Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: panna cotta

heartcoverDesserts aren’t off-limits if you’re aiming for a heart-healthy diet. You just have to choose carefully. The high fat content of some desserts, particularly if made with saturated fat—can cause higher cholesterol levels in the body. Over time, elevated cholesterol can lead to heart attacks, strokes, sluggish circulation and kidney problems. If you stick with healthier recipes, have dessert only a few times a week and keep it to reasonable portions—you can have dessert.

Some tips in making good tasting, healthy desserts:

Paying a little extra for high-quality products, like premium chocolate and pure vanilla extract, can pay off. More-flavorful ingredients make lower calorie desserts taste better.

Use two egg whites or a quarter cup of refrigerated egg substitute in place of one egg and you’ll trim about 60 calories and six grams of fat from your treats. In my experience, baked goods turn out really well when using egg substitutes.

Most chocolate chip cookies are much larger than what is considered a healthy portion. Use a tablespoon to measure out the dough. For brownies and sheet cakes, cut them into two-inch squares before serving. Pie slices should be about one and a half inches across at the widest part.

Replacing one cup of white flour with white whole wheat flour adds 10 grams of heart-healthy fiber to your baked goods. Because whole grains are coarser than refined ones, it is better to use no more than a fifty-fifty mix in your recipe.

You can also make graham cracker crusts that will hold together without melted butter. Pulse 10 honey graham cracker sheets (six ounces) into fine crumbs in a food processor. Add two tablespoons of low-fat milk and process for another 30 seconds, or until the crumbs stick when pressed together. Press the mixture into a nine-inch pie dish and bake at 350°F for 10 to 12 minutes.

Sugar substitutes have a different chemical consistency and are often sweeter than sugar, meaning you’ll need less. For best results, use sweetener-sugar hybrids developed specifically for baking, like Domino Light or Truvia Baking Blend and follow the directions on the package.

You can use less fat and sugar in a recipe by substituting a portion of the fat and sugar with fruit or vegetable purees. They make desserts denser, so try a 25 to 50 percent trade to find the right combination.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Applesauce

The mild flavor of unsweetened applesauce works particularly well in muffins and cakes. Use an equal amount to replace butter, oil or shortening in your recipe.

2. Canned pumpkin or sweet potato puree

Substitute either one for fat in a one-to-one ratio in spice breads, spice cakes or chocolate desserts. You can also add a can of pumpkin to a box of brownie mix in place of the eggs and oil.

3. Prunes or dates

These add richness and deepen the color of gingerbread and brownies. Blend a half cup with six tablespoons of water until smooth, then use the puree to replace an equal amount of fat.

4. Bananas

Try substituting half the amount of the oil called for with the same amount of mashed banana.

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Chocolate Ricotta Mousse

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 15 ounce container part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup fat-free half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Raspberries or shaved chocolate for garnishing

Directions

Place chopped chocolate in a 2-cup glass measure or small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on 70% power (medium-high) for 1 minute; stir. Microwave on 70% power for 1 to 2 minutes more, or until chocolate is melted, stirring every 15 seconds.

In a food processor bowl combine ricotta cheese, half-and-half and vanilla. Cover and process until combined. Add melted chocolate while food processor is running. Process until well combined.

Spoon into small bowls or glasses. Serve immediately or cover and chill for up to 24 hours. If desired, garnish with fresh berries or chocolate shavings. Makes 4 servings.

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Fresh Orange Sorbet

Ingredients

  • 10 medium oranges
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 medium)
  • Grated orange rind
  • Mint sprigs (optional)

Directions

Carefully remove the rind from 2 oranges using a vegetable peeler; discard the white pith. Cut rind into 1 x ¼-inch-thick strips. Set aside.

Cut peeled oranges in half and using a citrus press squeeze juice from the orange halves into a large measuring cup. Squeeze the juice from the remaining 8 oranges until juice measures 2 2/3 cups.

Combine 2 1/2 cups water and the sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Add reserved rind strips to the pan. Reduce heat; simmer for 5 minutes. Strain sugar mixture through a sieve over a bowl, reserving the liquid; discard solids. Cool completely.

Add orange juice and lemon juice to the sugar mixture; stir well. Pour mixture into the freezer bowl of an ice-cream maker; freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Spoon sorbet into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze for 1 hour or until firm. Garnish with grated rind and mint sprigs, if desired.

