Thursday, February 28, 2013

Vegan, sugar-free, nut-butter cups! Oh. My. Word!

I was visiting with my darling friend Laura Madden who shared with me her remarkable Natural Vegan Chocolate bark and we talked about the amazing possibilities of the bark in other dishes. Peanut butter cups come to mind...only because they're just the bomb. I'm not going to lie, there's a huge part of my rear-end that was caused by those sugar treats. Many of you know that I've been switching over to a healthier lifestyle and when it comes to food, I am certainly a work in progress. That being said, when I find something amazing that can satisfy my cravings now and then, it is a good thing! So, here's the natural, vegan, sugar-free version that I came up with today. It has been a blast...and I'm not going to lie, I'm so very glad to have something to replace my peanut-butter cups with right now

Tess' Peanut Butter Cup Filling
 1/2 cup natural nut butter (of your choice but I used Nutzo organic 7 nut and seed butter)
3/4 cup Natural almond flour
3T natural granular erythritol or 30 drops natural stevia
1 tsp Natural Madagascar vanilla bean paste

Basically, combine all the ingredients. I know. It should be more complicated. 
 Now make your coating.

Chocolate bark Coating 
adapted from Laura Madden's Vegan Chocolate bark

3/4 cup organic raw baker's cocoa
3/4 cup   Coconutreat Raw Organic Coconut Oil
2-3 droppers full liquid stevia (I prefer the flavor of
1/2 tsp Natural Madagascar vanilla bean paste

Melt the coconut oil over very low heat just until liquid.
Stir in the remaining ingredients until smooth. Doesn't the picture of chocolate like that just do the heart good?
 Pour 2T of the liquid into eight baker's cups and put the cups in the fridge until set, about 5 minutes.
While the cocoa sets, divide the peanut mixture into eight balls and flatten them to fit the bottom of a cupcake cup...
 Put the peanut butter disk on top of the cooled chocolate mixture and then top with remaining mixture, about 3T per cup.  Cover the top of the disk-thingy. If you want to use more chocolate mixture you can, but I just needed a thin candy shell over it to get my fix.
 Place in fridge and set, about 10 minutes. I do realize how freakishly hard it will be for them to set, but think of that chocolate coating being able to melt like a truffle-y mess in your mouth. 

Keep chilled until you're ready to enjoy. Coconut oil will start to melt around 80 degrees, so chilling is best.

There you go! A great replacement for an occasional treat!

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend  Chef Tess

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

4 ingredient Super Simple Natural Vegan Nutella-type recipe!

My friend Amy shared Amy's coconut nut butter bites on her blog today. I don't usually jump on a recipe that quick, but this one was so simple it was almost scary how perfect it was!   I already had all the ingredients at home. After I made the cups, I thought, "this could totally make a truffly chocolate spread!:   I knew it could easily be converted into a homemade version of natural vegan  Nutella! Nutella is the registered name brand spread for Nutella. It contains milk and is not vegan. This version is my homemade interpretation. I replaced rice syrup or agave nectar for the honey (most vegans I know don't eat honey). 

Amy Inspired Hazelnut Butter
1/2 cup hazelnut butter (available at health food stores)
1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/4 cup rice syrup or agave nectar
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and melt together until smooth (can also be done in microwave) Just heat and stir till nice and creamy. Pour into a mason jar or bowl and place in the fridge for 10 minutes. Stir after 5 minutes. Keep at room temperature if you want it to be spreadable. 

There you go! Make a very simple nut butter. It works amazing with peanut, almond and soy-nut butter as well. 

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Homemade Chicken and Wild Rice Mix

It's whole grain Wednesday and today I'm focusing on one of my all time favorites! 

I received an e-mail a month or so ago from a gal wanting to know if I had ever had the chicken and wild rice side dish boxed mix using the parboiled rice. I'm not going to say the name-brand but most people in America know what it is. Well, I had seen it but never really tried it.  She wanted to know if it could be made from scratch and if that would save money using bulk rice instead of buying the pre-made mix.   If you already have rice, this is a great way to save money. This is also a great way to control the ingredients and sodium of the dish. 

I'm of course adding this to my already very popular money-saving better-for-you mix section we call Make a Mix ! 

My friends at North Bay Trading Company sent me this beautiful bag of Canadian Organic Wild Rice and asked if I'd try it out. 

 I'm not going to lie, I love wild rice. I love the excellent Glycemic Index and Nutritional Information for wild rice. If you find it with the nutritious black outer hull it is optimal for good health. North Bay has proven to me that theirs is fantastic! I loved everything about their harvesting methods and certifications as well! Here are the details from their website:

 Canadian Organic Wild Rice— naturally grown and wild harvested in Canada's pristine northern lakes.

