Monday, June 29, 2015

Pasteis De Nata & Ricardo Cuisine!

Growing up, summer meant spending time with my grandparents. While during the rest of the year, their home was where we would go to after school until my parents could pick us up, summertime meant spending the entire day running around the backyard and playing in the garage. Yes, you read that right. My grandfather put down carpet in the garage for us, a chalkboard to play school and made us our very own skipping ropes. We’d spend endless hours playing away until my Mom would come to pick us up. Summer also meant getting to tag along on one of my very favorite errands…

A trip to the bakery!

I’m fairly certain that I can trace my love of bakeries and baked goods back to those mid-morning trips with my grandfather to the bakery at the end of the street. Picking up fresh buns was a daily occurrence. The occasional loaf of bread or hot dog/ hamburger buns may have been purchased at the grocery store, but as far as buns or bread for our meals was concerned, nowhere but the bakery would do! To this day, my Dad still stops every Sunday to pick up bread for our Sunday dinners! And while helping my grandfather fill a bag with fresh, warm buns was fun, it was when we would head to the counter that the excitement would really peak. As I stared at the display cases filled to the brim with classic Portuguese desserts and pastries, the kind staff would, without fail, “sneak” me a cookie or treat! From walking through the door, to leaving with a bag full of that fresh scent and warmth, the experience was always enjoyable.

When it comes to Portuguese bakeries, there is one dessert in particular, that is iconic.

Pasteis de Nata. 

I can’t even begin to count the number of times, someone has asked me if I’ve made them. Having become kosher five years ago, the “is there anything you miss?” question is a popular one. Over the past few years, I’ve done what I can to transfer family recipes into ones that would accommodate and meet kosher dietary requirements. When friends learn this, pasteis de nata always seem to be the first thing they inquire about. I must admit, while I enjoyed them, they were never the first dessert I’d reach for. But sure enough, make something (especially a baked good!) inaccessible and it’s suddenly a favorite! Given that, I still had yet to attempt baking them, since I have never, NEVER, had a successful experience with custard or caramel.

Until now! 

About a month ago, I was introduced to Ricardo Cuisine. I’m always on the lookout for fantastic food/ recipe websites, and while I certainly love a good cookbook, there’s something special about the ease of searching for a recipe and having a slew of results pop up within seconds. The Ricardo Cuisine site has definitely become a favorite of mine in a very short amount of time! Its crisp and clean layout showcases the food presented beautifully. The menu can be tailored to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. The drop-down menu underneath Cook breaks down your search into mains, appetizers, desserts etc. The Discover bar leads you to videos, a menu planner and further broken down categories (i.e. summer cooking!) and more! Add special features, a boutique, a magazine and themes (i.e. Cooking for Diabetics) and this website is as comprehensive as it is fantastic! 

Naturally, I gravitated towards the dessert section, where I found 17 categories! Browsing through them, it was at once clear that not only did the desserts look appetizing and great, but the recipes were also accessible and straightforward. The ingredients didn’t even need a ton of tampering with to comply with kosher requirements! Just when I thought I had hit the jackpot, I stumbled across a recipe that provided all the confirmation I needed…

Portuguese Tarts!

The recipe, like the others I had browsed through, was so straightforward and accessible that for the first time, I really felt like I could attempt to recreate this classic! The added bonus of the fact that it didn’t require any gelatin or ingredients kosher versions of pasteis call for, was especially exciting! The recipe is inherently kosher!

Not gonna lie, I was still nervous to attempt anything involving custard, but if I was ever going to find a recipe to give it a shot, it was this one! So during the kids nap time, on a sunny afternoon, I went for it! And…


I made custard! It was a milestone moment in this Itsy Bitsy Balebusta’s kitchen! Another great thing about pasteis is that as long as you get the components right, the final presentation doesn’t have to be clean and fancy! Pasteis de Nata are known for their almost burnt looking appearance. Take one bite though, and it won’t matter what it looks like!

I’d definitely recommend taking a look at the site and using it to help you plan your next menu, meal or snack! The recipes are so great that something I’ve failed at before, I was suddenly able to make effortlessly. I wasn’t left with a sink full of dishes at the end (always a plus!), I had all the ingredients I needed in the fridge and pantry, and everything was so easy to follow that it really felt effortless. The only alteration I made was baking each tart in a ramekin. Truth be told, I didn’t have an appropriate dairy muffin pan, but in the end it was a great option! I was able to make slightly larger pasteis than the traditional ones (and really, is extra custard and pastry ever a bad thing?) and didn’t have to worry about any custard spilling out during the baking process. I generously greased them beforehand and baked them at 500F. All in all, not only is it a beautiful site to browse through, but you’ll both want to make the recipes and enjoy the seamless process almost as much as the final product!


Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s been about five years and I have a few extra pasteis waiting for me!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Berry Coconut Pops!

Being a Mom and trying to keep the home together, with a 1 and a half year old running around (yes basically running at this point, since I can barely keep up! What?!) requires way more energy than I have most days. Not only is there the task at hand of keeping the home together, but given that we just moved, there's also plenty of unpacking and settling in to get to. With an adventurous little boy seemingly always on the go, this Mommy is on the look out for quick and easy snacks, that are healthy and nutritious. While that's already a tall order, add to the search something that's cool (a fairly warm Spring has arrived, and we are without AC) and requires appliances and utensils that have actually been unpacked...

Enter a perfect opportunity! Right before our move, the friendly people over at Epicurex introduced me to Cocozia organic, kosher coconut water. Given that most of my recipes are generations old, being faced with an ingredient I've never used and one which my usual go to sources (re: my Mom and family) aren't overly familiar with, is rare. But hey, with all the new adventures already happening this Spring, why not throw in a little experimenting in the kitchen too?

Here's a quick, and easy treat that's perfect to hydrate and cool you off now that the weather is finally starting to change! It requires barely any effort, takes three ingredients and less than 10 minutes to make start to finish (including schlepping out the blender). Put it into the freezer overnight and you have the perfect treat for the next day! And as if there needed to be an added bonus to all of this, it's also healthy! No added sugars or artificial sweeteners! A Mama's jackpot right?

I took this opportunity to try out Cocozia coconut water and added 1 cup to the berry mix. After further looking into coconut water, it seemed like the perfect addition to add a boost of electrolytes without the fat or cholesterol (if you'd feel more comfortable, check with your doctor before introducing new foods/ ingredients to your toddler!). It also contains plenty of potassium and magnesium and is touted as being fantastic for hydration, without any sugary or synthetic additives. In the past few years, the benefits of coconut water and oil have really taken center stage, as a wonder food. Adding a simple cup of coconut water to these pops, has the benefit of adding a variety of nutrients, with minimal effort and great taste (Cocozia actually has a variety of flavors of coconut water, here I used the original, but adding in one of the many flavors opens the doors to all sorts of potential combinations!). It's a simple and effective way to boost treats without compromising on texture or flavor!


Berry Coconut Pops (Makes 6, 4 oz Frozen Pops)

1 Cup Frozen Blueberries
1 Cup Frozen Strawberries
1 Cup Cocozia Coconut Water

Measure out one cup of each ingredient

Add to blender and select "puree" function for 5-10 seconds followed by "liquefy" function for 5 seconds*

Pour mixture into six, four ounce, ice pop molds.

Place into freezer, and freeze overnight.

To remove, run under lukewarm water briefly before removing ice pop mold casing.


*Feel free to adjust times to suit your preference when it comes to consistency. Do not over puree, as you want a thicker consistency which will freeze better and increase your chances of successfully removing the pops from the forms!

My second time making these, I added a quarter of a frozen banana to the mix as well, and pureed an additional 5 seconds, to add a little extra stability to the consistency!

I was generously provided with a sample of Cocozia Coconut Water courtesy of Epicurex. The thoughts, opinion and recipe presented in my post, are all my own.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts & A Giveaway!

After all of the Passover cooking, who doesn't have a renewed sense of appreciation for those who go all year round without gluten? While there are those who will be quick to say that 8 days isn't so bad and that they have their favorite Passover desserts/ recipes - maybe even a few they use year round - reaching for flour-filled cakes, cookies and bread after the holiday, is always welcome. Having the ability to only have to limit our flourless intake to eight days a year is a luxury!

