Fruit Tart Confessions

with coconut sabayon

Makes 24 mini tarts

Let’s start with the sabayon.  Anything French is basically gourmet by default.  This sabayon, or French custard, came about by mistake.  I had intended this to be tarts filled with fruit and topped with whipped coconut cream.  But, when my cream wasn’t behaving I was forced to fix it.  I heated then refrigerated it and the sabayon was born!  Love when that happens!  I guess that was confession #1.  The list goes on.

Confession #2: I tried this recipe with brown rice flour and it came out a bit too crisp.  I swapped it out for oat flour and yummy, tender tart shells were the result.  Yes, this is a gluten-free goody!

The main ingredient and quite frankly the understated star of the show, is the almond…in this case, almond meal.  Almonds are a special nut.  They are a cousin of stone fruit such as peaches, plums and apricots.¹  Almonds contain cyanidelike substances that are medicinally powerful, so much so they inhibit cancer growth.  Its phytosterols contribute to this incredible anti-cancer powerhouse and also reduce cholesterol.¹  Its Vitamin E content and monosaturated fats (holy fats again!) also contribute to reducing LDL cholesterol and improving conditions for the heart.  Magnesium, a special mineral that almonds contain, is responsible for clearing the arteries of any calcium build-up.²  Your heart is smiling if Mg is present!  They also lower the glycemic index of the meal you’re eating.  Good news for our blood sugar.  Great news for diabetics.  One interesting tidbit is that eating almonds with their skins actually makes them work harder than they already do.  So, heart is happy, blood sugar is happy, cholesterol is in check, cancer cells won’t even think of setting up shop…I’d say almonds are great addition to everyone’s diet.  Good thing I had almonds and not pecans which were the nuts I had intended for this tart…confession #3!

They are extremely versatile, too.  Enjoy them chopped on salads or sautéed with greens.  Have some almond butter on that toast or with crudite.  Trail mix and energy bars are other goodies, too.

Finally, for the last confession:  My husband, not a fruit tart lover at all, confessed that this was one of his favorite desserts yet!  Bon Appetit!

You’ll need:

1 C almond meal

1/2 C coconut flour

1/2 C oat flour

1/4 t ginger

1/4 C maple syrup

1/4 C coconut oil + more as needed and for brushing tart pan

1 recipe Whipped Coconut Cream (but make sure to read below, too)

2 C mixed berries of choice (I used blueberries, raspberries and strawberries which I cut to fit in the tart shells.)

To make:

Tart shells:

1. Pulse the almond meal and flours together in a food processor.  Add the ginger, maple syrup and coconut oil and pulse until a dough is formed and you can squeeze it together in your hands.

2. Form the dough into a ball and then pinch off about a T or so to start pressing into the (oiled) tart pan.  Press evenly so that all the sides are about the same thickness and it bakes evenly.

3. Refrigerate tart shells in pans for 30 mins.  (Confession #4: Claire’s bedtime coincided with this and I left the tart shells in there for closer to 1.5hrs.  They were completely fine:)

4. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Bake tart shells for about 10 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool.

Coconut Sabayon:

Before preparing the whipped coconut cream as per the recipe, please read to see how my mistake turned out to be a great surprise.  I had forgotten to refrigerate the coconut milk which means I attempted to make the cream without separation of water and cream/fat.  Obviously this didn’t work.  I added the kudzu (as per the recipe) and while it thickened, it wasn’t exactly rich and dreamy.  I added another T of kudzu just for kicks.  From here:

1. Add the coconut milk mixture to a saucepan over low-medium heat and bring to an almost simmer (just bubbling at the edges).  Stir often to keep it even.  Keep it over low heat for 15-20 minutes.

2. Remove from heat and let cool before storing in an airtight container in the fridge.  Chill for at least 2 hours before assembling tarts.

Assemble your tarts:

1. Measure about a teaspoon of sabayon to fill each tart shell and top with your desired fruit.

2. Enjoy!

*Assembled, the tarts will last overnight in an airtight container.  Otherwise, the tart shells will last 2-3 days and still be fresh if kept in an airtight container in the fridge.  Ditto the sabayon.

