Thursday, May 29, 2014

Whole-wheat raspberry tart

I love #ThrowbackThursday. I do, I’m out. Unfortunately, by the time I think of something really “cool” to post, it’s already Friday and that’s the end of it. My 24-hour window has been closed. Nooooh!!! Then I just forget about it, until the next Friday, and the stupid cycle goes on, and on. I don’t know why I care so much anyway. The point is to remember something from the past, so who cares if it’s Thursday, Friday, or Saturday?  As unconventional as I can be, I’ve still managed to show some respect and refrain from going ThrowbackAnyDay. I can’t stand the thought of messing with it.

I guess I do know why I care. I play by my own rules: I listen to my music gems and watch my own TV classics all the time. Sometimes months go by without me even knowing what’s current. I get to celebrate my “old stuff” on Throwback Thursdays, probably in an unconscious need to keep them relevant for others as well. It’s kind of sad, but I will not be ashamed of quirks. If I want to sing along to “Go, go Power Rangers” or to that tune of a 90’s Mexican soap opera, I will do it. And I won’t do it quietly either, no sir. In fact, if I’m walking around with my headphones on I can pretty much guarantee you I’m in the zone, and it’s just a matter of time before I break out into the “performance of a lifetime”. Angel is a star, damn it. But as my drama teacher would always say, stars fall from the sky and crash, and boy, do I crash every time I hear myself. God bless those headphones that prevent me from listening to my own voice.

Of course, this behavior can extend well beyond walking. I had an incident of singing while driving that resulted in a speeding ticket! I was way too much into Prince’s Kiss to notice that my car was accelerating as I was going downhill right into a known speed trap, and the cops were not having any of it. I’ve been known to ride and sing as well. I probably annoyed the hell out of not 1, but 5 or 6 cities as I decided to sing the whole Rent soundtrack for more than 20 miles. I didn’t do it on purpose; it just happened. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m singing until I get bugs in my mouth and have to cough them out. Oh well, I’ve stopped all of this nonsense already.

Going back to throwing things back on Thursdays, and of riding and “singing”, as I was riding my bike back from work I started remembering “Feelin’ so good”. Oh, the late 90’s... JLo was still Jennifer Lopez back then, and this song was on her first CD. I really like the song, and it pretty much describe my take on life. Good, positive attitude is everything. If life gives you lemons, you go like “they’re gluten-free, so joke’s on you, life”!
That’s how I handled my Dutch baby experiment. I’ve seen some recipes recently and I decided to make one for the very first time, and of course, I made them whole grain without having the real thing first. They actually tasted really good, but I wasn’t too happy with their consistency. There’s no baking powder in Dutch babies, so they flatten as they cool down. I knew it, and I accepted it going in. I really liked it, but I was ready for something more cake-ish, something that actually needs baking powder. The result was a raspberry tart that was easy, simple, and really, really tasty. The tart was just 195 calories, so I had a serving for breakfast, and one for dessert with dinner! I posted the picture on Instagram about a week ago. A few friends have asked me about it, and suggested I should share the recipe. So here it is, just in time for #ThrowbackThursday!

On the road shortcut

Nutritional info per serving (makes 4 servings):
195 calories, 25 g carbs, 9 g fat, 6 g protein

Cooking spray
1 ¼ cup 2% milk
2 tablespoon butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ pint of raspberries

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a mixing bowl, combine the milk, butter, egg and vanilla extract, and mix. Add the flour, the salt, and the baking powder and mix until combined.

Spray a 9-inch cast iron skillet with cooking spray. Pour in the batter. Arrange the raspberries on the batter as desired. Bake on the middle rack for 15-20, or when a toothpick comes clean.

I served mine with maple syrup, non-fat Greek yogurt and more raspberries for breakfast, and with vanilla ice cream for dessert. (The calorie calculation doesn’t reflect this.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cleveland's my gym: Euclid Ave

View of the Wade Lagoon and the Cleveland Museum of Art from Euclid Ave. May 2014

I feel very excited to be writing this first post on a series I’d be calling Cleveland’s my gym. In it I’ll be exploring different ways to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle, while enjoying some of the coolest neighborhoods and sites that Northeastern Ohio has to offer. Of course, as soon as I started getting serious about writing it, my inner saboteur immediately went on to ask: “Why would anyone care about this?”  And so I told myself, “SWEETIE, first of all, ALL of us in Cleveland have been traumatized by this last, painfully long, bitterly-cold winter; now we want to be outside to enjoy the nice temperatures. Besides, it seems to me that more and more Clevelanders are trying their best to engage in active lifestyles and we could all benefit from knowing of good places to work on our fitness while enjoying the many, many assets our region has to offer.” And with that I kicked my inner saboteur in the butt, and got started. After all, if there’s something I’ve learned in the last few years is that the real secret to a successful health and fitness journey is to learn to overcome your inner saboteur; that’s when you can go on to achieve your goals.

Playhouse Square on Euclid, looking west. May 2014
I know that when we think of outdoors + Cleveland it usually equals the Emerald Necklace or the Metroparks. I love them all, and I’ll get there eventually. However, I wanted to start this series somewhere closer to the heart of the city and its history: Euclid Avenue between Downtown Cleveland and University Circle. The once world-famous Millionaires’ Row saw its decline during the Great Depression and it seems like rest of the 20th century was not really that kind to it. But that’s really changing now. The avenue has benefit from heavy investment, and it’s full of life again. It’s about time we enjoyed it!

Uptown development, view from MOCA. May 2014.

The single best thing you can do on Euclid Ave. is to ride your bike. It’s only about 5 miles long and there are bike lanes on both sides of the road through most of way. The speed limit is 25 mph, so you probably won’t be intimidated by the cars driving in the lane next to yours. Besides, I’ve never really seen heavy traffic on Euclid, so you won’t be smelling exhaust as you ride. The terrain is flat, which makes this an easy ride that takes the average rider about half hour each way. What really makes this ride cool is that you have tons to do on both ends of your ride, so you can couple your ride with a day-visit to work on your Cleveland pride.

View on Euclid looking west, by the Cleveland Clinic. May 2014.

If you start in Downtown Cleveland, you’ll find plenty of reasons to make it to the cultural heart of Northeastern Ohio, University Circle. You can for instance, and for free I may add, go into our world-class Art Museum. Fairly small fares will get you into the Art Museum’s special exhibits or to the many other attractions around (MOCA, Museum of Natural History, Western Reserve Historical Society, the Botanical Gardens, and others). You can also go and check the Uptown development, which is so cool. You’ll have plenty of food and drinking venues there such as the ABC tavern, Mitchell’s ice cream, Coquette, Cleveland Beer Cellar, and soon there’ll even be a Happy Dog.  In addition, you’d be within a 2-3 minute by bike from Little Italy and its art walks and restaurants, and if you really want to extend your ride, you can go down all the way to Lake Erie on MLK’s bike lane through the Cultural Gardens. Just make sure you keep the calories under control if you do choose to dine or drink in the area! Oh, and don't forget that the Wade Oval Wednesdays and Parade the circle, both are coming up soon!

View of Severance Hall on Euclid Ave., from Adelbert Rd. May 2014

If you are heading towards Downtown Cleveland, you’re in luck because you won’t be worrying about parking once you get there! Besides the obvious attractions (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center, Lolly the Trolley, and the beautiful buildings everywhere), there are many outdoor events going on during the summer. I would suggest to go even if it is to check out the area around the new Convention Center because it’s so damn cool. The East 4th district will have your eating/drinking needs covered and will really make you feel cool while you’re at it.  The East 4th district is also home to the Cleveland Bike Rack, a bicycle garage with locker room and showers that might interest you if you are considering commuting to Downtown by bike, or if you want to make sure you are nice and fresh for your downtown visit (great if you are meeting people there and you want to freshen up!). 

Snapshot of the E.4th District looking west, on Euclid Ave. May 2014.

