Archive for Desserts

Yes, you can cook with cactus

There are some things that one can’t help but bristle at upon the notion of eating. Sure, we’ve all heard about the “delicacies” involving insects and offal in other countries, but what I bring to the table here is much simpler in nature yet can be just as confounding for the uninitiated: Cactus.

That’s right — those desert-loving plants known for their sharp spines can actually be eaten.

Two of the most popular edible portions of cacti are the pads, called “nopals,” and the pears, cactus fruit that in Spanish is known as “tuna.” The former are the flat, broad portions that look like paddles. Once their needles are removed, they can be grilled, baked or simmered.  The latter can be peeled and eaten as is. Their delicious fruit is surprisingly sweet, with a texture that’s a cross between a kiwi and a pear.  Fresh cactus pads and cactus pears can be found at Hispanic markets such as Northgate, as well as some well-stocked mainstream grocers. Thankfully, the work of removing the needles has usually already been done.

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Warm your tummy with non-alcoholic toddy

This time of year brings no shortage of baked treats, cold nights, and good times with family and friends. One thing that goes well with all of them? A hot beverage that warms the tummy.

While coffee and tea are the most popular choices, I tend to avoid caffeine after a certain hour of the evening. And because of the headaches they induced, I found myself having to avoid libations with spirits in them. Yet I still craved the kick that comes from a hot toddy.

This led to experimenting with various infusions that would warm my soul but wouldn’t hurt my head, not to mention also be appropriate for those of all ages.

The result is my Teetotaler’s Toddy, a hot, non-alcoholic drink that provides plenty of kick thanks to fresh ginger and a pinch of cayenne, yet sweetness and depth from honey and cinnamon. Like a traditional toddy, it’s a snap to make. If you can boil water, you’re halfway there. Here’s how to finish it:

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Easy Recipe: Frozen Yogurt Breakfast Bars

We’ve all been told a million times how breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the one that literally fuels our body as we set off to tackle traffic, work, school or whatever else the morning throws at us. But in our rush to get out the door, it’s all too easy to skip what seems like a culinary inconvenience.

And here’s where this week’s recipe arrives to save the day. Cereal and yogurt are simple go-to’s when we’re running short on time and motivation, but they can get old fast. Enter the Frozen Yogurt Breakfast Bar. This was a staple in my wife’s family when she was growing up. With five kids to dress, feed and get out the door, any shortcuts were welcome and they swore by this one. If my wife’s memory serves, it was obtained decades ago from the side of a Grape-Nuts box.

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Take the sizzle out of summer with homemade smoothies

It’s hot. You don’t want to cook. The kids and/or you want something sweet in your mouth, pronto, and the temptation to pull into a convenience store, grab the biggest reservoir you can find and fill it with semi-frozen sugar water churned from a machine is running at a 99.9 percent chance.

Hang on.

It’s times like these where a little planning can save you and the family from catastrophe, not to mention the crazed state of mind resulting from sugar rush. You can easily make a better-tasting and better-for-you summer treat in less time than it takes to run to the corner quickie mart.

Homemade smoothies require only a blender, juice, fruit and your imagination. There are, of course, many juice shops eager to sell you their version, but more often than not those drinks are overpriced and over-iced. You can make your own for much less money, and you’ll know exactly what went into the thing.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s literally throwing ingredients into a blender and turning it on. If there’s one tricky part, it’s getting the right consistency and enough “frozen-ness” instead of liquid.

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Carrot Pineapple bread is one sweet treat

So Wifey recently struck a deal, and when Degens find deals we go big or go home. In this case she scored a 25-pound bag of carrots. For $4.

Needless to say, just about every dish I’ve made in the past week has included the orange roots. If I were eating any more of these things I’d grow a bushy white tale and be saying, “What’s up, Doc?” But in addition to stocking up some vegetarian friends, the surplus has also given me opportunity to experiment with the versatile veggies.

One of my more tasty uses for carrots is using them for something sweet, and it’s not cake. It’s actually in a quick-bread batter that can be used for bread or muffins.

Finely grated carrots give this bread a dash of color and a subtle crunch. I add in some crushed pineapple for extra pizazz. While I admit this recipe is more of a treat – as muffins and dessert breads usually are – I give mine a degree more of healthful properties by mixing in whole-wheat flour and using canola oil instead of butter.

Best of all, it’s a snap to make and uses the standard muffin/quick-bread method of simply mixing wet ingredients into dry, popping your chosen bakeware into an oven and, voila, half an hour later you’ve got a tasty treat that makes a fine dessert pairing with coffee or a breakfast indulgence. Hey it’s got carrots so it must be good for you, right?

You won’t need 25 pounds for this recipe. In fact just one carrot should do the trick. Guess I’m lucky that these loaves and freeze well.

Let’s bake.

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Homemade whipped cream is perfect in a parfait

Here are two of the sweetest words you’ll read all week: whipped cream.
Who doesn’t love the thick, rich, saccharine clouds of deliciousness topped on desserts, fruit, or just about anything else?

Too bad most of us equate whipped cream with stuff that comes bursting from the nozzle of a can or, even worse, sitting in a tub.

Real whipped cream is a treat that can be made at home in about five minutes with the proper equipment, and, via that proper equipment, is as easy as pouring ingredients and then flicking a switch.

As you might have already guessed, that “equipment” I’m referring to is a mixer. Doesn’t matter much what kind. From a cheap hand mixer to that anchor of a KitchenAid Artisan that is a proverbial favorite on wedding registries, the idea is to have a machine that can mix fast enough to incorporate enough air into cream to transform it from a milky like substance to the sweet fluffs we know as whipped cream.

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Avoid these fruits in Jell-O

I was making Jell-O the other day, but ended up with a serving of humble pie: Imagine my surprise when I opened the fridge hours later and realized the thing never set. Instead of having a delicious, jiggly dessert, I was confronted with a useless bowl of liquid that never formed into a mold.

What the heck was going on, I wondered. I mean, it’s Jell-O, not rocket science. Second doubts set in quick.

“Why had I ever gone to culinary school if I couldn’t pull off making something as simple as one of America’s favorite, no-brainer desserts?”

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