A Very Strawberry Valentine’s Day

The other day, I sent an angry text message to my friend.

“Stupid Valentine’s Day,” I wrote. “I am on pink and red overload. Those two colors don’t even go well together!”

Moments later, my friend wrote back, “F— that s—,” the most profanity I have ever heard (or read) him utter at once.

What is it about Valentine’s Day that seems to get everyone up in arms? I’m part of the problem, I admit; even last year, when I was actually dating someone on February 14th, I rolled my eyes when the poor schnook suggested, “We should do something.” I should be a better sport. After all, the inventor of Valentine’s Day cards, like myself, was a Mount Holyoke alumna.

This year, I decided to take my least favorite holiday and use it as an excuse to bake something pink, so that those who aren’t as vehemently opposed can make wholesome goodies for their friends, family and – wait for it – sweethearts on Valentine’s Day. Those pink baked goods are delicious strawberry cupcakes. Let’s kick it.

Ingredients

For the cake:

24 medium strawberries, hulled
1 cup + 2 tbsp cage-free egg whites
3 cups raw sugar or evaporated cane juice
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
4 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp sea salt

For the frosting:

3/4 cups strawberries, mashed
3/4 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
7 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups Earth Balance organic whipped buttery spread, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Begin by hulling the strawberries. There are proper methods of doing so, but I just used my fingers.

Place strawberries into a blender, and blend until smooth. Try NOT to leave any remaining chunks, like so:

Instead, allow the strawberries to become completely pureed:

In a large bowl or food processor, beat together the eggs, sugar, applesauce, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, and strawberry puree until well combined.

Add the flour, baking powder and salt, mixing well.

The original recipe allows the option of adding red food coloring to create a pink shade for the cake. I did not have much luck in this venture, after retrieving the great but very pricey India Tree natural food coloring -

Adding several drops -

And ending up with the same exact shade as before. $18 down the drain, ladies and gentlemen.

Spoon the batter into a prepared cupcake tin – greased with a natural spray or lined with cupcake liners (try to find liners made from recycled paper, usually available at Whole Foods), filling each roughly 3/4 full.

Bake until the cupcakes have risen into a rounded top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 23 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and allow cupcakes to cool for at least 10 minutes before applying frosting.

To prepare the frosting, begin by mashing 3/4 cup of strawberries. It’s very fun to mash them by hand, especially when on the anti- side of Valentine’s Day, but doing so also creates a wonderful strawberry aroma.

Place the mashed strawberries, confectioners’ sugar, melted Earth Balance and shredded coconut into the food processor, beating until smooth.

Using a rubber scraper, scoop the frosting into a large, zip-sealed plastic bag. Push the frosting into one corner of the bag and secure with a rubber band, like so:

Refrigerate the frosting for 5-10 minutes to create a thicker consistency. Remove the bag from the refrigerator and snip off the bottom 1/2 inch of the corner.

Begin by frosting the rim of the cupcakes, working your way into the center to create a spiraled peak.

Recipe yields 35-36 cupcakes.

Check out the original cake and frosting recipes.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus™ Value: 8 per cupcake

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Sustainable Seafood – And Baked Tilapia

My mother can’t even begin to explain how proud she is that I finally not only eat, but also prepare seafood. Heck, I’m proud of myself. It’s like wearing a badge – no, better yet, a medal – marching into Whole Foods every weekend to buy a pound of cod. Oh, the glee. Oh, the satisfaction I’ve felt for being so good to my body. That is, until the day I had a more discerning gander at the seafood counter labels and saw this image next to the Atlantic cod fillets:

While I didn’t know what exactly what “code red” meant when applied to seafood, I knew it couldn’t be anything good. I ran home to my faithful MacBook to find out what the symbol indicated and just how unkind I was being to the planet.

The news was not good. I learned that Whole Foods, in partnership with the Blue Ocean Institute (BOI), developed a seafood sustainability rating system to indicate the eco-friendliness of fishing practices for each type. I learned why the type of cod I had been purchasing, Atlantic – U.S. & Canada bottom trawl caught, was code Red: According to BOI, “The main fishing method for Atlantic Cod is bottom trawling, which causes substantial damage to bottom habitats.” Yikes.

Luckily, the folks behind the seafood counter at Whole Foods know their stuff and, as a comparable alternative to cod, recommended Responsibly Farmed Tilapia, which has this friendly symbol next to it:

“Huzzah!” I thought to myself. “I can be good to myself AND to the planet.” And so can you, with the help of this recipe for baked tilapia with Italian crumb topping that I adapted from AllRecipes.

