Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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You can find berries and melons in the supermarket in the winter, but these fruits do not have much taste. So instead, spend your money on fruit that actually tastes good now. We all know the winter holiday season is prime time for cranberries and yams, but have you considered persimmons, kiwi, citrus or pears? Winter is when most citrus fruits are at their sweetest and juiciest. Winter fruits are also excellent for baking. Here’s how to choose the best fruit, why it’s good for you and how to save money.

Oranges

How to buy:

In general, look for plump oranges that are free of blemishes or bruises. As the season wears on, you may find different varieties of oranges popping up, such as Cara Cara and blood oranges. Try them! Both of these varieties are very sweet and have a darker flesh, ranging from pink in the Cara Cara to dark red in the blood orange.

Why it’s good:

Oranges are loaded with vitamin C (a large orange has more than the daily recommended value of vitamin C), which may help smooth your skin. If you bite into a blood orange, you’ll also be getting anthocyanins, a compound that turns the flesh red and is associated with helping to keep the heart healthy and the brain sharp.

How to save:

Buy them in bulk (they may be cheaper in a bag than when sold individually) and store them in the refrigerator to extend their life by a couple of weeks. If you stumble across a few fruits with a grainy texture, use them for juicing or cooking.

Winter fruits for Kids Banana

Bananas

How to buy:

Bananas are in season year-round and are different from other fruits because they can be picked while they are still far from ripe. If you do buy green bananas, wait until the skin ripens to a yellow and the starches convert to sugars.

Why it’s good:

Bananas are one of the best sources of potassium, which is associated with healthy blood pressure. Also, a medium banana is an excellent source of cell-building vitamin B6 and is a good source of vitamin C and fiber.

How to save:

Though bananas are relatively economical—ripening bananas cost about 70 to 90 cents per pound—overripe bananas are often on sale for less. Even if banana peels have started to brown, the insides often remain sweet, ripe and unblemished. Buy a bunch or two and peel the extras before sticking them in the freezer. They will keep for several months and are excellent in banana bread, pancakes and smoothies.

Pineapples

How to buy:

Avoid green pineapples—they are not ripe. A ripe pineapple should smell like a pineapple. There should be a golden color present—starting at the base—and the more yellow a pineapple is, the better it will taste throughout. Some people claim that pulling leaves easily from the top of a pineapple is an indication of ripeness, but this has not been proven. Your best bet is to go with color.

Why it’s good:

Pineapple is loaded with vitamin C, delivers a healthy dose of fiber and is an excellent source of manganese, a nutrient involved in bone formation.

How to save:

Cutting into a pineapple for the first time may be intimidating. But where your wallet is concerned, it may be worth learning how to do. Prepared pineapple chunks in the produce section cost more per pound—about 50 cents an ounce more—than a whole pineapple. Check your market for whole, peeled and decored pineapples. My market sells these pineapples at the same price as an unpeeled pineapple.

Winter fruits for Kids Pomegranate

Pomegranates

How to buy:

Color is not a good indicator of a ripe pomegranate. Instead, choose a fruit that feels heavy in your hand.

Why it’s good:

Pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants, natural compounds found in plants that help protect the body from harmful compounds that damage tissues and may contribute to a variety of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Although you don’t get as many antioxidants eating the seeds as drinking the juice, you will get a bit of fiber and abundant punicic acid, a polyunsaturated heart-healthy oil.

How to save:

Pomegranates aren’t the cheapest fruit in the produce bin (about $2.50 each), but the good news is that one fruit goes a long way. Your best bet is to compare prices at competing stores, and buy the cheapest you can find.

Grapefruit

How to buy:

Like oranges, select fruits that are free of blemishes and bruises. Buying ripe grapefruit can be tricky—the skin color of the fruit is not always a reliable way to tell if the fruit is sweet inside. If the fruit is heavy in your hand, that may be a good indication of its juiciness.

Why it’s good:

Grapefruits are high in vitamin C and are a good source of fiber. Studies have shown that the soluble fiber in grapefruit may even be beneficial in lowering cholesterol. Half a medium grapefruit has only 60 calories. One exception: if you take statins to lower cholesterol levels, consuming grapefruit juice or the fruit may prevent the statins from breaking down in your system, causing the drug to accumulate in high amounts in the body.

How to save:

If you regularly buy organic, you may make an exception for grapefruit. According to the Environmental Working Group (a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization) it is a fruit that is less likely to be contaminated with pesticides.

tangerine

Tangerines

How to buy:

Choose tangerines with a deep orange color that are firm to semi-soft and heavy for their size. Avoid tangerines that have dull or brown coloring or soft spots.

Why it’s good:

One tangerine contains 2.3 grams fiber, 13% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A and 40% of vitamin C. Tangerines are smaller than oranges with bright orange skins and slightly looser peels than oranges. They are great for eating and you can also juice tangerines. Tangerines are less acidic than most citrus fruits. Use them as you would oranges in salads, stirred into yogurt or cottage cheese or as a topping for dessert.

How to save:

Buy them in bulk (they may be cheaper in a bag than when sold individually) and store them in the refrigerator to extend their life by a couple of weeks.

Making Healthy Desserts With Winter Fruits

lemon pudding

Lemon Pudding Cakes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup skim or lowfat milk
  • 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray six 6-ounce ramekins with vegetable oil spray. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar with the flour. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the butter until well blended. Whisk in the milk, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour the lemon mixture into the sugar mixture and whisk until smooth.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until firm peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the lemon mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins and transfer them to a small roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven and pour in enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake the pudding cakes for 35 minutes or until they are puffy and golden on top. Using tongs, transfer the ramekins to a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Serve the cakes in the ramekins or run a knife around the edge of each cake and unmold onto plates. Serve warm or at room temperature. Pudding cakes can be refrigerated for 2 days.

crepe

Chocolate Crepes with Orange and Chocolate Sauce

8 crepes

Ingredients

Crepes

  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup water

Orange Syrup

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Zest from 2 oranges, cut into very thin strips

Filling: 1 cup frozen yogurt (vanilla or flavor of choice)

Topping: Chocolate Sauce (recipe follows)

Directions

To make crepes:

Combine flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon oil and water in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour or for up to 24 hours.

To make orange syrup:

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, add orange zest, reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the syrup has thickened and the zest is tender. Several times during the cooking, brush the sides of the saucepan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water to keep sugar crystals from forming on the sides. Remove from heat and let cool.

To cook and assemble crepes:

Heat a small nonstick skillet or crepe pan over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles when sprinkled on the surface. Reduce heat to medium-low. Brush pan with a little of the remaining 1 teaspoon oil as needed to prevent sticking. Pour about 2 tablespoons of batter on the skillet and swirl to coat the bottom evenly. Cook 30 to 40 seconds until the top of the crepe has a dull surface and the edges begin to curl. Flip and cook for 20 to 30 seconds, or until the crepe is firm. Remove to a plate and cover with a dry cloth. Repeat with remaining crepes. (The crepes may be stacked between wax paper sheets until serving time.)

Place a crepe on a dessert plate. Spread 2 tablespoons of frozen yogurt across the middle. Fold in half and spoon 1 tablespoon Chocolate Sauce over the top or beside it. Spoon 2 teaspoons orange syrup and zest over the folded crepe. Repeat with remaining crepes.

Chocolate Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons skim milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey or 1 1/2 tablespoons agave necter
  • 1/4 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Sift together cocoa, cornstarch and sugar in a small saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk. Whisk in honey. Bring to a boil, whisking. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in oil and vanilla.

Garcia Studio, Inc. 933 Fielder Avenue NW Atlanta, GA 30318 404-892-2334

Orange Cranberry Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup smooth, unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice

Directions

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir in pecans and dried cranberries.

Whisk 1 cup sugar, applesauce, oil, orange zest and juice in a medium bowl until smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until well blended.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

Roll the dough with floured hands (it will be very moist) into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the cookies until barely golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the pan for 1 minute; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

apple-cake-ck-222502-l

Cinnamon Apple Cheesecake

12 servings

The cream cheese in the batter makes the cake quite moist. Because it’s so tender, use a serrated knife for cutting.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup stick margarine or butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces block style low fat cream cheese, softened (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups chopped, peeled baking apples (about 2-3 apples)
  • Cooking spray

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat 1 1/2 cups sugar, margarine, vanilla and cream cheese at medium speed until well-blended (about 4 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, beating at low speed until blended.

Combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon. Add 2 tablespoons or the cinnamon mixture to the apples and mix. Fold apple mixture into the batter.

Pour batter into an 8-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray and sprinkle the top with the remaining cinnamon mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Cool the cake completely on a wire rack.

NOTE: You can also make this cake in a 9-inch square cake pan or a 9-inch springform pan; just reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes.

Perfect-Pear-Crisp-58320

Healthy Pear Crisp

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 8 fresh pears (about 2-1/2 lb.), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cold butter, cut up
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • Frozen yogurt, optional

Directions

Heat the oven to 375ºF.

Grate enough lemon peel to measure 1/2 teaspoon zest. Squeeze enough juice to measure 1-1/2 tablespoons.