¹Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

² http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=20

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Avocado Mango Mint Smoothie

Makes 4 C

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about the amazing avocado.  I’ve alluded to it here and there, but finally it’ll get the attention it deserves.  Before I go on however, a little note of encouragement for all of you who don’t love avocados.  There was a time when I was with you.  I didn’t appreciate it, I didn’t get it.  It’s a fruit but it isn’t sweet or tart or refreshing, in the way you normally think of refreshing.  No, it’s creamy, rich, buttery even, and it’s subtle earthy flavor has been described as creamy pistachio.  Not sure I would agree actually, because the sublimity of its flavor is truly unique.  But one day I decided to give it another try and well, there was no turning back.  It’s been a love affair ever since.  I could write avocados a love letter, a poem or even an avocado song.  I want to, but I won’t.  Let’s get down to why avocados are so good and good for you.

HOLY FAT!  Literally and figuratively.  Avocados are super fatty and it may as well be holy.  In fact, 85% of its calories are fat derived and all of it contributes to anti-inflammatory properties.  (Remember that most illnesses begin as some form of inflammation, so this is important to remember!)  Half of that fat comes in the form of oleic acid and this goody helps our digestive tract produce transport molecules that helps increase absorption of fat soluble nutrients like carotenoids.¹  Good news indeed!  Avocados are involved in benefiting our hearts and cardiovascular systems.  They play a role in fighting cancer, too.  According to Rebecca Katz, glutathione, a combo of amino acids, acts as “an internal vacuum cleaner” escorting carcinogens away from healthy cells and out of the body.   The most interesting thing I’ve read is that avocados actually increase oxidative stress in cancer cells and prepares them for apoptosis, or cellular death.¹  So, they nurture our healthy cells by improving inflammation and oxidative stress while at the same time killing off cancer cells?!  Good job, avocados!  Oh, they also regulate blood sugar levels (another benefit of the holy fat) and they are great for the skin.  Added bonus, I’d say!

No wonder I eat 1-2 avocados weekly.  They’re delicious in salads, in sandwiches, over rice and beans, with eggs, in smoothies!  (I LOVE smoothies especially during these hot months.)  Even Claire has joined in on the avocado obsession.  Like mother, like daughter!

You’ll need:

1/2 hass avocado

2 1/2 C frozen mango

10-15 largish mint leaves, chopped (I like the smoothie on the minty side so I went with 15)

1 C water

1/2 C coconut milk

1 T ground flax seeds

1 T agave nectar

1 T coconut oil

1 t freshly squeezed lime juice

To make:

1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until blissfully smooth.  You won’t need ice unless you use fresh fruit, in which case, add 4 ice cubes.

2. Enjoy!

¹http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=5 (There’s thorough info here on the fats in avocados that is very interesting!)

Kingdom Date Truffles

Makes 20 ridiculously amazing truffles

I had the good fortune of getting my hands on some Kingdom Dates, which just means they came from their original home.  The Date Palm Tree is native to Saudi Arabia and dates back over 10,000 years.  This little wonder has stuck around for good reason.  Nowadays, most of the dates we get are grown in California.  Not exactly local for us on the East Coast, but we can make an exception.  Especially for yummy, whole food sweetness like this.  (There are a variety of dates though these were the ubiquitous Medjool dates as they were soft and semi-dry.)

Dates are sweet.  Make no mistake about it.  They are my preferred sweetener actually.  I use them in my smoothies and in baked goods and the sweetness is real, not sugary.  Because they are so sweet by nature, they aren’t suitable for those with diabetes (even pre-diabetics are advised against them) or cancer.  That’s the bad news…sorry!  Now for the good news.

