Search This Blog

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Walnut Butter Cups


Looking for a healthy Halloween treat?

These Walnut Butter Cups are a healthy alternative to store-bought peanut butter cups. I used dates instead of sugar to add a little sweetness. The filling, made with walnuts, almond butter, and coconut, is is full of healthy fats. And instead of milk chocolate I used pure dark chocolate, an excellent source of antioxidants, so these walnut butter cups are low in sugar and dairy-free.

This recipe makes about 12 cups. If you want more, double or triple the recipe.

  • 6 oz dark chocolate, 72% to 85%
  • ¼ cup pitted and roughly chopped dates
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup raw walnut pieces
  • 1 to 2 tbsp raw almond butter


  1. Fill a medium saucepan with an inch or two of water and warm it over low heat. Place the dark chocolate inside a glass or stainless steel bowl. Place the bowl on top of the saucepan, cover, and heat until just melted. Do not overcook the chocolate.
  2. Add the dates, coconut, and walnuts to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Incorporate just enough almond butter for the mixture to stick together and form a ball. If this doesn't happen, add a little more almond butter, just enough to pull it together. Transfer the nut mixture to a bowl and set it aside.
  3. Once the chocolate has just melted, use a spoon to drip about a teaspoon of melted chocolate into the bottom of each cup. Shake the mold around gently to make sure that the bottom of each cup is completely coated with melted chocolate. Place it in the fridge to harden.
  4. Once the chocolate has hardened inside the mold, remove it from the fridge. Use a rounded teaspoon or mini-scoop to portion out a ball of the nut mixture. Roll it gently between your palms and form it into a ball. Place it inside one of the cups and gently press down to flatten it, filling up most of the cup yet leaving a gap around all edges for the chocolate. 
  5. Leave enough room for chocolate and don't over-fill the cups. If your nut ball is too big or too small, make any necessary adjustments. Repeat until you have filled all 12 cups.
  6. Spoon some melted chocolate over each cup, enough to cover the nut mixture and fill in the gap around the edges.
  7. Transfer the cups to the fridge to set for 2 hours or more. Take them out 20 minutes before you plan to serve them so they have time to soften a bit. Because chocolate melts at body temperature, handle them as little as possible to avoid leaving fingerprints behind.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mussels with Coconut Cilantro Sauce


This meal of mussels makes a simple, healthy, and inexpensive dinner. It takes just a few ingredients and cooks quickly, so you can throw it together for a busy weeknight dinner if you pick up fresh mussels on your way home.

I love cilantro with coconut milk, so that's the herb I chose to star in this dish. If you don't have cilantro of prefer another herb, feel free to substitute. Fresh basil is a very good alternative. If you don't have fresh lemongrass, you can skip it. This dish will still be a winner without it.

To steam the mussels, I used a French Bordeaux blanc (Les Caves Joseph, 2010, $4.99 at Trader Joe's) but you can use any white wine you like, as long as it's dry. If you don't have wine or prefer not to use it, you can substitute vegetable broth or seafood stock.

This dish serves 4 to 6 people as a starter or 2 to 3 as a main course.

1 bag of fresh mussels, about 2.5 pounds
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
1 small shallot, finely chopped,
1 green chili pepper, minced, to taste
1 thumb-size piece of ginger, grated or minced
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 3-inch sections and halved lengthwise
3 cloves garlic, grated or smashed and minced
Freshly ground peppercorn to taste
1 cup white wine
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and stems, plus more for garnish
14 ounces coconut milk
1 tbsp fermented fish sauce

Scrub the mussels and remove any beards. Firmly tap any mussels that are open and if they do not close, discard them.

Warm the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other lidded pot 4 quarts or larger. Add the shallot, some green chili pepper, and the ginger. Sauté until soft, then stir in the garlic. Grind in some peppercorn and cook until you can smell the garlic (less than a minute). Stir in the wine.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then add the mussels and cover. Once the liquid has returned to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook, covered, until the mussels have opened, about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of your mussels. Turn off the heat as soon as  most or all of the mussels have opened. Do not overcook the mussels or they will be tough instead of tender.

While the mussels cook, add the cilantro, coconut milk, fish sauce, and some green chili pepper to a blender. Purée until smooth, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, and set aside.