Mix 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in large bowl. Add pears, lemon zest and juice; toss until pears are evenly coated.

Spoon into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Mix brown sugar and remaining flour, granulated sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Stir in nuts and sprinkle over the pears.

Bake 40 to 45 min. or until topping is golden brown and pears are hot and bubbly. Serve warm topped frozen yogurt, if desired.

NOTE: You can also bake this dessert in 9-inch square baking dish or shallow 2-qt. casserole instead of the 8-inch square baking dish.

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A favorite fall and winter fruit, pears are enjoyed for their juicy, sweet flavor and tender texture.

Pear Varieties:

Anjou pears come in a variety of fall colors, from light green to yellow-green to red. Anjou pears, with their squat shape, are firm and have a mealy texture. They are juicy with a sweet-spicy flavor. These pears do not change color upon ripening. Eat fresh or use in salads and desserts.

Asian pears have a less traditional pear shape and more of an apple shape. They are firm and juicy with an apple-pear flavor. These pears, also known as Chinese pears and apple pears, have a crunchy texture. Eat fresh or use in salads or for baking.

Bartlett pears are all-purpose pears with the classic pear shape. They are smooth with green skins that turn buttery yellow when ripe. Bartletts can also be red but they do not change color with ripening. When ripe, Bartlett pears have a juicy, sweet flavor and a pleasant aroma. Excellent for eating fresh and using in salads and desserts.

Bosc pears have a slender shape with a longer top and a long, thin stem. They have a mottled tan-gold color with a subtle nutty flavor and buttery texture. Use for baking and poaching, as well as for eating fresh.

Comice pears are short and squat with a greenish yellow color and red blush when ripe. Their sweet, juicy flesh and buttery texture make them best for eating fresh.

Forelle pears are small with a bell shape. Green before ripening, these pears turn a golden yellow with a red blush when ripe. Sweet and juicy, Forelle pears are great eaten fresh or for salads and desserts.

Seckel pears are petite red or red and green pears. Sometimes even small enough to be bite-size, these tiny pears have a sweet flavor that makes them ideal for snacking or using in appetizers and desserts.

All about pears:

Look for firm or hard unripe pears with no bruises or cuts and with stems that are in place. Pears are one of a handful of fruits that are actually better if ripened after picking and it’s better to ripen pears at home rather than purchasing them ripe.

Store hard, unripe pears in a paper bag or in a covered fruit bowl at room temperature. Check daily for ripeness. You can also refrigerate unripe pears until you are ready to ripen them; then keep at room temperature. You cannot test ripeness by color because some varieties will not change color after picking. To check for ripeness of a pear, gently press the stem end of the pear with your thumb, If it yields to pressure, it’s ripe. To keep ripe pears longer, refrigerate them 3 to 5 days after ripening.

To prepare pears for cooking, use a vegetable peeler to remove the thin skin. To halve pears, cut in half lengthwise and remove the core with a small knife or melon baller. If you want to poach pears or stuff whole pears, use a melon baller to remove the core from the bottom of the pear, leaving the pear intact. Brush sliced pears that will not be immediately eaten with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. A medium pear will give you about 1 cup sliced.

Pears are healthy with only 100 calories each and a low glycemic index (meaning the carbohydrates in pears convert slowly to sugar). A medium pear (about the size of an adult fist) is a good source of dietary fiber, providing 16% of the recommended daily allowance. Pears are a good source of Vitamin C. This antioxidant promotes healing and boosts the immune system. Pears are a good source of potassium, an important mineral in heart health, nerve and muscle function.

Pear Crostata

A crostata is an Italian baked tart. It has been known by various names throughout Italy, including coppi in Naples and sfogliate in Lombardy.

Servings: 12

If you don’t have a food processor, you can use the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, a pastry cutter or two forks to cut the cold butter into the cornmeal-flour mixture. Make sure that you choose a fine grade of cornmeal or polenta (not a coarse brand) for best results. And, you can make the pastry ahead, store it in the refrigerator, sealed in a plastic bag, for up to a week. Let it warm up before rolling it out.

Pastry Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 cup fine cornmeal or polenta
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup water

Filling Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds ripe pears (any kind, or a mixture)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Amaretto Liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Dash of salt

To make the pastry:

Combine the walnuts, cornmeal, flour, sugar and salt in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until the walnuts are ground into a coarse meal. Pour the olive oil on top of the dry ingredients in the food processor.

Run the machine in a few long pulses, until the oil is evenly distributed and the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg and pulse once or twice—just until it is incorporated—then pulse in enough water to bring the dough together. Remove the dough from the food processor, gather it together and knead lightly into one ball.

Break the dough into two pieces, approximately 2/3 and 1/3. Form each piece into a ball and flatten each ball into a thick disk. On a lightly floured surface, roll the larger piece of dough into a 13-inch circle, about 1/8-inch thick. Ease it into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and trim the edges.

Roll out the smaller disc into a 10 inch circle and cut into strips about 1/2-inch wide. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F.

To make the filling:

Peel the fruit and cut it into thin slices Transfer the slices to a medium-sized bowl and drizzle with the lemon juice and amaretto. Sprinkle with the flour and salt and toss to coat.

Spread the fruit into the crust. Arrange the strips of dough on top in a criss-cross pattern, then push the ends of the strips into the edges of the bottom crust to hold them in place. (You might need to wet them a little to make them stick.)

Place the filled tart on a baking pan and bake in the lower half of the oven for about 45 minutes, or until golden on the top and around the edges.

Cool for at least 15 minutes before removing the rim of the pan and serving the tart. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Italian Pear Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup thinly sliced peeled pear
  • 8 pecan halves
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place butter in a 9-inch round cake pan; place the pan in the oven until the butter melts. Remove pan from oven.

Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan. Arrange pear slices and pecan halves in a decorative pattern over the sugar. Set aside.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Beat sugar, butter, egg and extracts with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add sour cream and half of flour mixture; beat well. Add remaining flour mixture and milk; beat well. Pour batter over pear slices, spreading gently.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack 5 minutes.

Run a sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen cake. Place a serving plate upside-down over pan; invert cake onto serving plate. Serve warm or cool completely.

Coconut-Streusel Pear Pie

Refrigerated Pastry for single-crust pie (9 inches)

Filling:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 cups sliced peeled fresh pears
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Topping:

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons cold butter
  • 1/3 cup flaked coconut

Directions

Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry; trim and flute edges. Heat oven to at 400° F.

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, flour and salt. Add pears and lemon juice. Cook and stir over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until thickened. Pour into pastry.

For topping, in a small bowl, combine sugar and flour. Cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in coconut; sprinkle over top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is lightly browned.

Cool on a wire rack. Yield: 8 servings.

Red Wine Oven Poached Pears

Ingredients

  • 4-6 peeled, cored pears (recommend Bosc or Anjou)
  • 2-3 cups of red wine (recommend Zinfandel or Merlot)
  • 3/4 cups of granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (can also add lemon zest, if desired)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

Directions

Combine 2 cups of the wine and all the remaining ingredients, except the pears, in an ovenproof deep pan that will hold the pears snugly and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel the pears but leave the stems on and remove the core from the bottom. Place the pears upright in the pan with the wine mixture. The pears should be covered by the liquid, if not add the remaining cup of wine.

Bring the wine mixture to a simmer on the stovetop and, then, place the pan in the oven.

Bake for 1 hour, basting every 15 minutes. The pears should darken to a rich mahogany color as they cook.

When the pears are done (still firm but easily pierced with a fork), remove them from the oven.

The liquid in the baking dish should be syrupy. If you would like the sauce thicker, remove the pears to a serving bowl and cook the wine mixture until it is reduced, slightly thick.

Place the pears in individual serving bowls and cover with syrup. Serve with either sweetened mascarpone cheese, crème fraiche or whipped cream.


Celebrate summer with desserts made with fresh fruit. Cutting back on high-fat, sugar-laden treats, like cakes, pies and brownies is a good idea, but no one wants to skip dessert all the time. Fresh melon chunks, sliced peaches, papaya and ripe berries give your meal a nutritional bonus and satisfies the sweet tooth. Here are some ideas for combining summer fruits with low-fat ingredients to make dessert special- go heavy on the fruit and light on the extras to keep it nutritious.

Summer favorites like cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon are sweet, juicy and flavorful enough for dessert right off the vine. Adding a scoop of sorbet or sherbet to a melon wedge along with a splash of raspberry syrup or lime juice turns fresh melon into a tasty dessert. Melons are virtually fat-free, low in calories and provide a good source of vitamins A and C. With only 50 calories per cup of melon cubes, they’re a nutritional bargain.

Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries signify the peak of summer sweetness. Take advantage of their vibrant color and flavor to jazz up any fruit salad, or top a dish of mixed berries with a scoop of vanilla yogurt or whipped topping for a healthy treat. Sprinkled over frozen yogurt or layered with low-fat pudding they make a beautiful and great-tasting sundae or parfait. Berries average about 60-80 calories per cup. They’re an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber.