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Dark Chocolate Mint Bars

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup good quality dark or semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup finely crushed chocolate wafers (about 19 wafers)
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon trans-free, fat-free shortening
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons kale or parsley juice for a natural green color, optional

Directions

Line an 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Coat foil with cooking spray. Set aside.

For the crust:

In a food processor pulse oats until fine.

In a medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup of the chocolate pieces and the butter; heat and stir until melted.

Stir in the processed oats, finely crushed chocolate wafers, cocoa powder and salt. Press this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Chill for 15 minutes.

In the same saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate pieces and the shortening. Heat and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Set aside.

In a medium bowl beat together the powdered sugar, cream cheese, milk, peppermint extract, vanilla and kale juice, if using for a green color, until smooth.

Spread over the crust and drizzle with the melted chocolate mixture.

Chill about 1 hour or until set. Using the edges of the foil, lift the uncut bars out of the pan. Cut into 24 bars.

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Almond Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 cups reduced-fat milk (2%)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons Amaretto or almond extract
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

For the Panna Cotta:

In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over the cold water. Let stand for 3 minutes to soften. Cook and stir over medium heat until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in milk, 3 tablespoons sugar and the salt. Cook and stir just until the milk is heated through and the sugar is dissolved. Stir in Amaretto or almond extract. Pour into four 6-ounce custard cups. Cover and chill about 8 hours or until firm.

For the sauce:

In a small saucepan, combine blueberries, orange juice, 1 tablespoon sugar and the cornstarch. Cook and stir over medium heat until slightly thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Stir in vanilla. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

To serve:

Run a thin knife around the edge of each panna cotta and unmold onto individual plates. Top with sauce. Makes 4 (1 panna cotta with 2-tablespoons sauce) servings.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting: Paula Deen

Red Velvet Cupcakes

For a red color without the artificial dye, use either sliced or whole canned beets, whichever costs less. An 8 1/4-ounce can yields slightly more than 1 cup. Look to be sure there is no sugar added or that they are pickled beets. You will not taste the flavor of the beets in the cupcakes. It is best to make these cupcakes the day before you plan on serving them.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup canned beets, drained
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat buttermilk, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon. baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon. baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon. kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup light olive oil, chilled
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, cold

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2/3 cup confectioners sugar
  • 4 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners into a 12-cup regular size muffin pan.

Coarsely chop beets and place in the blender with 1/4 cup buttermilk. Process until beets are finely chopped. Add remaining buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla and process until pureed, making sure no lumps remain.

In a small bowl, combine flour, 6 tablespoons of cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

In medium bowl, combine cold oil and sugar. With hand mixer or electric mixer on medium speed, mix until the sugar is evenly moistened. Add cold egg and beat at high-speed until mixture resembles mayonnaise and sugar is almost completely dissolved, takes about 90 seconds.

Add  the pureed beet mixture and mix until combined. Sift dry ingredients into the bowl and mix, either on low-speed or by hand until combined with the wet ingredients.

Divide batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full.

Bake cupcakes for 28-30 minutes, or until tops feel springy. Immediately transfer cupcakes to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

Cupcakes taste the best when stored overnight at room temperature in a covered container.Make the frosting as directed below and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, frost cupcakes, using about 1 tablespoon of the frosting for each. The frosted cupcakes can sit at room temperature for up to 12 hours.

Cream Cheese Frosting

In small bowl, work sugar and cream cheese together with wooden spoon or hand mixer until combined. Mix in vanilla.

This frosting is best when refrigerated 8 hours or overnight, loosely covered, before using. It keeps in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Makes a generous 2/3 cup.

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Valentine’s Day Traditions

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, US store shelves are stacked with candy hearts, chocolates and stuffed animals, but not every country turns to greeting cards and heart-shaped candies to their declare love. Some exchange wooden spoons and pressed flowers, while others hold a special holiday for the loveless to mourn their single lives over black noodles.

Italian Love Locks

Italian Love Locks

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Valentine’s Day is synonymous with love and Italians traditionally are considered to be lovers. Known in Italy as “La Festa Degli Innamorati,” Valentine’s Day is celebrated only between lovers and sweethearts. Young sweethearts in Italy profess their love for each other with a more recent tradition, attaching padlocks or “lucchetti” to bridges and railings and throwing away the key. The tradition of locking padlocks to bridges, railings and lamp posts began in Italy a little more than four years ago after the release of the best-selling book “Ho voglio di te” (I want you) by the Italian author, Federico Moccia. This was followed by the popular movie with the same name, starring Riccardo Scamarcio and Laura Chiatti. In the story, young lovers tie a chain and a padlock around a lamppost on the north side of Rome’s Ponte Milvio and inscribe their names on it, lock it and throw the key into the Tiber River below. The action suggests that the couple will be together forever.

