Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Life's a Chocolate Bubble

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet
I'd rather fall in chocolate.
Oh baby, it's cold outside. Today is the last day of September and it feels like October. Tonight, a cord of firewood is going to be delivered. And I'll celebrate with my first crackling fire in the fireplace. Speaking of celebration, last week UPS delivered on my doorstep two one-of-a-kind chocolate gifts. I admit it. These unique Bubble Chocolate bars helped me to feel better when dealing with a pesky seasonal sinus infection--and I'm feeling 100% better, ready to go swim in my fave indoor mountain resort pool with a waterfall and hot tub 'n' bubbly water...

Enter: Bubble Chocolate. Imagine bubbles wrapped in chocolate. Well, that's what you get when you open a tasty bar individually box. You get a choice of Milk Chocolate 33% Cocoa premium all natural or Dark Chocolate 60% Cocoa premium all natural European chocolate. This time around I liked both bars. (Yes, I've received a whole lotta chocolate in all flavors, forms, shapes, sizes and cocoa content while researching-writing my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate, Kensington; Dec. 2009.) And I was pleased with these tasty and simply natural nutritious chocolate bars that boast less than more ingredients. After all, my health-oriented chocolate book boasts a traditional Mediterranean diet-lifestyle, which includes quality dark chocolate.

So, why in the chocolate world is this chocolate duo so unique? Bubble Chocolate boasts a light and airy texture. It's a cut above the run-of-the-mill candy bars you pick up at your grocery store. I didn't want to wolf it down. No way. Instead I chose to enjoy one or two squares of the smooth chocolate. Each day I spaced out the good for you chocolate pleasure of indulging in the fun kid-like Bubble Chocolate (for people of all ages) without guilt. Life's a Chocolate Bubble? You bet. I wonder if I can sneak in a Bubble Chocolate bar when I savor the bubbly hot tub. Now that would be double bliss.

Monday, September 28, 2009

12 Healthy Feng Shui Tips for Your Kitchen

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Here I sit in bed feeling better and hoping that I'm on the road to recovery. I'm eager to get back into the fall swing of writing two assigned articles, scheduled to be on national radio to dish out Earth changes, swimming at the indoor resort pool (with a waterfall and hot tub), and spreading the news about my new forthcoming book The Healing Powers of Chocolate. What's more, it's confirmed. I've morphed into a "Food Network" junkie and if something isn't brewing in the kitchen it feels empty.
So, here I am fantasizing about baking my own chocolate birthday cake for October 6. And the kitchen is oh-so much cleaner thanks to the mega cleanup and feng shui moves I've been making. (Simply put, feng shui is the ancient Chinese art of placement. Its goal is to bring you harmony. By putting stuff in the right spots in your kitchen it may enhance the flow of positive energy and zap negative vibrations. The end result: good health, happiness, and fortune.) Read on--you, too, can enjoy a well-balanced kitchen that feels good from head to toe like I recall enjoying as a little girl...

1. Use Eco-friendly Vinegar and Olive Oil Cleaners. For starters, turn on Harvest Moon by Neil Young, have a cup of hot cocoa or piece of quality chocolate (70% cacao) and it will boost your energy and mood...Then, it's time to clean your kitchen from top to bottom with natural stuff. You'll be doing you, yours, and Mother Nature a favor. Using nontoxic vinegar can help you to: lose the ants; clean stainless steel, get rid of dust, and keep fresh flowers longer. By keeping it green it will provide you with better health and energy. Tons of good for you cleaning tips for indoors-outdoors can be found in my books The Healing Powers of Vinegar and The Healing Powers of Olive Oil--both are available in tradecover and mass market editions on all online bookstores.

2. Declutter Your Stuff. Ditto. Getting rid of things you don't use will up your energy. It's true. You feel lighter with less kitchen baggage, starting fresh is exhilerating. I cleaned out both the fridge and freezer. Add a fresh box of baking soda to soak up odors. Then, I tackled the pantry and tossed out olive oil, pasta, rice, soup, gourmet spices (yep, I sadly discovered they don't last forever) and anything else that expired...What's the saying: Out with the old and in with the new.

3. Clean the Stovetop and Oven. This was a chore but it feels right to have the stovetop shine. (My Stepford Wife colors are starting to show.) The inside of the oven is sparkling, too. Writing Gourmet Tip: If you must use toxic oven cleaner, go over it with the natural stuff. Trust me, this is a feel-good must-do before warming up to those cooler days 'n' nights of unforgettable autumn baking and cooking (breads, muffins, casseroles, etc.).

4. Brighten Up with Lighting. During the colder days without sun you'll want to have sunny-type lighting which can up your energy and mood--linked to good health. Go for full spectrum light bulbs. No fall blues or other pesky problems. Speaking of lightening up...

5. Boost Your Mood with Plants. To help wipe out pollutants in your kitchen, fill your space with hardy, happy plants. Your best bet during the fall: philodendrons. They do well in the Sierras unlike Boston Ferns (which I love).

6. Bring on the Water. Fish aquariums provide positive energy in the dining room, especially with a gentle filter Ever notice Asian restaurants and the calming ambiance of fish?

7. Fish, Fish, Fish. Today, I read that goldfish can bring you good luck and prosperity. In fact, nine is the lucky number. The colors? Gold and one black one. (Go smaller rather than bigger in size = less cleaning.) My kitchen/dining room/study all are connected. So, the fish aquarium is a pleasant, calming treat for all three rooms. Note to self: Add more fishies.

8. Bring Out the Fresh Fruit. I've got several plump healthful seasonal fruits on display and ready to eat, such as pears placed in a stainless steel collander. According to feng shui concensus, a full bowl may lead to a full life. Translation: Display pretty bowls with plenty of pretty fruit. Empty bowls with just a few pieces of not so nice fruit not so good. And oranges? Nine is the lucky number I've read...Put 'em in a wooden bowl and on the kitchen or dining room table. (Note: If they're pricey, purchase the ones in a bag. Save the separate, sweet and juicy ones for eating.)

9. Conceal Knives and Scissors. My father gave me a black and white marble knife block, cutting board, and rolling pin. I love it. But the knives are out of sight. Bad vibes, say feng shui folks. (My black cat Kerouac likes to chew the black tops. Yes, black cats can and do bring good luck.)

10. Hanging Pots and Pans. Today, my cooking stuff is hanging on the wall in an arrangement. But I'm thinking about getting one of those artsy-looking overhead pots and pans hangers. If so, I will not, nor should you hang it over your workspace. Not good energy, or so they feng shui wizards claim.

11. Hide the Gadgets. Too many kitchen items can clutter up all that positive decluttering you did. So, choose your favorites and recycle as you use 'em. Or, you can always get a Kitchen Island. I'm thinking a rustic, wooden Mediterranean type. It would be modest, wooden, but eye-catching, and a great place to stack some kitchen gadgets, and a workspace.

