Where have I been and what have I been doing?

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Wow, can’t believe I haven’t written since January and honestly I could have sworn I did something in February. Anyhow, my Mom asked me if I posted anything to that neat little page I had and it made me wonder that the heck have I been doing this whole time and where have I been. Well, looking back to mid January I taught a lot of classes and did a lot of karate and then February came and I taught even more classes and did even more karate.
My goal this year was to find balance and honestly although it may not seem like it, I feel balanced and am very happy with where I am? I really love karate and am deeply involved. I am looking to start teaching soon and look forward to MORE KARATE!
Anyhow on to what have I cooked. Most recently I made Tofu French Toast. See below, very yummy and very simple. I am not a bread lover so this was just the ticket. Tofu slices dipped in egg seasoned with cinnamon and vanilla. Give it a try it really tastes like Traditional French Toast

Just like the real thing!

Just like the real thing!

As requested by my son for his 17th birthday I made his favorite cake: Chocolate Truffle with strawberries. I even had a slice. It is so rich so only he was able to eat several slices.

Very rich, only for true chocolate lovers.

Very rich, only for true chocolate lovers.

One of my newest adventures was Zenzai with mochi. Now this isn’t really that difficult but it is a sweet dish very common in Okinawa and Japan and everyone has strong opinions over it. It can’t be too sweet, the beans have to be cooked but not mushy and the most important part of the dish are the mochi balls. They have to be tender but not overly chewy. I think I really nailed it. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and if nothing else, it looked fantastic. My son and several other boys actually asked for seconds and they are all experienced Zenzai eaters.

Perfect for a cold day.

Perfect for a cold day.

Well for now that sort of catches me up. I really need to stay on it. I have a couple more classes this month and so far April is wide open. I should be able to focus on some new dishes and new adventures. Until then keep cooking and stay balanced!

Soup to Curry with just a few Spices

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So I had two packs of frozen spinach just staring at me in my freezer. Generally I use fresh spinach but I keep a few packs of frozen for certain dishes that I cook. I felt like I should use these two in something new and a bit different. I came across a recipe for spinach soup. I figured it was another one of those fat laden creamed soups but I was pleasantly surprised to find no heavy cream, no milk, actually no dairy but instead just a handful ingredients. Best of all, I went from enjoying a spinach soup and then by just adding a few curry spices I turned it into the best spinach curry I’ve ever had.
I know the color is odd but really it’s good and it cooks up in a flash. I’ve included the base recipe. To make it into a curry add your favorite curry spices and let it simmer a few minutes longer.

From Soup to curry with just a few spices

From Soup to Curry with just a few spices

Spinach Soup
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 dried red chili
salt/pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 boxes frozen spinach, thawed or 2 1/2 lb fresh

Heat the oil in large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic begins to color. Add the onion and red chili. Saute until the onion is golden brown; about 10 minutes.

Turn the heat to high and add the wine. Cook until reduced by half. Then add the vegetable stock and turn the heat to medium. Add in the spinach and continue to cook until the frozen spinach is heated thoroughly or the fresh is wilted.

Remove from heat and chill by placing the pot into a bowl of ice. Once room temperature, using an immersion blender or upright blender, puree the soup until smooth.

Garnish with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream.

*if you like really thick soup, add a diced potato to the soup along with the onion. This adds texture without the fat.
**For a curry, add your favorite curry spices such as curry powder, cumin, garam masala, etc

Start 2014 with Balance

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I don’t do resolutions. I’m not a rebel and I’m far from perfect but resolutions are bound to be bent, broken, or forgotten. Before you know it you are back doing the exact thing you didn’t want to do. Instead, I look to balance.
After the hectic month of December I had due to my Mother’s illness and my son’s appendix surgery, I need balance.

How do you find your balance? If you want to eat better, instead of eliminating everything, substitute one not so healthy food for a better alternative. Instead of resolving that you will lose 50 pounds, run a marathon, and get a six pack by the end of the year, tone it down a bit and make a balanced plan of what you can really do. It makes for a less stressful life. Isn’t that what we really want anyhow?

So how am I going to balance my life. I need more relaxation but honestly I probably won’t get a lot of it. I’m adding a few sessions of Yoga at home, as well as additional practices of karate. Yes, for me karate is a relaxer! I already eat rather well, but I still could improve, so I want to try to cook at home even more. For now, I’m starting with that. It’s supposed to be balance not overload.

For those of you, who want to find some food balance. I’ve included some photos of Okara Muffins and my Tofu Cheesecake. Still all the yummy goodness of the full fat, not so healthy versions, but lightened and now healthier. Okara is the insoluble parts of the soybean which remains after pureed soybeans are filtered in the production of soy milk and tofu. It can be found at many Japanese grocery stores, farmer’s markets and in Asian stores in the states. If you make your own tofu, then the residue is Okara.

The Okara Muffin recipe has been posted. Try it, you will find that they are really good!

