January 23, 2011 § 4 Comments
Last weekend we visited some good friends who live too far away for my liking. They are really only about 40 minutes away (without traffic), but it’s just too far. I’d much rather they lived no more than 10 minutes away, just to be able to stop by and say hello for any occasion. Instead, it feels more like a special occasion every time we see each other. Because of that, I usually feel the need to bring some type of treat with me, just to honor the occasion. We planned on going for a hike last weekend, so I figured granola bars would be perfect for the occasion. The only problem: these granola bars had to be vegan and legume and nut-free. Our friends are vegan, and my wife has a legume and nut allergy, which frequently makes them mutually-exclusive when it comes to sharing food. Creativity is a necessity. Now, a vegan granola bar is really not a stretch. But, a legume and nut-free granola bar (what, no peanuts?!)– that’s a little more of a stretch. Fortunately, we had recently learned that the so-called cashew nut is actually the seed of the fruit of the cashew tree and often not a problem for people with nut allergies. (Warning: lots of cashews are processed with other nuts and therefore contaminated with other nut or peanut oils, so I’d be wary of snacking on just any cashews if you have a nut or peanut allergy.) I found a really great customizable recipe for granola bars over on smitten kitchen and I used seeds as the “nutty” base: cashews and sunflower, to be exact. I loved the recipe because I hardly had to do any work– just decide on the ingredients I wanted to use, mix them together and bake. So easy and so delicious! I really see no reason to buy granola bars at the store again. I’ll just be making these with whatever ingredients we happen to have on hand. Cranberry and chocolate granola bars
Yield: 16 square bars
- 1 2/3 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup oat flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 3 oz. dried cranberries
- 3 oz. chocolate chips
- 3 oz. chopped, unsalted cashews
- 2 oz. sunflower seeds
- 2 oz. puffed rice cereal
- 1/3 cup sunflower butter
- 6 tblsp vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tblsp light corn syrup
- 1 tblsp water
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8x8in baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, maple syrup, corn syrup and water.
4. Add the wet ingredient mixture and the sunflower butter to the dry ingredients and mix well.
5. Press the mixture in to the prepared pan.
6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown at the edges.
7. Remove from the oven and let cool entirely in the pan. Once cooled, chill in the fridge for 15 minutes before cutting in to squares with a sharp knife.
Notes on these granola bars: I loved the flavor in these granola bars, but I had some trouble with them sticking together as actual bars. They started to crumble more in to gooey granola, rather than maintain their bar shape. For the next time, I might try using honey instead of maple syrup, because it seems a bit more gooey. Also, I think adding more of the sunflower butter would help. And, if I make a non-vegan version, I might try using butter instead of the oil and maybe adding an egg to help it all stick together. What is great about this recipe is that you can pretty much do whatever you want, and they are guaranteed to still taste great!
December 2, 2010 § 2 Comments
I made this cake for Thanksgiving last year, and it has probably been the most discussed menu item from our Thanksgiving last year (with the possible exception of my sweet potato pucks, a.k.a., biscuits). It has been discussed so often, I had no option but to make it again this year. So, this cake was the first menu item that I planned for this year’s Thanksgiving. Despite this advance planning, we planned so many other menu items, that no one had any room for apple cake. Seriously! No one had any room! Who knew such a thing could happen at Thanksgiving? I do think this was partly my fault, as the other dessert I prepared was both generous and tasty and had a shorter shelf life than the cake, so everyone enjoyed that instead (it should also make an appearance on the blog one of these days). Amazingly, I was not sad that no one had any cake on Thanksgiving. Why? Mostly because this cake is the best thing to happen to breakfast since toasted bread. Seriously. A slice of this moist and crusty cake is the perfect way to start a morning sugar high to amp you up for holiday shopping. Somewhat miraculously, we were able to make this cake last a whole week, and I finally enjoyed the last piece this evening. It doesn’t disappoint after dinner either.
This recipe is from Lara Atkins and was published in Food&Wine. I follow her recipe pretty closely, although I did make some alterations in the suggested cake accessories. She recommends topping the cake with a toffee sauce and some carmelized apples. Although I love this toffee sauce (and I’ve previously discussed its use as the perfect dipping sauce for cinnamon-sugar doughdrops) and carmelized apples, this cake is very moist and a bit on the sweet side, so I found that adding more sugary toppings not really necessary. Instead, I whipped up some cinnamon cream that was not too sweet and found this to be a great complement.
