2 TB low-sugar pectin

2 3/4 cups erythritol
1 1/3 cups + 2 TB xylitol
1 tsp stevia extract powder
1 tsp unsalted butter

If the jars are brand new, wash them and the rings and lids to remove any chemicals left from processing. If they have been sitting in the basement, check them for dust, and wash off any you find. Put the jars and rings into a very large stockpot or canning pot and fill with hot water to cover by an inch or two. Put them on the rear burner of the stove over high heat and bring them to a boil. When they come to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and keep them hot and ready.

Following the instructions in your low sugar pectin kit, make calcium water. (I use Pomona brand.)


Prepare the fruit: wash and dry the plums. If large, cut in quarters and remove the pits. If small, put the whole fruits in an 8 quart, heavy stock pot, along with the calcium water and the lemon juice. If using vanilla beans, cut them in half lengthwise and add them to the pot. Put it on the stove and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is completely softened, to the point of puree.


While the fruit cooks, measure the sweeteners into a medium-sized bowl.  Add the pectin to the sweeteners and whisk them all well to combine.


My antique pestle works great!
When the fruit is ready, turn off the heat and put the whole mixture into a food mill or colander placed over a large bowl or another stock pot.  If using the colander, use a large pestle, muddler, or wooden spoon to force the plum flesh through the holes and leave behind the skin and pits and vanilla beans. Be as thorough as possible, and be sure to scrape off the exterior of the mill or colander to get all the good flesh that is left on it.

Here it is after removing the pits and skin.







Put the filtered puree back in the stock pot and bring it back to a full, rolling boil over medium-high heat.  When it is ready, get a long-handled wooden spoon ready, and gradually add the sweetener mix to the hot fruit, stirring constantly as you pour in the sweeteners. Stir well and frequently to dissolve the pectin and the sweeteners with the fruit and to prevent lumping. Add the vanilla extract and the butter. (The butter is optional, but keeps the foam in check.) Bring it back to a full boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary.  Turn off the heat.  Get ready to can. (Don't worry if it isn't as thick as jam; it thickens as it cools.)



Clear a good sized work surface near the stove, and cover it with clean dishtowels (preferably ones you don't care about!)

Turn the heat off under the pot of jars and move it to the front of the stove so you can reach them easily, and move the jam to the back of the stove so you don't get water into it by accident. (Put the lid on the pot of jam if necessary.) Using tongs or a jar lifter in your dominant hand, and a clean dishtowel in your other hand, carefully remove the lids and rings and drain them on the towels on your work surface. Lift each jar out of the hot water, dump the hot water back into the pot, and carefully guide and transport the hot jar over to the work table, using the towel in your non-dominant hand to support the jars until you get it safely to its destination. Turn it upside down to drain out the extra water. Repeat until all of the jars are drained and ready. Scald your best ladle and wide-mouthed funnel in the boiling water and have them ready with your jars.

Turn the heat back on medium high underneath the pot of water and bring it back to a full boil while you jar the jam.

Now, again using your tongs (or a clean towel, oven mitts, or tough hands!) turn the jars right side up, and line them up to be ready to fill. If you have a wide-mouthed jar funnel (which I so highly recommend - available at any good hardware store, Bed Bath and Beyond, well stocked grocery stores, etc., for less than $5) put it on top of one of the jars.

Grab your best ladle, and bring the pot of hot jam over to your work surface. Carefully fill each jar, leaving 1/4" of space at the top. If you have a wide-mouthed funnel, the bottom should come to just the right spot. If you don't, do your best! If necessary, spoon some out to reach the right level. After you have filled all your jars, use a clean, moist towel to wipe the ring area and the top surface of the jars clean. Again, if you have a wide-mouthed funnel, you are much less likely to spill the jam onto the jars and need to clean them. If you have less than a full jar of jam, put that one straight into use and don't bother to can it.

Put the lids on, followed by the screw tops, and screw them down.


When the water bath comes back to a full boil, reduce the heat to low, and again using your tongs, carefully lower the jars back in one at a time. (The shock of the boiling water can break the jar, which is a big messy bummer.) Boil them all for 10 full minutes, then remove them with your tongs, using the same tong/towel technique described above, and let them cool on the toweled work area. If necessary, work in batches.


Notes from Christine:

* Why the range of xylitol quantities?  The fruit varies widely in how sweet it is; if you have sweet fruit, use the lower amount, if tart, use the higher. You can always start with the smaller amount and add more if it needs it, but you can't subtract it once it's in!


"What's with all of these obscure sweeteners?" Erythritol and Xylitol are sugar alcohols; super low-glycemic, super low-calorie, super low-carbohydrate, and good for your teeth.  

Xylitol is low in carbohydrates and is about as sweet as cane sugar.  It has a fairly neutral flavor, but a little bright, almost pepperminty quality. It can be found easily at a well-stocked health food store or really good grocery store.

Erythritol has 0 carbohydrates and is very neutral in flavor - yay! But it is about 60% as sweet as sugar and is very difficult to find in stores, except in individual packets. As it is 60% as sweet as sugar, it takes quite a bit more to reach the right level of sweetness in a recipe, and this makes proportions difficult.  However, its very neutral profile - and 0 carbs! make it a natural for blending with xylitol and stevia, especially since stevia is so highly concentrated.  It's worth tracking it down by mail-order, or you could make a special request to a grocer to order some for you.

Stevia is a natural, calorie-free leaf extract, super concentrated and very sweet, but with a weird, bitter aftertaste and no volume; due to its highly concentrated state, one teeny-tiny scoopful (which comes in its container) is equal to a teaspoon of sugar. It is easily purchased at Trader Joe's or any grocery store.

Be aware that some Xylitol and Erythritol brands in American packaging are actually imported from China and repackaged. That is why I buy all of these directly from Xylitol USA, http://www.xylitolusa.com/ which manufactures them from North American sources.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

(Sugar-Free) Fresh Apricot Crostata

Sugar-Free Fresh Apricot Crostata

Apricot feast or apricot famine! Last year - famine.  This year - feast!  I went to the farmer's market and bought seconds; ripe, delicious, and cheaper than firsts. First came multiple batches of jam, then a batch of apricot liqueur. I saved all the pits, smashed them open, and put them into some organic Prairie vodka to make almond extract. (The kernel in the pit is a "bitter almond," poisonous to eat, but what almond extract is made from; it's far more almond-y than almonds are!) I was feeling pretty satisfied, the larder was full and I had enough to weather the next famine; no need for more.  But.....then my friend Kate scored yet another massive batch of organic apricots at the farmer's market; the first time she scored 25 pounds and hustled to use it all, soliciting recipes from all her friends in the longest Facebook exchange I've ever seen.  Then she scored another 36 pounds - yikes!  This time she was ready to share some, so we traded; some Artemesia Organic Blood Orange Liqueur for 10 pounds of apricots.  The ripest ones needed to be used right away, so I just went straight into jam mode.... there went five pounds.  A few more went into the jar of liqueur, with more vodka to cover.  And that left me with about 3 more pounds.  Hmmmm...... Apricot Crostata!

If you notice any similarity between this and my recipe for sugar-free Linzertorte, you are a clever and observant reader.  I changed my recipe for the dough ever so slightly (almond meal only instead of hazelnuts, a little vanilla), and the filling recipe here is essentially a quick jam recipe.  In fact, if you don't have any fresh apricots on hand, you can use some sugar-free apricot jam - preferably home-made. Both commercial varieties of sugar-free apricot jam I tried truly had no discernible flavor at all, so if that's all you have available, I would doctor the jam; see below* for instructions.

The recipe would work perfectly with cherries, using exactly the same proportions (I riffed the filling recipe off of a cherry crostata recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook.)  If you use cherries, eliminate the almond extract.

