French Toast with a Sweet Maple Mango Chutney



Today's post is simple.  Just the recipe.

I don't have any stories about french toast, and can't think of anything interesting to talk about today, unless you want to hear about my waking up with a sore and drippy nose.  No?  Didn't think so.  When my oldest niece was little, she had the cutest way of saying in a stuffy little voice, "I have a cold nose, Aunt Heather."  She lives too far away now, and I miss her.

So without any ado, for an almost "wordless Wednesday" post, I give you (healthy) French Toast with Maple Mango Chutney...




Mmmm...  Breakfast for dinner, anyone?





French Toast with Maple Mango Chutney
printable recipe

  • 1 mango, diced (peel and seed discarded)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 4 slices whole wheat bread

In a medium saucepan, toss the diced mango with the cornstarch.  Add the orange juice and cinnamon.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce to low.  Mash the mango a little with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher, but leave the mixture chunky.  Stir in the maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.  Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes while you prepare the french toast.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat.  Spray with non-stick spray.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.  Dip the slices of bread in the egg mixture then cook on the griddle for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown and crisp.

Top the french toast with the mango chutney to serve.

Yields 2 servings.
WW Points Plus Value: 7 points per serving

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Orange Curd-Glazed Salmon with Roasted Lemon Parmesan Cauliflower



This time of year, I'm pretty over snow.  Just as the mounds of snow taking up valuable parking space on the street started to melt away, we got another snow storm.  It started that evening with a crazy wind storm, with wind blowing almost 80 miles per hour, and late that night the wind carried in the snow.  Denver awoke to a nightmarish commute the next day.

And I'm just over it!  I'm looking for a reason to get a pedicure, but with all this snow, my toes are too cold to even bother making them pretty.

Also fortunate this time of year, is that as quickly as a storm can surprise us with a new blanket of snow, we'll get some gorgeous sunny weather the next day that will melt it right away.  We are experiencing just one of those days, although with way too much wind for my liking.  Hopefully all this wind will hurry up and blow a little spring my way.

Saturday was warm for February (mid-50's) and just a little windy, so we worked on a project in the garage that day.  I want a bigger chalkboard to write our weekly menu on, and after seeing how expensive (at least the ones I liked) were, we bought all the supplies to make one.  As it turns out, after buying wood, chalkboard paint, trim for framing, etc...  it's really not cheaper.  Oh well.  I took a break to make a quick trip to the grocery store for some dinner ingredients, scallops and shrimp, and in walking down the grassy bank to my car, slipped on the slushy melting snow and landed right on the seat of my pants.  Wet pants and all, I went to the store, hoping they would dry by the time I got there and I wouldn't look like some homeless person who wet her pants.  They weren't really dry by then, so I avoided eye contact with other people as much as possible.




But in spite of the end-of-winter blues, I'm happy that at least we still have citrus in the winter.  After making orange curd the other day, I kind of want to put orange curd on everything.  Or just eat it with a spoon from the jar.  I dropped some off at my parents' house the other day, and my dad said he had a hard time not just digging right in with a spoon.

With salmon on the menu for dinner one night, I just knew I would be putting orange curd on the salmon.  I squeeze lemon on just about every seafood dish I make, but rarely oranges, and the orange curd turned the salmon into something even more delicious than it already is.  The sweet, tangy buttery-ness of the orange curd, melting into the salmon filled the kitchen with its rich citrusy scent - and it tasted even better.  A wonderful antidote to winter blues.







Orange Curd-Glazed Salmon with Roasted Lemon Parmesan Cauliflower
printable recipe

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 shallot, or 1/4 sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • chives, for garnish
  • 1 1/2 pounds salmon, portioned into 4 (6 ounce) fillets
  • 4 tablespoons orange curd
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F, and position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Spray a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick spray.

Place the cauliflower and shallot or onion in the baking dish.  Drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.  Roast the cauliflower on the upper rack for 30 minutes, stirring twice for even roasting.

Meanwhile, prepare the salmon.


(Note, if you don't have orange curd, you can make a similar version of this recipe by drizzling the salmon with a little olive oil or melted butter, sprinkling with fresh orange zest, and topping the fillets with orange slices before baking.)

Line a baking sheet with foil.  Rinse the salmon in cool water and pat completely dry with paper towels.  Place the salmon skin-side down on the foil. (I usually don't bother trying to cut off the skin, as it will stick to the foil after baking and will easily come off when you slide a spatula under the fish, just above the skin.  If using skinless salmon, then be sure to spray the foil with non-stick spray.)

Brush half the orange curd over the salmon and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 7-8 minutes for medium-rare doneness.  Before serving, brush each fillet with the remainder of the orange curd.

After 30 minutes of roasting the cauliflower, and the salmon is done, remove the salmon from the oven.  Sprinkle the cauliflower with the Parmesan cheese, turn the oven on to broil, and broil the cauliflower for several minutes to melt the cheese and get a little color on the cauliflower.  Sprinkle with the chives and serve with the salmon.

Yields 4 servings.
WW Points Plus: 13 points per serving

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Meringue Cookies with Bittersweet Chocolate and Sea Salt



In my quest for healthy recipes, it made sense to try meringues, since they are fat-free and very low in calories, being made from just egg whites and a little sugar, with cream of tartar to stabilize them, and maybe a little flavoring if you like.  Plus, I had egg whites needing to be used since I used a bunch of yolks only for orange curd.

I've never been a big lover of meringue, and will always pass on pies topped with meringue.  It's just not my thing.  I'd rather have a lemon or chocolate pie with nothing on it at all, or just a little whipped cream, then a towering 5-inch layer of mushy meringue.  Even if it's nicely swirled with pretty browned peaks.

However, I wanted to give the cookies a try, and see if it would change my mind.  So I whipped up the whites with a little cream of tartar and almond extract, and then kept on whipping them as I sprinkled in a little sugar.  I was amazed at how much volume they acquired as they turned into stiff, glossy peaks.  When they were stiff enough to hold their shape, I piped them onto a silpat-lined baking sheet in little stars, swirls and hearts.  Then they went into a very low 200-degree oven to bake for a two hours, after which they emerged looking very pretty and elegant.




Jamie tasted one and said they tasted like packing peanuts.  I have to admit, I kind of agree.  I do like the slightly sweet, melt-in-your-mouth thing that they do after getting past the styrofoam aspect, and they're crisp and light as air just as they should be, but I'm sorry, they're just not a real cookie, in my opinion.

To make them a little more palatable, I dipped and drizzled them with a tiny bit of bittersweet chocolate and sprinkled them with a pinch of coarse sea salt.  That improved them tremendously, and we ate a whole bunch of them with very little guilt (on the day that we spent a whole Saturday in our PJs, drinking mimosas and watching episodes of Entourage).  This entire batch of cookies in fact has only 540 calories, which is about 10 calories per cookie, depending on how small you pipe them.

Even so, I'm not positive I'll be making them again, since chocolate-covered styrofoam still isn't really my thing any more than wet, quivering meringue is, but for those of you out there who do like meringue cookies, then you will enjoy these! :)





Meringue Cookies with Bittersweet Chocolate and Sea Salt
printable recipe

  • 2 egg whites (let sit at room temperature for 1 hour)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon flavoring (almond, vanilla or peppermint extract are good options)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate
  • pinch of coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200 F.  Line 2 baking sheets with silpat liners or parchment paper.  The meringue is very sticky, so you must use silpats or parchment.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and extract and beat until soft peaks form.  Continue beating on medium to medium-high as you gradually sprinkle in the sugar.  Whip the egg whites until stiff and glossy and they easily hold their shape.  The meringue will be very sticky.  (If you pipe them onto the baking sheet and they spread out or lose their shape, then they have not been whipped long enough.)




Scoop the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.  Pipe the meringue into various shapes, as big or as small as you like, about 1 inch apart.  They won't spread during baking, so they can be fairly close together.

Bake for 2 hours, rotating the pans halfway through.  After two hours, turn the oven off, crack the oven door open and let the cookies sit in the warm air until they are thoroughly dry. (Note, if you bake these on a humid or rainy day, they may not dry out and will end up sticky.)

Set cookies on a wire rack to cool, then melt the chocolate and dip or drizzle it over the cookies, finishing them with a sprinkling of sea salt.  Let sit for an hour at room temperature until the chocolate sets, before serving.

Yields anywhere from 30-50 cookies.
Weight Watchers Points Plus Value:  4 points for 1/4 of the batch (16 points for the entire batch of cookies)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Orange Poppyseed Muffins with tangy Orange Curd and Mimosas...