Toffee apple cake
Yields 10-12 slices
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 3 medium Gala apples ( or other baking apples, such as 2 large Granny Smith apples)—peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform tube pan. *
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking soda.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil and granulated sugar. Continue whisking and add the eggs one at a time.
4. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth. Add the diced apples and fold in to the batter.
5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake at 325 degrees F for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in to the cake comes out clean.
6. During the last 15 minutes of baking, prepare the toffee glaze for the cake. In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar and heavy cream. While stirring, bring to a boil.
7. Once the glaze has started to boil, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
8. Remove the cake from the oven and let cook slightly. Do not take it out of the pan.
9. Place the cake in the pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Poke the top of the cake with a toothpick and pour the hot glaze over the cake. Allow the glaze to seep in to the cake for at least two hours.
10. Release the cake from the pan, slice and serve with cinnamon whipped cream. The cake can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container or covered with plastic wrap.
*I did not have the best pan option for this and baked it in a 9-inch bundt pan. This worked ok, but I think a tube cake pan would work better.
Cinnamon whipped cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In the bowl of a standing mixer, mix the cream, sugar and cinnamon at a moderate speed with the whisk attachment until the cream forms soft peaks. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.
November 27, 2010 § 5 Comments
The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.
This was my first challenge with the Daring Bakers and I found it quite inspiring. I had so many ideas for the fillings for my crostata. In fact, I planned to make multiple crostate, but instead I ended up make two versions of the same crostata, mostly because it was so delicious. I started with a savory version of the pasta frolla and topped it with a mix of roasted root vegetables and winter squashes. And a bit of cheese and bacon, of course.
I modified the pasta frolla recipe slightly to make a savory version of the crostata: I eliminated the sugar and added a bit more salt and some fresh thyme. I baked 6 4-inch tarts with this dough, although the recipe should also work for one 9-inch tart pan with more for a lattice or other decorative top. I’ve inlcluded both the recipe for the pasta frolla and also the roasted vegetables. Here they are:
Savory pasta frolla
- 1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 8 tblsp cold, unsalted butter
- 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
- 1 tblsp lemon zest
- 1 tblsp fresh thyme
1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt.
2. Add the cold, unsalted butter to the flour mixture in either small pieces, or grate frozen butter in to the flour using a grater. Cut the butter in to the flour using a pastry blender or two knives, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (Of course, you could also do this with a food processor.)
3. Lightly beat the egg and egg yolk in a small bowl.
4. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add the eggs, lemon zest and thyme.
5. Using a fork, mix the eggs in to the flour mixture until just incorporated.
6. Turn the dough out on to a floured surface and knead gently until it comes together in to a ball.
7. Shape the dough in to a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for two hours to overnight.
8. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. On a floured surface (or keeping it on the plastic wrap), roll out the dough in a circle approximately 1/8th of an inch thick.
9. For use with the 4-inch tart pans, use a sharp knife to cut out pieces of dough at least 1 inch wider in diameter then the tart pan.
10. Transfer the dough pieces to the tart pans and gently press in to the pan. Use a sharp knife to cut off an excess dough hanging over the edges of the tart pans. Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork in many places.
11. Blind bake the tarts before baking with the filling: Line the tarts with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, dried beans or rice.
12. Bake at 375 degrees F for approximately 15 minutes.
13. Remove from the oven and remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Sprinkle with shredded fontina cheese and place roasted vegetables (recipe below) in tart. Top with bacon and more shredded fontina.
14. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the tarts turn light brown and the cheese is melted.
15. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Roasted winter vegetables
- 2 medium sweet potatoes*
- 1 large butternut squash
- 2 medium dumpling squash
- 2 turnips
- 3 yukon gold potatoes
- 3 leeks
- fresh thyme
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup shredded fontina cheese
- 4 strips cooked and chopped bacon
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Slice the leeks and chop all of the vegetables into 1/4-1/2 inch cubes.
4. Put the vegetables in to a 9×13 inch baking dish. Toss the vegetables with olive oil to coat all of the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and fresh thyme.
5. Roast vegetables in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until they are tender and appear roasted, with browned edges.
