Thursday, April 23, 2015

In celebration: Chocolate Orange Almond Quinoa Torte { #GlutenFree #SugarFree }

This gluten free, sugar free torte is wonderfully orange-scented. Whipped egg whites give this almond torte structure while the addition of cooked quinoa ensures both moisture and a more cake-like texture. For best results, refrigerate a few hours before serving. 

As difficult as it is for me to process, a surprising number of people have crossed my path who have mentioned that their birthdays were rarely, if ever, celebrated as children. Often, the non-specialness of the day had nothing to do with religion or lack of money but rather, in most cases, it had everything to do with parents lacking time or simply choosing to treat the day like any other. That was never the case in my family.

We were not, and most likely will never be, a family of financial wealth. Indeed, my parents worked very hard to keep a roof over our heads, our bellies full, our feet shoed. We lived, as most large families do – very modestly, sometimes even paycheck to paycheck. We were fortunate enough to have grandparents and aunties who helped out, neighbors who shared, parents who filled our lives with love and opportunity even when it meant they went without. So yes, we might have been what some would have called “cash poor," but we were always rich with love and a deep desire by my parents to provide us with more experiences than they had as children. Even in the roughest of times, my parents worked tirelessly to make us feel special and safe from the troubles of the world.

Birthdays were exceptionally wonderful.

There were themed birthday parties with dad making our favorite dishes and mom baking and sewing new outfits. One birthday, it was during the summertime so it was either for my sister Cat or my sister Barb whose birthdays fall in June and July, respectively, that mom made all of us Hawaiian outfits for a luau theme. There are pictures around somewhere to prove it of happy, smiling siblings. There were Disney and Holly Hobby themes with cakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse or Cinderella and hand-sewn Holly Hobby or Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls that were lovingly handmade (I still have mine, all in mint condition). The day was always filled with friends and family and actual games like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, musical chairs, and of course, the star of every birthday party, the dime store candy-filled piñatas.

As we grew older, the big family parties turned into slumber parties with girlfriends and the days made even more special if they fell on a school day by mom keeping us home from school to spend the day with her for one-on-one time. In a family with five children, that was indeed a treat.

Now as adults, we don’t always gather for large birthday celebrations as we once did as children, opting instead to spend welcomed quiet time in contemplation because our lives have become so incredibly busy. We still do go out of our way to show our love and gratitude and when it’s a milestone birthday, of course, the family gathers.

Today is my birthday. I sit here pouring over a wealth of memories of the previous 48 birthdays filled with home-baked cakes and handmade gifts and parties filled with music and laughter and I am filled with contentment, joy and gratitude for having parents who have always worked so hard to make me feel like my birth and addition to their lives has been nothing less than a blessing.

So today, on my birthday, I also want to express my gratitude for this space and all of you. May the coming year bring good health, laughter, love and blessings both big and small.

xo, ani

Chocolate Orange Almond Quinoa Torte

To up the orange flavor, this torte uses orange infused extra virgin olive oil. I love Asara brand which is a product of Sicily, Italy. Find it locally in San Diego at North Park Produce or online here. If you can’t find orange olive oil, use regular olive oil, minus 3 tablespoons and add 3 tablespoons of orange juice or subtract 2 teaspoons of olive oil and add 2 teaspoons of orange extract. To make the ganache, I used Lily’s Dark Chocolate candy bar which is 55% cacao, Non GMO and naturally sweetened with stevia. Locally, you can find it at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Krisp. Alternately, use Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips (these use real sugar but less than say, milk chocolate). This looks complicated with a lot of steps but it really isn't difficult. I just broke the recipe down and wrote it in chunks the way I approach a recipe when making a dish; makes it more manageable in my opinion. Active time is only about 20 -25 minutes.

Author: Anita L. Arambula 

Yield: Makes 1 (9-inch) torte; 10 servings

Prepare the pan: Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Trace the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan onto baking parchment, cut out and, after spraying the bottom of the pan with baking-style cooking spray (such as Pam Cooking Spray for Baking), line the pan with the parchment paper. Spray the parchment and the sides of the pan with the baking spray; set aside. 

1 cup white quinoa
2 cups water

Make the quinoa: Rinse the quinoa well; place in a saucepan with water; do not add salt. Bring water to a boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Tip the quinoa out onto a rimmed baking sheet, spread out and allow to cool.

½ cup hot water
¼ cup Dutch process cocoa powder (use the best you can afford, I use Valrhona or King Arthur)
¼ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder 
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

Bloom the cocoa: Add water to at least a 2-cup capacity glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 3 minutes on high. Stir in the cocoas and espresso powder, whisking with a fork or small whisk until smooth; set aside.

