To Your Health

Delicious delicata squash is available in markets right now, and if you haven’t given it a try, you are in for a delightful discovery.

Delicatas are one of Squash World’s most misunderstood varieties. Their unique shoulder season adds to the confusion, since they grow during the summer and are harvested in the fall. Thus, they are actually more related to zucchini and other summer squash.

You’ve probably seen these elongated, pale-yellow, green-ridged beauties mixed in with the winter squash.  Just eying them in a display next to thick-shelled squash, it’s easy to assume that they, too, have a hard exterior. Not so, their skin cuts easily and is quite edible.

Delicata specimen

Although the squash is a bit smaller than many of its shelf mates, when sliced open you’ll find a firm golden interior with a string of large seeds (also edible). One look inside tells you this variety is richly loaded with minerals and fiber.

This makes the delicata an ideal candidate for a fast oven roast.  In about 30 minutes the half-moons soften and caramelize beautifully, and the tender ribbons of skin help retain their charming shape.  While at it, you could include other mildly dense vegetables such as onions or sliced peppers.

Delicata roasted half-moons

For a seasonal pasta combination, I went with ruffled farfalle and lightly coated everything with a full flavored near-raw Kale Pesto, a hearty fall pesto variation loaded with nutrients and possibilities.

Delicata, kale pesto, pasta

If you are up for other pasta options, try an interesting substitute such as kelp or soba noodles.

Delicata Squash, Kale Pesto & Pasta

Ingredients
1 small Delicata squash, wash, halve lengthwise and seed; cut into ¼” – ½” slices
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 sliced onion and/or 1 cup sliced multicolored peppers (optional)
Kale Pesto
1 small bunch cleaned & stemmed lacinato kale leaves, 3 cups packed pieces
3 cloves garlic
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp salt
¼ cup pine nuts, toast
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (more for topping)
1 Tbsp lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, approx..
12 oz. pasta
Finish: grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. To roast the delicata squash, on a baking sheet drizzle the squash and any additional vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast @ 425°F for 20-30 minutes, until squash softens and begins to caramelize and brown. Remove and cool. Can be done ahead.
  2. For pesto, to blanch kale in microwave place 3 cups rinsed, chopped kale in microwaveable container. Cover and cook 1-2 minutes until wilted, still dark green, and reduced to 1 cup or less.
    Place the cooled leaves and cooking liquid in a blender with garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and lemon juice. Whirl briefly. Add pine nuts, grated cheese; slowly drizzle in olive oil pulsing to form a thick, textured paste; adjust seasoning. Can be made ahead. This will likely make more than needed.
  3. To assemble, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente and drain; save 1 cup of water.
    Place pasta In large bowl, toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons of pesto,  a little pasta water, if dry. Add the vegetables to the pasta and toss with more pesto to lightly coat. Serve with grated cheese. Serves 3-4

Manageable Muffins

I’m in food management mode.  My fridge has stopped working and while waiting for parts and repair I’m keeping it simple by relying on the most stable foods and meals.

My tiny backup cooler/fridge takes limited perishables like milk, eggs, cheese, and perhaps a ready made meal or two. So, there’s nothing like a good challenge to get the creative juices flowing.

Applesauce Muffins

For some reason I had several kid-sized servings of applesauce in the pantry. Turns out, 2 of these cups are just enough to make a small batch of  6 delicious applesauce muffins.

These fall-flavored muffins should hold at least 3 days without refrigeration, just long enough to safely polish them all off. Thus far, they have been a welcome touch for breakfast, snacks… even dessert.

The muffins are inspired by a larger recipe at Mel’s Kitchen Café. They cleverly begin by giving rolled oats a quick softening soak with other wet ingredients. Rather than melted butter, I used shelf-ready coconut oil for a light floral background note.

The wet mixture is then dumped into the dry ingredients. The flours can be your choice: gluten-free, whole grained, etc.  I used partial all-purpose for max leavening power, plus a touch of recent favorite, buckwheat flour.  Additions such as dried cranberries or raisins are also combined with the dry ingredients.

