Cooking Tip: Sneak Fiber-Rich Flaxseed Into Your Food

When I first heard about flaxseed I thought the same thing I normally do about healthy food -- "yeah, yeah, it's good for you. But does it taste good?" And so, I shied away from it for some time before finally trying it out. As it turns out, this seedy super food can either be tasty... or can go virtually unnoticed in your dishes. If you're wary about flax seeds, try sneaking them into some of your already-existing recipes. I like to blend it smooth in my daily breakfast green smoothie, and I like adding it to baked recipes, like banana bread and dark chocolate biscotti. But first, you may wonder, what's so healthy about flaxseed? WebMD breaks it down:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These "good fats" are good for your heart. 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
  • Fiber: It offers both the soluble and insoluble types, so it's good for digestive health.
  • Antioxidants: The seeds contain lignans, which have estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Lignans help fight free radicals, which can damage tissue.

Aside from the obvious health benefits, adding flaxseed to your food gives it an added texture. So what else can you add it to? Try these:

  • Breakfast: Add a tablespoon of ground (or whole) flaxseed to your morning cereal or to yogurt.
  • Lunch: Add a teaspoon of it to your sandwich spread, like mayonnaise or mustard.
  • Baked goods: Add two tablespoons to any bread or muffin recipe. Aside form texture, the flaxseeds add an extra richness or thickness to your finished treat.

Flaxseed photo by Flickr user Alisha Vargas.

A Guaranteed Show-Stopper: Red Velvet Pancakes

Red velvet pancakes. Need I say more? Whenever I hear the words "red velvet" my ears instantly perk up. Cake? Cookies? And this time, pancakes? A friend of mine linked me to this recipe not too long ago and just by glancing at the ingredient list, I could tell this was a must-eat. So I zipped over to the grocery store and stocked up on the necessities. Even though many of the ingredients weren't already lurking in my kitchen, it was well worth it. It was easy to make and difficult to screw up. The end result is moist, fluffy and absolutely irresistible. I wish I could brag that I made all sorts of changes to the recipe, but I didn't change much at all. The full credit goes to a food blog called From Portland to Peonies.

Serves: About 6 Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: About 10 minutes

Ingredients: 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons white sugar 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 1 large egg, lightly beaten 3/4 buttermilk 1/4 cup sour cream 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 1 tablespoon red food coloring 2 teaspoons vanilla extract Maple syrup or whipped cream (optional)

1. In a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients first. Add in the egg, buttermilk, sour cream, melted butter, red food coloring, and vanilla extract. Mix until combined.

2. Heat a frying pan or griddle over medium high heat. When hot add non-stick cooking spray, followed by a small scoop of the batter. Wait for the pancakes to bubble, about 2 minutes, flip and cook for a minute or two more. Top with a pat of butter and maple syrup, or whipped cream.

My Notes: Creme fraiche or sour cream? If you're like me, you probably frequent grocery store chains like Ralph's or even Whole Foods. Creme fraiche can be hard to find, so I made these pancakes with sour cream -- and I wouldn't change a thing.

More vanilla and baking soda: I love the fragrant, floral sweetness of vanilla, so in this recipe, I added a little dash extra. I also used extra baking powder to ensure a fluffy yet dense pancake.

Make it dessert: A friend of mine declined the butter and decided to take this treat to the next level. Instead, he added a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Ice cream makes just about any food better, and these red velvet pancakes are definitely no exception. If you decided to go with ice cream topping, you may want to make your pancakes a tad smaller. The portions will be less filling and ultimately, less guilt-inducing!

Fresh, Salty and Simple: Prosciutto-Basil Crostini

This quick little recipe combines three tasty, savory ingredients: prosciutto, basil and French bread. It's light, it's salty, it's herby, it's crunchy. Would more could you want in a finger food? Just be sure to use the freshest ingredients so each one can stand out on its own. Since it's a Martha Stewart recipe, I'll have to admit it's perfect. I didn't change a thing -- the only thing I did differently was use a toaster oven (and write up a simpler ingredient list).