There is an abundance of dietary fiber in dates, which means a healthy gut and colon.  Dates are a good source of Vitamin A as well as other anti-oxidants.  Bye-bye free radicals!  It’s also got great cancer fighting properties, particularly against colon, prostate, breast and pancreatic cancers.¹  Sugars in Libyan dates were shown to have some anti-tumor properties while another sugar, beta-D-glucan slows the absorption of glucose.²  Dates are also a good source of iron, potassium, copper and calcium.  Not bad for a little morsel of sweetness.

This is a great dessert especially for these summer months since there’s no baking involved.  It’s also gluten-free and vegan (don’t tell your non-gluten-free/non-vegan friends) so everyone at the party can enjoy and share in the date joy.

You’ll need:

2 C pitted dates, roughly chopped

1/4 C cacao powder

1 T ground flaxseeds

1/4 C unsweetened shredded coconut, separated

1 T coconut oil (+ more for rolling truffles)

1/4 t cinnamon

1/2 t vanilla extract (optional)

For coating:

1/4 C unsweetened shredded coconut

1/4 C hazelnut meal (or crushed hazelnuts)

1/4 C sesame seeds

To make:

1.  Place all the ingredients in a food processor and begin to process.  It will be noisy and tough to break up the dates, so it’ll take some time.  Add 1 T of water at a time to help loosen it up, but do so slowly so the mixture doesn’t get too wet or sticky.  If it does (it happened to me), add more coconut and a touch more cacao powder.

2. Refrigerate mixture for 20 minutes or so before rolling into little truffles.

3. Put some coconut oil on your hands before rolling.  Measure about a scant T and roll away.  I ended up with 20 exactly…kind of lucky I think, but of course it’ll depend on how large or small you roll them.

4. Coat the truffles in your desired coating or mix and match.  Then refrigerate for about 30 minutes or longer.  Just let them sit at room temp for a few minutes before serving.

5. Enjoy!  I know you will!

¹http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/dates.html

²Rebecca Katz, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen

Garlic Confit

Makes 1 C

The very word confit conjures images of haute food, ultra gourmet, inaccessible restaurants, maybe even a dress code?  It does sound fancy but it’s often the simplest things that are the most prized.  I guarantee you will climb a few ranks as a gourmand with this confit sitting in your fridge.  I also guarantee that once you try it, you’ll find it makes a great staple, too.  Don’t be surprised if you’re making batches of this weekly and/or giving some away.  There’s something about sharing something delicious.  It’s like sharing joy.

Confit is the fancy way of saying ‘cooked for a long time, submerged in broth or fat, for flavor and preservation’.  Back in the good ol’ days before refrigeration, people had to get creative about preserving food.  (This is really interesting to study as different parts of the world used different methods best suited to their environment.  Thank goodness because the flavors are bold and the nutrients multiplied!)  Confit originated in Southern France and was a way to preserve meat.  Do yourself a favor and try duck confit.  (Remember I was vegetarian for nearly a decade, so such recommendations don’t come lightly!)

Garlic.  Oh Garlic.  It’s got a smelly reputation that apparently repels vamps.  That’s not all this member of the allium family is capable of.  Here’s the rundown:  Garlic is anti-carcinogenic (especially good for colon cancer), anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal.  It is amazing in reducing blood pressure. (Click here for a great explanation on the contraction and dilation of blood vessels explaining blood pressure.)  It is also a blood sugar and cholesterol regulator.  It reduces fever and helps combat colds and flus.  Have you ever tried garlic lemonade?  It’s a great home remedy to add to your repertoire.  (Recipe coming soon via my sister.)  Garlic is great at eliminating toxins from the body.  For some, it is considered an aphrodisiac and therefore verboten in the diet for Buddhist monks as well as strict followers of Hinduism.  That’s a lot range for a little bulb.  That explains why it’s used universally as seasoning and as a home remedy…pretty much since the beginning of time!

So, what to do with all that confit you’re cooking up?  It’s great to season soups, vegetables and meat.  It makes a great addition to marinades and salad dressings.  And, it’s great alone, smeared on a crispy piece of country bread.  Yum!