For a quick, appealing dessert surround a wedge of angel food cake with slices of fresh peaches or nectarines. Add a small scoop of frozen vanilla yogurt and top with fresh berries and a drizzle of lowfat chocolate syrup. Peaches and nectarines have only 50-65 calories each. They provide vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber.

The key to including dessert is to enjoy a treat without overloading on calories, fat and sugar. As with many things in life, moderation is key, so you’ll need to stop yourself before you overindulge. Try sensible portions; you can eat 1 slice of pie and still be in your calorie range for the day.

Not every chocolate cake or banana nut muffin is created equal. Look for desserts without a lot of butter, sugar or creamy frosting. Since feeling guilty can ruin a good meal, try some healthy alternatives instead of your “regular” desserts.  I have included a few in this post for you to try.

Desserts for everyday:

  • Low fat cookie
  • Frozen 100% juice bar
  • Fresh berries with low fat topping
  • A one ounce piece of chocolate
  • Frozen grapes
  • Angel food cake
  • Pudding made with skim milk
  • Low fat ice cream or sorbet
  • Fruit salad
  • A fresh fruit smoothie

Some tips to baking healthy desserts:

  • Egg substitutes or egg whites instead of whole eggs.
  • Use applesauce or prune puree to replace half the oil or butter when baking to add moisture into your cakes and breads without adding more fat.
  • Less sugar. A lot of recipes call for much more sugar than is needed. Cut back by 1/3. Sugar altenatives for baking are a good option also. You might even like it better.
  • Fruit-based desserts. Although you still have to be careful, these desserts often have less calories and fat than other desserts.

Baked Peaches and Blueberries with Pecan Topping

Pecan halves form a top crust and provide crisp contrast to the soft fruit. Serve warm or chilled, on its own or with a scoop of ice cream.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh berries, picked over and rinsed
  • 9 cups (loosely packed) peeled, pitted and sliced ripe peaches
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca (granulated or instant)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

Topping:

  • 1  1/4 cups rolled (old-fashioned-not instant) oats
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1  1/2 cups pecan halves

Directions:

Set an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F.

In a large bowl, mix together the blueberries and peaches (plus any juices they’ve released), tapioca, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish.

Combine the oats, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Distribute the pecans on top of the fruit in the baking dish and sprinkle the oat mixture over the nuts.

Set the pan on a foil-lined baking sheet to catch spills if the fruit bubbles over.

Bake until the fruit is tender and the juices are thickened and bubbly, 35 to 45 minutes. If the nuts begin to get too dark before the fruit is done, cover the top loosely with aluminum foil.

Set on a rack and cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Frozen Raspberry Tart

Makes 12 servings

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup dark chocolate cookie crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 cups fresh raspberries
  • 3 egg whites
  • 2/3 cup sugar or sugar alternative for baking
  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries, strawberries, and/or blueberries

Directions:

Coat a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray; set aside.

For crust:

In a small bowl, combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared tart pan. Set aside.

For filling:

Place raspberries in a food processor or blender. Cover and process or blend until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to extract as much of the mixture as possible (you will need about 1 cup). Discard the solids.

Beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 2 to 3 minutes or until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating about 3 minutes more or until stiff and glossy peaks form (tips stand straight).

Add about one-fourth of the egg white mixture to the raspberry mixture, whisking until smooth. Add the lightened raspberry mixture to the egg white mixture in the bowl. Using a whisk, gently fold together until no white streaks remain. Pour filling into crust; smooth the top. Cover and freeze for 8 to 24 hours.

To serve, let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the sides of the tart pan. Cut into wedges. Garnish with fresh berries.

Almond-Tangerine Panna Cotta

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1  1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup fat-free milk
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate or cranberry juice
  • 1/2 cup tangerine sections (3 to 4 tangerines)
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh cherries

Directions:

Place four 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins in a shallow baking pan; set aside.

In a small saucepan stir together 3 tablespoons sugar and gelatin. Stir in milk. Heat over medium heat until gelatin is dissolved, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Whisk in yogurt and 1/4 teaspoon of the almond extract until smooth. Pour mixture into custard cups. Cover and chill for 4 to 24 hours or until set.

For sauce:

in a small saucepan stir together 1 tablespoon sugar and cornstarch. Stir in pomegranate juice. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in tangerine sections, cherries and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Cool.

To serve:

Immerse bottom halves of custard cups in hot water for 10 seconds. Using a small sharp knife, loosen panna cotta from sides of cups. Invert a serving plate over each cup; turn plate and cup over together. Remove cups. Serve panna cotta with sauce.

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake Bars

Yield: 36 bars

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2/3 cup reduced fat butter alternative, such as Smart Balance
  • 1-8 ounce package light cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar or sugar alternative for baking
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Powdered sugar (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan and spray foil with cooking spray; set pan aside.

In a small saucepan stir together the 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and the cornstarch. Stir in blueberries and orange juice. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat and set aside.

For crust:

In a large mixing bowl stir together the 2 cups flour and the powdered sugar. Cut in the butter alternative until fine crumbs form and mixture starts to cling together (mixture will still be crumbly). Pat mixture firmly into prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in an electric mixer bowl beat cream cheese, the 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the 1 tablespoon flour until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Pour over hot baked crust, spreading evenly. Spoon blueberry mixture in small mounds over the cheese layer. Use a thin metal spatula or table knife to marble the mixtures together.

Bake for 20 minutes more or until center is set. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 1 hour. Cover and chill at least 1 hour. Remove uncut bars from pan by lifting foil to a cutting board.

Cut into bars and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 days. If desired, sift powdered sugar over bars just before serving.

Lemon-Cornmeal Pound Cake with Berries and Cream

16 servings

Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 1  3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar or sugar alternative for baking
  • 8 tablespoon butter or reduced fat butter alternative, softened
  • 3 large eggs or 3/4 cups egg substitute
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup nonfat buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 large egg whites
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour for the pan

Topping:

  • 1  1/2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1  1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, optional
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 10-inch tube pan with cooking spray and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons flour.

To prepare cake:

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and level with a knife. Combine flour with the next 3 ingredients (through salt) in a medium bowl.

Combine 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended; stir in lemon zest and vanilla.

Combine buttermilk and 3 tablespoons lemon juice in a small bowl or measuring cup.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture, alternately with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl; beat at high speed using clean, dry beaters until stiff peaks form. Gently fold half of the egg whites into batter. Gently fold in remaining egg whites.

Spoon batter evenly into prepared pan.

Bake for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan; cool completely on wire rack.

To prepare topping:

Combine berries, honey and lemon juice. Chill 30 minutes.

Beat cream, if using, with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Serve cake with berries and cream.


There was a time when strawberries were a rare treat – just the wild ones you occasionally came across as you hiked in the woods or the ones sold in the supermarket only during the month of June. Not any more!

Strawberries originally came from the Alpine regions where they have been growing wildly for thousands of years. They have a history that goes back over 2,200 years. The strawberry, a member of the rose family, is unique in that it is the only fruit with seeds on the outside rather than the inside.

There are many explanations about how strawberries got their name. Some believe that the name came from the practice of placing straw around the growing plants for protection and others believe the name originated over 1000 years ago because of the runners which spread outward from the plant. The name may have been derived from the Anglo-Saxon verb to strew (spread) and the fruit came to be known as streabergen, straberry, streberie, straibery, straubery and finally, “STRAWBERRY’ to the English.

Most likely due to the fact that their shape vaguely recalls that of a heart, strawberries have always been considered a symbol of love. According to an ancient legend, strawberries were created out of the tragic love the goddess Venus had for Adonis. There is another famous story about strawberries that occurred during the time of Louis XIV, King of France. At that time, the ladies of the court used strawberries as a symbol of their affection. If a woman wanted to let a man know that she was interested in him, all she had to do was eat strawberries in his presence.

Perhaps this is the reason the French court was the first to try to cultivate strawberries. Until the middle of the XVII century, in fact, strawberries grew exclusively in the wild. The botanists of the Sun King  variety were the first to cultivate them. They transplanted wild plants into the royal garden and then crossed the European varieties with South American varieties. The new strawberries were larger, less delicate and easier to grow.

Strawberries were discovered in Virginia by the first Europeans when their ships landed there in 1588. Early settlers in Massachusetts enjoyed eating strawberries grown by local Native Americans who cultivated strawberries as early as 1643. Strawberries have been grown in California since the early 1900’s. Today, over 25,000 acres of strawberries are planted each year in California and the state produces over 80% of the strawberries grown in the United States. On average, each acre produces about 21 tons of strawberries and the state produces one billion pounds of strawberries a year.

Strawberry Jar

Strawberry varieties are one of three types: the June-bearing, the everbearing or the day-neutral. The difference among the types is the time during the growing season that the plants produce fruit. The June-bearing varieties flourish in the spring and produce one crop. Everbearing plants yield fruit several times, usually at the beginning and the end of the growing season. The day-neutral varieties produce an ongoing crop throughout the summer months as long as the weather is not too hot.

Packed with vitamins, fiber and high levels of antioxidants known as polyphenols, strawberries are a sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie food. They are among the top 20 fruits in antioxidant capacity and are a good source of manganese and potassium. Just one serving — about eight strawberries — provides more vitamin C than an orange.

Purchasing and Storing Strawberries

The berries should be a shiny scarlet and blemish free. If the tips are paler, or green, the berries are probably not ripe and could be tasteless. The berries should also look firm. If their color is dull, or if they look dry or soft, they may well be old.

If you’re buying a plastic container of strawberries turn it over to check the berries underneath, as well, because they easily become moldy. As a final check, sniff the strawberries: a strong strawberry aroma should greet you. If it does not, the chances are that the strawberries won’t have much taste.

When you get them home store, them in the refrigerator; they’ll keep a couple of days. Do not wash them until you are ready to use them. Store fresh strawberries in a colander in the refrigerator. This allows the cold air to circulate around them. Do not cover them.

Remove caps (stems/leaves) from strawberries only after washing because the caps keep the water from breaking down the texture and flavor inside the strawberries.

Prepare strawberries for serving by rinsing under a gentle spray of cool water; pat dry with a paper towel.

Remove the green caps (stems) with a light twisting motion or with the point of a paring knife. It’s as easy as a twist of the wrist.

You can also purchase a strawberry de-stemmer/huller at your local kitchen store or online (see photo).

Strawberry Huller

When you have more strawberries than you can eat or when strawberries can be obtained at a reasonable cost, freeze them to eat later or for use in pies and other baked goods.

Fresh Strawberry Measurements:

1 tray or flat of strawberries = 12 baskets or pints.

1 small basket = 1 pint strawberries = 12 large strawberries = 24 medium strawberries = 36 small strawberries.

1 pint = 2 to 2.5 cups sliced (1/4-inch thick slices) strawberries.

1 pint = 1.25 to 1.5 cups pureed (mashed) strawberries.

Frozen Strawberries

20-ounce bag frozen whole strawberries = 4 cups whole strawberries = 2.5 cup sliced strawberries = 2.25 cups pureed (mashed) strawberries.

10-ounce package frozen sliced sweetened strawberries = 1.25 cups frozen strawberries in syrup.

Wild Italian Strawberries

Strawberries grew wild in Italy as long ago as 234 B.C. and in Ancient Rome, these red fruits were considered valuable. They believed that the berries alleviated symptoms of melancholy, fainting, all inflammations, fevers, throat infections, kidney stones, halitosis, attacks of gout and diseases of the blood, liver and spleen.

In Italy one of the most famous places for strawberries is Lago di Nemi, a crater lake in the Alban Hills overlooking Rome; the crater walls capture the warmth of the sun and because the crater rim is unbroken the basin is shielded from cool winds. Italians celebrate the season with a festival in June and Nemi’s strawberries do not last long, since they are scooped up by the Romans.

In Italy, fresh strawberries are often served as dessert, not usually with cream but more often sprinkled with sugar, or splashed with lemon juice or sometimes dipped in wine. While we think of strawberries as a sweet course, they can be turned into a savory dish by including them in salads made with an extra virgin olive oil and  balsamic vinegar dressing.

The traditional Italian method for serving strawberries is with wine: fragole al vino. Hull the strawberries, quarter them lengthwise, sprinkle them with wine, dust them with a little sugar and put them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The wine of choice for this recipe is usually a red Chianti or an Asti or Prosecco sparkling wine.

Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 12 slices Italian bread
  • Olive oil for brushing on bread
  • 1 pound strawberries, washed and diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, plus more for serving
  • 1 cup goat cheese, room temperature
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat vinegar in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Simmer until reduced by about half, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Prepare an indoor or outdoor grill for high heat. Place bread slices on a foil-lined baking sheet and brush both sides with olive oil.

Combine strawberries and basil in a small bowl and set aside.

Grill bread on the preheated grill until browned, about 3 minutes per side.

Spread goat cheese on toasted bread. Add black pepper, salt,and reduced vinegar to the strawberry mixture. Spoon over the goat cheese topped bruschetta. Garnish with additional basil.

Strawberry Italian Ice

5 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup thawed unsweetened apple juice concentrate
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
  • Fresh mint

Directions:

In a blender, combine the apple juice concentrate, lemon juice and strawberries; cover and process until blended. Pour into an ungreased 8-inch square dish. Cover and freeze for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until partially set.

Spoon into a large bowl; beat on medium speed for 1-1/2 minutes.

Return to dish; freeze for 2-3 hours or until firm.

Remove from the freezer 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with mint if desired.

Strawberry Cannoli

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint (12 oz) strawberries, rinsed, hulled and halved
  • 2 tablespoons)granulated sugar
  • 15 oz. skim-milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 ounces mascarpone cream cheese
  • 1 cup powdered (confectioners’) sugar, plus extra for garnish
  • 1/4 cup chocolate mini chips
  • 1/4 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 box (8) cannoli shells
  • Garnish: sliced strawberries

Directions:

At least 1 day before serving; Line a colander and a medium-size strainer with a sturdy paper towel; set each in a bowl.

Pulse strawberries and granulated sugar in food processor until coarsely chopped. Scrape into colander, top with a paper towel and refrigerate overnight to drain well (this is important).

Clean processor.

Put ricotta, cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in processor; pulse until smooth. Transfer to strainer, cover with a paper towel and refrigerate overnight.

Just before serving: Fold drained berries, mini chocolate chips and almond extract into ricotta mixture. Spoon into a gallon-size ziptop bag. Cut 1⁄2 inch off a corner; pipe filling into cannoli shells and garnish with powdered sugar and extra sliced strawberries.. 

Italian Strawberry Shortcakes

Ingredients:

For the Shortcakes

  • 2 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting board or counter
  • 1 cup white whole-wheat flour, or whole-wheat pastry flour 
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, (Neufchâtel)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons nonfat buttermilk

For the Berry Mixture:

  • 4 cups fresh strawberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 sprigs fresh mint

For the Ricotta Cream:

  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Directions:

For the Shortcakes

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Whisk cake flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut in butter using two knives or a pastry cutter until the pieces are about the size of peas. Cut in cream cheese until it’s the size of peas. Drizzle oil over the mixture; stir with a fork until just combined (the mixture will be crumbly). Make a well in the center and add egg and buttermilk. Gradually stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a fork until the mixture is evenly moist. Knead the mixture in the bowl two or three times until it holds together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dust with flour and roll into an 8-by-10-inch rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the edges square using a butter knife. Cut the dough into 12 equal shortcakes. Transfer to a baking sheet.

Bake the shortcakes until puffed and lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

For the Ricotta Cream

Combine the ricotta cheese, sour cream, honey and lemon juice in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve shortcakes.

For the Berries

While the shortcakes bake, wash and hull (remove the stem) from the strawberries. Slice them lengthwise. Remove the mint leaves from their stem and thinly slice. Add the sugar, balsamic vinegar and mint to the strawberries. Let the mixture stand for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours.

To serve: split the shortcakes horizontally. Spoon the berries and juice onto the bottoms, top with the ricotta mixture and replace the shortcake tops. Garnish with more strawberries.

Italian Strawberry Tart

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour or Eagle Brand Ultra Grain flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and cut in half
  • powdered sugar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9 inch springform pan.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter and the sugar. Add the eggs and milk. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and stir by hand until just moistened. Do not overmix.

Spread the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Press strawberry halves deeply into the dough in a circular pattern of 2 or 3 rings.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.

Strawberry Fields

 


Winter is a great time to experiment with fruits like the kumquat, which can be added to a salad for a low-calorie, high-vitamin option. You can also try star fruits, which are great for heart health, or the flu-fighting quince. Certain varieties of tropical and citrus fruits, which are grown in places like Florida and Hawaii, have the highest levels of heart-healthy antioxidants of any fruit, so you can still make your heart happy without having to purchase fruit flown in from another hemisphere.

Some Not So Common Winter Fruits

Kumquats

The tiny little olive-sized citrus fruits are full of disease-fighting antioxidants, which are contained in their sweet, edible skin. A serving of five (which is about five calories) also contains one-fifth of your daily fiber needs, along with a healthy dose of potassium and vitamins A and C. The most commonly found variety is the Nagami, and California and Florida are home to most of our domestic crop, which peaks between November and March.

Slice kumquats and add to a salad or use in place of oranges in your recipes. Diced kumquats and avocado make a great salsa when mixed with red onion, cilantro and lime. At the market, look for firm fruits that are bright orange in color (green ones aren’t ripe), and store kumquats them at room temperature for two or three days or for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

Carambolas or Star Fruit

Exotic fruits are generally higher in vitamin C, higher in potassium and lower in calories than domestic fruits. Carambolas, or star fruits, are no exception. High in inflammation-lowering polyphenols, they’re also great for your heart and full of fiber. Most of the star fruits you’ll see in stores now come from Hawaii or South Florida. Look for firm, shiny, evenly-colored yellow fruit. Handle with care, as star fruit bruise easily. Ripen them at room temperature for a few days until light brown ribs form and a full, fruity aroma develops, then refrigerate them for up to a week. The carambola’s taste has been described as a cross between citrus, apple and pear, and you can eat them as is, or slice them into fruit salads.