As soon as the mussels have finished cooking, add the coconut milk mixture to the pot and turn up the heat to medium. Stir to coat the mussels in the sauce, then transfer them to serving bowls with a slotted spoon. Continue cooking until the sauce is hot, just another minute or two.

Once the sauce is hot, pour it over the mussels. Garnish them with the reserved cilantro and serve them immediately, along with an empty bowl to collect the shells.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chicken with Pumpkin Seed Pan Sauce


This is simple, flavorful pan sauce was inspired by my friend Juliah, who made me a pumpkin seed salad dressing that was inspired by a recipe in Ruth Reichl's book, Garlic and Sapphires.

Reichl's recipe calls for lemon juice and Juliah added fish sauce (which made it savory but not fishy). I didn't use fish sauce and instead of lemon juice I used apple cider vinegar. It's a more seasonal source of acidity, which is needed to balance the healthy fats in this sauce.

Because I opted to serve this dish as a room temperature salad, I used a chicken breast that I could easily slice. When I serve it as a main dish instead of a salad, I use skin-on, bone-in, pasture-raised whole chicken legs (browned on the stove top then slow-roasted in the oven) or a whole roasted chicken.

Whenever I make duck, I save the rendered fat for cooking. I added some here but if you don't have any, you can substitute cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Likewise, if you don't have whole cumin seeds, substitute the same amount of ground cumin but skip the toasting step.

Whipping up a pan sauce after cooking meat is a good way to use the flavorful juices and, because it incorporates into the sauce any brown bits stuck to the pan, it makes clean-up a snap. If you're making this sauce ahead, you can substitute water for the pan juices.

Sea salt
Freshly ground peppercorn
2 chicken breasts or other chicken pieces at room temperature
1 tbsp rendered duck fat or cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
6 tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

In a cast iron or stainless steel skillet, warm the duck fat over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Once the skillet is hot, add the chicken and cook until browned on one side, about 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over, reduce the heat to low, cover, and continue cooking until done throughout, about 10 more minutes.

While the chicken cooks, toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Remove the pumpkin seeds and transfer them to small glass jar that will accommodate an immersion blender. Add the cumin seeds to the dry skillet and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cumin seeds to the glass jar as well. Add the olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked, turn off the heat, remove the chicken from the pan, and set it aside. Add the vinegar to the skillet and stir, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the pan juices to the glass jar with a tablespoon of filtered water.

Use an immersion blender to purée the ingredients into a smooth sauce, adding more water if needed to achieve your desired consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Slice the chicken if you prefer and arrange it over a bed of salad greens. Top it with the pumpkin seed pan sauce and serve it immediately.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tarragon Wine Vinegar


Herbal vinegars allow you to enjoy warm-weather herbs all winter long. Use them as a condiment or add them to marinades, dressings, sauces, soups, and stews.

There are two methods for making herbal vinegars. The long method calls for adding dried herbs to vinegar and setting the mixture aside in a warm, dark place for 2 to 4 weeks and shaking it occasionally, until the desired strength and flavor have fully developed.

The short method involves adding fresh or dried herbs to vinegar and using heat to accelerate the process, reduce the moisture content, and concentrate the flavor.

I had fresh herbs so I used the short method and steeped fresh tarragon and red shallot in white wine vinegar.

Fresh tarragon

I love this combination because I can use it as a base for Béarnaise sauce, my favorite home-made steak sauce. (It's also great with fish.)

In this recipe, you can substitute other herbs and aromatics if you like to create your own herbal vinegar. Instead of tarragon, try rosemary, oregano, or thyme. Use chives or red onion instead of shallot. Or red wine vinegar instead of white wine vinegar. Add garlic if you like. Or chili pepper. You get the idea.

1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or substitute more vinegar
1 cup fresh tarragon leaves, packed
1 cup finely chopped red shallot
5 peppercorns, smashed

Add all of the ingredients to a medium sauce pan. Warm it over medium heat and once it starts to boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer very slowly until the liquid has reduced by half. Remove it from the heat and set it aside to cool to room temperature or for several hours.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean and DRY glass bottle. Discard the solids. Label the bottle and store it in the fridge for several months.