12. Hang Wind Chimes with Crystals. I brought one of mine in from the deck--and put it above the kitchen windows. The one I chose is of a sun with a face. It makes me smile everytime I look at Mr. Sunshine. Feng shui gurus recommend hanging chimes in the doorway to the kitchen or over the stove sings good energy.

A bonus tip: A couple of days ago, I purchased a 2010 calendar. It's called Sweet Journey with photos of scrumptious sweet foods including narrative, such as "Power to the Truffle" to "The Mysterious Brownie." I just noticed it also features inspirational thoughts--and, of course, the dates of lunar cycles. I'm feeling better already.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Vinegar, Oil & Chocolate Rx for Health Author's Sinus Woes

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

"Life is like a box of chocolates ... You never know what you're gonna get." - Forrest Gump

It happened on cue. Odd that it struck right after stocking the pantry with get well foods. I'm sicker than a dog. Maybe I caught the ear infection from Simon, my Brittany. Just kidding. I am in bed with sinusitus. Read: ears throb (on a 1-10 pain scale 8.5) and pop when I swallow, post nasal drip, raspy sore throat, fever and chills (last night). It's embarrassing for a health author to fall victim to germs in the world. Worse, my article on natural swine flu prevention for Oracle 20-20 Magazine (November issue, online) is due in a few days and I feel terrible...

Blame it on the roller coaster temperature changes due to living in the Sierras, low humidity and high altitude at 6,500 feet, swimming, prone to change of season sinus-ear woes, and that is the formula to entering sinusland. And yes, Ms. Natural is now using antibiotic ear drops for safety's sake (I think I've been hanging out too much with my dog; his ear has healed) to not let this woe spin out of control and get the best of me--a boomer. And, of course, I'm also turning to natural remedies--vinegar, olive oil, and chocolate. So take a look at this at-home list of home cures--straight from my trilogy (The Healing Powers of Olive Oil, Vinegar, Chocolate)--to help soothe pesky sinus-ear trouble so you don't feel my pain...
  • Vinegar Rx: To clear up clogged respiratory congestion, inhale a vapor mist from a steaming pot containing water and several spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar. Why You'll Like It: It will help clear the air passages naturally and you'll be breathing easy again.
  • Olive Oil Rx: Put a few drops of olive oil in the ear canal. Repeat as needed. Why You'll Like It: For one, if it's a minor earache, olive oil, which is believed to have mild antibiotic properties, can and does get rid of the ache and heal the pain. It may help swimmer's ear, too--yep, it pays me a social call in the winter mountain months thanks to the water--my true love.
  • Chocolate Rx: Last but not to be forgotten, try a cup of quality dark European spicy hot chocolate--chock-full of disease-fighting antioxidants--made with water not milk (dairy products can add to congestion). Why You'll Like It: Hot spices taste amazing and help unblock sinuses. As one who does get sinus headaches, from time to time, and congestion (living in the high mountain altitude and lack of humidity doesn't help), I can tell you that hot foods stimulate nasal secretions and loosen up unwanted mucus. So spicy hot chocolate is both fun to drink and can help fight off a sinus infection. And note, chocolate can do so much more as I note in my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, December 2009).
Meanwhile, I sit here (a Type-A go-getter) and fret as I sit and nurse my woes. I vow to drink plenty of water, fresh orange juice, hot herbal teas, and munch on vitamin-C rich fruits, vegetables, and nutrient-dense whole grains. Brown rice with veggies and herbs is on the menu for tonight or hot veggie soup--I'm not hungry or in the mood to cook or bake. On the upside, if I can get through this then if and only if I get the flu it may be a piece of cake (chocolate). I wonder if the romantic film hot Chocolat is on TV. I must be feeling better, huh?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Healthy Hilltop Banana Nut Muffins

Last autumn after swimming at the resort pools I'd be famished. So, sometimes I'd treat myself to a giant muffin and cup of gourmet hot chocolate at Starbucks. This year, as we're on the recession recovery road, I've turned to homecooking like so many of us have done. And it's much wiser to make healthy muffins at home. I did just that last night. This morning I awoke to an anticipated treat: One cup of fresh brewed Italian Roast spiked with dark chocolate, a medium-sized muffin and a whole fresh banana...

During book tours which include hotels, I love to use room service and savor breakfast in bed in the early mornings. Ever since the experiences, I've spoiled myself and upon awakening each day I make a cup of gourmet coffee and bring breakfast to bed. Today, it was enjoyable because I knew exactly what ingredients were in that banana nut muffin. Ever look at the long list of ingredients in store bought muffins? Yikes! So many chemicals and preservatives. And the ones at popular coffee shops? Well, I'll bet you that they don't use olive oil or whole wheat flour...
Not so with homemade muffins. True, banana nut muffins do contain not so healthy sugar, but walnuts are healthful, and these muffins do boast some protein, fiber, and calcium. And teamed with a fresh banana you get plenty of heart healthy potassium--a good thing at any age. Note: While making these muffins yourself, make 'em smaller in size than bigger if you want to keep your weight in check.

Healthy Hilltop Banana Nut Muffins

1 cup all-natural 100% whole wheat flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 large brown organic egg, beaten
1 1/2 bananas, ripe
1/2 cup 2% low-fat organic milk
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 -3/4 cup golden raisins

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, soda. Mix egg, peeled bananas and oil together till less lumpy, more smooth. (Note: I need a masher gadget.) Add other ingredients. Stir a bit but don't overdo it. Pour mixture into cupcake tins. Top each muffin with nuts. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes till golden brown. Makes 9-10 muffins. (Store in freezer and pop muffins in microwave to warm up. Repeat as needed.)
...This morning I awoke to the sound of an early telephone ring. First, I thought "earthquake" news from one of my Californian quake chasing pals. Nah, the Golden State is still in a seismic lull. To my surprise, it was the firewood man. At last, I scored a cord of wood! Next week as the temperatures are forecasted to drop, and it's back to the indoor pool and spa, I'll have big piles of logs outdoors against the fence. It's foreshadow to autumn fires in the living room--mornings and nights.
The best part: Yes, yes, yes. I can see the fireplace with a crackling fire from my bedroom. How warm 'n' cozy is that? Imagine: Enjoying a crisp fall day while munching on a moist healthier banana nut muffin with the crunch of nuts and chewiness of amber raisins paired with a piece of fresh fruit and steaming cup of java topped with dark chocolate shavings? Sweet autumn is here at last.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Discover The Amazing Powers Of Chocolate!

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.
--Thomas Jefferson
It's the beginning of autumn and the tell-tale signs are popping up here and there. Again, at night the temperature drops in the Sierras--and it warms up in the day time. It's a mind game. I'm feeling like a squirrel. Today, I stocked up on healthy soup (the premium, low-sodium brand was on sale); and purchased more basics for my pantry and fall baking. What's more, I grabbed two cartons of all-natural chocolate ice cream (it boasts the words "33% More Dutch Cocoa"). But cold ice cream in the fall? I rationalized and thought out loud: "I can top it with the late sweet summer strawberries (we all need our vitamin C) paired with healthy, crunchy walnuts." Yeah, I'm hooked on chocolate...

Back home I found myself surfing the Net (it was either that or clean the fireplace before I order wood) and came across an online website bookstore. I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed with the synopsis for my forthcoming book The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, December 2009)--available for pre-order on online bookstore websites. Wow. I can't believe I really got to create 304 pages on chocolate. Yes, it was fun. Yes, it was surreal. Yes, it was an experience that I will always cherish. I got to go to Chocolate Heaven and enjoyed every tasty tidbit of it--from head to toe. If you're thinking "Huh?" here, check out the words on the back cover of the chocolate book:

Did You Know?
* Known as Mother Nature's "food of the gods," the medicinal benefits of chocolate were recognized as far back as 4000 years ago. Eating chocolate can help boost the immune system, lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes—even obesity!—and increase lifespan.
* A 1.5 ounce bar of quality chocolate has as much antioxidant power as a 5 ounce glass of wine—without the side effects of alcohol.
* Chocolate is chock-full of mood-enhancing ingredients, including phenylethylamine (the "love drug") and serotonin.
* Chocolate can relieve a host of ailments, including depression, fatigue, pain and PMS, as well as rev up your sex drive!

Drawing on the latest scientific research as well as interviews with medical doctors and chocolatiers, this fascinating book reveals how to live longer and healthier while indulging in one of nature's most decadent and versatile foods. Explore real chocolate (infused with fruits, herbs, and spices), Mediterranean-style, heart-healthy recipes, plus home remedies that combat everything from acne to anxiety. You'll also discover rejuvenating beauty and anti-aging spa treatments—all made with antioxidant-rich chocolate!

So, as I continue to autumn clean my home, room by room (and turn to feng shui magic), I cannot get chocolate out of my mind. It's like a long-term love affair that will be with me till death do us part. Last night I watched "Food Network" and was amazed by the efforts of four competitive chefs who created a birthday cake for the chef of chefs. They used great artistic talents. I was impressed. And that is why I chose the photo above: It's a chocolate pyramid with fresh fruit and spun chocolate garnish. But back home in the mountains simple chocolate ice cream will suffice for now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

5 Secrets How Vinegar Rx's Fizzle Out the Flu

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

"Nature opened the first drugstore." -- D.C. Jarvis, M.D.

As the author of The Healing Powers of Vinegar: A Complete Guide To Nature's Most Remarkable Remedy, I can't help but notice that apple cider vinegar is getting a lot of attention on the Internet. One foodie blogger noted today the powers of the ancient Rx and fruit. Good catch. Yep, both vinegar and fresh seasonal fruits teamed with vegetables are chock-full of nutrients that enhance your immune system and can help you stave off or fizzle out the flu--old-fashioned seasonal flu or the Swine flu, too. Living in a resort town, with a lot of worldly visitors, going to store(s), the swimming pool(s), theater, and just living life has got Lake Tahoe locals and folks around the globe, like me and you, thinking "What if I get sick?" Here, take a peek at five vinegar home cures (for the "worrried well" or if you're already feeling a bit under the weather) to help you sail through the fall flu season...

1 Bye-Bye Cold. Got a runny nose, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, and pains? Poor baby, you've got a cold. Rose hips, a key staple in the diets of Native American tribes, may help boost immunity and provide relief from cold and cough symptoms. If you pair up this herbal wonder with vinegar, you might be able to say good riddance to your nasty bug. Or, you can turn to vinegar solo.
Vinegar Rx: Mix 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar with 1/4 cup of honey. Take 1 tablespoon at least three times daily. Repeat as needed.
2 Clear Up Congestion. When it comes to fighting colds and sinus congestion, apple cider vinegar comes to the rescue, according to folk medicine.
Vinegar Rx: To clear up clogged respiratory congestion, inhale vapor mist from a steaming pot containing water and several spoons of vinegar.
3 Stop A Cough. Hack, hack, hack. Coughs come with everything from the common cold to acute bronchitis, which cause mucus in the throat and lungs. Not only is coughing annoying, but it can hurt your chest after a while, too. Soon you want something to make the symptom go away.
Vinegar Rx: Mix 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and 4 teaspoons of honey. Take 1 tablespoon when your cough starts up. Take another at bedtime.
4 Soothe A Sore Throat. When you feel the sniffles or flu coming on, a sore throat is often a symptom. While healing foods like vitamin C-rich juices can lessen the severity of an illness, vinegar may help relieve that scratchy, painful feeling in your throat that makes it so hard to swallow.
Vinegar Rx: To get rid of a painful sore throat, gargle with a 50-50 solution of warm water and vinegar.
5 Fizzle Out The Flu. Do you have muscle aches and pains, headaches, low back pain, fatigue, and fever? If you are a victim of the flu season--or don't want to be--drink plenty of fluids. Water, herbal teas, and other liquids can flush out any toxins that you might accumulate, notes Ray Sahelian, M.D., of Southern California. For instance, goldenseal makes a great immunity-boosting tea because it contains berberine, an antibiotic substance that is a great flu fighter.
Vinegar Rx: Try 1 teaspoon of the ground root of goldenseal in 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for a few minutes, then strain. Add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with honey or lemon. Repeat three times daily.
  • What Vinegar To Try: Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar. Organic, raw, unfiltered, with the "mother." Mother or "mother-of-vinegar" is a term used to describe the excess liquid that accumulates on top of cider or other juice, which turns them into the most nutritious vinegar for health. As the fermentation progresses, mother forms a floating clump or filmy substance, like a coffee latte with the foam on top. Mother, the latte-like foam, is a living mixture of "good" bacteria and enzymes.
The Four Thieves Flu-Fighting Rx
As the legend goes, during the Middle Ages, four robbers in a French town preyed upon the homes and belongings left behind by the people who fell victim to the bubonic plague, or “Black Death” of Europe. Eventually, they were caught and brought before judges, who wondered how these four thieves had protected themselves from the deadly plague while looting plague-ridden possessions.
It’s been said that the thieves bargained the famous Four Thieves Vinegar Formula for freedom, explaining that they washed themselves with the infection-fighting liquid every few hours. Upon learning about these immunity-boosting qualities, the formula was also used by priests and doctors who treated the ill.
No one seems to know who wrote the formula, which differs from recipe to recipe, but it is basically the same and it works in various ways. It’s recommended to dilute with water to half strength. It can be used to disinfect sick rooms and as a body wash. Taken by the teaspoonful (consult with your doctor for the safe amount), it can also be used as a preventive measure to stave off viral infections, such as the flu and help prevent and cure a sore throat, headache, and other physical flu ailments.

The Formula: Basic ingredients: Combine 3 quarts apple cider vinegar; 3 tablespoons each of rosemary, lavender, sage, mint, rue, and plantain; and 6 cloves of garlic. Let it sit in a covered container for at least 24 hours.
Where Can You Buy Vinegar and Herbs? To avoid a possible price increase, stock up. If you live in the U.S., you can get apple cider vinegar and herbs at your local health food store and grocery store. International countries can obtain products online at: .

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Accidental Spicy Chocolate Truffles

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

"There are four basic food groups-milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate truffles." --anonymous

It was one of those days. Yes, my swim was great as I joined a local in doing laps...She's moving back to the Midwest. Lake Tahoe is going through changes, people are going more than coming to the mountains. Simon, my oldest Brittany's ear needed a vet's touch (again); the stitches were removed from his thigh (a skin tag). An antibiotic ointment for his ear and he's on the road to recovery. Seth, his three year old dog pal got his nails trimmed, teeth cleaned. The boys are sleeping (it was a big canine day) and now I'm watching Misery (an author's cautionary tale of being held hostage by a No. 1 Fan). Makes sense the way my day has been going. While I've been on a roll with recipes turning out, tonight is a must-have chocolate night--but all did not go as expected...

I remember last year this time I began to receive chocolates on my doorstep from chocolatiers. It was for the research of my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate. The first time I took a bite out of a 70% extra dark chocolate Aztec truffle with cinnamon and cayenne I entered another, more sophisticated chocolate world--with no point of return.

So tonight, I whipped up a super adapted super simple fudge recipe created by a friend of mine. Translation: I didn't follow instructions to a T. I noticed the recipe ingredients weren't foreign on the Net so it seemed to be okay. (I was reluctant though because it called for less than more ingredients.) This time around, it was a different kind of fudge, unlike the Italian Hazelnut Fudge I made recently and loved. No tasty hazelnuts, butter or sugar. Gut instincts said "No" but I took the plunge and added my own version with a mix of quality white and dark chocolate. Surprisingly, it was darker in color than the last batch. And it's chilling in the fridge.

Spicy Chocolate Fudge (Take One)

1 -1/4 cups white chocolate chips,

all-natural premium

1 cup semi-sweet baking chocolate,

60-70% cacao

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Extra virgin olive oil

In a medium saucepan, combine milk and chocolate. Melt ingredients over low heat. Remove, stir in flavoring and nuts. Pour into a square pan, lightly greased with extra virgin olive oil. Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours until firm. Flip fudge onto a cutting board or cut into small squares in the pan. Place into a container, cover with a top and store in room temperature or in the fridge.

Hold the phone. Uh oh. The consistency is not like the Italian Hazelnut Fudge--which was easy to cut into neat picturesque squares. This fudge is glossy and softer...Take Two. I thought "Why not roll the chocolatey squares into balls, dust with powdered sugar?" And that's what I did. No, I'm sure they're not going to be as memorable as the to-die-for gourmet truffles I've eaten (and I've savored a lot of 'em from the West Coast to East Coast, Midwest, and Southeast!) but they do look edible, pretty, and are now in the fridge. I read that if you let these chill for a few days the flavors (such as cinnamon and nutmeg) will be more distinct. And I'm hoping this tip rings true.
The motto: Go with the flow and make chocolate truffles out of fudge.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chocolatey Contest Winners: Mediterranean Dinner

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

“After a good dinner
one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.”

I am impressed with the contestants' menu plans. Here's a recap of the Chocolatey Contest: Welcome to a one-of-a-kind Chocolatey Contest with a Mediterranean angle. That's right. I want you to take me to Europe via gourmet food. But help! I'd love to have a new, improved menu plan. Then, dish out the awesome titles of your fave dishes--no recipes. Be bold. Be creative. Think healthy. The catch is, you must include vinegar, olive oil, and chocolate. It's 80 degrees outdoors. You're in a mountain-type setting. What do you serve? Please include the following dishes: Appetizer, Bread, Salad, Entree, One Side Dish, Dessert and Beverage. No meat, please...

The Chocolate Ribbon Menu

Appetizer: Roasted Eggplant & Feta Dip
with Pita Bread
Salad: Apple-Feta Tossed Salad
Entree: Feta Tomato-Basil Fish
Side Dish: Marinated Cucumbers
Dessert: Chocolate Baklava
Beverage: Horchata

This menu plan wowed me. Its roots takes you to Italy, Greece, the Middle East, and Spain. Will it be a challenge to make it? You bet. I'd be excited to put it together and serve it. Doesn't it titillate your senses? The author of this menu plan wins a box of handmade gourmet chocolates (created by one of my fave chocolatiers) and a signed copy of my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, Dec. 29, 2009). The winner will have the fun chocolatey gifts before December 25.

Please contact me with your physical address at . The runners up, please do the same and request a copy of The Healing Powers of Olive Oil or The Healing Powers of Vinegar (2009 mass market editions). Same date of delivery. Happy Pre-Holidays!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sierra-Style Baked Custard 'n' Dark Chocolate

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Tomorrow is the first day of autumn and today the temperature feels like summer. The tourists are still here. The store was crowded but the pool was empty--the way I love it. When it's warm outdoors (the windows are open) it's not the time to bake an Italian casserole as I'd planned. So, I settled for one of those organic, roasted veggie pizzas "Made in Italy." And then, baking egg custard was teasing me all day long...

I also gave in to my food cravings (if you do this in moderation you'll not pack on unwanted fall/winter weight) and baked the light, easy, inexpenisve and somewhat healthful custard. (This pudding does boast calcium, protein, iron, selenium, and other nutrients. But note, it's high in saturated fat and cholesterol. That means, enjoy a small serving with a big scoop or two of fresh fruit.) Also, I had half and half milk leftover from the Italian Hazelnut Fudge so it was meant to be...
I remember in 7th grade, making baked custard was fun and I did it for an assignment in my Home Economics class. (My teacher didn't think I was domesticated enough; I received a D grade. I couldn't cook or sew. My blue whale pin cushion turned out flat, not plump like my classmates' cushions.) But my custard was OK. My mom had those cute custard dishes with the scalloped edges. I do have the parfait glasses which can be doable but not as darling... This time around I put the custard mixture into a new round glass dish (the concoction fit perfectly) with a red top and will put it in fridge when it cools. It is so easy to make baked egg custard. And I've decided to top it off with dark chocolate to celebrate today's foreign rights sale to a publisher in a faraway country. Yes! Yes, they like my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate. Meanwhile, back at home in the mountains...

