Sunday, September 20, 2009

Semi-Homemade Coconut Cupcakes.

Sandra Lee would be so proud. Normally, I prefer bake from scratch. This allows me to have complete control over what I put in and, consequentially, have some degree of confidence that there are "healthy" aspects. In this case, however, I had a box of white cake mix that was just begging to be used and the grocery store was having a sale on whipped cream. Plus, I was hosting a party and have found that college-students are eager to taste test and quick to compliment. I mean, a girl can only have so much will...

So then, setting aside my general hesitation to "semi-homebake", I half created/ half followed box directions and ended up with some delicious coconut cupcakes! I was still able to slip in "healthier" ingredients, like unsweetened coconut and sugar-free pudding without sacrificing any taste... my favorite thing to do!

Always reliable, my friends devoured the cupcakes in no time. Even the folks who claimed to dislike coconut set aside their hesitation and loved the sweet and subtle treat!

Going Coco-Nuts! Cupcakes...
Semi-homemade. Fully delicious.

  • 1 box white cake mix, and necessary components (eggs, oil, etc.)
  • 2 tsp. coconut flavoring
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (I used unsweetened)
  • 1 16 oz. package of non-fat whipped cream
  • 1 package sugar-free vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread out shredded coconut evenly over foil-covered baking sheet. Toast in oven, watching closely, approximately 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned.
  • Reset oven and prepare cake mix according to directions (I opted to use an additional egg white and increase liquids in lieu of whole eggs). Once cake mix is well combined, add 2 tsp. coconut flavoring and 2/3 cup toasted shredded coconut. Mix.
  • Using a greased or lined cupcake tin, fill molds about 2/3 of the way. Bake according to box directions.
  • While cupcakes are in the over, prepare frosting by combining whipped cream, contents of pudding package, and powdered sugar.
  • Remove cupcakes from oven and allow to thoroughly cool. Frost cupcakes with whipped cream mixture and top with remaining 1/3 cup toasted coconut. Enjoy!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Guacamole Inspired Egg Pizza!

Sometimes I get a small seed of a recipe idea into my head. There, for days, weeks, or even months it slowly grows, absorbing new flavors I experience, techniques I learn, and concepts I am intrigued by. After a while, the idea that began so modestly blooms into a glorious recipe I am ready to tackle!

Okay, so this is glamorizing the process a bit... for every time that my ideas come through there are a good two or three that are passed directly onto the trash. Most often this is a result of over-complicated ideas that build too much upon too much until the real goodness is lost somewhere between the refrigerator and plate. I mean, just ask Jack about that ol' beanstalk for a lesson in not letting things grow too much!

Fortunately, I am proud to say that my latest venture was of the "successful" bred. I've lately been obsessed with the vibrant flavors of lime. I think the fresh, citrus-y taste pairs so well with things ranging from sweet potatoes to the traditional guacamole. So then, I decided to combine the classic pairings of lime, tomatoes, onions, and cumin with my other current fixations of scrambled eggs and thin-crust pizza.

Okay, before I lose you, allow me to explain: The concept is fairly simple. Just take a tortilla, some classic scrambled eggs, and some vamped up ingredients... and what do you get?

Avocado-Free Scrambled Guacamole Pizza

  • 1 whole wheat tortilla
  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp. lime juice, plus lime to garnish
  • 1/4 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tbsp. Colby Jack cheese
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush olive oil on both sides of tortilla. Place on foil-covered baking sheet in oven. Bake 3-4 minutes on both sides until lightly browned. Be cautious of air-bubbles, which may have to be popped with knife.
  • In meantime, beat 3 egg whites and 1 yolk together with cumin and a dash of water. In small greased skillet scramble the eggs on low-heat until just before desired consistency. Add tomatoes, onion, and lime juice. Finish scrambling eggs until desired consistency is reached (may be extra liquid from tomato and lime juice).
  • Remove baked tortilla from oven. Spread scrambled eggs over top of tortilla, reserving liquid. Top with cheese and bake in oven another 5 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly on wire rack, and enjoy!
I enjoyed the vibrant flavors in this light pizza! Made a great dinner, but would work equally well as a breakfast or brunch. Feel free to play around with the vegetables and leave suggestions!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Personal health means smart choices.