Although Valentine’s Day is a relatively new holiday in Denmark (celebrated since the early 1990s according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark), the country has embraced February 14th with a Danish twist. Rather than roses, friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops.

With a reputation as one of the most romantic destinations in the world, it’s little wonder France has long celebrated Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers. It’s been said that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. Today, Valentine’s Day cards remain a popular tradition in France.

Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday for young couples in South Korea and variations of the holiday are celebrated monthly from February through April. The gift-giving starts on February 14th, when it’s up to women to woo their men with chocolates, candies and flowers. The tables turn on March 14th, a holiday known as White Day, when men not only shower their sweethearts with chocolates and flowers, but also with a special gift.

With Carnival held sometime in February or March each year, Brazilians skip the February 14th celebration and instead celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or “Lovers’ Day,” on June 12th. In addition to exchanges of chocolates, flowers and cards, music festivals and performances are held throughout the country. Gift giving isn’t limited to couples, either. In Brazil, they celebrate this day of love by exchanging gifts and sharing dinner with friends and relatives, too.

Like many parts of the world, South Africa celebrates Valentine’s Day with festivals, flowers and other tokens of love. It’s also customary for women in South Africa to wear their hearts on their sleeves on February 14th. Women pin the names of their love interest on their shirtsleeves, an ancient Roman tradition known as Lupercalia. In some cases, this is how South African men learn of their secret admirers.

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Dinner For Two

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Risotto with Fresh Pear Sauce

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb (12 oz) Carnaroli rice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock, heated
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 oz Gorgonzola cheese

Pear Sauce

  • 1/2 clove of garlic
  • 1 sprig marjoram, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 small to medium pears

Directions

To Make The Sauce:

Peel the pears and cut them into small pieces. Finely chop the garlic. Wash the marjoram and pull off the leaves.

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and, once hot, add the pear. Saute for a minute. Season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic and marjoram. Cover with the broth and cook until the pears are soft.

Remove the pan from the heat. Let the pears cool, then puree the pan contents using a hand blender. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and keep the sauce warm until serving.

To Make The Risotto:

Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and, once hot, add the onion.

Cook slowly so that the onion doesn’t brown. Add the rice and toast it for a couple of minutes or until it becomes transparent. Add a pinch of salt.

Add a couple of ladlefuls of the hot broth to the rice. Once most of the liquid has evaporated, add more broth.

The rice should take about 16 to 18 minutes to cook, depending on its quality. When al dente, remove the pot from the heat and add half the Gorgonzola and butter, cut into pieces. Stir and cover. Let rest for two minutes.

Then add the remaining Gorgonzola and Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir until creamy. Pour the pear sauce into the bottom of individual serving bowls and spoon the risotto on top.

Garnish with a sprig of marjoram and a grating or fresh black pepper.

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White Sea Bass with Orange-Fennel Relish

U.S. white sea bass is a sustainable choice–not to be confused with Chilean sea bass. Other good fish choices are Gulf of Mexico caught snapper or halibut or mahimahi.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½  teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • Half of a (12-ounce) fennel bulb
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange sections
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onion
  • 1 ounce halved Castelvetrano (green) olives (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 (6-ounce) white sea bass fillets
  • 2 teaspoons butter

Directions

Combine the first 4 ingredients, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Remove fronds from the fennel bulb and chop them to measure 2 tablespoons. Remove and discard fennel stalks. Cut fennel bulb in half lengthwise and save one half for another use. Discard the core. Thinly slice the fennel bulb half. Add sliced fennel, orange sections, onion and olives to the orange juice mixture; toss gently to coat. Stir in fennel fronds.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish evenly with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add butter to the pan; swirl until butter melts. Add fish and cook 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with relish.

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Cheddar Biscuits

Make the entire dozen and freeze the extras.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup milk; (up to 2/3 cup)

Garlic Butter

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and garlic powder. Whisk together to combine thoroughly. Add chunks of butter. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut butter into flour until it is coarse and pea-sized (doesn’t need to be fine).

