Cooking for your Health: Healthy Entertaining with Fresh Spring Rolls

Cooking for your Health: Healthy Entertaining with Fresh Spring Rolls

In this month’s installment of Cooking for your Health, we’re talking parties. More specifically, we’re talking healthy party food. I can’t think of a better way to have a good time than to have a group of friends over and to feed them. Sometimes this means a sit-down dinner with many courses, other times it’s a bunch of appetizers to call a meal. Either way, finger food is always involved and ideally it will be light, flavorful and nutritious, while being festive enough to be invited to a party. One of my favorite hors d’oeurvres is fresh spring rolls, which you might call a salad roll. They are bright, colorful, bursting with fresh veggies and herbs, and served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce with a kick of heat. They are a perfect way to begin a meal: Not only are they delicious, they are healthy, low in calories and won’t leave you with a stuffed feeling – even if you find yourself standing over the tray gobbling them up because they are so darn good.

Fresh Spring Rolls

For a vegetarian option, omit the shrimp. Feel free to mix and match your vegetables to taste and heat preference. Choose between sweet peppers, spicy chiles, jicama, daikon, cucumber, chinese cabbage, carrots, green onions. Remember that the key to a good roll is to have a balance of sweet, savory, heat and salt in the ingredients and to combine a variety of textures for a satisfying bite.  Be sure to prepare all the ingredients in advance, so that when you are ready to assemble the rolls, everything is in place.

Makes 8 rolls.

For the spring rolls:
8 (eight-inch/22 cm.) spring roll wrappers (galettes de riz)
8 large green lettuce leaves, any tough ribs removed, torn in half
4 scallions or spring onions, ends trimmed, halved, cut length-wise in julienne strips
2 large carrots, peeled, cut in matchsticks
1 large red bell pepper or 4 red jalapeno chile peppers, stemmed, seeded, cut in matchsticks
1 english cucumber, seeded, cut in matchsticks
1 large bunch coriander leaves and tender stems
1 large bunch mint leaves
16 medium cooked shrimp, peeled, halved lengthwise (optional)

For the Peanut Lime Sauce:
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon Sriracha or hot sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

Make Spring Rolls:
Pour warm water into a wide bowl. Immerse one rice paper round in water to just soften, about 5 seconds.  Remove and spread on a plastic cutting board.  Let stand for 30 seconds to absorb water. Arrange 2 lettuce leaf halves over the bottom half of the rice paper round.  Top lettuce with a line of green onion, carrot, pepper, cucumber, coriander and mint. Fold bottom of rice paper over filling and tuck around the filling to compact it. Arrange 4 shrimp halves horizontally over the crease and continue rolling. Transfer roll, seam-side down to a plate and cover with damp towel.  Repeat with remaining rolls.  (Adjust ingredient amounts to taste and to ensure the roll is plump and full).
Spring rolls may be made up to 4 hours in advance.  Cover with damp paper towels and plastic wrap and refrigerate. To serve, cut cross-wise in quarters, with one shrimp per segment, or in half.  Serve with Peanut Lime Sauce for dipping.

Make Peanut Lime Sauce:

Whisk  all ingredients except the cilantro together in a small bowl. Taste for seasoning. (Add 1 more tablespoon water if desired). Refrigerate covered until use. Before serving add cilantro.

If you like this, you might enjoy more Cooking for your Health recipes:
Homemade Granola Bars
Salmon Wrapped in Kale with Harissa
Greek Couscous Salad

Tips and Treats for a Holiday Cheese Basket

Tips and Treats for a Holiday Cheese Basket



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I made this cheese basket for a ghoulish gathering of friends last weekend. Cheeseboards and baskets are fun to make and with a little thought and creativity can easily take center stage at a buffet table. I never tire of arranging and decorating them, using the season and holidays as inspiration. For this Halloween-inspired cheese basket I picked autumnal decorations with a creepy twist. I created a border of spiky, frizzy greens with dark, purplish leaves and black, woody garnishes. The cheese selection was equally ghoulish: ash-rubbed cheese, a moldy blue, stinky and runny cheese and orange pockmarked cheese. The crisps and crackers were dark, rough and seeded, weaving through the cheese like wood in the forest.

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All of the garnishes and decorations are edible and include:
Mustard greens, chicory, purple kale, frisée, miniature red pears, black radishes, burdock root, gourds and baby pumpkins, black olives, pumpkins seeds, dried currants and cranberries.

Crisps and snacks were chosen for color, shape and texture:
Corn nuts, black sesame rice crackers, cranberry hazelnut crisps,  crisp flatbread, and chunks of dense fig and almond cake.

Black slate created the background and lined the basket interior, provided a sturdy surface to cut the cheese while various wooden and black vessels contained wayward runny cheese and little nibbles.

Not only did the cheeseboard look good, it featured a thoughtful selection of cheese that ranged from soft and mild to strong and aged. When you gather a selection, try to balance it in strength, texture, flavor. As a starting point I often include a blue cheese, a creamy white-molded cheese such as camembert, a goat cheese and a hard alpine cow or sheep milk cheese.

Cheese pictured in this basket includes (clockwise from top center):

1.  Cowgirl Creamery Sir Francis Drake washed rind cheese with currants
2.  Sharp white Cheddar with a Purple Rind – selected for color
3.  Aged Gouda Saenkanter – an orange, sharp, nutty Dutch cows milk cheese
4.  Adante Dairy “Nocturne” cows milk cheese with gray mold and ash
5.  Seal Bay Triple Cream – mild, oozing and runny
6.  Gorgonzola Mountain – crumbly and streaked with blue
7.  Petit Brebiousse – a French ewe’s milk cheese with an orange rind

So have fun – enjoy all of the fabulous cheese and remember to save some for the guests. Bon appétit!

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Gran Marnier

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Gran Marnier

Pots de Crème are an entertainer’s best friend. They may be prepared up to 2 days in advance and are very easy to make. With just a little finesse, and some high quality chocolate, you can be sure to wow your guests. Depending on the vessel in which they are served, they are an appropriately small shot of rich chocolate following  a heavy meal, or a moreish serving for the chocoholics at the table. Keep it simple with straight-up chocolate, or dress it up with Gran Marnier. This recipe is a keeper.

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Gran Marnier

This recipe requires refrigeration before serving for at least 6 hours. For best results, prepare at least one day before serving. Makes 6 large or 12 small servings.

1  3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
6 ounces high quality dark chocolate (70-72%), finely chopped
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Gran Marnier or Cointreau (optional)

Gran Marnier Whipped Cream
Candied orange peel and/or raspberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.) Combine cream and milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove and add chocolate, whisking until melted and thoroughly incorporated. Whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla together in a large bowl. Slowly add chocolate to the eggs, whisking constantly. Mix in Gran Marnier if using. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into another bowl. Blot foam from the top of the chocolate with a paper towel or skim with a spoon.
Pour chocolate into demi-tasse cups or 3/4 cup ramekins. Cover each cup with foil. Place cups in a large baking pan. Pour boiling water into the pan until it reaches half-way up the side of the cups. Bake until the chocolate is set but still wobbles in the middle, about 40 – 50 minutes depending on the size of the cups. Remove and transfer cups to a wire rack; cool. Cover and refrigerate pots de crème at least 6 hours (or overnight). Bring to room temperature before serving.
Serve with Gran Marnier Whipped Cream. Garnish with candied orange peel or raspberries.

Gran Marnier Whipped Cream:
Before serving, beat 1/2 cup heavy cream in bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Whisk in 2 tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar and 2 teaspoons Gran Marnier and beat until stiff peaks form, taking care not to overbeat.