Serves: 4-6 Prep time: 5 minutes Cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients 12 slices of baguette (1/2 small baguette, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices) 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1 tablespoon sea salt (or to taste) Freshly ground pepper 24 fresh basil leaves (at least about 1/2 the size of each bread slice) 4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto (or 12 slices of prosciutto)

1. Lightly brush both sides of each bread slice with oil. Season with salt and a little bit of pepper.

To heat, using an oven: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Transfer bread to a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven until pale golden, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer sheet to a wire rack or plate; let crostini cool completely.

To heat, using a toaster oven: Preheat toaster oven to 300 degrees. Toast bread until pale golden, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer sheet to a wire rack or plate; let crostini cool completely.

2. Place two basil leaves and a folded slice of prosciutto on each bread slice. Drizzle lightly with oil. Season with a little bit of freshly ground pepper.

My Notes: Oven or toaster oven? I'm sure most chefs and many foodies would insist you use a regular oven. But if you have a small kitchen like I do, you probably don't want to heat up that corner of your living space for a few slices of bread. I prefer to use the toaster oven because it uses less energy and the bread heats faster.

What kind of prosciutto? Because this recipe calls for so few ingredients, it's important to make sure you use good quality ones. You could go with a pre-packaged prosciutto but I find those sometimes tend to be a bit slimy. I prefer to use freshly-sliced Canadian prosciutto from the Whole Foods deli. It's definitely not soggy and is quite lean -- just the way I like my prosciutto.

Why freshly ground pepper? Believe it or not, freshly ground pepper tastes different from the more commonly-used coarse grind pepper. Grinding the peppercorns releases their oils and greater flavor. Plus, this fresher variety makes your finished crostini look even more beautiful.

A Light, Easy, No-Cook Dessert: Strawberry-Ricotta Mousse

I’m actually not the biggest fan of mousse. It’s usually too chocolate-y or too bland, too soft or too sweet. Too something. But this recipe, taken straight from the Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis herself, has just the right consistency – and with a few of my own tweaks, just the right level of sweetness. It’s super easy and best of all, it doesn’t require any cooking.

Serves: about 10 Prep time: 20-25 minutes

Ingredients: 2 cups whole milk ricotta (or 1 15-ounce container) 3/4 cup of strawberry preserves or jam (can be substituted for your favorite preserves or jam) 1 cup heavy whipping cream 1/4 cup powdered sugar

1. 1 cup of strawberries (or the same kind of fresh fruit as your jam) Either in a food processor or mixer, blend the room temperature ricotta cheese until it’s smooth and fluffy (usually about 30 seconds in a food processor, or 1 minute in the mixer). Add the jam and blend until combined, about several seconds until you get that nice, light pink color. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

If you’re like me and your kitchen appliances are both small and limited, you’ll probably need to wash and dry your mixer. You’re going to whip the cream, so you’ll want to make sure you have a clean mixer to make sure the cream becomes the right consistency.

2. Beat the cream on medium-high speed until thick, about 5 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and crank up the speed. Blend until the cream holds stiff peaks, about 5-7 minutes longer.

3. Fold (or gently mix) the whipped cream into your ricotta-jam mixture in small batches.

4. Refrigerate 1 hour prior to serving. When ready, use an ice cream scoop to plop a generous portion onto your serving bowls. I use one hefty scoop per serving. Garnish with your fresh fruit and enjoy!

My notes: Mine vs. Giada’s. When I first whipped up this dessert, I followed Giada’s recipe down to the last measurement. While I was happy with the texture, I felt the end result was a bit too ricotta-y and not quite sweet enough. I like a little extra jam and powdered sugar.

Which jam? Giada’s original recipe actually calls for raspberry jam. I’ve also seen this made with blueberries! Feel free to use whichever preserves or jam you like – it’s probably a good idea (for your wallet!) to choose one that’s on sale. Just don’t use jelly! You want the full-bodied taste of real fruit, and that’s a taste you get only from preserves or jam.

Why whole milk ricotta? For a more calorie-friendly treat, you could go with skim milk ricotta. I just prefer using whole milk to get a richer flavor and that perfect mousse-y texture. Also, when you’re making recipes with so few ingredients, it’s important to make sure they’re good quality. Using fewer ingredients means you can’t hide the tastes of cheap items!

Why powdered sugar? Powdered sugar is much lighter than granulated, so it incorporates into the cream much more smoothly. It also gives the cream a tiny bit of weight that lets it puff up. That way, you get a fluffy whipped cream that’s perfectly smooth.