Sugar-Free Fresh Apricot Crostata
Time to add the thickener

Dough
I.
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 large egg yolks
Finely grated fresh lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 tsp apple sauce
1/2 tsp vanilla

II.
1/4 cup erythritol
3 TB xylitol
6 tiny scoops stevia extract powder  (the little measuring spoon in the container)

III.

8 oz/2 fairly packed cups of almond meal
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (spoon and sweep measuring*)
1/4 cup + 2 TB soy protein
1/2 tsp salt

Filling
1 3/4 lbs ripe, fresh apricots
3 TB unsalted butter, divided into a few pieces

1/4 cup + 3 TB erythritol
3 TB + 1 1/2 tsp xylitol
6 tiny scoops stevia extract powder

1-2 TB fresh lemon juice (I used Meyer)
2 TB kirsch
1/2 tsp almond extract

3 TB corn or tapioca starch dissolved in 1/4 cup water

Tools: a 10" tart pan with a removable bottom, a mixer

Dough Instructions:
Using your mixer, beat the butter until fluffy.  Then add the remaining ingredients from group I and beat until well combined.

Measure all of the sweeteners from group II into a small bowl and whisk to combine. Add to the butter mixture and beat until well combined.

Next, measure all of the ingredients from group III into a medium-sized bowl and whisk to combine.  Add gradually to the butter mixture until it is well mixed.  Form the dough into two equal balls, place each on its own sheet of waxed paper, and squash into large disks. Put them in the fridge to chill for at least 1/2 hour.

While the dough is chilling, make the filling:

 
Filling Instructions

Wash, dry, pit and cut the apricots into quarters. (Save the pits to make  your own almond extract!)

Add the butter to a 12" saute pan and melt over medium low heat. Add the apricots, lemon juice, kirsch and almond extract and stir to combine. While the apricot mixture cooks over medium heat, measure the sweeteners into a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Add the sweeteners to the apricot mixture and stir well.  Please note: the sweetener amount is calculated for really sweet, ripe apricots (Blenheims are sooooo delicious!) If your apricots are a little tart and under-ripe, up the sweeteners to taste, and go with the lower amount of lemon juice - perhaps even dropping it; it's there to balance the sweetness. Cook until the apricots have softened somewhat, and released their juices, about 8-10 minutes. Stir up the starch/water slurry to recombine and add it to the apricot mixture.  Cook until the whole batch thickens and no longer tastes of corn starch, about 10 minutes more. You will have a delicious, flavorful filling. Let it cool in the pan.

Meanwhile:

Remove the dough from the refrigerator to soften, and pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Put a silpat on a baking sheet, or cover it in foil, and place on the middle rack of the oven to heat.

When the dough is malleable enough to roll, remove one dough disk and set it aside so that you can use both pieces of waxed paper to roll the dough with.  (Of course you can use an additional piece of waxed paper, but I like to use as little disposable stuff as possible.) Placing one disk between two pieces of waxed paper, roll until the dough into a 12" round.  Put it in the tart pan, and press the dough up the sides of the pan. You can trim off the excess dough or fold it over to reinforce the sides of the tart.  Put it back in the refrigerator while you work on the second disk.

Using your two pieces of waxed paper, roll the second disk into another 12" round. Remove the top layer of waxed paper, and cut the round into 10 strips, each one 3/4" -1" wide. Put the whole thing on a baking sheet and put it in the fridge to firm up a bit - this makes it easier to handle - while you do the rest.

Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator, and fill it with the luscious apricot filling. You may have a tablespoon or two left over; don't over-fill the pan - it will overflow and make a sticky mess. This extra filling is the cook's treat while the tart cooks.  Well, of course. you could eat it right now, before you go to the next step; I did.

Take your dough strips out of the refrigerator, and being mindful that the outside pieces are the shortest and you will need to repeat the strips going the other way, lay the strips across the tart, either straight to make squares or on the diagonal to make diamonds.  You may need to use a spatula to remove the dough strips from the paper. Pinch the outer edges of the dough onto the dough rim in the pan and remove any excess.  Repeat going the other way.  You will likely have a few small pieces of dough; again, cook's treat. You can eat it raw, or put it on the cookie sheet to bake; it makes a tasty shortbread-like cookie. Just remember to take it out after about 10-12 minutes, or it will burn. (I've done this twice now; phooey.)

Put the tart on the heated cookie sheet in the middle of the oven, and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the crust is golden-brown and the filling is bubbling.

Cool the crostata for at least an hour and a half so that you can safely remove it from the pan and cut it without it breaking.

*Special instructions for doctoring commercially made jam:  Take 1 1/3 cups apricot jam. In a medium sized sauce pan, melt the butter, then add the jam and thin it by heating it a bit. Add the almond extract, lemon juice and kirsch in the proportions shown above, and heat and stir to combine. Taste it, adjust the flavors, and follow the directions from there.


GLUTEN-FREE VERSION:

To make this recipe gluten-free, simply substitute your favorite gluten-free baking mix for the whole-wheat pasty flour. All set!







Friday, June 15, 2012

Tangy Sugar-Free Apricot Jam



I never laid eyes on a fresh apricot until I moved to California.  For a special treat, we might crack open a can of apricots in heavy syrup after dinner, or get some dried in our Christmas stockings, but fresh? Never.  Apricots don't travel well; they really need to be picked when they're super ripe and flavorful, and they won't travel very far that way.  This is one fruit you are really best off buying super-ripe, straight from the grower at a farmer's market; then take them home and cook them up or eat them straight away.

In fact, apricots are at their very tastiest when they are ripe to the point of smooshi-ness.  When you are prepping them, just cut out the really dark bruises or tough scaly patches they sometimes get, (the tough skin doesn't soften as it cooks.) Be sure to use the really ripe soft ones - they are the best of all!

The 2011 California apricot crop was a complete bust, (bloom+rain = sleeping bees= no fruit) so I was unable to make jam.  Because I wanted to use sugar-free apricot jam in my almond butter thumbprint cookies, I wound up buying two different brands of xylitol-sweetened apricot jam.  Phooey.  They both just tasted like..... nothing. 

This recipe, which I adapted from Gourmet Cookbook, could never be called dull.  Tangy, flavorful - oh, boy!  (How good is it? I gave a jar to my friend Shiela, and she confessed to enjoying it so much she started eating it with a spoon straight out of the jar.)

Interestingly, the recipe includes almond extract, which is extracted from the "bitter almond" kernels inside the apricot pit; although you won't be able to detect the flavor of the almond in the jam, the extract enhances the apricot flavor on a very deep level. This jam will not disappoint!

Sugar-Free Apricot Jam
(adapted from Gourmet Cookbook)
A Case of Frog Hollow Seconds

5 pounds ripe organic apricots or apriums
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
10 tsp calcium water

2 1/2 - 3 cups erythritol
1 - 1 1/2 cups xylitol*
1 1/4 tsp stevia extract powder
7 1/2 tsp low sugar pectin (such as Pomona)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp unsalted butter (this keeps the jam from foaming up)


If the jars are brand new, wash them and the rings and lids to remove any chemicals left from processing. If they have been sitting in the basement, check them for dust, and wash off any you find. Put the jars and rings into a very large stockpot or canning pot and fill with hot water to cover by an inch or two. Put them on the rear burner of the stove over high heat and bring them to a boil. When they come to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and keep them hot and ready.

Following the instructions in your low sugar pectin kit, make calcium water. (I use Pomona brand.)


Meanwhile, prepare the fruit: wash it, dry it, remove the pits, cut the apricots in small chunks and put it in an 8 quart, heavy stock pot, along with the calcium water and the lemon juice. Put it on the stove and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a full boil.