  • A premium quality wild rice with a jumbo grain that is 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch or more in length.
  • Wild rice, an aquatic grass seed, is high in protein when compared to other white rice and grains.
  • GMO-free, gluten-free.
  • Certified Kosher by United Mehadrin Kosher.
  • Click on our photo slides for more insight on this wild rice.
  • Harvesting Info: We ensure perfection in flavor, preservation of nutrition, and prevention of molding. We do not harvest early, as this results in a collection of immature, pale wild rice. We preserve the nutritious black outer hull. (Some processors remove the black hull to obtain a shorter cook time.) Also, we dry the rice properly, which prevents the moldy aroma sometimes found with other wild rice.
Organic wild rice certification: Certified organic by MCIA organic wild rice
Common wild rice uses: Makes a great side dish as well as a base for entrees and salads. Also often used as a major ingredient in soups, stews, and casseroles.
Packaging: Bagged selections are in resealable poly bags. Bulk box orders use sealed plastic bag inside sturdy cardboard box.
GMO-free: This wild wild rice is not genetically modified.

One cup of cooked wild rice has:
 166 calories, 35 carbs, 5 grams of fiber and is a low Glycemic index of 16. 

In this recipe, I'm combining the wild rice with parboiled rice. This rice is nutritionally very similar to brown rice but without the fiber intact. From what I've studied about it, the parboiling process is supposed to force the nutrients into the starch. I just know that my family loves it and the nutritional information for parboiled rice gives it a great low glycemic index of 22. 

 Each one cup mix can be stored in a half-pint mason jar up to 2 years if kept in a cool dry place. If you use an food-grade oxygen absorber in the jars, the shelf life will be greatly extended.  I haven't tested the shelf-life of good wild rice yet so I can't give anyone a real definitive answer. From what I've read, because it is a cereal grain like wheat, it has a pretty long shelf-life (wild rice shelf life information).  

Chef Tess Homemade Chicken and Wild Rice Mix
In a baggie or half-pint mason jar combine:

1/3 cup Canadian Organic Wild Rice
2/3 cup parboiled rice
1-2 tsp low sodium (no MSG) chicken bouillon
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp turmeric

Directions: Bring 2 1/4 cups water to a boil. Add rice mixture and cover. Reduce heat to very low and simmer 30 minutes. Turn off heat after 30 minutes and allow to steam an additional 10 minutes if needed. 
*Chef note: the cooking time on this is different from the quick boxed mix because of the use of real high-quality wild rice.
 There you go! Make some delicious homemade chicken and wild rice!

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pavlova 101, The Meringue Based Cake Tutorial

What the heck is a Pavlova? If you've never had one, you're in for a happy delight! Especially if you're gluten-free and trying to go a little more low-fat!Pavlova got it's name in honor of Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballerina who toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926. I'm assuming she was light on her feet and completely delicate.  I'm sharing two version of this recipe today. One is a traditional version from the Joy of Baking, and the other is my higher protein, less sugar version. Both are excellent!

Pavlova is basically a wheat-free, flour-free meringue based cake that has a delicate and crispy crust. The inside is almost a marshmallow center.  My dad, the Pansy Man, has no affection for marshmallow, so we really  never made these when I was growing up. Now however, I have a great love for these bad-boys. Seriously. The crust alone is enough to make me smile. It is just a tender, divine piece of happiness on a plate...if that's possible. 

Usually this remarkable dessert is served with lusciously whipped, lightly-sweet whip cream and fresh fruit.  My personal preference is to make the cream with a kiss of fresh orange zest and a pinch of fresh grated nutmeg, just enough to give a subtle nuance to the cream.  Another secret is I often will dip the fruit in a fresh fruit marinade made from Avocado Oil, lime or lemon juice, and a drizzle of honey.    

The basic tutorial video from (though 8 minutes ) is pretty helpful in seeing how this dessert is made.

 Pavlova on The Joy of :

4 large (120 grams) egg whites
1 cup (200 grams) superfine (castor) sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch (corn flour)
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) granulated white sugar (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Fresh fruit - kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, or other fruit of your choice

Serves 6 to 8.

Pavlova: Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (130 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 7 inch (18 cm) circle on the paper. Turn the parchment paper over so the circle is on the reverse side.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat, on high speed, until the meringue holds very stiff and shiny peaks. (Test to see if the sugar is fully dissolved by rubbing a little of the meringue between your thumb and index finger. The meringue should feel smooth, not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers). Beat in the vanilla extract. Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the top of the meringue and, with a rubber spatula, gently fold in. Spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.)

Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until the outside is dry and is a very pale cream color. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallowy.) 

The cooled meringue can be made and stored in a cool dry place, in an airtight container, for a few days. 

Just before serving gently place the meringue onto a serving plate. Whip the cream in your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, until soft peaks form. Sweeten with the sugar and vanilla and then mound the softly whipped cream into the center of the meringue. Arrange the fruit randomly, or in a decorative pattern, on top of the cream. Serve immediately as this dessert does not hold for more than a few hours.

My Chef Tess Version uses less sugar and powdered egg white, increasing the protein content quite a bit!

Chef Tess-no-mess-never-fail Meringue from Food Storage

1 1/2  cup warm (not boiling) water
3/4 cup sugar
2T Ultra gel  (modified corn starch)
1T lime or lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
In a very clean (must be free from any oily film whatsoever!)metal bowl combine the egg white powder and water with a whisk until smooth. Fit a stand mixer with a metal bowl with the wire whisk (again, VERY clean). Pour egg whites into the bowl.
 Turn mixer on medium high setting. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and ultra gel. 
When eggs start to get stiff and glossy, add the sugar mixture in a steady stream to the mixer. 
Continue to whisk about 4 minutes until firm peaks form. Add vanilla  and lemon or lime juice and mix to combine.

 I made personal-sized Pavlova by dividing the meringue into 6   5 inch circles on a parchment lined baking sheet. The parchment will help it not to stick like crazy.  Bake the full 60 minutes at 250 degrees. Turn off the oven and allow the Pavlova to sit an additional hour or more in the oven. I personally leave them in the oven overnight. This just assures they will be dried enough.

For service, top with whip cream and fresh sliced fruit. 

There you go my darlings! You're really going to love this one!

Always My Very Best, 
Your Friend Chef Tess

Monday, February 25, 2013

Healthy Carrot Cake cooked in a Slow Cooker

It's Cooking with Food Storage Monday!

When I was at the radio station on Saturday, I got to try some of my friend Jan D'Atri's Crock-Pot Carrot Cake.
Photo courtesy of Jan D' 

It was remarkable and moist and just a really cool way to cook a carrot cake. I especially loved the concept of being able to bake a cake anywhere with a crock pot instead of having to have an oven! This opens up a lot of capabilities for catering and off-site cooking! For more information, read  more about Jan's cake here.

 Jan issued the challenge on the radio show to me to make a healthy variation of the cake, and I'm going to share that with you here today. Anyone who knows of my affection for  carrot cake and carrot cake pancakes will understand my logic in wanting to make this new recipe from Jan into something I can eat without feeling guilty. The weight-loss challenge is ever in my mind and I'm not about to give up. By the way, it isn't just to "look good", obtaining a healthy weight is just a remarkable step toward long-lasting good health. 

To make it a healthier version this is what I did:
  •  I replaced  small portion of the oil with organic coconut oil to add succulence.
  • I used cholesterol free eggs in the form of powdered egg white for heart health.
  • I used organic non-gmo whole grain Kamut ® flour, and because it is whole grain I needed a lot less flour for a rich cake. By adding this, and knowing that it is a higher protein flour I normally use for bread, I did keep the mixing to a minimum. Over-mixing this batter can make it tough. Thus the addition of the coconut oil as well, it will aid in keeping the cake tender. The Wheat flour glycemic load is a low 44! That's great for keeping things regulated!

Chef Tess' Healthy Carrot Cake in a Slow Cooker
yield 8 servings
1 cup dehydrated refried bean flakes
1 cup hot water water
1/2 cup organic coconut oil
1 cup natural granular erythritol or sugar-free alternative
2T powdered egg white
1 cup Kamut ® flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp Chef Tess Wise Woman of the East Cinnamon and Spice blend
2 cups grated carrot ( nutritional facts on carrots)
2 tsp pure natural Madagascar vanilla-bean paste or Princess cake and cookie emulsion

Combine bean flakes with hot water. Hydrate 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and mix well, but being careful not to over-mix. About 50 turns. 

 Place in greased 6 quart crock pot.  I have a Nesco Electric-Programmable pressure cooker  that has a "slow cooker" setting. The good thing about that, is that it replaced my crock-pot, pressure cooker and electric pot.  I use it twice a week or more!  Now...with cake!  Cover and cook on high 2 1/2-3 hours, leaving covered the full time.Take care and watch carefully since every crock-pot has a different temperatures and it can burn around the edges. It is possible to be done in 2 hours instead of 3. 
 Mine was done in 2 hours flat.   Allow the cake to cool 20 minutes in the pan. 
 Remove cake with spatula or invert it onto a serving tray. If you greased you crock correctly, it will come out just fine. I love that my cooker has a metal removable insert so it is actually as close to a cake pan as I could have ever asked to have! Cool completely.