You’ll need:

2 heads garlic (roughly about 1 C), cloves separated

1 C (approx) extra virgin olive oil

+ water and ice for blanching and shocking

To make:

1. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil.  In the meantime, fill a bowl with water and add 2 C of ice.  Blanch the garlic – Add the cloves to the boiling water and let stay for 30 seconds.  Promptly remove cloves from boiling water.  Shock the garlic – add it to the ice water.

2. Peel the skins off the garlic and trim off the root ends.  Let cloves dry in a clean kitchen towel.  (I also cut the fatter cloves in half for evenness in cooking.)

3. When dry, add the cloves to a saucepan and add the oil.  The oil should fully cover the garlic.

4. Heat over low-medium heat until small bubbles start to form and then reduce heat to low.  Skim any skins that come to the surface and stir the cloves so that they cook evenly.  Your confit is done when the gloves are a golden color and look soft.  It should take about 40 mins.  Let cool in saucepan before adding to jar.

5. Store in an air-tight container for 7-10 days.  Don’t forget to use the oil, too!  You’ve worked hard at it!

6. Enjoy!

Gourmet Baby

Caught Red-Handed!

So, it turns out that my gourmet baby, Claire Berlin, prefers to dine on paper over any food I’ve given her yet.  She seems to have a preference for my Bon Appetit magazines, so at least I know we’re headed in the right direction.

It’s been about about a month since we started her on “solids”.  The egg yolk was our most successful attempt at getting her to eat food.  After that we moved on to sweet potato (not her favorite), banana (so-so), carrots (nope), a bite of avocado from my plate (she actually gagged), a chicken bone (she loved).  There is an explanation for this seemingly disorganized approach.  I haven’t read any parenting books on “how to” start foods.  I actually try to stay away from parenting books in general because the way my brain works, the “shoulds” would be stuck in there and I may second guess everything we’re doing.  So far things are good and questions and chats with other moms are working brilliantly.  But, the real explanation is that eating isn’t a science, it is more of an art.  And, there is much more involved in the “how” than in the “what”.

Claire Berlin has showed us an incredible interest in eating what we are eating.  She has no interest in the orange veg I put in front of her, unless we’re eating the same thing, usually.  I have presented her with mash versions of the veg + finger portions that she can pick up, play with, whatever.  As soon as she gets her hands on the mushy stuff though she looks at me with a quizzical expression, unsure of what to do and not at all pleased with this new feeling in her hands.  She also has no interest in being fed, either with a spoon or with my finger, so that stopped pretty quickly.

Since Claire is interested in everything I am doing or touching or drinking (she really loves drinking water or chamomile tea out of our glasses), I have let her explore with whatever I am engaged in.  Our most recent experiment was coconut milk.  She seemed to like it as she kept putting my finger in her mouth looking for more.  It occurred to me that maybe she’s not into bland vegetables.  After all, we don’t eat steamed veggies void of all other flavor.  Plus, the chicken bone experiment went pretty well and that particular chicken was seasoned and roasted for us adults.

With all of this information, we moved onto the next experiment.  Back to sweet potato.  This time I cut it into rods, large dice, and planks.  It got steamed and then it got a drizzle of coconut milk and a pinch of salt.  We all sat down to lunch.  She touched it, looked at us for some kind of expression and then got back to her food.  She mashed some of it, tossed some off the table, but then she got a hold of a rod and it went straight into her mouth.  She sucked it at first (coconut milk and salt!) and then bit down using her two brand new tiny teeth.  The taste is still new and she’s still working that out, but she went back for more.  This time she went for the plank.  It broke in 2 so she grabbed one piece and little by little she ate it.

Looking determined!

It’s been fascinating introducing food to our baby.  It has forced me to think of food in an entirely new way.  Small things such as the cut or the tiniest addition of fat or salt can mean a world of difference for a baby.  We’ve been taking it slowly.  I don’t want her overwhelmed and I would like for her relationship to food to just unfold as naturally as possible.  No pressure.  No charts.  No comparisons.