While the fruit cooks, measure the sweeteners into a medium-sized bowl; if the fruit is sweet, start with the smaller amount - you can always add more later. If the fruit is tart, you can go straight to the higher amount if you wish.  Add the pectin to the sweeteners and whisk them all well to combine.


Cook the fruit until it comes to a full boil, softens and becomes the consistency of chunky apple sauce.  (See picture below.) When the fruit is ready, get a long-handled wooden spoon ready, and gradually add the sweetener mix to the hot fruit, stirring constantly as you pour in the sweeteners. Stir well and frequently to dissolve the pectin and the sweeteners with the fruit and to prevent lumping. Add the almond extract and the butter. (The butter is optional, but keeps the foam in check.) Bring it back to a full boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary.  Turn off the heat.  Get ready to can. (Don't worry if it isn't as thick as jam; it thickens as it cools.)
This jam is about ready to have the sweetener/pectin mix added


Clear a good sized work surface near the stove, and cover it with clean dishtowels (preferably ones you don't care about!)

Turn the heat off under the pot of jars and move it to the front of the stove so you can reach them easily, and move the jam to the back of the stove so you don't get water into it by accident. (Put the lid on the pot of jam if necessary.) Using tongs or a jar lifter in your dominant hand, and a clean dishtowel in your other hand, carefully remove the lids and rings and drain them on the towels on your work surface. Lift each jar out of the hot water, dump the hot water back into the pot, and carefully guide and transport the hot jar over to the work table, using the towel in your non-dominant hand to support the jars until you get it safely to its destination. Turn it upside down to drain out the extra water. Repeat until all of the jars are drained and ready. Scald your best ladle and wide-mouthed funnel in the boiling water and have them ready with your jars.

Turn the heat back on medium high underneath the pot of water and bring it back to a full boil while you jar the jam.

Now, again using your tongs (or a clean towel, oven mitts, or tough hands!) turn the jars right side up, and line them up to be ready to fill. If you have a wide-mouthed jar funnel (which I so highly recommend - available at any good hardware store, Bed Bath and Beyond, well stocked grocery stores, etc., for less than $5) put it on top of one of the jars.

Grab your best ladle, and bring the pot of hot jam over to your work surface. Carefully fill each jar, leaving 1/4" of space at the top. If you have a wide-mouthed funnel, the bottom should come to just the right spot. If you don't, do your best! If necessary, spoon some out to reach the right level. After you have filled all your jars, use a clean, moist towel to wipe the ring area and the top surface of the jars clean. Again, if you have a wide-mouthed funnel, you are much less likely to spill the jam onto the jars and need to clean them. If you have less than a full jar of jam, put that one straight into use and don't bother to can it.

Put the lids on, followed by the screw tops, and screw them down.


When the water bath comes back to a full boil, reduce the heat to low, and again using your tongs, carefully lower the jars back in one at a time. (The shock of the boiling water can break the jar, which is a big messy bummer.) Boil them all for 10 full minutes, then remove them with your tongs, using the same tong/towel technique described above, and let them cool on the toweled work area. If necessary, work in batches.


Notes from Christine:

* Why the range of xylitol quantities?  The fruit varies widely in how sweet it is; if you have sweet fruit, use the lower amount, if tart, use the higher. You can always start with the smaller amount and add more if it needs it, but you can't subtract it once it's in!


"What's with all of these obscure sweeteners?" Erythritol and Xylitol are sugar alcohols; super low-glycemic, super low-calorie, super low-carbohydrate, and good for your teeth.  

Xylitol is low in carbohydrates and is about as sweet as cane sugar.  It has a fairly neutral flavor, but a little bright, almost pepperminty quality. It can be found easily at a well-stocked health food store or really good grocery store.

Erythritol has 0 carbohydrates and is very neutral in flavor - yay! But it is about 60% as sweet as sugar and is very difficult to find in stores, except in individual packets. As it is 60% as sweet as sugar, it takes quite a bit more to reach the right level of sweetness in a recipe, and this makes proportions difficult.  However, its very neutral profile - and 0 carbs! make it a natural for blending with xylitol and stevia, especially since stevia is so highly concentrated.  It's worth tracking it down by mail-order, or you could make a special request to a grocer to order some for you.

Stevia is a natural, calorie-free leaf extract, super concentrated and very sweet, but with a weird, bitter aftertaste and no volume; due to its highly concentrated state, one teeny-tiny scoopful (which comes in its container) is equal to a teaspoon of sugar. It is easily purchased at Trader Joe's or any grocery store.

Be aware that some Xylitol and Erythritol brands in American packaging are actually imported from China and repackaged. That is why I buy all of these directly from Xylitol USA, http://www.xylitolusa.com/ which manufactures them from North American sources.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sugar-Free Strawberry Balsamic Jam

Sugar-Free Strawberry Balsamic Jam


This past Christmas, my friend Ondine (the one who is foodier than me) gave us one precious jar of her strawberry balsamic jam. Of course, she uses sugar, so I was only able to dip my pinky into it; but oh MY it was good. My family polished it off in no time flat.

We are now deep into May, and I have wiped out all of my sugar-free strawberry jam. I have been waiting for the strawberries to come into season enough to be consistently ripe and tasty (and for the prices to drop a little.)  This week: jackpot. Organic Swanton berries (local, union picked) were $2.50 a basket at Monterey Market.  Ondine was nice enough to share some guidelines; she used a recipe by Eugenia Bone, but added vanilla.  So I, of course, based my version on Ondine's, but with no added sugar.  Mmm mmm mmm.  The balsamic both balances and enhances the sweetness and acidity of the berries, and the vanilla brings in undercurrents of yum.  The darkness of the vinegar also makes the color of the jam more like a garnet than a ruby.  You will not be disappointed, I promise!

Sugar-Free Strawberry Balsamic Jam

6 pounds of ripe, perfect, organic strawberries (7 green 1 pint baskets)

Lovely Swanton Berries
7 tsp calcium water

7 tsp pectin
2  1/2 cups erythritol
1  2/3 cup xylitol
1 level teaspoon stevia extract powder
1 tsp unsalted butter

1/3 - 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
 2 - 2 1/2 tsp organic vanilla

Makes 6 pint and 4 half pint jars of jam

If the jars are brand new, wash them and the rings and lids to remove any chemicals left from processing. If they have been sitting in the basement, check them for dust, and wash off any you find. Put the jars and rings into a very large stockpot or canning pot and fill with hot water to cover by an inch or two. Put them on the rear burner of the stove over high heat and bring them to a boil. When they come to a boil, turn the heat down and keep them hot and ready.

Following the instructions in your low sugar pectin kit, make calcium water. (I use Pomona brand.)

Meanwhile, prepare the fruit: wash it, dry it, remove the hulls, and cut it in half (if small) in quarters (if medium sized) or into eighths (if very large) and put it in an 8 quart, heavy stock pot, along with the calcium water. Put it on the stove and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a full boil.

While the fruit cooks, measure the sweeteners and the pectin into a medium sized bowl and whisk them all well to combine.

When the fruit comes to a full boil, get a long-handled wooden spoon ready, and gradually add the sweetener mix to the hot fruit, stirring constantly as you pour in the sweeteners. Stir well and frequently to dissolve the pectin and the sweeteners with the fruit and to prevent lumping. Add the butter. (The butter is optional, but keeps the foam in check.) Bring it back to a full boil. Turn off the heat, then add 1/3 cup vinegar and vanilla and stir well to combine.  Taste it, and if needed, add more vinegar, vanilla, or sweetener.* see notes below.    Get ready to can. (Don't worry if it isn't as thick as jam; it thickens as it cools.)


Clear a good sized work surface near the stove, and cover it with clean dishtowels (preferably ones you don't care about!)

Turn the heat off under the pot of jars and move it to the front of the stove so you can reach them easily, and move the jam to the back of the stove so you don't get water into it by accident. (Put the lid on the pot of jam if necessary.) Using tongs or a jar lifter in your dominant hand, and a clean dishtowel in your other hand, carefully remove the lids and rings and drain them on the towels. Lift each jar out of the hot water, dump the hot water back into the pot, and carefully guide and transport the hot jar over to the towels. Turn it upside down to drain out the extra water. Repeat until all of the jars are drained and ready. Scald your best ladle and wide-mouthed funnel in the boiling water and have them ready with your jars.

Turn the heat back on medium high underneath the pot of water and bring it back to a full boil while you jar the jam.

Now, again using your tongs (or a clean towel, oven mitts, or tough hands!) turn the jars right side up, and line them up to be ready to fill. If you have a wide-mouthed jar funnel (which I so highly recommend - available at any good hardware store, Bed Bath and Beyond, well stocked grocery stores, etc., for less than $5) put it on top of one of the jars.

Grab your best ladle, and bring the pot of hot jam over to your work surface. Carefully fill each jar, leaving 1/4" of space at the top. If you have a wide-mouthed funnel, the bottom should come to just the right spot. If you don't, do your best! If necessary, spoon some out to reach the right level. After you have filled all your jars, use a clean, moist towel to wipe the ring area and the top surface of the jars clean. Again, if you have a wide-mouthed funnel, you are much less likely to spill the jam and need to clean the jars. If you have less than a full jar of jam, put that one straight into use and don't bother to can it.

Put the lids on, followed by the screw tops, and screw them down.

When the water bath comes back to a full boil, reduce the heat to medium, and again using your tongs, carefully lower the jars back in one at a time. (High heat might break the jar - bummer.) Boil them all for 10 full minutes, then remove them with your tongs, using the same tong/towel technique described above, and let them cool on the toweled work area. If necessary, work in batches.

Notes from Christine:

Why organic strawberries?  If you can't afford much organic food in your budget, strawberries are a must (as are bananas, red peppers and apples.) The way conventional strawberries are raised leave tons of poison on the berry, releases gases into the environment, and endangers farm workers.

Balsamic Vinegar:  What kind should I use, and how much? I used Bariani, which is local, concentrated and delicious, but not very expensive. Ondine said she used the cheapest stuff from Trader Joe's.  I used 1/3 of a cup in my first batch - yum, then I added another 1/4 cup to my second batch (plus another 1/2 tsp vanilla) - even more yum; if you use cheaper stuff, you may want to add more to achieve the same level of flavor. I'll let you in on a little secret shared with me by the former head chef of a well-regarded local restaurant; balsamic vinegar concentrates through evaporation as it ages. The oldest, sweetest, and most syrupy stuff is quite expensive.  You can mimic this by taking some cheap stuff and cooking it down in a non-reactive sauce pan.

* Deciding how much vinegar and vanilla to add can be a little tricky; jam doesn't taste the same hot as it does cold. When the jam is hot, the flavors are amplified. On my first batch, I added 1/3 cup of flavorful, concentrated vinegar, and 2 tsp of good vanilla. It was awesome when it was hot, but the flavors had toned down when it cooled. On the next batch, I decided to pump up the flavor, so I added an additional 1/4 cup of vinegar. When I tasted it, I got nervous... the flavor was intense - ack! I thought I'd added too much.  I added another 1/2 tsp of vanilla to balance it....  Still intense... I was a little nervous about the outcome, but I went ahead and canned it - and it was awesome when it cooled off!  So, be brave.

"What's with all of these obscure sweeteners?" Erythritol and Xylitol are sugar alcohols; super low-glycemic, super low-calorie, super low-carbohydrate, and good for your teeth.  

Xylitol is about as sweet as cane sugar, has a fairly neutral flavor with a little bright, almost pepperminty quality, and can be found easily at a well-stocked health food store or really good grocery store.

Erythritol, very neutral in flavor, is about 60% as sweet as sugar, and is very difficult to find in stores, except in individual packets. As it is 60% as sweet as sugar, it takes quite a bit more to reach the right level of sweetness in a recipe, and this makes proportions difficult.  However, its very neutral profile makes it a natural for blending with xylitol and stevia, especially since stevia is so highly concentrated.  It's worth tracking it down by mail-order, or you could make a special request to a grocer to order some for you.

Stevia is a natural, calorie-free leaf extract, super concentrated and very sweet, but with a weird, bitter aftertaste and no volume; due to its highly concentrated state, one teeny-tiny scoopful (which comes in its container) is equal to a teaspoon of sugar. It is easily purchased at Trader Joe's or any grocery store.

Be aware that some Xylitol and Erythritol brands in American packaging are actually imported from China and repackaged. That is why I buy all of these directly from Xylitol USA, http://www.xylitolusa.com/ which manufactures them from North American sources.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sugar-Free (Low-Carb) Linzertorte

Sugar-Free Linzertorte



Mmmm.... Linzertorte. I can't think of anything tastier just now. But perhaps you are wondering what it is? Linzertorte is a classic Viennese pastry; a rich, buttery dough with lots of toasted ground hazelnuts, pressed into a tart pan, topped with raspberry jam, and then criss-crossed with a lattice of more of the dough. The rich dough balances the sweetness of the jam, the tart sweetness of the jam does the same for the dough.  This recipe calls for lemon zest in the dough, which adds yet another layer of contrast and brightness.  Oh my.

Another beauty of Linzertorte is that it is very easy to make, but looks and tastes like you had to go to culinary academy to master it.  Love it! Make this the next time you really want to impress your guests.... or when you just want a really good treat.


Sugar-Free (Low-Carb) Linzertorte
Toasted Hazelnuts

6 1/2 ounces of hazelnuts
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp apple sauce
1 TB finely grated lemon zest

1/4 cup erythritol
2 1/2 TB xylitol
4 scoops stevia

Dough Strips
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pasty flour
1/4 cup + 2 TB almond meal
1/4 cup + 2 TB soy protein

1 1/3 cups sugar-free raspberry jam

Equipment: a 9" tart pan (or springform)
A food processor or grinder for the nuts
A mixer

1. Toast and skin the hazelnuts.  (Spread them on a baking sheet in a pre-heated, 350 F oven. Toast for about 10 minutes, until they are golden and aromatic. Cool them. A few handfuls at a time, put them in a tea towel and rub them together to rub off the skins.)  Discard the skins.

2. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they are a fine meal - but be careful not to turn them into nut butter.

3. In a small bowl, combine the sweeteners and whisk to combine well.

4. Measure the various flours, nut meals and salt into a medium bowl; use the "spoon and sweep" method to measure the whole wheat pastry flour (spoon the flour into the dry measuring cup, sweep off the excess with the back of a knife. This ensures that you don't accidentally use compacted flour, which throws off the proportions.)  Whisk to combine.

5. Using your mixer, cream the butter and sweeteners together at high speed until light and fluffy.  Add the applesauce, then add one egg yolk at a time and beat just to combine. Add zest and beat until just combined.

6. Beat in the flour/nut meal mixture until well combined. The dough will be stiff.

7. Take the dough out of the bowl and divide into two even balls. Wrap them in waxed paper and press into disks. Refrigerate for about 1/2 hour; if much longer, you will need to soften the dough up a bit to work it. (You can make the recipe up to this point a day in advance; just allow enough time for the dough to soften.)

8. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

9. Place one disk of dough in the bottom of the 9" tart pan.  Using your fingers (and perhaps the back of a wooden spoon) press the dough evenly all over the base of the pan and all the way up the sides. Add the jam and smooth it over the bottom.

10. Take the second disc of dough and place it between two sheets of wax paper. Roll it into an even circle that is slightly bigger than the 9" pan.  Slice the circle into strips 1/2" wide. Transfer half of the strips one at a time to the top of the tart, arranging the strips 1" apart from each other, and pinching the ends onto the sides of the bottom dough. (This takes a little planning; remember that you will need the longest strip for the center, and that you will need to match it going the other way - don't use up the long ones on the short sections!) Turn the tart sideways and repeat going the other way, making a simple cross lattice.  Pinch all of the ends, or use a fork, to attach the strips to the sides of the dough.
Finished tart before it goes in the oven


11.  Place the tart on a baking sheet and put it in the lower center of the pre-heated oven.  Bake until quite golden, about 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven, cool on a rack for an hour  or more, then carefully push the bottom plate up through the center ring to remove the side ring of the pan. Place the tart on a large plate.

12. Slice in very small pieces, as this is very rich.  Lovely with coffee, delicious for dessert, afternoon tea, or even breakfast. (Yum.)

Notes: Jam - you can make your own sugar-free raspberry jam, as I did.  Or, you can buy a pretty good xylitol sweetened jam made by Nature's Hollow, which I found at our local natural foods store.  Xylitol USA also offers a decent version, also sweetened with xylitol, and sold through their website.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Jack's Artemesia Manhattans

Jack's Artemesia Blood Orange Manhattan, aka "New Jack City"


Some months back, my friend Jack Coates e-mailed me a cocktail recipe he'd dreamed up using my organic Artemesia Kumquat liqueur; it was a new version of a classic - the Manhattan.

Well, I kept meaning to try it, but I didn't have sweet vermouth on hand.  Well, I have some now!  Last night I decided to shake one up.... oh, Jack!  That was sooo much tastier than the Manhattans Joel and I had in a hip all-night bar in Manhattan we went to with our New Yorker friends Kelly and Mo.  Now I'm a believer - in Manhattans! 

Then, last night he invented a new variation on it - this one with Artemesia Blood Orange Liqueur.  I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds just as fab.  Jack Coates - you, my friend, are a talented mixmaster.

I guess I'd better get that recipe right on out to you.

Jack's Artemesia Kumquat Manhattan

2 oz bourbon
1 oz dry vermouth
1 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz Artemesia Organic Kumquat Liqueur
Dash of bitters
Maraschino cherry (a REAL one.)
1 Lemon peel, bruised

Measure all of the liquids into your shaker, add ice. Shake well until chilled, pour. Garnish with the lemon peel and cherry.

Jack's Artemesia Blood Orange Manhattan (New Jack City)

2 oz bourbon (maker's mark)
1 oz dry vermouth (vya)

1 oz Artemesia Organic Blood Orange Liqueur
dash of bitters
orange peel
Maraschino cherry (a REAL one)

Measure all of the liquids into your shaker, add ice. Shake well until chilled, pour. Garnish with the orange peel and cherry.

Individual (Sugar-Free) Chocolate Lava Cake

Oops - we ate half of it before I remembered to photograph it!


So I was reading Sunset Magazine while on the cross-trainer at the Y when I came across this delicious sounding recipe from another food blogger, Joy Wilson.  Of course, I immediately started thinking about how to make a sugar-free version.... and then a gluten-free version... and then a sugar-free, gluten-free version. Sadly, my dear friend Nina is gone now (if you think you may have a gluten allergy, please please PLEASE get it checked out) but I still dabble a bit in gluten free recipes, as there is such a demand for them.

This recipe is an immediate, delicious, sure-fire winner.  As written, it makes one cake, but it can easily be adapted to make as many as you like.  While testing the recipe I made them two at a time, in different versions so I could speed up my recipe testing.

Individual Chocolate Lava Peanut Butter Cake
adapted from Joy the Baker

I.
 1/2 tsp butter
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

II.
1 TB unsalted butter
1 1/4 oz sugar-free, sweetened chocolate, broken into chunks (the best quality you can find)
1-2 TB smooth, salted, sugar-free "natural" peanut butter OR 1 TB bourbon

chocolate, butter and peanut butter
III.
3 tsp erythritol
1 tsp xylitol
3 tiny scoops stevia extract powder
1 generous pinch salt

IV.
1 large egg
1 tsp flour, OR 1 tsp gluten-free mix OR 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder


1.  Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Grease a 3/4 cup capacity ramekin with the 1/2 tsp of butter - feel free to use your fingers.  Sprinkle in the tsp of cocoa powder and shake it around to coat all of the surfaces.

2.  In a small heat-proof bowl, place the 1 TB butter and 1 1/4 ounces sweetened, sugar-free chocolate.  Put the bowl in a microwave, blast for a few seconds, check the contents. If it's beginning to melt, stir it up, and continue to blast, check, and stir until it is all melted. Stir until well combined.  Now stir in the peanut butter or bourbon.  You get to choose how peanut-buttery you want it to be.

3.  In another small bowl, combine all of the sweeteners and stir well to blend.  Add the sweeteners to the melted chocolate mix and stir well to combine.

4.  In the small bowl you just used, whisk the egg until well-combined.  Add the egg, tsp of flour/cocoa/gluten-free mix and pinch of salt to the melted chocolate mix. Stir well to combine.

5. Using a small spatula, scrape the mix into the buttered ramekin and smooth the surface.  Bake the cake on a baking sheet for about 12 minutes, until the rim is cake-y and the center is pudding-y.

6.  Cool for a couple of minutes, then run a knife around the edges to dislodge it from the ramekin onto your plate.  (Or just eat it out of the ramekin - why not?)  Eat it right away, while it's still all melt-y and good!

Batter ready for the oven.....



Sunday, April 22, 2012

Caramel Breakfast Cheesecake (Low-Carb, Low Sugar, High Protein)

Caramel Breakfast Cheesecake

Some months back, I posted a recipe for breakfast cheesecake, featuring orange or lemon zest.  Yum. Well, as I have gone on about at great length, I have been living the low-carb high-protein life for over a year now, with great health success.  And as I have been talking a lot about lately, I've been experimenting a lot with coconut palm sugar, the hot "new" low-glycemic sweetener.  As keeping carbohydrates as low as possible, not just preventing blood sugar spikes through the use of low-glycemic sweeteners, is important for my health success, I use this sugar sparingly.  However, just a spoonful or two of this delectable, caramel-y sugar brings huge amounts of flavor to a recipe.  I have been inspired to revisit my older recipes with this in mind.  Now, just a reminder: no need to just eat this for breakfast; how about lunch, snack or dessert? 

So, without further ado, a new variation on breakfast cheesecake.  I think it's divine.

Caramel Breakfast Cheesecake

2 cups (16 oz) full-fat cottage cheese or ricotta
1 cup (8 oz) whipped cream cheese
1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt (Fage has the lowest carb content)

5 tiny scoops stevia powder
3 TB coconut palm sugar
2 TB xylitol
1/3 cup erythritol
3 large eggs 
2 tsp vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 325 F, and put the kettle on to boil.

Place the cottage cheese in the bowl of your food processor and whir it until it is well-creamed.  (An immersion blender or blender would also work.) Scraped down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the cream cheese and whir until they are both creamy and smooth.   Scraped down the sides of the bowl again. Add all of the sweeteners and process until well-combined, then scrape down the sides again.  Now add the eggs and vanilla and process until all are well combined.

Place your ramekin collection (you will need 6-10 of them, depending on size) in a high-sided roasting pan.  Pour the batter into the ramekins, using your spatula to get all the goodies into the pan.  (If you don't have ramekins, you can line a muffin tin with cupcake liners and use those.)  After the cups are full, carefully pour the boiling water around them. Place the pan in the center of the oven, and bake until the cakes have set,  around 40-45 minutes.  Cool, then cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Butterscotch Pudding with Coconut Palm Sugar

Butterscotch Pudding (with vanilla bean)


Several years ago, I bought a bag of something I had never seen before from the proprietors of Coracao Confections; it was coconut palm sugar, and they were using it in their amazing line of organic, raw, low-glycemic chocolates.  Well, coconut palm sugar is now all the rage.  Dr. Oz did a segment on it on his program, promoting it as part of a weight-loss strategy (the idea being that if you evened out the highs and lows of sugar, you wouldn't get so many cravings.)

