Category Archives: Bella Features

Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée is one of my favorite desserts and I’m always trying out new flavor combinations, like these blueberry lemon cuties.  Crème brûlée is a dish some people are intimidated to make, but this recipe is really simple and impressive to entertain with.  You can make these a day ahead and flame the sugar on top in front of your family and friends for some extra “ooohs” and “aaahs”!

 

Makes 3 crème brûlées

 

Ingredients
½ cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
3 egg yolks
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup fat free sour cream
¾ cup heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons brandy
Sugar topping (fine granulated sugar or raw/turbinado sugar) – about 1/3 cup total

 

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Place 3 standard size ramekins in a baking dish.  Add a small handful of blueberries to the bottom of each ramekin, reserving some for topping if desired.

 

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until pale yellow in color.  Add the granulated sugar and whisk to dissolve.  Add the sour cream, heavy cream, lemon zest and brandy and whisk to combine.  Pour equal portions of the cream mixture into each ramekin.

 

Pour warm water into the baking dish until it covers the bottom half of the ramekins, making certain not to get any water into the ramekins.

 

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the centers are just set and jiggle slightly.

 

Remove the ramekins from the water bath, and set aside to cool for about 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 6 – 7 hours until completely cooled.

 

To serve, top each ramekin with some of the refined or raw sugar, and brown with a kitchen torch or broil just until the sugar is browned and caramelized on top (brûlée = burnt).

 

 
Check out more on my food blog, Leave a Happy Plate.

Clean Plate Club

Eating “clean” is pretty popular right now, with celebs like Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow and Katy Perry touting its benefits. Clean eaters report feeling less bloated, more energized and having that healthy glow.

There are many variations of a clean diet. Paleo enthusiasts eat clean by avoiding grains, starchy vegetables and sugar. Vegetarians avoid meat; a clean vegan eschews all types of animal products. Others search out raw dairy and fermented foods to add to their diet.

In my opinion, eating clean requires you to tune into your body and eat in a way that fully nourishes and honors your unique dietary needs. While there isn’t one definition of clean eating, there are some basic tenants:

1. Eat whole, minimally processed foods. No Velveeta, here. Real food, simply prepared, tastes amazing. You decide if meat and dairy help you feel well. Standard white or brown sugar is avoided in favor of less processed options like honey, maple syrup, and coconut or date sugar.

2. Focus on meals or snacks that add value. Clean meals have added nutrients– whether you add pureed squash to macaroni and cheese or greens to a smoothie, or use sweet potatoes instead of white, it’s all about elevating nutritional value.

3. Use healthy, monounsaturated fats + coconut oil. Think nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oils. Coconut oil has been shown to resist candida albicans (yeast) and is thought to be heart healthy, though more research is needed.

4. Experiment with gluten-free grains. Many people have gluten sensitivities. Even if you don’t, incorporating gluten free grains into your diet adds nutrient variety (millet, quinoa and amaranth need some love, too!)

5. Buy local & organic, when possible. Food has the most nutrients when it’s fresh. You’ll find the freshest (and often the least expensive) fruits and vegetables at your farm stand or farmer’s market. Buying organic protects water quality, protects the health of the farmer and field workers, and promotes biodiversity.

So, you wanna eat clean but don’t know where to start? I recommend choosing one meal and focusing on cleaning it up 3-4 times a week. For example, if you want to upgrade your lunch, you can find a few clean recipes you enjoy and strive to eat clean at lunchtime for 3-4 days that week. Repeat until it feels comfortable, then move on to breakfast or dinner.

Don’t get slowed down by trying to eat perfectly “clean.”  Remember, your diet is a vehicle for living an energized life. Fuel it 80 percent of the time with high-test, healthy foods and leave yourself some room for treats.

 

Written by: Katie Haines, CHHC

Healthy Roots, Happy Life LLC  www.healthyrootshappylife.com

Chocolate Macarons

My college roomy and best lady got me hooked on these delicious French cookies.  For her bachelorette party last summer, the ladies packed into a cute little bakery for a macaron cooking lesson.  I don’t remember everything we were taught (oh, wine) but I do remember how amazing the cookies were.

This is my third attempt at making macarons.  My first batch was a major flop; my egg whites did not get fluffy  (see note 2).  My last batch was good, but not as fluffy as batch #2 (see note 3).  Therefore, the recipe below is a combo of a few recipes, one of which was adapted from Martha Stewart.