Going back to the ride itself I’d say it’s quite enjoyable. I need to mention that although the road and the bike lanes are for the most part in great condition, there are some fairly big potholes concentrated in the area between E. 30th and the bridge over I-90. Luckily, because of the low volume of traffic, it is fairly safe to switch to the “car lane” and avoid those potholes. Still, be careful. But once you are done dealing with that, make sure you enjoy your ride and see all the cool stuff along the way. You’ll see people doing their thing around the Cleveland Clinic, along the thriving Cleveland State University campus, and at Playhouse Square. If you pay attention you may see some of the remaining Millionaires’ row homes still standing. And as a special trivia, I’ll share a little secret with you. The first time I rode my bike on Euclid I was confused by all the HTC banners between Cleveland State and the Cleveland Clinic. I somehow felt the cell phone company had some sort of a presence in Cleveland, but turns out I was just being dumb. HTC stands for Health Tech Corridor, a conglomerate of companies in those industries taking advantage of the local assets in those fields. Many of them are located in new and/or renovated buildings along Euclid Ave. Classic me, lol.

Playhouse Square on Euclid, looking east. May 2014

Cornell Rd. looking north towards Euclid Ave. May 2014.

University Circle at Euclid Ave. and Cornell Rd. May 2014.

Public Square, facing south. May 2014.

Public Square, facing north. May 2014.

Public Square, facing north. May 2014.

Southeast view from the Convention Center. May 2014.

South view from the Convention Center. May 2014.

Northwest view from the Convention Center. May 2014.

North view from the Convention Center during the Cleveland Marathon. May 2014.

Severance Hall. May 2014.

Case Western Reserve University Campus. May 2014.

University Circle. May 2014.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lovage, parsely and basil salad

I’m a firm believer in hard work. If there’s something I’ve learned from my mother, it’s that everything is better when you know you’ve earned it. I don’t rest on my achievements, as I know that for every goal accomplished there is another goal to be conquered. Also, in my case every success is accompanied by tons of previous failures and possibly messes to be fixed and clean up, so there’s no resting whatsoever. So I’ve been working on my thesis, I’ve been editing a manuscript, keeping up with the blog, running, biking, lifting, keeping up with yard work and trying to stay up-to date with the endless chores that a house demands. Work, work, work.

Relationships are work too, and as such they deserve time and respect. Yeah, investing time and energy in romantic relationships may be a no-brainer for most of us, but friendships and family ties are sometimes easy to overlook. Since I was finally able to break loose this weekend from my long, long to-do list, I did my best to keep up with my often-neglected friends and family, and I spent some quality time with them. I started by saying farewell to a friend during his last day at work on Friday, and I ended it on a positive note on Sunday, when I got to spend time with a good friend who moved away and was back in town for the weekend. And then Saturday was all about family: lunch with the family and drinks and snacks with the BFF. Eat, eat, eat.

Speaking of friends, some of our closest friends have been raving for a while now about this great tasting “herb” that’s supposed to change my life (in a culinary sense). It’s apparently common in their native Romania, but it can be found in our local farmer’s market too. Its name is lovage and it’s actually quite lov-ely. Turns out my partner’s parents, also Romanian, have their own lovage bush and offered us some branches to take home. I immediately tore a leaf and ate it to know if I wanted it; I did. The aroma reminded me of the Puerto Rican quintessential herb recao/culantro. It did not taste like it at all; recao tastes like a much more powerful cilantro, but the lovage leaves tasted much more like celery.  And call me crazy, but the texture and refreshing aftertaste reminded me of parsley. So there you go; there’s my crazy description. It smells like recao or cilantro, but it tastes like celery and it feels like parsley. Crazy or not, I knew exactly what to make with it. Chop, chop.

I made a salad that featured lovage and herbs. I’m not a big lettuce eater, and if I make a salad just for myself, half my salad is made from herbs. Parsley, cilantro and basil are my go-to “salad herbs” but I dropped the cilantro for this one. I added some strawberries and red peppers for the sweet notes and texture, I used some cheddar cheese, and I dressed it with olive oil and lemon juice. That was all. Heavy dressing is not necessary; in fact, I would strongly discourage it. Unlike lettuce, the herbs bring beautiful aroma and taste, and you don’t want to mask it with your dressing. No, no, no.

I’ve normally kept my “herb salads” to myself because I’ve felt like a weirdo. Who does that? Then I found out that the world-famous chef Yotam Ottolenghi loves to make these kinds of salads, and he has even served them in his restaurant. I felt validated. As a funny note, the same friends who introduced me to lovage introduced me to Yotam’s food, and they even gifted me one of his cookbooks for my birthday. We are going full circle here. My salad recipe is not based on Yotam’s recipes, but a little shout out here and there doesn’t hurt anyone (although he is super famous and I’m not, so I don’t think it will accomplish much). Well, here’s my salad. I hope you like it.