Sierra-Style Baked Custard 'n' Dark Chocolate
2 cups half and half milk, 2% low-fat
1/2 cup 2% low-fat organic milk
3 large brown eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup premium maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
nutmeg and cinnamon to taste
dark chocolate 60% cacao, shavings

Combine milk in a saucepan and heat till scalded, but do not boil. Mix eggs, sugar, syrup and vanilla Pour into glass baking dish. Sprinkle nutmeg on top. Place dish in a pan of water in the oven. Bake at 400 degrees (I live in a high altitude so it may be different, a bit lower for you) for about 45 minutes until firm. Cool. Top with grated dark chocolate shavings.

I have a lot of quality chocolate leftover from my research for the chocolate book. I chose Ghirardelli Chocolate "Evening Dream" ("A milder dark chocolate with a hint of madagascan vanilla). Since I prefer not to eat after 7:00 P.M. (I learned this from Europeans who like to stay lean), I'll have this custard with chocolate for breakfast with fresh sliced strawberries and Italian Roast. But I just tasted it plain. And yes, it is like I remember when I was younger. Creamy, sweet but not too sweet, and comforting. The nutmeg flavor makes it work for me. So, I may not be in Italy yet....but I'm going to fantasize a lot. (Next month it's back to the European spa here at Lake Tahoe to swim and pamper the body, mind, and soul.) Till then, I'll cook and bake like I'm vacationing in Tuscany for the fall olive harvest.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Healing Your Kitchen with Olive Oil for Autumn

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. --George Eliot

The sun is shining, the air is warm, but fall is lingering in the air of Lake Tahoe. I can feel it, especially at night, earling morning, and I see the changes (i.e., trees, big and small, are turning a golden color and squirrels are getting busy and plump). Recently, I began pre-autumn cleaning and shared six tips with you about detoxing the kitchen with vinegar and olive oil. Today, it's back to the kitchen to continue the never-ending chores. And olive oil is going to give me a hand (or two)...

So join me. Misery loves company! Nah, there is an art to cleaning and it can be fun and the rewards are healing for the mind, body, and spirit. Here are some things you can do with olive oil and vinegar teamed with other natural ingredients such as lemon, water, and essential oils. You'll find that these mixtures can be used to clean floors, polish furniture, freshen the air, and much, much more. My kitchen and dining room are spacious and connected so my fall cleanup is a team effort while I seem to be going back and forth to each room to make it match and balanced (a true Libra, the sign of the scales)...


  • Cutting Board Cleanup. A wooden cutting board in your kitchen is a must-have, and olive oil can help to preserve it. After using it, wash it with soap and water. Dry. Then, once it is squeaky clean, wipe it with olive oil.
  • No More Rust. Got a cast-iron frying pan? If so, chances are it's a hand-me-down. So, you want to take care of it and keep it in tip-top condition. After each time you use it, wash it, and dry it, don't forget to lightly apply olive oil to keep it rust-free and maintain its natural shine.
  • Pamper Kitchen Helpers. Olive oil fans use the versatile home aid to add a vibrant shine to kitchen helpers such as the blender, coffeemaker, and toaster. After you clean these items, simply spray them with a mist of olive oil and water (3 parts water to 1 part olive oil) and buff until they gleam olive oil pretty.

Dining Room
  • Wow Wood Paneling. I live in a house that was built decades ago. It has a lot of built-in cupboards, and it's wood paneled throughout, including the dining room and kitchen. I use a vinegar and water (with a bit of lemon for the scent) solution first to clean the wood. Then, I turn to a traditional furniture polish and then buff surface scratches with olive oil. It's pet-friendly (my Brittanys get into everything I do) and this makes the paneling shine.
  • Buff Brass. To keep brass looking shinier, buff your treasures with olive oil after cleaning them. I have a hand-me-down collection from my dad, who was also a nature lover. So, preserving his brass birds, ducks, unicorns, and reindeers means a lot to me. Olive oil keeps the brass from tarnishing so fast.
  • Preserve Antiques. I have a glass dining room table with classic wrought iron from the good old 1950s. Rubbing a bit of extra virgin olive oil onto the iron legs of the table and four chairs using a soft cloth provides a fantastic shine to this classic and preserves its worth.

Meanwhile, as a feel of Indian summer stays like a tourist in the Sierra, in between cleaning (wherever you live) it's a time to cleanse your body with fresh salads (a garden variety of dark greens, tomatoes, sprinkled with Italian cheeses, and herbs) drizzled with olive oil and vinegar. Fall fruits (pears, apples, and grapes) and vegetables (pumpkin, eggplant, carrots) are to be embraced and used in nut breads and morning muffins. And healing herbal teas to stave off the fall flu? Ah, in the morning and night, hot teas (green or black) are a must-have and iced chamomile teas and fresh fruit juices during the day are good for you and a good way to bring in the change of seasons.

A bonus tip: I've put bottles of herbal vinegars in the kitchen windowsills. Still trying to decide to hang the fresh curtains or enjoy the new, improved look without them. And my fave feng shui secret for the day? Two weeks ago, I hung a wooden black framed mirror above the stovetop. It reflects the kitchen window and makes the kitchen appear larger as it boasts the great outdoors (picture-perfect pine trees)--and this tip promises to bring good luck. Did it do its deed? You betcha in the nick of time! Try it.

(Adapted from The Healing Powers of Olive Oil: A Complete Guide to Nature's Liquid Gold by Cal Orey, published by Kensington; 2009, mass market paperback)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Grr-eat Secrets to Italian Hazelnut Fudge

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

"Take 2 fudge and call me in the morning."

I've had chocolate fudge on the brain for a week. While I gave my body a vacation and enjoyed my mini-fast detox diet (salads, low-fat jarlsberg cheese, veggies, apples, oranges, berries, water, and chamomile tea), I was preparing myself for the homemade chocolate fudgefest last night. I did it. At last, I made chocolatey fudge with an Italian twist... (And it was the best Rx to get me through another companion animal challenge.)...

Flashback... I had to do it. After all, one week before autumn arrives--the rustic red Italian baking dish from Sur La Table arrived on my doorstep. Made in Italy, its size (13" length x 8 1/2" width x 3 1/4" depth) could work for an upscale fudge pan, right? No matter. This beautiful piece of bakeware tagged "Italian Baker with Handles" was going to be used for my first Italian entree pasta dish but I just couldn't wait. It was a "sign"--giving me the green light to go ahead to christen my new European dish. Moving forward... If you do a Google search for Chocolate Fudge recipes you'll be overwhelmed with dozens and dozens of recipes--using exactly the same ingredients. I like to concoct my own style to keep it easy, failproof (I'm still in Baking 101 mode), healthy and tasty as possible. During my research for The Healing Powers of Chocolate, I noticed that many of the gourmet European chocolatiers do use real and fresh ingredients, including quality chocolate, butter, sugar, and cream. So, I was on a mission to do that, too, sort of.

