September 29, 2012

Chocolate Cake (with beets...shh)

Of course, this is my favorite beet recipe so far - chocolate cake! There was just a hint of beet earthiness in this super moist cake, which gave it depth. I never told my husband the secret ingredient, and he said it was the best chocolate cake I have made. Also he gave a piece to a co-worker who said "This is so good I'm going to hug myself."

I'm overloaded on beets right now from my CSA, so to preserve them I think I'll make some more beet puree and store it in the freezer. That way, I can make this chocolate cake any time!

Here I made the ganache as posted by Naturally Ella, where I got the recipe. However, it was a little runny, and I'm not sure what went wrong. This cake would be excellent with any topping you'd like: powdered sugar, chocolate buttercream, ganache, etc. Pictured here is my favorite ice cream: salted caramel.

Chocolate Beet Cake
from Naturally Ella

1 cup butter
1½ cup brown sugar or sucanat
3 eggs
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 cups pureed beets (roughly 3 large beets)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour or white wheat flour
½ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoons salt

Pull butter and eggs and bring to room temperature. Also, butter and flour two 8″ cake pans.

First, peel the beets, cut into small pieces and cover with water (just enough that the beets are barely covered) and cook until beets are tender (30-40 minutes). If you have a lot of excess water left, drain so that only ½ cup remains with the beets. Puree beets in a blender until no large chunks are left. Set aside to cool.
While beets are cooking, combine ¼ cup of the butter with the ounce of chocolate. Melt and whisk the chocolate and butter together. Set aside to cool slightly.
Preheat oven to 375˚.

In either a large bowl or your stand-mixer bowl, combine remaining softened butter and brown sugar, beating with a paddle until well combined. Next, beat in eggs and vanilla until the mixture comes together, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in melted chocolate/butter and beet puree and continue to beat. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the batter, beating until everything is well combined.

Pour evenly into cake pans and bake for 25-35 minutes (a toothpick should come out clean when the cake is checked.) Set aside for 10 minutes, then loosen both cakes around the edges and flip onto pieces of parchment to let cool.

To assemble the cake (once the cakes are cooled), take one cake and place on your serving plate. The cake is really moist and you may have to take a knife to loosen the cake from the parchment paper. Cover the first cake with a layer of desired topping and place the second cake on top. From here, take a healthy scoop of topping and crumb coat the cake with a thin layer. Place in refrigerator for 15 minutes, remove, and cover cake with remaining topping. If using ganache, keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.

September 27, 2012

Curry Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup

I saw eggplants at the farmer's market and thought I should be dutiful and buy one. Eggplants, like beets, are not something I grew up eating, but I'm convinced I can learn to like them. This soup was quite delicious, but the eggplant flavor was almost undectectable. So this may not have helped me learn to like eggplant, but three cheers for anything flavored with curry!

See this salad for another adventure with eggplant.

Curry Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup
adapted from Pinch of Yum

2 small/medium eggplant (or 1 large)
1 red bell pepper
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons tahini or natural peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon curry
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
optional: 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, cayenne for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 450. Chop red peppers and eggplant into 1-inch pieces. Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil and spray with nonstick spray. Put vegetables on baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 25-30 minutes.

In a large saucepan, saute onion with oil until translucent. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add 2 c. broth, tahini, and spices. Add roasted vegetables. Let simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer to a blender (or use an immersion blender right in the saucepan). Puree until soup reaches desired consistency. Add more broth if needed to thin out soup. Stir in lemon juice. Sprinkle with cayenne and serve with warm bread.

September 26, 2012

Broccoli Quinoa Salad

I thought this recipe would just be ho-hum. I was so wrong! The roasted, seasoned broccoli was the star of this delicious vegetarian dish. So yummy! I just joined Costco for the first time and bought a big bag of quinoa. I'm glad to be eating more of this amazing grain.

Broccoli Quinoa Salad
adapted from Beloved Green

1 bunch of broccoli
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 lemon
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
dash of salt
dash of pepper
1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup feta cheese
1 tomato, diced

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 425°F. Take a stack of broccoli, cut the florets while leaving the long stalk attached. Place them in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Squeeze half of a lemon over top of the broccoli, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Make sure the broccoli is coated and line them up on a baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet into the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the broccoli begins to brown.

Meanwhile, on the stove bring the vegetable broth (or water) to a boil and add in the quinoa. Lower heat to barely simmering and cover. Cook until the quinoa absorbs all of the stock (about 15 minutes), and using a fork, fluff it into a bowl. Add in the broccoli, feta cheese, and diced tomatoes. Squeeze the remainder of the lemon over top before serving.

