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Tuesday
Oct012013

You Can't Beet London

The title pun is intended. Many of you know that I recently spent some time in London. I was there for a race, representing the USA at the Age Group World Championships of Triathlon. This was an overwhelming and humbling experience. The whole Iaciofano clan showed up, as well as a hearty cheering squad from my old stomping ground in Los Angeles.

Highlights included:

Scotch eggs and fried capers at the Pheonix Pub in Covent Garden.

Copious amounts of "Flat Whites" (this one from a bike cafe called Look Mum, No Hands!)

A post-race celebration at the Dock Kitchen.

Wacky bus rides.

Underwhelming tube rides.

Black Pudding! (from Albion Cafe) John and I both liked it.

The best bathroom this side of anywhere (Nopi in SoHo).

The best food market this side of anywhere (Borough Market).

Copious amounts of clotted cream (from Brown's Hotel).

With equal amounts of gin. And rum. And heavens only knows what else (from Purl).

A proper British haircut for John.

A lot of shopping with Kaz.

Brunch featuring toast caddies! (At High Road House, Chiswick)

Waffles on sticks! (Tower of London)

More bike cafes (Zappi's in Oxford).

And a ridiculous, Team USA photoshoot around London...

Phew — that was a lot. Of beer. And gin. And blood pudding. How to recover? Vegetables. Even for breakfast. But how? Of course, I could be traditional and go with a nice vegetable frittata. But I had just been exposed to seemingly endless rows of cute coffee shops and cafes displaying their homemade baked good, including granola. I wanted to make my own.

And so I did. With vegetables. Beets and squash to be exact. These veggies toast up very sweet, so they're perfect for your morning granola. Add a little spice and nut action, and you've just created an addictive breakfast, snack, lunch...Now if I could just find an NYC coffee house that makes a flat white...

What You Need:

3-4 medium sized beets, trimmed of their greens and thinly sliced into 1/8" rounds

1 delicata (or winter) squash (you could also use butternut or sweet potato)

1 1/2 cups rolled oats (I used Bob's Gluten Free variety)

1 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup dates, pitted and chopped

1/2 cup pecans

1/2 cup roasted pistachios

3/4 cup coconut flakes

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

What you do:

Preheat your oven to 300°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice the delicata squash in half and remove the seeds with a spoon. Slice each half of the squash into 1/8" inch thick pieces. Place the squash slices and the beet slices on the prepared baking sheet, but don't crowd them! Give 'em some room to breathe.

Throw them in the oven and let them bake. And bake....and bake. This takes a while, as you are essentially making vegetable chips which requires baking all the water out of the veggies. Veggies have a lot of water. The whole process could take up to an hour. Keep checking on them, as smaller pieces may crisp up faster and you don't want them to burn. Have a bowl ready to place more quickly cooked pieces.

Once all your veggies have "chipped," place them in the bowl and break them up into smaller pieces with your hands. Think about what size would fit nicely on a spoon. That's the size you should break them into.

Increase the oven temperature to 350°F.

In another bowl, combine the oats, spices and nuts. Mix in the olive oil and maple syrup and coat all the dry ingredients evenly with the wet. Spread this mixture onto a baking sheet (you can use the same one that you used for the veggies) and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. With five minutes left in the baking time, sprinkle the coconut flakes on top. Coconut will toast up rather quickly, so it doesn't need much time.

Remove the mixture from the oven and add it to the bowl of veggie chips. At this point you can also add in the dried fruit. Mix to combine. Store in an airtight container for weeks! Now you can have your vegetables for breakfast.

 

Wednesday
Sep112013

The Civilized Soda - San Pellegrino

Sometimes, when I sit down to have for a snack or meal, I just need a friggin' soda.  Not a beer, or water, or wine, but the good ol fashioned, sugary sweet, carbonated glory that is Pepsi, Coke, root beer, whatever.  Even Dr. Pepper works on occasion.

However, this simple choice has its consequences.  For one, soda is not great for you and, if i'm with sis, she will do her best to make me keenly aware of this; according to her, the only non-alcoholic liquid accompaniment that is permissible (aside from H20) is recycled avocado extract slurped through an orangically grown bean sprout.  Also, even coke - my favorite of the American colas - can sometimes be too sweet for my tastes.  Lastly, if I'm out to eat, I sort of feel like a toddler asking my server for a Pepsi with my meal.  This is my own problem I realize, but still - I often find myself inevitably pairing said order with a sheepish smile, acknowledging its immaturity ("I'll actually have...a coke?" - said with my eyebrows raised as to question whether this is actually o.k.).  The solution, if available:  San Pellegrino's Sparkling Blood Orange (Aranciata Rossa) Beverage. 