Safe and Sane Muffin

The batter is quickly blended and portioned into a 6-cup lined muffin tin (a large ⅓ cup scoop works beautifully) and bake approximately 18 minutes. To avoid tough or dry muffins, the big caution is to not overmix or overbake.

Mine were/are moist, with just enough texture from the oats and dried cranberries for plenty of flavor, fiber, and food value.

Small Batch Applesauce Muffins

Modified from Mel’s Kitchen Café

Ingredients
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp coconut oil or butter, melted
3 Tbsp sugar
¼ cup AP flour
2 Tbsp whole wheat or buckwheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with liners or grease the muffin cups. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the oatmeal, applesauce, egg, vanilla, coconut oil and sugar and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, cranberries or raisins if using. Make a well in the center and pour in the applesauce mixture. Stir until just combined; don’t overmix or the muffins will be dense and dry.
  4. Using a large scoop, distribute the batter evenly among the 6 muffin cups. Bake for 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove the muffins to a rack to cool completely. Yield: 6 muffins

Smoking Light

I finally buckled and bought a small grill/smoker.  This little guy is the compromise I’d been dreaming about: a compact heavy duty grill geared for smoking.  Turns out, this odd-duck is the cast iron smoker box add-on to Char-Griller’s large premium model.  Their baby version is also designed as a stand alone tabletop grill.

Char-Griller Table Top Grill

I’ve been running it through its paces and yes, it holds optimum temperatures of 250-275°F.  Using the the offset smoking method, coals are fired up in a lower ash box opposite the main grill side. Two vents channel smoke up and around the food, constantly wrapping it in warm smoke.

I’m not interested in smoking food for hours on end, but I do want it thoroughly smoked and safely cooked within a reasonable amount of time. There’s a delicate balance between duration of time and establishing the proper interior heat for adequate smoking.  When planning for thorough cooking of most foods, the 250-275°F range seems to be it.

Acceptable internal meat temperatures can actually differ from traditional gauges and guidelines, such as cooking poultry until 165°F.  It’s been proven that holding meat at a prolonged lower cooking temp is perfectly safe, if it is held for a prescribed period of time.  For example with chicken, the USDA says that bacteria like salmonella is eliminated and chicken is safe once it fully reaches 145°F and is cooked at that temperature at least 13 minutes longer.

That’s more information than you may want. Especially if you have an electric or propane grill that monitors all of that for you.  But this approach works for the minimalist in me.

In my opinion chicken thighs are an ideal solution for a ‘smoking light’ session. With the bone-in and skin on they need little more to produce perfect packages of moist, blissful meat graced with just enough skin for those who may deem it important.

Thighs ‘Smoked Light’

My approach for smoked chicken thighs includes brining. A flavored salt solution acts to purify, moisturize and enhance the thighs. It gets the job done in four hours, but may be held longer with a saltier outcome.  If concerned, just dilute with more water.

After the brining, thighs air dry for 4 hours to aid in smoke adherence and absorption. To counteract flabby or rubbery skin, try a quick sear in a hot pan prior to smoking. Another solution is to sear them on the grill, but fat dripping onto coals also means flare ups and heat acceleration.

No time to brine? Try a light rub on the thighs prior to placing them on the grill—with a water pan below.  A simple rub with paprika and slight pop of sumac is included; it will punch up the flavor yet allow the smoke essence to flourish.

For smoke flavoring, I soaked a combination of mesquite and apple chips for 30 minutes and drained them well before placing them in a smoker box on top of white charcoal.  The coals  were replenished once to maintain the grill’s interior temperature.

After 1½ hours cooking time, thigh internal temperatures ranged from 145 to 155°F.  Within 15 minutes, temperatures maintained and stabilized from 148-155°F throughout.  The thighs had a beautiful burnished color and were firm when pressed.

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Done to perfection!

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Ingredients
4-6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
Brine
2 cups water divided
2 cloves garlic, smash and sliver
1 Tbsp each sea salt and granulated sugar
½ tsp peppercorns
bay leaf
Optional Rub
1 tsp each salt, white pepper,  sweet or smoked paprika, ⅛ tsp sumac

Directions

  1. Brine: combine 1 cup water and ingredients, bring to boil to dissolve salt and sugar. Add 1 cup cold water to the brine and set aside to cool.
    Wash the thighs and trim excess skin and fat. Place in zip lock bag covered with brine. Marinate 4 hours; it becomes saltier the longer it brines.
    Remove the thighs from brine, pat excess liquid.  Air dry on a rack for 4 or more hours in fridge. Bring thighs to room temperature before smoking.
  2. Soak chips: soak wood chips in water for 20-30 minutes, drain well and place in smoker box if using.
  3. Prepare the smoker:  ignite coals. Add a water pan below the offset smoker grill side and spray the grill. When coals begin to turn white, top with chips/smoker box.
  4. Optional thighs sear:  heat skillet to medium high and coat it with oil. Sear skin sides only.
  5. Optional rub:  If using rub, apply just before placing on grill.
  6. Smoke the thighs: when interior smoker temperature reaches 250°F place the thighs on the grill. Close the lid and set vents partially open for draft.  Smoke the thighs for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until 165°F internal temp, or a sustained overall internal temp of 150°F for 5 minutes.

Note:  to maintain a steady heat level check coals 30 minutes into smoke, if dwindling add a few more hot coals to bed.     

Mole, please

With the changing seasons I’m already thinking of more robust meals and nothing makes my heart beat faster than a high flavored mole, the national dish of Mexico. This unique dish is a throw back to esteemed concoctions originally made by the Aztecs and later nuanced by the Spanish nuns of Puebla.

Mole!

A traditional mole sauce can vary in color from red to green and in-between, depending on what it contains and where it is made, but often includes a range of chiles, nuts, seeds, spices, fruits, and even chocolate.

With all of these moving parts, this complex labor of love can require a day or longer to create—thus, it is often held for special occasions. Once prepared, the triumphant sauce is simmered with chicken, turkey, pork, or beef and served with plenty of warm tortillas, local vegetables such as chayote or squash, and rice.

North of the border, we are more likely to come up with a compromise meal solution that’s attainable in far less time—but just as festive. We could 1) devise our own “simplified” sauce, perhaps include dried chiles, spices, peanut butter, and chocolate, 2) run to the closest local Mexican market for their prepared house blend, or 3) pull out a jar of Doña Maria Mole, a dense paste found at your local grocery store.

Doña Maria Mole Sauce helps makes an impressive meal—even mid-week.  I still like to dress it up with more garlic, chile powder and seasoning before adding the mole base. It needs copious thinning with stock or other liquid and then the sauce is simmered briefly to blend flavors.

Turkey Mole

Browned-off portions of chicken, pork, or beef—or my favorite, turkey breast—are added to the sauce and simmered until tender. If you have an Instant Pot, this entire project can be accomplished in about an hour.

As you would expect, mole actually improves overnight, and reheats beautifully.  The sauce thickens mightily and goes much further than you would expect. Like a good soup, extend with more water.

Mole, please

EZ Turkey Mole

Ingredients
turkey breast, 2-3 lbs. boned, with skin (or equivalent cut-up chicken, pork or beef)
½ tsp both salt and pepper, or more
1-2 Tbsp canola oil
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup liquid: coffee or water
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup prepared mole blend (such as Doña Maria Mole Mexican Sauce)
3-4 cups approx., stock or water to thin
1-2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds, ½ cup cilantro

Instructions

  1.  Season the turkey breast with salt and pepper, heat the oil in a pot over medium high and brown the breast on both sides,10-15 minutes total. Transfer to a holding plate.
  2. Reduce heat to medium/low. If necessary add enough oil to yield 1 tablespoon in pan. Stir in spices, then the garlic; cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add liquid, stir to loosen and combine pan drippings. Blend in the tomato paste.
  3. Stir in the mole base adding enough liquid to thin into a medium sauce. Adjust seasoning and bring to a simmer; it will continue to thicken as it cooks. Return the turkey breast (and any accumulated juices) to pot.
  4. Set Instant Pot for 20-30 minutes (9 mins/pound) with 10 minute release, or simmer on the stovetop 45-60 minutes, until tender.
  5. Adjust seasoning, it may need a touch of orange juice or sugar. Serve sliced portions with sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds and fresh cilantro. Pass warmed tortillas. Serves 4.

Free! Green Onions

There was little doubt that my latest science project would work, but I wanted to know how long it would take and whether it was worth the effort.

I’d been reading that green onions will grow indoors in a mere glass of water with roots attached. Now, that’s appealing.  Rather than throwing trimming away, I love the idea of recycling onions for another growth or two.

This summer my doorstep garden has kept up a steady supply of my favorite herbs, but I’ve missed fresh picked chives or green onions. When I returned home from grocery shopping with another bag of very healthy green onions, I was more than ready.

I got busy, grabbed a handful of green onions, chopped all the greens off, down into their whites and set the pile aside for later use.

Scallion starts

I located a small jar, perched the 2-inch rooted starts around the edge and poured an inch or so of filtered water into the bottom. Like most sun loving plants they do best with at least 6 hours of sun per day, and my summer kitchen window supplies that and more. They get a daily change of water and grow so fast it’s like having a live YouTube channel for entertainment.

Free scallions!

By the end of week one, the green onions had grown from 2-inch starts to 6-7 inch lengths. Now, that’s cause for celebration! I cut 4 onions down to 2-inches again.

Scallion Pancakes

Enough to make a batch of scallion pancakes.

Scallion Pancakes

Ingredients
½ cup AP flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Montreal Steak Seasoning or salt & pepper blend
2 Tbsp minced green onion
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup water, approx.
½ Tbsp canola oil

Instructions
1. In bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Add the minced green onion and blend well.
2. Beat the egg and stir into the flour.  Add enough water to form consistency of pancake batter.
3. Heat skillet over medium-high heat with oil.
4. Drop 1 tablespoon or more batter onto skillet, cook cakes until bubbles form on top, turn and cook 2-3 minutes per side.   Makes 6-12 cakes, depending on size.

Finish idea: top with thin sliced smoked salmon, salted yogurt, and a sprinkle of green onion.

This is personal…

The burger police say “No!” to rare hamburgers.  If I’m going to have a burger, I want it fat, juicy, and rare—not sawdust dry.

I’ve come up with a very workable solution. It requires a good quality, lean ground beef seasoned with a blend reminiscent of Spanish chorizo: equal amounts smoked paprika, garlic, thyme, salt and fresh ground pepper. It chills for a good 4 hours, as this needs time for the flavors to sink in and come together.

Seasoned beef

The meat is formed into thick patties—almost as thick as they are wide—call it ‘football’ shaped. They don’t need to be that big.  Just fat. The bread is moderately important—not a lot of it, a mere platform to hold the patty.

Actually, this small open-faced patty affair ends up becoming more like a bruschetta of sorts, also very good for appetizers and small party bites. This works for me because I can easily have T-W-O of them.

Bruschetta Burger

The toppings become key, because they are front and center. On the bottom, I like to spread a garlicy mayo or aioli. Then the hot grilled burger.  A crunchy finish is nice, like the previous charred corn salsa/salad.  A spoonful of avocado cream on the burger nails it and keeps it all together.

Just a bite….

A few microgreens are a nod to healthiness.

Bruschetta Burgers

Ingredients
1 lb excellent lean ground beef
1 tsp each: crushed garlic, smoked paprika, fresh thyme, sea salt, fresh ground pepper

1 medium baguette, sourdough, or other rustic bread
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp evoo

½ cup aioli, or ½ c mayonnaise or mashed avocado blended with 1 clove garlic, 1 tsp lemon juice
charred corn salsa
1 cup micro greens, ¼ cup sliced green onion

Instructions
For burgers, combine seasonings with burger meat and thoroughly blend. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours to blend flavors. Divide into 6 equal portions, shape into football shaped ovals and flatten slightly. Grill on medium hot grill 8-10 minutes for rare to medium-rare. They should be well seared, juicy and give lightly when pressed in center.

For bruschetta, cut bread at an angle into 12 ½” thick slices. Rub with garlic, brush with olive oil and grill to toast on both sides.

To assemble, set hot burger on bruschetta spread with aioli. Top with more aioli or avocado cream, finish with charred corn salsa and a dab of  microgreens and green onion. Makes 6 bruschetta.

Along comes Corn

Something was nagging at me as I headed into the home stretch, back from running errands. I ticked off my list, I was done and ready to get on with other business. Then it hit me.

It was corn.

Rumor had it that the neighborhood farm stand up the hill was selling fresh corn. Did I really want to go and see if it was true? Fresh corn sells out in a hurry.  I deliberated, and made a fast U-turn. Yes, it was worth it, nothing says “Welcome to Summer” like freshly picked corn.

freshly picked corn on the cob

Corn on the cob is fabulous, but I was also ruminating over a charred corn salad.  The basis was already in the fridge; it stemmed from 2 small fat red peppers picked from my new pimento plant.  Apparently, the same little peppers are dried and ground for paprika. They have a robust, sweet flavor with a slight heat—absolutely delicious.

Along with the luscious red pepper, there was crunchy fennel, celery, shallot and cucumber, plus fresh herbs and a light vinaigrette. Tasty, but I pictured it including charred corn.

With the beautiful fresh corn in tow, I returned home.  Later I fired up the grill and prepped the corn. I pulled back the husks, removed their loose silk, and twisted a handful of husk from each for convenient handles. Once well-heated, the corn goes on the grill.  The sound of popping corn is warning that the kernels are beginning to sear and near ready to turn. They are done when evenly charred on all sides.

After the corn cools, the kernels need to be carefully cut from the cob. To remove, hold the corn upright and slice downward from the top with a sharp chef’s knife.

Sweet roasted corn is addictive, it needs nothing.  Save one cup or more for the prepped salad; brighten with fresh lime and season to taste with more salt and pepper. For the height of enjoyment, serve the salad as soon as possible—but it’s still very good the next day.

Charred Corn Salad

This also makes a delicious salsa atop pork or grilled burgers; spice it up a bit more with hot pepper flakes. Add it to pasta for instant pasta salad…

Charred Corn Salad

Ingredients
½ cup fennel plus fronds, thin slice
½ cup celery plus leaves, thin slice
½ cup seedless cucumber, thin slice
½ cup red peppers, seed thin slice
½ cup shallots, or green onion, thin slice
⅓ cup cilantro, chop
2 Tbsp fresh herbs, such as thyme, marjoram, and/or savory
Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh herbs: thyme, marjoram and/or savory
¼ tsp each salt and pepper
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 ear corn, 1 cup charred kernels or more
1-2 Tbsp lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Prepare all vegetables except corn and toss with vinaigrette. Chill or set aside.
  2. To prep corn, peel the husk back and remove all silk. Save some of the husk to maneuver corn on grill.
  3. To roast the corn, heat outdoor or stovetop grill to medium/high to high. Place the corn on the grill with husks extending off the grill as a handy handle. Turn corn as needed to roast kernels on all sides; this will take 5-10 minutes depending on grill and heat. Remove the corn, and cool.
  4. To remove kernels, stand corn upright on board or in wide bowl and run a chef’s knife down the length of the corn, quickly cutting the corn off the cob and turning until all corn has been removed.
  5. Add the fresh roasted corn to the marinating vegetables and toss well. Drizzle with fresh lime juice, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. For salsa, add a bit more lime juice and spice it up with hot pepper flakes to taste. Serve fresh or chill. Makes 4 cups.

In Defense of Fat

This is a follow up to the previous post on keto-friendly Tomato Sauce.  In the process of developing and writing about the sauce from a higher fat, low carb perspective I realized my approach to fat has changed.

There was a time when fat was considered the enemy and popular nutrition made a shift away from fatty foods to no-fat, fat-free, and low fat alternatives. It took quite a while before we could accept that this wasn’t a solid nutritional solution and substituting fat for sugar or other chemical derivatives had its own problems. So I avoided fat as much as possible.

Somewhere along the line I finally grasped the concept that fat serves a purpose. I knew that fat made things taste better, but still held out, looking for ways to up my flavors without fat.  Then, I slowly and selectively eased unsaturated oils (and yes, butter) back into my cooking and noticed improved appearance, texture and flavor—in everything from salad dressing to cookies and cakes.