September 17, 2012

Beet Green Salad

Beets! I'm not totally in love with beets yet, but I'm working on it. Once peeled, the gorgeous ruby red color tries to tell me it's going to taste so good. I asked my mom the other day if she ever served beets to us, and the answer was no. So I need some more exposure to beets to learn to appreciate them. In any case, beets are quite economical - you can eat the beet greens and the beet. Both parts of the vegetable are used in this salad. More beet recipes coming...

Beet Green Chopped Salad
from Sprouted Kitchen

1 bunch of beets, including fresh looking greens
olive oil for cooking
4 scallions, white and light green parts
1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
1 small avocado, diced
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds

Tahini Dressing
2 Tbsp. tahini
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1-2 tsp. agave nectar, depending on desired sweetness
3 Tbsp. water, or as needed
hefty pinch of salt and pepper
1 clove of garlic finely minced
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. finely chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 450'.

Cut the greens from the beets at their stem. Rub a bit of olive oil on the skin of the beets, sprinkle with salt and wrap them all in a foil pack. Set on the middle oven rack and cook for 45-55 minutes until you can easily piece through with a knife. Set them aside to cool.

While the beets roast, clean and dry the greens. Chop off and discard the long red stems. Chop the greens and put them in a large mixing bowl.

To prepare the dressing, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, vinegar, agave and water. Mix in the garlic, hearty pinch of salt and pepper and drizzle in the olive oil while whisking. Add more water if you prefer it thinner. Mix in the chives. Adjust to your taste and set aside.

Once the beets are cool enough to touch, you should be able to just push the skin off with your fingers. Use a paring knife to help it along. Dice the peeled beets. Thinly slice the scallions. Add the beets, scallions, quinoa and avocado to the mixing bowl and toss with a generous amount of dressing (note: the salad will turn pink from the beets. If this bothers you, you can toss everything without the diced beets, and sprinkle them on top). Sprinkle in the sunflower seeds, give it one more toss.

September 12, 2012

Eating Philosophy

I've been wanting to write this post for at least a year now. I've fretted over my words, but I'm not submitting this as a college essay and decided to just put it out there.  It's long, but so important to me, and hopefully to you. I hope you'll read it!

taste the rainbow - fresh veggies from the farmer's market

I am not a very opinionated person. It is a rare topic that gets me excited or angry. But if you start talking to me about food, you may have a hard time getting me to stop. I love recounting my latest cooking experiments, telling about a new cookbook or ingredient I've discovered, or going all preachy and giving you my eating philosophy. I actually don't talk to people very much about why I eat the food I do, because I find that I can't relate to most people. When I overhear people talking about their attempt to be healthy with low-fat this or that, Healthy Choice meals, low-calorie snack packs, substitute sweeteners, and worst of all, margarine, I have to leave. It is amazing to me how many people still have such a skewed view of what is healthy. I don't even try to talk to most people about it, because they just don't get it. And I understand, because I was sort of there at one time.

I was a lucky child with a mother who cooked dinner every night and with a lot of fresh ingredients. Now my memory may be failing me a bit, but about the worst thing I remember is occasionally eating rice-a-roni and coveted Little Debbie snacks for a lunchbox snack, though she made plenty of homemade treats. I had grown up with the common misconceptions that slowly built up over the last few generations - for breakfast people eat boxed cold cereal, margarine is healthy, fatty food makes you fat, etc. However, in my late high school years, my parents were introduced to the book The Schwarzbein Principle by Diana Schwarzbein. This book advocated balanced meals - a proper amount of redefined food groups of protein, fats, green vegetables, and carbohydrates (includes grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit) - and eating them in their most natural state possible, while avoiding those things that are not natural - preservatives, refined sugar, refined flour, low-fat, hydrogenated fats, etc. The reason the author gives for eating this way is that it has the power to prevent and REVERSE degenerative diseases, especially type II diabetes. As a doctor, she was able to put this into practice with her patients and see the results.  The real value of this book was it really got me to start to question commonly accepted views about healthy eating.

So it all comes back to the simple truth that diet (meaning the food we eat) and how much we move are the two most important elements of a healthy lifestyle. Not really surprising. But, even though most people know this, they are confused about what eating healthy really means. The labels say low-fat, low-calorie, high in antioxidants, whole grain, lowers cholesterol, etc. But the real secret is eating food with no labels at all, or at least minimal labeling - fruits and vegetables, legumes, quality meat, poultry, and fish, eggs, whole grains bought in bulk. Michael Pollan really summed it up with his eating recommendations in In Defense of Food: eat food (food must be real food, not processed food, which means we have to spend some time in the kitchen), not too much, mostly green. Mostly green? That means vegetables! It's sad that many American's least favorite foods are vegetables: peas, brussels sprouts, broccoli.