She just turned 7 months so we’ve done a lot and we’ve come a long way already.  I think we’ll keep revisiting some of these foods and throw in some other veggies as they turn up.  It’s a great season for fresh and diverse produce!  I have to say though that I am kind of looking forward to letting her gnaw on a little lamb chop.  I wonder how that will go down?

I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, please share your experiences with your little ones and food.  I’d love to hear about your journeys.

xo. Nathalie

Looking a bit more satisfied. This was day 3 of the coconut milk sweet potato.

P.S. Between writing and posting, I performed a Clara Davis experiment of my own.  I gave Claire some avocado to which she gave me an expression of an emphatic NO.  So, I put some banana next to it (both cut into rods) and after some hesitation, she went to town on it!  She even took some from my finger again!  There is no linear progression!  Just experimentation, play and discoveries!  Enjoy:)

Blueberry Sunflower Smoothie

Makes 4C

Sunflower milk?  Once upon a time I might have been skeptical of this, almond milk, hemp milk, etc.  I had already had my prejudices against soy milk and it extended to all milk “substitutes”.  Then I got educated.  It’s amazing how it often takes the smallest things to open your mind and your world.

So, when I ran into Steve at Whole Foods with Claire in tow, I was excited.  He was giving samples of Sunsational sunflower seed milk.  (I was so intrigued by this non-dairy beverage that I failed to notice that Steve was both the founder and creator of this milk.)  It was tasty and creamy.  It reminded me a bit of cashew milk because it was quite rich.  Both the original and vanilla flavor were good.  Unfortunately, they both contain evaporated cane juice.  Steve told me that they are working on a non-sweetened version as well as an organic option.  I’m looking forward to both!

Seeds and nuts are little, nutrient dense wonders.  Sunflower seeds are full of health-supportive goodies, starting with anti-oxidants.  Steve boasted that one serving of this milk contains more anti-oxidants than the same serving size of green tea.  Bad news for free radicals, good news for us.  They’re a great source of fiber, which does wonders for our digestive system.  According to Rebecca Wood, sunflower seeds have more protein than beef!¹  Great for vegetarians to know and to use when questioned about their protein intake!  These little sun seeds (don’t they look like they come from the sun!) are a good source of Vitamin D, calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and several of the B-complex.  The last bit is about phytosterols which are compounds found in plants that are of similar chemical structure to cholesterol.  High enough consumption of this goody reduces blood levels of cholesterol, boosts immunity and plays a preventative role in some cancers.²

These are pretty good reasons to get sunflower seeds into your diet.  Throw some onto your salads, in your trail mixes or better yet, whip up this smoothie.  Your taste buds thank you in advance.

You’ll need:

1.5 C Sunflower milk

2 dates, chopped

1 T cashew butter

2 C + 2-3 T blueberries (fresh or frozen are ok, though I only had fresh ones)

1 T chia seeds

1 T fresh squeezed orange juice

4-5 ice cubes (if using fresh fruit only)

To make:

1. Place chopped dates and sunflower milk in a blender and blend until dates are broken up pretty well.  Add the cashew butter and blend again until smooth-ish.

2. Add remaining ingredients (reserve the 2-3T of blueberries) and blend away until you’re left with smooth deliciousness.

3. Garnish with remaining blueberries to add a touch of gourmet to this nutritious and delicious smoothie.

4. Enjoy

¹ Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

² http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=57 (There is also great info on the role Vitamin E plays in the body.)

Bye Bye Big Gulp?

Not an original photo…obviously! Click on picture to get to the source.

Last week Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, proposed a ban on super sized (anything larger than 16oz) sugary drinks.  I was reluctant to write about this because I didn’t want to get too political.  However, it is a bit difficult not to considering it’s caused considerable debate in several circles.  Not to mention, I did just post a Frozen Hot Chocolate recipe!   I must admit that was pretty perfect timing!