Here's my Italian-type fudgy tips:
  • Use hazelnuts. These crunchy cuties boast protein, iron, fiber, calcium, and other good stuff. They truly made this fudge work for me in presentation, taste and texture.
  • Use an Italian dish during the chilling process. It is a nice effect and will whisk you away to Europe (sort of).
  • Use premium all-natural premium semi-sweet chocolate, 60%-70% cacao content.
  • Use real butter (unsalted is good) but I splurged and ended up with Challenge butter (uses real California milk). Note: Since writing The Healing Powers of Olive Oil--butter is rarely in my fridge. Olive oil is my fat of choice as it is Italians.
  • Use premium milk. Note: To cut the fat I chose 2% low-fat evaporated milk with vitamins A and D.
  • Use creamy stuff. I hesitated to go the marshmallow cream route but the sweet goo does contain corn syrup (Italians have been known to eat it); as a kid I recall it was the ingredient that made our fudge turn out, not flop.
  • Use EVOO to grease your dish before pouring the chocolate mixture into it. (No, I didn't do it this time around but would not hesitate next time.)
  • Use Mediterranean chocolate flavorings--rose...Espresso, almond, and rum. Lemon or ginger? Or, if you want to splurge on ready-made gourmet fudge--click your mouse!
  • Cut the recipe portions in half. Remember, European women don't get fat if they follow the traditional Mediterranean diet and lifestyle: Smaller portions, eat decadent foods like chocolate, and get a move on. Think small.

Callie's Italian Hazelnut Fudge

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 stick butter (unsalted preferrably)
1/3 cup 2% lowfat evaporated milk
1 cup of all-natural premium
semi-sweet baking chocolate, small chips
3 1/2 ounces marshmallow cream
8 -10 ounces hazelnuts (or walnuts)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine sugar, softened butter, and milk into a sturdy saucepan. On medium heat bring to a boil. Stir it up--often. Allow to boil for about 5 minutes--continue to stir it up. I didn't use a candy thermometer and did use my sixth sense to tell me it was good to go by the texture. Drop in chocolate chunks and marshallow creme (I did this while the concoction was still on the hot stovetop burner)--and was amazed how quickly the chocolate melted and morphed into a nice, creamy chocolatey mixture. With a wooden spoon, spread the fudge into a butter or olive oil greased baking dish (nicer than a tin pan). Sprinkle hazelnuts on top. Cover with foil. Put in the fridge for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours till firm. Cut into petite 1/4" to 1/2" European chocolate size squares. Use foil between layers of fudge and put in nice dish with a cover on top-into the fridge to keep fresh.

The end result: This morning I woke up to a cup of French roast, a bowl of fresh late summer juicy raspberries, and a mini square of Callie's Italian Hazelnut Fudge. Did it do the trick? You bet. Last night, I discovered Simon, my six year old Brittany had an external lump growth (the size of a mountain tick) on his back thigh and I was worried. One vet visit later: $125 to remove it (just a local anesthetic). It was a pesky skin tag. No worries. Simon is back home, sleeping next to me and Seth, his canine pal. Grr-eat dog(s)! One more thing: The premium chocolate compounded with all of its feel-good compounds was there for me like a good friend to help boost my mood and lessen anxiety during this doggie ordeal.
P.S. I have leftover ingredients left which means it's meant to be to whip up another batch. Using flavoring, such as Italian butter rum or espresso may just add that extra kick (for me, poor Simon--we're exhausted!) and to the fudge.
* Recipe is a spin-off of the popular Internet-circulated classic--Kraft's "Fantasy Fudge" (using my choice of food brands, ingredients, and directions). I did include Kraft Marshmallow Creme.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why Mini-Fasts Are Good For You

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet
-- Anonymous
During the research and writing of my new book The Healing Powers of Chocolate, I enjoyed chocolates, all kinds--truffles, barks, biscotti and lava cake. At 5'5" I maintained a size 4-6, low 120 pounds. (Blood pressure last night: 121/72/55.) How do I do it? I took a clue from the French women who are known to not get fat. I practiced portion control (smaller is better), ate 5-6 mini meals daily to boost my metabolism, swam (almost daily), and walked my energetic Brittanys (with French roots). But as fall approaches, I've been bit by the baking bug and don't want to gain unwanted pounds and body fat. Welcome to the wonderful world of good for you "mini-fasting"...
  • "We take vacations from work to relax, recharge and gain new perspectives on life," noted Elson M. Haas MD, author of The Detox Diet (Celestial Arts). "Taking vacations from food does the same thing." And that is exactly what I'm going to do for a few days. Why? Yesterday at the store I bought stuff to make homemade fudge (with quality dark chocolate) and casseroles (stuffed with veggies, whole grain pasta, cheese, and fish). Plus for my upcoming birthday I splurged and purchased new, improved baking dishes and pans. I am excited like a kid with fun toys as I continue to detox-feng shui the kitchen inside and out. But, I also want to cleanse my body inside and out.
  • So, I stocked up on fresh raspberries (late summer sale priced two for one baskets) and fresh greens to create spinach, tomato and cucumber salads drizzled with balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar and sprinkled with herbs. I've decided to "vegge out" and eat plenty of nutrient-dense vegetables--such as cruciferous veggies and whole grain brown rice, and fruits such as raspberries and blueberries, as well as drink lots of herbal tea (chamomile is my fave) and bottled water.
  • Nutritionists will tell you that cleansing diets help flush impurities from your system and detoxify it. And a detoxifying mini-fast can "rev up" your body as you slim down. Some perks include: gives your organs a rest, cleanses body, purifies, relaxes, rejuvenates, promotes regularity, and so much more.
  • So, as I continue to deep clean my kitchen (i.e., the curtains have been washed and professionally pressed; today I'm washing the outside windows with vinegar and water; cleaning the outside wood cupboards, I'll use vinegar and olive oil)--I'm going to detox my body, too.
  • Oh yeah, swimming is on the agenda at 1:00 P.M. Note: As colder climate moves in, don't give up your exercise routine. I made arrangements to move on into the indoor spa pool--in a few weeks--complete with pampering perks: hot tub to steam) and I've gotten back into the treadmill at home teamed with my go-getter pooch, 3 year-old Seth.

In a cocoa bean shell: Recently, I read "Don't trust a skinny chef." I disagree. Since I've been watching "Food Network"--I've noticed that some of the pro chefs are sporting too many pounds. Not a good thing. I believe you can make mean and tasty dishes and also maintain a mean body machine, too. It's a challenge to create and eat scrumptious food and stay lean. It takes work but it's worth it to keep you healthy and happy. A toast to the mini-detox diet--the route to allowing you to have your chocolate and eat it, too!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Giant Chocolate Fortune Cookies: What's Your Fave Fortune?