Rambutans

In Hawaii, the decline of the sugarcane plantations has led to a growing specialty fruit industry and antioxidant powerhouses rambutans, lychees and longans are now grown there. The rambutan, also known as hairy lychee or hula berry, is a tropical treat and their season runs from September through March. They might even be better for you than green tea. Rambutans have higher levels of the antioxidants: flavonoids and anthocyanins, both of which are believed to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and cardiovascular problems. They also contain iron and calcium. Look for rambutans in Asian and other specialty markets and handle them with care — they’re fragile and keep only a day or two at room temperature. If you’re not eating them right away, place them in a perforated plastic bag and refrigerate. To enjoy them, simply peel and pop into your mouth or add them to a fruit platter.

Longans

A relative of the lychee, longans are native to China but now are grown in Hawaii and in Puerto Rico. Stock up on them this time of year because they are traditionally used to settle upset stomachs and reduce fevers, making them great natural flu remedies. Also known as “dragon’s eye,” it’s easy to see why—the fruits have a black seed centered in translucent white flesh—and they taste similar to a chewy grape. You can find Hawaii-grown longans in Asian markets nearly year-round. Store them in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag for a week or two. You can simply rinse, peel and seed longans to eat as snacks or add them to fruit salads and desserts.

Persimmons

A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that a persimmon a day could be better for your heart than an apple, because they contain significantly higher concentrations of dietary fiber, minerals and phenolic compounds that prevent atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. An added bonus: the antioxidants in persimmons can help control diabetes and the cell damage it causes. Their flavor and texture has been compared to plums or apricots, with spicy undertones, and you can use just the pulp or the entire fruit in puddings, pureed in ice creams, breads or cakes. Try them in savory dishes, too, like salsas, stir-fries and salads.

Asian Pears

Though their softer Bosc relatives are long gone by now, hard-when-ripe Asian pears are perfect for cold storage and easy to find in farmer’s markets and grocery stores this time of year. Asian pears have significantly more fiber than other pear varieties and are good for your heart. Select the most fragrant, unblemished Asian pears when shopping; a sweet scent is the best indication that the pears are ripe. They can be kept for up to a week at room temperature or up to three months in the refrigerator. Their sweet pear flavor and crunchy texture make Asian pears perfect additions to salads and are delicious grated into slaws. They work well in place of apples in recipes from holiday stuffings to baked dishes. Try sauteing them to serve alongside meat entrees.

Some Common Winter Fruits

Oranges

In general, look for plump oranges that are free of blemishes or bruises. As the season goes on, you may find different varieties of oranges popping up, such as Cara Cara and blood oranges. Both of these varieties are very sweet and have a darker flesh, ranging from pink in the Cara Cara to dark red in the blood orange.

Oranges are filled with vitamin C (a large orange has more than the daily recommended value), which may help smooth your skin. If you chose a blood orange, you’ll also be getting anthocyanins, a compound that turns the orange’s flesh red and is associated with helping to keep the heart healthy and the brain sharp.

Buy them in bulk (they may be cheaper in a bag than when sold individually) and store them in the refrigerator to extend their life by a couple of weeks.

Bananas

Though there are hundreds of varieties of bananas, the Cavendish is the variety most familiar to North Americans. Bananas are in season year-round and are different from other fruits because they can be picked while they are still green. If you do buy green bananas, wait until the skin ripens to a yellow and the starches convert to sugars.

Bananas are one of the best sources of potassium, which is associated with healthy blood pressure. Also, a medium banana is an excellent source of cell-building vitamin B6 and is a good source of vitamin C and fiber.

Though bananas are relatively economical–ripening bananas cost about 90¢ per pound–overripe bananas are often on sale for less. Even if banana peels have started to brown, the insides often remain sweet and ripe. Buy a bunch or two and peel the extras before placing them in the freezer. They will keep for several months and are excellent in banana bread and smoothies.

Pineapple

Avoid green pineapples–they are not ripe. A ripe pineapple should smell like a pineapple. There should be a golden color present–starting at the base–and the more yellow a pineapple is, the better it will taste throughout. Some people claim that pulling leaves easily from the top of a pineapple is an indication of ripeness, but this has not been proven. Your best bet is to go with color.

Pineapple is full of vitamin C, delivers a healthy dose of fiber and is an excellent source of manganese, a nutrient involved in bone formation. Though convenient, prepared pineapple chunks in the produce section may cost more per pound than a whole pineapple. Many markets though sell pineapple peeled for the same price as an unpeeled one.

Pomegranates

Color is not a good indicator of a ripe pomegranate. Instead, choose a fruit that feels heavy in your hand.

Pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants, natural compounds found in plants that help protect the body from harmful free radicals. (Free radicals are compounds in the body that damage tissues and may contribute to a variety of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer). Although you don’t get as many antioxidants eating the seeds as drinking the juice, you will get fiber and abundant punicic acid, a polyunsaturated heart-healthy oil.

Pomegranates aren’t the cheapest fruit in the produce bin (about $2.50 each), but the good news is that one fruit goes a long way. Your best bet is to compare prices at competing stores and buy the cheapest you can find.

Grapefruit

Like oranges, select fruits that are free of blemishes and bruises. Buying grapefruit can be tricky–the skin color of the fruit is not always a reliable way to tell if the fruit is sweet inside. If the fruit is heavy in your hand, that may be a good indication of its juiciness. Grapefruits are high in vitamin C and are a good source of fiber. Studies have shown that the soluble fiber in grapefruit may even be beneficial in lowering cholesterol. Half a medium grapefruit has only 60 calories.

If you regularly buy organic, you may make an exception for grapefruit. According to the Environmental Working Group (a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization) it is a fruit that is less likely to be contaminated with pesticides.

Recipes Using Winter Fruits

 

Appetizer

Pears with Blue Cheese and Prosciutto

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 pears, each cored and sliced into 8 wedges
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 ounces blue cheese cut into slices
  • 6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 cup arugula

Directions:

Roll up an arugula leaf, a piece of pear (lay on its side)and a piece of cheese in a slice of prosciutto.  Repeat with the remaining pear slices.

First Course

 

Sicilian Fennel Salad with Oranges, Arugula, and Black Olives

Serves 4

In Sicily , this salad is traditionally prepared with chicory , a slightly peppery , tender-leafed green. Substitute with arugula if you can’t find chicory .

  • 3 navel oranges
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bunches trimmed arugula or chicory
  • 2 cored, halved, trimmed medium fennel bulbs
  • 1/4 cup oil-cured black olives

Directions:

Trim off and discard peel and all of the white pith from oranges, then slice crosswise into thin rounds and set aside. Mix together the extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar in a large salad bowl, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tear arugula into large pieces and arrange in the salad bowl. Slice fennel bulbs into long strips. Toss salad just before serving, adjust seasonings, then arrange orange slices and black olives on top.

Second Course

 

Braised Chicken with Kumquats and Green Olives

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. chicken legs or thighs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into ¼ inch half-rounds
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup kumquats
  • 1 cup green olives
  • Salt and pepper
  • Couscous, cooked according to package directions

Directions:

Rinse and pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large pan with a cover over medium heat. Add chicken and cook, turning occasionally , for about 15 minutes, or until evenly browned. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add onion and garlic to pan and saute over medium heat until transparent. Add wine and bay leaves and reduce over high heat until syrupy . Return the chicken to the saucepan, skin side up and add enough chicken broth to cover 2/3 of the chicken. Tuck the kumquats and olives into the broth, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is cooked through and tender, about 40 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon over couscous and serve.

Side Dish

Baked Applesauce

Makes 12 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs. (about 10 medium) assorted apples, such as McCoun, MacIntosh, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Jonagold or HoneyCrisp, peeled, cored and quartered
  • 1/3 cup fresh apple cider
  • 4 lemon slices, paper-thin, or 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 (3-inch) piece stick cinnamon, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, agave syrup, or honey, optional

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place apples, cider and lemon slices or juice in large Dutch oven or heavy casserole with a cover. Toss apples to coat them with lemon. If using, add cinnamon stick or sprinkle on cinnamon and sweetener and toss again.

Bake apples, covered, for 60 to 75 minutes, until very soft and moist. Stir to combine soft apples and liquid into applesauce. If mixture is too thin, bake the applesauce, uncovered, for 15 minutes longer. Cool to room temperature before serving. Applesauce thickens as it cools. The applesauce keeps, covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Dessert

 

Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake

Serves 12

Ingredients:

  • 2 oranges
  • 2 1/3 cups sugar or 1 cup plus 2 ½ tablespoons sugar alternative, such as Truvia or Domino Light
  • Cooking Spray
  • 2 1 ⁄2 cups flour, plus more for dusting baking pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ⁄4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 ⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Sugar crystals for garnish, optional

Directions:

Trim about 1/2″ from the tops and bottoms of the oranges; quarter oranges lengthwise.