Poppy-seed muffins were among my favorites growing up - I've mentioned before that in junior high, my sister and I started doing a little cooking, consisting mostly of boxed muffin mixes and canned beef stew over rice - and we probably made lemon poppy-seed muffins for dinner just about every week.

I've been wanting to make an orange muffin lately, and was dreaming up a recipe for Chocolate Chip Orange Muffins, but those will come another time.  Having a three-day weekend (with both Jamie and I having President's Day off work), we really needed a completely relaxing Saturday morning, and relaxing it was.




We started the morning with cold mimosas, in fancy champagne glasses and everything!  Then I baked these scrumptious muffins, which were surprisingly low in WW points (good thing I didn't include the chocolate chips), and to spread on the muffins, a slightly sweet and tangy orange curd with a hint of vanilla from the vanilla sugar I used.  You can easily make vanilla sugar by placing a leftover vanilla bean (one that you've already scraped the seeds out of) into a 2-cup glass jar and filling it up with granulated sugar.  Put the lid on and put it away for a few weeks or a month, and you'll have a deliciously scented vanilla sugar.  (The sugar will absorb a little moisture from the vanilla bean, so you may have to use a whisk to break up any lumps before using it.) The vanilla sugar was just perfect in this orange curd recipe.  Of course, if you don't have vanilla sugar, you could also just whisk in a little vanilla at the end, after you add the butter.




Jamie loved these muffins with the orange curd, and they are now some of my favorites as well.

It was a wonderfully relaxing day in our PJs of mimosas and episodes of Entourage.  And for dinner, we were thrilled to realize we could get sushi delivered from our local sushi restaurant.  So we didn't even have to get dressed.  Sometimes, you just need one of those days.





Orange Poppy-Seed Muffins
printable recipe

  • 1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons poppy-seeds

Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare 12 muffin cups with non-stick spray or paper liners. (Note, I used paper liners that were fairly small, so this ended up yielding 12 muffins that were a little smaller.  Slightly larger liners, or just spooning the batter directly into the pan might yield about 8 larger muffins.) 

Whisk together the yogurt, orange juice, orange zest, sugar, oil, egg, vanilla and almond extract.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cloves and poppy-seeds.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until combined. 

Divide the batter between the muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 full.

Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Yields 12 muffins.
Weight Watchers Points Plus Value: 5 points for two muffins (Note: If making fewer/larger muffins, be sure to recalculate the points value - the points for the entire batch is  30.)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen



Orange Curd
printable recipe
  • 6 egg yolks (reserve whites for another use)
  • 1 cup granulated vanilla sugar
  • 1/3 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces


Fill a saucepan with about 2 inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium to medium low.

In a heat-proof metal mixing bowl (one that can sit on top of the saucepan without touching the water) whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, orange juice and orange zest until smooth (1-2 minutes).  (Note that 2 large navel oranges will yield enough zest and juice for this recipe).

Place the bowl over the saucepan.  Stirring constantly with a silicone whisk or spatula, cook the mixture until thick enough to coat a spoon.  (Note that this process can take anywhere from 7-15 minutes, depending on how fast the water is simmering, how close the bowl is to the water, etc.  The mixture will not appear as thick and jellied as store-bought citrus curd, but will have the consistency of warm pudding.  It will also thicken more when it cools.)

Remove the bowl from the heat, and add the slices of butter, one at a time, whisking well after each slice until the butter disappears.  Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer, pushing it through with a spatula, to strain out the zest. (Note, it's fine if you want to skip this step, but straining out the zest yields a beautifully smooth and creamy curd.) 
Pour into a glass jar and store in the fridge until ready to use.  It will be at a spreadable consistency straight from the fridge, or you can gently rewarm it for a "pourable" consistency.
Yields about 1 2/3 cups.
Weight Watchers Points Plus Value: 2 points, per tablespoon
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Potato Soup with Kale and Ground Turkey, and Rosemary Garlic Parmesan Biscuits



The first time I ever used rosemary, I didn't realize just how prickly all those little seeds were.  I thought it smelled so good, so I dumped a whole bunch into some potato salad.  Needless to say, after eating a few bites, I ended up trying to pick all the seeds out, since they're pretty much inedible in that raw state.

Even sprinkled onto a grilled pork chop, I think they stay a little stiff even after grilling, but I haven't ever found them in ground form.  But with the coffee/spice grinder Jamie got me, we were able to turn a bunch of the seeds into ground rosemary, and now I have a nice little jar of the rosemary powder to use in so many ways.