On the road shortcut

Nutritional info per serving (4 servings):
193 calories, 10 g carbs, 16 g fat, 6 g protein

For the salad
½ head lettuce, torn or chopped
½ cup lovage, chiffonade
½ cup parsley, chopped
¼ cup basil, chiffonade
1 large red pepper, chopped
½ pint (8 oz.) strawberries, sliced
2 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded

For the dressing
3 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
A pinch of salt

Mix all the salad ingredients in a salad bowl. In a different container, add all the dressing ingredients and mix well. Dress the salad with the dressing just before serving.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Neufchatel and Greek yogurt cheesecake with guava-blackberry sauce

This week is Bike to Work Week, but Gosh, it feels like it’s been resilience-week instead. Stormy weather, 80F+ temperatures, floods, alerts everywhere, and even some tornado warnings. We weren’t affected as severely as surrounding neighborhoods and cities, so I’ve managed to ride my bike at least 2 days so far. That means I’ve been planning my commute around the forecast, the satellite images, and I would even try magic if I knew how to do it. I may end up soaked in sweat after some rides, but I don’t like to get rained on. I hate to be rained on and so does my bike. Although we’ve escaped some heavy showers, humidity has been quite high, and my bike has started making the thousand and one noises it makes to tell me it’s pissed. To make things worse, its disc brakes are dirty and they are so loud that I feel ashamed when I have to brake around people. Ay, ay, ay. But I do it anyway because I’ve learned my lesson. About 2 years ago I had the same problem and I was so ashamed that I would jump off my bike at every stop sign, red light, or random pedestrian, to avoid making that awful noise. After a 30 mile ride all I really accomplished was some serious back and neck pain. Nunca mas.

The rest of Bike to Work Week seems more promising. For starters, there will be drier weather, with cooler temperatures. On Friday, the actual “Bike to Work Day”, there’ll be energizing stations around the city with free coffee! There may or may not be other goodies, but I’m not sure. I just want the coffee. Also, there will be a Bike to work day - after party at the Buck Buck Gallery at 6pm which I’m really tempted to attend. We’ll see. Still, the best part of the week is what awaits me at home after my ride. I made a Neufchatel and Greek yogurt cheesecake, with a guava and blackberry sauce that’s only 350 calories per serving! With every stride I think of each bite I’d take off that cheesecake, which makes me feel like there’s something really wrong with me. Drooling while biking is not a good look, Angel. Not a good look.

I thought it would be good to share the recipe with you, as a celebration of both bike to work day, and this blog’s first anniversary. Actually, it’s so good that I HAVE to share it with you. This is a luscious cheesecake, with an amazing texture. It’s nice and tall, which gives it quite some visual impact and the sauce and fruits practically beg you to take a bite. It’s made with Neufchatel cheese which has less fat than cream cheese, and it has non-fat Greek yogurt that gives it depth in flavor and physical volume. Since I grew up eating guava & cheese desserts, it made total sense for me to make a guava sauce for the cheesecake. I incorporated some fresh blackberries to add texture to the sauce, and to cut the sweetness of the guava jelly with the acidic notes of the berries, and then I used a bit of lemon juice to bridge and marry the flavors. The only problem I had with the cheesecake is that it cracked a bit around the center, but you really can’t tell once the sauce is on.

On the road shortcut
Nutritional info per serving (makes 12 servings)
350 calories, 41 g carbs, 17 g fat, 9 g protein

For the Crust
10 honey-Graham crackers
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling
2 packages (16 oz.) Neufchatel Cheese, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk
¾ cups Non-fat Greek yogurt
Zest of 1 lemon
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Topping
½ cup guava jelly
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 half pints (18 oz.) blackberries

The crust
Preheat oven to 350F. Combine the Graham crackers, the sugar and melted butter in a food processor. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan and press with your hands. Bring the crumbs up about 1 inch on the sides. Bake for 8 minutes, remove from the oven, and let it cool to room temperature.