Put oranges, 1 cup of the sugar or 1/2 cup of the sugar alternative and 4 cups water into a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and orange rind can be easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a 10″ round cake pan with cooking spray and dust with flour; line pan bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. Set pan aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside. Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and put oranges into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky purée, 10–12 pulses. Add remaining sugar, reserved flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs and process until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add olive oil; process until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk orange juice and confectioners’ sugar to make a thin glaze. Remove cake from the pan and transfer to a cake stand or plate. Using a pastry brush, brush orange glaze over top and sides of cake; let cool completely . Garnish cake with sugar crystals, if desired..


Benefits of Freezing Summer Produce

Freezing fruits and vegetables is a great way to serve the family healthy, nutritious fresh foods all winter. By using safe, approved techniques, the nutrients will be preserved. Freezing foods is quick and easy and doesn’t take a lot of equipment.

Home freezing techniques to preserve high quality foods with the maximum nutritional value are based on the same principles commercial companies use. Freezing fruits and vegetables is perhaps the best method of preserving their nutrients and quality.

Blanching Vegetables Before Freezing

Blanching involves dipping foods into boiling water for a short period of time, then chilling rapidly. Foods are then drained, packaged and frozen. Up until harvest time, enzymes cause vegetables to grow and mature. If vegetables are not blanched, or blanching is not long enough, the enzymes continue to be active during frozen storage causing off-colors, off-flavors and toughening. Blanching deactivates the enzymes and helps destroy microorganisms on the surface of foods.

Steps in Blanching Vegetables

Use a large pot that holds at least 2 gallons of water. Figure 1 gallon of water for each pound of vegetables. Other items needed: wire basket or colander, timer, large bowl or pot with ice water, extra ice cubes, additional colander for draining, freezer containers or bags, marking pen for labeling.

  • Bring the water to a rolling boil.
  • Place vegetables in basket (do not crowd), immerse basket into water.
  • Cover pot, keep boiling.
  • Time as soon as water returns to a boil, using the chart below, on “How to Prepare Vegetables for Freezing”.
  • Put the basket in ice water for the same amount of time as blanching. Keep ice in the water.
  • Drain the vegetables thoroughly to avoid too many ice crystals.
  • Pack, using either the dry or tray pack method, see below “Packaging Vegetables for the Freezer”.
  • Label, freeze.

The blanching water may be used 2 or 3 times; change when cloudy. Microwave blanching in not recommended; off-flavors, colors and textures may result.

Freezing Chart for Vegetables

Asparagus:

Wash asparagus and cut off any tough parts. Blanch small stalks for 2 minutes and large ones for 4 minutes. Cool, drain, and pack into containers by alternating tip and stem ends. Do not leave a headspace.

Beans, Green or Wax:

Pick young, tender beans. Remove stems and break into 1-2 inch pieces. Wash. Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes and dip into cold water. Drain, pack and freeze. Leave a 1/2-inch headspace.

Beets:

When triming beets, leave 1-inch of their tops on. This will prevent “bleeding.” If you don’t, your beets will lighten during cooking. Wash beets and cook them for 25 minutes. Cool in cold water and peel them. The skins should easily slip off now. Cut into cubes or slices, pack and freeze, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace.

Broccoli:

Wash and peel stalks.To remove insects, soak for 1/2 hour in a solution of  5 teaspoons salt to 1 gallon of water. Boil for 3 minutes and cool in cold water. Drain and pack into containers leaving no headspace.

Brussels Sprouts:

Trim and remove outer leaves. Wash and boil small heads for 3 minutes and large heads for 5 minutes. Cool in cold water, drain, and pack into containers, leaving no headspace.

Cabbage:

Remove outer leaves and cut into wedges. Wash and heat in boiling water for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water, drain and pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Frozen cabbage is only suitable for use as a cooked vegetable, as in soup or sauteed with apples as a side dish, and not for coleslaw.

Carrots:

Remove tops, wash, and scrape or peel. Leave small carrots whole and slice larger ones. Boil whole carrots for 5 minutes and sliced ones for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water and drain. Pack into containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Cauliflower:

Break into 1-inch pieces and wash. Remove insects by soaking for 1/2 hour in a solution of 5 teaspoons salt to 1 gallon of water. Drain and rinse. Boil for 3 minutes and cool in cold water. Pack into containers, leaving no headspace.

Corn:

Husk the ears and remove the silk. Heat the ears in boiling water for 5 minutes. Cool in cold water and drain. Cut kernels from the cob and cover corn with water. Pack into containers leaving 1-inch headspace.

Corn-on-the-cob:

Husk, remove silk and blanch (same as above.) Wrap in plastic wrap and pack into containers. Freeze.

Mushrooms:

Wash in cold water.  Rinse well. If mushrooms are larger than 1 inch, slice or quarter them. Soak the mushrooms in an anti-darkening solution (lemon juice or Fruit Fresh) for 5 minutes, drain. Steam mushrooms for 5 minutes. Cool in cold water and pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Okra:

Pick tender pods, wash, and cut off stem end. Be careful not to cut open the seed cells. Heat for 4 minutes in boiling water and cool promptly in cold water. Leave whole or slice, and pack into containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Onions:

Wash and peel onions. Chop and place into containers. Leave no headspace.

Peas:

Shell peas and wash to remove blossom ends and pod particles. Heat in boiling water for 2 minutes and cool in cold water. Drain. Pack peas into containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Peapods:

Wash and blanch pods for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water and pack into containers. Freeze.

Peppers:

Wash, cut out seeds, and chop. Pack into containers, leaving no headspace.

Pumpkin:

Wash pumpkin and cut into quarters. Cook until soft by either boiling, steaming, or baking. Press through a sieve. Cool and pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Sweet potatoes:

Wash sweet potatoes and cook until almost tender. Cool in cold water and peel. Slice, mash, or leave sweet potatoes whole. To prevent darkening, dip sweet potatoes in lemon juice or Fruit Fresh for about 5 seconds. If sweet potatoes are mashed, just add 2 tablespoons lemon juice to a quart of sweet potatoes. Pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Tomatoes:

Wash, remove stem ends, and blanch for 3-4 minutes. Cool in cold water and remove skins. Quarter, halve or leave whole. Pack into containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Tomatoes, stewed:

Wash, remove stem ends, and blanch for 3-4 minutes. Cool in cold water and remove skins. Quarter and cook until tender (about 20 minutes). Place the pan of cooked tomatoes in cold water to cool, and pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Packaging Vegetables for Freezing

Packing vegetables tightly  into the freezer container will cause them to freeze in a “clump,” which is fine, if the entire package will be cooked at once. This is called a “dry pack.”

Sometimes, a loose pack is desired, called a “tray pack.” Foods are spread out on a tray or flat pan to freeze, then packaged.

Freezing Fruits

Fruits are usually served raw, so blanching is not used. Instead, ascorbic acid is added to prevent browning and the loss of Vitamin C. The acid interferes with the enzymes and compounds that destroy the nutrients and food quality.

Most fruits will darken after they are cut, so you will need to prevent this by using an anti-darkening agent. I usually soak cut fruit in a solution of water and bottled lemon juice (about 1 teaspoon per quart), but you can use a commercial anti-darkening agent, such as Fruit Fresh. Both work with great results.

Sugar is added to some fruit to help retain color and to enhance taste. You can either add sugar to the fruit and mix it in, or you can mix sugar and water together to form a syrup and pour it over the fruit. I have had good results with packing fruits for the freezer without sugar.  Some fruits, including rhubarb, blueberries, cranberries and strawberries freeze well without sugar. Light sugar syrup is an alternative but I would skip heavy sugar syrup additions.

Freezing Chart for Fruits

Apples for pies: Peel, core and slice apples. Treat apples with an anti-darkening agent. Drain. For each quart of apples, sprinkle with 1/2 cup sugar (optional). Mix, seal and freeze.

Applesauce: Wash and quarter apples. Cook until tender with enough water to prevent apples from scorching. Run cooked apples through a food mill and sweeten, if desired. Pack into containers.

Apricots for pies: Wash, halve, pit and peel (optional.) If you do not wish to peel, heat apricots in boiling water for 1 minute so skins won’t toughen. Treat with an anti-darkening agent, drain and mix one quart fruit with 1/2 cup sugar (optional).

Blackberries for pies and jams: Remove stems, wash, and drain. Mix 3/4 cup sugar (optional) to 1 quart berries. Fill containers and freeze.

Cherries for pies: Stem, wash, drain and pit. Mix 3/4 cups sugar (optional) to 1 quart cherries. Pack, seal and freeze.

Gooseberries: Remove blossom ends and stems. Wash and pack into containers. You do not have to add sugar. If you wish, you may cover with a sugar syrup and freeze.

Melons: Cut up melons and pack into containers with a sugar syrup. Seal and freeze.

Peaches for pies: Wash, pit and peel. If you do not wish to peel the peaches, you can dip them in boiling water for a minute to loosen skins; the skins will be easier to pull off. Treat with an anti-darkening agent, drain and pack peaches into containers. Cover with cold water, seal and freeze.

