Friday, July 27, 2012

SHH - Superfoods Rx Part 1: Tomatoes & Tomato Soup Chocolate Cake

Well, it's still tomato week and we must have dessert. For years I've heard of a chocolate cake with a mystery ingredient... a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup. I tried to find the original recipe on the internet.  There was a Depression-era Campbell's Tomato Soup recipe for a spice cake. I love spice cake, but I was needing a chocolate fix. I did a little more digging and the chocolate cake recipe appears to have been created by Rose Levy Beranbaum for Campbell's 100th anniversary around 1988. There's another blogger who found a tomato soup chocolate cake recipe handwritten in the 70's. Anyway, that recipe is the inspiration, but I made some huge changes. This was a total experiment. And it turned out amazing!

First,  I wanted to experiment with reducing the refined sugar. I've always heard you can pretty much cut the sugar in half in most recipes, but I have a bit of a sweet tooth and didn't want to do that without adding a bit back. Plus, I've been curious if I could turn really sweet natural things into sugar, like dried pitted dates. They are sweet, but I knew if I just chopped them, there would be chewy little pieces of date in my chocolate cake. I wanted to keep their sweetness, but "hide" them. It's not a date cake, after all. So, I chopped six dates into smaller pieces, then threw in 1 1/2 tsp of corn starch to help them from glomming up the food processor (my first attempt was in the coffee grinder, but it didn't work). This made a little ball of what I'm calling "date paste" which I added back in later.

Next, I wanted to experiment with reducing the flour. I've always heard flour is empty calories. And it certainly doesn't add flavor. Basically, from what I can tell, flour helps bind the good stuff together. So, what else can be made into a floury-like substance? I used a combination of ground walnuts, ground unsweetened coconut, and ground quick oats. All of those things are supposed to be healthier than flour, plus you get a little added oil from the walnut and coconut, so you won't lose moisture. And so the experiment begins...

Not Pictured: Cinnamon (because I decided to add it later) I used cinnamon with the chocolate because of a cake my mom used to make that was a chocolate sheet cake with cinnamon in it. 
1 1/2 C Quick Oats
1/2 C Walnuts
1/2 C Unsweetened Coconut
2 Tbsp Flour (The original recipe called for 1 3/4 Cups)
2 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
1 C Sugar
3/4 C Cocoa
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 Cup Milk (The original recipe called for buttermilk, but I forgot to buy it, so I used what I had)
1/2 C Oil ( I keep Smart Balance oil on hand. I'm going to experiment with other healthy oils in future cakes)
2 Eggs
1 Can Campbell's Tomato Soup
6 Dates
1 1/2 tsp Corn Starch
For "Frosting":
2 Premium Chocolate Bars (I bought the ones that were on sale and chose ones with cocoa nibs for extra "health". You can go crazy with whichever ones grab you.)

First, I made the "date paste" in the food processor, then set it aside. This is six dates with 1 1/2 tsp corn starch. 

Before you grind the coconut, give it a nice little toast. Just to a light brown. 
Toast your coconut, then your walnuts, then put them in a food processor with the oats and flour to make a "flour substance". This will yield about the original amount of flour the recipe called for... 1 3/4 Cups. Add your baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, date paste, and cocoa and run the processor long enough to mix it all up well. 

Add this to a bowl, then add eggs, oil, milk, tomato soup, sugar, and vanilla. Stir it all together. This won't smell good or look very appetizing. Trust me. At this point, I put the batter into the refrigerator for about an hour. I wanted to let my fake flour substances absorb the moisture. That may or may not have made a difference. It might have worked fine going directly into the oven. Next, pour the batter into a prepared pan and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. The resulting cake is super moist and super rich and very chocolatey.

I know a woman who frosts her cake by laying Hershey bars on a warm cake right out of the oven. I did the same, but used premium chocolate bars with less sugar. The ones I chose were 72% cacao and had cocoa nibs. If you're using these large, premium chocolate bars, two of them make a nice thin frosting layer. 

They may not look like they are melting at first. Just slide them around with a spatula and you will see they are melting on the bottom. Keep moving them around and they will start turning into "frosting".

Looks like a cake Grandma would make. Tastes so delicious, you can't believe it's halfway healthy. 

It was so moist and delicious! 