The baking powder biscuits I like to make were a surprisingly big hit with all of you, and I took that basic recipe and spiced them up a little with some of the ground rosemary, a little garlic, and some freshly grated Parmesan.  My favorite biscuit just got even better!

Along with the biscuits, we ate Potato Soup with Kale and Ground Turkey.  Since I'm tracking Weight Watchers points now, it's not as creamy as you might expect a potato soup to be, but just as tasty, in my opinion, and full of flavor and nutrients.  It's not as pretty in the photos as I would have liked, but hey, it's a bowl of soup - they don't always look photo-worthy.

And the soup was just as yummy a few days later, when we needed a hot meal after getting home from snow-shoeing in Grand Lake.




Potato Soup with Kale and Ground Turkey
printable recipe

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup baby bella mushrooms, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 large bunch of kale (leafy green parts, not the stalks) chopped (about 6 cups)
  • 4 medium red potatoes, with the skins, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 cups fat-free low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup fat-free half 'n' half
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
  • salt and pepper

Note: for a creamier, richer soup, substitute whole milk for some or all of the water, skim milk and chicken broth.

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic and turkey, and cook for a few minutes, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat, just until the meat begins to brown.  Add the mushrooms, celery and carrots, and cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and the meat is completely browned.

Add the kale (it will look like a massive amount, but it will shrink down).  Put the lid on the pot for a few minutes to let the steam wilt the kale.  Add the potatoes, chicken broth, water and half 'n' half.  Whisk the milk together with the cornstarch until smooth, and add that to the pot.  Add the sage and thyme, and season with a teaspoon of salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to medium low to simmer for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are softened.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.  Simmer, uncovered, over medium low to medium heat for another 30-40 minutes, until thickened and the flavors have developed.

Yields a large pot of soup - about 8 servings.
Weight Watchers Points Plus Value: 5 points per serving

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen


Rosemary Garlic Parmesan Biscuits
printable recipe

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup low-fat buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or foil sprayed with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and rosemary.  Drizzle the olive oil over the flour mixture and toss with a fork until clumpy.  Add the Parmesan cheese and garlic and toss to combine.

Add the buttermilk, a little at a time, stirring just until the mixture comes together to form a soft and sticky dough.  Drop by large spoonfuls (or roll out to make cut biscuits) onto the baking sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until puffy and golden brown.  Serve right away.

Yields 8 biscuits.
Weight Watchers Points Plus Value: 6 points per biscuit.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.

Cherry Vanilla Soda Cupcakes, and a little more Valentine's...



I promise this will be my last pink and red post for a while, because I know you all are probably burned out by now on hearts, chocolate and teddy bears.  But seeing as how Valentine's was on Tuesday, I felt compelled to share the little chocolatey treat we had after dinner that night, as well as the recipe for the cupcakes I took to a work potluck on Thursday...

So making a Valentine's dessert that didn't break the bank on my WW points didn't end up being as hard as I thought, since I just took a really simple approach.  Dark chocolate in itself is actually good for you in small amounts, it's all the sugar, cream and butter that we add to it that makes it so unhealthy.  A cup of hot chocolate spiced with a pinch of cayenne, a couple of maraschino cherries, and a little chocolate heart topped with a few chopped almonds was just the right portion to satisfy a chocolate craving.





Jamie requested a Boston Cream Pie, and it was a real challenge to make a miniature one that was only enough for one serving.  But I love a baking challenge, and managed to bake up two tiny little cakes in ramekins using just a spoonful of a few ingredients.  With a dollop of creamy vanilla custard between the cakes and chocolate ganache on top, it turned out pretty cute.




As for the cupcakes, these have been lingering at the back of my mind for a while, a cupcake with soda in it, that I could decorate to look like old-fashioned sodas or milkshakes.

There are a few ways you can handle the maraschino cherries in this recipe, but I'll tell you what I found does and doesn't work.  First, I baked a yummy cupcake with maraschino cherry juice and club soda (cherry 7-up would be good, too) in the batter, and I liked how the cakes turned out, not too sweet and with a nice flavor from the cherry juice and soda.





My original plan was to frost them with cream cheese icing, then top them with the chocolate sprinkles, a striped straw, and a whole cherry.  But after baking them and seeing just how tiny the mini cakes were, I thought a whole cherry would overwhelm the cupcake.  So instead, I chopped them up and mixed them into the icing (which is what gave it such a pretty pink color).  The reason this was a mistake is that even though I drained the cherries and patted them dry, there was still too much moisture in them and they turned my icing to soup.  Which in turn forced me to add ridiculous amounts of powdered sugar to try to thicken it back up, and the icing was way too sweet for my liking.

So, my suggestion would be to chop up the cherries, toss them with a few tablespoons of flour to absorb the moisture and mix them directly into the cake batter.  If you like the pink icing, that can easily be colored with a few drops of food coloring.  Or, you could place a whole cherry into the center of the cupcake to bake into the batter (this would work for standard-sized cupcakes, but not minis, as a whole cherry would take up too much room).  Either way, there are a few fun options.




In spite of the sugary frosting, they were a big hit with my coworkers and all the cupcakes were gone by the end of the day.  (And might I add, the mini ones are only 3 WW points each!)



Hot Chocolate, with Chocolate-Dipped Cherries and a Chocolate Almond Heart
printable recipe

  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 packets Splenda or another non-calorie sweetener (or sugar to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • tiny pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 4 maraschino cherries, with stems
  • 1/2 ounce dark or bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped almonds
In a saucepan, whisk together the milk, cocoa, sweetnener, vanilla and cayenne pepper.  Heat over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally, until hot.

Meanwhile, pat the cherries dry with a paper towel.  Dip each into the melted chocolate, then place on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.  Scrape the rest of the melted chocolate into a small zip-lock bag (since this uses such a tiny amount of chocolate, be sure to use every last bit).  Snip the corner off the bag and squeeze the outline of two hearts onto the baking sheet.  Squeeze the rest of the chocolate in squiggles to fill in the hearts.  Sprinkle the chocolate with the salt and the almonds.  Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 10-15 minutes for the chocolate to set and harden before eating.

Yields 2 servings.
Weight Watchers Points Plus Value: 4 points per serving (1 cup of hot chocolate, 2 chocolate-dipped cherries and 1 chocolate almond heart)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.


Cherry Vanilla Soda Cupcakes
printable recipe


cake:
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or seeds from 1 vanilla bean)
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup maraschino cherry juice
  • 3/4 cup Club Soda or Diet Cherry 7-up
  • 3/4 cup skim milk, room temperature
  • 1 jar (16 ounces) maraschino cherries, drained and patted dry (reserve the juice for above)
frosting:
  • 1 package (8 ounces) low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • cherry extract (I didn't have any, but I think a little would be good added to the frosting)
  • 1-3 tablespoons skim milk
  • a few drops of red food coloring
  • chocolate sprinkles
  • red and white striped wax-coated paper straws, snipped into thirds

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line muffin tins with paper liners (about 52 minis or 26 standard-sized).

In a bowl, whisk together the flour (2 1/4 cups), baking powder, baking soda and salt, and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla bean paste on medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, for 5 minutes.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.

In another bowl, combine the cherry juice, soda and milk.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture and the soda mixture, alternating each, starting and ending with the flour mixture, just until combined.

Chop the cherries and toss with the 2 tablespoons of flour.  Fold into the cake batter.  (Alternatively, you can leave the cherries whole, and place one into each muffin cup to bake into the batter.)

Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full (be careful not to over-fill the minis - they don't hold very much).  Bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes (minis) or 20-22 minutes (standard-sized).  Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer cakes to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat the cream and butter until smooth, then add the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time.  Beat in the milk, a little at a time, until you have the desired consistency.  Beat in the food coloring and extract, if using it.

Frost the cooled cupcakes and garnish with a few chocolate sprinkles and the striped straws.

Yields 52 mini cupcakes or 26 standard.
Weight Watchers Points Plus Value: 3 points per mini cupcake; 5 points per standard-sized cupcake

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.

Maple Cinnamon Ice Cream and a Sleigh Ride and Snowshoeing in Grand Lake...



Grand Lake, CO is a historic town, snuggled in the Rocky Mountains.  During the winter, Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuous highway in the United States, is closed since it's impassable due to snow.  Trail Ridge Road runs through Rocky Mountain National Park to Grand Lake, and is one of two ways to travel there.  The other way is on I-70, which can be pretty treacherous when it's snowy or icy, as it winds back and forth through the mountains.  I read that Grand Lake is one of only two towns in Colorado where it's completely legal to drive a snowmobile anywhere that you would your car, and there were plenty of snowmobiles parked all over main street.

On Saturday, Jamie and I drove to Grand Lake for a little Valentine's getaway.  The cabin he had reserved at the Rapids Lodge had frozen over, so instead they put us in one of their little suites.  After checking in, we drove a few miles to the Winding River Resort, a picturesque little place with cabins for rent, horse stables for sleigh rides, and plenty of snowmobile trails.  A faulty sign led us down the wrong road with deeper snow than we realized, and there was a moment when we were seriously afraid that we would not be able to get the car out of the snow.  Thankfully, Jamie got us out of there and back to the stables.

After the sleigh ride, we warmed up with steaming cups of hot chocolate while walking around the stables to see the rest of the animals, a few miniature horses and a snow-loving dog who digs rocks out of the snow and eats them.  They also have an antique buggy collection that they work to restore.  Then we toasted a couple of marshmallows over the fire while chatting with the owner, a rugged, real-life cowboy with tattered overalls and a bright blue handkerchief tied around his neck.





Back in town, we walked the snowy boardwalk through main street, and stopped at a little pub for a glass of wine (me) and beer (Jamie) and relaxed on a leather loveseat by the fire.  Then dinner at the Rapids Lodge Historic Restaurant, where our table overlooked the snowy woods out back; the snow was crisscrossed all over with the footprints of two foxes who we saw running through town later that night.

Full from dinner, we walked the quarter mile from our room back to main street, where we stopped at Grumpy's, the only place in town that sees any sort of night-life.  A few locals were hanging out at the bar, and Jamie and I played a game of shuffleboard, then a few games of pool with another couple we met there.

After sleeping in a little and getting a quick breakfast, we walked down to the lake, which is completely frozen over.  The ice comes right up to the docks, and we were able to step off the docks onto the lake and walk on the snow-covered frozen water.  We considered renting snowmobiles (something I've never done before), but not having a wind-proof jacket, decided it would be too cold.  So instead we rented snow shoes at the Nordic Center, where we followed a 2-mile loop through the woods, crunching along in our snow shoes.  I had always pictured snowshoes to look more like tennis rackets, but it turns out that's only how they look in cartoons.  :)  It was a real workout, much harder than hiking on solid ground, and it turned out to be a beautiful day to be outside.  It was so warm and sunny that I was way too hot in my snow pants and boots, long sleeved shirt and heavy sweater.  The woods were peaceful and still, the only sound to be heard was our snowshoes and the occasional twitter of a bird.

We got back to the lodge just in time to see a storm rolling in across the mountains, gray snow clouds descending over everything, so it was time to head back to Denver.




All this snow and cold weather makes me very grateful for my car.  A sleigh ride and a couple hours of snow-shoeing was fun, but would I want to have to travel to work or to friend's houses that way every day?  Definitely not.  I'm glad I live in modern times and not in a "Little House on the Prairie" episode.  My sister and I read those books over and over as kids, and I was pretty fascinated by their lifestyle - the way they traveled to school, the home cooking, tapping sap from a tree to make maple syrup.

Since getting my ice cream maker for Christmas, it's been fun coming up with new and different flavors, as well as trying to make them healthier while still tasting good.  Ice cream sweetened with real maple syrup sounded delicious and wintery to me.  And yes, it's winter, but don't people still eat ice cream?  In one of my writing classes in college, I wrote a short story where the characters were eating ice cream in December.  My teacher criticized that scene, saying it was unrealistic for them to eat ice in the winter.  Um, really?  Hmm, every normal person I know wouldn't turn down ice cream any time of year.

My taste buds have evolved quite a bit over the years.  I used to think that fake food was better than real food.  Real whipped cream couldn’t compare to Cool Whip.  No-bake boxed cheesecake mixes were so much better than real cheesecake.  Super-sweet syrup over real maple syrup any old day.  Fish sticks and tater tots – who would eat real fish when you could have those frozen delights?  Canned frosting and soup.

But then I started eating real food.  Avocado hummus that I made from fresh, natural ingredients.  Bright, berry preserves from nothing more than fresh fruit, sugar and lemon.  Whole fish, baked with lemon, onions, garlic and herbs, brushed with a little olive oil.  Made-from-scratch baked goods, ganache and custards.  My own marinara, bbq sauce and ketchup.  Freshly made ricotta from milk, salt and lemon, mixed with a few herbs to make a creamy spread for toasted bread.  Hot, yeasty bread, spiked with dried fruit and exotic spices.

