Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Pudding

A change in diet can be tough for kids. Gradual changes can be effective, though, such as switching from regular to whole-grain pasta in stages. First add 1/4 cup of the healthier noodle and each time gradually add more, until eventually they’re eating the entire dish whole-grain style. The key is making the changes over time and not making a big deal about them.

When your children see you eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables, they’ll follow your lead. Help your child develop healthy eating habits by setting an example. You’ll send a message that good health is important.

Find new ways to introduce healthy food. For example, try a small amount of broccoli mixed in with whole-grain macaroni and cheese. Sometimes cooking veggies in forms that kids are comfortable with can encourage them to try different vegetablesYou can add peas to pasta or even make a half cauliflower/half potato mash.

When your kids ask for candy and a soda, help them make better choices by stocking up on healthy snacks. 

Present new foods or healthy choices, but don’t force children to eat it. Ask what new foods they’re interested in trying and offer to make them. Get excited about their willingness to try them! Put a small portion of a new food on their plate and ask them to taste it. 

When everyone sits down together for meals, there’s less chance of children eating the wrong foods or snacking too much. Everyone develops good eating habits and the quality family time is an added bonus.

Food shouldn’t be a source of stress for your family. Get your kids to eat healthier by being creative and consistent. Small steps and gradual changes can make a big difference.

Involve your children in choosing and preparing meals. Take them to the grocery store to help shop. Children who are involved in cooking are more interested in eating what they’ve prepared.

Have them help put together a shopping list and give them fun, educational tasks. For example, you can tell them to count out six apples into a produce bag at the store.

They can rinse and chop vegetables, tear lettuce or stir the pot. My grandsons love putting the cheese on pizza dough.

Thinking about a weekly schedule may seem overwhelming, so start with two or three days at a time. Good dinners should be balanced with whole-grain bread, rice or pasta, a fruit or vegetable and a lean protein or meat.

Make a game of reading food labels. Read books about food and explain where it comes from. The whole family will learn what’s good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat.

Not So Healthy Food Choices

Hot Dogs

Since they’re filled with sodium, they zap water from kids’ bodies—and up children’s chances of dehydrating. Plus, they are loaded with saturated fat, which is a factor in causing heart disease, even for little people. Another reason to cut back on hot dogs: One study found that children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month are significantly more likely to develop childhood leukemia.

Smart swap: Chicken apple sausages. They’re made with lean meat that’s lower in fat, calories and salt. The sausages also contain bits of real apple, which add a touch of sweetness that most kids love. There are now several healthy hot dog choices in the markets – just check the label for lower sodium and lower saturated fats. You will also want to avoid nitrates, such as the hot dogs made by Applegate. 

Pepperoni Pizza

One slice of pepperoni pizza packs nearly 300 calories and your little one may want seconds. This type of pizza includes lots of saturated fat and sodium, about 700 mg per piece. Kids need only 1,000 to 1,300 mg total per day.

Smart swap: Homemade veggie pizza on whole-grain crust. Besides being healthier, your child can pitch in with this cooking project, which wards off boredom. Just buy a premixed ball of whole-grain dough, low-sodium tomato or pizza sauce and vegetables your little one loves. You can also add skinless chicken breast, ham or lean hamburger for protein, which keeps kids fuller, longer and means less roaming around in the kitchen for a snack.

Ice Pops

Like soda, they come with empty calories that can cause weight gain. As refreshing as they might seem, they’re actually filled with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring and dyes.

Smart swap: Frozen fruit. Freeze cubes of watermelon. Watermelon has a high water content, so the result is a sweet treat that keeps kids hydrated. You can also freeze grapes (just don’t give them to children under four years old, as they can be a choking hazard), blueberries and orange slices are other tasty, nutritious options. Unsweetened fruit juice also makes great frozen pops.

Potato Chips

Not only can all of that sodium in chips cause dehydration, but it can also prompt kids to quench their thirst with sugary drinks. Plus, chips are high in fat.