I've been using this delicious, caramel-noted sweetener in a lot of my almost sugar-free recipes; just a few spoonfuls can bring wonderful flavor and texture to the mix, boosting the flavors and texture of my sweetener trio; erythritol, xylitol, and stevia.  I was inspired in the last few weeks to invent two new pudding recipes using coconut palm sugar.  Both of them are so delicious that, frankly, I blew my own mind.

The first one uses whole cow's milk.  The second one is vegan, and uses whole coconut milk.  Either way - me-OW, that's good eats!  Just be aware that once you get started, it's very hard to stop eating this yummy stuff.  But hey, milk is full of protein and calcium, and coconut milk is very good for your immune system, and either way, it's low carb and low glycemic!


Butterscotch Pudding with Coconut Palm Sugar

Version One:  Dairy
I.
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 TB plus 1 tsp corn starch (or tapioca starch)

II.
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

III.
2 TB unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a heavy, medium-sized sauce pan, whisk the sugar, salt and starch.

2. Whisk in the milk and heavy cream. Over medium heat, whisking/stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a full boil, and then cook for one minute.

3.  Add the butter and vanilla, and stir well to combine.  Cool, pour into a heat-proof container, and chill. If you wish to prevent a "skin" from forming, you can cover the pudding with a buttered round of wax or parchment paper.

Version Two: Coconut Milk (Vegan)

I.
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 TB plus 1 tsp corn starch (or tapioca starch)

II.
1 can of full-fat coconut milk (14 ounces)

III.

1 tsp vanilla extract


1. In a heavy, medium-sized sauce pan, whisk the sugar, salt and starch.

2. Whisk in the coconut milk. Over medium heat, whisking/stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a full boil, and then cook for one minute.

3.  Add the vanilla, and stir well to combine.  Cool, pour into a heat-proof container, and chill. If you wish to prevent a "skin" from forming, you can cover the pudding with a greased round of wax or parchment paper.

Notes:  the pudding will thicken as it cools, so don't panic if it seems thin when you have finished cooking it.   If you are really feeling expansive, you can use half of a fresh vanilla bean instead of the vanilla extract.

Monday, March 26, 2012

(Sugar-Free, Low-Carb) Granola with Flax

Sugar-Free, Low-Carb Granola


As with so many of my low-carb creations, this new recipe was born one day when I was thinking wistfully about eating some of my yummy maple granola with flax. Or rather, thinking about how I couldn't eat it anymore, and yes, feeling a little sorry for myself.  Sniff. Sniff.  Isn't it interesting that inspiration is often born out of desperation?  I immediately thought about how I could make sugar-free, low-carb granola;  I would raise the amount of protein and lower the amount of carbohydrates by replacing a substantial percentage of the grains with nuts, seeds, and coconut.  (And coconut is good for the immune system, too!)  There was just one problem; what to use as a sweetener? 

I love using the sugar alcohols erythritol and xylitol; they are naturally low glycemic and low carbohydrate.  They even help prevent tooth decay.  There's just one major problem; their drive to re-cyrstalize is very hard to overcome. If you dissolve some in boiling water and let it sit, it will turn into rock candy in less than 24 hours. In my baked goods, I prevent this by using plenty of moist, fiber-filled fruits and vegetables (apple sauce, sweet potatoes, bananas) which bond with the sugar alcohols and keep them from linking back up again.  Unfortunately, I didn't see how that would work with granola.  And of course, stevia has that yucky licorice-y aftertaste - not what I wanted at all.

There is a third commonly used sugar alcohol which readily stays in a looser, liquid state; maltitol.  Maltitol has the consistency and appearance of light corn syrup, and has a very neutral flavor.  It is very commonly used in commercial sugar-free products, such as sugar-free chocolates and energy bars, presumably because of its resistance to re-crystalizing.  There is only one problem with maltitol - okay, two.  The first is that, far more than any of the other sugar substitutes, it causes intense flatulence.  I could deal with this by using it very sparingly, but.... the other problem is that it is not readily available to the general public, sold only to food manufacturers.  After googling extensively, I was able to find some retailed on the internet.

By using some stevia along with the malitol, I was able to use the malitol sparingly, helping each sweetener to overcome its issues.  And the results?  This granola was really, really, REALLY good.

*BUT.... UPDATE: JULY, 2014: Since writing this post, I have done further research on maltitol which makes me uncomfortable with using it or promoting it. Many sources now say that maltitol raises blood sugar, and actually has a much higher number of usable carbs in it than the label indicates. Given all this, I will no longer be buying, or using, products with maltitol.

Enter the new darling of the low-carb world: yacon syrup! Yacon is a South American tuber, much like jicama in flavor. When squeezed and cooked down, it creates a thick, dark, tangy syrup which is nutrient-rich, low glycemic, and very good for you. As usual, it's expensive. As usual, it's hard to get. And since Dr. Oz promoted it, a shortage hit. Sigh. Friends at Coracao Confections (organic, raw, low-glycemic, vegan, and fantastic!) referred me to Raw Food World for their syrup. These folks are lovely - great customer service, good products - and I've stocked up. Again, buy using stevia, you can stretch your yacon syrup in the recipe.
The best way to eat it, in my opinion, is with whole milk Greek yoghurt, which is creamy and delicious, and very low in carbs.  The Fage brand has the lowest carbohydrate content of all of the other brands whose labels I've examined, and is super thick, rich and mild-tasting - no sour yoghurt action at all. Trader Joe's also makes a very good whole milk Greek-style yoghurt - and at a great price!  I like to sweeten the yoghurt with some erythritol, and then add a little vanilla for flavor.  Let it sit for a moment to allow the erythritol crystals to dissolve into the yoghurt.  Then sprinkle on the granola....... mmmm.



Sugar-Free, Low Carb Granola with Flax

2 cups quinoa flakes
2 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking oats)

OR: 4 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes - the big pieces, not the shredded kind
1/2 cup flax seeds
1 cup toasted almonds, preferably slivered
1 cup walnuts, broken into smaller pieces
1 cup pecans, broken into smaller pieces
(or your choice of nuts)
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3/4 tsp powdered stevia extract

3 TB flax oil
3 TB coconut oil, or a neutral oil such as canola or sunflower
4 TB yacon syrup or 6 TB maltitol syrup


Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.  Combine all of the grains and nuts in a large bowl.  Sprinkle the stevia powder over the top and toss and stir to combine well.

In an microwave proof cup (such as pyrex) measure all of the oils and the yacon syrup.  Heat them in the microwave until they are hot and have thinned out.

Pour the liquids all over the grain mixture, and stir well to coat all of the contents.  Pour the granola mixture into a roasting or baking pan large enough to hold it all.

When the oven is at temperature, place the pan onto a rack in the center of the oven.  Set the timer for 15-20 minutes. After the timer goes off, stir well to redistribute the contents.  Set the timer for 10-15 minutes, and stir again.  Be careful not to let the contents burn; your goal is golden toasting and drying of all the layers.  Set the timer for 5-10 minutes, and stir again.  If it is golden through and through, remove it from the oven and turn the oven off.  If it is not yet golden, return it to the oven for another 5 minutes or so.  At this point, you can turn the oven off and let the granola toast in the residual heat left in the oven.

Cool in the pan, and then store in an airtight container.  It will keep for several weeks, but is at its tastiest when it is fresh.

