OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Food experts' new cookbook a keeper

Almond-Orange Torte (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Almond-Orange Torte (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Food is inextricably tied to our well-being. This is not debatable.

That being said, I am dubious of the idea that a single diet or eating style can be the key to good health for everyone. Especially when said diet is based on eliminating entire food groups. Most of the dietitians I know agree. They recommend eating a wide variety of foods with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains, along with lean proteins and healthful fats — while limiting sweets and avoiding highly processed foods.

When given the opportunity to review cookbooks that make health or diet claims, I am dismissive of all that are not written by trained nutritional or medical professionals. Unfortunately, the vast majority of health and diet related cookbooks that come across my desk are written by people with no formal training in dietetics, nutrition or medicine.

So it was refreshing to to receive a review copy of "The Anti-Inflammatory Family Cookbook: The Kid-Friendly, Pediatrician Approved Way to Transform Your Family's Health" by Stefania Patinella, Alexandra Romey, Hilary McClafferty (MD, FAAP), Jonathan Deutsch (PhD) and Maria Mascarenhas (MBBS) (Adams Media, $21.99).

Notice the alphabet soup behind three of the book's five author's names. The book is a collaboration between culinary, nutritional and medical professionals.

Patinella is a chef with a masters degree in health arts and sciences; Romey is a graduate of the culinary arts program at Drexel University; Deutsch is a professor of food and hospitality management and nutrition sciences at Drexel University; McClafferty is a physician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics; and Mascarenhas is a pediatric gastroenterologist.

In other words, this book was written by people who really know what they're talking about.

I've found several recipes in the book I want to try — butternut squash and black bean enchilada squares; creamy carrot soup; Asian-style sweet potato dumplings — but first up was this gluten-free, dairy-free, orange and almond cake.

It calls for simmering whole oranges with bay leaves and a cinnamon stick until tender and then pureeing them. The entire orange is used. The orange puree is combined with eggs, almond and hazelnut meals, a little baking powder, some sugar and dark chocolate and then baked. I couldn't resist adding a pinch of salt and a bit of vanilla extract.

The resulting torte is rich and fruity, but not very sweet — I seriously doubt any kids I know would like it — but, once I gave it a generous dusting of confectioners' sugar, I thought it was quite tasty. Especially once you look at the nutrition stats — a serving comes in at just under 300 calories with 9 grams protein, 5 grams fiber and 24 grams carbohydrate.

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Almond-Orange Torte

  • 3 large oranges (I used 4 small oranges)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ¾ cup natural cane sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 ½ cups almond meal/flour
  • 1 cup hazelnut meal/flour
  • Pinch salt, optional
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
  • ¾ cup dark chocolate chips (60% cacao or higher)
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting, optional

In a medium saucepan, combine the oranges, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes or until the oranges are easily pierced with a fork or the tip of a knife. Drain, cut oranges into quarters and let cool.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or 2 (8-inch) cake pans. (I lined the pans with parchment paper and buttered the sides.)

Once the oranges have cooled, remove any seeds and blend the oranges in a food processor to make a coarse puree.

Transfer the orange puree to a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, eggs, baking powder, nut meals and, if using, the salt and vanilla. Stir to mix well and then fold in the chocolate chips. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until lightly browned and set. Cool cake in pan for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving. If desired, dust with confectioners' sugar.

Makes 16 servings.

Nutrition information: Each serving (prepared without salt, vanilla extract or confectioners' sugar) contains approximately 296 calories, 9 g protein, 16 g fat, 24 g carbohydrate (15 g sugar), 70 mg cholesterol, 43 mg sodium and 5 g fiber.

Carbohydrate choices: 1.5.

Recipe adapted from "The Anti-Inflammatory Family Cookbook: The Kid-Friendly, Pediatrician Approved Way to Transform Your Family's Health" by Stefania Patinella, Alexandra Romey, Hilary McClafferty (MD, FAAP), Jonathan Deutsch (PhD) and Maria Mascarenhas (MBBS) (Adams Media, $21.99)

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