A few notes:

  • Macarons taste better the next day (but that certainly doesn’t stop me from eating a handful on day 1).
  • The chef at the cooking class said you can use boxed egg whites, but the kind I tried did not form stiff peaks, so I suggest sticking to egg whites straight from the egg!
  • Sifting may seem tedious, but it’s worth it.

 

Chocolate Macaron ingredients

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar (regular granulated sugar pulsed in a food processor for about 1 minute will work)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

 

Peanut Butter Frosting ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup natural peanut butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Pulse confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy.  Add cream of tartar and whisk until soft peaks form.  Reduce speed to low then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and gently fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined or silicon mat-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air.  Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.  Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes.

Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Prepare the frosting.  Mix the butter and peanut butter together in an electric mixer on high speed, then add the vanilla.  Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until just combined.  Add more confectioners’ sugar if desired for a thicker, sweeter frosting.

Match up like-sized cookies and pipe about 1 teaspoon of frosting on one macaron, and gently press another macaron on top to make a sandwich.

 

Check out more on my food blog, Leave a Happy Plate.

Summer Cookout: Sultry Sides

Whether it’s hot dogs, chicken, or hamburgers, nothing is better that an entrée done right over a flame. Everyone has the entrees down, but what is there to do about the sides? Of course there are always the classics of potato salad and baked beans, but every now and then don’t you want to switch it up?

The first side to try is a twist on a classic: grilled corn. You’re going to want to remove the silk, but keep the husk and soak in cold water for ten minutes before grilling. Once you’ve done this, lay the corn on a piece of aluminum foil and spread a thin layer of butter over the ear(s). Then sprinkle the ear(s) with a little pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Wrap the corn tightly and lay on the grill and cook for ten minutes or until soft.

This next item is sure to have your mouth watering for more. Get a few sweet potatoes and slice them like French fries as thick or as thin as you like. Place the wedges on aluminum foil and sprinkle with paprika, lemon juice, salt, and a dash of pepper then coat with a tiny amount of olive oil. Wrap the foil around the wedges and make sure it is securely sealed at the top and place on the grill. Let these cook for about ten or fifteen minutes, let cool for a few minutes, and enjoy with ketchup or your favorite dipping sauce.

You know of grilled vegetables, but a well-kept secret is grilled fruit. Take a wooden spear and soak it in water for about thirty minutes. Chop up fruit like apples, mangos, pineapple, oranges (with peel still attached to side that will touch the grill), and cranberries that will make this treat even more delicious. Place the fruit pieces on the spear according to personal preference and grill for seven to ten minutes each spear.

These quick and easy sides make even the most cliché grilled dinner full of life. Adding semi-sweet touches to your favorite grilling classics can send your taste buds soaring and wanting more.

 

Veggies, Vitamins & Kids

There is no denying that most kids cringe at the mention of anything healthy. Since this is often the case, it is difficult to find the necessary balance between pleasing kids and giving them a healthy diet at the same time. Below are some tips to get your tot on the right track:

1)  Appearance, appearance, appearance!

Make fruits and veggies look fun. Every now and then it’s okay to play with food and if kids can have fun with it, then they’re more likely to want to eat it.

2)  Let them help.

“Mommy’s little helper” is a merit badge of awesome for kids. If they have a part in making the meal, then they will be excited to eat it.

3)  Show ‘em how to shop.

Kids like to feel independent; show your children fruits and veggies and let them pick the ones they that the think are “cool.” This way, it won’t be as much of a struggle when the food is on the plate.

4)  Make it easy.

One reason junk food is so popular is because it’s quick and kids can grab it easily in their downtime or between activities. Simple changes like making healthy fruit smoothies and having them ready and accessible can drastically improve kids’ diets. Also, small vegetables (like mini carrots) that have been pre-portioned are great for a kid on the go.

5)  Don’t make junk food an option.

The occasional Oreo is okay, but leaving cookies, chips, and other unhealthy foods around conditions kids’ pallets to crave that type of food. By feeding kids healthy things from the start and limiting the amount of junk food that they’re allowed will help them become familiar with healthier foods, thus training their pallets to crave what’s good for them.

Is Organic Food Really Better for You?

As women we are constantly looking for ways to boost our health and the health of our loved ones. A recent trend is the demand for organic foods, especially produce. But does organic actually mean healthier? And is the product worth the price?

The difference in organic versus non-organic foods is simply the methods in which they are grown. Organic farmers use fewer pesticides, and those that are used are naturally occurring.