1 ¼ cup blanched almond meal flour (Bob's Red Mill IS NOT blanched; you can use but the texture will be more coarse; I buy blanched almond flour at Whole Foods in the bulk bin section)
1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa, packed (reserve extra for another use)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
zest of 1 medium organic orange

Process the dry ingredients: Add the almond meal, cooked quinoa, salt, baking powder and zest to the bowl of a food processor with the s-blade and process for 3 minutes. Transfer the quinoa mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer; set aside.

5 large eggs, separated
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup orange olive oil
¼ teaspoon SweetLeaf Organic Stevia Extract Powder

Separate the eggs, placing the egg whites into a large mixing bowl; set aside whites.

Add the yolks, orange juice, olive oil and stevia to the cocoa mixture, whisking well until smooth.

Pour the cocoa mixture into the dry ingredients and with the whisk attachment, mix on high for 2 minutes; set aside.

Whip the egg whites: Using electric beaters, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks hold. Gently fold in ⅓ of the whipped whites to the cocoa mixture with a rubber spatula until incorporated and no white blobs remain. Fold in the next ⅓ of the whipped whites gently until incorporated. Finally, gently fold in the last ⅓ of the whipped whites. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until the center just barely jiggles and an inserted toothpick comes out clean for a "fudgier" torte or until the center no longer jiggles at all  for a more cake-like texture. Place pan on a wire cooling rack and immediately run a knife or off-set spatula around the edges to release the torte from the sides of the pan. Allow torte to cool in pan for 20 minutes. Invert onto a large dish, removing the parchment paper from the bottom of the torte. Place the cooling rack on top of the torte, and invert again so that the torte is right-side up. Allow to cool completely.

1 (4-ounce) bar Lily’s Dark Chocolate (stevia sweetened), chopped
2 tablespoons almond milk
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons unsalted European style butter, such as Kerrygold

Make the ganache: Once the torte is completely cooled and ready to be finished, place the chopped chocolate into a small bowl; set aside. Pour the milk and juice into a small saucepan and place on medium heat. Add the butter, swirling the pan continuously until the butter melts. Pour the milk mixture over the chocolate and stir well until the chocolate is melted, smooth and glossy.

¼ cup sliced almonds

Finish the torte: Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Place the cooling rack with the torte into the baking sheet. Pour the ganache over the torte. Use a small off-set spatula to smooth the ganache and make sure the sides of the torte are also evenly covered with ganache. Allow ganache to set for 10 minutes. Using two bench scrapers or two large spatulas, carefully transfer the torte to a cake stand or serving plate. Working with a little at a time, press the sliced almonds into the ganache around the sides of the torte to decorate. Refrigerate torte for at least 2 hours before serving. Store leftover torte in refrigerator. and enjoy within 2-3 days.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

For the love of meatballs: Greek Turkey Meatballs with Tzatziki

Versatile and healthy, these Greek inspired meatballs with tzatkiki can go from kitchen to table in 40 minutes so they're completely doable as a mid-week dinner. Plus the leftovers are great for sandwiches or tossed into a broth for a quick, nourishing soup. They're gluten-free and eggless (leave out the feta and they can be paleo, as well).

There’s a restaurant in our neighborhood that is wildly popular. It's specialty wood burning pizza was designed and crafted by some famous master pizza oven making guy from the "old country." The oven is named after a girl and I swear, they speak of it as I speak of my darling little Starbuck, who is a living breathing being and not a brick oven. But I digress. I'm also not one who has ever named my car so, whatever.

The space had once been home to one of my favorite neighborhood coffee shops just when South Park was beginning to develop it's current personality. The locals saw it as the first real neighborhood meeting place on the south end of the neighborhood (north side had Rebecca's). When we heard that a pizzeria was going in, we were quite excited to have one just two blocks away from home. Starbuck and I were able to watch the progress as the space transformed from coffee shop to pizzeria while out on our morning walks. Once the restaurant finally opened, Auntie and I were onboard to check the place out. Having seen long lines forming to get into the restaurant pretty much since day one, we decided to get there the moment dinner service began on a Saturday afternoon about a month after it had opened for business. Maybe our expectations were too high because our first experience was, well, meh. When it was the coffee shop, the windows had stained glass in them which tempered the sunlight. Now, windows were large, clear glass panes. We were blinded our first visit as they had no window coverings, never mind that we baked in the heat unable to escape from the late afternoon sun beating down on us (subsequent visits we sat outside on purpose so I still have no idea if they remedied that problem or not, and believe me, we complained!). For a pizzeria, I was surprised to find that my pizza was nearly inedible as it had an overpowering flavor of fennel in every single bite. Auntie, however, liked her pizza (for the most part). We both, however, loved the cheeseboard we began our meal with and our salads as well as the house made flatbread that came with it. Because half the meal was a success, we decided to give it a second try some weeks later. On our second visit, we skipped the pizza and tried their meatball appetizer to start and ordered pasta for our main course. My pasta was a bit on the gummy side but the meatballs? Oh my! Were they ever divine! 