Monday, July 23, 2012

SHH - Superfoods Rx Part 1: Tomatoes & The Perfect Marinara

Wow. You do not want to go to Chowhound and ask about San Marzano tomatoes. There are some strong opinions on U.S. Tariffs and debates that sound like they're talking about the Oil Embargo. (That was a thing, wasn't it?) Ok, since I waded through it all, I'll boil it down. Italy is charged different tariffs for shipping San Marzano tomatoes in a sauce vs packing them in water. Depending on who you ask, they are either not allowed to ship said tomatoes in water, or they are just charged more for shipping tomatoes in water. Those who say they are charged more say it's because the tomatoes shipped in tomato sauce can be claimed to be a sauce, hence the lower tariff. They also claim the tomato sauce they are packed in is "lesser tomatoes", thus rendering the San Marzano tomatoes a complete pile of... yawn. I'm done with those food nuts. I'm buying San Marzanos.

My perfect marinara is my own recipe, but I read and took from existing recipes. If you see a similarity to a published recipe it's because there aren't that many variations on a good marinara, and mine is a simple one.

Here's what I used...

Yes, as a matter of fact, I do label my Red Pepper with the month and date I bought it. As I do with all my spices. 

You'll need: 
1 6 oz Can Tomato Paste
1 28 oz Can Tomatoes (I used whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes and ran them through a food mill. You could use crushed tomatoes if you wanted)
Crushed Red Pepper to taste
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp sea salt (or change up the salt to your taste)
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Cup Red Wine (and save the rest to drink with dinner... you can leave this out, of course, but I like the depth of flavor you get from wine)
1 Tbsp Butter
1 Whole Head of Garlic (minus two cloves if you're making my lemon vinaigrette for a salad)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Basil and Fresh Thyme 

Important: Don't use an aluminum pan when cooking tomatoes. The acid will react childishly. Wait, it will just react, I'm not sure how. 

First, I heated my pot and tossed in some crushed red pepper to toast it... this is how I measure. Next time I would actually use a little more... 

With the pan pretty hot (medium high), add your tomato paste and let it smoke up and kind of burn on the pan, like this... 

Now, take the 6 oz can you just emptied, fill it with water and add to the pot. Do this a second time. Turn your heat down to Medium Low. Now, add both salts, sugar and red wine and stir in. While this cooks a little, chop up your cloves of garlic and, in a separate pan, saute them gently on low heat with EVOO. Don't let your garlic burn, or it will get bitter. Add the garlic and EVOO and a pat of butter to your tomato pan. 

Next, I got to have fun with the food mill. It was my first time with a new toy... Do this with the 28 oz can of tomatoes... 

Set up the toy, um I mean food mill on top of your dutch oven... 

Add the whole icky tomatoes...

Crank until all that's left is icky pulp and seeds. I used the "fine" setting. It comes with coarser inserts.

Of course, if you've already played with your food mill and want to save time, then just buy crushed. Or use a blender to puree. I liked this option because it keeps the seeds out and because the store I was at only had whole San Marzanos.

Ok, so now take that 28 oz can you just emptied and fill it with water and add to the pot. Do this only once or you'll be waiting an eternity for this to cook down. Leaving the pot on medium low and leaving uncovered, let it simmer at least a couple of hours until it has reduced to your desired thickness. 

The passage of time on the internet... let's say you just played two hours of Angry Birds and you're now back in your kitchen observing your beautiful sauce. Remove it from the heat and stir in your fresh basil and fresh thyme... 

This is how much basil I use. Note, this is a small cutting board, not some mutant giant basil leaf. 

This is how much basil I used after it was chopped. Note: that's a paring knife and it's still on a small cutting board. 

With the thyme, I just kept pulling sprigs and running my fingers down it. I also sprinkled some extra thyme over the dish when serving. Use as much as you like of it. 

Here's the beautiful sauce just before I stirred in the basil... 

So, tonight I served this over Spaghetti Squash, and while it wasn't the worst thing I've eaten, I'll opt for a pasta next time. Maybe a whole wheat one so I can keep it halfway healthy. My husband, who is not picky, liked the spaghetti squash. I didn't have a problem with the flavor, but thought the texture was a little crunchy. 

But, since it's done and I have pics, I'll show you what we did... 

I took this monster, washed it, laid it on a paper towel in the microwave, then nuked it 15 minutes. It will be too hot to cut into after it's cooked, so I sat down and watched about thirty minutes of Big Brother.
When it's cool enough to cut into, it will look like this. Take the nasty stuff and seeds out with a fork. 

Removing nasty slimy stuff and seeds from middle... 

Now you can start flaking the "spaghetti strands" from the inside...

This is what it will look like on your plate... (well, not your plate unless you have the same plates as mine)

Disguise with marinara then grate some cheese over the top and some fresh thyme. Traditionally the cheese would be parmigiano reggiano, but my store had my favorite cheese stocked... 

This is the greatest cheese ever made. It tastes like parmegiano reggiano, but is creamier and melts better. 

SHH - Superfoods Rx Part 1: Tomatoes

If you haven't read my BAD (Big Ass Disclaimer), you can find it here.

I'm currently reading Superfoods Rx by Steven Pratt. So it's Tomato week at the Fed Up house. I'm going out of order, but this book lists 14 Superfoods that contain phytonutrients blah blah blah. Just because I'm reading it doesn't mean I want to paraphrase. Highlights are... tomatoes are high in Lycopene, which according to the book has been shown to help fight cancer and raise our own skins' SPF (sun protection factor). Tomatoes also have a whole concoction of good-for-yous...

Lycopene (nature's sunscreen), Low in Calories, Vitamin C, Alpha- and Beta-carotene, Lutein/zeaxanthin, Phytuene and phytofluene, Potassium, B vitamins (B6, niacin, folate, thiamine, and pantothenic acid), Chromium, Biotin, and Fiber. In that whole list, I can probably only tell you what four of them do for us, but I'm committed to learning.

Some interesting tomato facts from the book:

Canned tomatoes and tomato sauces that have been processed are actually more effective at reducing cancer risk than fresh tomatoes. Lycopene is bound to the cell walls and fiber, so the processing frees the lycopene and makes it more easily absorbed by our bodies.

You can get your lycopene from the tomato content in pizza sauces, ketchup, barbecue sauces. (Yay!)

Lycopene is fat soluble, so needs a bit of dietary fat to transport it to the bloodstream. (I have no problem with that!)

Other foods that have lycopene are red watermelon, pink grapefruit, Japanese persimmons, red-fleshed papaya, and strawberry guava. Only the red tomatoes have lycopene.

So, tomatoes. I have a weird relationship with you. I hate your guts, but I love tomato sauces. Seriously, I can't cut into a fresh tomato. I can't touch a tomato slice that has been cut. I can barely even look at the vein-y insides with slimy seeds. If I'm served a sandwich with a tomato slice on it, I can't remove it and eat it. I also don't like ketchup, but I probably could learn to like it. I've avoided it so far because I thought I'd just be adding unneeded sugar or high fructose corn syrup. But, oh how I love Italian food. The author of the book has a good recommendation. When ordering pizza, ask for extra sauce to help get your lycopene in. According to the book, the ideal daily amount of lycopene is 22 milligrams. The book has a handy list on page 163 of the lycopene content in foods known for their lycopene.

Over the next few days, I will be posting some pictures and recipes. Look for an amazing Marinara Sauce, a Spinach Salad with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Lemon Vinaigrette, a copycat recipe for Zio's Tomato Soup, and a very-modified version of the Campbell's Soup Tomato Soup Chocolate Cake recipe.

Note: All of the science-y stuff is taken from the Superfoods Rx book. Any errors in my blog are mine.

She's Halfway Healthy - And so it begins...

I've been noticing a void in cooking shows and online blogs... you're either touting healthy recipes or you're Paula Deen (I love you Paula!) But, where is the middle-ground? You know how we like to say "I have to eat halfway healthy today because I'm going out tonight"? Well, what is the halfway-healthy version of the things we want to eat? Now, normally, I'm a glass-half-empty-ist. But, I was watching Dr. Oz recently and he did a show dubbed "The Lazy Girls Guide to Getting Healthy". I'm choosing to call it halfway healthy instead of halfway lazy. But the basic premise is, there are a lot of us who aren't going to wake up and overhaul our lives and eat rabbit food and go to the gym every day. So what are the little things we can do to improve our health?