Ingredients

1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp Emeril’s Original Essence, or a similar seasoning
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
3 tbsp 100% cage-free egg whites, lightly beaten
4 responsibly farm-raised tilapia fillets (typically amounts to about 1 pound)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  In a small bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, cheese, oil, Essence, garlic powder and pepper.

Pour mixture onto a deep plate.

In another small bowl, lightly beat egg whites and set aside.

If you have a broiling pan, coat the rack with olive oil spray. If not, you can use my alternative: Place a cooling rack on top of a baking pan and spray that.

Set up an “assembly line” of the tilapia, egg whites, bread crumb mixture and rack.

Dip each tilapia fillet in the egg whites, coating it on both sides.

Then dip the fillet into the bread crumb mixture, covering the majority of both sides.

Place the crumb-coated tilapia fillets on the rack. If you wish, lightly spritz them with the olive oil spray; that helps to give them a more golden shade once baked.

Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork and is opaque all the way through.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus™ Value: 4 per tilapia fillet

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2011 (and a quiche)

Happy New Year, Delicious Kickers! So, my well-wishing is about ten days late. Ten days and three months. I know – as a friend once said, “You have blogger ADD.”

A lot has happened since my last post; I discovered how much I love Zumba, I moved into a new apartment and I became a blond. True story:

(That’s Evona on the right, one of my dearest compadres. She likes to cook, too. And she’s a vegetarian. Who has a fascination with bacon. So, in part, this post is dedicated to her.)

Anyway, these are all good things and I’d like to see that trend continue in 2011. While I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, I have resolved that no matter how busy I become with other things, I must return to food blogging and stick with it. I love writing, cooking and eating; one of the healthiest things I can do for myself (and those who receive the carnage of my culinary projects) is to combine the three.

I figure it’s at once symbolic and appropriate, then, to kick off the new year and my resolution with a recipe for what some say is the most important meal of the day: breakfast. (If you’re like me, however, the answer is “every five minutes.”) I came up with this recipe for a flourless egg white quiche after receiving complaints about my morning cooking habits in the office; while a filling, protein-rich breakfast, microwaved egg whites smell bad. Who knew?

In the end, everybody won: my patient colleagues no longer have to experience the previous morning aroma, while my readers are now privy to an  equally satisfying breakfast that can be easily prepared outside of the office…and actually smells good when reheated.

Ingredients

3 cups cage-free liquid egg whites

1 cup part-skim shredded mozzarella

4 slices uncured turkey bacon (I used Applegate Natural Turkey Bacon)

Pour liquid egg whites into a medium-sized bowl and beat until slightly foamy.

Microwave four slices of turkey bacon for about one minute, until partially browned and crisp.

Dice bacon into small pieces.

Measure one cup of mozzarella and set aside.

Add diced bacon and mozzarella to egg whites and beat until well-mixed and whites are again foamy.

Pour mixture into a 12″ x 8″ pan.

Bake at 350º for 45-60 minutes, or until the top of the quiche is brown and the inside middle is solid.

Cut into four sections and serve warm. Or, of course, refrigerate for the work week.

Weight Watchers PointsPlus™ Value: 5 per ¼ quiche

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Home Grown Food Challenge: Potato-Butternut Squash-Yam Latkes

A fun fact about the new project I mentioned in my last post: Everyone at this company is nuts about natural food.

Of course, some of us are crazier about it than others, myself included. But then there’s Luke, one of the co-founders of the company, who actually has a farm in Western Massachusetts called Sweet Local. It’s not like he has a lot of time on his hands, what with his dual roles as CIO and self-described “Gentleman Farmer”; not to mention husband and father-to-be. Nevertheless, he’s decided to redefine the term “full plate” and take the Home Grown Food Challenge, pledging to consume only foods that he’s grown, harvested and preserved from his farm for the entire month of October.

Another thing everyone is nuts about here is social media, which is why Luke is not only tracking his progress on the Home Grown Food Challenge and Antler Facebook pages, but has also reached out to the Boston food blogging community. Well, hello there, Luke! I’d be happy to participate in the challenge and feature a recipe based on your pre-fixed menu of items!