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

"He who asks fortune-tellers the future unwittingly forfeits an inner intimation of coming events that is a thousand times more exact than anything they may say."
-- Walter Benjamin

Recently, I wrote about DIY Fortune Cookies. These little wonders that you and me can make and bake include two superfoods--olive oil and dark chocolate. And, you get to create the fortunes. How cool is that? But I didn't do it yet. It seems to me that a Snow Day would be perfect to give your all to these creative chocolate cookies. Yes, I found a shortcut (again). After I posted the healthy dark chocolate fortune cookies recipe, fate hit me. Thanks to serendipity, I found an online company that makes awesome fortune cookies, all colors, flavors, sizes--and in dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate...

Enter: Chocolate Fortunes! When you run not walk with your typing fingers to this clever Website you'll see for yourself that this company does fortune cookies with true finesse. The photo above? It is of a Baby Giant Fortune Cookie dipped in white/dark chocolate. Isn't it a chocolate work of art in its own special chocolatey way? I received two smaller versions--a traditional fortune cookie dipped in dark chocolate and milk chocolate. (What's more, when you check out all the decorated fortune cookies for the upcoming holidays, from Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Saint Patrick's Day, and so much more, it will make you smile like I did.) It gets better. If you're dreaming of a chocolate fortune cookie decorated to suit you and your chocolate cravings (or special needs), don't hesitate to speak out!

No doubt about it, these fortune cookies, especially the white/dark chocolate dipped Baby Giant Fortune Cookie, raise the bar on the standard fortune cookies you receive at the local take-out Chinese restaurant to even a high end eatery where they serve Asian cusine. The cookies were a tad softer (probably due to the scrumptious, creamy chocolate) and sweeter. The fortunes are different than the common fortunes I've read--and I've read a lot. Today I posted my fortune on the fridge. It reads: "You will be in the best position--07 16 20 36 41 26". (I'm banking on Wednesday to be my lucky day and will settle for 26.)

So that leads me to asking you the GIANT question: What fortune would you love to read when you open a fortune cookie?

My First "Homemade" Old-Fashioned Mixed-Apple Pie

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”
Dr. Carl Sagan quote

I did it! I made a homemade double-crust apple pie, sort of. Scratch the crust because I got a little help from Marie, Marie Calender's pie crust. And I'm glad I chose it. Like an apt pupil, I read up on DIY crusts--made with flour, sugar, salt, butter, shortening and water; refrigerated varieties (supposedly the best that you simply roll out yourself); and the frozen ones that got slammed with criticism. No matter. I followed my heart and followed Marie and purchased her frozen pie crusts. No regrets. After all, we used to have a Marie Calender's here at Lake Tahoe, and the pies were my favorite, especially the light, flaky crust like mom used to bake.

The truth is, I've always wanted to make a double-crust pie but never did it by myself. Sure, when I was a tween I helped my mother, a baking goddess, do it. I remember together we sliced the apples and she explained to me how to prevent the apples from browning as I put the wedges into a bowl of cold ice water. Fast forward: As I took out my bottom crust from the packaging I got hit with flashbacks, one by one, when plopping my apple wedges high into the pie shell. (I admit it: I need to get one of those fancy coring gadgets because preparing these puppies, one by one, made my blood pressure soar. But the good news is, potassium-rich apples can help lower BP.) I did it. I did it like when I was a kid with my mom there as my guide...

The Crust
  • I read up on the trials of a prepared frozen crust. So I was one up on the woes I faced. I kept 'em frozen before preparing (not refrigerated like I was told to do at the store). Upon opening up the package of two crusts, I was surprised at the texture--just like homemade. I lightly floured the bottom with whole wheat flour. Then, I plopped my apples (see below for Filling info) in and was pleased at the metamorphisis that was appearing before my eyes. (Next time I will do a lattice crust but that is a bit more challenging.)
  • When taking out the second crust to avoid sticking I flopped it over in my hands and ran warm water over the tin pan. Then, flipping it back, I topped the pie with the second crust and there were a few glitches. No worries. I dabbed a bit of warm water on the torn parts and smoothed out a handsome crust to write home about. When I fluted the edges (like mom taught me to do) I felt like she was in the dining room with me. It was an unworldly experience. Instead of brushing the top of the crust with an egg white, I chose organic milk. And sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on top was just the beginning of a good time because I sensed the work was over.
  • I cut a few slits (as I read to do) and cut out a small circle on top of the pie. It looked like pies in photos. Into the oven for 15 minutes...and then I peeked at my pie before turning the oven down for another hour. It was confirmed. My first homemade apple pie was not going to flop. My mom was an excitable, passionate bakeress and I will never forget one time when her homemade Butterscotch Pie turned out too soupy. She cried. I cried. It was a sad event. (To prevent a sequel, I was thankful that I read ahead of time and remembered to prevent the pie crust from cooking too fast and burning...fold foil over the heat-sensitive edges.)
  • Note: A no brainer: Do this first before turning to your crust of choice. Combine the ingredients. I put it all in a collander and drizzled thick, brown juice ontop of the apples, stirring it up so each and every apple was coated.
6 large apples (Golden Delicious, Granny, Fuji), peeled, quartered, cored, cut into wedges
1/2-3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon
  • One hour later: At 8:50 P.M. last night I peeked inside the oven. My pie was golden brown and the apple juices were all bubbly oozing out through the slits. I took a fork and pulled out one single apple wedge--tender. It was done. Sixty plus minutes later (I couldn't wait any longer to judge the pie), I cut a piece of pie (I rarely eat after 7:00 P.M.--the secret to maintaining a size 4-6) and savored the first bite. Success. The apples were hot and juicy, not too sweet or too tart. The crust tender, a nice golden light color, and hard to decode if it was homemade or not. It was a natural, wholesome apple pie (almost like mom used to bake). I miss her. Making and baking this sweet apple pie brought me back into time, the Sixties, when I was just a kid who loved her mother who knew how to bake from scratch.

P.S. Enter the Healthiest Survival Pie Contest and Win a Copy of The Healing Powers of Chocolate, Olive Oil, Vinegar--Your Choice. Click Here for Easy Details--the Title of Your Fave Healthiest Pie.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mountain Delight: Strawberry-Chocolate Cornbread Muffins

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

The North thinks it know how to make corn bread, but this is a gross superstition. Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern corn bread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite as bad as the Northern imitation of it.”
--Mark Twain
It's Saturday night. I am home with my three fur children and six happy and healthy goldfish. An ex-flame called and asked "What are you doing?" I answered: "Baking." He was awestruck. Remember, I am the author always on a mission and stay(ed) out of the kitchen. It gets worse or better depending on how you look at it. I'm watching "Food Network." (I love the competition among the chefs.) But lately I've been wondering "What if I'm morphing into a Stepford wife or changing like the character in the classic film The Fly?" It's getting to the point if I don't have something baking in the oven I feel a gigantic void like when I'm not linked to a big book project. And I'm beginning to love the aroma in the house--like tonight...