It has a more refined, deeper taste, a features a slightly bitter tang vs. most other options.  Secondly, according to Elana, there are not many "chemicals" in these sodas, so that is a plus, right?

But let's also take a look at that this can which, in addition to that beautiful Mediterranean color scheme it broadcasts, features a couple of other classy characteristics.  The first is what I will call the can's "peel-off germ protector."  Even the most concerned of hypochondriacs can guzzle with confidence, intimacy and ease.  Second, this soda can does not have a "wide mouth" spout!  Fluid is dispensed in moderation and with an appropriate amount of glugs.  Save the widemouth or "hole punch" nonsense for shotgunning and superbowl parties.  The fact that I'm not able to vacuum suck my carbonated beverage bone dry in nanoseconds, followed by a barbarian like belch, is a good thing, and it extends the lifespan of the 11.2 can.

So.  Moral of the story.  I don't always drink soda.  But when I do, I prefer San Pellegrino.  Stay classy San Diego.  Or something like that.

Friday
Aug302013

Vanilla Poppy Seed Beet Cakes

Beets are my new secret ingredient. Lots of people say their secret ingredient is love. Well, mine is beets. I love beets, so I suppose it amounts to the same thing? Maybe?

I had my first beet dessert success with these gluten-free chocolate cupcakes, Rinny's Race Cakes. They were so good, people kept requesting I make them over and over again. The beets keep the cake moist. Super moist. Like so moist, I've stored them in my freezer for weeks (probably longer than I should) and they are still moist. Can you beet that? 

All puns aside, I wanted to make a vanilla version. I'm a chocolate girl, but John, he likes vanilla. But before you go calling vanilla boring, these cakes are anything but. Using golden beets, you can lock in that same cake moisture, while poppy seeds and salted pistachios give them a nice texture contrast. The salt from the pistachios also creates a nice contrast with the sweet coconut cream. The result is a true masterpiece. Great for breakfast, brunch, snacks and, well....pretty much all the time. Which is when I've been eating them anyway.

What You Need:

For the Cake:

1-½ cups almond meal

1 cup brown rice flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1-1/2 cups turbinado sugar or coconut sugar

4 small golden beets, roasted

3 eggs

½ cup almond milk

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Colavita)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tbsp poppy seeds

1/2 cup salted pistachios, coarsely chopped

For the Frosting:

See my Coconut Cream recipe here.

Process:

First, roast the golden beets:

Preheat your oven to 400°F degrees.

Slice the beets in half and wrap them in aluminum foil.

Place the wrapped beets in the oven and roast for 30 minutes, or until soft when pierced through the center with a knife.

Remove the beets from the oven, allow to cool and then peel the skins off. Chop them into cubes.

Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees.

Place the cooled, chopped beets in a blender with the almond milk and puree until very smooth - so smooth you could drink it.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, brown rice flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, turbinado sugar and poppy seeds. Mix all these dry ingredients together.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, olive oil and vanilla extract.

Add the puréed beets to the egg mixture and mix to combine. Pour the wet beet mixture into the mixing bowl with all of the dry ingredients and stir until combined.

Prepare a cupcake tin by lining with cupcake paper or greasing with non-stick baking spray.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan (I used a mini bundt cake pan) and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.

Allow the cupcakes to cool.

Top them!

Drizzle some coconut cream frosting onto the tops of the cakes and sprinkle with the chopped pecans.

If you're not eating these right away (GASP!), you can store them (unfrosted) in the freezer, covered for 2 weeks.

Monday
Aug052013

A Building Year with Tiramisu

Have you heard the phrase, "it's a building year"? This is sometimes applied to sports teams when they are rearranging their players because of trades, training up the rookies, and generally ironing out the kinks.

Recently this phrase was used to describe my current triathlon season. Injuries and health issues have forced me to have a different season that I wanted. Initially, I was not pleased with this description.

But time out for sports (and desserts), people. Isn't every year a building year? Is there a year when you stop and think, AH-HA! This is the one, the icing on the cake, the final layer...and after this...well, after this—what? There will be no improvements? I can just wait for the cool embrace of death?

Sorry to be blunt, but if that's the case, then I certainly hope every year is a building year.

Take for example, this tiramisu recipe. I created it for Triathlete Magazine as a healthy alternative to traditional tiramisu, which aside from being delicious, has very little nutritional value. This one does, however. It's packed with healthy proteins from almond flour, chia seeds and Greek yogurt.