When it comes to traditional Fall foods, my arm doesn’t exactly have to be twisted to cook with them. I love all things butternut squash and, in my humble option, sweet potatoes go well with nearly everything. But if I had to identify my very favorite post-August food, it would be latkes. Known as a Hanukkah staple, latkes are a type of potato pancake that, as I recently discovered, can really be made with anything. In the interest of full disclosure, I did cheat: Luke’s menu doesn’t include yams, though it does contain four different types of squash that surely can be used as a substitute.

The best part about these suckers is that they are a very healthy alternative to most types of fried potatoes; they require very little oil and the squash incorporates an extra amount of certain nutrients that a standard latke might not contain, such as dietary fiber and vitamin A IU. I’d recommend serving them as an appetizer…or bringing them into the office to win over your new colleagues.

Ingredients

1 small or medium raw potato, shredded
2 cups raw yam, shredded
2 cups raw butternut squash, shredded
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp 100% liquid egg whites
1/2 cup local flour
1/2 cup(s) olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Begin by cutting the potato, yam and squash into cubes. If you don’t want to buy the squash pre-cubed, take note of this helpful hint to ease cutting it: Poke a few holes in the skin and place it in the microwave for 5-10 minutes, depending on how big it is.

By hand or with a food processor, shred the indicated amount of cubed potato, yam and squash and mix together until it results in a coarse, yellow-orange blend.

Meanwhile, start heating 1/4 cup of olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat.

Stir onion, egg whites and flour into the potato/yam/squash mixture until small clumps of the mixture stick together when you pick them up.

Scoop 1/4 cup-sized heaps of the mixture into hot oil, pressing them down into round, flatter cakes with the back of a spoon once they are in the pan. Flip each latke over when the edges turn brown.

The olive oil will likely begin to run dry when you’re halfway through the batter; when that happens, add the remaining 1/4 cup of oil.

Once both sides of the latkes are fully cooked, place them on paper towels to drain. Immediately sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. And please, be conservative with the towels; they come from trees.

This recipe yields 24-30 latkes, depending on the size you make them.

Many thanks to Luke for initiating this awesome challenge – I hope the latkes turn out well when you make them!

Weight Watchers POINTS® Value:  2 per latke

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! (And b-b-b-b-bagels!)

It seems as though everyone I know is making some major change in their respective lives this month: Someone is either moving across the country, breaking up with their significant other or entering grad school.  Or all three.  As for myself, I’m taking on a new, big project.

Most of you who follow me on Twitter know that, when I’m not standing over a food processor, drooling my way through Whole Foods or buying shoes, I’m a marketing professional.  Recently, I took on a project with a very small, very hip and very exciting marketing agency where I’ll be doing pretty much everything I love.  However, with a project for which I’ll have such passion comes demanding hours.

That said, I still plan to bake and blog whenever I can.  Food is such an integral part of my life and will continue to be; after all, a girl’s gotta eat.  So though my updates may be more sporadic, they are by no means gone for good.

And so, without further ado:  I.  Love.  Bagels.

I love bagels so much that if I didn’t know better, I would eat them for every meal.  And snack.  And for no reason at all.  It recently became clear to me:  Just MAKE some bagels, dummy, and see what you can do to make them healthier.

And so I did.  Twice.  The first time, they came out looking like this:

Nutritious, delicious and flat.  Luckily, many of my friends are hungry grad students.  Take two:  Amanda meets bread flour.

There’s a reason why bread flour and I had never been previously introduced: I would weigh roughly one metric ton had it been in the house.  The moment I opened the bag, it was love at first smell; “Oh, I get it,” I thought.  “THIS is where all those tasty carbs come from.”  And oh, how grand those carbs are.

Ingredients

¼ oz yeast, active dry

1 ½ cups warm water (I boiled it)

4 tbsp raw, unrefined sugar, divided into 3 and 1

1 tbsp sea salt

4 ¼ cups organic bread flour (Try to use organic if you can; I used King Arthur.  The non-organic had some ingredients added that just didn’t seem right.)

Instructions

In large bowl or food processor, combine 1 ½ cups bread flour and yeast.

Add water, 3 tablespoons sugar and salt to the dry ingredients. Beat with a mixer for half a minute at a low speed, scraping the sides of the bowl clean, then beat at a higher speed for 3 minutes.

By hand, mix in remaining flour to make somewhat stiff dough.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes). Cover, let rest for 15 minutes.

Before…

After!

Cut the dough into 12 portions and shape into smooth balls.

Poke a hole in the center of each ball with your finger and gently enlarge the hole while working the bagel into a uniform shape.

Once this has been done to all 12 pieces of dough, cover them and let rise 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, start a gallon of water boiling, adding 1 tablespoon of sugar.  When the bagels are ready, put 3-5 bagels into the water and boil for 7 minutes, turning them over once.

Drain the bagels and place on a greased baking sheet.

Bake at 375º F for 30 to 35 minutes.

These bagels can be enjoyed hot or cold, one at a time, or three within 20 minutes…which was the option I selected.

The original recipe can be found here.

Weight Watchers POINTS® Value:  3 per bagel

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What would Grandma do…

…if she baked something and it turned out completely wrong?

She’d feed it to the birds…or her grandchildren.  Then, maybe, she’d start all over again, which is what I’ll be doing this weekend.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you know I selected a recipe that, if successfully excecuted, would make my Jewish Grandma proud.  Though the end product was quite tasty, it looked…wrong.  Just wrong.

Take two.  Until then…have a great weekend!

Grandma and Amanda, September 2004 - The last photo of us taken together

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#FF 3: Bake at 350

Fact:  I am a terrible gift selector.

Myth:  When in need of gift ideas for their lady friends, my bros can count on me to help find a perfect one.

Fact: Those conversations usually go something like this -

Bro: What should I get my girlfriend for her birthday?

Amanda: Bake her a cake.

Bro:  I can’t do that.

Amanda: Cupcakes?

Bro:  No.

Amanda: Oh!  I know!  You can make homemade chocolate peanut butter cups!

Bro:  I’m leaving now.

One of the first things people notice when they enter my kitchen is a clear plastic bin filled with various-shaped cookie cutters.  When presented with the question, “Why do you have a bucket of 200 cookie cutters?” the best response I’ve come up with is, “Why don’t YOU?” Until now.

As the above dialogue illustrates, I believe a homemade, edible gift is perfect for any occasion.  Which is why, with my dear Dad’s birthday looming and my checking account balance dwindling, I decided to make personalized sugar cookies for him.  First, I had to go through the beloved bucket and choose which cookie cutters I felt best suited his personality.

Then, I had to find the best sugar cookie recipe in America, with an equally awesome recipe for frosting.  This time, a woman named Bridget and her delightful blog, Bake at 350 came to the rescue; her vanilla-almond sugar cookie recipe may be one of the best I’ve had the privilege of adapting.  Thank you, Bridget, for helping me celebrate my Dad’s birthday!

Ingredients

For the cookies:

3 cups white whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 cup unrefined cane sugar

1 cup Earth Balance Organic whipped buttery spread, or a comparable natural alternative

3 tbsp 100% liquid egg whites

½ tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp almond extract

For the icing:

3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 tbsp nonfat plain soymilk

2 tbsp honey (you can also use light corn syrup, as the original indicates, but I didn’t have any)

¾ tsp almond extract

All-natural food coloring (I used India Tree Natural Decorating Colors)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350º.  Line cookie sheet(s) with wax or parchment paper.

Combine the flour and baking powder, then set aside.

Cream together the sugar and Earth Balance.

Mix in the egg whites and extracts.

Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined.

Here’s a trick I learned a few years ago for rolling out cookie dough without having to tile your kitchen counter with flour.  First, divide the prepared dough in half.  Wrap one half in foil and refrigerate; place the other half on a long piece of wax paper.

Fold one half the wax paper on top of the cookie dough…

…then roll out.

Lightly dip the selected cookie cutters into flour, then into the dough to form shapes.

Place shapes on the baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes.   Allow the cookies to cool for a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Meanwhile, to prepare the icing, sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium-sized bowl.

Stir in the soymilk until smooth. Beat in honey and almond extract until icing is smooth and glossy; if the icing is too thick, add more soymilk until you reach the desired consistency.  Mine looked like this:

Divide the icing into separate bowls and add coloring of choice to each.  I decided to start with a green and learned that, with natural food coloring, the desired outcome of two colors does not come as easily.  For example, when mixing blue and yellow to make a green, I got this:

Green, yes, but not what I was expecting.

Experiment with the colors, decorating the cookies with a spoon, knife or pastry brush.  I ended up with quite the fascinating spectrum.

Happy Birthday, Dad!  I hope these are better than whatever pricey gift Mom bought for you, but that you both enjoy the cookies!

Many thanks, once again, to Bridget and Allrecipes.com user JBS BOX for your delightful recipes.

Yields 35-40 cookies, depending on shape and size.

Weight Watchers POINTS® Value:  3 per cookie

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