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The Chocolate Mousse Diet

Lush chocolate mousse with a healthy surprise inside

That bowl of summer corn chowder is long, long gone and it's about time, too.

My personal chef work is keeping me busy, and putting me in touch with all sorts of people, each with their own set of dietary needs, likes and dislikes. But what I'm hearing most often when planning meals for clients is their desire to eat a healthy diet. It can be hard to distinguish what "healthy" really means when you see the word pasted on all sorts of processed food in the grocery store, from boxes of cereal to packaged frozen entrees.

What do most people perceive to be a healthy way of eating? My sense is that we all know that the more real, unprocessed food we eat the better, but it's still a full time job to keep track of all the information out there about what's good for us or not.

To educate myself, I've veered off my usual reading of glossy food-porn, and started exploring a segment of food and cooking I normally avoid: nutrition and diet.

Among my favorite books in the pile is Renee Loux's The Balanced Plate. Renee's approach to food and cooking enthralls me; her recipes and lifestyle ideas are both seductive and wholesome, if that's possible. It takes a certain talent to meld the subjects of health, diet, and gourmet cooking into what could be a brand new shelf category at the local bookstore.

The biggest surprise ingredient in this seemingly decadent version of Renee's Chocolate of the Gods Mousse is avocado, possibly one of nature's perfect foods. Avocados are loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium and folate. Combined with pure cocoa - another nutritious antioxidant superfood - and natural sweeteners like maple syrup and agave nectar, this recipe has all the ingredients for a supremely healthy dessert or snack.

It also might seem strange to see soy sauce and balsamic vinegar in the ingredient list for a sweet preparation, but they actually add to the sensory experience when you eat a spoonful of this mousse; touching on all the essential flavors that satisfy our palates: sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

The other amazing thing I need to mention about this recipe is how simple it is to whip up - it literally comes together in seconds in a food processor, and the results will simply blow you away.

I've been making this mousse on a regular basis and watching my kids devour it brings out a certain motherly deviousness in me (insert menacing cackle here); maybe what Jessica Seinfeld feels when she feeds her kids a slice of beet-laced chocolate cake.

Luscious Chocolate Mousse

Renee recommends Green & Black's organic cocoa powder - it can be hard to find, but it does add another layer of delicious richness.

1 ripe Hass avocado, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup agave nectar or maple syrup
1 tablespoon organic evaporated cane juice or brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon shoyu or soy sauce
1/2 cup high-quality cocoa powder

Process all ingredients except the cocoa powder until smooth. Add the cocoa powder and process again until completely blended - you might need to scrape the sides of the workbowl.

Serve in small cups or bowls topped with fresh berries.

Makes 4 servings.

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Raw Sweet Corn Chowder

I got impulsive about a month ago and bought a new high-powered blender – The Total Blender by Blendtec. Costco was featuring a live demo of these super machines in action and I was curious.

I’ve been aware of the Vita-Mix brand of commercial blenders, and remember the ads they ran a few years back featuring hot, naked celebrity chefs posing with nothing more than a Vita-Mix and their birthday suit. But since I couldn’t imagine investing in a pricey machine that I’d probably use for little more than the occasional smoothie, I never even considered I might need or want one.

Some DinnerStyle clients of mine own a Vita-Mix, and I’ve been having fun “borrowing” it whenever I’m cooking for them by whipping up smooth soups and sauces for their dinners. The first time I turned it on I was a little amazed not only at its power, but also by how loud it was.

But here’s the thing: that baby made flawlessly creamy soup in about 15 seconds, like a mini cyclone in a jar. Needless to say, I found myself considering replacing my clunky old KitchenAid, which could barely manage to chop ice for emergency frozen margaritas, with a super new Vita-Mix.

When I saw the Total Blender at Costco, I borrowed my friend B’s iPhone and did a little research right there in the store, and found the price was right and reviews were mostly good. It compares neck-in-neck with the Vita-Mix, with a motor that is just slightly more powerful and a comparable 7-year warranty; the jar blade and motor base drive for a lifetime.

Blendtec has been around for years making commercial machines for places like Starbucks, and started marketing to home consumers. (I’d never seen the crazy “ Will it Blend?” infomercials until now, but they are somewhat entertaining) The great thing about buying things like this from Costco is that if the blender turned out to be a dud when I got it home, I could always return it. I love that.