Amidst all of the controversy surrounding health care reform, it is time to step back and examine the real problems plaguing America. A few issues immediately come to mind: obesity, smoking and extreme stress. Yet despite these all being easy targets, the link behind everything from diabetes to heart disease is not so simple.

The difficult issue we face today is even more American than fried chicken and apple pie: It is the great tradition that we, as a society, have of seeking a scapegoat for our problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of health care dollars are spent on treatment of “preventable chronic diseases.” Based on these numbers, something is undeniably wrong with the condition of America. It is as if the connection between increasing medical bills and personal responsibility was lost somewhere between plowing the family farm and pulling up to the drive-thru window at McDonalds.

True, insurance businesses may be guilty of profiting from medical costs. Government expenditures in health care may be inefficient. The grandmothers of our country may even be conspiring to make us fat with that extra cup of butter in our biscuits. But, at the end of the day, it is the individual who is the real culprit of poor health.

Just think — the money demanded by insurance companies would be far less if we put down the fries before our arteries needed unclogging. The money spent by the government in providing insurance could be more widely disbursed if those covered didn’t have such high demands. The grandmothers might even decide to reduce the butter if they knew we didn’t like it so darn much.

Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” recently wrote a column in the New York Times pointing out the link between rising health care costs and the cheap, fast and unheathly foods in demand (and frequently subsidized). He added that, regardless of government action, there would be a problem with health care in America as long as there is a problem with American health.

Pollan’s point is crucial. He made the significant link between diet, which the individual has complete control over, and overall well-being. Nonetheless, in centering his argument on nutrition, Pollan was guilty of finger pointing. While better eating practices may be (or are) essential to improving health, this focus skirts the deeper issue that refusal to take personal responsibility comes with consequences.

From democracy to helping a friend in need, America has some great traditions. However, the time has come to let go our national practice of seeking others to blame. So squeeze in that extra hour of sleep. Exchange car keys for walking shoes every now and then. And for goodness’ sake, put down that seventh slice of pizza.

As published in the University Daily Kansan.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tomato-Basil Sandwich is Love.

I'm never really sure how to feel about Sunday nights. On one hand, I am anxious for the upcoming week and think about all I'll have to do. Yet, at the same time I am still consumed by the weekend mentality of laziness. It is this strange little contradiction that always leaves me a little unsure on how to approach dinner: Go all out to celebrate the weekend and motivate myself for the week to come? Or keep it simple and preserve my energy?

This Sunday I found one simple solution to this little dilemma: A pesto panini! I got the ease and simplicity I was looking for, while simultaneously getting bold and delicious flavors.

To me, the only thing bad about pesto is that I always leave my little basil plant looking slightly pathetic. However, I am willing to make this concession in order to gain the great flavors and versiltile uses of petso.

One of the very greatest things about pesto is how easy it is to freeze in individual portions and pull whenever inspiration strikes. Just divide a fresh batch into an empty ice cube tray and allow to freeze. It will keep for weeks!

Pesto, Mozzarella and Summer Tomato Panini

  • 1 tbsp. fresh, store bought, or thawed pesto
  • 1 slice mozzarella cheese (fresh is better, but I used prepacked)
  • 2 thick tomato slices
  • 2 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 sliced ciabatta roll
  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread 1 tsp. olive oil over the insides of both ciabatta roll halves. Place on cooking sheet and toast in oven 4-5 minutes, until top is lightly browned.
  • Spread pesto on toasted ciabatta rolls. Layer 1 thick tomato slice, basil leaves, mozzarella slice, and second tomato slice, and top with other ciabatta half.
  • If available, use panini or sandwich press on sandwich . Otherwise, use skillet on medium heat. Place a second heavy skillet on top of sandwich to press down until mozzarella has begun to melt.
  • Enjoy!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

When inspiration fails...

Everyday I face the same task of opening the refrigerator, inspecting the ingredients, and, hopefully, having inspiration strike. This routine is hit or miss: sometimes I immediately jump into action and whip up a new, exciting, and delectable concoction. Other times I stand with the door open for minutes on end, staring blankly into the fridge and allowing countless dollars of energy to seep out.

On the days where coming up with something to cook seems a greater task than solving a Rubik’s Cube while blindfolded I wonder how it would be possible to avoid food slumps. My first choice is turning to the familiar faces of the Food Network to comfort me with their sweet promises of a new culinary masterpiece.

After a few minutes of Giada, Bobby, or Ina I’ve found inspiration. I jump up from the couch and race towards the fridge, imagining that suddenly I will see a feast where I had previously seen famine.

Yet, alas, the trusty television failed to provide me with the necessary ingredients. I consider driving to the store, finding the demanded food items, shelling out the cash, and then heading home to prepare… However, by this time, I know the comforts of the couch and tell myself I’d be better off with a bowl of cereal.

As a turn towards the cabinet I feel a sense of defeat. Suddenly, a second wave of energy: No, I don’t need to offerings of the grocery store to feed my hunger! I can, and will, make something from the selection I have at home!

Still a little bitter with television I go to my second option of online recipe searches, where I am confident I will find some meal to match even my skimpy selection. From this point I think of what I want my creation to be centered around. While this still requires a push of mental energy, it is much less daunting than creating an entire meal on my own.

I scan the multitude of recipes for something that fits my discerning hunger pains. As I click through the pages up pops a recipe under some foreign name. I am intrigued, so I follow the link and find a strange, yet appetizing, combination of ingredient—all of which I have in my kitchen!
From that point I jump to action. I grab the once seemingly unrelated items; I do some whipping, a little sauteing, and a bit of rolling. I throw it all in the oven, walk away for a while, then return to the sweet aroma of unfamiliar cuisine. In frenzied anticipation I dish out a serving and dig in—only to find a taste my dog would refuse.

Oh well, maybe tomorrow I will restock my kitchen, stumble upon inspiration, and regain my self-proclaimed title of good cook, but, for now, cereal is calling my name.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More to eating healthy than diets, quick fixes

Diet. At one time the word alone was enough to make even the most health-conscious of people cringe. And now? Every magazine is filled with the latest tips. Every morning news show proclaims the best methods. Everyone behind the checkout counter thinks they have the best advice. It is as if, suddenly, there is no “I” in “diet.”

So, what exactly is the problem? Couldn’t it be assumed that the increase in dialogue would lead to more healthful eating habits and, consequentially, bodies?

Au contraire!

Instead of creating a more healthful America, mass dieting has spawned a nation of androids, blindly — or rather, tastelessly — consuming foods based on current fads. It is as if this nationalization of feeding has resulted in widespread distancing from the very best parts of eating: the aromas, the colors, the textures and finally the tastes. And the worst consequence of all, more so than the bizarre willingness to consume cardboard if suddenly deemed healthful, is that Americans are surrendering their abilities to truly enjoy food.

Yet, unlike the latest diet plans that many people are so eager to embrace, there is no quick fix to overcoming contention with culinary mediocrity. Instead, it is necessary to rework the ways in which we associate with food.

First, we have to learn to talk about food not as the inevitable and eternal enemy, but rather as a close friend with whom we share positive experiences and fond memories.

Reworking my own relationship relationship

with food has been a challenge, but the greatest reward of becoming aware of what I really am craving is the deep joy and pleasure I feel in indulgence. I now know that I love a cool ice cream cone on a hot summer day, a steaming cup of aromatic coffee in the early hours of a winter morning and a slice of whole wheat bread topped with peanut butter after an intense workout.

Though I may not be sticking to any strict diet, I have found that acknowledging my hunger allows me to feel easily and completely satisfied. Often a bite of chocolate that I slowly savor fills me up more than a hastily devoured — and later regretted — slice of rich cake.

True, there are some key principles that are important to stick close to. No matter how much they may be craved, a body can only get by for so long on Twinkies or hamburgers.

