Monday, May 30, 2011

Clafouti Aux Cerises

Clafouti Aux Cerises
(Cherry Clafouti - Pronounced klah-foo-TEE)

Clafouti Aux Cerises aka Cherry Clafouti is a rustic custard-like French country dessert originating from the Limousin Region of France. Traditionally, it was made with unpitted sweet cherries. When baked, the pits in the cherries impart a distinct delicate almond-like flavor to the dish that pitted cherries simply do not. However, most people in the United States, where this dessert has become immensely popular, use pitted cherries for reasons of dental safety and ease in eating. If you choose to make it the traditional way with unpitted cherries, PLEASE warn your guests about the pits!

You could classify Cherry Clafoutis as a pudding, of sorts, with the sweet cherries covered by a thin, almost pancake-like, batter. It is baked until the batter sets, it is nicely browned and it puffs slightly around the edges. A dusting of confectioners' sugar, with a dollop of crème fraiche, plain Greek yogurt, sour cream or whipped cream on top, completes the presentation. If you are not a cherry lover, use fresh blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, plums, peaches, nectarines or pears. You will have to adjust the amount of sugar added to the recipe depending on the sweetness of the fruit.

When choosing cherries for this dish, choose sweet cherries (like Bings) that have their stems still attached, have no shriveled stems, are plump, firm and shiny, have no brown spots or cuts, are not soft and mushy and are not sticky. If you choose to use pitted cherries, the easiest way to pit them (if you do not have a cherry pitter) is to make a small cut, with the point of a small, sharp knife, at the top dimple where the stem has been removed. Remove the pit with the tip of your knife, or with your thumbnail, if you prefer. Since this process is a messy one, it's best to remove the pits over a bowl so the juices can be caught and kept from staining your countertop or floor. Plan to use the cherries as soon as possible, once the pits are removed, for optimum flavor and texture. Leaving the pits in the cherries infuses a wonderful almond-like flavor that won't be there if the pits are removed, but the danger of the pits and the messiness of removing each one at the table is not worth it to many people, so choose which method works best for you. This dish is wonderful and, although traditionally rustic, will bring an air of French sophistication to your table.

Clafouti Aux Cerises

  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c. whole or evaporated milk
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/3 c. white sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. (4 c.) sweet cherries
  • Confectioners' sugar
  • Crème fraiche, plain Greek yogurt, sour cream or whipped cream (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Using the softened butter, grease a 9-inch round deep baking dish, deep-dish pie plate or 9"x 9" square baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, beaten eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract and salt until well-blended. Add flour, a little at a time, whisking with each addition, until batter is smooth.
  3. Spread 3/4 c. of the batter onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 2 - 4 minutes, watching carefully, so that it bakes only until batter is set and not until it cooks completely. Batter should just be starting to thicken and only slightly set. Remove from oven.
  4. Place the hot dish on a heatproof surface. Arrange the cherries, dimple side down, in the partially-baked hot batter. Carefully pour the remaining batter over the top of the cherries. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove from oven when done, dust the top with confectioners' sugar and serve immediately with a dollop of crème fraiche, plain Greek yogurt, sour cream or whipped cream on top of each serving! Makes eight beautiful and delicious servings!
I made this Clafouti Aux Cerises in the traditional French rustic manner...
I left the pits in when I baked it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Easy Crock Pot Coconut Rice Pudding

I love coconut. I love it so much, I cook with it and eat it any way I can...flaked coconut, coconut milk, cream of coconut, coconut butter, Seven Keys Coconut Toast Spread (if you haven't had this, you have no idea what you are missing!) I love adding coconut to my rice pudding. There is something so satisfying about adding coconut to this Old South tradition. Maybe I should have called this post "I Love Coconut!"

Easy Crock Pot Coconut Rice Pudding
  • 2 3/4 cups water
  • 3/4 cups Jasmine or long-grain rice (I prefer Jasmine rice)
  • 1 15-ounce can cream of coconut (NOT coconut milk...think Coco Goya, which is what I use!)
  • 12 ounces evaporated milk, coconut milk (not cream) or soy milk, if you want to make this vegan
  • 1 Tablespoon dark run or 2 - 3 teaspoons rum extract
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice blend
  • Couple of healthy dashes nutmeg
  • Dash of sea salt
  • 2/3 cup sweetened, flaked coconut (optional)
In a 4 1/2-quart to 6-quart crock pot, stir together water, rice, cream of coconut, milk (your choice...evaporated is best for non-vegans and coconut milk is best for vegans, in my opinion), rum or rum extract, vanilla extract, golden raisins, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg and sea salt. Cover and cook on Low for 4 to 5 hours.

While pudding cooks, toast coconut. Heat a small skillet or saute pan over Medium heat until hot. Add coconut and toast, stirring constantly, until deep golden (don't overbrown or scorch). Transfer to plate.

When pudding is ready, remove inner crock from crock pot base and allow to stand 10 minutes. To serve, spoon pudding into serving bowls and sprinkle with toasted coconut, if using. If not serving pudding right away, press plastic wrap against top of pudding in bowl (literally press the plastic against the pudding). This step avoids a skim forming on top of the pudding. Refrigerate until ready to serve, up to two days. Simply pull off plastic wrap and top of pudding will be skim-free! Place in serving bowls and sprinkle on toasted coconut that has been kept in a plastic storage bag. Enjoy!

Note: This recipe can be vegetarian or, if you choose to use soy milk, vegan.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Agave, Virgil's & It's the Little Things

Almost everyone loves sweet things. I must admit, I make pretty good desserts. I've had lots of practice because I've been making them since I got my first Easy Bake Oven® when I was around seven years old...and I've been baking up a storm since! When my husband and I adopted a more healthful lifestyle, I knew sugar and sweeteners were going to be a big challenge to work around. I do not...I NOT use artificial sweeteners, also known as non-nutritive sweeteners. Although I do not consume any type or brand of them, the two worst offenders are aspartame (Nutrasweet®, Equal®) and sucralose (Splenda®). They cause my husband and I raging migraines and I itch, feel like bees are stinging me all over and get very nauseated. I have had a migraine for as long as three days after consuming aspartame, so that tells me that it cannot possibly be a healthful choice for me. There is a lot of scientific evidence that these sugar substitutes have been linked to a plethora of health concerns including, but not limited to, migraines, neurological disorders, lowered immune system function (within 10 minutes of consumption), seizures, dizziness, numbness, diarrhea, bladder issues and weight gain. For more information and data on the side effects of aspartame (Nutrasweet®, Equal®), click on this link or, for sucralose (Splenda®), click here.

I have discovered a sweetener that is not only better for you than refined white sugar, it tastes amazing. It is Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Raw Blue Agave®.  I love the fact that it is a natural sweetener, extracted from the heart of the agave plant. It is produced at low temperature and has a full sweet flavor with subtle molasses tones. Agave is a low glycemic index (GI) sweetener, so it is slowly absorbed into the body, preventing spikes in blood sugar. It is 25% sweeter than sugar, so you need less! Organic Raw Blue Agave is a perfect multipurpose sweetener that you can use wherever you would use table sugar. Sweet!

Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Raw Blue Agave®

Speaking of sweet things made me think of, not a something, but a husband! He knows how much I like root beer and he knows I'm a little bit, well...particular? persnickety? snobby? epicurean?, when it comes to my choice of root beer. I went to the fridge and quite unexpectedly found a four-pack of my all-time favorite root beer...Virgil's Microbrewed Root Beer®! This is no ordinary root beer, folks. This is gourmet micro-brewed root beer made with all-natural ingredients, herbs imported from around the world and unbleached pure cane sugar. It won the NASFT (National Association for the Specialty Food Trade) Outstanding Beverage Award...and it was a well-deserved win!

Virgil’s Microbrewed Root Beer contains these key all-natural ingredients:
  • carbonated water
  • unbleached cane sugar
Along with these natural herbs and spices:
  • anise from Spain
  • licorice from France
  • vanilla (bourbon) from Madagascar
  • cinnamon from Ceylon
  • clove from Indonesia
  • wintergreen from China
  • sweet birch from the southern US
  • molasses from the US
  • nutmeg from Indonesia
  • pimento berry oil from Jamaica
  • balsam oil from Peru
  • cassia oil from China
Their slogan is: "So Rich and Creamy You'll Swear it was Made in Heaven." If Heaven has root beer, I can only imagine it would taste like Virgil's! Speaking of Heaven (and back to my sweet husband)...he is such a sweet guy, is so very good to me and is truly Heaven-Sent. Yeah, I know it's only root beer, but it is Virgil's Root Beer®! A sweet husband isn't sweet because of one's a million little things. And it's the little things that mean the most.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kefir & A Caring Doctor

We recently moved from one Southern state to another...back to my hometown, in fact. Anytime you move, there are so many things to change...driver's license, bank information, doctors, etc. Most of my experiences with new doctors have been positive ones, but the few negatives have been negative enough to give me cause for concern. My husband and I prayed about it, I researched and I listened to people. In a small town, you can find out a lot about people's opinions...and you have to have the gift of discernment when weeding through all that information. God answered our prayers and gave us great recommendations through people we knew and those we met, quite by accident (well, that's not exactly right...we don't believe it was by accident at all, but you get what I'm saying.)

Our doctor search led us to Dr. Marcus Lee. Years ago, I had gone to church with his wife, Chesleigh, when she was a child, teen and young adult and she grew up to be a beautiful, godly mother of three, as well as wife to Dr. Lee! I can't tell you how much it means to me to have a doctor who is a Christian. But, the correct way to describe Dr. Lee is to say he is a Christian who happens to be a doctor. He puts the Lord FIRST and that fact is the best medicine of all to me and my family. If you want to pay a visit to this fine doctor, you can find Dr. Marcus Lee at Universal Family Care. (Just click on the practice name to go to his Facebook page!)

Dr. Lee, on my first visit to him, made a recommendation that changed my life. Yes, I know that sounds like an infomercial, but I do not exaggerate! I had my gallbladder removed years ago and it left me with a cranky and tempermental digestive system. I had been on medication after medication and they worked for a few hours, but did not offer any kind of answer to the question of "How will my innards act today?" Dr. Lee introduced me to a superfood that provided the answer. It is called kefir and it's been around for centuries! Let me tell you about it.

Kefir Grains

Kefir is a fermented milk drink whose origins can be traced back to shepherds in the North Caucasus region, between the Black and Caspian Seas, of European Russia. They discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into an effervescent (bubbly) beverage. Kefir was originally made by innoculating cow, goat or sheep's milk with kefir grains. Traditionally, kefir was made in skin bags that were hung near a doorway so the bag would be knocked by anyone passing through to help keep the milk and kefir grains well-mixed. Marco Polo even mentioned kefir when recounting his travels! Today, dairy-free versions are available made from coconut or soy milk. But, the kefir that we LOVE so much, and the one Dr. Lee recommended, is called Lifeway Kefir.

Lifeway Kefir

Lifeway Kefir is a smoothie-like beverage similar to a yogurt drink, but FAR more beneficial! A serving contains seven to ten BILLIONS CFUs of ten strains of (good) bacteria plus ProBoost, their proprietary pair of clinically proven probiotics, to balance your body's system and support digestive health and immunity. That's 12 live, active cultures per cup! They help aid in digestion and ward off side effects from antibiotics and may even help in weight management. Although it is a milk product, Lifeway Kefir is 99% lactose FREE! It comes in a variety of forms, from organic to non-fat, and in several delicious flavors (my favorite is the pomegranate....YUM!) They even have a special line formulated specifically for children.

I am not a doctor. I am not guaranteeing results, prescribing kefir or making promises...nor am I affiliated in any way with Lifeway Products. I just know what it has done for me and am sharing that information with you. Just to give you an idea of how well Lifeway Kefir has worked for me, I have gone off ALL of my IBS medications. I just don't need them! I drink, per Dr. Lee's suggestion, two ounces of kefir in the morning and two ounces in the evening. That four ounces has been enough to restore my digestive health and meet my needs. Did I mention the taste? It's absolutely delicious.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wheat Meat or Chicken Jalfrezi & Broaden Your Palate!

Westsoy Seitan...Wheat Protein Strips

What is "Wheat Meat?" you might ask. When I first started down the vegetarian/vegan road to better health, I had to find good alternatives to meat and I tried many. Wheat Meat is also known as seitan and its texture and taste are very satisfying...and it provides a great source of protein in your diet. I love Westsoy Seitan Strips, but it also comes diced and in crumbles.This recipe is easily adaptable whether you want to keep it vegan or add poultry. I have made it both ways but, when using chicken, I buy only free-range, certified 100% organic chicken. Eating clean and healthy protein is absolutely crucial if you want to prevent disease and premature aging, increase your daily energy and live longer. I have included the vegetarian choices for protein that I've used in the past and that is the way I've made it most of the times I've prepared this dish. Believe me, if you use seitan, you won't miss traditional meat! Jalfrezi  is a type of curry in which marinated pieces of meat or vegetables are fried in oil and spices to produce a dry, thick sauce. Instead of traditional soy sauce (which is a mixture of wheat and soy), we use tamari, an organic, gluten-free (all soy) soy sauce whose flavor goes way beyond it's saltiness...our favorite brand is San-J Organic Tamari. We have discovered the wonderful spice blend called Garam Masala. We use it in SO many of our dishes and it gives our Jalfrezi some of its wonderful flavor. Order it in bulk (we get our bulk spices from Spices, Inc.) or make your own. If you choose to make this dish with all the suggested non-meat options, it is 100% vegan!

"Chicken" Jalfrezi

“Chicken" Jalfrezi


  • 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (I have an onion sensitivity, but can use onion powder without a reaction, so I use 1 tsp. onion powder instead.)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cans Rotel tomatoes (with chilies or jalapenos)
  • 1 cup organic vegetable broth (or chicken broth, if desired)
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded, pith removed and chopped
  • 1 8-oz. package Westsoy Seitan Strips*
  • 1 15-oz. can organic chickpeas* (aka garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tbsp. tamari
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 sprigs fresh cilantro, for garnish
*If you choose to use poultry, use 1 pound chopped cooked organic chicken
1.    Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and cook and stir the onion and garlic until tender. Mix in the tomato paste, tomatoes and vinegar. Season with turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili powder, (onion powder, if using) and garam masala. Continue to cook and stir until blended and heated through, about 10 minutes.
2.   Mix the red bell pepper, seitan and chickpeas (or cooked chicken, if using) into the skillet. Reduce heat, and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, until chicken is heated through. Add tamari. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, to taste.** If you like your Jalfrezi with a little thinner sauce, just dilute with additional vegetable broth or water. Garnish with cilantro sprigs. Serve over rice.
**If you put this dish on Low in a slow cooker for 3 hours, the flavors "marry" well, plus you can make it ahead a bit; put cilantro on after cooking.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Herbs & Spice & Everything Nice!

Baby Herbs...Just Getting Started!
I love to grow herbs! The addition of these wonderful, aromatic, flavorful garden treasures turns plain dishes into WOW! Fat and salt can be minimized because herbs and spices add so much flavor you don't miss them. If a recipe calls for one teaspoon I frequently add two, depending on the intensity of the herb, spice or herb blend. I have a knack for knowing which herbs and spices to pair with what foods so I am able to create satisfying dishes that just "work" and make the palate sing! There is nothing like walking into your herb garden and picking or cutting fresh herbs to add to your dishes. You realize how much dried herbs pale in comparison when you have the fresh-from-the-garden herbs on hand! But, I will take the dried herbs and spices, when I have no other option, rather than live in a herbless, spiceless world!

Cilantro Pesto

  • 2 c. fresh cilantro, washed and dried and largest stems removed (you can keep smaller stems on)
  • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1/3 c. Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or more, if you like it spicy)
  • 1/2 c. pine nuts, roasted
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • 6 - 8 Tbsp. olive oil (more or less, depending on your taste)
In a food processor or blender, pulse cilantro, garlic, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, pine nuts, salt and black pepper. Add about 4 tsp. of the olive oil and blend. Keep adding olive oil, pulsing the mixture after each addition, until it reaches your desired consistency.

Place pesto in a small saucepan and warm until mixture simmers. You can pour it over cooked pasta, use it with goat cheese for a delicious spread or store it in the refrigerator (or double the recipe and freeze half) for future use. This pesto is best made a day in advance so flavors have time to meld. Delicious!

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