The filling
Raise the oven temperature to 450F. Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the Neufchatel cheese and the sugar at medium-high speed until creamy (about 5 minutes). Reduce the speed to medium, and add the eggs and the extra yolk, about two at the time. Lower the speed to low and add the Greek yogurt, lemon zest and vanilla extract. Pour into the cooled crust and bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce the temperature to 225F and bake for an hour.  Remove from the oven, and let it cool to room temperature (2-3hrs). Wrap and store in the fridge overnight.

The topping
In a small saucepan, combine the guava jelly, lemon juice and blackberries, and cook covered for 5-10 minutes. This will result in a very runny sauce, with deeper flavor. Alternatively, you can melt the jelly with the lemon juice, and then just toss the blackberries which will result in a dense sauce.
Pour over the chilled cheesecake, and keep refrigerated until serving.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

First Year Anniversary

This is an exciting week. Not only is this National Bike to Work Week, but this week also marks the first anniversary of this blog! I just can’t believe my baby is a year old. I feel like it was just yesterday when I blogged about my first encounter with kohlrabi and I took those pictures where you had no choice but to believe me that the poor vegetable was actually there. The dish tasted great, but I couldn’t take a good picture of it if my life depended on it. I didn’t have any kind of calorie calculation, and I did not attach the recipe itself either. I found my titles funny, but only after one has read through the article. I was truly discovering and forging my style as the weeks and months went by and I’m thankful you were willing to wait while I figured things out. That kohlrabi really was the beginning of an ongoing adventure that constantly morphs and gives me room for more and more self-growth.

Should have blogged about them but didn't: 100% whole wheat rolls

Should have blogged about it but didn't: 100% Whole wheat strawberry Dutch baby

Although I have miles to go, I think I’ve gotten better at taking pictures that really portray what the food is all about. I’ve also improved my way of describing the recipes so that they are easy to follow if you choose to. For some of the recipes that was easy, because they were reproduced or adapted from good cookbooks, sites, or blogs, and of course, proper credit was given. Some of my favorites are the beef chili and goulash from America’s Test Kitchen. They may take some simmering time, but boy, it’s so worth the wait! I made my first, second, and countless batches of blondies inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s. And while I was on a roll, I managed to make a healthy version of one of my childhood’s favorite dishes, chicken cordon bleu, thanks to Rocco Dispirito’s amazing recipe.  And of course, from my favorite cookbook I made a raspberry ricotta cheesecake. Thank you Ellie Krieger for teaching me how to make such a luscious cheesecake, and to feel great after eating it! 

Should have blogged about them but didn't: Cheese and mixed berry crepes

Should have blogged about it but didn't: Baked omelet with red onion, tomatoes and radishes
The majority of the recipes I’ve shared though, are my own, so I really had to work on how to best describe them in terms of nutrition and preparation. For most of them, I take advantage of the fresh and local produce, as well as the good deals at my local supermarket. That’s how I ended up making roasted chicken with carrots, potatoes and turnips, spiced butternut squash soup, potato leek soup, meatballs, and roasted Brussels sprouts with leeks, peppers and carrots. Many of my recipes have been inspired by my Puerto Rican heritage, because Ricans know how to eat. My Puerto Rican fried chicken is crispy-yet moist, and finger-licking good. So are my Boricua-style stuffed sweet potatoes, a healthy take on Puerto Rican rellenos de papa. My plantain soup kicks ass (if I can say so myself) and my many Puerto Rican-style ice creams and froyos are a delight, though simple and humble in nature. And it’s not a Rican party until a flan makes an entrance, and my Flan de mango sure hits the spot.  

Should have blogged about it but didn't: Ham, artisan cheddar and caramelized onion and yellow pepper pressed sandwich

Should have blogged about them but didn't: 1/4 pounder burgers, topped with roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, bacon, and spinach on buns with a cream cheese and Greek yogurt spread

There’s much more to be learned and done, but the future seems promising. I have a few projects that will start unfolding during the next few weeks and months. Please, keep on reading, commenting and making suggestions so I can make this blog better! I sincerely thank you all for your feedback through the comments section, on Instagram, on Facebook, on Twitter, and even in person. You keep me going. And just like with my weight loss, consistency, hard work and patience will pay off.

Should have blogged about them but didn't: Roasted turkey "chops" with roasted plantains

Should have blogged about them but didn't: Roasted pork chops with bacon corn bread

Thanks again!!!!

Should have blogged about it but didn't: Guanabana ice cream