As a professional in food and health, as a consumer and most importantly as a parent, I really can’t see any harm in there not being (sugar-laden) drinks bigger than 16 oz. available.  I don’t think the government is going all big brother on New Yorkers, which is what the main reaction across the social media networks seems to be.  There is no desire to regulate what one, or rather how much, one wants to drink.  The regulation is falling on the companies (albeit indirectly) that are pushing those super sizes, because really their only concern is their bottom line, not your health.  Bloomberg is just trying to say New Yorkers don’t want them…or they’ll eventually realize that they don’t want them.  For those that really do, buy 2 or 3 bottles.

Obesity and it’s myriad of accompanying illnesses such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease (which starts in childhood)¹, depression, etc. are serious problems.  We need help.  If this is where it’s going to start, then so be it.  I’m hoping that some change will soon get into our classrooms because we NEED to get educated about food and its role in our health.  (I’m a huge fan of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative.)  Once we know better, we’ll eat and buy better.  Then, food and drink companies can produce and sell what we want instead of hijacking our health with cheap, chemical filled products.

On the subject of regulation, however, I think we could use a bit more.  And, I wouldn’t mind it being more direct, blatant even.  How about the FDA getting serious about banning BPA from being used in containers for food stuffs?  Can we stop the pink slime practice?  Or at the very least, not feed it to our children in schools?  Organic farmers could use some support (subsidies help) and big ag farmers would love more incentives on going organic.  I personally would love to see labels for products containing GMOs.

But, I digress.  Let me finally get to sugar and the problems that arise from excessive consumption of it.

Sugar, the sweet, white crystals  we envision at the mere mention of the word, has become a highly processed food stuff and it is pervasive in processed foods.  We used to get most of our sugars (simple carbs) from actual food such as fruit, grains, beans, and vegetables.  In their whole form, sugars are accompanied by fiber and other nutrients that help metabolize and digest those sugars.  Also, eaten in whole form, one eats less actual sugar.  Unfortunately that isn’t the case anymore.  Here are a few more facts.

  • One teaspoon of sugar reduces immunity for up to 6 hours. (There are 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 12oz can of soda.)
  • Sugar is acid-forming so it is inflammatory.  Inflammation is the gateway through which most illnesses begin.
  • Sugar feeds cancer…literally!  Cancer cells need a constant stream of glucose to survive.
  • Sugar is addictive, like crack.  It qualifies as addictive because 1. once you eat even a little sugar, you’ll crave more  2. “quitting sugar cold-turkey brings on withdrawal symptoms that can last from 3 days to 3 weeks”²
  • There are studies that suggest that social issues such as crime in inner cities are related to excessive sugar consumption²

(This list is by no means exhaustive.)

“A recent report from the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine estimates that sugar-sweetened beverages account for at least 20 percent of the weight increase in the United States between 1977 to 2007. According to the same report, such beverages represent the largest share of calories and are the largest contributor of added sugars in all individuals more than 2 years of age.”³

Clearly, sugar consumption is a problem in our nation.  (Incidentally, we’re exporting our way of eating and similar health problems are popping up all over the globe.)  Judging how the “no smoking” law went over – met with harsh criticism then widely accepted and even imitated around the world – I have a feeling this is another one that may catch on.  In fact, it already has.  On Tuesday, Walt Disney Company announced that all products promoted on its television, radio stations and web sites, must comply with new and strict nutritional standards.*

It’s a start.

¹ http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/ – part 1

² Annemarie Colbin, Food and Healing

³http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/farewell-super-size-sodas/2012/06/05/gJQAtT9oIV_story.html

*http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/05/business/media/in-nutrition-initiative-disney-to-restrict-advertising.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

P.S. I think it’s worth the Herculean effort to quit sugar for 2 weeks.  It’s incredibly hard, but once you do, your life WILL change.  Your tastebuds will adjust and your cravings will change at least a little.  Challenge yourself!  I grew up on Tang (ugh!) and Twinkies, too.  Trust me, it’s worth the effort.  (After 2 weeks, try to rely on naturally sweet foods such as fruit, dried fruit and natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, but do so sparingly.)