So, I took my new blender home and it’s changing my life. Seriously! ( And no, I'm not even getting paid to say that) Now that its high summer and peak produce time, I’ve been making myself and my kids fresh smoothies for breakfast using organic berries, peaches and mangoes. I throw in entire vanilla beans and almonds and make creamy, dairy-free drinks for T, who suffers from a bit of lactose intolerance. No Chuck Norris action figures yet, but I might be tempted.

The makings for gazpacho in my new blender

I’m also blending up some sweet local tomatoes for gazpacho and raw sauces for pasta.
When I came across this Ani Phyo recipe for soup using raw, fresh sweet corn in the June 2008 Food & Wine magazine, I put my new machine to work.

The soup is fantastic – sweet and creamy, with the cashews giving the soup plush texture, as if it were dairy cream. I like garnishing the smooth soup with whole, raw corn kernels. When you have the freshest corn of the season, there is no better way to eat it than raw!

You most certainly can use a regular blender to make this - just make sure to soak the cashews for a few hours before so they blend up nice and smooth.

Raw Sweet Corn Chowder with Cashews
(adapted from Ani Pyho in Food & Wine)

4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and kernels removed with a chef's knife
2 cups water, approximately
1/2 cup cashews, soaked 1 - 2 hours; drained
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small, peeled garlic clove
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or cilantro
1/4 cup choppped fresh tomato

In a blender, combine 2/3 of the corn with 1 1/2 cups water, cashews, olive oil, garlic and salt and puree until smooth, adding more water to achieve desired consistency. Taste for seasoning.

Pour the soup into bowls and spoon the remaining kernels into each one. Garnish with basil and tomato.

Makes 4 servings.

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Simply Roasted Beet Salad with Fresh Mint

Roast some beets for a jewel-box salad

Let’s talk about beet love.

The thing about beets is this: People tend to either devour them with joyful greed, like a dog might Hoover up a hunk of smoked turkey bacon off the floor, or spit them out in disgust after mistaking their glistening, jeweled beauty for some kind of exotic fruit. There’s no middle ground, no room for wishy-washy ambivalence when it comes to loving beets.

In the history of me, there was a time when I belonged to the latter camp. I found the curiously earthy nature of beets overwhelmingly and distractingly....dirty. Because let’s face it - along with the surprising sugary-sweetness of beets is the underlying, penetrating flavor of the earth in which they grow.

That combination of dirty-sweetness is kind of what I imagined a wad of mud rolled in honey might taste like.

It wasn’t until I worked the salad station in a restaurant kitchen that I became attached to beets in a more sensory way. One of the dishes I was responsible for was a salad topped with goat cheese and balsamic marinated roasted beets. I roasted, peeled and chopped umpteen pounds of beets, staining my hands a startling shade of magenta. I tossed and tasted all those beets to make sure they were cooked and seasoned just right.

Maybe it was that day-to-day intimacy with beets that converted me in the end, but I came around. I crossed over to the world of beet love.

I still prefer roasting to any other method of cooking beets; probably because it’s so easy to wrap them up and stick them in a hot oven, where they pretty much take care of business all by themselves. And I can’t resist beets that are colored vivid orange or the gorgeous candy-striped Chioggia varieties.

Beets have a particular affinity for things tangy; like fresh soft goat cheese, mild vinegars and citrus juices, making them perfect for salads.

I hesitate to call the following a recipe. Consider it more of a method, to ready your beets for a simple toss with olive oil, some fresh herbs, and your tangy ingredient of choice.

Simply Roasted Beet Salad with Fresh Mint

To roast your beets, trim off the greens (save those if they are in good shape and chop some up for your salad) and place them on a sheet of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little drizzle of olive oil.

Roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. You’ll know they’re just about done when the kitchen takes on a pleasing aroma and the beets offer no resistance when you poke a sharp knife into them.

Let them cool a bit before slipping off the skin and slicing.

Toss the beets with some of your best olive oil, salt and pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon or orange juice. Sprinkle with chopped mint, some crumbled goat cheese and serve over salad greens.

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