But beyond a few smart guidelines, eating is more about personal reflection than prescribed diets. This approach may take a bit more time and effort than simply consuming based on fads. However, the results of a healthy, empowered body and truly satisfied appetite are well worth it.

As published in the University Daily Kansan.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Making use of the waning blueberry days.

Slowly, hesitantly, and quite reluctantly I am letting go of summer... but, for the sake of one final hoorah, I am taking total advantage of the blueberry crop. Fortunately I am doing this without any guilt: blueberries are one of the most nutritious (and, personally speaking, delicious) of all berries. Not only are they are chalk-full with antioxidants, but new research shows that Anthocyanins, the pigment that gives them that familiar hue, may help fight skin cancer, ward off wrinkes, and get brain cells working at hyperspeed (a good thing!). What's more, they have been noted as a superfood for keeping a trim waistline.

Okay, as for a little confession, my passion for blueberries is a fairly recent development. My earliest memories of the juicy little fruits was of my mom encouraging me to fill up with them before my elementary school standardized tests. She was keen on the brain-boosting benefits, but, for me, the association of blueberries and hours of filling in bubbles on Scantrons was not exactly pleasant.

For years after my negative testing experiences I made every attempt to snub blueberries... and was quite successful. That was all until this year, when on a rigorous hiking expedition with my dad, I was presented with the option of adding blueberries to my pancakes. Suddenly it was as if all my bad memories faded away; in that moment nothing in the world sounded better than blueberries. To my delight the berries were better than I ever imagined.

Since that day, my former enemy has transformed into my new obsession. I have looked for all possible ways to integrate blueberries into my diet. From the more traditional muffins to new spins on salsa, I have discovered that blueberries make a great addition to a variety of foods.

Still looking to expand on my blueberry recipe repitoire, I decided to wander into new territory and attempt to create some concotions of my own.

The first was a blueberry cookie made with the base of a stovetop blueberry reduction... resulting in the swampy color. However, as so eleqountly phrased by one of my tastetesters, "The asthetics are the only things bad about this cookie." (Although I argue there is something modern about the unoriginal cookie-hue!)
Swamp Cookies...
looks can be deceiving.

  • 2/3 cups almonds
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  • In small saucepan, create simple sugar mixture by bringing 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water just to boil. Add 3/4 cup blueberries and reduce to honey-like consistency. Remove from heat and allow to cool 10 minutes.
  • Blend almonds until smooth. Combine with 1/3 cup sugar, and brown sugar in large bowl. Beat with mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla and egg; beat well.
  • Lightly spoon flours into measuring cups; level. Combine flours, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg, stirring with whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture in three batches; beat at low speed until just combined. Stir in blueberry sauce. Allow to chill 10 minutes.
  • Divide dough into 30 equal parts and roll into balls. Place 1 tbps. sugar in bowl. Lightly press balls into sugar; place sugar side up on greased baking sheet.
  • Make criss-cross pattern on cookie tops with fork dipped in water.
  • Bake 1/2 batch for approximately 9 minutes. Repeat with second half. Allow to cool.
Note: These was defintely a trial run on these cookies. While they turned out tasting good, I will most likely make some adaptations to my next batch. Possibly, whole blueberries inside of the cookies, then drizzled with the blueberry reduction.

My next venture into blueberry land is an adaptation on one of my very favorite recipes: Cranberry, Orange, and Granola bars. I would go as far as saying that the resulting creation trumps the original! There is so much goodness in these little bites... not to mention a good old serving of patriotism!
All-American Cream Bites...
red, white, and blueberry!


  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp. margarine, melted
  • 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (zest first!)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 3/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Prepare crusts by combining first seven ingedients in medium bowl; whisk. Drizzle butter and juice over mixture, stirring until moistened. Reserve 1/2 cup mixture. Press remaining mix into 32 coated muffin-tin bottoms.
  • Prepare filling by combining all ingredients of the filling in a medium bowl; stir well. Divide mixture evenly amongst the 32 muffin-tin bottoms. Sprinkle reserved mixture over filling. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool.
So while blueberry season may be waning my memories of these delicious treats will last me long into the winter... or at least until mid-September when I resort to frozen berries! Enjoy!