But the best part of this tiramisu is the assembly. Don't be intimidated, it's a process. Layers of solid cake are stacked on top of squishy yogurt filling, unstable strawberries (anti-oxidants and vitamin C!), and rickety, toasted almonds.

Building it requires patience and a very steady hand. As soon as you place that strawberry on top, the whole thing veers to one side all Leaning Tower of Pisa-esque until—EGADS!—it's fallen over and the filling is smooshed all over the place.

This is especially awesome when you are trying to photograph it for a professional magazine. You can imagine the cursing. But don't, there might be children present.

As many times as I built it up, it fell over. I did finally get it to stand, clicked a few photos and then ate the whole thing. 

I can report that this tiramisu is just as good on it's side as standing straight up.

Which brings me back...to me. This year it's felt like every time I stack up another layer, the whole apparatus comes tumbling down. But I think I can say this: Like the tiramisu, I'm just as good lying on my side (my bike several feet away) and cursing (again, don't imagine it) as I am standing up and on a podium (only the podiums in my mind this year...).

And so are you.

So raise a fork to building years, I hope we both continue to have them. And make this recipe for Healthy Tiramisu. You can follow the recipe below, but it would tickle me if you'd go check out the latest edition of Triathlete Magazine, page 88.

INGREDIENTS

For the cake:

4 eggs, separated into 4 egg yolks and 4 egg whites

2 Tbsp lemon zest, packed

1/2 cup sugar, divided 1/4 cup and 1/4 cup

1 1/2 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon white or cider vinegar

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

½ cup almond milk

½ cup plain, non-fat greek yogurt

โ…“ cup chia seeds

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

 

For the crunchy almond layer:

¾ cup slivered almonds

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons of water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

pinch of salt

 

Extras:

3 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso powder dissolved in 1/3 cup hot water

¼ cup cacao powder (or unsweetened cocoa powder if you can’t find cacao)

1 pint strawberries, sliced

cacao nibs (optional)

 

METHOD

First, bake the cake. I wanted a flat cake so that I could layer my tiramisu. To achieve this, I baked my cake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, so I could spread the batter thinly.

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line the bottom of a cookie sheet (preferably the kind that has sides) with parchment paper, and spray the paper with non-stick cooking spray, or grease with butter.

2 In a large bowl, stir together with a wooden spoon or whisk the egg yolks, lemon zest, and 1/4 cup sugar until smooth.

3 In a separate bowl, or a food processor, blend the almond flour and baking powder.  Add the flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture and beat until just smooth.

4 In a very clean bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer. When bubbles start to form, add a pinch of salt and the teaspoon of vinegar (these ingredients help the egg whites stay firm as you add sugar). As the egg whites begin to increase in volume, sprinkle in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, a little at a time, as you continue to beat the eggs whites.  Beat until soft peaks form. It’s important to add the sugar a little at a time, as the sugar may cause the egg whites to fall.

5 With a rubber spatula, fold the beaten egg whites into the almond mixture a little at a time.  I started with a small amount of egg whites to loosen up the almond flour mixture, which can become firm. After this, you can add the egg whites in large scoops, folding to incorporate it all.

6 Pour the batter onto the prepared cookie sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. The edges will turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. With a sharp knife, slice the cake into serving-size rectangles, and set aside. You can make the cake ahead and freeze it for up to a week. To do this, assemble the sliced cake into layers, placing a piece of parchment paper between each layer (the paper will help the layers not stick to each other). Wrap the sets of cake with foil and store in the freezer until ready to use.

Make the filling:

1. In a small bowl add the โ…“ cup chia seeds to ½ cup almond milk. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight. You want the chia seeds to expand, creating a pudding-like consistency. (Note: you can keep this in the fridge for up to a week, stirring it into all kinds of things like oatmeal and smoothies, so feel free to make more!).

2. Once the chia seeds have expanded, add the 1 teaspoon almond extract and the tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar to the mixture and stir thoroughly.

3. Add in the ½ cup of greek yogurt, and stir to combine. Set aside (you can store this in the fridge as well).

Prepare the almonds:

1. In a skillet over medium heat, dissolve the brown sugar in the water. Add in the spices and the almonds and allow to simmer gently, stirring constantly.

2. When most of the water has absorbed, spread the almonds onto a piece of parchment paper and allow to cool and dry completely. The almonds will be sticky and they will stick together – this is ok! And tasty, too.

