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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Almond Butter Cookies


These quick cookies take just a few ingredients and make a healthy snack. Unlike traditional peanut butter cookies that contain sugar and flour, this recipe calls for almond butter, a small amount of honey, and unsweetened coconut. An egg helps hold it all together.

The batter will be stiff but there are two things that will make it easier to work with:
  • Warm the almond butter before you start (and the honey if it's thick or crystallized). Place glass jars in a saucepan of barely simmering water or transfer the almond butter to a glass or stainless steel bowl and place it over a saucepan of slowly simmering water until warm. 
  • If you have it, use an electric mixer to finish the batter. (If you don't have an electric mixer, you can do it by hand.)

1½ cups raw almond butter, warmed
¼ cup raw, local honey
½ cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut
1 egg, beaten
Pinch sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Once the almond butter is warm, stir it until the texture is consistent and smooth. Stir in the honey and sea salt. Add the coconut and beaten egg, then mix until all of the ingredients are incorporated thoroughly.

Use 2 spoons to form the mixture into balls and place them on a baking sheet. Use the back of a fork to gently press the balls into disks. Rotate 90 degrees and press again. Sprinkle with unsweetened shredded coconut or sea salt.

To achieve a perfect texture that is chewy but not crumbly, bake the cookies until their edges become brown, about 10 minutes. Watch them closely near the end of baking and take care to not over-bake them. But don't under-bake them either. If the edges aren't brown when you take them out, they may not hold together well once cool.

Yield: 20 cookies

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Healthy Holiday Seasonal Side Dish

Looking for a healthy and delicious seasonal side dish this holiday season?

Try this simple dish: my Creamy Brussels Sprouts Sauté.

Brussels sprouts are a healthy choice because they are a good source of fiber and they contain compounds that assist the liver in eliminating environmental toxins.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Duck Confit with Savory Blueberry Sauce


This famous French dish, confit de canard, or duck confit, sounds fancy but it's really quite simple. Developed as a food preservation technique, confit is a method of slow-cooking and storing meats in fat. It sounds greasy, but it's surprisingly not. The meat stays moist and fall-apart tender while excess fat melts out during cooking.

This recipe does require a large amount of duck fat. I happen to have a jar in my fridge because I save rendered fat whenever I cook duck (it keeps for months in the fridge). But it's also sold by the jar. Look for D'artagnan duck fat in specialty groceries or buy it online.

This recipe also requires several duck legs. When I found them fresh, I bought a bunch to make this dish. If you have a hard time finding duck legs, ask around at your local farmer's market or have your butcher to order some for you. Alternatively, you can use a whole duck, fresh or frozen and thawed, cut into pieces.

Properly prepared, duck confit will keep in the fridge for several months. To store it, you'll need a glass or ceramic container. A covered crock or wide-mouth 2-liter canning jar works well. 

I served the finished product with a savory sauce made of blueberries and fresh rosemary. You'll find that recipe at the end of this post.

6 duck legs
Sea salt
Duck fat, 4 cups or more

At least 24 hours in advance, generously season the duck legs and set them aside in the fridge.

Allow the pre-seasoned duck legs to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 275F. 

Wipe off any excess salt from the duck legs and arrange them inside a cast iron Dutch oven. Cover them with duck fat and warm over low heat until the fat has liquified and you're sure there is enough to cover the legs completely.

Cover the Dutch oven and transfer it to the oven. Roast the duck legs for 2½ hours, then remove the Dutch oven and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Once the duck legs have cooled, transfer them to a clean, dry glass or ceramic container. 

Very carefully, pour the duck fat over the legs. The duck legs must be completely covered with duck fat, so if there isn't enough, add more.

Cool the jar completely to room temperature. Cover it tightly and place it in the fridge until ready to eat.

When you're ready to eat the duck confit, bring the jar to room temperature. If you plan to serve it with the blueberry sauce, take the blueberries out of the freezer to thaw.

Preheat the oven to 400F.
Carefully remove the duck legs one by one, wiping away most of the excess fat (you'll want to leave a little to prevent the meat from sticking to the baking dish) and placing it inside a baking pan. If you have a hard time pulling out the duck legs, place the jar on the oven as it preheats so further soften the fat and ease removal. Cover the remaining confit and put it back in the fridge.

Roast the duck legs, uncovered, until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, mix up the Savory Blueberry Sauce (recipe follows).

Savory Blueberry Sauce

To make this sauce, I used my immersion blender and a wide-mouth pint-size canning jar. You can also use a regular blender or a food processor. If you need more volume to make your machine mix, you can double this recipe.

1/2 cup frozen organic blueberries
1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
Sea salt to taste
Ground peppercorn to taste

Purée all of the ingredients until smooth. Taste for seasoning and make and necessary adjustments. Serve the sauce within two hours or store it in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to eat.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Alternative to Canned Beans


Beans are a wonderful source of vegetarian protein. I add them to salads, soups, veggie burgers, and scrambled eggs (topped with salsa and plain yogurt). Beans from a can are convenient, but unless they come in BPA-free cans, you should cook your own.

Cooking beans at home doesn't require a lot of effort, just good timing. Soak them in advance for 12 to 24 hours and cook them whenever you're in the kitchen anyway. Make a big batch, store them in their cooking liquid, and freeze what you don't use within a week.

Frozen cooked beans are almost as convenient as canned cooked beans. It's true that they have to be thawed, but in some cases you can skip that step, like when you're adding them to soups and stews.

I add epazote to my beans while they cook because it adds flavor and improves their digestibility. Epazote also reduces gas formation.


I foraged for epazote in Central Park and dried what I didn't use fresh. If you plan to pick it yourself, make 100% sure you have a positive identification.

Otherwise, look for it grocery stores that carry Mexican and Central American groceries ingredients. In Manhattan, find epazote at Kalustyan's on Lexington Avenue.

Take care to not over-cook the beans. Longer soaking makes for shorter cooking times, and beans that were dried recently cook much more quickly than those dried long ago. Soaked overnight, the black beans I buy from Pure Cayuga Organics at the farmer's market cook in only 45 minutes.

1. Soak the beans for 12 to 24 hours. 
    2. Rinse the pre-soaked beans well and add them to a pot with plenty of fresh water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beans are tender, checking periodically to gauge cooking time.

    3. Cool the cooked beans in their cooking liquid.

    4. Strain the cooled beans, reserving the cooking liquid.

    5. Toss the strained beans with a pinch of sea salt, then transfer them to clean glass jars, leaving an inch of space at the top. Pour the cooking liquid over the beans, making sure that they are completely covered and leaving at least an inch of space at the top (unless you don't plan to freeze the jars). Tighten lids on the jars. Save any excess cooking liquid, or bean broth, for soups, stews and chili. Use it as you would mushroom or vegetable broth. It too can be stored in a clean glass jar in the fridge or freezer. Allow an inch of space at the top if you plan to freeze it.

    6. Transfer the beans and any excess bean broth to the fridge. If you plan to freeze them, allow the jars to chill overnight first. Transfer the chilled jars to the freezer and leave the lids askew to prevent them from cracking if the contents expand. Tighten the lids the following day, after they have frozen completely.