Pumpkin Cupcakes or Loaves but healthier!

>> Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Cupcakes
Seeing as Calgary's autumn approachd much earlier this year (along with Halloween being tomorrow) I thought I would take a break from posting my travel blogs to try out a few dessert recipes to use up all the extra pumpkin that will be lying around! Currently I have a pumpkin loaf, pumpkin scones, pumpkin cupcakes all sitting on my countertop with some pumpkin pancakes cooking on the stove top (well they were on there while I was typing up this blog, have to kill time somehow, update: they were delicious maybe I should post that recipe as well...decisions). Let's just say the husband (yup, it's official now!) is going to be a little pumpkin'd out after all this and to think, it was all made from ONE 28oz can of pumpkin purée which I normally buy for my favourite - pumpkin pie, but I thought I'd try some different things this year and try to make them healthy!

Nutrition Tidbit: Healthy because cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant! Antioxidants prevents free radical damage to your body from everyday sun exposure or just your body naturally breaking down substances day to day (Eg. cell turnover). Foods high in antioxidants might lead to slower aging and is being studied for their potential cancer fighting properties. So load up on antioxidants any way you can from blueberries to cinnamon!

This is my favourite rendition so far from all the above, I hope you all enjoy it as well!

Muffins if left without icing
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce ( if you use sweetened remember to reduce the amount of sugar you use below but if you like sweeter cupcakes go for it, unsweetened allows for better control of sweetness)
1/4 cup vegetable oil1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 egg whites (or 2 eggs)
2 eggs (yup in addition to the above)
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
2 cups pumpkin purée
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1/4 cup butter
1 8oz package low fat cream cheese
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Prep cupcake tins with paper cups.
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.
In separate bowl combine applesauce oil and sugar.
Add eggs one at a time mixing well.
Stir together the wet and dry ingredients, beating until smooth.
Stir in pumpkin purée until blended.Add in nuts if desired.
Spoon in to each paper cup (roughly 2 tablespoons for a smaller cupcake 3 for a larger one).
Bake in oven for 20-25 mins or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Let cool before frosting.

Baking alternative:Or you can place the batter into two 9 inch loaf pans and bake them in to pumpkin loaves instead of cupcakes. At the same temperature for 50-55 mins
Frosting:Combine cream cheese and butter, cream until blended.Add in sugar and vanilla, add more sugar if not sweet enough.

Frost cake and decorate if you'd like.

Makes 36 cupcakes

Pumpkin Bread


Picturesque Porto aka Oporto

>> Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Located in Portugal’s Douro region and 4 hours north of the nation’s capital lies Porto, which was how the country’s name came to be (putting the Port in Portugal). Known throughout the world for its famous port wine often overshadowed how stunning and picturesque the town itself was. First steps out of the underground Sao Bento station and you’re faced with all of Porto’s glory. Even the ride on the metro towards downtown from Vila Nova de Gaia (the city just across the river Douro), you can see the famed Dom Luis bridge. Most of the main sites in old town are within a 15 minute walking distance from this station including delicious restaurants and all the port wine cellar tours you can visit and taste.

Of course everybody who comes to Porto has to do a port tasting, it just wouldn’t be right not to and we like all others found ourselves entrenched in all the history and different storage methods of these wines not long after stepping in to the city. Who knew that all the different cellars produces port based on the exact same grape varieties grown locally in the Douro region? Only those grapes grown in the Douro can be used to make port wine because they are deemed to have a specific taste and quality. Tasting port is much like tasting wine, where there are different flavour notes and ranges. It reminds me of our Canadian ice wine but a less sweet version. Port also pairs well with cheese, so all you cheese lovers out there, feel free to experiment.

Port Wine
If you keep heading down from the cellars you’ll run across a series of restaurants along the riverfront on the Vila Nova de Gaia side which serves up international cuisines ranging from Japanese to Brazilian to Pizza Hut. Yes you’ve read this correctly, Pizza Hut, we noticed that everywhere we went in Portugal, Pizza Hut was a hit. Even when other restaurants were swatting flies, there would be a good number of tables inside the closest Pizza Hut. Maybe the Portuguese people know something that we don’t?

Dessert at Fraggi's
Anyhow, we settled for the Brazilian all you can eat meatfest instead. Like all other Brazilian restaurants you find your stomach bulging from the waiters coming around with skewers of perfectly grilled meat ranging from beef to chicken to quail and not to mention the delicious pineapples. Yet this time it was different, maybe because we were in Portugal or maybe because the live band was playing while I was sipping on my third glass of wine or maybe the Portuguese is just so well versed in their grilling abilities that every piece of meat was juicy, well seasoned and cooked to perfection. The quail was so succulent that I had to eat 3 servings. If you’re ever near the area definitely check it out - Mineirao, we got so full we never even touched the sides that they also served.

Walking down towards the river across from the port cellars you’ll find Cais da Ribeira, which is the oldest part of town and houses many different restaurants. The food here much like Lisbon serves up the famous bacalhau, squid, sardines and other fresh seafood. I’ve also managed to find a bit of grilled rabbit at Chez Lapin, which was tender and juicy. I believe that was my first time trying rabbit in Europe! Around the corner is the Sao Francisco church, the interior is completely covered in gold and an astonishing site if I do say so, I was in awe for quite some time. If you follow the crowds and head up north you’ll see the Avenida dos Aliados which stands Porto’s town hall at the end of the Praca da Liberdade. This is definitely an area not to be missed (nor will you miss it because of its immense size).

Grilled Squid
After reading some of the blogs we also headed to Café Majestic for a light afternoon snack, (it was much needed after all the shopping and walking up and down Rua de Santa Catarina) well known for their brunch and afternoon tea. Opened since the 1920’s Café Majestic brings you back in time to a period when dignitaries expected to be served by fully uniformed wait staff to which they still don today. The food wasn’t quite what I expected, but the setting and the scenery was more then worth it, plus you can never go wrong with a strong espresso from any café within Portugal.

Dom Luis Bridge
So our culinary adventures continued throughout our days in Porto with many yummy fish and meat dishes consumed, not to mention many bottles of Portuguese wine gulped down (especially the Vinho Verde) and many more custard tarts digested, we slowly dragged our happy tummies to the train station and made our way back down south to the beautiful coastlines of Portugal’s Algarve region (at which point I’m suppose to wear a swimsuit after all that gorging).


First stop - Lisbon, Portugal

>> Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pateis de Natas
Where do I begin? Amazing, breathtaking and stunning are words that pop in to my mind which still doesn’t quite capture what it’s like to personally stand in the middle of Porto’s main square or at the base of the castle of Sao Jorge in Lisbon or kayaking between the rock formations along the Algarve coastline. When we first chose Portugal as our first stop on our honeymoon, we were lead there by our stomachs (Pateis de natas anybody?), but after a few google searches we knew that we were going to be getting much much more than that.

Discovery Monument
After a long day of travel with a couple of hour’s layover in London along with some much required fish and chips, we found ourselves standing at the Aeroporto de Lisboa and could hardly wait to jump in to a taxi to get us to our hotel. At first glance Lisbon looked a lot like some of the other European cities that we’ve visited before, but that was all going to change after our first dinner (and many other delicious ones after that). Since it was late getting in we walked to a nice Portuguese restaurant recommended by our hotel and found ourselves staring at a Portuguese menu, luckily a friend of mine left us her translation book, which of course with Murphy’s law we didn’t bring with us that night. None the less we were able to order and tried some traditional Portuguese steaks with some delicious dessert and complimentary Port wine. What a great way to kick off our stay!

Jeronimos Monastery
Although one thing everybody should know when traveling Portugal is that every restaurant places a delicious array of breads, butter, cheese and olives in front of you, which you’d start to rip in to since we’re so use to being given bread with our meals here in North America. The only difference is in Portugal you’re expected to pay for any of those specific items that you have eaten and if you didn’t, make sure that it doesn’t end up on your bill because more often then not, it will. Luckily researching a few sites before hand allowed us to refrain, but who am I kidding, I could only refrain from eating the cheese, Portuguese bread is delicious and chewy, so I barely kept from them, just make sure that it’s fresh and hasn’t been sitting on the table all day…or week!

Our hotel told us that they had a complimentary breakfast every morning and we didn’t expect much since most Europeans don’t really view their breakfasts as being a meal. So when we walked down and saw the plethora of breads, meats, pastries, hot and cold food staring back at us, we could barely grab a plate fast enough. Needless to say it gave us a good start every morning we were in Lisbon! Definitely the energy we needed to visit some of Lisbon’s best known sites including: Jeronimos monastery, the Alfama, Chiado and Barrio Alto districts, Parc das Nacoes (their 1997 expo site), the castle of Sao Jorge, the Pantheon and many many others (Some will just have to snoop my facebook page to view the pics, since this is a food blog, I will stick to that).

Grilled Sea Bass
Subsequent to all that walking, we definitely had to top up with some delicious food and as mentioned before, there’s never a lack of good food to be found. Thinking back I can’t remember one meal eaten that wasn’t just as, if not more delicious than the last. The Portuguese love their Bacalhau, which is a dry salted cod fish served at every restaurant. Whether you choose to eat it grilled, boiled or fried….its delicious. Some might think that the description reminds them of the Chinese salted fish, but no, it’s not nearly as salty. There’s just a slight saltiness to the fish which enhances its flavour but not enough to detract away from the fish itself. Plus with the advantages of being right by the ocean, fresh fish is served everyday (except Mondays) including squid, clams and the like. Although this doesn’t mean that they don’t cook up a mean grilled chicken! There are quite a few places in Lisbon well known for their BBQ chicken (Churrasqueira aka BBQ) and if you walk past them you can’t help but smell the aroma of meat over open flame.

Eleven Restaurant
Even though Portuguese food is amazing, Lisbon is also an up and comer in the culinary scene and has a couple Michelin star restaurants, which I couldn’t resist the temptation to try. Bringing us to Eleven, a 3 star Michelin restaurant situated atop and overlooking the Parque Eduardo. The interior has a fresh contemporary look with large windows that allows you to pause during the immense 12 course dinner (served with wine) and just absorb the beauty of the city lights with your eyes (since your stomach can’t possibly fit in anything else). The 12 course set chef’s menu includes 3 amuse bouche courses (bite sized hors d’oeuvres), 3 appetizers, a plate cleanser, an entrée, a cheese platter, a pre dessert, dessert and post dessert along with wine pairings for each including Portuguese wine (you could opt out on the wine, but I greatly enjoyed all the wines including the Portuguese one which sadly isn’t sold here in North America) and served with bread and butter throughout. One would think that these were small portion sizes, but we’re in Portugal not France…I was surprised that I could walk after that meal let alone sightsee the next day. Nonetheless it was amazing and definitely an experience not to be missed.

12 course meal
After you’ve managed to digest all that Michelin starred food, head on over to Belem where you find the most delicious, country if not world renowned Pateis de Natas, which are traditional Portuguese cutard tarts. Everybody who comes to Lisbon must visit Pateis de Belem, if you go around mid afternoon you can avoid the line ups that wrap around the block, but that was during Sept when the crazy tourist season was almost winding down. I can’t attest to the craziness that it must be during peak seasons! Just one bite in to these little guys will make you understand why the line is that long and why if I had to, I too would line up around the block. No fear though, if you’re not one for waiting, you can find these little tarts all around not only Lisbon but Portugal itself.

Pateis de Belem
Another one of Lisbon’s musts is going to a Fado house. Fado is a Portuguese music genre that originated in Lisbon, where the songs are often about sorrow and memories of the past. You can choose to have dinner or just come later in the evening for drinks and music. There are many Fado houses through Lisbon most of which are in the Barrio Alto and Alfama districts. The more well known houses reside in the Barrio Alto area now but we decided to head to the Alfama where Fado began in the 1800’s. It’s a true Lisboa event!

Fado House
As much as I’d love to sit here and type all day long about the many great things of Lisbon, I’m sure you will eventually tire of reading my yammerings on, but before I end I must talk about Sintra a town that’s 40 minutes away from Lisbon but feels a million miles away from civilization. Atop Sintra’s mountain lies the Pena Palace and the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) , which both overlook the picturesque town. If you choose to only visit only one castle in Portugal (castle of Sao Jorge included), the Castle of the Moors should be the one, enough said.

Atop Sintra Castle
So with a full stomach and many great photos beneath our belts we started our trek to Porto, where many additional bingeing nights ensued but this time with an extra couple glasses of Port wine (as you can tell, Porto will be the next blog highlight)!


Coconut Yogurt Tarts

>> Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coconut Yogurt Tarts

We’re back from Europe and like all back to reality moments, depression is slowly starting to creep in. For me the sadness not only lies in the thoughts of heading back to the work grind, but the fact that I won’t be eating delicious fresh from the oven French bread or the melt in your mouth Pateis de natas from Portugal or the amazing cataplanas or, yes the list doesn’t end. I guess once I’ve gotten around to organizing all my photos I’ll just have to reminisce about the trip by creating a few blogs of the foodie experiences we encountered along the way. Let’s just say I need to hit the gym to regain the “fit” part in the title of this blog.

Aside from all the sadness of missing my vacationing life, there is one bright light at the end of the tunnel and that would be getting back in to my kitchen and experimenting with the different flavours that we’ve picked up along the way (and also hitting the gym as mentioned above to then work off all the experimenting that’s going on in said kitchen). I can barely contain myself when I started to do some searches on healthier alternatives to the delicious sweets we tasted such as almond cakes, molten chocolate cakes, the little Moroccan pastries and the list goes on. So I thought it would be fitting to reintroduce my buzzing brain to the blog with a nice light dessert or snack (sort of gotten use to eating pastries in the morning as well, bad bad me).

Jam Filling
This version of the coconut tart is made with yogurt and instead of a butter cookie crust or pie crust I opted to use the lighter phyllo pastry as a shell which lowers the fat and calorie intake as well. If you feel that the jam might be a bit sweet you can definitely omit it as suggested as well by the original recipe. Hope you guys all enjoy!

2 cups plain low fat yogurt
2 tbsp butter
1 /2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 /2 cup of your favorite jam
4 sheets of phyllo pastry

Coconut Yogurt Topping
Place yogurt in a coffee filter or cheesecloth and strain for 2-4 hours in the fridge to remove excess liquid. This step is crucial in helping the tart set correctly. If you can’t strain the yogurt for the suggested time then aim for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Grease a 12 cup muffin tin. Roll out phyllo pastry and cut each in to 4x4 inch squares. Line each of the cups with 3-4 squares of phyllo pastry.

Beat the sugar and butter together in a mixing bowl. Measure out 1 /2 cup of the drained yogurt and add it to the creamed mixture. Blend well, add the egg and vanilla extract and keep blending. Mix in the coconut.

In each phyllo cup place 1 tsp of jam and spread the coconut mixture over top.

Bake in the oven for 10 mins, then turn the oven to 350ºF and bake for another 5-10 mins or until the phyllo pastry has completely browned on the edges.

Serve warm with a side of vanilla frozen yogurt and refrigerate the leftovers. The tarts should be good for up to 3 days in the fridge.

Makes 12 tarts.

Single Coconut Yogurt Tart

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