Smart swap: Grilled corn. An ear of sweet corn on the cob is a good source of fiber. Fiber is important for kids year-round, but summer schedules mean kids get less of it and it’s necessary for optimum gastrointestinal health. How much fiber does your small fry need? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests: Children 1-3 years: 19 grams of fiber per day; Children 4-8 years: 25 grams of fiber per day; Boys 9-13 years: 31 grams of fiber per day; Girls 9-13 years: 26 grams of fiber per day. For a calcium boost on top of the fiber fix, roll an ear of grilled corn in a bit of shredded Cheddar or Parmesan cheese.

Sweet Drinks

What children drink can have a major effect on how many calories they consume and how much calcium they get to build strong bones. One research study found that every additional serving of a sugary drink a day increases a child’s risk for obesity by as much as 60%.

Smart swap: Water can’t be beat. Kids may be upping their liquid intake when they drink sugar-filled beverages, but they’re also consuming hundreds of extra empty calories. If your child finds H20 ho-hum, freeze berries into large ice cubes and float them in cups of water or add a splash of unsweetened fruit juice to their glass of ice water

Healthy Easy Kid Friendly Recipes

Snacks

Baked Mozzarella Bites

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 3 mozzarella bites and 1 tablespoon sauce)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

  • 3 (1-ounce) sticks part-skim mozzarella string cheese

  • 3 tablespoons egg substitute

  • Cooking spray

  • 1/4 cup marinara sauce (homemade or store bought- check label for sodium and sugar content and choose lower levels.)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1/3 cup panko to the pan, and cook for 2 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and place the panko in a shallow dish.

Cut mozzarella sticks into 1-inch pieces. Working with one piece at a time, dip cheese in egg substitute; dredge in panko. Place cheese on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 3-4 minutes or until the cheese is softened and thoroughly heated.

Pour the marinara sauce into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until thoroughly heated, stirring after 30 seconds. Serve with mozzarella pieces.

Chocolate-Granola Apple Wedges

Serves 4 (serving size: 4 apple wedges)

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

  • 1/3 cup low-fat granola without raisins

  • 1 large apple, cut into 16 wedges

Directions:

Place chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute, stirring every 15 seconds, or until chocolate melts.

Place granola in a shallow dish. Dip apple wedges, skin side up, in chocolate; allow excess chocolate to drip back into bowl.

Dredge wedges in granola. Place wedges, chocolate side up, on a large plate. Refrigerate 5 minutes or until set.

 

Main Entrees

Chicken and Waffle Sandwiches

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon low-fat buttermilk

  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon honey

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 8 frozen whole-grain round waffles, toasted

  • 6 ounces thinly sliced, lower-sodium deli chicken breast or home cooked and sliced thin

  • 4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella or mild cheddar cheese

  • 8 (1/4-inch-thick) slices ripe tomato

  • 4 Boston lettuce leaves

Directions:

Combine mayonnaise and the next 5 ingredients (through black pepper) in a small bowl.

Spread mayonnaise mixture evenly over 4 waffles. Divide chicken, cheese, tomato and lettuce evenly on the four coated waffles.

Top with remaining toasted waffles.

Individual Pizzas

Let your children assemble these pizzas.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough or homemade pizza dough

  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce

  • 4 individual mozzarella string cheeses

  • 8 black olive slices

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Divide pizza dough into four pieces. Stretch and roll out each piece into a 5-inch round.

Spoon 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce on each pizza round.

Peel string cheese into long, thin pieces and place on top of the the sauce,

Top each pizza with two black olive slices for the pizza eyes.

Or, let the children be creative and decorate the pizza as they wish.

Bake the pizzas for 12-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Cheesy Stuffed Shells

Ingredients:

Meat Sauce

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (grass-fed ground beef is a healthier choice) or ground turkey

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon Italian seaoning

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Filling

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

  • 2 cloves minced garlic

  • 1 10 oz pkg. frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

  • 1 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese

  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, divided

  • 1 box large pasta shells

Directions:

Prepare Meat Sauce:

Brown beef in a large saucepan. Drain on paper towels to remove fat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the same pan and saute onion and garlic.

Add tomato paste and Italian seasoning; cook for one minute. Return beef to the pan and add crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper. Simmer 30-40 minutes until thickened.

Prepare Filling:

Saute 1/2 cup onions and 2 minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add spinach and cook two minutes. Put mixture into a mixing bowl and set aside to cool.

Combine cooled spinach mixture with mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese.

Boil the pasta shells in salted water until al dente, drain and set aside on clean kitchen towels.

Spoon filling into shells and place in a greased 9×13 inch baking pan.

Top with meat sauce and remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes or until heated through and the sauce is bubbling.

 

Desserts

Frozen Pudding Pops

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 4 serving-size pkg. sugar-free instant chocolate or chocolate fudge pudding mix

  • 2 cups fat-free milk

  • 1 – 4 serving-size pkg. sugar-free instant banana cream, butterscotch, pistachio, vanilla or white chocolate pudding mix

  • 2 cups fat-free milk

  • 16 Small plastic cups (3 oz. bathroom size)

  • 16 Wooden popsicle sticks

Directions:

Place sixteen 3-ounce disposable plastic drink cups in a 13×9 2-inch baking pan; set aside.

Put the chocolate pudding mix into a medium mixing bowl. Add 2 cups milk. Use a wire whisk or hand beater to beat the pudding for 2 minutes or until well mixed.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons pudding into each cup. Cover cups with a piece of foil. Freeze for 1 hour.

Place desired second flavor pudding mix in another medium bowl. Add 2 cups milk. Use a wire whisk or hand beater to beat the pudding for 2 minutes or until well mixed.

Remove pudding-filled cups from the freezer; uncover. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the second flavor of pudding over the frozen pudding in cups.

Recover each cup with the  foil. Make a small hole in the center of foil with the sharp knife. Push a wooden stick through the hole and into the top layer of pudding in the cup.

Put the baking pan in the freezer. Freeze for 4 to 6 hours or until pudding pops are firm. Remove from freezer. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Remove pudding pops from the cups to serve. Makes 16 pops.

Mini S’Mores

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 whole graham cracker squares

  • 16 tiny marshmallows

  • 1 ½ ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted*

  • 1 tablespoon white sprinkles

Directions:

Preheat the broiler. Using a serrated knife, cut each graham cracker into quarters (you will have 16 portions).

Place half of the crackers on a baking sheet and top each with a 2 tiny marshmallows. Broil 3 inches from the heat for just a few seconds until the marshmallows start to brown.

Remove and quickly top with remaining graham crackers. Dip one end into the melted chocolate, place on waxed paper and decorate the chocolate side with sprinkles.

Let stand until chocolate sets. Mini s’mores can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 24 hours.

*To melt chocolate, place chopped chocolate in a small saucepan. Cook and stir over low heat until melted.

 


Etymologists trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.” Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older.

In the book, The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe make a case that the earliest linguistic evidence of chocolate consumption stretches back three or even four millennia, to pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica. Anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania recently announced the discovery of cacao residue on pottery excavated in Honduras that could date back as far as 1400 B.C.E. It appears that the sweet pulp of the cacao fruit, which surrounds the beans, was fermented into an alcoholic beverage of the time.

It’s hard to pin down exactly when chocolate was born, but it’s clear that it was cherished from the start. For several centuries in pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were considered valuable enough to use as currency. One bean could be traded for a tamale, while 100 beans could purchase a good turkey hen, according to a 16th-century Aztec document. Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical or even divine properties, suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death. According to Chloe Doutre-Roussel’s book, The Chocolate Connoisseur, Aztec sacrifice victims who felt too melancholy to join in ritual dancing before their death were often given a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up.

Sweetened chocolate didn’t appear until Europeans discovered the Americas. Legend has it that the Aztec king, Montezuma, welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate.  Chocolate didn’t suit the foreigners’ tastebuds at first –one described it in his writings as “a bitter drink for pigs” – but once mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular throughout Spain.

By the 17th century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe, believed to have nutritious, medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties. But it remained largely a privilege of the rich until the invention of the steam engine made mass production possible in the late 1700’s.

In 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to make powdered chocolate by removing about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, pulverizing what remained and treating the mixture with alkaline salts to cut the bitter taste. His product became known as “Dutch cocoa” and it soon led to the creation of solid chocolate.

The creation of the first modern chocolate bar is credited to Joseph Fry, who in 1847 discovered that he could make a moldable chocolate paste by adding melted cacao butter back into Dutch cocoa. By 1868, a little company called Cadbury was marketing boxes of chocolate candies in England. Milk chocolate hit the market a few years later, pioneered by another name that will sound familiar– Nestle.

In America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers’ rations and used in lieu of wages. Chocolate manufacturing is more than a 4-billion-dollar industry in the United States and the average American eats at least half a pound per month.

 

The main types of chocolate are milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate. These types of chocolate may be produced with ordinary cacao beans (mass-produced and cheap) or specialty cacao beans (aromatic and expensive) or a mixture of these two types. The composition of the mixture, origin of cacao beans, the treatment and roasting of beans and the types and amounts of additives used will significantly affect the flavor and the price of the final chocolate.

One ounce of chocolate

The higher the cacao (kuh-KOW) content number, the less sugar. Vanilla and lecithin usually make up less than 1 percent.

Dark Chocolate

Sweetened chocolate with high content of cocoa solids and no or very little milk may contain up to 12% milk solids. Dark chocolate can either be sweet, semi-sweet, bittersweet or unsweetened. If a recipe specifies ‘dark chocolate’ you should use semi-sweet dark chocolate.

Sweet Dark Chocolate

Similar to semi-sweet chocolate, it is not always possible to distinguish between the flavor of sweet and semi-sweet chocolate. If a recipe asks for sweet dark chocolate you may also use semi-sweet chocolate. Contains 35-45% cocoa solids.

Semi-Sweet Chocolate

This is the classic baking chocolate which can be purchased in most grocery stores. It is frequently used for cakes, cookies and brownies and can be used instead of sweet dark chocolate. It has a good, sweet flavor. Contains 40-62% cocoa solids.

Bittersweet Chocolate

A dark sweetened chocolate which must contain at least 35% cocoa solids. However, good quality bittersweet chocolate usually contains 60% to 85% cocoa solids depending on the brand. If the content of cocoa solids is high and the content of sugar is low, the chocolate will have a rich, intense flavor. Bittersweet chocolate is often used for baking/cooking. If a recipe specifies bittersweet chocolate do not substitute with semi-sweet or sweet chocolate. European types of bittersweet chocolate usually contain very large amounts of cocoa solids and some of them have quite a bitter taste.

Unsweetened cocoa powder

Unsweetened Chocolate

A bitter chocolate which is only used for baking. The flavor is not suitable for eating. Use it only if a recipe specifies “unsweetened chocolate”. It contains almost 100% cocoa solids and about half of it may be fat (cocoa butter).

Milk Chocolate

Sweet chocolate which normally contains 10-20% cocoa solids (which includes cocoa and cocoa butter) and more than 12% milk solids. It is seldom used for baking, except for cookies. An ounce of milk chocolate can contain 75 percent less cacao and twice as much sugar as the darkest chocolate.

White Chocolate

Chocolate made with cocoa butter, sugar, milk, vanilla and sometimes other flavorings. It does not contain any ingredients from the cacao bean and, therefore, has an off-white color. In some countries white chocolate cannot be called ‘chocolate’ because of the low content of cocoa solids. It has a mild and pleasant flavor and can be used to make Mousse, Panna Cotta and other desserts.

Here are some healthy recipes without too many calories to indulge your chocolate sweet tooth:

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.                                                                                           

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar or sugar substitute equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup refrigerated egg substitute or 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour or Eagle Brand Ultra Grain flour
  • 1 1/4 cups regular rolled oats
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces or chunks

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment.

In a small bowl combine raisins and boiling water; set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine peanut butter and butter; beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar or sugar substitute, egg product, cinnamon, vanilla and baking soda. Beat until combined. Add the flour; beat until smooth. Stir in the oats.

Drain the raisins; stir raisins and chocolate pieces into oat mixture.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake about 12 minutes or until lightly browned, reversing pans in the oven after six minutes.

Transfer to wire racks; let cool.