Add oil, grated cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup milk. Stir together. Keep adding milk a bit at a time, just until the dough is moistened and no longer dry and powdery. (Shouldn’t be sticky, just moist enough to hold together).

Drop approximately 1/4 cup portions of the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet using an ice cream scoop or large spoon. Bake for 15-17 minutes until lightly golden.

While biscuits are baking, melt 3 tablespoons butter is a small bowl in your microwave. Stir in the 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and the parsley.

When biscuits come out of the oven, use a brush to spread this garlic butter over the tops of all the biscuits. Use up all of the garlic butter. Serve warm.

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Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Ingredients

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 pint Strawberries; hulled, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (orange liqueur)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

Directions

In the top of a double boiler (not directly over heat), sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup buttermilk; let stand to soften, about 5 minutes. Place water in the bottom of the double boiler and bring to a simmer.

In a separate small pan bring cream and 3 tablespoons sugar to a boil.

Add to the gelatin mixture in the top part of the double boiler and place the pan over the simmering water; whisk until gelatin dissolves, 5 minutes. Stir in remaining buttermilk thoroughly with a whisk.

Divide mixture into two dessert bowls. Cover; refrigerate until set, 4 hours.

Meanwhile, mix strawberries with Grand Marnier and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Let stand for about 1 hour. Top panna cotta with strawberries and juice collected in the bowl..

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spring fruit

Now that spring has finally arrived, the focus on food shifts to lighter recipes, with fresh flavors and colors. We crave lighter main dishes and fresh salads. So there are also dessert recipes that are appropriate for spring.

Whether you’re searching for a dessert for Mother’s Day or a shower or birthday, seasonal fruits can often provide spring dessert inspiration, as these ingredients are likely to be of the highest quality because conditions are optimal for their growth. Berries, stone and tropical fruit, as well as some citrus, such as limes or Meyer lemons, can be found in the produce section or farmer’s markets. Choose one or two main ingredients to feature for a dessert that highlights the fruit’s natural flavors. For instance, a berry medley does well with little more than a dash of rum, sugar and chopped mint garnished with a little whipped cream.

Simple ingredient additions or substitutions can make spring desserts stand out. Lime gives sweet dishes more complexity, adding a tart note. Substituting refined sugar with honey or maple syrup also changes a dish’s texture and sweetness. If you have a recipe in mind but want to give it a spring touch, replacing the main ingredient with a seasonal fruit can be effective.

Presentation can substantially affect the appearance of spring desserts. Garnishing with fresh, seasonal flowers or displaying desserts on mismatched antique dishes add color, fragrance and character to your dessert presentation. Simple and sleek dishes can give a gourmet touch and pieces with elaborate designs or patterns can bring to mind homemade and comfort food. Spring colors and motifs also add seasonal flare to the presentation.

Here are some recipes for healthier springtime desserts.

Berry Ginger Shortcakes

shortcakes

Makes: 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh berries (sliced strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and/or blackberries)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup refrigerated egg product or 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 1/4 cup light dairy sour cream

Directions

In a small bowl combine the berries and the crystallized ginger. Set aside.
Heat oven 425 degrees F.

For the shortcakes:

In a medium bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine buttermilk and egg. Add to the flour mixture all at once, stirring just until mixture is moistened.

Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray; set aside. On a lightly floured surface pat the dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut the dough with a floured 2-1/2-inch star-shaped or heart-shaped cookie cutter or a round biscuit cutter, rerolling scraps as necessary.

Place shortcakes on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Cool the shortcakes slightly on a wire rack.

To serve:

In a small bowl combine the whipped cream and sour cream. Split the shortcakes in half. Place the bottoms on dessert plates. Divide the berry mixture among the bottoms. Top each with some of the topping mixture. Replace the shortcake tops.

Almond Panna Cotta with Blueberry Sauce

panna cotta

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 cups reduced-fat milk 
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons Amaretto liqueur or several drops almond extract
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

For the panna cotta:

In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over the cold water. Let stand for 3 minutes to soften. Cook and stir over medium heat until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in milk, 3 tablespoons sugar and the salt. Cook and stir just until milk is heated through and sugar is dissolved. Stir in Amaretto or almond extract. Pour into four 6-ounce custard cups. Cover and chill about 8 hours or until firm.

For sauce:

In another small saucepan, combine blueberries, orange juice, 1 tablespoon sugar and the cornstarch. Cook and stir over medium heat until slightly thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Stir in vanilla. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
To serve:

Run a thin knife around the edge of each panna cotta; unmold onto individual plates; top with sauce.

Raspberry-Mint Swirl Cheesecake

Raspberry cheesecake

Ingredients

  • 5 cups plain low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 3 3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk
  • 2 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 cup fresh red raspberries
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 8 ounce package reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Fresh raspberries and fresh mint leaves for garnish

Raspberry Sauce

  • 2 cups fresh raspberries
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Directions
.
In a small saucepan, sprinkle 2 1/2 teaspoons of the gelatin over the milk; let stand for 5 minutes. Bruise mint sprigs by pressing with the back of a spoon; add to the saucepan. Heat and stir milk mixture over low heat just until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat. Cool for 15 minutes. Remove and discard mint sprigs; set aside.

For the raspberry layer:

Place the 1 cup raspberries in a food processor or blender. Cover and process or blend until smooth. Transfer raspberry puree to another small saucepan. Stir in the 3 tablespoons sugar. Sprinkle remaining 1-1/4 teaspoons gelatin over raspberry mixture; let stand for 5 minutes. Heat and stir raspberry mixture over low heat just until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat; cover and chill for 15 minutes.

For the cheese layer:

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Beat in Greek yogurt, the 1/3 cup sugar and the vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in the milk/gelatin mixture.

Add 1/2 cup of the cream cheese mixture to the raspberry mixture; stir until well mixed. Set aside.

Spoon half of the white cream cheese mixture into an 8-inch springform pan. Spoon half of the raspberry mixture into mounds over the white cream cheese mixture in the pan. Using a narrow, thin-bladed metal spatula or a table knife, swirl raspberry mixture into white mixture. Repeat layering remaining white cream cheese mixture and raspberry mixture. Cover and chill for 24 hours.

For the raspberry sauce:

Place 2 cups fresh raspberries in a blender or food processor. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Press mixture through a fine mesh sieve; discard seeds. Add honey and mix well. Heat the sauce in the microwave, if you would like to serve it warm.

To serve:

Using a small sharp knife, loosen cheesecake from the side of the springform pan; remove pan side. Cut cheesecake into wedges.
Drizzle some of the Raspberry Sauce on dessert plates. Place cheesecake wedges atop sauce on plates. Garnish with fresh raspberries and fresh mint leaves.

Lemon-Thyme Cookies

lemon cookies

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • Coarse sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the butter in a medium mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high-speed for 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar and beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in thyme, lemon peel, lemon juice and cardamom. Add in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon. Knead until smooth; form mixture into a ball.

Divide dough into three equal portions. Roll each portion into a 6×4 inch rectangle (about 1/4 inch thick) on a lightly floured surface.

Cut dough into 1 1/2-inch squares with a scalloped-edge pastry wheel and sprinkle cutouts with coarse sugar. You can make the cookies into any size you would prefer.

Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are just lightly brown. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

Place cookies in layers separated by pieces of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover.

Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Makes 36 cookies.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

crumble

Ingredients

For The Fruit:

  • 8 ounces strawberries, hulled and halved (quartered if large)
  • 8 ounces rhubarb, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

For The Topping:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter or healthy butter alternative (1/2 stick), melted
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse salt

For The Garnish:

Fresh basil leaves and frozen vanilla yogurt

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Transfer to a greased 8-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, melted butter, brown sugar and salt. Stir until combined and slightly crumbly. Sprinkle over fruit.

Bake until juices are bubbling in the center and topping is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly. Garnish with basil and serve with a scoop of frozen yogurt.

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The vanilla bean is actually the fruit of an orchid. The vanilla orchid is the only one among over 20,000 varieties of orchids that produces something edible. The plant is a climbing vine that must have some type of support and partial shade. The vanilla orchid produces waxy greenish-yellow flowers that grow in clusters.

In the 14th century, the Spanish conquistadors under Cortez, watched Montezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs, pulverize vanilla beans, combine them with chocolate and serve it as a drink to his guests. By the middle of the 15th century, the Spanish were importing it to Europe to use as a flavor in the manufacturing of chocolate. When chocolate was first introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century, it was cinnamon that was usually used as a flavoring ingredient. It was not until the eighteenth century that vanilla took over that role, however, vanilla really came into its own as an ingredient in ice cream.

As European explorers traveled the forests of Central and South America, vanilla became more common in Europe. Europeans followed the example of the tribes in the New World and used vanilla as a nerve stimulant and as an aphrodisiac. The Spanish were responsible not only for importing the vanilla pod to Europe, but also for supplying Europe’s languages with a name for it. In Spanish it is vainilla, a diminutive of vaina, sheath, a reference to its long narrow pods.