While many non-organic farmers use growth stimulants and hormones, organic farmers are closely watched and must be given certification to farm according to USDA organic standards which does not allow artificial hormones. The products are more expensive because farmers go through various assortments of certifications, guidelines, and natural methods to produce a back-to-basics product. Sounds great, right?

Make sure to be careful when buying organically. Check for spots and holes on produce because sometimes the lack of pesticides means small creatures burrow into the product.

Also, be mindful that USDA organic does not mean 100% organic; it just means that at least 95% of the product came from organic methods, and that 5% can make a big difference on some items. Unless the product is considered USDA organic or 100% organic, chances are only 70% of the original material is organic. Be mindful that organic foods do not have synthetic preservatives and thus can go bad quicker.

Basically, organic foods do have their benefits and can be much safer than synthetically produced items. However, just like with any trend, there are many foods made to look organically produced that aren’t and there are some organic foods that are produced using the same methods as the one without the sticker.

Remember to shop smart and know your facts before being lured by the organic kick!

 

Sip in Style

Hand-painted wine glasses are the trendy DIY project this season and are perfect gifts for any occasion including birthdays, bridal showers, and many other holidays.

All you need are small bottles of acrylic paint, small to medium paint brushes, a plain wine glass, and an index card.  I recommend purchasing quality wine glasses because dollar-glasses tend to break even if you’re not the Hulk, and you certainly wouldn’t want to break your work of art!

Before you begin, draw the design on the index card or print out a design from your computer.  This trick is especially handy for names.

Directions:

1)  Ensure that your glass is clean and dry.

2)  Tape the index card with your design to the inside of the glass.

3)  Load your brush and begin painting the glass, carefully tracing over your design.  (Practice using your paintbrushes on a spare sheet of paper to see the full range of strokes.)

4)  Allow the glass to dry for 1 hour.

5)  Place the glass in a COLD oven, and then preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  The bake time is 30 minutes, but remember to add the preheat time into the bake time.  Leave the glass in the oven until it’s completely cool.

6)  Voila!  A customized, hand-painted, unique work of art.

For simple designs, polka-dots are versatile (not to mention easy), swirls are always stylish and animal prints are chic.  Complex designs such as flowers and animals can be tricky, so practice on paper before painting the glass.  Note that acrylic paint dries quickly but it’s forgiving when wet, so if you make a mistake, have damp paper towels or Q-tips on hand for a quick clean-up.  Don’t forget to decorate the stem!  If you don’t want to paint it, a pretty ribbon quickly adds that final, feminine touch.

Of course, this DIY project isn’t limited to wineglasses!  Try painting margarita glasses, stemless wine glasses, and martini glasses.

 

Home Grown Herbs

While vegetables are the most popular container plants and flowers the prettiest (although not as useful), herb gardens can be both beautiful and delicious.

When deciding which plants you’d like in your herb garden, look first at the herbs you know and use the most (perhaps the most empty jar in your spice rack), but don’t limit yourself to that. You can look up herbs online (try Annette’s Herb Garden) and see which are most commonly used or simply go to your local nursery and pick out the ones that smell the best.

Here five of the most popular uses and some gardening tips (in order of my favorite to least favorite):

Rosemary – First, it’s delicious. It also dried wonderfully and can be used indoors. If you plant this herb, consider harvesting an entire stem at one time, freezing it, and using it as a skewer later.

Basil – Also, delicious. There are many varieties of basil so it is very customizable, but make sure to break off a leaf and smell it before you buy it. This herb likes a lot of water, but be careful because it can mildew.

Mint – My parents’ favorite use for mint is in a mojito, but we use it in several other things as well (probably because of, again, the bush). Be careful about controlling your mint. You can also pinch the buds off to keep it from cross-pollinating.

Thyme – This herb is great because it requires minimal watering and can grow little, purple flowers. However, it tends to get “woody” and may have to be replaced every couple of years.

Sage – Also needs to be replaced (usually every three years), but dries easily. It does, however require a lot of maintenance to keep it from getting “woody” too soon.

Of this list, thyme tends to be the least used (such a shame considering the wealth of puns it opens itself up to, of which I am resisting). If you’re thinking about planting thyme or even have thyme in your garden, but lack ideas, check out Home Cooking.

Lastly, here are just a few tips to maintaining a happy, healthy, herb garden:

Herbs need full sun, but don’t like to be cooked. Use good quality soil so the plants can drain properly. Go easy on the fertilizer or don’t bother with it at all. And finally, don’t be afraid to harvest a lot at once. The herbs are truly happier this way and you deserve to reap what you sow!