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake

16 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup finely crushed graham crackers
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 3/4 cups fat-free milk
  • 28 ounces of reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
  • 18 ounces of fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 18 ounces lowfat sour cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar or sugar substitute equivalent to 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • Chocolate curls (optional)

Directions:

In a medium bowl stir together finely crushed graham crackers and melted butter until crumbs are moistened. Press mixture evenly onto bottom of an 8-inch springform pan. Cover and chill while preparing filling.

In a small saucepan sprinkle gelatin over milk; let stand for 5 minutes. Heat and stir over low heat just until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat. Cool for 15 minutes.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheeses until smooth. Beat in sour cream, sugar and vanilla until well mixed; gradually beat in gelatin mixture. Divide mixture in half. Gradually stir melted chocolate into half of the mixture.

Spoon half of the chocolate mixture over chilled crust in pan; spread evenly. Carefully spoon half of the white mixture over chocolate mixture in small mounds. Using a narrow, thin-bladed metal spatula or a table knife, swirl chocolate and white mixtures. Top with remaining chocolate mixture, spreading evenly; spoon remaining white mixture over chocolate mixture in small mounds and swirl again. Cover and chill about 6 hours or until set.

To serve, using a small sharp knife, loosen cheesecake from side of springform pan; remove side of pan. Cut cheesecake into wedges. If desired, garnish with chocolate curls. Makes 16 slices.

Make-Ahead Directions: Prepare as directed, except cover and chill for up to 24 hours.

Chocolate-Amaretto Pots de Creme

Yield: 6 individual pots de creme

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar or sugar substitute equivalent to 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons frozen light whipped dessert topping, thawed
  • 2 ounces sweet dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder
  • 4 egg yolks, lightly beaten, or 1/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute (see tip)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon amaretto
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 recipe Whipped Coffee-Almond Topping (below)
  • Shaved chocolate (optional)

Directions:

In a heavy small saucepan combine milk, sugar, whipped topping, chocolate, margarine, cocoa powder and coffee powder. Cook and stir over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture boils and begins to thicken. Reduce heat to low. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.

Gradually stir about 1/3 cup of the hot chocolate mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Return the yolk mixture to the remaining hot chocolate mixture in the saucepan. Cook and stir over low heat for 2 minutes; remove from heat.

Stir in vanilla, amaretto and almond extract. Pour chocolate mixture into six small heatproof cups or pots de creme cups. Cover and chill for 2 hours or overnight or until set.

Spoon the Whipped Coffee-Almond Topping  on top of individual servings. If desired, sprinkle with shaved chocolate. Makes 6 individual pots de creme.

Tip: If you use egg substitute, the mixture will be softer set.

Whipped Coffee-Almond Topping

  • 1 teaspoon amaretto
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder
  • Several drops of almond extract
  • 1/4 cup frozen light whipped dessert topping

In a small bowl stir together amaretto, vanilla, instant espresso coffee powder and several drops of almond extract, stirring until coffee dissolves. Fold in frozen light whipped dessert topping.

 

Hazelnut-Mocha Torte

Yield: 16 slices

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts or walnuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cups refrigerated egg product or 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • Chocolate curls (optional)

White Mocha Filling:

  • 18 ounce container frozen fat-free whipped dessert topping, thawed
  • 2 ounces white baking chocolate (with cocoa butter), chopped
  • 1 tablespoon instant sugar-free, fat-free Suisse mocha or French vanilla-style coffee powder
  • 1 tablespoon fat-free milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 x 1-1/2-inch round cake pans. Set pans aside. In a medium bowl combine nuts, flour and baking powder; set aside.

In a blender or food processor, combine eggs and sugar; cover and blend or process until combined. Add nut mixture. Cover and blend or process until nearly smooth, scraping side of container occasionally. Divide batter between the prepared pans; spread evenly.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.

Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread top with half of the White Mocha Filling. Top with remaining cake layer and remaining filling. Loosely cover. Chill frosted cake for 2 to 24 hours. If desired, garnish with chocolate curls. Makes 16 slices.

White Mocha Filling:

In a small saucepan combine white baking chocolate, instant coffee powder and milk. Cook and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup of the whipped topping (whipped topping will melt). Cool mixture about 5 minutes. Fold melted mixture into remaining whipped topping.

