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Tuesday
Dec222009

Holiday Baking in Progress

Tis the season, thought I'd test some Christmas recipes to share with you. An Eating Well recipe for low fat Fudge Chocolate Chip Ginger Cookies sounded like a yummy adult alternative to gingerbread cookies. I changed a few ingredients (the type and ratio of chocolate based on what was left on the supermarket shelves during this busy baking season, and using ground ginger instead of crystallized ginger—didn’t want to pay $10 for a little jar!), and then thought the amount of flour listed was a typo—the 1/4 cup it called for produced a batter with the consistency of thin ganache so I added another cup of flour. Oh, and I omitted the chocolate chips thinking it might become too sweet! Yikes, with so many changes it turned out more like a biscuit than a cookie, with a slightly bitter flavor reminiscent of French chocolate truffles (should have added those chocolate chips!). These would be fine with tea or cocoa but overall not a keeper recipe.

Thankfully the next one was a keeper! Almond and Tart Cherry Bark, modified from a Delish recipe originally using pistachios, was almost too easy. With just four ingredients, this no-bake fast recipe is fool-proof even for a novice. There's a lot of room for variation. I changed the amounts of the ingredients only to fit what was available in the store. I used presliced almonds but you can use any favorite nut. The fun part is breaking the bark into pieces; no clean cuts with a knife required here! The end result was pretty enough to pack in festive boxes and give as gifts. 

Almond and Tart Cherry Bark

Ingredients

12 oz semisweet chocolate chips (or bittersweet chocolate if you prefer less sweet)

7 oz white chocolate

8 oz roasted sliced almonds

6 oz Craisins, cherry flavored

Directions

  1. Place semisweet chocolate and white chocolate in two separate microwave-safe bowls or measuring cups. Heat semisweet chocolate on high for a minute and stir; heat another minute and stir again. Heat additional 30 seconds if not completely melted and then stir well. Repeat melting process with white chocolate.
  2. Stir 1 cup of almonds and 1 cup of Craisins into semisweet chocolate. On large cookie sheet, spread chocolate mixture to about 1/4-inch thickness. Spoon dollops of white chocolate onto semisweet chocolate mixture and, with a tip of a knife, swirl chocolates together for a marbled look. Sprinkle with remanining almonds and Craisins.
  3. Refrigerate bark 1 hour or until firm. Break bark into pieces. Refrigerate in tightly sealed container up to 1 month.
Wednesday
Dec162009

Sugar: Not Just Sweet Stuff

Last night I dreamed of sugar plums dancing in my head, or was it the mocha frosted cupcakes I ate last weekend from Sugar Bakery? On what was once a forgotten corner of Centre Street in West Roxbury, Sugar now anchors a popular culinary spot with The Real Deal and iScream Works next door. Sugar carries what you'd expect: confections filled with sugar and topped with even more sugar. They offer classic chocolate chunk and oatmeal cookies, Italian biscotti, perfectly sized cupcakes, flaky pastries, muffins and croissants, and much more. They also bake fresh bread on the premises: I love the Cranberry Harvest Loaf and Multi-Grain Ciabatta.   

 

So, what are your choices if you're trying to watch calories? 1) Walk quickly past the Sugar entrance and don't look back, 2) Exhibit enormous self-control and order a biscotti with a skim milk latte, or 3) Try a most incredible Greek red pepper and feta spread by Mt. Vikos usually on display at the cashier. If you're bored of hummus, you must sample this! It's tangy, slightly sweet, and rich-tasting even though it's low in fat and calories. I would eat it with a spoon except it would disappear too fast (not cheap at about $6 for a 7.7 ounce tub). Spread it on Sugar's onion rolls or baguettes. Your mouth will be so full of flavor that you'll forget about those fluffy snowmen cupcakes winking at you from the bakery case. 

Thursday
Dec102009

Whole Foods: Whole Lotta Hype

Ouch. I’m in trouble for saying that, especially with friends who’ve said how lucky I am that the newest Whole Foods branch, the largest in New England, has opened down the street from me. After all, everyone’s into Whole Foods—it’s the Jolly Green Organic Giant with special food products for almost any diet. So I visited my new neighbor. You hear about people from other countries seeing our massive supermarkets for the first time—that’s how I felt. After entering, I froze, trying to stare in all directions at the same time. There was so much energy and bustling around, it felt like the food version of New York City. There were assorted fresh bars for salads, hot entrées, antipasti, trail mix and granola. Their food court included pizzas, sushi, panini, burritos, artisan breads, cakes and pastries, gelato and more.

But after more visits and taste-testing of several items, the novelty of Whole Foods has worn off. It’s joined my list of stores that I label as needing “intense cost control awareness,” such as The Container Store and Target. You intend to buy a few things but leave with large shopping bags and a dent in your credit card. The difference with Whole Foods is that I’ve regretted what I’ve bought. Their take-out is far from exceptional. I’ve tried the sushi, burritos, shawarma, pastries, and hot and cold entrée bars. People may disagree but I’d rate the food average at best, excelling in appearance, not taste. For example, on a recent visit I found it odd that my grilled veggie burrito tasted identical to the California sushi rolls I’d eaten there the week before, and both were bland, forgettable. I daresay that the much simpler salad bar at the cafeteria in the hospital where I work tastes almost gourmet compared to Whole Foods' super-fancy salad offerings.  

The 365 wheat ravioli tasted watery with a bizarre blend of spices.There are certainly great-tasting commerical brands of organic foods if you don't mind paying high prices. Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value brand is cheaper with prices closer to a Trader Joe’s or even regular supermarket chain, but unfortunately the taste of those foods isn't that special. I do appreciate certain things like the fresh meat and poultry, a raspberry tart with big berries over a dark chocolate base in the pastry case, and the cranberry Israeli couscous in the salad bar. But overall I'll be admiring Whole Foods for its concept, not its food.      

Raspberry chocolate tart: delectable. Cupcake: beautiful but dry cake and flavorless frosting.