 Serve with fresh whip cream or fruit if desired. 
Nutritional information without cream:
serving size, 1 slice. Serving per recipe, 8. 
per slice: 218 calories, 14 g fat, 19 carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 5 g protein (14 net carbohydrate)

There you go!
Always My Very Best, 
Your Friend Chef Tess

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Trials of Faith...The Bread of Life Section

Sunday is the day I share a little of my soul. Enjoy.

Today I'm going to be a little real. I think that's healthy.  I have a dear friend whose husband has suffered some trauma and has been unable to work for mental health reasons. She had to return to work to support her family financially and has received a few very judgmental comments from people looking in on her life and telling her what they think she should do. Some have been well-intended. Some have been down-right callous. Later this week, another friend with a similar challenge with her spouse said something to me that really made me think, " Too often I find people who profess to follow the Savior but then say something that proves they don't understand anything he taught."

I am reminded of the fact that though we can look at someone else's life and offer them advice, the scope and extent of any trial that someone else has to go through will be very personal to them. It is easy to say, "Try harder. It shouldn't be a challenge. You haven't tried all you can do." It is another thing entirely to be that person. The atonement was personal for a reason. Nobody else, not even someone very close to us can really know what we're dealing with deep inside our own hearts. It is a personal atonement because our challenges are personal!

 Think of Jesus’s words to Peter:
“Simon, … Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
“But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”

Peter himself later encouraged others: “Think it not strange,” he said, “concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.”

I for one have questioned why I've had to experience a trial of faith, when there it is...Peter said it. "think it not strange..." We're going to have trials. That is part of the journey of this life. 

Then I read these words, "These fiery trials are designed to make you stronger, but they have the potential to diminish or even destroy your trust in the Son of God and to weaken your resolve to keep your promises to Him. These trials are often camouflaged, making them difficult to identify. They take root in our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, our sensitivities, or in those things that matter most to us. A real but manageable test for one can be a fiery trial for another." by Elder Neil Andersen

God is in charge, but that doesn't mean that it will ever be simple or that our trying harder will fix it. Holding His hands will...

 To my friends... You and your sweet husbands are in my prayers. Just know you're loved darlings.  I'm quite certain that this is why we have each other on earth and the few and far between who actually really get what it was about! Jesus came for each one of us. It was personal to Him.  It isn't about what someone else's experience is with this, it is a personal atonement...personal experiences...personal redemption...personal real bitter "to the edge of Abraham's Alter" struggles. Whatever you lay at His feet, he will understand. Does that mean he'll take away the pain and the anger all at once? Not always. It means, you'll have a friend to walk with you through the darkness. Hold on tight. 

There it is.

Always My Very Best,

Friday, February 22, 2013

Coconut Flour Onion Dill Cheese Crackers, Low Carbohydrate, High Fiber and Crazy Delicious!

Something froze over. Seriously.  It isn't every day that I can look out and see snow on the sand-stone. In fact, I can count on 2 fingers the times it has ever snowed here in my Sonoran Desert since I moved her 17 years ago...and yesterday was one of those days. I had, a few weeks ago picked up some more amazing organic coconut flour and it seemed like a perfect day to play with this stuff...seeing all the other white flakes just flicked all over the valley. Yes, this is officially how my giant brain works.  The last time I shared a coconut flour recipe it was for Gluten-Free Red Velvet Cupcakes with white chocolate peppermint mousse.  Here are some things you should know about coconut flour:

Coconut flour can be difficult to work with if you are unfamiliar with it.  

  •  You cannot use 100% coconut flour in recipes that are designed for wheat flour.
  •  Coconut flour lacks gluten, and thus won't hold air or make a texture like that found in gluten breads. 
  • Adding egg or Xanthan gum has been a great way to replace the wheat protein in my gluten-free baking and still give the texture I want in my crackers, muffins and cookies. 
  •  As a general rule, if you are adding say, 1/4 cup of coconut flour to a recipe, you'll need to increase the liquid by the same amount. 
  •  It absorbs it's volume in water.
  •  I use a minimal amount of liquid in my coconut flour baking  because adding too much liquid will also cause the final product to be very moist, sometimes overly moist and mushy.  
  • The extra fiber will keep you full longer and help promote a healthy colon and weight loss.
  • Because it is low in carbohydrate, it is an excellent replacement for regular flour in recipes. I personally suggest reading Cooking With Coconut Flour by Bruce Fife. It is a great read and has helped me immensely with my baking skills using this remarkable flour. That being said, I've also found some of my own favorite tricks for using the flour.
  •  Coconut flour, unlike most other flours, is very high in fiber. It does in fact have 4 grams of fiber in 2 Tablespoons of the flour. It has a light coconut flavor, and that can be either played with and used for a coconut undertone to your dishes or just covered with herbs and spices.

