Monday, October 03, 2016

Fall Favorite: Minestrone Soup

While I am a summer girl at heart, the heat makes it difficult to do too much in my kitchen, so I am always happy when fall rolls around so I can get back to my happy place. Every weekend there is a bubbling pot of soup on the stove, awaiting distribution to my children.

This week I chose to make some minestrone. I still have veggies in the garden, so it is the perfect way to use them before they die out. While most traditional recipes are strictly vegetarian, I like to add a bit of my home-cured bacon. Whenever I smoke a batch, I cut off the ends of each slab and freeze them in soup-sized portions. They have a deep smoky flavor and add such a wonderful dimension to soups. But feel free to omit the bacon, and you can have a good vegetarian or vegan option. You can even substitute a wheat-free pasta to get a gluten-free version!

So head to the store, the farmer’s market, or your own garden and make a batch of this yummy and hearty soup. It’s quick to make and I had enough for 10 servings – plenty to share or freeze for later use.

1/2 lb. bacon ends, diced
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
1/3 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 heaping tablespoons pesto
salt & pepper, to taste
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 bunch chard or kale, thinly sliced
1 zucchini, diced
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup elbow or shell pasta
Optional: grated parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a stockpot over medium-low heat, add your bacon ends and begin cooking. When halfway done, add chopped onion and cook until bacon is almost crispy. Add garlic, celery and carrot and cook for another few minutes.

Add tomatoes, broth, and pesto to the pot and bring to a boil. Add green beans, chard/kale, and zucchini and cook until your vegetables are al dente. Add in the kidney beans and pasta and cook for 10 minutes until pasta and all vegetables are tender.

Ladle into bowls and serve with parmesan cheese.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Staving off My Sweet Tooth: Healthy(er) Peanut Butter Cups

You may have noticed that a significant number of recipes on this blog are of the sugar variety. I definitely have a sweet tooth. I like my muffins, coffeecakes, cookies, tortes, cupcakes…even candied bacon!

I’ve never been a junk food addict. I don’t down Coke every day, rarely eat at a fast food restaurant, don’t decimate a bag of chips in one sitting (like Mr. B), and rarely buy packaged or prepared cookies, candy, cakes or ice cream.

But I do bake. A lot. Unfortunately, as the years creep up on me, I just can’t have those temptations around. I still bake for Sunday dinners when the family is here, for special occasions, for friends. It’s just not enough to satisfy my sweet tooth.

So what’s a girl to do???

I’ve been hunting around for something that is small in size, easy to prepare and that has less guilt attached to it (healthier), while at the same time able to provide me a satisfying sweet treat.

I found a recipe online for a paleo Reese’s Cup. It’s basically a nut butter cup with dark chocolate on top. I’ve been experimenting with the base recipe for a few weeks now, adding and subtracting unsweetened shredded coconut, using all almond butter, using a mix of almond and peanut butters, trying different chocolates, even using different pans.

I’ve finally hit upon the right combination of ingredients—and the right vessel to put them in—and it’s time to share the recipe with you.

I have to say that I really love these. I keep them in the freezer and take one out when I am in need of a sugar fix, usually at 2 or 3 in the afternoon and around 8 or 9 at night. They weigh in at under 100 calories a piece but also have some protein, given the quantity of nut butters. They are good for a paleo diet, low-carb diet, Atkins, etc. They are also gluten free and, if you use the right chocolate, dairy free.

I particularly like this combination of ingredients and have adjusted the amounts so that when frozen, the nut base doesn’t get all soft and gooey while the chocolate is harder than a rock. I found the best peanut/almond butter combo to be Trader Joe’s Creamy Almond Butter and Jif Extra Chunky Peanut Butter. For the top, I just use a thin layer of chocolate—Nestle Dark Chocolate Morsels are great—but you can go thicker if you want. You can also omit the coconut, as it acts more as a sweetener and to add some bulk to the candy.

Note: I originally used mini muffin pans for these. No grease necessary, just fill and freeze and then pop them out as needed. Now I use silicone mini muffin cup molds. I place them on a tray, fill and freeze. Once frozen, I put them in a Ziploc in the freezer. They pop out really easy and I get about 2 dozen this way. They are slightly smaller than the muffin pan I was using, and the perfect size for me.

Nut Butter and Chocolate Treats

½ cup smooth almond butter
½ cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon honey
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, minced
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (you can also chop up bar chocolate)
1 teaspoon coconut oil

Put your nut butters, coconut oil and honey in a glass bowl or measuring cup and microwave until mixable, about 30-45 seconds. Stir or whisk until the mixture is creamy. Add minced coconut and stir to incorporate.