Fats serve many purposes. Current science tells us we need good fats for energy, that some vitamins and minerals actually need fat for the body to absorb and process them; that fatty acids can fight depression, improve eye care, and brain health.  Fats can improve blood cholesterol levels, protect our organs, and decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It gets confusing when sorting out the good from the bad fats. Rule of thumb on daily intake: 20-35% of total calories. Other than manufactured trans fats, it’s all good in moderation. Moving from best to worst: monounsaturated fat (15-20% of daily calories), polyunsaturated fat (5-10%), saturated fat (less than 10%), trans fats (none).

Take tahini for instance.  It’s a nut butter made from sesame seeds that’s high in omega-6 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fat.  (1 tablespoon has 89 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams carbs, 8 grams fat, 2 grams fiber.)

It is all relative.

Tahini is not an oil, but it is oil-rich and a fortress of nutritional value. It is loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins B and E, and minerals including copper, phosphorous, selenium, iron, zinc, calcium. It’s good for the blood, bones, and the body, plus it aids in fighting heart disease and cancer.  Call it pro-active.

Here’s a quirky example of a bar that turns a simple sweet into an nutritional powerhouse.

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

It’s built with bland white beans, rich in minerals including potassium, and fiber for structure. Tahini is included for nutty richness, fiber, and moisture.  Chocolate looks like a candidate for flavor, but we opt for a small amount of cocoa powder.  It’s all we need, we can utilize tahini’s flavorful oil base to enrich the cocoa and bring it fully alive.

The result: a moist, mysterious fiber-rich bar with all the charm of a light butterscotch-amped blondie laced with cocoa nuttiness for sex appeal. What’s not to love?

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

Ingredients
⅓ cup AP flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
15 oz can white beans, rinse & drain, @ 1 cup mashed
1 Tbsp butter
⅓ cup each brown and granulated sugar
½ cup tahini
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp demerara sugar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Line 8×8” pan with foil and spray well.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa power, baking powder and salt, set aside
  3. In 1 cup microwaveable measure, melt butter, stir in sugar, heat 30-60 seconds to melt. Transfer to mixing bowl and cool briefly.
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  5. Meanwhile, mash beans well and set aside.
  6. Stir the tahini into the cooled butter/sugar mixture. Whisk in the eggs, then vanilla. Stir in the beans. Mix in the dry ingredients to lightly combine.
  7. Evenly spread batter into baking pan and sprinkle top with demerara sugar.
  8. Bake 20-30 minutes until set in center. Cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove foil and bars to rack and cool 10- 15 minute longer. Cut into bars; these should be light and moist but not gooey. Store lightly covered in fridge. Yield 12-16 bars

Tomato Sauce, Keto-style

When my daughter Shannon recently sent her favorite recipe for Five Minute Keto Pizza I was off and running.  She has long been a keto fan, and a terrific source of the latest information.

Ketogenics is not new; it was developed nearly 100 years ago at the Mayo Clinic as a treatment for epilepsy.  It has gained a huge following by those interested in weight loss or other heath issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, and more. The keto diet focuses on the restriction of carb-rich foods, forcing the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates, resulting in a metabolic state of ketosis.

Turns out the pizza crust is made with eggs for protein, psyllium husk for fiber, and Parmesan cheese. The blended mixture thickens to form a bread-like base when cooked in an oil lined skillet for a couple of minutes.  Rao’s Tomato Sauce and mozzarella cheese are spread on and quickly broiled. Its fast!

No doubt this is a good recipe for those seriously interested in adhering to the keto program as ingredients and quantities are set out to meet specific criteria. On the hunt for psyllium husk, I found a small vaguely marked bag in the back of a cupboard.  I wasn’t sure if it was a powder form or whole, and this matters when it comes to the gut and intestinal processes.  I set it aside for later.

I turned my attention to the sauce;  as a recipe developer this looked like a good challenge.  Unlike other fruit, tomatoes are considered keto-friendly, thanks to their low sugar net carb status. Who knows what Rao had in mind, but I could surely make a homemade tomato sauce that stays within keto boundaries—and acceptable to me.