Tip: To toast nuts, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the nuts in a shallow baking pan. Bake about 10 minutes or until toasted. Cool nuts slightly. If using hazelnuts, place warm nuts on a clean kitchen towel. Rub nuts with towel to remove loose skins.

 

Mocha Cream Puffs

Makes 20 cream puffs

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 recipe Mocha Filling (see recipe below)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat an extra large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a medium saucepan combine the water, butter, coffee crystals and salt. Bring to boiling. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook and stir until a ball forms that doesn’t separate. Cool for 5 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition until smooth. Drop into 20 small mounds onto prepared baking sheet. Bake about 25 minutes or until brown.

Cool on wire rack. Split puffs; remove soft dough from insides.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip or a spoon, pipe or spoon Mocha filling into cream puff bottoms. Add cream puff tops. 

Make-Ahead Directions: Prepare and bake cream puffs; cover and store at room temperature for up to 24 hours. Prepare Mocha Filling as directed; cover and chill for up to 2 hours. Fill cream puffs just before serving.

Mocha Filling

  • 1/2 of an 8-ounce carton lowfat vanilla yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals
  • 1/2 of an 8-ounce container thawed light whipped dessert topping

In a medium bowl combine yogurt, cocoa powder and instant coffee crystals. Fold in thawed light whipped dessert topping. Cover and chill until serving time.

 

Fudgy Almond Cookies

Makes 36

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup plain lowfat yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 ounces white chocolate baking squares (with cocoa butter)
  • 1/2 teaspoon shortening
  • 36 whole almonds, toasted

Directions:

In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.

Add brown sugar, espresso powder and baking soda; beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally.

Add egg whites, yogurt and almond extract; beat until combined. Beat in cocoa powder.

Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Cover and chill dough for 1 to 2 hours or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased or parchment lined cookie sheets.

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or just until edges are firm. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.

In a small saucepan combine white chocolate and shortening; heat and stir over low heat until melted and smooth.

Spoon a little melted white chocolate on top of each cookie. Press an almond on top of the white chocolate on each cookie. Let cookies stand until white chocolate is set.


A few little facts: The banana is a perennial plant that replaces itself. Bananas do not grow from a seed but from a bulb or rhizome. Note: The banana plant is not a tree. It is actually the world’s largest herb! The time between planting a banana plant and the harvest of the banana bunch is from 9 to 12 months. The flower appears in the sixth or seventh month. Bananas are available throughout the year – they do not have a growing season. Bananas are grown in tropical regions where the average temperature is 80° F (27° C) and the yearly rainfall is between 78 and 98 inches. They require moist soil with good drainage.

In fact, most exported bananas are grown within 30 degrees of either side of the equator. Plantations are predominant in Latin America and they require a huge investment in infrastructure and technology for transport, irrigation, drainage and packing facilities. Banana growing is, in general, labor intensive, involving clearing away jungle growth, propping up the plants to counter bending from the weight of the growing fruit, and installing irrigation in some regions. As well as implementing an intensive use of pesticides, the conventional production process involves covering banana bunches with polyethylene bags to protect them from wind, attacks of insects or birds and to maintain optimum temperatures.

After nine months, the bananas are harvested while still green. At the packhouse they are inspected and sorted for export. Buyers of the fruit want unbruised bananas and so very high standards are set. If the bananas do not meet these standards they are usually sold locally at a much lower price.They are then transported to ports to be packed in refrigerated ships called reefers. They are transported at a temperature of 55.94 degrees F. (13.3°C ) in order to increase their shelf life and require careful handling in order to prevent damage. Humidity, ventilation and temperature conditions are carefully monitored in order to maintain quality. When the bananas arrive at their destination port, they are first sent to ripening rooms (a process involving ethylene gas) and then sent to the stores and markets.

The true origin of bananas is found in the region of Malaysia. Bananas traveled from there to India where they are mentioned in the Buddhist Pali writings dating back to the 6th century BCE. In his campaign in India in 327 BCE, Alexander the Great had his first taste of the banana, an unusual fruit he saw growing on tall trees, and he is credited with bringing the banana from India to the Western world. According to Chinese historian, Yang Fu, China was tending plantations of bananas in 200 CE. These bananas grew only in the southern region of China and were considered exotic, rare fruits that never became popular with the Chinese people until the 20th century.