My opinions and tastes changed and I’m happy to say there’s no going back.  Sure, there’s the occasional time when I’m in a hurry and I’ll still use a boxed mix – like the brownies I made for the Super Bowl party.  But it’s rare, and I always taste the difference.  Homemade is just so much better.

As I was thinking about real versus fake ingredients, I started thinking more about syrup, something we don’t usually have on hand, since we like to drizzle honey on pancakes and waffles.  But I thought how amazing the flavor of pure maple syrup would taste in ice cream.  I imagine that the pioneers would have made something similar, by drizzling a little syrup over a bowl of snow...




I should note for you that this is not a true ice cream, since it's made with milk and no cream, and the result is more like an ice milk, and not super creamy.  However, as I was trying to make it healthy, it worked for me.  The taste is still fabulous!  I've noted below an alternate recipe for a creamier, richer texture.

Maple Cinnamon Pecan Ice Cream (light version)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean, pod and seeds (or 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste)
  • 1 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, maple syrup, salt, ground cinnamon and cinnamon stick.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the seeds and the pod to the mixture.

Bring to a simmer over medium low heat, stirring to dissolve the syrup and salt.  The ground cinnamon will try to float on top, but after steeping for a while, it will eventually mix with the milk.  Remove from the heat and let steep for 1 hour.  Remove the vanilla bean pod and cinnamon stick, then pour the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove any bits of the vanilla bean pod.

Chill the mixture in the refrigerator overnight or until very cold.  Whisk the chilled mixture with the yogurt, then pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the instructions.   Stir the pecans into the mixture when it’s frozen to soft-serve consistency, then store the ice cream in the freezer and freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.

Yields about 1 quart (8 servings (1/2 cup each).
(Weight Watchers Points Plus Value: 3 points, per ½ cup serving without pecans/ 4 points, per ½ cup serving with pecans)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.


Maple Cinnamon Ice Cream (not so light version)
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 tablespoons Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
  • 8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, slightly softened
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the maple syrup, salt, cinnamon, vanilla bean paste, rum, and cream cheese on medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, until very smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  With the mixer running, stream in the cream slowly but steadily.  Whip until well combined.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  Fold in the pecans, then store in a container and freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.

Yields about 1 quart.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Roasted Banana Honey Nut Muffins... a Breakfast Picnic on the Morning after a Blizzard...



Over the weekend, we had over a foot of freshly fallen snow covering everything outside in a soft white blanket.  Cold and snowy outside, a warm kitchen inside with slow-baked ribs, beer and bourbon bbq sauce, cast-iron skillet cornbread for dinner, a cozy evening playing Monopoly with Jamie...  it was a perfect evening.  Aside from the fact that I lost all my money and all my properties, and the financial losses of the game started to feel just a little too real.  Yes, it was just a game, thank goodness.  Silly of me to feel stressed over it.

The next morning, the sun peeked through the clouds, illuminating all the snow.  Since the coffee table was covered with Monopoly stuff and the kitchen table covered with recipes and ingredients for Super Bowl party food the next day, we had a little breakfast picnic on the carpet.





Before I started learning how to cook, a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios with a sliced banana (or peach, when they were in season), was one of my cheap and easy go-to dinners.  Not very exciting, but it was what I could afford at the time, along with endless bowls of Ramen noodles.  We don't often buy cereal, and I was thinking about those cheerios with bananas when I decided to come up with a muffin that incorporated all those flavors.




Bananas, roasted in their peels until soft and the flavor deepened.  Chopped almonds.  Honey to sweeten them up.  These really were some of the best banana muffins I've ever had.  Totally delicious on their own, and even better with a little Nutella.

What could be better than a breakfast picnic with these muffins the morning after a blizzard?







Roasted Banana Honey Nut Muffins
printable recipe

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use "Smart Balance")
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (or whole wheat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped (toasted, optional) almonds
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 400.  Place the bananas, in their peels, on a baking sheet.  Roast for 20 minutes, turning once (the peels will turn black, and the insides will be very soft).  Set aside to cool slightly and reduce the oven temperature to 350.