Now for my big ass disclaimer (BAD): I'm not a doctor. Or a nurse. Or a dietician. Or a nutritionist. Nor am I particularly healthy. And I'm picky, so I can't just switch to carrot sticks and celery. If you are a healthful eater, at best you won't care about my blog at all. At worst, you will scoff at my blog or take issue with the level of healthful eating I'm choosing. That's because I still heartily want to enjoy food and the warm fuzzy feelings associated with food. At the same time, I'm trying to do little things (and I do mean little) to make myself a tiny bit healthier each day, so that some day I might not even notice how healthy I've gotten, I will just be feeling better.

I know that for every recipe I post, there are way more healthful alternatives. I'm also acting on a theory of ADDING to my diet versus taking away. Theory being, the more healthy foods I add, the less room I have for less nourishing foods and foods with empty calories. WTH, let's just see what happens to me.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Momma's Kitchen, Sperry OK

What a find! I'd never been to Sperry before, but I started hearing a buzz about a brand new restaurant with good comfort food, so I talked Grumpy into going on a little excursion. It took us about forty minutes to get there from the Woodland Hills Mall area, so plan your hunger accordingly. Also remember, it's not fast food. Everything is made to order and from scratch.

We decided to reward our patience by ordering chicken fried. CFS for him, chicken for me, then we cut them in half and shared. Isn't that what old married couples do? He opted for sides of onion rings and sliced tomatoes. I had traditional mashed potatoes and gravy and corn. Both plates came out beautiful. The picture of what good chicken-fried should look like. Not even a bit greasy. The steak was impossibly tender, unlike most CFS. The batter was crisp and seasoned basically with black pepper. "Momma" (well, April, the owner) talked to us after the meal and shared her secret technique, but not her recipe. I'm sure she'd be happy to share some secrets if you ask. Mostly she gave credit to her Grandmomma and Momma for "teaching her well".

After we were served, Jesse (I think that was his name, he was the awesome new day cook) came out and asked how everything was. He was worried that he might have gotten the onion rings too dark, but they were actually perfect. I love when restaurants care that much about getting it right and when they want your feedback.

How did I almost forget to talk about the gravy? Our meals came with cream gravy, but our waitress, Shirley asked us if we'd like an extra cup of gravy for dunking. Um, yes please! Ok, has anyone really ever said no to a cup of gravy? Anyway, this gravy is definitely not from a package. (I hate packaged gravy as much as I hate frozen french fries). This is real gravy. It's really good gravy. In fact, you'll say "Good gravy!" when you eat it. Even after we had finished our meal, we were still eating the gravy. April revealed to us that the chicken frieds were deep fried, so I had to ask how she made such good gravy without pan drippings. Oh, but that's secret too. Her momma just taught her right.

We ended the meal on an absolutely perfect note. We both got slices of blueberry pie with ice cream. This was the best blueberry pie I have ever had in my life. April and Jesse stopped by to chat some more and we couldn't stop gushing over the pie. It was Jesse's first time making it from April's recipe from a secret 1930s cookbook. That's all she'd give up, and I can see why. But, even with the recipe, I'll wager that few could duplicate this, particularly the crust which was tender and flaky and almost cookie-like.

Now, keep in mind we are full to the brim, but during the discussion it comes up that my hubby doesn't like catfish. April takes this as a challenge and tells us to wait while she fries up a piece of hers. She comes back with a pretty big chunk (so I feel obliged to help eat it... hee hee). Hubby does indeed like the catfish since it doesn't have any of that dirty water flavor. I am already a catfish lover, so I think I'll be ordering that next time.

Overall, such a great experience. April's love of her handed-down recipes and her staff's enthusiasm made us feel right at home. We left full and happy. Comfort food at its most comforting. Comfort food without having to do the dishes after.

On an only slightly related note, whenever I think of Chicken Fried Steak, I think of one of my favorite Sheldon quotes from Big Bang Theory. Sheldon, as you know was from Texas and the guys were surprised he knew a lot about football. He then says, "If you're interested, I also know all about frying meat that isn't chicken as if it were chicken."

One quick note: At this time Momma's not set up to take credit cards, but expects to take debit cards soon. For now, take cash or check. And, the dessert selections may vary, so if you plan to try the blueberry pie, I'd call ahead first.

Here are the pics from our little trip...

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