Using a small ice cream scoop, ladle or tablespoon, fill your mini muffin cups about 2/3 full. Gently bang your muffin pan or tray on the counter to level the ingredients.

Place the chocolate and teaspoon of coconut oil in a glass measuring cup and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and microwave
a second time for about 20-30 seconds. Stir until the mixture is creamy.

Pour the mixture on top of the nut cups, starting at the outside edge and moving in. When done, gently bang the pan or tray again to even out the chocolate.

Yield: 2 dozen

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Passionate Dessert

I had the good fortune of being gifted with a whole bag of passionfruit. A friend has several plantings and has offered in the past, but I was just never sure what to do with them. I mean, we drink POG when in tropical climates, but other than that, we just don’t run across passionfruit very often. And to be honest, it’s a bit ugly – and has a hard shell that feels a bit hollow. (Very deceiving, given its tasty insides).

The first thing that came to mind is the classic pavlova. This meringue-based dessert originated in New Zealand (or possibly Australia) back in the 1920s as an homage to the ballerina, Anna Pavlova. True to its origins, it is covered in fruits readily available in that part of the world: passionfruit, kiwi and strawberry. It’s then topped with whipped cream…of course.

The nice thing about a pavlova is that it is easy to make and doesn’t require any fancy ingredients or pans. It takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and then it’s all about the baking time. To achieve that nice light crisp crust with a soft center, the pavlova bakes for 1.5 hours at 200 degrees and then you turn the oven off, letting it further dry out for another 1.5 hours.

I chose to make individual pavlovas, rather than one large dessert. Pavolvas don’t cut and serve particularly nicely, so doing smaller individual meringues achieves a nicer presentation.  They turned out beautifully and tasted as good as they looked. The crunch of the sugary meringue, the sweet/tart flavor of the passionfruit, with the barely sweetened whipped cream on top. Everyone agreed it was blog-worthy (and worth making again! And again!).

So keep your eyes out for passionfruit in the market and give this a try. It’s a refreshing and light summer dessert.

NOTE: You can top your pavlovas with other types of fruit. In fact, berries work particularly well and are in season right now.

Passionfruit Pavlova

4 large egg whites, at room temp
pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. If making a single pavlova, draw an 8-inch circle on a piece of parchment. For individual pavlovas, draw four 4-inch circles. Place on baking sheet and set aside.

Beat egg whites (preferably with whisk attachment) with the pinch of salt on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Begin adding sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, while beating the egg whites. You’re looking for stiff, glossy peaks.

Sprinkle in the cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla extract. Whisk until all are incorporated.

For a single pavolva, use a spatula to mound the meringue onto the parchment. Spread it out evenly to edges. For individual meringues, a tablespoon works a bit better, or you can use a piping bag with a large round tip.

Place  your baking tray in the oven and reduce the temperature to 200 degrees. Cook for 1.5 hours or until meringue lifts off the parchment easily. Turn off the oven and leave for another 1.5 hours.

To serve: scoop the pulp out of the passionfruit and pour over top of the pavlova(s). Top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Serves: 4 

*I used 8 passionfruit for the 4 individual pavlovas. You can cut down on this if using multiple types of fruit

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hoarding Disorder Leads to Apple Cream Torte

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve been hoarding recipes. I know…the horror of it. It’s kind of an obsession. I cut them out of magazines, request them from friends, and spend way too much time saving them on Pinterest. And then they just sit there. Or I file them into folders to use at a later date. Or I make them and forget to share them with you. Any way you look at it, I’ve been a bad blogger, remiss in providing you with new and yummy recipes.

I’m striving to be better about both the hoarding and the writing. If I cut, Pin, or request a recipe, I am going to try to make it right away and share (if it is share-worthy). That should help my hoarding disorder and my lack-of-writing disorder.

So, in turning over this new leaf, I am sharing a recipe I snipped out of the September issue of Sunset. Perfect for Fall, it was terribly simple to make and you probably have most, if not all, of the ingredients in your house already.

I served this yummy torte at our weekly family Sunday dinner. But Butcher Son was too full last night and ate it this morning for breakfast. I also think it is the perfect afternoon snack with a cup of tea. So, really, you can eat this treat any old time.

It is moist, almost custardy, and not too sweet. It looks like you carefully layered apples with the cake
batter, but it takes no such effort. This is definitely worth the 10 minutes it takes to make and you really need no special skills or tools. The recipe does call for a 9-inch springform pan, but I used an 8-inch without incident, and you could probably use any high-sided cake pan – round or square or oblong. And it also wants you to use a whisk attachment to your mixer. But unless you own a KitchenAid or similar high-end mixer, you probably don’t have a whisk attachment – just use your hand-held mixer and make sure you get the egg/sugar batter nice and thick.

So, head down to the farmer’s market, pick up some tasty Fall apples and get cooking.

Apple Cream Torte

1 ½ pounds  (3-4) apples (Cameo, Gala, and Fuji work best)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Powdered Sugar

Preheat oven to 325°. Butter and generously flour a 9-inch springform pan. Shake out excess flour and set aside.

Using a paring knife or sharp corer, core apples from stem down through seeds and base to remove in one cylinder. Peel apples and slice crosswise into 1/4-inch rings. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using a mixer with whisk attachment, beat eggs and granulated sugar on high speed until pale and slightly thickened, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add cream and vanilla. Beat about 30 seconds more to blend.

Add flour, baking powder, and salt and blend on low speed until evenly combined.

Now, add  the apples (including any uneven end pieces) to batter and stir gently with a spatula to coat each one with batter, separating the slices. Pour the mixture into your prepared pan and arrange apples flat with a spoon or your fingers.

Bake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into center of cake (rather than an apple piece) comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Let the cake cool on a rack for 20 minutes, then run a slender knife between the edge of the cake and the pan. Remove pan rim and cool cake at least 10 minutes more.

Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar.

Serves 8-10

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Winter Salad: Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Meyer Lemon & Quinoa

I’m the kind of person that tears out recipes – from newspapers, magazines, wherever. I have whole shelves of filing folders with recipes, sorted by recipe type (appetizer, main, dessert, etc.). When I lack inspiration, I turn to these folders for something new to try. Sometimes it’s a fail, sometimes it’s a win. And sometimes, I see a recipe and a light bulb goes on in my head and I know that there is a different, often better, way to prepare the dish. Mr B. calls it “going off the reservation,” and he gets most excited by these dishes. (Mostly because he gives more credit than is due my cooking skills and creativity.)

Such was the case last night. I had pulled a recipe out of a Martha Stewart magazine. Shaved Brussels Sprout, Meyer Lemon, and Quinoa Salad.  We love our sprouts, have an abundance of Meyer lemons this time of year, and know that quinoa is good for us. Hence, my ragged-edged, torn-out recipe. But it felt more like a summer salad. And we are definitely not in summer. The frost has taken hold, the sky has opened and is providing us with much needed rain, and them temp barely breaks 50 on a good day. (Which is cold for us Californians.)

I started out prepping all the ingredients. As I shaved the spouts, I thought how much tastier they would be if they were roasted and had some brown toasted bits. So, that’s what I did. I quickly roasted the thinly shaved sprouts and made it a warm salad – not bothering to cool down the quinoa as directed. It required a double batch of the dressing, given that the warm quinoa absorbs more liquid, but you can never get too much Meyer lemon in my opinion! (Mr. B agrees….) And it was a hit. We both went back for seconds. 

The salad was comfort food – warm, full of texture, with the bright acidity of the lemon. So I thought I would share it with you, something I’ve been remiss about doing. I have been less than inspired lately with food, and even less so with writing. But I am feeling the urge to get back to the blog and sharing good food. Apologies for the absence.

A few notes on the dish:
·      The sprouts should be shaved manually, very thin and lacy. The shaved sprouts you find in the store are just too thick for this dish. I have a big fancy schmancy mandoline that makes it a breeze, but I also have a small hand-held mandoline like this, which will work. I use the little one to shave radishes, carrots, etc. for salads and it actually gets a fair amount of use and is worth the $15 investment.
·      The recipe calls for scallions (green or spring onions), but I am thinking that shaved leeks (mixed in with the sprouts and roasted) would be a good alternative.
·      You can adjust the amount of red pepper flakes – either increase for  more heat or eliminate altogether.

Shaved Brussels Sprout, Meyer Lemon & Quinoa Salad
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
Coarse salt
2 Meyer lemons
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (+ 2 T for roasting)
8 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/3 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place quinoa and 1 1/2 cups water in a small saucepan with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, until grains are tender and water has been absorbed, about 16 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Peel 4 long strips of zest from lemon with a vegetable peeler; thinly slice. Juice lemons into a small bowl (you want about ¼ cup); add ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Whisk in oil in a slow, steady stream.

Toss sprouts with about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place in shallow pan and roast for 5-10 minutes until you get those nice brown roasty bits. Stir occasionally.

Add zest, brussels sprouts, nuts, scallions, and chile to quinoa. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and drizzle with vinaigrette. Stir to combine.

Serve immediately, or refrigerate, covered, up to 3 days.

Makes 4 servings.