A while ago I read French Women Don't Get Fat. I was highly impacted by the author's pure delight in eating fruits and vegetables. The secret is to eat them fresh, in season, and ripe - and the place to get these, short of your own backyard, is a farmer's market. France thrives on farmer's markets. So eventually I found a farmer's market near me and started going. It took me a while to fully warm up to them, but once I did, I became forever hooked. And thankfully, many others agreed with me, as farmer's markets are becoming more available (including winter markets) all over the country.

After browsing the markets, I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) where I pre-paid for 20 weeks of the farm's harvest. I picked up my bag every week and then tried to figure out how to use it all. I used it as a learning experience to help me learn how to like vegetables better. I documented what I received each week and then what I made in my CSA series on this blog. The CSA introduced me to kale, chard, garlic scapes, beets, and as of this year kohlrabi, delicata squash, and fennel. CSAs are economical in that the amount of food received is cheaper than buying it a la carte, but if you don't eat it all, then maybe not.

Now that I have a baby who's about to start eating solids, I am determined to feed her with whole foods and help her learn to love vegetables (along with my husband and me). I still have much to learn and need to change some aspects of the way I eat (abominable sugar), but as Diana Schwarzbein emphasized, ANY change in the right direction will still benefit your health.

As I've learned more about food over the years, the principles that resonated the most with me were ones I could support with the health guidelines provided by God. This food quest is at it's base spiritual - the stewardship we have to take care of our bodies, having healthy, strong bodies so we can serve others, respecting the earth and all of God's creations, teaching our children truths, developing self-discipline by controlling appetites, and taking care of my family as a wife and mother.

In summary, here are some things I live by and some things I still have to work on:

1. Eat food in season and locally grown.
2. Preserve food when in season.
3. Eat less meat - most meals should be vegetarian. When meat is eaten, it is more for flavor than the main attraction.
4. Make as many items from scratch as possible, using whole ingredients.
5. Use a wheat grinder for freshly ground flours.
6. Grow a garden.
7. Enjoy eating - not just the treats.

And here are the books and resources that have gotten me to where I am. There are many more worthwhile resources, but these are the ones I have encountered. Please share if you have recommendations.

The Schwarzbein Principle by Diana Schwarzbein
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Food Matters by Mark Bittman
French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano
French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon

Food, Inc.
Forks Over Knives
Food Fight
Super Size Me


recipe blogs or cookbooks
Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
Tender by Nigel Slater
The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

September 5, 2012

Maple Walnut Cream Cheese

Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S. So to immerse myself in Vermont culture, I bought this:

Yes, that's a whole gallon. Once opened, long term storage is best in the freezer. I bought grade B, as the maple flavor is very strong, which is good for baking. Of course it's so good on waffles too!

When we first arrived in Vermont, we visited the Maple Candy store on Main Street. There my mother-in-law bought me the Official Vermont Maple Cookbook. It contains all sorts of recipes, including main dishes and salads. I can't wait to try more recipes soon (butternut squash, apple and fennel salad with maple vinaigrette sounds amazing).

This simple cream cheese dip tasted delicious with apples. I need to tackle homemade bagels. When I do, a batch of this cream cheese will accompany them.

Maple Walnut Cream Cheese
from The Official Vermont Maple Cookbook

4 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 c. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. walnuts, chopped

Mix ingredients in a food processor until smooth, or leave the walnuts a little chunky.

September 4, 2012

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

My goodness, these cookies were so good. The wheat added texture and flavor in ways that were only positive. My husband and his co-worker both enjoyed the cookies, the only complaint being they were a little sandy. So don't make these for a healthy option (because they're not), but do for a twist on a classic.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/4- and 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl, adding any large bits of grain or other ingredients that remain in the sifter.

Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on low speed for about 2 minutes, until just blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition, then add the vanilla extract.

Add the flour mixture and beat until barely combined. Stop to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the chocolate and beat on low speed just until evenly distributed.

Now scoop your cookies by the tablespoon. Flatten the cookies slightly on the baking sheet. Put cookies in freezer for 15 minutes. Bake cookies in oven for 10-12 minutes or so, until the cookies are golden brown on the outsides and fragrant. Let them cool for a bit on a cooling rack.