Chef Tess Onion Dill Low-Carb Cheese Crackers
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup freeze-dried Colby Cheese
1/2 cup organic coconut flour
1T Chef Tess Big Dill Seasoning (or 1 1/2 tsp dill, 1/2 tsp garlic, 1/2 tsp onion, 1/2 tsp pepper)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup water

Combine all ingredients. Allow dough to sit 10 minutes. The flour will absorb the liquid and the cheese will hydrate slightly. In all honesty, the freeze dried cheese is my secret ingredient. It stays slightly crunchy and gives the crackers the perfect crunch. The xantham gum will help the crackers hold together and lend a very nice texture to the finished crackers. 

 Roll out thin on a lightly oiled baking stone ( I use a 18 inch pizza stone), lightly oiling the top of the dough if needed to keep it from sticking to your rolling pin, until 1/8th inch thick. I roll a little sprinkle of salt on top of the crackers. Cut into 1 inch squares. 

 Bake 400 degrees 20-25 minutes until crisp. Open oven. Turn off heat and let crackers sit in the oven 10 minutes (200 degrees or so until very dry and crunchy).

Yield 4 servings, 137 calories a serving. 8 g fat, 8 g protein, 4 g fiber, 8 carb (4 net).

There you go my darlings, make some great coconut flour crackers!

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

No-cook Pinto Bean Fudge

I taught a bean cooking class today. Pinto beans were on the menu...but let's just be honest. When you see a picture of pinto beans, you don't ever think of creamy chocolate fudge. Ever. When I usually teach a bean class, the pintos are a savory dish.  In fact, when I talk pinto I usually think of that horrid news-station report of "the latest breaking news on the toddler who put 12 beans up their nose and is now in critical condition as the beans sprout..." but if you're like me you don't think of fudge. Right? Because if you think of fudge, well, you're just not normal. I said it.

That being said, when a friend of mine started gushing the phrase , "Tess you should try making pinto bean fudge!" I thought to myself, "yeah, that will happen..." 

Well. Something froze over. I decided it didn't sound that crazy when I read this no-cook super simple recipe for pinto bean fudge. In all honesty, I thought, "well, I'd only be out a little sugar and some beans if it totally stinks." So, I decided to stop being a kill-joy and try something new.  Granted, I also had to change it a bit to make it set better and give it some unique Chef-like twists, but I'm confessing right is evil in a very creamy, very delicious kind of way.  The beans lend a perfectly smooth texture if you puree or mash them really well. In all honesty, it is still fudge. The addition of the pinto beans seems to be more of a novelty than anything...but it does make a really delicious fudge.  Confession. I'm now joining the ranks of the not-normal pinto thinkers. (shh. I know you've thought, "This girl isn't even close to normal!" Now you have proof...)
Tess' Version of Pinto Bean Fudge (don't knock it until you try it)
1 cup of cooked pinto beans ( mashed or puree until smooth)
1 cup of melted butter (no substitutions)
10 oz melted dark chocolate
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 tsp rum flavor
1 cup natural baking cocoa
2 lb powdered sugar (7 cups)
1/2 tsp Chef Tess Wise Woman of the East blend
dash of cayanne pepper
1 cup toasted walnuts (if desired but I think this is the only way to have fudge)
First, mash the beans. I use a food processor so you can get them real smooth ( the one cup measure is before mashing).
Then, combine the mashed beans with the melted butter, melted chocolate, vanilla, and cocoa in a heavy  mixer with a paddle attachment. After that’s all combined, add the powdered sugar. Add nuts.
Blend well 3-4 minutes until smooth.

Spread the fudge mixture into an 8 by 8 inch pan lined with non-stick foil or parchment. Set 2-3 hours. Remove the paper or foil. 
Slice with a sharp knife. Keep chilled.

There you go. Pinto beans can be made into fudge. Who know?  Seriously love. Try not to think about the other uses for pinto beans. Think fudge instead of sprouts. I know I will. 

Do you want to hear about these adventures as they unfold? Join me on My Facebook Page.

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess