Monday, April 29, 2013

Healthier? ... Slightly Healthier, but oh sooooo nummy ... Blueberry Cherry Coffeecake with Citrus Streusel

I have to face it ... my fiance loves coffee. And I'm craving fruit but I've been eating so much fresh fruit and Vitamix smoothies that I'm feeling like I want something a little more substatial. Bake?

Well, I don't bake a lot. I'm not a huge fan of cake, but coffee cake? OMG, I love streusel, who doesn't love crumbly crunchy sweet streussel?

I stumbled onto King Arthur's Blueberry Coffeecake with Lemon Streusel recipe and decided to make it. But much like I do with everything else I can't leave it alone at all. I end up adapting it into almost a totally different recipe, every time.

I made a few changes, but alas, only a few for a "healthier" version. Added some whole wheat flour, unsalted butter, and added some whey from one of our last batches of cheese making. If you don't know the health properties of whey, it's worth a huge look-see but I'll post more about that when I post about our next cheese making experience.

I do everything by weight these days, but I've kept the original measurements in too. I've seperated by comma, for example don't add a 1/2 cup plus 3 1/2 ounces granulated sugar. It's one measurement or the other.

1/2 cup, 3 1/2 ounces granulated sugar
dash of Raspberry Sugar*
1/2 cup, 2 1/8 ounces Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup, 2 1/8 ounces Whole Wheat Flour
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon candied citrus peel*
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
zest of two small meyer lemons, or 1 large

Raspberry Sugar
This is a new find from a local spice shop in Napa called Whole Spice. I love it sprinkled anywhere sweets are these days. It gives a lovely raspberry flavor, but if you don't have this omit it and replace with regular, turbanado, or brown sugar. Or you could even go the Stevia route for complete sugar replacement.\\

Honey "Candied" Citrus Peel and Zested Meyer Lemons

Candied Citrus Peel:
I take peel strips of any citrus and cover with honey, let stand at room temperature for at least one month.

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup, 6.5 ounces granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Raspberry Sugar*
2 large eggs, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature*
4 tablespoons, 2 ounces whey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 cups, 8 1/2 ounces Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (I did half wheat and half white again)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup, 8 ounces frozen blueberries*
1/2 cup, 4 ounces cherries*

Cream Cheese/Whey
This is where tons of variations could exit. You could add yogurt, sour cream, etc. If substituting one of those use 8 ounces or 1 cup.

Important note about the fruit, you can use any fruit you want but if you are using small fruit like blueberries always use frozen or freeze your fresh ones. This way the fruit doesn't sink when baking. Works miracles for cupcakes!

1) Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" baking pan or two 8" x 2" round pans. Honestly, you could use any pans this fits in. I'd say you could even use 2 bread pans.

2) For the lemon streusel: In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Gently toss the candied peel until it is well coated. Set mixture aside.

3) For the cake: Cream the butter and sugar until light colored and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat after each addition. Be sure to scrape down the bowl well each time. Beat in the sour cream, vanilla and lemon extracts. It's okay if cream cheese is slightly lumpy.

Butter and Sugar
Cream Cheese and Whey Addition

4) In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the batter, mixing until combined. Avoid over-beating or the cake will become tough.

Mixed Just to Combined

5) Work the softened butter into the flour/peel mixture for struesel until it resembles granola, some larger chunks, some smaller. Sprinkle on the lemon oil and toss again to combine. Set mixture aside.

Mixed Crumble/Streusel

6) Gently fold the frozen fruit into the batter for the cake until well distributed throughout the batter. Pour into the prepared pan(s) and spread evenly. Sprinkle with the lemon streusel until the batter is completely covered.

7) Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes before serving.

The verdict? Healthy or not my fiance loves it! It's not too sweet, the fruit stays super juicy, and the crumbly streusel is perfect and crunchy. Those bits of candied peel aren't necessary but pack a flavor explosion far worth seeking out or making!

He's walking around the house right now, finishing the last bite of his portion saying "Mmmm hmmm!"

Yield: one 9" x 13" coffeecake, or two 8" round coffeecakes

Vegan ... and vegan butter?! Awesome quinoa cabbage rolls.

I know things here in "wine country" are so hip, chick, niche, and cool with things like all the gourmet food and latest fads that everyone in Los Angeles hooks onto in an instant. Yes, I can finally hang my head a bit and say that as a Californian (no matter where you live now, and no matter how back country - this state is huge by the way) some health fad has pervaded every grocery market.

It's true. Let me tell you a quick funny story. I was camping on the 'Lost Coast' here in California, absolutely beautiful but we wound up cold, had wood, but it needed to be split. So what happened? We needed an ax. So we drove about a half hour to a local catch all store that was the grocery, hardware, clothing, etc as when you are in small towns or remote locales are. I found Kerry Gold butter in both salted and unsalted by the half pound. Out ... in the middle ... of No Where. So gourmands are everywhere here in the California.

So more and more, and more ... people in my life have specialized diets. Some eat only meat like Atkins; some eat no meat, like vegetarian; top on that with no dairy or egg, vegan; and some don't eat bread, gluten free goers. Okay, to top it all off, a lot of people are combos of everything. It's normal to ask someone "What are your allergies?" when entertaining a big dinner party. Now it's common place to ask "What are your dietary restrictions? What do you like? What don't you eat?"

Common answers range from gluten-free/vegan to meat and potatoes with some fish now and again. It's all mixed up and in between. As dynamic of a chef I consider myself I decided to do a challenge.

So we have some vegans coming to an all you can eat oyster and caviar feed? Oh, they like bubbly too? Well, I'd like to make them a vegan barbecued meal. That usually just means veggies in my head. I learned two steps further.

Egg replacement.

Butter replacement.

Well, for the dish I was making all I really needed was egg replacement as a binder for a filling of stuffed cabbage. And yes, I pulled out all the stops. I used homegrown and canned tomato sauce and a smörgåsbord of veggies. More on that in a minute.

We actually drove to the store as the stuffing/filling was cooling just as two gourmet science minded intrigued cooks would to get the ingredients for our egg replacement. We'd gone so far to make it vegan, why make it vegetarian in the last step? My love couldn't stop eating the filling even after we add the egg replacement. It is that good!

The butter replacement came up because we make jams and jellies infused with wine. These are definitely vegetarian, and made from sustainable, local, organic ingredients, but we add a pat of butter to difuse the scum formation. Now I realized for our future endeavor I have to check two things to make it vegan: the wine refinement (this is often done with egg whites) and use a vegan graded butter. I have more control over the butter and found this wonderful blog on it.

Vegan Butter

I digress, I want to share my recipe that my love and I developed specially for some vegans in our life.

The inspiration is from this original recipe for Quinoa Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.

To keep this totally vegan omit cheese and use egg substitute.

Quinoa Rolls prior to grilling, nummy!
1 head of cabbage, core removed gently
1 onion, medium dice
1 red pepper, chopped
1 leak, white part diced
1 carrot, diced
Add seasonings, as follows
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/4 c whole roasted garlic cloves
3 - 4 tablespoons tomato paste, about half a 6 ounce can
1 ½ cups vegetable stock, recipe follows
1 cup finely diced zucchini
1/2 cup parmasean finely grated
2 eggs, beaten or vegan egg substitute as follows
2 cups tomato sauce

  • Remove the core from the cabbage. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cover and cook cabbage for 8 to 10 minutes. Place in cold water. Peel 12 leaves for the rolls, cutting the thick vein from the leaves as necessary. Drain on towels. 
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  • Meanwhile, spray a medium saucepan with olive oil. Add onion and pepper and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender. Add quinoa, garlic and tomato paste and sauté for 2 minutes. Add vegetable broth, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 30 to 35 minutes. Stir in zucchini and Parmesan cheese and re-cover. Allow to sit off the heat for 5 minutes. Cool slightly and stir in egg if desired. (You want to make sure the mixture has cooled enough to not cook your egg.) 
  • Divide quinoa mixture among the prepared cabbage leaves. Roll up leaves to enclose the filling. Place seam side down in a casserole pan. Top with tomato sauce. 
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Allow to sit for 10 minutes and serve. 
We grilled these by placing in a disposable pan.

If you'd you like to grill, skip baking step (or just bake 10 minutes, cool, then fridge for later) and place on grill on medium heat for a gas grill or on the cool side of a grill with the coals pushed to one side for about 15 to 20 minutes until heated through. Cool 5 - 10 minutes then serve!

Vegan Egg Substitute:
1 tablespoon flax seed (we use a blend of brown and golden)
1/4 cup water
blend until seeds are pulverized
This makes one egg.

For seasonings:
1/2 teaspoon tarragon, dried
1 teaspoon stinging nettle, dried
1 teaspoon parsley, dried
2 teaspoons garlic, powder or granulated
2 teaspoons zhug blend seasoning*, less or omit if you don't like spicy
1 teaspoon mustard powder
2 teaspoons dried parsley (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

If you can't find zhug blend it can be totally omitted or the following mix can be made and blended into a paste:
10-14 fresh green chilies, or jalapenos, seeded if you like, and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
6-8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground caraway seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup packed parsley leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Use about 1 tablespoon of this paste.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Certified Sustainable" Seafood?

A great article on what could be misleading to consumers.

Take Part explains the misnomer behind the Marine Stewardship Council's Certified Sustainable label.

Here are the steps one can pledge to be healthier and ensure one is truly purchasing and eating what is sustainable. Sign up at Take Part to take the pledge!

I pledge to take the following steps to learn about sustainable seafood, and to make smart, healthy choices for my own diet:

  1. Follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium's guidelines for selecting and consuming seafood products.
  2. Learn from the NRDC's Sustainable Seafood Guide to know how to shop for fish and understand the difference between farmed and wild catches.
  3. Look for the Seafood For The Future logo at restaurants to ensure that your meal has been sourced sustainably.
  4. If you're a business owner or restauranteur looking to source sustainable seafood, connect with suppliers through
  5. Make sure seafood products you buy at the store feature the Marine Stewardship Council logo.
  6. Browse through TakePart's list of Tastemakers, 100 food-focused businesses dedicated to local, sustainable, organic, humane and unprocessed foods.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

High Cholesterol?

So what about all this business of high cholesterol, lipids, triglycerides, and statins?

As someone who has a background with a science education these terms aren't foreign to me. But I do realize sorting through what is all the HDL "good" cholesterol versus LDL "bad" cholesterol and what to do with your readings can be dizzying at the least.

First and foremost, this article is not meant to replace your doctor. If you have questions about any of these topics, promptly contact your physician or medical care taker for your personal health.

That out of the way, let's start with HDL, LDL, and Total Cholesterol:HDL ratio. What do all these terms mean?

When your HDL level is higher than your LDL I've found my doctor say "Well, your LDL is a little high, but your HDL is so much higher it's not something we'll worry about right now."

When your LDL is higher than your HDL but your LDL is still in the "acceptable range" then it still seems okay.

What are the ranges? Here in America it's proposed per WebMD:

LDL CholesterolLDL-Cholesterol Category
Less than 100Optimal
100 - 129Near optimal/above optimal
130 - 159Borderline high
160 - 189High
190 and aboveVery high

HDL CholesterolHDL-Cholesterol Category
60 and aboveHigh; Optimal; associated with lower risk
Less than 40 in men and less than 50 in womenLow; considered a risk factor for heart disease

Total CholesterolCategory
Less than 200Desirable
200 - 239Mildly High
240 and aboveHigh

And a note about triglycerides ...

Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food and the body. A high triglyceride level has been linked to higher risk of coronary artery disease. Triglycerides are a family of lipids.
TriglyceridesTriglyceride Category
Less than 150Normal
150 - 199Mildly High
200 - 499High
500 or higherVery high

And to make matters worse all this information in combination doesn't necessarily spell out what one should do to (a) raise HDL (b) lower LDL (c) lower total cholesterol (d) exercise (e) modify diet.

First analyze what each of your numbers are fit within each range. My last reading gave me very high HDL, borderline high LDL, very low Total Cholesterol and normal triglycerides. So to understand what I should do next, I need to look at the trend of my readings. Both my LDL and HDL have lowered, along with my total cholesterol. But my ratio of LDL to HDL has risen, that is to say my LDL by comparison of last time when compared to my HDL is higher, thus worse?

And to note, just to define statins ... those are the medications that are prescribed that act like, well, Drano that clears out the clogs in arteries and such. Many doctors swear by that treatment and I've even researched that many people have stated their doctor wants them to try all of the classes before abandoning hope. Um, that means you get a whole host of side effects and may not even find the right one! I think it's best to treat yourself before you ever get to a stage of your doctor prescribing a statin.

The overall problem with most people with high cholesterol is that they tend to be low in HDL and high in LDL. The best thing to do, period, is to always keep your HDL high and your LDL low.

It's actually easier (so some sources state) to lower your LDL than raise your HDL.

So let's analyze some thoughts between all of the things mentioned in new light.

"Foods high in saturated fat can increase cholesterol more than foods high in cholesterol, like eggs," says Columbia University nutrition researcher Wahida Karmally, DrPH, RD.

Put simply people think eggs are bad because they have high cholesterol, but in actuality they are fine for you since they have such low saturated fat.

But also worthy of mentioning, cholesterol and saturated fat, are not necessarily unhealthy. 

People who eliminate trans fat and carbohydrates from grains (soda, pasta, bread, desserts) see major drops in bad cholesterol and triglycerides despite continuing to eat cholesterol-rich foods like red meat, eggs, cream, and butter. 

So what does that mean?

The "lipid hypothesis" (dietary cholesterol clogs arteries that lead to heart disease) is not the whole story. LDL build up is not from how many eggs you eat, but is in response to inflammation. This is triggered by a diet high in trans fat and processed carbohydrates, not saturated fat.

To recap then, along with lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol you boost good (HDL) cholesterol and control inflammation.

There's some good articles from WebMD and Mark's Daily Apple that explain surprising foods that lower your LDL, raise your HDL, and decrease inflammation. When I read the list of what raises HDL and decrease inflammation I crave all those foods. But also, when I read the list of what raises LDL I crave all of those foods too! So maybe that's why my HDL and LDL are always somewhat balancing each other out. I mean, who doesn't love mashed potatoes and turkey! Those are both on the raising LDL list. I'm sure in moderation is fine, but I love, love, love my potatoes!

Of course the most sensible thing to do to raise your HDL includes that simple word we hear over and over again ... Exercise! Because really, your cholesterol isn't just associated with diet. You must always watch your weight for obesity and be careful of overeating. Putting your food in a separate area or room from that which you eat (like leaving your food in the kitchen and eating at the table) will reduce your chance of overeating. People are more likely to grab more food if it is in front of them.

And as always, speak with your doctor before you change your diet or exercise regime.

I once had a friend who swore by the Atkins diet for people with high blood pressure. Upon speaking with my doctor he said this was ridiculous and wondered aloud where people got these silly ideas. He actually told me the Atkins diet is the WORST diet out there with people who suffer with high blood pressure or with a risk of heart or coronary disease.

Oh and I recently started drinking aloe vera juice because I found some conclusive studies pointing toward anti-inflammatory properties (well and prevention of pancreatic cancer). When I consulted my doctor about this, he just shrugged and said it was fine to drink if I wanted but he didn't think the anti-inflammatory properties were that significant. Well, the brand I found that I like best now is Alo. I've tried some other brands but this one actually contains some significant amount of vitamin C and isn't as sweet as other brands.

He pointed to foods like garlic and onions that have anti-inflammatory properties. Ah, back to the whole fruit and veggie adage.