Vegan Tofu Cheesecake

Vegan Tofu Cheesecake


Banana & Blueberry Okara Muffins

Banana & Blueberry Okara Muffins

Okara Muffins

Ingredients
1/2 cup soy milk
1 cup okara
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup yogurt, plain
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1 tsp cinnamon (if making banana)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup blueberries

Directions
Preheat your oven to 375°F / 175°C. Fill your muffin tray with paper liners.

Combine wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Sift dry ingredients in a larger mixing bowl.

Add dry ingredients to wet, mixing until just combined. DO NOT OVER MIX. Then add the blueberries and mix gently.

Spoon the batter into the liners until almost full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until lightly brown or until the toothpick test comes out clean. Depending on the wetness of your okara, the baking times might be slightly different.

Cool for 10 minutes, take muffins out of tins and place on wire racks to cool completely

2014 CALENDAR

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I’ve completed my 2nd annual calendar. I’m taking orders now and the calendars will shipped or delivered to you once I receive them. Cost is $20.00 plus shipping if applicable. Enjoy a new food photo every month with 12 full color photos and six recipes. To order contact me via email or Facebook. simplesweetsc@gmail.com or simplesweets cooking school on Facebook.

12 full color photos plus 6 recipes

12 full color photos plus 6 recipes

Make Ahead = Stress Free T-day (Part 2)

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So continuing on with the thoughts of a stress free Thanksgiving…..makes you feel good right? I whipped up two things for everyone. The first was made last night and the other one was done early this morning. Starting with last night’s creation, Sweet Potato Bread Pudding. For some reason, many people lean away from bread pudding. You’ve got to try it if you haven’t. It’s a wonderful comfort food and can be made several days in advance. I used sweet potato and pecans in this one to give it a Thanksgiving feel. There are tons of variations online so go ahead and google it. Find one that sounds good to you and go for it.
The other item is an appetizer. Cream cheese penguins are super cute and super yummy. It’s got cream cheese in it so it’s got to be good. You can use green olives as well. They may end up looking a little less like penguins but the flavor will be just as good. Below are the easy directions for the penguins.
By early next week I will add one or two more items to our stress free T-day theme. For now enjoy these!

Comforting and a bit boozy. The added bourbon makes this adult friendly

Comforting and a bit boozy. The added bourbon makes this adult friendly


Simple, cute and can be made a day or two ahead.

Simple, cute and can be made a day or two ahead.

Cream Cheese Penguins

Ingredients
18 jumbo black olives
18 small black olives
1 carrot
8 oz cream cheese

Directions

Cut a slit from top to bottom, lengthwise, into the side of each jumbo olive. Carefully insert about 1 teaspoon of cream cheese into each olive. Slice the carrot into eighteen 1/4 inch thick rounds; cut a small notch out of each carrot slice to form feet. Save the cut out piece and press into center of small olive to form the beak. If necessary cut a small slit into each olive before inserting the beak.

Set a big olive, large hole side down, onto a carrot slice. Then, set a small olive onto the large olive, adjusting so that the beak, cream cheese chest and notch in the carrot slice line up. Secure with a toothpick.

*use a red pepper strips or pimentos to make small scarves.

Make Ahead = Stress Free Thanksgiving (part 1)

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So if you are like many who will be cooking, baking, and stressing out on Thanksgiving, fear no more, there is a simple solution. Make things ahead of time! I’m sure many people have thought about it but what can you make ahead that still looks fresh, tastes great, and everyone will be thinking you are the Thanksgiving god? Well, there are quite a few dishes that can be done ahead of time and some are a bit traditional while others may not be. I’ve only got time to post one for now but I promise I will be back with more in just a day or two.
In the meantime, think Chutney. What is chutney you say? Chutney is a slightly spicy condiment made of fruits or vegetables which originated in India. I make mine with cranberries, apples, crystallized ginger, and a few other ingredients.
Read below for the simple directions. This can be made up to a week before T-day and can replace the boring canned cranberry sauce. I’ll be honest, I eat it all by itself. It’s that good!

left: raspberry; center: rum pineapple; right; cranberry chutney

left: chutney; center: rum pineapple; right; raspberry

Cranberry Chutney
Ingredients
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup water
3 cups fresh cranberries
1 apple- peeled, cored and diced
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice (orange juice can be substituted)
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Directions
In a medium saucepan, mix dried apricots, crystallized ginger, brown sugar, raisins and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 – 7 minutes, stirring constantly.

Mix in cranberries, apple and lemon zest. Simmer 10 minutes or until apple has softened and cooked down.

Mix in lemon juice, and red pepper flakes. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Thanksgiving

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It’s almost turkey and stuffing time. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, you have to admit that the food associated with this holiday is some of the best! Although my family and I are not turkey or ham eaters, we do celebrate with something a bit different. Every year I make a bread cornucopia and fill it with fruit, chocolates, nuts, and several other goodies. I’ve come to really look forward to preparing our yearly tradition. I’m done planning out what I all need to create this year’s special cornucopia and can’t wait to get started. No matter how you celebrate, take time to relax and enjoy some of the best food of the year!
I’ll be adding more Thanksgiving favorites and a few fresh ideas over the next few days.

Make your cornucopia special by filling it with your favorites

Make your cornucopia special by filling it with your favorites

Vibrant colors make it the main attraction

Vibrant colors make it the main attraction

Falling into Fall (for the last time) with Cruciferous Vegetables

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Today’s post is the last one for the Falling into Fall segment. I chose something a bit different this time. Cruciferous Vegetables are everything earthy, leafy, root-like, and many of them are considered to be super veggies. I know a lot of you tend to shy away from them because most tend to have a strong flavor or seem to be difficult to cook but with some roasting or sauteing they can become your family’s favorite.

So what are the Cruciferous Vegetables? I’ll name some of the more common: Broccoli•Cauliflower•Brussels Sprouts•Kale•cabbage•Bok Choy•Arugula•Collard Greens•Daikon•Horseradish •Kohlrabi•Rutabaga•Watercress•Squash•lotus root…. The list can go and on.
Not only do all these vegetables taste great but they are high in Vitamin C, K, A, packed with fiber and phtyochemicals.

Need a few cooking ideas? Simply take a squash, cut it in half, scoop the seeds out and then bake the squash in the oven until tender. It generally takes 45 minutes to an hour for a squash to cook. You can microwave it for about 10 – 15 minutes but you won’t get that roasted flavor. To serve, sprinkle with your favorite herbs and a dash of salt and pepper.

Another simple idea is to turn a head of cauliflower into what your kids will think are mashed potatoes. Wash and then dice the cauliflower into small pieces. Bake or microwave until soft. In a large bowl smash the cauliflower, adding a bit of milk, butter, salt, and pepper. Blend with a hand mixer and serve immediately. Garnish with your favorite fresh herbs.

Enjoy your VEGGIES!!!

Combine colorful combinations to entice little ones into trying new vegetables

Combine colorful combinations to entice little ones into trying new vegetables

Falling Into Fall…with the 3 P’s

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OK, so my three P’s are all pumpkin. I know, I’ve posted a lot of pumpkin and/or squash items but I just can’t get enough. I swear this is the last one; or at least until Thanksgiving. I want to share three of my favorites: Spicy Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies and my all time favorite Pumpkin Coffee Cake. This coffee cake is huge. It’s baked in a 10 inch spring form pan. You can substitute the canned pumpkin with fresh or with any other sweet squash. Acorn and Butternut Squash make wonderful substitutes.

So what is you favorite food obsession of the Fall? Besides pumpkin, I’d have to say I have a deep attachment to Fall spices. You know, the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and everything in that category. Add extra whenever it’s called for and I’m in heaven.

I’ve posted the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies. Don’t be afraid to use white chocolate instead or to add in nuts as well. Anything goes when using pumpkin and spices!

Add Extra Spice for even for zip

Add Extra Spice for even more zip

Pumpkin Coffee Cake for  a Crowd

Pumpkin Coffee Cake for a Crowd

pumpkin chocolate chip2

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
1/2-3/4 cups white sugar (I use less sugar)
1 cup brown sugar
2 lg eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
2 cups semisweet or extra dark chocolate chips or white chocolate chips

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick spray or line them with parchment paper.

Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Beat in the white and brown sugars, a little at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, then mix in the vanilla and pumpkin puree. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Slowly beat the flour mixture into the batter in thirds. Stir in the chips. Scoop the cookie dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are browned around the edges.

Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let them rest for 2 minutes. Take the cookies off with a spatula and cool them on wire racks. The cookies may be stored up to one week when sealed tightly. Cookies may also be frozen for up to 3 months.

Falling Into Fall With ICE CREAM (no machine needed)

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Oh yeah, ice cream! I know for some of you it may not be ice cream weather but honestly I used to be an ice cream addict. I’ve learned to curb the addiction but every so often I love a cone or cup of a ice cold creamy concoction. Whatever your favorite flavor is, please give my Kabocha Ice Cream a try. It really is good and if you add some nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, or other spices, you can really taste the “fall” in it
I’ve also included a photo of my Avocado Ice Cream as well. It is good too and gives you a healthy dose of good fat. It’s creamy and very smooth tasting. I always top my own with raspberry puree.

Perfect for a Fall treat

Perfect for a Fall treat


Not just for Fall

Not just for Fall

Kabocha Ice Cream
250 grams Kabocha (cooked and pureed)
1 tbsp brown sugar or as needed
1/4 cup milk
5 tbsp condensed milk
Spices, add a tsp of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or any other spice you like

Directions
Cook the kabocha and then mash it. Mix in the brown sugar, milk and condensed milk. Using an immersion blender or blender mix everything together until smooth. Pour into a shallow freezer safe bowl.
Place in freezer for several hours or overnight. Serve in small bowls topped with maple syrup, mint sprigs or a dash of cinnamon

*For Avocado Ice Cream. Substitute 2 – 3 large Haas Avocados. Use only 3 tbsp condensed milk and add 1 – 2 tsp lemon juice.