Pumpkin Bread (High protein, sugar-free, low-carb)



I grew a nice big crop of butternut squash last year. Unfortunately, the seedlings got such a late start that by the time the squashes were ripe, it was so late in the season that they didn't cure properly before I had to harvest them.  So there I was, mid-winter, looking at all of my beautiful squashes, which were growing a thatch of furry white mold on their crowns. Phooey.  I had to cut off the bad parts and rescue the good parts, but NOW.

Little known fact: most canned "pumpkin" in the store is actually butternut squash.  Another little known fact: there are special eating pumpkins, like Sugar Pie Pumpkin, and then there are jack-o-lantern pumpkins.  Eating pumpkins are sweet and tender. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are tough and fibrous, not intended for eating at all.

So, anyway.  I cleaned up the squashes, throwing the bad stuff into the compost heap and peeling and chopping the good parts.  I put the cubes of squash into a ceramic bowl, covered them in water, put a plate on top and cooked them in the microwave.  Then I mashed them up well. And now:  it's "Pumpkin" Bread time.

I decided to go for a little more decadence than I normally do in my quick breads; there's melted butter built-in to this luscious bread. Rich, dark, a little spicy with caramel notes; it is excellent for breakfast, or for an afternoon pick-me-up with tea or coffee.  It's wonderful on its own, but toasted, with a little whipped cream cheese smeared on top, or even a little more butter (!)  - heaven!  After I made the first loaf, here's what I wrote on the recipe draft: "Wow! Delicious."

A word about the optional coconut palm sugar; this super low glycemic sugar is the new darling of the low glycemic/diabetic crowd.  Even Dr. Oz did a segment on it on his show, recommending it as a way to lose weight by preventing sugar crashes. It has delectable caramel notes that echo the vanilla in the bread.  The bread is wonderful without it, but if you have a chance to add it, it brings a surprising amount to the party.



Pumpkin Bread

I. 
1 cup pureed pumpkin or butternut squash
1/2 cup melted butter or oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup water

II.
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/3 cup erythritol
2 TB xylitol
5 tiny scoops stevia extract powder
1 TB coconut palm sugar (optional, but delicious)

III.
3 TB flax meal
3 TB soy protein
3 TB almond meal
3 TB unflavored, unsweetened whey powder
3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

IV.
1/2 cups chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit.  Grease a loaf pan.

2.  In a large bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients from section I and mix well.

3. In a small to medium bowl, combine all of the sweeteners and whisk them to mix well.  Add them to the wet ingredients and stir to combine well.

4.  In a medium bowl (perhaps the one you just used to mix the sweeteners), combine all of the dry ingredients from section III and whisk well to combine.

5.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing just enough to combine well.

6.  Stir in the chopped walnuts.

7.  Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the surface with a spatula.

8.  Bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the loaf cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then tilt out of the pan onto a cooling rack to complete cooling.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Super-Easy, Super Cheap, Super Nutritious Polenta

Polenta with Deborah Krasner's Red Wine-Braised Pot Roast


This polenta recipe is easy, creamy, versatile, and delicious.  I have made it so often I have the recipe committed to memory, and I don't remember any more where it came from...... This is great with pot roast, braised meats, sauces of all descriptions, or on its own with some cheese.  Kid's love it; it makes a wonderful quick meal, and leftovers reheat beautifully.  And of course, it's gluten-free!

4 cups water
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1 cup polenta (coarsely ground corn meal)

2-3 TB butter
1/4-1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, asiago, or pecorino Romano cheese
plenty of freshly grated pepper to taste

Bring the water to a boil over medium heat in a medium-sized sauce pan.  Add the milk and salt, and bring it back up to a simmer.  Gradually whisk or stir in the polenta.  Stir constantly until the polenta begins to thicken, about 5-10 minutes.  If (or when) the polenta starts to "spit" at you, reduce the heat to medium-low or low.  Continue to stir frequently until the polenta is very thick, another 25 minutes or more.  If you wish it to be very, very thick, so that you can fry it later, cook it even longer. When it is smooth and very thick, turn off the heat and stir in the grated cheese, butter, and plenty of freshly ground pepper.  Stir well to incorporate the flavoring.  Serve.

Wholly Cow! Deborah Krasner's Wine-Braised Beef Pot Roast



I bought a whole grass-fed steer.  As usual, it was from my friend Mary Pettis-Sarley (barngoddess@dishmail.net).  It was so big that when I checked the load specs for my Prius, I realized that I couldn't bring it home by myself unless I could teach the steer to drive.  Naturally, I was sharing the cow with Ondine and several other people.  Ondine has a big station wagon, so she drove and I navigated, and we both watched in amazement as the guy at Ibleto's cut and wrap facility in Cotati loaded over seven hundred pounds of beef into the back.  Phew.

Mary's beef is unusual in that she raises if for several years before it gets harvested; most animals don't stick around that long.  Then the flavor is really fully developed; really, really beefy.  Oh, and by the way, really, really BIG.  So, even with several friends sharing the wealth (and boy, were they happy when they picked up their shares!) there are a lot of white-paper wrapped packages in my freezer.  So far, everyone who has cooked some of their share has said the same thing - this is the best beef we've ever had in our lives.  That being the case, one really wants to use recipes that do it justice.

I swear by my Bruce Aidell's cookbook, The Complete Meat Cookbook, (which I lovingly refer to as the "big book of meat.")  It gives you a ton of information about beef, lamb, and pork, how to cook the different cuts, maps of the animals, cutting charts, all the different cut names you might run across.  I really think everyone who eats meat should have a copy.  But when I wound up with the pork belly, trotters and pig's head I've mentioned in my earlier post on scrapple, I wanted something on pastured animals and more recipes for the funky cuts, so I wound up buying Deborah Krasner's Good Meat.  I highly recommend that you buy her cookbook as well; it's full of good, creative recipes (bacon popcorn! e.g.)  Meanwhile, here is a taste of her wares: her recipe for wine-braised pot roast is one for the ages. 


Red Wine-Braised Pot Beef Roast with Porcini, Rosemary and Cloves

This is the essence of good home cooking, the food your children will remember you for, and any friend lucky enough to eat at your table will reminisce about this meal for years!  Have a coffee filter ready to strain the mushroom water, and plan to make polenta while the stew cooks.  Use a good red wine here; it doesn't need to be great - the flavors do come through.
Can't you just smell that?

Serves 6-8

1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced onions
2 TB pancetta or bacon
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup shredded carrots
6 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
2 sprigs rosemary
3-4 pounds grass-fed beef round or other pot roast cut
1 TB tomato paste
1 bottle (750 ml) good red wine
1 cup coarsely chopped drained canned plum tomatoes
6 cups beef or chicken stock

1.  Heat about 1 cup of water and soak the porcini in it until soft, about 1/2 hour.  Strain the soaking liquid through a paper coffee filter and reserve the liquid for later.  Dice the mushrooms and set them aside.

2.  In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over low heat and sweat the onions and pancetta or bacon until golden, about 7 minutes.  Season lightly with salt and pepper, add the carrots, bay leaves, cloves and rosemary and stir.  When the carrots are wilted, remove the contents of the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3.  Blot the meat, season with salt and pepper, and add it to the fat in the pot.  Over medium-high heat, brown the meat on all sides, about 15 minutes in all.  Reduce the heat, return the onion mixture to the pot, add the tomato paste, and stir well.  Add the wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, turning the meat occasionally.

4.  Add the tomatoes, porcini and their liquid, and about 5 cups of the stock, or just enough to reach close to the top of the meat.  Bring to a simmer and cook, covered (setting a piece of parchment paper just above the level of the food), until the meat is tender, about 2 1/2 hours.  Alternatively, you can start the meat on the stove top and and then place it in the oven at 350 degrees for 2 hours.) The meat should be pretty tender when done.

5.  Remove the meat from the pot and set it aside for the moment.  Pour the sauce through a sieve, pressing on the solids to extract all the goodness.

6.  Return the meat and strained sauce to the pot, and simmer slowly, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by about a third and the meat is extremely tender, another 30-60 minutes.

7.  Rest the meat on a cutting board fro 15 minutes, then cut it crosswise and on an angle into 1/4 inch slices.  (An electric knife is great for this.)

8.  Arrange the meat on a serving platter on top of the polenta, and pour the sauce over it.

Notes from Christine:  I did not have a coffee filter to strain the mushrooms.  Oh well.  It was fine.  I followed her instructions to cook the vegetables first, rather than brown the beef first (which is how most recipes would have done it) and didn't see a compelling reason to do it that way.  Next time I will brown the meat first.

She also has you discard the stems of the porcini and only use the caps; I used the whole thing.

I followed her instruction to strain out the solids, which I hated to do.  After having dumped most of them into my none-too clean sink, I took a few bites of the remaining solids.  They were delicious, and I regretted throwing the rest away.  Next time, I will set them aside for a special treat for the cook.

And finally, while this sauce is unbelievably flavorful, I found it thin, even after all of the reductions.  I dissolved a few teaspoons of tapioca starch in some cold water and added the slurry to the pot to thicken the gravy.  Yum.

Friday, February 3, 2012

(High Protein, Low Carb, Low Sugar) Almond Butter Thumbprint Cookies

Almond Butter Thumbprint Cookies

 In my family, marzipan (almond paste candy) is considered one of the yummiest treats possible,  so my latest cookie recipe holds a special place in my heart.  These cookies are so delicious, so moist, so flavorful.... oh, my!  It's like eating a piece of marzipan, or of linzer torte. Divine! They have received rave reviews from everyone who has sampled them so far.  You will find it hard to believe that you can eat them and still feel virtuous; as always, they are super high-protein, super low carbohydrate, and super low-sugar.

Almond Butter Thumbprint Cookies

I.
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) roasted, salted, unsweetened, creamy almond butter
 (well stirred)
1 stick salted (or unsalted; your choice) butter, at room temperature

II.
6 TB coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup erythritol
6 TB xylitol
8 tiny scoops stevia extract powder

III.
2 TB unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 large egg, at room temperature

IV.
3 TB flax meal
6 TB soy protein powder
2 TB unsweetened, unflavored whey powder (or milk powder)
3 TB almond meal
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

V.  Sugar-free jam; preferably raspberry or apricot*

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Step 1:  cream the butter, then add the almond butter and cream them well together, scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure they are well incorporated.

Step 2:  measure all of the sweeteners into a small bowl, and whisk them well together.  Then add them to almond butter/butter mixture, and cream until they are well combined, again scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Step 3:  Add the egg, applesauce, vanilla, and almond extract to the butter/almond butter/sweetener mix.  Mix until well combined.

Step 4:  In a medium sized bowl, measure all of the flours and meals, salt and baking powder, and whisk to combine.  Add them to the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined, again scraping down the sides of the bowl and the beaters to make sure everything is well mixed.

Line two baking sheets with silpats (silicone baking sheets) if you have them.  If not, don't worry; these are fine without.

Scoop a heaping tablespoonful or so of the batter and roll into a ball, placing it on the baking sheet.  Repeat, spacing the cookies.  You should be able to fit all the cookies onto the two baking sheets, a dozen plus a few more per sheet. (The dough does not run much as it bakes.)  Using your thumb, press a dimple into the center of the cookie, flattening the ball slightly as you do so.  Repeat with all of the cookies.


Place both baking sheets into the pre-heated oven.  Bake for 15 minutes, until just beginning to become golden brown all over.  Remove the pans from the oven, and if the dimples have leveled out too much, press them in again using a spoon or the handle of a wooden spoon.  Spoon a 1/2 teaspoon or so of the jam into the depression in each cookie; a tiny espresso spoon works well for the task.  Don't skimp on the jam, but don't get carried away, either, as the jam will melt and run during the baking. Return the sheets to the oven, switching the location of the baking sheets to ensure even browning.  Bake the cookies for another 5-8 minutes, until the cookies are evenly golden all over and the jam has melted into a pool.

Cool on the pan, then remove and store in an airtight container.  These will keep for a week or more (theoretically - they don't tend to stick around long!)  However, they are at their very tastiest when they are very fresh.

* If you are going to use apricot jam, it really needs to be homemade; commercial sugar-free raspberry jam is pretty good, but commercial sugar-free apricot jam just tastes like... nothing at all. The Foodier Than Thou recipe for  Tangy Sugar-Free Apricot Jam is awesome! Make a bunch when the apricots are ripe, and you will be all set for the year.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More Meatballs: Your Choice - Lamb, Pork or Beef

Lamb Meatballs

I am in love with the lamb meatball recipe from Nigella Lawson that I found online.  I am so in love with it that I went right ahead and invented a new version of them within days of having made the lamb meatballs, using ground pork.  Of course, having just purchased a whole steer from my rancher friend Mary Pettis-Sarley barngoddess@dishmail.net, I had a whole shelf in the freezer full of the best hamburger ever. I had to design beef meatballs. 

What is it about these that makes them so very, very good?  I believe it's the use of semolina flour.  Semolina, a special variety of high-gluten wheat, is typically used to make pasta.  I keep it on hand for use in gnocchi a la Romana. In the Bay Area, you can purchase it in a well-stocked grocery store such as Country Cheese or Berkeley Bowl.  However, if you can't find it or don't have it on hand, panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), or regular breadcrumbs ought to do just fine.

Unlike many meatball recipes, which call for dipping the meatballs in egg and then breading them, this one just calls for mixing in the semolina and allowing the mix to sit while the semolina absorbs the moisture in the meat and egg, followed by pan-frying.  They fry up beautifully; crispy on the outside, tender in the middle.  Yummy.

Pork Meatballs Frying - they are as delicious as they look!


Pork Meatballs

1 lb ground pork
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg/ 1/2 of a nutmeg, ground
2-3 cloves minced/pressed garlic
3 TB semolina (or breadcrumbs or panko if you can't find it)
OR 2 TB coconut flour (low carb)
1 large egg, lightly whisked

makes 16 meatballs

Lamb Meatballs:  Nigella Lawson

1 lb ground lamb
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions or finely chopped yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
3 tablespoons semolina
OR 2 TB coconut flour (low carb, high fiber)
1 large egg, lightly whisked

Beef Meatballs
1 lb beef
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 freshly grated nutmeg
3 TB semolina (or breadcrumbs or panko if you can't find it)
OR 2 TB coconut flour (low carb, high fiber)
1 large egg, lightly whisked
 2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions and/or finely chopped yellow onion


For either recipe, combine all of the ingredients well, mixing with your hands to make sure that the spices are evenly distributed.  Allow the mixture to sit for half an hour, then form into 16 or so meatballs and place them on a large plate.  (Wetting your hands to prevent the meat from sticking to your hands as you roll them works well, as does using disposable food service gloves.)

When they are all rolled, heat up about 1-2 TB of olive oil or drippings in a large, cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the meatballs.  Be careful not to crowd them; crowding causes them to cook up grey rather than crispy and brown.  If you have a very large pan, you can do them all in one batch.  Otherwise, you can use two frying pans or fry them in batches.  Cook them until crispy and brown, then turn and repeat on all of the sides.  Serve them with well seasoned brown rice.

For an easy pan sauce for the lamb meatballs, squeeze the juice of one half of a fresh Meyer lemon into the frying pan, combine well with the drippings, and serve over brown rice, bulgur wheat or couscous.