Assembly:

1. Dissolve 3 tablespoons of instant coffee or espresso powder in โ…“ cup hot water.

2. Place one piece of cake on plate. With a pastry brush, brush the top of the cake with the coffee.

3. Place a few clusters of candied almonds on top of the cake.

4. Arrange some sliced strawberries on top of the almonds.

5. Spoon the chia seed/alomond milk/greek yogurt mixture on top of the strawberries and dust the cacao powder (I use a tea strainer loaded with cacao powder for a nice, even dusting).

6. Repeat! Challenge yourself to see how high you can stack them! Top with a few cacao nibs (optional) and a whole strawberry.

Friday
Aug022013

Oh You Sweet Tater, You Are, You Are!

Another day, another adventure. In eating and in living.

Here we are in the beginning of August, and what do I have to show for it? Quite a lot, actually. There's a lot I haven't been telling you. I'm sorry. It's not personal. It's not you. It's me.

But let's reconcile. Kiss and make up? I'll fill you in on the details, and hopefully win you back with this recipe for Sweet Potato Tarts. They're gluten and dairy free. And totally delicious.

Did the words gluten-free just freak you out a bit? I hope so, they freak me out. Truth is, I've been experimenting with some gluten-free cooking. Readers of this blog know that I do a lot of physical activity, triathlon training and whatnot.

All this exercise has made me a bit sensitive to certain foods. It's also made me a VERY cheap date. One beer and I'm a very happy person. VERY happy. Just sayin'.

Anyway, I've started my own line of endurance snacks - Ciao Cycling Snacks. They're endurance snacks straight from your Italian Grandma's kitchen. If you'd like more info, you can check out the website here.

They will make you feel like this:

And that is how you want to feel, people, with a bike or without.

And speaking of bikes, as you may know I fractured my hip in a biking accident at the end of April. It's been a downer, as I haven't been able to run...that is, until a few weeks ago.

But the running...well, it's HARD. For this past NYC Triathlon, I wasn't in the running shape I wanted to be in. 

This was disappointing to me to say the least. But, I changed my goal for the race. I decided to run happy. Meaning, I would smile the ENTIRE 6.2 miles. I must take a moment to shout out to my teammate and friend Tommy who ran with me the whole time, ensuring that I neither went too fast (I have a broken hip, people!) nor stopped smiling. Thank you, Tommy.

Here is the evidence:

In addition to happy running, there are a few food-related things that are making me happy. Including:

Awesome tacos on the Upper West Side at Oaxaca. If you happen to go on a day when the Korean taco (pictured on the left) is a special, you are in luck.

The Classic Bibimbop on the Good Fork brunch menu. Ground beef, sticky rice, pickled carrots, some other pickled things...and a fried EGG. Bam. I travelled all the way to Red Hook for this. On the ferry. With Ikea goers. And I would do it again. So there.

Joe Coffee's cold brewed latte. With soy milk. And hot pink. Get the large. You'll be zooming the rest of the day.

And....finally, the Sweet Tater Tarts. These started with the graham crackers, featured here. I then used these to create a fantastically moist and flavorful crust. Let's go:

For the Crust
What You Need:

1 1/2 cup walnuts

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (just pulse some graham crackers in a food processor)

1 large egg (optional, you can do without it if you are vegan)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

What To Do:

Coarsely chop walnuts and graham crackers in a food processor until the mixture looks like fine crumbs.

Add the egg and melted butter to the crumb mixture and pulse to combine. The mixture should start to hold together in clumps.

Place a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan on a baking sheet. Crumble the mixture over the surface of the tart pan and press to form the crust. Alternately, you can use four small tart tins with removable bottoms (that's what I used).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, until set.

For the Filling:
What You Need:

1 1/2 large sweet potatoes, baked until soft.

1/2 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon coconut sugar (you can use regular sugar if you must)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

What To Do:

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend!! Like you mean it. Spoon the resulting magical mixture into your tins or large pie dish. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, until set.

For the Coconut Cream
What You Need:

1 can of full fat coconut milk (the kind that comes in a can)

2 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

What To Do:

Chill a large mixing bowl and the can of coconut cream in the freezer for 15 minutes.

After chilling, open the can coconut milk and spoon out JUST the top later of extra thick and rich and luxurious coconut cream into the chilled bowl.

Add the sugar and vanilla and whip on high speed with a hand-held mixer until it starts to firm up. You won't get stiff peaks of cream like you would with heavy cream. But after about 5-7 minutes of mixing it will start to hold together and get very thick. You can even place the resulting cream in the freezer after whipping to keep it extra chilled and thick.

When you are ready to serve, spoon the cream onto the tart and serve! Feel free to dust the top with a little cacao powder or maple sugar crystals.