When the bananas are cool enough to handle, remove the peel and mash the flesh.  Whisk together the mashed bananas with the honey, oil, egg and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until moistened.  Stir in the chopped almonds.

Fill six muffin cups (greased or lined with muffin papers) - they will be full almost to the top.  Sprinkle the top of the batter with the sliced almonds.

Bake for 21-23 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove and cool on a wire rack.  Serve warm, plain or with honey or nutella.

Yields 6 muffins.
(Weight Watchers Points Plus Value:  9 points per muffin)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.

Banana Nutella Smoothie... and Trying Something New!



The other morning I was looking for something for breakfast, when I saw a few bananas leftover from the banana muffins I made recently.  Not being a big fan of eating overly ripe bananas just on their own, they might have just sat there until they were so brown I would either bake something else with them or just toss them.  But I remembered a jar of Nutella in the cupboard, and bananas with Nutella is a combination I really like, so I decided to make a smoothie, since the ripe bananas have just the right texture to make a smoothie thick and creamy.




This smoothie is sweet, thick and luscious, and packs a lot of good nutrients, especially protein.  Peanut butter can easily be substituted for the Nutella, and would be a bit healthier since it doesn't contain added sugar like Nutella does.  It was a delicious and filling breakfast which got me through to lunch, and I didn't even get hungry again mid-morning like I usually do after my daily breakfast of oatmeal and protein powder.  This would also make a great afternoon snack a few hours before a workout at the gym, or even a light dinner on nights when you only have time to grab something quick and easy, that's still healthy and yummy...

Now for the something new...

I've just joined Weight Watchers Online, to get healthier and to get in better shape.  (And I want to make a point of saying that this is just something I decided to do - this is not a promotion for them, or an attempt to get anyone else to join.)  Along with this, I'm going to do my best to calculate the points for my recipes, both for myself, so that I know exactly what I'm eating, but for all of you out there who follow Weight Watchers, too; but other than that, I don't plan to say a whole lot about the program on here.

Out of curiosity, I calculated a few of my recent recipes.  Now, of course I knew that the Chocolate Caramel Pots de Creme weren't exactly a health food, but I was surprised to see that they accounted for 19 points.  Out of a daily 35 or so, 19 is a lot, especially considering we also ate ribs that night, with bbq sauce and buttery cornbread...   I don't think I even want to know what that added up to...

On the other hand, the lightened up version of Lemon Ice Cream I came up with (without the pie crust pieces), is only 4 points per 1/2 cup serving.  So I was on the right track with that one.

I'm looking forward to coming up with many more healthy and delicious meals and treats!

In addition to the smoothie, I've also included a recipe for Angel Hair Pasta and Shrimp, with Artichokes, Tomatoes, Capers and Lemon.  Although I was too tired to set up and photograph the plate that night, trust me when I tell you how good it was.






Banana Nutella Smoothie
printable recipe
  • 1 ripe banana, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Nutella
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla 
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup skim milk
  • 1 scoop protein powder 
  • 4 ice cubes

Notes:
We like the Muscle Milk protein powder – it packs 16 grams of protein per scoop, and the flavors taste great.  For this recipe, I used the “Graham Cracker” flavor.

If you don’t have Nutella, you can substitute any nut butter such as all-natural peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, etc.  Add a little honey since nut butters are unsweetened and Nutella is sweetened.

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Yields 1 serving.
(Weight Watchers Points Plus Value: 8 points) 

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.



Angel Hair Pasta and Shrimp, with Artichokes, Tomatoes, Capers and Lemon
printable recipe

  • 10 ounces (about 2/3 of the box) Barilla Plus Angel Hair Pasta
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen uncooked shrimp, peeled and cleaned
  • Pinch of salt, pepper, and dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 can small-medium artichoke hearts (in water, not oil), sliced in half
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.  Before draining, reserve about a cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, season the shrimp with the salt, pepper and oregano.  Heat the oil in a large skillet, then add the shrimp, cooking for 4-5 minutes, until cooked through.

In a large bowl, combine the artichoke hearts, tomatoes, capers and lemon juice, and season with a little more salt, pepper and oregano (go easy on the salt – the Parmesan cheese and capers add extra salt as well).  Add the cooked shrimp and pasta to the bowl; sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and toss to combine, adding a little of the reserved water as you stir, to create a little bit of a sauce.

Yields 4 servings.
(Weight Watchers Points Plus Value, per serving: 11 points)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.