By the early 1800’s vanilla plants were growing in botanical collections in Germany and France. Horticulturists were experimenting with conditions for its growth. From Europe, it was transported to Reunion, Mauritius and the Malagasy Republic. It there that workers discovered that hand pollination of the flowers was necessary to produce vanilla beans.

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor, which author Frederic Rosengarten, Jr. described in The Book of Spices, as “pure, spicy and delicate” and its complex floral aroma depicted as a “peculiar bouquet”.  As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking and in the manufacture of perfumes.

Interestingly, fresh vanilla beans have no taste or aroma. They must undergo an extensive curing process that results in the release of vanilla with its distinct aroma and flavor. In Mexico the traditional curing process involved spreading the beans on dark blankets in the sun wilting.  More commonly today, oven wilting is used for the initial dehydration. Then the vanilla is placed in special boxes wrapped in blankets or mats, to sweat. Next, the vanilla is alternately sunned and sweated for several days until the beans turn a deep chocolate-brown. Afterward, they are placed in sweating boxes or in beds covered with waxed paper to dry slowly at a moderate temperature for 45 days. Then they are kept for about three months in closed containers to develop their full aroma.

Vanilla Extract is the most popular and the easiest way that vanilla can be used. Here are a few tips for when to use the extract:

  • When baking and cooking, where the vanilla will be exposed to heat for long periods of time. Heat weakens vanilla bean’s fruit like flavor, so there isn’t much point in using the more expensive bean pod.
  • Extract can be used to flavor sweet and savory egg batters, for example, waffle and pancake batters.
  • When you need vanilla’s flavor quickly and don’t have time to steep a bean in the recipe’s liquid.
  • A small amount of extract can be used to cut the acidity in some sauces.
  • Do not add vanilla extract to hot liquids as the alcohol evaporates, along with some of the vanilla flavor.

Vanilla beans not only impart flavor to dishes, but add a special visual element. Here are a few tips for when to use the vanilla bean:

  • In lightly cooked sauces and syrups. By using the vanilla bean, you get all of the flavor elements of the vanilla bean in your cooking.
  • When the presentation calls for the actual bean. Adding vanilla beans to Crème Brulee is worth the extra expense.
  • If you object to the alcohol used in the extract but still want vanilla’s rich complexity.
  • To flavor coffee and other hot drinks. Drop a small piece of the dried bean in with the coffee beans before you grind them.

How To Use  Vanilla Beans

The first thing you need to do is split the bean lengthwise, using a paring knife. Then scrape the seeds free from both sides of the bean pod with the edge of the knife and add to whatever it is you are cooking. If you are cooking a sauce, add the pod to the mixture as well. After the mixture has steeped, remove the pod, but DON’T THROW IT AWAY!  Rinse the pod and allow it to dry at room temperature. Bury the used, dry vanilla pods in your sugar for a wonderful vanilla flavored sugar.

Vanilla can also be produced synthetically from wood-pulp by-products. Reading the labels of products supposedly made from vanilla may surprise you. In the United States, for example, while ice cream labeled “vanilla” is made from pure vanilla extract and/or vanilla beans, ice cream labeled “vanilla flavored” may contain up to 42 percent artificial flavorings and ice cream labeled “artificially flavored” contains imitation flavorings only. But as good cooks will attest, there is no substitute for the flavor of pure vanilla.

Cooking With Vanilla

Vanilla Gelato

You can also use all whole milk, no cream in this recipe

(Makes 1 quart)

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk and sugar. Cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk, add the bean pod and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain into a clean bowl removing the vanilla bean pod. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.

Without an ice cream maker: Spoon chilled mixture into a shallow metal pan; freeze until almost firm, about 3 hours. Break into chunks; purée in a food processor. Pack into an airtight container and freeze until firm, about 1 hour.

Vanilla Zabaglione with Raspberries

Serves 10

Steeping the vanilla seeds in the Marsala adds flavor to this classic Italian dessert.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Marsala
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1 dozen large egg yolks
  • 5 cups raspberries

Directions

In a small saucepan, whisk the Marsala with the sugar and vanilla bean seeds and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool.

Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a simmer; turn the heat to moderately low.

Fill a large bowl with ice water.

In a large stainless steel bowl, whisk or beat the egg yolks at low speed to break them up. Gradually add the Marsala mixture and beat until smooth.

Set the bowl over the simmering water in the saucepan. Beat the egg yolk mixture until it is hot and foamy and leaves a ribbon trail when the beaters are lifted, about 10 minutes.

Don’t cook the zabaglione for too long, or it will curdle. Transfer the bowl to the ice water bath and let stand, whisking the zabaglione occasionally, until cooled.

Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour or until thoroughly chilled.

Spoon the chilled zabaglione into small serving dishes and garnish with the raspberries.

Vanilla Almond Biscotti

Ingredients

  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups blanched slivered almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Position rack in center of oven.

With a small knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and place in a small bowl. Add the sugar and use your fingers to mix the vanilla evenly into the sugar. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter until light. Add the vanilla sugar and mix until fluffy. Add the eggs and the vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and almonds and stir into the butter mixture.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, shape each piece of dough into a log that is about 1 1/4 inches in diameter.

Place the logs on the baking sheet, spacing them as far apart as possible. Bake in the center of the oven until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Place the logs on a cutting board and let them cool slightly. With a serrated knife, cut the logs on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick pieces. Place on the baking sheet, cut side down.

Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes, turning them once. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.

YIELD About two dozen

Light Mascarpone Panna Cotta

This lighter version of a classic dessert delicacy is the perfect ending to a rich meal.

Ingredients

  • 6 panna cotta molds
  • 3 teaspoons gelatin
  • 3 tablespoons nonfat milk
  • 2/3 cup nonfat milk
  • 2 1/2 cups fat-free half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup lowfat sour cream

Directions

Sprinkle the gelatin over the 3 tablespoons milk and let sit for 15 minutes to soften.

In a saucepan, stir the milk, half and half, sugar, and vanilla bean over medium heat until it just starts to boil. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mascarpone and the sour cream until smooth.

Stir the gelatin mixture into the heated milk mixture and stir well for at least 2 minutes or until bits of gelatin are no longer visible.

Pour the mixture through a strainer into the mascarpone mixture to remove any bits of hard gelatin.

Spray  six 1/2 cup custard molds with cooking spray and pour the panna cotta into each mold. Chill overnight. Serve inverted onto a plate with a fruit or chocolate garnish.

Vanilla Ricotta Cheesecake

Ingredients

  • 6 large fresh figs, stems removed and cut into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup liquid egg substitute
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon tapioca starch
  • 4 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 6 tablespoons light agave nectar
  • 2 packets stevia, such as, Stevia In The Raw, or ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk the egg substitute with the tapioca starch in a large bowl until fully incorporated. Add the ricotta, yogurt, agave nectar, stevia, vanilla and lemon zest.

Whisk together until the ingredients are fully combined.

Coat a 9-inch springform cake pan with cooking spray and place the pan in a deep baking dish — one that’s a little larger than the cake pan.

Pour hot water in the baking dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan.

Pour batter into the pan.

Place in the oven and bake until the cheesecake is cooked through and set, about 60 minutes. Remove the cake pan from the water bath and cool completely on a wire rack.

Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled. Combine the figs and Marsala in a small bowl and set aside at room temperature until the cake is ready.

To serve: remove the cheesecake from the pan. Place slices of cake on serving plates and spoon the figs alongside, topping them with any Marsala remaining in the bowl.


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.


My husband has a sweet tooth and when we married, I learned a meal wasn’t complete for him without some type of dessert.  Thankfully, he was content with a couple of cookies or an occasional fruit pie to satisfy that sweet tooth. When my children came along, they too enjoyed those cookies – made having to eat peas or spinach something they could get through. They seemed to have survived those cookie years and became healthy adults – who still look for mom’s cookies around the holidays or on visits with us. As my husband and I aged, though, we realized healthy choices were better for us.

No need to skip dessert when you are planning healthy meals.  Fresh fruit can round out a meal and make you feel satisfied.  Sweetened strawberries drizzled with balsamic vinegar or pears baked in a red wine sauce or grilled peaches served with a scoop of frozen yogurt can make you feel you are not missing out on anything.

There are occasions when you want to make a special dessert. My mother made an Italian dessert for birthdays and other celebrations that consisted of a sponge cake with a ricotta filling. This dessert was asked for and enjoyed often in our household.  Of course, an occasional over indulgence cannot be harmful.

When I entertain friends at a dinner party, I like to prepare a special dessert to end the meal, but I don’t want to go overboard on calories either.  I have developed several light recipes for these occasions and, so far, everyone seems to enjoy them and does not realize that they are lower calorie versions of some of the traditional Italian desserts popular in many Italian restaurants. Italians often eat fruit and cheese for dessert,  but some of those classic desserts are cannoli, a pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and tiramisu, a coffee flavored mousse type dessert.

Lightened Panna Cotta

Light Marscapone Panna Cotta


6 servings
  • 3 teaspoons gelatin
  • ⅔ cup plus 3 tablespoons nonfat milk
  • 2 ½ cups fat free half and half
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 whole vanilla beans, split open
  • ½ cup marscapone cheese
  • ½ cup lowfat sour cream
  1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the 3 tablespoons milk and let sit for 15 minutes to soften.
  2. In a saucepan, stir the ⅔ cup nonfat milk, half and half, sugar, and vanilla beans over medium heat until the mixture just starts to boil. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the marscapone and the sour cream until smooth.
  4. Stir the gelatin into the heated milk mixture and stir well for at least 2 minutes or until bits of gelatin are no longer visible.
  5. Pour the mixture through a strainer (to remove any bits of hard gelatin)  into the marscapone mixture .  Whisk thoroughly.
  6. Pour the panna cotta into 6 half-cup molds. Stemmed wine glasses could be used instead. Chill, covered, overnight. Serve with raspberries and garnish with mint leaves or chocolate curls.

Cannoli

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

    Cannoli

  • 2/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, drained overnight
  • 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons blanched slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoon mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 4 cannoli shells, purchased
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

In a large bowl, stir ricotta cheese with 1/3 cup confectioners sugar until combined. Add almonds, chocolate chips and almond liqueur.

Carefully spoon into cannoli shells (or pipe from a pastry bag), filling from the center out.

Sprinkle individual cannoli with powdered sugar and cocoa.

Lazy Tiramisu

I call this recipe lazy because it is a quick preparation in comparison to traditional Tiramisu. Many authentic recipes use uncooked eggs in preparing the filling and some recipes call for making a pastry cream.  I really do not want to eat raw eggs and I cannot taste a difference between a cooked pastry cream and the quick fix filling listed in my recipe.  Why do all that work if there isn’t a big difference in taste?  The coffee flavoring in this dessert is the taste that dominates and not the cream filling.  Anytime I can lower the calorie content of a recipe and still have it taste delicious, is worthwhile to me.

Coffee Syrup

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso granules
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Mascarpone Filling

  • 1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (3.5-ounce) carton mascarpone cheese
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Additional Ingredients

  • 24 ladyfingers (2- 3-ounce packages)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated

Directions

To prepare espresso drizzle, combine first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in 2 tablespoons liqueur. Cool completely.

To prepare filling, combine cheeses in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons liqueur; beat at medium speed until well blended.

Split ladyfingers in half lengthwise. Arrange 24 ladyfinger halves, cut sides up, in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Drizzle half of espresso liquid over ladyfinger halves. Spread half the filling over ladyfinger halves, and repeat procedure with remaining ladyfinger halves, espresso liquid, and filling. Combine 1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa and chocolate; sprinkle evenly over top of filling. Cover and chill for 2 hours.

Note: Place toothpicks in the center and in each corner of the dish to prevent the plastic wrap from sticking to the tiramisu as it chills.

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina (Florentine Sponge Cake)

Fat Tuesday is the end of Carnevale and a huge celebration in many parts of the world, particularly in Italy. Two very big festivals take place in Italy, one in Venice and the other in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast. In Florence, children dress up in costumes and throw confetti into the air. At home, they are usually treated to a delicious piece of Tuscan sponge cake, otherwise known as Schiacciata alla Fiorentina. This light and airy dessert is eaten throughout the year but is a favorite around Carnevale. Lighter than American sponge cake, it can be eaten in a variety of ways.

12 Servings

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

  • Zest and juice of 1 orange

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • Powdered sugar, for topping

    Directions

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray..

    Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and orange zest in a mixing bowl.

    In another bowl mix orange juice, eggs, milk, and oil and pour into bowl with flour.

    Beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly mixed together, about 3 to 4 minutes.

    Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes. Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

    Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter, then turn the cake out of the baking pan. Slice and serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

    You can make this more elaborate with fresh strawberries and a few tablespoons of sweetened ricotta cheese with each serving.



Manish writes

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