Being the only one in my family who keeps kosher, I'm sensitive to having food available to meet any dietary requirement. It's such a central part of gatherings and truthfully, our heritage. I'm incredibly, incredibly fortunate to have parents who are not only understanding but also super accommodating. They've gone above and beyond to provide M with a BBQ and always ensure we have what to make/eat when we arrive at their home for Sunday dinner. With Y a part of the party now, it's amazing to see the variety of snacks and treats my parents always have on hand for him. He never has to feel like he's missing out!

While planning Y's birthday I did my best to take into account that a few of our guests wouldn't be able to partake in most of the sweets. While there were fruit and veggie options on the table, what kid would enjoy going to a party where they couldn't have cake or candy while everyone else around them was? I was nervous to attempt to bake anything myself, with all the flour constantly floating around the kitchen, and it took having to search for delicious gluten-free kosher options, to realize the shortage of availability! In the end we made individual bags with plenty of candy, iced brownies from a local gluten-free bakery and more! My respect and admiration is endless for families that have this as a daily challenge.

Given all of this, you can imagine that when I opened Nicole Spiridakis' cookbook, Flourless I was blown away. Nicole herself is not gluten-free, but her sister in law does keep a gluten-free diet. Nicole became obsessed with the idea of naturally gluten-free recipes after exploring the idea that it's "often easier to make desserts that did not call for any wheat flour at all compared to those that incorporated a gluten-free flour substitute." Truth be told, that was also another reason I was hesitant to bake anything myself for our gluten-free family members. While recipes are plentiful and easy to find, those that didn't include complicated/ expensive/ hard to find flour blends or gums, were in short supply.

Nicole's cookbook is absolutely fantastic, and that's coming from someone who basically can't make it throughout the day without a baked good. I love that her cookbook is compiled of recipes that have easily accessible and inexpensive ingredients and don't require unfamiliar components to make gluten-free treats! Additionally, I think she makes an incredibly important point when she says that, "The main thing to keep in mind when creating flourless desserts is to not see them as substitutes for more traditional desserts... They're delicious in their own right."

This cookbook is wonderful in all regards. The writing is clear, heartfelt and you can't help but be inspired to give it a shot, regardless of how far outside your comfort zone flourless baking is. I love the dark tone of the images, and how they showcase respective recipes in clear, real, natural ways perfectly complimenting their inherent structure and qualities. The styling and arrangement is perfect. You really question how these muffins, cookies and more could be gluten-free!

That's right, I said muffins and cookies! Flourless holds within its pages recipes for Cakes, Cupcakes, Cookies, Puddings, Tarts, Candies and Confections among other treats. You're not limited to the souffl├ęs and flourless chocolate cakes that all too frequently come up when you search for gluten-free recipes (although those are surely included as well!). Here you will find recipes for a flavorful Lemon Loaf, a delicious Apple Tea Cake with Maple Glaze and what will become your go to gluten-free Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies! The recipes are versatile, perfect for breakfast, dessert, to gift and more. You can bake them seasonally and enjoy summer picnic or Thanksgiving go to's, from berry pies to pumpkin bread (yes, bread!), or enjoy them year round. You'll also find bold flavors such as ginger, sesame, tahini, rosemary, pistachio and more, to expand your palette! The array of recipes goes above and beyond to provide you with a comprehensive collection of options that leaves you with plenty of inspiration, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the lack of availability to muffins and more.

Oatie Squares
Quick & simple to make, with easy to find, natural ingredients! A total hit here!
Given how inspired I was by this cookbook, and how great my appreciation is for families and individuals who face the task of altering their menu to comply with a gluten-free diet for any of a variety of reasons, I'm so excited to be able to share a giveaway for this cookbook, courtesy of the very generous Raincoast Books. You can enter below and I hope this cookbook brings plenty of inspiration and warm delicious delights into your kitchen and home! Good luck & enjoy!

Flourless Giveaway Contest Details/ Rules:
Open to Canadian residents. No purchase necessary. Skill-based question will be asked upon drawing winner's name. Prize is one (1) copy of Nicole Spiridakis' cookbook Flourless provided by Raincoast Books, approximate retail value of $38.95. Odds of winning are dependent on number of eligible entries received. Contest will run from Monday April 20th, 2015 until Sunday April 26th, 2015 at 12:00 am EST.