Nowadays, the place is packed, with lines easily ten people deep at any given moment pretty much every single night. The poor, struggling restaurant across the street had not a fighting chance and recently closed down much to my disappointment (I could make a tasty meal out of their appetizers paired with a glass of wine). For the life of me, I can’t understand why this pizzeria is so popular. I've been there or ordered for pick-up maybe seven or eight times now. A newspaper food critic tends to write a review after three visits, so there was plenty of opportunity for a good dining experience to change our minds. Alas, the pizzas are almost always charred (on the edge of being burnt), the pasta’s have yet to impress, the atmosphere loud and crowded. Moreover, the meatballs have been inconsistent of late. As a matter of fact, a few weeks ago, we ordered meatballs for pick up and still had to wait well over a half hour outside the restaurant for it (after already waiting the quoted time at home before walking over to the restaurant to pick-up our order). By the time we got our order home, we were starving. Sadly, again, we were disappointed. The one thing from their menu we liked was, for the third time in a row, dry, dense, and lacking in flavor.

Done. Finito. Not going back again.

But the latest experience left me wanting for meatballs. Again. The last time I posted about meatballs followed a disappointing order from this same restaurant.

This time, however, I opted for turkey and instead of the flavors of Italy, I went Greek. I made these the first time mid-week after a long day at work, start to finish, and it was so worth it, the most time consuming part being the actual forming of the meatballs. These babies are gluten-free this time around, as I left out breadcrumbs, and they’re eggless – I used a combination of a little good quality olive oil and some feta cheese to help bind everything instead. The slightly salty feta also helped lighten up the texture and added a lot of moisture, while the herbs popped nicely, adding freshness. I love having a ziplock baggie of these baked babies in the fridge for quick meals. Pop the leftovers into a small bowl with a few tablespoons of water, cover with a wet paper towel and microwave a minute or two to reheat. They get nice and juicy reheated this way. Add them to some buttered whole wheat noodles with a sprinkling of fresh cut herbs for a quick lunch. Or, toss a few into a simmering pot of chicken stock and veggies for a quick, mid-week soup. Warm a pita, slice a few warmed meatballs in half, add a few leaves of your favorite lettuce, a few sliced red onions, some sliced cucumbers and a dollop of tzatziki and call it dinner! So many things you can do with these leftovers.

I have made these Greek inspired turkey meatballs a few times now and am totally loving them. I hope you do, too!

Until next time … xo, ani


The key to making tasty meatballs is two-fold: first, don’t squish the meat and compact it while mixing and second, don’t over bake them! Bake until internal temperature just reaches 160 degrees (mine took exactly 15 minutes to reach this temperature). When you pull them out of the oven and allow them to rest, they will continue to cook with internal temp rising at least an additional 5 degrees (mine rose 7 degrees). If you cook to 165, by the time you sit down to dinner, those meatballs will have risen potentially up to 172 before beginning to cool down, resulting in a dried out meatball. This rule of thumb applies to pretty much all ground meat. 

Yield: Approximately 32 meatballs (using a 1 ½ inch cookie scoop to portion them)


1 medium cucumber
1 cup Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon dried dill
1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press (or finely minced)
salt, to taste

1 ½ pounds ground turkey
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 large cloves)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
⅓ cup packed parsley leaves, finely chopped
¾ cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

olive oil cooking spray (for cooking the test patty and for baking the meatballs)


Peel the cucumber then slice in half, length-wise. Using a small spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds. Shred the cucumber using the large holes of a box grater. Place the shredded cucumber into a fine mesh sieve placed over a small bowl. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of salt over the cucumber and toss to coat well; set aside. The salt will help to pull the excess water from the cucumber.

In the meantime, place the yogurt, lemon juice, dill, mint and garlic in a small bowl and stir well. Cover and refrigerate until while you make the meatballs.

Fold the ingredients for the meatballs together in a large bowl, mixing gently with hands to incorporate all the ingredients well. Spray a small skillet with cooking spray and place on medium high heat. Use a 1 ½ inch cookie scoop to scoop out some of the mixture, flatten into a patty and when skillet is hot, cook the patty for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until no longer pink in the middle. Taste cooked meat and adjust seasonings to raw mixture as needed to taste (I needed no adjustment).

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Using the 1 ½ inch cookie scoop, place leveled scoopfuls of meat onto the baking sheet. Repeat until the pan is filled. Wet hands, then go back and pick up each scoop to mold into round meatballs and line up on pan so that meatballs are close but not touching. This should make more room on the pan and allow you to finish scooping the rest of the meat onto the pan to make roughly 32 meatballs. Once all meatballs are formed, give them a light once-over with cooking spray. Bake meatballs for 15 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Remove meatballs from oven. They will look a little light and wet when done but will soak up most of the meat juices while they rest (and finish coming up to 165 degrees while resting so don’t cook them to 165 or they will be dried out come time to eat them).

While the meatballs are baking, pull the prepared yogurt from the refrigerator. Pick up small handfuls of the shredded cucumber and squeeze tightly to remove water; add squeezed cucumber to yogurt bowl and stir well to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste. Return to refrigerator until ready to serve.

Serve meatballs with the tzatziki either spooned over them or as a dipping sauce (thin out with water, if desired, though I prefer a thicker consistency). Store completely cooled meatballs in a resealable plastic baggie. To reheat, place desired amount into a small bowl, add an inch or two of water, cover with a wet paper towel and microwave for 1-2 minutes or until warmed through. The water helps to keep them juicy while re-heating.


You might also like: (click on photo to go to recipe)

Spaghetti (Squash) and Meatballs with Quick Tomato Sauce

Quinoa “Meatball” Lettuce Wraps with Lemony Walnut Pesto


And because it's been quite a while since Starbuck has been in a post, here's a bonus picture of her as she hopped onto a nearby chair to keep an eye on my shooting platform just in case a meatball rolled off the table. Look at that concentration. I can just hear her thinking, "Come to me, meatball."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Enselada de Nopales (Cactus Salad)

Enselada de Nopales con Frijoles de la Olla is my Dad's favorite way to marry nopales (cactus) and fresh cooked beans. Packed with nutrients, this main course salad is vegan, gluten free and a great choice for Meatless Monday.

Last week I showed you how easy it is to clean and cook nopales (cactus paddles).

The week before that, I showed you how to make frijoles de la olla (fresh cooked pinto beans).

This week, I'm showing you my father's favorite way to marry these two: enselada de nopales con frijoles de la olla. Or as my dad simply calls it, bean salad. Without the beans, which is a more traditional way of serving this salad, it's called enselada de nopales and sometimes, enselada de nopales a la Mexicana. "A la Mexicana" because the green of the cactus and cilantro paired with the red from the tomatoes and the white of the onion make up the colors of the Mexican flag. Whatever you call this, just call it good! Seriously, this salad, most popular during lent because it's packed with plant based protein and tons of vitamins, minerals and fiber, is comforting when served warm and refreshing served cold after it's had a day or two to hang out in the fridge.

I hope you try this family recipe and enjoy it as much as we do. If you celebrate Easter, have a joyous celebration! Until next time... xo, ani



( Cactus Salad with Fresh Beans)

Since the individual components are cooked packed with flavor and are then paired with fresh vegetables and cilantro, this salad doesn't need a dressing. Dad never adds anything extra. He just chops up the fresh stuff and tosses it with the cactus and beans. I like it with a squeeze of lime to brighten everything up a bit more and to finish, I add a touch of sea salt over the individual bowls. The avocado is optional, but highly recommended. You could also add some crumbled queso fresco if you like but we've never found it necessary.

Serves 6


For the salad: 
2 cups cooked cactus, drained (recipe here)
2 cups cooked pinto beans, drained (recipe here)
2 roma tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
½ medium onion, finely chopped
¼ cup chopped cilantro, leaves only, packed
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime

To serve: 
2 peeled avocados, pits removed, then chopped into bite-sized pieces
extra lime wedges
queso fresco, crumbled


Toss the salad ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined. Divide between 6 bowls and top with chopped avocados. If desired, squeeze additional lime over the salad, to taste. Top with queso (optional). Finish with pinch of sea salt, or to taste.

This salad base without the avocado or cheese, will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days tightly covered. Just add the avo and queso right before serving.