Eventually, this tropical fruit reached Madagascar, an island off the southeastern coast of Africa. Beginning in 650 CE, the Arabs were successful in trading ivory and bananas. Through their numerous travels westward via the slave trade, bananas eventually reached Guinea, a small area along the West Coast of Africa. Arabian slave traders are also credited with giving the banana its popular name. The bananas that were growing in Africa, as well as Southeast Asia, were not the eight-to-twelve-inch fruits that have become familiar in U.S. supermarkets today. They were small, about as long as a man’s finger, therefore, the name banan, Arabic for finger.

By 1402 Portuguese sailors discovered this tropical fruit in their travels to the African continent and populated the Canary Islands with the first banana plantations. Continuing the banana’s travels westward, the rootstocks were packed onto a ship under the charge of Tomas de Berlanga, a Portuguese Franciscan monk, who brought them to the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo in the year 1516. It wasn’t long before the banana became popular throughout the Caribbean, as well as Central America.

It was almost three hundred and fifty years later that Americans tasted the first bananas to arrive in their country. Wrapped in tin foil, bananas were sold for 10 cents each at a celebration held in Pennsylvania in 1876 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Instructions on how to eat a banana appeared in the Domestic Cyclopaedia of Practical Information and read as follows: “Bananas are eaten raw, either alone or cut in slices with sugar and cream, or wine and orange juice. They are also roasted, fried or boiled, and are made into fritters, preserves, and marmalades.”

Hafer & Bro. in Reading, Pennsylania, July 6, 1914

How did bananas get to Italy?

Italian Somaliland, also known as Italian Somalia, was a colony of the Kingdom of Italy from the 1880s until 1936 in the region of modern-day Somalia. Ruled in the 19th century by the Somali Sultanate of Hobyo and the Majeerteen Sultanate, the territory was later acquired by Italy through various treaties. In 1936, the region was incorporated into Africa Orientale Italiana, as part of the Italian Empire. This arrangement would last until 1941, when Italian Somaliland came under British administration. The two major economic developments of the Italian colonial era were the establishment of plantations and the creation of a salaried workers. In the south, the Italians laid the basis for profitable export-oriented agriculture, primarily in bananas, through the creation of plantations and irrigation systems. Banana exports to Italy began in 1927 and gained primary importance in the colony after 1929, when the world cotton market collapsed.

Italian Style Banana Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup amaretto-flavored non dairy liquid creamer
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 (3 1/2 ounce) package instant banana pudding mix
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 7 ounces of bite-sized amaretti cookies
  • 3 – 4 bananas, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces ( depending on size)
  • 1/3 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl place the coffee creamer, milk, pudding mix and vanilla extract. Whisk for 2 minutes until thickened; place the bowl in the refrigerator.

In a large mixer bowl place the 1/2 cup of heavy cream, mascarpone cheese and confectioner’s sugar. Whip at medium speed until soft peaks form, about 1-1/2 minutes. Fold mixture gently into pudding mixture until well combined.

Place six 1-cup dessert dishes or ramekins on work surface. Spoon a few tablespoons of pudding mixture into each dish. Place 4 cookies on pudding; top with banana slices. Layer in the same way ending with pudding and making sure cookies and bananas are covered on the top layer. Cover dishes with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle each with chopped hazelnuts.

 

Banana Nutella Crepes

Serves: 8 to 10 crepes

Ingredients:

For the crepes:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons hazelnuts, peeled, toasted, chopped

For the filling:

  • 4 bananas
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1 small jar hazelnut spread (such as, Nutella)

For the sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for serving

Directions:

For the crepes:

In a non-reactive bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. In a separate bowl mix the flour and salt. Place a small sauce pan or saute pan over low heat and melt the butter; cook it until it is light brown.

Add the egg and milk to the flour and salt and mix well so that there are no large clumps. Add the browned butter and mix to incorporate, being careful not to overwork batter. The batter should just coat the back of a spoon. If seems too thick, thin it out with a little more milk or water. Let the batter rest for 1 hour prior to cooking crepes.