6. Following the blind baking of the tart shells, sprinkle them with the fontina cheese and fill the shells with the vegetables, chopped bacon, and a bit more fontina on top. Bake for additional time as described above.
*I have made these with many combinations of winter vegetables, mostly lots of root veggies and squash. Pick your favorites! Also, for a richer flavor, feel free to roast the vegetables with the bacon.
Notes on this crostata: I found the recipe for pasta frolla to be quite straightforward and made a perfectly buttery and flakey crust that can support a lot of hearty fillings. In one version that I made, I ended up adding a tiny bit of water by wetting my hands when kneading the dough, just to get it to stick together a bit. But, this wasn’t necessary for the second batch I made. I also attempted a new trick for making this crust– to cut the butter in to the flour, I tried grating frozen butter in to the flour and then taking my pastry blender to it. I have to say, I really loved this technique. Although grating the butter is a bit of a pain, it was so much easier and faster to incorporate the butter. I will definitely be using this technique in the future for all of my pie crusts, scones, and biscuits. Now go check out the other Daring Baker’s crostate!
November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
The blog has been quiet for the past couple weeks. I don’t really have any good excuses. Just lots of busy-ness lately. Fortunately for me, part of that busy-ness has involved hanging out with good friends and sharing delicious meals together. We had a couple of friends over not too long ago for a small dinner party and I wanted to whip up a tasty, farmer’s market-inspired dessert. There was one small twist: it had to be low in carbohydrates. What??!! My baker’s head was spinning a little bit… what can I make with no flour and minimal added sugar that is still elegant and doesn’t scream “low carb dessert”? After one deep breath, I realized this wasn’t as much of a challenge as I was making it out to be and there had to be good ideas out there. Hmmm…what about panna cotta? I had never made panna cotta before, but a quick Google search revealed that it is super easy and can be prepared well ahead of time, perfect for a dinner party. I had picked up an orange and a couple of pomegranates at the farmer’s market (where I was kindly informed that the most ripe ones look the worst- brownish, and almost cracking). I also had a perfectly fragrant vanilla bean that I had picked up at a spice farm in Costa Rica earlier this year, and I was just waiting for the best recipe to showcase its flavor. I took David Lebovitz’s Perfect Panna Cotta recipe, cut it in half to serve 4 people, and added a few small twists. Here’s what I used:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1/4 of the one shown, or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
- 1 packet powdered gelatin (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 3 tblsp cold water
- 3 tblsp fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 1/2 tblsp orange zest
- 1/3 cup pomegranate arils
- 1 tblsp sugar
2. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the mixture from the heat. Add the vanilla bean seeds (cut in half lengthwise and scrap them from inside) and the vanilla bean pod in to the mixture. Add 1/2 tblsp of orange zest. Cover and let steep for 30 minutes.
4. Remove the vanilla bean pod from the mixture. Add three tblsp orange juice and stir to mix. Place the mixture back on the heat to warm it slightly.
5. Add the cold water to a medium-sized bowl. Add the gelatin powder to the water and stir quickly to mix. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.
6. Add the warm cream mixture to the gelatin and mix to completely dissolve the gelatin.
7. Pour the mixture in to martini glasses, wine glasses or molds. Chill for 2-4 hours.
8. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
9. Remove the arils (seeds) from the pomegranate. (This can be done by cutting it in half and tapping them out in to a bowl of water. The arils should sink and the membrane will float. I found this easier to type than to do.)
10. Place the arils in small baking dish and sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until the arils have slightly darkened and look sticky.
11. When ready to serve the panna cotta, remove from the fridge and divide the arils between the four desserts, and top with the remaining orange zest.
Notes on these desserts: These turned out creamy and decadent and elegant, especially served in a martini glass. And yet, they were so easy! The only thing I would have changed was to add more pomegranate. I thought the contrast in textures was great, and the flavors melded well together, but the dessert became a bit too rich for me without a little bit of pomegranate in every bite. However, I was the only one at the table who thought this… so maybe the ratio of pomegranate to cream is good for most people. I also think serving it with raw pomegranate arils would be just as tasty and probably more beautiful.
My only technical challenge was that all of the vanilla bean seeds sank to the bottom before the panna cotta was able to solidify. If anyone has any tips on how to prevent this from happening, I would love to know so I can keep my vanilla bean evenly distributed (as much fun as it was to have a coating of vanilla bean seeds at the bottom of the glass).