Oh yeah. Last night I enjoyed the memorable scent of strawberries paired with a sweet, fresh muffin bakery smell. This morning I just ate and savored a strawberry chocolatey cornbread muffin teamed with a cup of French Roast coffee splashed with milk, and a glass of fresh orange juice. And this is how it all happened. Yesterday, I was going to create a special double crust apple pie. But at the last minute one of my ingredients was AWOL. So, I starting pondering, "What can I bake that is healthy, easy, and a bit of pre-fall mixed with late summer?" Cornbread (it has European roots) paired with strawberries! Like books and articles, when I googled this combo, I was surprised that it's been done. But, I did it my way--mountain-style with a taste of olive oil, dark chocolate chips (60% cacao), and a convenient store bought mix that boasts on the package "natural."
  • Sure, I could have whipped up a concoction of cornmeal and the other natural ingredients, but I took an alternative route. I snagged a packaged box of Krusteaz Natural Honey Cornbread and I'm glad I did. Krusteaz: "Homemade. Made Easy." I used organic 2% low-fat milk, one brown egg, and 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil. Because I live in high altitude (over 5,000 feet) I added 1 tablespoon wheat flour and 2 tablespoons milk. And the best part, I washed and quartered more than a cup of fresh late summer strawberries. (At Lake Tahoe these were priced at $4.99 a container--an autumn price. The other day, I scored two containers for $4.99--a summer bargain.) And last but not to be left out, I tossed in about a half cup of dark chocolate chips--they've got countless compounds that are oh so good for your mind, body, and spirit. I am a true Northerner (we are known to prefer a sweeter cornbread than Southerners.)
  • Next step. I simply poured the easy to mix batter mixed with my fave healthy ingredients into cupcake tins (standard and jumbo size) and popped these muffins into the oven for 20 minutes. The end result: Super moist muffins--not dry like cornbread can be. Each bite I could taste a burst of juicy sweet and a tad tart strawberry and the creamy bits of dark chocolate. No need for high fat butter or honey. And that's it. Bake these muffins up and you, too, can take a nice vacation to cornbread heaven.
  • These Krusteaz muffins provide you with some muscle-boosting protein, dietary fiber, and iron. While cornbread can be a tad high in sodium (of interest if you're watching your weight or strive to keep heart healthy), a serving size (2x2-inch piece) contains just 260 milligrams and a mere 110 calories. No cholesterol or trans fat (again, the stuff that clogs your arteries). And, of course, strawberries are chock-full of stress fighting, good for you antioxidant vitamin C, a flu-fighting must-have in September. These Strawberry-Chocolate Cornbread Muffins are a homey mountain delight without picking the berries or growing the corn. (Oh wow. "Barefoot Contessa" is on the tube. Yep, I'm changing like the seasons.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

DIY Fortune Cookies with Olive Oil & Chocolat!

By Cal Orey, The Writing Gourmet

May life throw you a pleasant curve.
--Fortune Cookie

Today is Labor Day and it doesn't surprise me that I worked. Yeah, I finished the Earth Changes column for the October issue of Oracle 20-20 magazine (online; September issue "Autumn Action", page 32) and dished out forecasts (again) for Mother Nature. Oh, on I penned the Pet Horoscopes (running all this week; anytime you can read them to your pet(s) by going to the homepage and type in Pet Horoscopes 2009). I'm calm now that my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate is safe in New York. At last, it's my time for some much needed R&R. More good news: Tonight, while walking the boys, Simon and Seth, all is quiet as a crafty coyote at Lake Tahoe. It's now off season. Translation: It's back to the resort spas--warm pool, hot tub, steam and sauna. The grocery stores are empty. I can catch a good matinee, rake the yard, stock firewood, and enjoy the quietude of the good mountain life. But I can't stop wondering about the future, from health care reform to the economic ups and downs and how it will affect the Golden State, the nation, and the world...

Enter: Fortune cookies. These are one of life's simple little pleasures. It's so much fun to open up the crisp cookies after a Chinese dinner or take-out. Imagine if you could make up a batch of your own treasures paired with unique and profound forecasts created by you! I found a fine recipe penned by Gemma Sciabica in her cookbook California Olive Oil: Dolci and Biscotti Recipes. The batter part seems easy to create--and it had me at the word "olive oil". The dipping these unforgettable gems into dark chocolate was my idea or so I thought until I did a Google search. Yep, there's cookie companies that sell fortune cookies--chocolate dipped and in an array of flavors. Still, I'd like to create these cookies by myself. I'm up for the challenge. Are you? Warning: The batter part seems easy but molding the cookies may be a bit of a task...

Fortune Cookies
Cookies must be shaped quickly while still hot, bake only 2 at a time. For the fortunes, use your favorite colored papers (cut into 3 inch by 1/2-inch strips) and write a personalized message for each one.
2 tablespoons Marsala Olive Oil
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon fiori di Sicilia (or 1/2 teaspoon orange extract)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 large egg white
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour (cake flour)
14 to 16 paper strips for fortunes
Set oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 small cookies sheets. In mixing bowl add dry ingredients. Make well in center, add egg, oil and flavoring. Stir until smooth. Drop batter by teaspoon 4 inches apart (2 on each sheet), spread batter with back of spoon evenly to form a 3 inch round. Bake 3 to 4 minutes until light golden. Loosen with metal spatula. Place a fortune across center of hot cookie 1 at a time. Fold hot cookie in half forming a semicircle, press edges together. Quickly fold semi circle over edge of a small bowl to create fortune cookie shape. Repeat with other cookies. Cool cookie sheets between batches, re-greasing as necessary.

* Tips: If cookie hardens before shaped, put in oven to soften for about 30 seconds. Wear cotton gloves when handling cookies so you many shape them quickly if to hot to handle. Makes 14-16 cookies.
Chocolate Dip
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips [60% cocoa]
1 tablespoon Marsla Olive Oil
In top of double boil over hot--not boiling water, melt chips. Add in olive oil, stir until smooth. Cool slightly, dip cookie about 2/3 or 1/2 (your choice) of the way into chocolate mixture. Let excess chocolate drip back into container. Place on wax paper lined cookie sheet. Variation: substitute whilte chocolate for chocolate chips.
P.S. Want some clever fortune cookie sayings? Log onto this site for free!
P.P.S. Too busy to create fortune cookies but crave 'em for a holiday party? No worries. A superb company will do it for you!