Pears: Wash, peel, core and quarter. Heat pears in light syrup for 2 minutes. Drain and cool. Pack pears in containers with syrup and anti-darkening agent (Fruit Fresh or lemon juice). Seal and freeze.

Plums: Wash, pit, and cut in halves. Pack into containers and freeze.

Raspberries: Same as for Blackberries.

Rhubarb: Wash and cut into 1-2 inch pieces. Heat in boiling water for 1 minute and cool in cold water. Pack into containers and freeze.

Strawberries: Wash, drain, and remove stems. (Optional-add 3/4 cups sugar to 1 quart berries and mix.) Put into containers and freeze.

Steps in Freezing Fruits

  • Wash, sort fruits carefully. Discard portions that are not high quality and fully ripe.
  • Cut the fruit as you would want to serve it (slices, bite size pieces, etc.).
  • Refer to the How to Prepare Fruits for Freezing chart to determine if anti-browning treatment is needed. Use ascorbic acid as directed in the chart or on the package label.
  • Prepare dry sugar or sugar syrup as directed in the How to Prepare Fruits for Freezing chart.
  • Light Syrup Recipe: Boil 2 cups sugar and 4 cups water=5 cups syrup Dissolve the specified amount of sugar in the specified amount of water, stir. Let sit until sugar is completely dissolved. Do not heat. Sugar syrup may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.
  • Pack into good quality freezer plastic bags, freezer boxes or jars. Allow 1/ 2 inch head space at the top for expansion. Seal bags or fasten lids on tightly.

Packaging Foods for the Freezer

  • Frozen foods need to be packaged properly to prevent “freezer burn,” or loss of moisture from the foods.
  • Packaging must be both moisture and vapor proof, keeping moisture in the product and outside odors out.
  • If using containers, be sure they are freezer storage containers. Reusing food containers is a great practice, but things like cottage cheese boxes do not keep moisture in or vapors out. Lids need to fit tightly.
  • If using bags, be sure they are freezer bags, not regular food storage bags. Freezer paper is lined with plastic, and is easier to mold to the shape of firm foods.
  • No matter what containers are used, be sure to expel as much air as possible before closing. Label containers with the product and date to ensure using them before the quality declines.

Storing Frozen Foods

Store frozen foods (home prepared and purchased) at 0 degrees F. or lower. 

Most frozen fruits maintain high quality for 8 to 12 months. Unsweetened fruits lose quality faster than those packed in sugar or sugar syrups.

Most vegetables will maintain high quality for 12 to 18 months at 0° F or lower. However, it is a good idea to plan to use your home frozen vegetables before the next year’s crop is ready for freezing.

Longer storage of fruits and vegetables than those recommended above will not make the food unfit for use, but will decrease its quality.

Freezing Herbs

Herbs can be preserved for a long time if they are properly frozen. Freezing an herb does not change its flavor, but it can no longer be used as a garnish because it becomes limp when defrosted. You can, however, add frozen herbs to your favorite cooked dishes, soups and stews. 

Pick fresh herbs when they are almost ripe and the flower buds are beginning to open up. Choose herbs such as parsley, sage, tarragon, basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, mint or rosemary.

Remove the stems and wash the herbs gently under running cold water. Put them in a strainer and then transfer to paper towels to remove all moisture. You can also spin them dry in a slad spinner.

Spread the herbs on a cookie tray and place it in the freezer. When they are frozen, store them in a sealed plastic bag or airtight container.

Some other methods for freezing herbs:

  • Place the the washed and chopped herbs in ice cube trays. Fill the trays with a little water to give the cubes some shape. Place the trays in the freezer and use when needed.
  • Grind the washed herbs in a blender. Add two tablespoons of olive oil per one cup of herbs. Transfer the pureed herbs to the ice cube tray and freeze.
  • Pick out a few leaves from each herb and tie them together with a string to make a bouquet. Place the bouquet on a cookie tray and freeze. Transfer the frozen herbs to an airtight plastic bag.

How To Freeze Basil                                                                                                                                      

Freezing basil is a great way to preserve its deep, unique flavor to enjoy during the long winter when its taste brings to mind happy thoughts of summer gardens.

Unlike other green herbs which suffer little from freezing, basil requires one extra step if you want it to emerge from the freezer as green as it was when it went in: blanching. Simply bring a pot of water to a boil, dip the basil leaves in for 30 seconds, drain the basil, and squeeze out as much liquid as you can (rolling it in a clean kitchen towel does a good job).

At this point you can simply double-bag the basil, pushing out as much air from the bags as possible, and place it in the freezer. I prefer, however, to whirl the basil in a blender with a bit of olive oil to make a thick puree. Freeze this in small covered containers or in a clean ice cube tray (once frozen through, transfer the basil cubes to a sealable plastic bag for long-term storage).

If your favorite way to use basil is in pesto – go ahead and make the pesto when the basil is fresh and freeze the pesto itself. I leave the cheese out when I freeze pesto. It can be added when you make the pasta.

Methods of Preparing Basil for Freezing

Option 1: Wash and dry the basil leaves (the stems should be discarded). Then, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and flash freeze. Transfer the frozen basil to freezer bags, and use as needed.

Option 2: Blanch the basil leaves for 15 seconds. Then, plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Dry thoroughly. Then, flash freeze using the method described in option 1.

Option 3: Use a food processor to coarsely chop clean basil leaves. Then, add a drizzle of olive oil, and pulse to lightly coat the leaves with oil (this will keep the basil from turning black in the freezer). Spoon the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze. Transfer the finished cubes to freezer bags and use as needed. Once cube is the equivalent of about two tablespoons of fresh basil.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Tips:

1. Basil tends to turn black when frozen. If maintaining that bright green color is important to you, use option 3.

2. Oil should only be added to basil if it will be frozen. Storing basil in oil, either in the refrigerator or at room temperature, causes a risk of botulism.

3. Planning to use your basil in heated dishes? Just add your frozen basil directly to the pot. There’s no need to thaw it first.

 


Pies have a reputation of being “bad for you”, a diet-killer, a guilty pleasure.  While this reputation is somewhat deserved, pie can actually be a healthful choice, no matter what your dietary restrictions.  But pie that’s GOOD for you can actually taste good.

General tips for making a health-conscious pie:

Use 1 crust, not 2.  The majority of fat and calories comes from the pie crust, so obviously recipes that call for a top crust are more fat- and calorie-laden.  Choose pies with no top crust, or substitute the top crust with a healthier alternative, such as a crumb topping.

Add fiber.  Substitute half of the flour in the pie crust with wheat flour.  You may have a chewier crust, but you’ll also have more fiber.  You may need to add more liquid to the recipe to compensate for the added bulk .  If you can find whole wheat pastry flour, use it.  Be aware that the wheat flour really browns when it cooks, so eyeballing when the crust is done gets really tricky, and even when the crust is perfect, it might be darker than you’re used to and look a little burnt.

Use less fat.  The flakiness of your crust is caused by layers of fat particles trapped between layers of flour particles.  As long as your fat is distributed well, you should be able to reduce the amount you use and replace it with a low-fat, low-calorie alternative, such as fat-free cream cheese.  You can also substitute any crust with an oil crust or a trans-free fat shortening.

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Use less sweetener.  In addition to substituting sugar for natural sweeteners suitable for baking, you can also just reduce the amount you use, especially in fruit pie fillings. Also, if the recipe calls for pudding mix, choose a sugar-free version.  Add an alternative “flavor enhancer” to bring out the sweetness and flavor already in the pie – orange or lemon zest heightens flavor; vanilla or nut extracts enhance “fattening” sweetness and flavors without adding fat,  or try adding cinnamon, allspice, cloves, or nutmeg.  In chocolate fillings, substituting strong black coffee for any liquids will bring out the chocolate flavors.

How To Thicken Fruit Pie:

When thickening a fruit pie filling, there are several options to consider. Very often flour or cornstarch is used, but in certain instances tapioca, arrowroot and potato starch can also help achieve the desired consistency.
Tapioca starch is preferable for products that will be frozen because it will not break down when thawed.  Tapioca is best in blueberry, cherry or peach pies.
Arrowroot, unlike cornstarch, is not broken down by the acid in the fruit you are using, so it is a good choice for fruit with a higher content of acidity such as strawberries or blackberries.
Potato starch is a great alternative because unlike other options, it does not break down, causing your pie to become watery again.
Although these options might result in a better end product, plain old flour also works just fine.

Here are some pie recipes matched with a healthy crust for you to try this summer.

Oil Pie Crust For A Crumb Topped Pie

This crust works very well for a blueberry crumb topped pie so make a double recipe of the oil pie crust.

This recipe makes enough for a single deep dish crust; to make a two-crust pie, double the recipe and remove 1 1/4 cups of the mixture; this will become your top crust. You can add cinnamon and sugar later.  After you fill the bottom crust, sprinkle the topping evenly over it. It will bake into a crispy, flavorful crumb crust as the pie bakes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) vegetable oil
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons (1 1/2 to 2 ounces) water or milk
Directions:

Whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. This can be done right in the pie pan, if you like. Whisk together the oil and water, then pour over the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened. Pat the dough across the bottom of the pie pan and up the sides. A flat-bottomed measuring cup can help you make the bottom even. Press the dough up the sides of the pan with your fingers, and flute the top. Fill and bake.

Blueberry Pie

 Pie Filling:

  • 2 pints blueberries (1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


  Topping:

  • Reserved 1 ¼ cup pie crust
  • 3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375° and line a baking sheet with foil.

In a bowl, stir the berries with the sugar, flour and lemon juice, lightly mashing a few berries and por into the prepared pie crust.

Add 3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to the 1 ¼ reserved pie crust.  Mix topping with fingertips to blend and form large crumbs. Sprinkle over the pie filling.

Place pie on prepared baking sheet and bake the pie in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the bottom crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. If necessary, cover the edge with foil for the last few minutes of baking. Let the pie cool for at least 4 hours before serving.

Quick And Easy Pie Crust

Makes enough dough for one, deep-dish, 10″ pie

Ingredients:

  • 1-½ cup unbleached all purpose flour, plus little extra for rolling the dough
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons Spectrum Shortening or other tans-free shortening, pinch off small pieces and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons ice cold water

Directions:

Fit your food processor with a metal blade.
Measure the flour and salt into the processor bowl. Process for 10 seconds to combine.
Scatter small bits of shortening into the processor bowl, evenly over the flour. Process for about 15 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides using a rubber spatula, until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.

Measure your cold water into a cup.  While the processor is running, slowly pour 4 tablespoons of the cold water into the feed tube.  Process for about 30 seconds, or until the dough has formed an elongated ball on one side of the processor bowl. You’ll hear a banging sound as the dough forms into this elongated ball. 

Turn off the processor and feel the dough. It should be smooth and it should hold together completely. If it feels dry and is crumbly, you’ll need to turn on the processor and add another tablespoon or two of cold water and process until it holds together and feel smooth and not dry.

Usually, you won’t need to add additional water, but sometimes the protein in the flour is a bit higher than usual and it will require a little more water, or if it is a particularly dry day you might need a bit more water. The more you make pie dough, the more you’ll know the feel that is perfect for a good pie dough.

Remove the dough from the processor, and pat it into a thick disk, about 5″ round. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to chill and to let the dough rest – this makes it easier to roll out. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and set it on the counter for a few minutes to make it easier to roll.

Sprinkle your counter top lightly with flour. Unwrap the dough, and place it in the center of the lightly floured counter top, then turn it over to coat with flour. Dust your rolling pin with flour, then use it to pat the dough into a round disk about 8″ in diameter. Roll the dough into a 14″ circle, rolling from the center out and using lighter pressure on the ends of the dough.

Drape the dough over the rolling pin to transport the dough over the top of a deep dish pie plate. Gently press the dough into the pie plate, using your fingertips, overlapping the dough over the edges of the pie plate, pressing lightly to patch any breaks in the dough. Fold the overlapping edge of pie dough up, evenly around the entire pie plate. Crimp it with your fingers or a fork.
Proceed with your favorite pie recipe.

If making a double crust, roll out the second crust as described above and fit over filling.  Crimp edges together to seal. You can also make a lattice top crust for the pie. See directions below.

This pie crust recipe works very well for a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Recipe

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Double the recipe for Quick and Easy Pie Crust

Filling:

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons tapioca
  • 4 cups sliced fresh or frozen (not thawed) strawberries , (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1 cup sliced fresh or frozen (not thawed) rhubarb
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt

Directions:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425°F.  Line a baking sheet with foil to catch any spills from the pie.
Follow directions above for rolling out the bottom crust.

For a Lattice Top Crust:
Roll the remaining dough between sheets of parchment or wax paper into a 12-inch circle. Peel off the top sheet. Cut the dough into 1-inch strips using a pastry wheel or a knife.

lattice-pie-crust-2.jpg

Lift off every other strip and lay them on top of the pie, leaving about a 1-inch gap between strips. Use the shorter strips for the edges and the longer ones for the middle of the pie.

lattice-pie-crust-3.jpg

Fold back the first, third and fifth strips of dough to the edge of the pie. Place a shorter strip of dough across the second and fourth strips, about 1 inch from the edge.

lattice-pie-crust-4.jpg

Unfold the folded strips over the crosswise strip. Fold back the second and fourth strips over the first crosswise strip.

lattice-pie-crust-5.jpg

Place another strip crosswise, about 1 inch from the first. Unfold the strips over the second crosswise strip.

lattice-pie-crust-6.jpg

Continue folding back, alternating strips and placing crosswise strip, until the top is covered with woven strips.

lattice-pie-crust-7.jpg

lattice-pie-crust-12.jpg

Trim any overhanging crust. Crimp the outer edge with a fork.

lattice-pie-crust-13.jpg

lattice-pie-crust-14.jpg

Brush the dough with egg white; sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar (if using) over just the lattice top, not the outer edge.

Place pie on foil lined baking sheet and bake the pie for 20 minutes. Then rotate the pie 180 degrees and lower the oven temperature to 325°.  Continue baking until the crust is golden and the filling is beginning to bubble, 30 to 35 minutes more. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before serving.

Whole Wheat Pie Crust

one 9-inch pie crust or 10-inch tart shell – double the ingredients for a two crust pie

Ingredients:
  • ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoon trans-free vegetable shortening
Directions:
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the white and whole wheat flours and the salt. Add the shortening and with a pastry blender cut the fat into the flour. You can also quickly use your fingers to break up the shortening and form a coarse dough. Sprinkle with ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix with a fork until moist dough forms. You’ll use 5 to 6 tablespoons water.
  2. For a filled crust: Roll the dough into an 1/8-inch-thick round on a floured piece of wax paper or a pastry cloth.  Roll the dough onto a rolling pin and then unroll it onto the pie pan.  Cut off the excess, leaving an inch to fold under. Crimp the edge with the tines of a fork.  Freeze for 10 minutes before baking.
  3. For a baked crust: Prepare the dough as for a filled crust. Prick the sides and bottom with a fork and bake in a 450ºF oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Peach-Raspberry Pie Recipe

Peach-Raspberry Pie

Ingredients:
Double Recipe Whole Wheat Pie Crust

Filling:

  • 6 cups sliced peeled peaches, (6-8 medium, ripe but firm
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 2/3 cup sugar, plus 1 teaspoon for sprinkling
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten, for brushing

Directions:

Divide the dough in half and shape into 5-inch-wide disks. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, prepare filling:

Combine filling ingredients in a large bowl; toss well to coat. Let stand for 5 minutes.

To assemble pie:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.  Line a baking sheet with foil.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator; let stand for 5 minutes to warm slightly. Roll one portion between sheets of parchment or wax paper into a 12-inch circle. Peel off the top sheet and invert the dough into a 9-inch pie pan.  Peel off the remaining paper. Fit the crust to the pie pan with your fingers. Pour the filling into the crust.

Roll the remaining portion of dough between sheets of parchment or wax paper into another 12-inch circle. Peel off the top sheet of paper and invert the dough onto the fruit. Trim the top crust so it overhangs evenly. Tuck the top crust under the bottom crust, sealing the two together and making a plump edge.  Flute the edge with your fingers.

Brush the top with egg white and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar. Cut 6 steam vents in the top crust.
Place pie on prepared baking sheet and bake the pie on the center rack until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 1 1/2 hours.



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no, not just bread: crafting edible creations as a way to feed the spirit, body, friends and family <3

healthy.yogi.mama

Fitness, recipes and babies in NYC

The Good, the Bad and the Italian

food/films/families and more

SOLE Food Kitchen

SUSTAINABLE. ORGANIC. LOCAL. ETHICAL. THAT'S HOW WE ROLL.

vinicooksveg

Amazing & fun.........Indian cooking!!

What's Cooking

Fine dining my way

Like to cook? Like to eat? Be a part of the conversation.

Chocolate Spoon & The Camera

A clumsy newbie in the kitchen. Una principiante ai fornelli.

An eye for food

Food is to be admired as well as desired. It should speak to you visually and make you want to taste it!

mycookinglifebypatty

Adventures in Healthy Living

Things My Belly Likes

Where eating to live and living to eat are not mutually exclusive

Our Growing Paynes

A journey about gardening, cooking, and knitting.

gotta get baked

musings of a baking fiend

thewhitedish

Let's talk recipes, great food and FITNESS!

on the road with Animalcouriers

pet transport through Europe and beyond

jittery cook

recipes worth sharing

soulofspice

delicious nourishing energizing spice

pattytmitchell

site for Patricia Mitchell, author

Something Sweet Something Savoury

Family friendly recipes from a chaotic kitchen

Simply Sophisticated Cooking

Effortless home cooking recipes, tips and methods for busy lives to encourage fine eating in instead of out.

FARMINISTA'S FEAST with Karen Pavone

Farm to Table Adventures in California's Beautiful North Bay

Blue Heron Writes

Sharing to Inspire through Words and Pictures www.wendiedonabie.com

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