For the filling:

Peel bananas, cut in half lengthwise and then cut 1/2-inch slices widthwise. In a large saute pan over medium-high heat melt the butter and cook until lightly browned, add the bay leaves to the hot butter and cook until it crackles slightly, add the lemon juice and sugar, stirring so that the sugar dissolves. Add the bananas and orange juice and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes so the flavors incorporate and the bananas are hot but not mushy. Add the raspberries. Stir gently to combine. Set this mixture aside and let cool slightly.

For the Crepes:

After the crepe batter has rested for 1 hour, heat 1 (10-inch) nonstick saute pan over medium heat. Add 2 ounces of the crepe batter to the pan, remove pan from heat and tilt slightly to spread the batter over the entire pan. Return to heat and sprinkle the top with 1 teaspoon of the chopped hazelnuts. Cook for about 1 minute until the bottom side is lightly browned. With your fingertips and a spatula, carefully flip crepe and cook the second side for about 15 seconds. Set the cooked crepe on a baking sheet and repeat until you have used all of the batter. You should be able to produce 8 to 10 crepes.

Lay the crepes out on a flat surface. Spread each crepe with about 1 tablespoon of hazelnut spread. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the banana mixture on one section of the crepe and fold the crepe over in half and in half again so that it forms a triangular shape. Repeat this with all of the crepes.

For the sauce:

In a small saute pan over medium heat melt the butter and cook until lightly browned, add the lemon juice and brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Serve the crepes on a plate with the sauce spooned over the top and sprinkled with the remaining chopped hazelnuts and confectioners’ sugar.

Note: See how to make crepes in post:  https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/12/27/new-years-eve-party-time/

Grilled Bananas

Grilling bananas is a unique way to cook them. Prepare this dish when you can take advantage of a still very hot grill from a barbecue dinner, but remember to scrape the grilling grate with a grill spatula and let some of the bits burn off from any previous food that was cooked before placing the bananas on the grill.

Makes 4 servings

  • 4 unpeeled bananas
  • 4 tablespoons Italian liqueur of choice, such as Frangelico
  • Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling
  • Ground cinnamon for sprinkling

Directions:

1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes.

2. Put the unpeeled bananas on the grill 1 to 2 inches from the source of the heat until they blacken on both sides.

3. Remove from the grill, slice the bananas open lengthwise, leaving them in their peels, and sprinkle a tablespoon of liqueur, a shake of powdered sugar and cinnamon on each and serve.

Olive oil Banana Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups self-raising flour (has salt and baking powder included)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 teaspoons instant expresso powder
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

Directions:

Spray a tube pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Combine bananas, eggs and oil in a small bowl.

Sift flour, expresso powder and baking soda into a large bowl. Mix in sugar. Make a well in the center and add the bananas mixture.

Stir until mixture is smooth. Pour into mixture into pan, spread eveningly and bake for 1 hour.

Allow the cake to sit on the wire cooling rack for ten minutes. Remove from pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when cool.

Gelato di Banana al Rum

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 slightly overripe bananas
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rum

Directions::

Peel bananas; cut into thirds. In heavy-bottom saucepan, bring bananas and milk to boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer until bananas are very soft, about 5 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes.

In food processor, whirl banana mixture until smooth.

In electric mixer large bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until pale yellow and frothy. Slowly whisk in banana mixture. Return mixture to the saucepan; cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until banana mixture is thick enough to coat back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the banana mixture surface; refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. Stir in rum. Chill another 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Freeze banana mixture in ice-cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Banana Chocolate Chip Nut Biscotti

Yield: 24 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mashed banana ( about 1 large banana)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup mini chocolate chip

Directions:

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, sugar and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine bananas, oil, egg and vanilla.

Pour banana mixture into dry mixture along with nuts and chocolate chips, stir together.

Flour a working area and turn dough out onto it. Flour hands as dough is sticky. Form two 7 inch loaves about 2 inches wide.

Put loaves on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and turn temperature down to 250 degrees F.

Remove loaves from cookie sheet and let cool 10 minutes.

Cut loaves into 3/4 inch slices, return slices to cookie sheet.

Bake for an additional 18-20 minutes.



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