I zeroed in on Bagna Cauda, the incredible “hot bath” from Italy’s Piedmont region traditionally made with copious amounts of olive oil plus butter. It’s simmered with loads of garlic and anchovies and served as a hot dip, fondue-style. I would begin there. For a win/win, I’d cut back on the oil and butter and substitute a heritage tomato such as a San Marzano or Oregon Spring.

There are so few ingredients in this sauce, each one is important.  It needs a fruity, full flavored extra virgin olive oil, at least 1 clove garlic per serving, and red pepper flakes for a hit of heat. The anchovies give a mysterious umami boost, any fishiness fades to the background, and it’s not too salty.  The tomatoes should be thin-skinned, meaty, low in acid, with few seeds. If using a canned San Marzano, look for one with no sugar added.

Simple Tomato-Bagna Cauda Sauce

As the bagna cauda base and tomatoes simmer away, they break down together and develop into a richly rounded sauce. Serve with chicken, fish, pasta, or pizza.

Tomato-Bagna Cauda Sauce

Ingredients
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, mash and mince
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
8 anchovy fillets, dice
4-6 large heirloom tomatoes such as San Marzano, chop
salt and pepper
1-2 Tbsp fresh basil, torn

Instructions

  1. Heat a wide pot over medium-low, cook olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and anchovies. Slowly cook; mashing the anchovies until melted, smooth, and aromatic, 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, partially cover set to a low simmer an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until thick. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in fresh basil. Makes 2 cups or more.

 

Five Minute Keto Pizza

Source: Ruled.me
Ingredients
2 large Eggs
2 tbsp. Parmesan Cheese
1 tbsp. Psyllium Husk Powder
1/2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
Salt to Taste
2 tsp. Frying Oil (I use bacon fat)
1.5 oz. Mozzarella Cheese
3 tbsp. Rao’s Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp. Freshly Chopped Basil

Directions

  1. In a bowl or container, use an immersion blender to mix together all pizza crust ingredients.
  2. Heat frying oil in a pan until hot, then spoon the mixture into the pan. Spread out into a cirlce.
  3. Once edges are browned, flip and cook for 30-60 seconds on the other side. Turn the stove off, and turn the broiler on.
  4. Add tomato sauce and cheese, then broil for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.

Mushroom Cookies, seriously

If you like playing with your food, here is one entertaining cookie.  I’ve made them several times now and find them totally irresistible, both to eat and to make.  Similar to a sand cookie, these pale small batch bites have a light flavor and texture—and yes, they visually resemble fresh mushrooms.

Mushroom Cookies

This version is inspired by Turkish Mushroom Cookies found at the resourceful blog, My Excellent Degustations.  This past spring I liked including a few as a charming surprise tucked amid a basket of assorted cookies.

The dough mixes up easily into a soft pliable dough. There is a simple trick to forming their quirky mushroom shape—one that kids of all ages can pull off.

First, locate a small glass beverage bottle with a screw top. Dip the bottle rim into water, then in cocoa powder, and gently punch into the center of a small round of dough. Remove the bottle and you will have created a freshly harvested mushroom, stem and all.

That’s it!  These are best when kept to under a 1” sized round as they will spread; a batch should yield 18 cookies. They hold very well when stored airtight.

Mushroom Cookies, Small Batch

Ingredients
¾ cup AP flour + 2 Tbsp
¼ cup + 3 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
¼ cup + 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
1½ tsp vanilla
½ cup water
1 Tbsp cocoa
Tools/Props: 1 small screw topped glass beverage bottle

Instructions
1.  Sift flour, cornstarch, and baking powder and set aside.
2.  Cream the butter and beat in the sugar until light, then the egg.
3.  Mix in half the dry ingredients; then mix in the vanilla. Add the remaining dry. It should form a soft smooth dough. If sticky chill for 20
minutes.
4.  Line 1-2 baking sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll dough into 1” rounds, using rounded teaspoon, and set 1-2” apart; these will
expand.
5.  Place water and cocoa in 2 small bowls. Dip the rim of bottle in water and then in cocoa. Press the rim into each round to form the stem and mark
it with cocoa/dirt.  Repeat with all. Wipe the bottle top to form clean bond between cookies.
6.  Bake 14-18 minutes, until set but not colored. Cool on rack. Makes 18 cookies.