Thursday, July 29, 2010

Comfort Foods: A Little Slice of Heaven

My good friend’s daughter Lauren is spending the summer with us while she completes a college internship at Sport’s Illustrated. I was happy to welcome Lauren, who I did not see enough of growing up. What we did not realize was how easily she would fit into our little family, and how much we would all love and appreciate having her with us. She has been a gift, and the girls love having her around as a big sister as much as I love having her as a surrogate daughter.

She has approached her time in New York with an incredible sense of adventure and wonder, and has loved exploring food and cooking in New York. She has also been honing her chef skills by helping me cook. When she made her family’s favorite recipe, a delicious almond cake, we all agreed that it needed to be blogged about!

This cake is amazing. A simple, single layer cake featuring almond paste--it is moist, yummy, sweet and incredibly satisfying. We loved it dusted with powdered sugar on its own, and with fresh summer berries as a healthy accompaniment. And…even as a delicious dessert, it packs some healthy nutrients, since almonds are a powerful antioxidant, loaded with vitamin E, magnesium and potassium to support heart health. Almonds also have cholesterol-lowering effects through the LDL lowering effect of the nuts’ monounsaturated fats.

We have served this cake a few times this summer, and it is a great, easy dessert, breakfast cake, and treat. It has become part of our favorite things…a little slice of heaven…just like Lauren!!!

Almond Cake

¾ cup sugar

½ cup sweet butter, room temp

8 oz. almond paste

3 eggs

½ tablespoon almond extract

½ cup flour

¼ tsp. baking powder

Cream butter and almond paste together, and blend in sugar until evenly mixed. Mixed in eggs, one at a time, add almond extract. In another bowl, sift flour and baking powder together and fold into wet batter. Pour cake batter into greased and floured cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes (cake should be firm on top). Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to cake rack to finish cooling. Dust with powdered sugar, garnish with fresh berries.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Healing Foods: Watermelon with Lemon Mascarpone Cream

Ahhhh, Summertime. Picnics and barbecues, swimming and sparklers, so many lovely memories come to mind when I hear that word. Living in Manhattan, I really miss barbecue grilling and alfresco picnics in the summertime, which in my family were fun events with delicious food. And after a sumptuous barbecue, we kids were treated to a big slice of juicy watermelon, and my friends and I would sit on our patio spitting the seeds as far as we could into the garden. Good times.

Watermelon is packed with some powerful antioxidants, and is an excellent healing food. It is a great source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A through its concentration of beta-carotene. My favorite of the melons, pink watermelon, is also a source of the potent carotenoid antioxidant, lycopene. Lycopene neutralizes free radicals, which can cause heavy damage in our system by oxidizing cholesterol, which can cause heart attack and strokes. Free radicals also add to asthma severity by causing airways to close, and they increase arthritis inflammation. Vitamin C and beta-carotene help rid the body of these harmful free radicals and prevent the damage they would otherwise cause. As if that were not reason enough to enjoy delicious watermelon, it also stimulates and cleanses the kidneys.

While there is nothing more satisfying than a sweet juicy slice on the rind, watermelon recipes have evolved considerably since my childhood, and one of my favorites is a dessert salad of watermelon with lemon mascarpone cream. While in France this summer, I tasted this amazing dessert again while dining outdoors on a beautiful night with great friends. It is a sweet/tart, crunchy/creamy combination that marries perfectly. So good and so good for you, who could ask for more than that?

Watermelon Salad with Lemon Mascarpone Cream

3 cups watermelon, seeded and cut into bite sized chunks

1 tablespoon lemon zest, chopped fine

Juice of 2 lemons

8 oz. mascarpone cheese

3/4 cup sugar

Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

Peel, seed and slice watermelon. Put into a bowl, cover and keep chilled.

In a separate bowl, whisk mascarpone, sugar, lemon juice and sugar. Whip mascarpone mixture (I use a food processor) until it is a creamy, spoonable consistency. Adjust with lemon zest, sugar or lemon juice according to your taste to get a tart/tangy but creamy sauce. Spoon mascarpone onto dessert plate, top with watermelon and garnish with fresh mint.