Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Date With Delicious - Easy Coco Date Shake

Raw Coconut gives our lighter version of the Date Shake an update
Dates...Take Two!

What to do when you have a handful of sweet, chewy, Dried Dates leftover? Well it seems that an enterprising Date farmer long ago took the time to answer that very question. Though the origins of the Date Shake are disputed (we're pretty sure it started as a West Coast treat served at roadside stands), there's really no quibbling over how delicious this frosty beverage tastes. 

So when I found myself with some time on my hands and an abundance of Dates in my kitchen (not to mention memories of that amazing date nut loaf that my mom made me), I knew exactly what I'd be doing for lunch. 
Plump and Delicious California Dates, Photo: NK 

Our version of the Date Shake gets considerable lightening from Unsweetened Almond Milk and Fat Free Organic Vanilla Yogurt. We give a little twist with raw, unsweetened Coconut flake (which isn't part of original recipe), freshly grated Nutmeg, and a healthy shake of Cinnamon. Good quality Vanilla Extract makes this treat that much more flavorful. 

Lighter though it may be, at about 330 calories, 5 grams of fat and 9 grams of protein, this is still a pretty hearty meal (ok, dessert?) in a glass perfect for when you are looking for something both sweet and satisfying. You should note that Dried Dates are very high in natural sugars, so this wouldn't be the best choice for an all-the-time meal replacement. 

Our Easy Coco Date Shake comes together just like that in a high powered blender, tasting quite like an amazing vanilla milkshake with an extra flavor dimension - nothing but frosty, sweet and very satisfying. Enjoy!

Easy Coco Date Shake, delicious and satisfying! Photo: NK 
Easy Coco Date Shake
Serves 1 generously (Yields 1 and 3/4 Cup with 330 cal, 5 g fat, 9 g protein)
3/4 Cup Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk (we like Silk Brand)
6 Ounces (one single serve cup) Fat Free Organic Vanilla Yogurt (we like Stonyfield farm)
8 Dried California Dates (or 6 Medjool Dates), pitted, + 1 extra for optional garnish
1/2 teaspoon good quality Vanilla Extract
2 heaping teaspoons Raw, Unsweetened Coconut (Bob's Red Mill)
1 dash Cinnamon
5 large Ice Cubes
Freshly Grated Nutmeg (or a sprinkle of Ground Nutmeg) optional, for serving

Blend all the ingredients except for the Nutmeg in a high powered blender such as Vitamix. When the mixture is smooth, pour into a tall glass and top with freshly grated (or dried) Nutmeg. Serve cold and enjoy! 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Brunch Rules + Chock Full o' Nuts Date Nut Bread

Brunch! Photo: NK 
Sunday. A day of rest, a day of relaxation, and if you're lucky, a day for brunch. People are enamored of brunch, and for good reason. It's got so much to offer, and it even encourages day-drinking! 

Now I've mentioned that my husband is the undisputed master of breakfast foods (I nearly always leave this meal to him), but I know a thing or two about how to make your at-home brunch just a bit more special. As such, I give you my 

Brunch Rules:

1. Have one special food item to anchor the meal-  some ideas include: really fantastic Croissants, Slab Bacon from your local butcher, or, in today's case, some dense and delicious Date Nut Bread spread with Cream Cheese. For this I have to thank my mom, who took it upon herself to make and share this classic New York City cult favorite, Chock Full o'Nuts Date Nut Bread. The recipe we'll include below results in addictively delicious, moist slices of sweet, nutty goodness. 

Wine Spritzer with Fresh Fruit, Photo:NK
2. Break out the good stuff- For whatever reason, brunch always feels, at least to me, like it should be just a bit more luxurious than your average meal. Whether that means you use your good china, or skip the paper napkins in favor of cloth, do something that makes brunch feel extra special to you. 

3. Imbibe- A pretty cocktail will always help your brunch to stand out. Go with the classic Mimosa or Bloody Mary (my all time fave), or improvise with what you have on hand, as we did with our Pink Wine Spritzer made with equal parts Dry Rose and Seltzer, plus fresh Figs, a slice of Pear, and a few Frozen Raspberries. Refreshing!

4. Variety is the spice of life- To set brunch apart from other daytime meals, I like to include lots of little nibbles - they take almost no time to present, and having lots of options always seems to increase the enjoyment of the meal. Ideas include: some dried and fresh fruits, a handful of nuts, or two or more types of jam or compound butter. And don't forget the Biscotti. Nothing makes coffee more enjoyable than something crisp and sweet to dunk in it. 

5. Take your time- Brunch is a long and lazy meal. Enjoy it slowly and in good company. Take a rest, and go back for seconds. Brunch is definitely one of life's many pleasures worthy of savoring. 

Now as promised, here's the recipe for the most smashing Date Nut Bread. One loaf takes you a long way, as it is dense and very rich. It's also a wonderful idea for a hostess or holiday gift, that is if you can bear to part with it! Be sure to also read the story behind this iconic treat

Chock Full o' Nuts Date Nut Bread, Photo: NK 

Chock Full o' Nuts Date Nut Bread (and Cream Cheese Sandwiches)
(Recipe and courtesy of Capital New York
Makes 1 loaf:
1 cup pitted chopped dried dates
3/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8-oz package cream cheese, slightly softened
1. Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9x5-inch metal loaf pan, set aside.
2. Add the dates to medium-sized, heat-safe bowl. Pour boiling water over top, stir and let stand 15 minutes. 
3. Meanwhile, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Add the nuts and set aside.
4. In a separate large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until combined (mixture might look crumbly). Add eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth and combined.
5. Alternate between adding the flour mixture and the date mixture (including remaining water), 1/2 of each at a time, mixing until combined.
6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 45-55 minutes, until bread is almost completely baked, but a few crumbs still stick to a toothpick inserted into the loaf. The bread will continue cooking after it is removed from the oven, so be careful not to overbake.
Assemble the sandwiches:

7. Let bread cool for 10-15 minutes, then remove from pan and let cool fully on a rack. Once cooled, slice bread and serve as closed or open-faced sandwiches spread with a tablespoon or two of cream cheese

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Italian Pasta Classics - Cacio e Pepe

For the latest edition of our recurring series of essential Italian Pasta recipes (check out the first and second installments here), we are making possibly the simplest and most purely satisfying dish of them all - one that hails from Lazio region where you find the Eternal City of Rome: Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe or Spaghetti with Cheese and Pepper. 
Cacio e Pepe, a simple comfort food for your Italian Table, Photo: NK
Rome is known for its often rich and decadent (yet simple) pastas. Other traditional sauce preparations include the ever-popular Amatriciana, Gricia, and perhaps the most well known of the bunch, Carbonara. We enjoyed them all immensely during our gorgeous family trip to Rome just last year. What I wouldn't give to relive that week right about now!

Luckily, another flavorful pasta from Italy's Lazio region is just minutes (and less than 4 ingredients) away. Cacio e Pepe is a comfort dish that is packed with flavor thanks to Pecorino (sheep's milk) Cheese and spicy and freshly crushed black Peppercorn. Think of it as a stripped down Carbonara. 

Crush the peppercorns right before cooking, Photo:NK

But first things first - It's important to note that true Cacio e Pepe will have absolutely no oil, butter, or milk. Then how do you achieve the creaminess that makes this dish so effortlessly decadent? It's all in the execution. 

For a few pointers on how to perfect this exquisitely simple, rustic plate, we turn to Lidia Bastianich, who is, in my mind, a trusted source for all things authentically Italian.

Image and below text courtesy of Lidia's Italy

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich
Serves 4 adults as an entree, 6 as an appetizer course

2 Cups of high quality Pecorino Romano Cheese (Lidia recommends a middle-aged Pecorino if possible, aged 8-10 months)-freshly grated from a wedge of cheese (usually at least 8-10 Ounces) plus more for garnish

2-4 teaspoons (by taste), Black Pepper. (Preferably whole Peppercorns crushed with a mortar and pestle or heavy object, or ground in a grinder). Of course, if you are pressed for time, pre-ground pepper is fine - the fresher the bottle the better. You can always add more pepper at the end - very peppery is a good thing! (Tip: I use a slightly lighter touch when serving kids but then add extra pepper to mine once it's on the plate.)

1 Lb fine quality dry Spaghetti - De Cecco brand  - in my opinion - is the the best commercially available dry pasta out there
Salt  (I like finely ground sea salt or Himalayan Pink Salt if you have it - but regular table salt works just fine!

It's all in how you mix it, Photo: NK

1. Prepare all your ingredients while water is boiling or before - crush the Pepper, grate the Pecorino, find your heatproof bowl, set out your Salt.

2. Set a pot of well salted water to boil.

3. Cook Spaghetti according to package directions, making sure it's al dente.
As pasta comes close to cooking, warm a large and heavy heat proof bowl. You can do this by ladling some hot pasta water into it and discarding just before you begin to use the bowl. Do not drain the pasta. 

4. Once Pasta is cooked (go for perfectly al dente, not more), use tongs to grasp it and transfer it to the warmed bowl, holding it over the pot to drain for a minute. 

5. Now, immediately add the grated Pecorino to the bowl right away, tossing the pasta quickly as you can, and continually sprinkle in the Pepper. As you toss using your tongs, add a tablespoonfuls of Pasta Water one at a time to moisten the Spaghetti and allow the Cheese to blend nicely. It should look a little creamy, not watery. Finally, add a big pinch of salt and give it a toss. Taste and add a little more if needed. To serve, you can grate a little extra cheese on top if you like and place more Pepper on the table as well. Serve immediately and very hot.
Buon appetito! 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cravings - Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake (a la Friendly's)

Some things just can't be imitated. For me, the Friendly's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae is too sublime a dessert to ever be accurately duplicated. Salty peanut butter, gooey chocolate syrup, peanut butter ice cream, and most importantly, the piece de resistance - a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup crowing it all… ahh, there's really nothing like it. But who among us can afford to enjoy a nearly 900 calorie dessert more than once in a blue? Surely not this gal. 

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake a la Friendly's, Photo: NK

This sad fact is why I set out to try and capture just a sliver of the joy that comes from my bi-annual indulgence in a Friendly's Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae, minus the guilt. I am pleased and even a bit surprised to say that this low-cal, high-protein anytime shake does the job! It can never ever replace the real deal, but will certainly satisfy your sweet tooth as well as, if you're anything like me, the constant lure of peanutty goodness.

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake 
(a la Friendly's Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae)
Yield: SERVES 1 (generously)

1 single serve container good quality fat free vanilla yogurt such as Siggi's Skyr
 2 Tablespoons PB2 powdered peanut butter
1 Tablespoon Fox's UBet Chocolate Syrup, plus a bit extra to swirl on top of the glass
1/4 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
1/2 Cup Silk Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
 5 Large Ice Cubes. 

Blend until smooth in a high powered blender such as Vitamix. 

NUTRITION:  220 cal, 3g fat, 21g protein, 9g sugar