Indulge a little, now and then

Last week was all about staying on track — incorporating more fresh food into daily meals.  To my mind toeing that line should involve a healthy dose of indulgence, too.  Few of us can subsist joyfully on carrot soup and beet salad alone (as much as we might love them).  A sweet treat to reward our efforts, especially one that’s homemade and uses those same fresh ingredients, seems appropriate now and then given how diligent we’ve been. And if you have kids in the house (even the adult kind), you’ll appreciate the bargaining chip.  Orange juice muffins for breakfast in exchange for carrot soup at dinner:  how’s that for a fair deal?

I’ve always been a devotee of moderation.  It’s my mantra.  Allowing a bit of butter, sugar and chocolaty goodness into life nurtures a thriving spirit.  When our girls were younger we honored “Dessert Day” — two nights each week when we served up a sweet treat after dinner with flourish. Rationing meant the creamy puddings and tender cakes were celebrated as something truly special. In Food Rules, Michael Pollan suggests that “special occasion foods offer some of the great pleasures of life, so we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of them, but the sense of occasion needs to be restored”.  Perhaps there’s room for French Fry Day, once in a while, too.

In our cozy kitchen dessert day was never a given.  It was earned through healthy eating — every day of the week.  And though it was conceived as a tool to rein in our children’s sweet consumption, it worked surprisingly well on the adults in the house as well.  No preschooler tolerates a double standard on the question of dessert.

So, after a particularly virtuous line-up last week featuring among other uber-healthy standouts,kale salad one night and broccoli salad on another, we’re ready to celebrate Dessert Day with a bit of homemade indulgence. And chocolate crumbs.

Here are a few sweet options we’re considering…

muffin recipe sweetened with orange juice and mixed with whole-wheat flour and granola plus a large handful of chocolate chips:  these gems are perfect for a winter-break morning snack. Kids of all ages will love them.

If the idea of Chocolate Beet Cake put you off when it was featured in December, you’re probably not alone.  But ask anyone who mixed it up — the beets are barely discernible, and add a wonderful moist quality to the cake that is matched only by other veggie-laden morsels like carrot, zucchini or banana cake.  Try it.  You’ll be surprised.

If the idea of something cool appeals in this early spring weather we’re experiencing, try this icy dessert straight from Italy — Tangerine Granita.  Granitas are the simplest frozen desserts — no fancy equipment or elaborate ingredient list, just sugar, water, citrus juice, a couple of bowls, a fork and a lazy afternoon. This is a treat that’s easy to mix up yet feels sophisticated and special.  Perfect to punctuate an adult dinner party, but hassle-free enough to throw together that very day.  You can use whatever winter citrus you like — just adjust the sugar level up or down depending on the natural sweetness of the fruit. Try oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, Meyer lemons or a mix.  Serve on its own, or with vanilla ice cream for a grown-up Creamsicle.

Here’s another sweet possibility — a moist cake that hides healthy carotenoid content behind a delicate spice cake flavor: Carrot-Sweet Potato Spice Cakes.


Carrot – Sweet Potato Spice Cakes

One last sweet, creamy bowlful — this one loaded with bright herbal flavor, fresh mint chip gelato.  Mint chip doesn’t have to be leprechaun green anymore.  This one is infused with mint leaves instead of the usual artificial flavor extract.  We’ve stirred in plenty of dark chocolate bits too.  A new twist on an old favorite.

Quick Ideas for the Week:

Toss Cannellini Beans with torn arugula leaves, chopped celery, red onion, kalamata olives and citrus segments.   Dress with a balsamic vinaigrette for a quick side dish or casual lunch. Here’s the detailed recipe.


Cannellini Bean Salad with Arugula, Celery, Olives and Winter Citrus

We always love an easy egg scramble in the morning and vary the ingredients to the season.  This week we’ll sauté mushrooms with minced onion and chopped arugula.  We’ll pour a few loosely beaten eggs over the top and cook them slowly, stirring all the way so the eggs are soft and smooth.  Once in a while we fry the egg in a separate pan and serve it with the mushrooms and greens on toast.

Juice a tangerine into a glass.  Add a few sprigs of mint and muddle them by pressing the herbs against the glass with a spoon.  Remove the mint if you like, and add ice and sparkling water.  You’ve just loaded up on half your Vitamin C requirement for the day — in a very refreshing way.

If you aren’t swayed by chocolate beet cake, roast the peeled beets and add to a salad of romaine dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.  Tear a few mint leaves and add to the salad along with some chopped arugula and toasted walnuts.  Maybe a few tangerine segments and goat cheese.  Phytonutrient compounds in beets are beneficial for nervous system and eye health.

Use arugula leaves on a sandwich instead of lettuce.  The peppery bite adds something slightly unexpected.  Arugula can be cooked just like spinach, and a quick sauté mellows the bite.

Sauté a load of mushrooms in olive oil with some minced garlic (maybe a small pat of butter), and when they’re nice and brown deglaze the pan with a splash of wine and a sprinkling of chopped arugula (or herbs from the garden).  Serve as a side dish, tucked into a whisper-thin crepe or spread on top of toast.  Button mushrooms have anti-inflammatory benefits and provide cardiovascular and immune system support as well.

And since we’re considering a little indulgence, how about some creamy mushrooms inspired by one of the grande dames of the culinary world, Julia Child?  Her 100th birthday would have been August 15, 2012.  Mushrooms a la Julia.

Leave a comment and let me know what you’re cooking this week. I love hearing from you…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

6 thoughts on “Indulge a little, now and then

  1. Thanks for TWO wonderful salads! We made the Kale salad on Presidents’ Day and the Canellini/Arugula on Thursday. Both are really tasty and so attractive, with the slivers of bright orange citrus. BTW, I didn’t remove the membranes from the fruit, having read recently that there’s some micro-nutrient found there we don’t get much of otherwise. Perhaps you know more about this?

    Today, since I’m home for the stirring: granitas!

  2. So glad you enjoyed the salads. I’m pretty sure you’re going to love the granita, too. The taste is bright and fresh.

    On the nutrition side, you’re probably talking about flavonoids — the pigment compounds in citrus that provide their yellow/orange hue. Research shows these substances are powerful antioxidants that may lower blood pressure, improve blood cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties as well. These coupled with Vitamin C, make oranges, tangerines and other citrus nutrient-loaded treasures.

    And yes, it’s true that most of the nutrient benefit is concentrated in the peels and membranes, rather than in the juice. By the way, that’s true in a general way for most fruits and veggies — so keep the peel or skin on whenever possible, and eat the whole thing.

    I peel citrus by cutting off the skin, then slicing the fruit into circles, crosswise. Then I separate those into individual triangles, keeping the membranes intact. It’s quick and simple.

    Thanks for your comments!

  3. I tried making the orange granita and it was fantastic! I definitely want to try making it again. If I tried making a lemon granita would adding more sugar mess up the proportions?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *