May 28, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

It's fun to come across new blogs that inspire me. The one where this recipe comes from, Dishing Up the Dirt, is about a farmer girl who cooks. Of course, I have to make cookies first, but plenty of other dishes look scrumptious.

adapted from Dishing Up the Dirt

1 cup all purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
dash of ground nutmeg
dash of ground ginger
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup sugar or sucanat
1/2 cup brown sugar or sucanat
1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil (slightly melted)
1/2 tsp ground flaxseed
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350.

Stir together dry ingredients (flour, oats, sugar, spices, salt, flaxseeds and baking soda) in a mixing bowl.

Stir together the wet ingredients (pumpkin, coconut oil, and vanilla).

Combine wet and dry ingredients. Mix well until everything is evenly incorporated.

Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto a greased baking sheet. Lightly press balls with the back of the spoon to slightly flatten. Space cookies about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 15-17 minutes.

Remove and let cool slightly before eating.

May 23, 2013

Small Changes

I've been making some small changes to my usual recipes lately. Small changes, but hopefully these will turn into habits and new ways of thinking about food. In the past I have not been one for ingredient substitutions because I'm too afraid the end product won't taste good and I will have wasted the time and food. But my days can't afford for me to come up with all new recipes, though I'm always on the lookout for more healthy recipes, so I've been more brave about trying substitutions. And my success has pushed me to be even more creative in the future. As I make tweaks, I will add the new ingredient note to my old posted recipe. Here's a summary of my changes.

**Costco is a good place to buy some of these items at an excellent price: coconut oil, Medjool dates, chia seeds, and some other items not mentioned in this post: organic brown rice, quinoa, hemp seeds, black rice, organic white sugar.  Also try or for decent prices.

Using Less Meat
In recipes that call for beef, pork, or poultry, I try reducing the amount of animal protein. I've had a lot of success with this - the dish still tastes the same.

Chili - used half the amount of ground beef
Lasagne - used half the amount of Italian sausage and added spinach
Won Tons - used sauteed, crumbled tempeh in place of the ground pork. Really, I could not tell at all.
Spanish Tortilla - used half the amount of bacon

Dairy Substitutes
I've mentioned several times that I really don't want to consume cow's milk and am looking for ways to reduce other milk products (cheese, etc.). Almond milk has proven to be a wonderful substitute for milk in recipes. Coconut oil or ghee can work in place of butter, and avocado is an excellent replacement for sour cream. Oh, and I also have tried coconut milk whipped cream, but just as an experiment and not for a specific dish. Here's a link to a coconut whipped cream recipe.

Cinnamon Rolls - subbed almond milk for cow's milk
Whole Wheat Buns - subbed almond milk for cow's milk
Chocolate Cupcakes - subbed coconut milk (but I have no doubt almond milk would work just as well) for cow's milk
Popcorn - topped it with coconut oil instead of butter
Any type of quesadilla, taco, etc. - used mashed avocado instead of sour cream

Healthy Oils
The topic of oils is a controversial one.  People have many varying opinions on what is healthy.  I stick with items that have been used in traditional cooking for a long time.  My main three oils/fats are organic butter, olive oil, and coconut oil.  I've just tried ghee, an Indian product,  which is clarified butter and actually contains no milk solids, but I'm still learning where to use it.

Meyer Lemon and Strawberry Muffins - subbed coconut oil for canola oil
Popcorn - used coconut oil and also ghee in place of canola oil

A grove of sugar maple trees on a nearby farm.  The blue tubing carries the sap to the sugarhouse, where it is evaporated into maple syrup.

The sugarhouse on the farm - see the steam?

Natural Sugars
Banana - I used to not like bananas that much, but lately as I've been using them more to sweeten various dishes, I've grown more accustomed to them and don't even notice the banana flavor so much.  The riper the banana, the more sweet, but also the more banana flavor.

Dates - I'm still experimenting with using dates (buy whole dates, usually Medjool), but am impressed so far.  They are sweet but not too much, and don't have a really distinct flavor like bananas do.

Maple Syrup - Maple Syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees that mainly grow in New England and Canada.  The sap can only be extracted in late winter and early spring.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup!  The sap (which I've tasted) looks and tastes almost like water.  So the processing evaporates the water off, leaving the syrup behind.  Grade A syrup is lighter in flavor, while Grade B has more intense flavor.  The grading system has nothing to do with quality.  Grade B is usually recommended for baking/cooking, though it tastes great as a topping as well.

Maple syrup and honey can be used in place of white or brown sugar.  Try using half the liquid per called for amount of sugar.  So if the recipe says 1 c. sugar, use 1/2 c. maple syrup or honey.  Then reduce the other liquids in the recipe slightly, about 2 Tbsp. per cup of liquid.  So if the recipe calls for 1 c. milk and 1 c. sugar, use 3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. milk and 1/2 c. maple syrup or honey.  I have not tried this substitution in a recipe that does not have any liquids, like cookies.

Honey - Please buy local, raw honey.  Local honey is supposed to help with allergies as it is made from bees who used local plants.  RAW honey is a must.  Honey that has not been processed is considered raw, and of course retains more nutrients.  You can tell if a jar of honey is raw because it will be opaque and thick.  The processing of honey makes it more transparent and runny and doesn't crystallize as easily, but this appears to be mainly for the consumer's benefit.  I've bought three kinds of local, raw honey here in Vermont and each had a different flavor.  I never liked honey much before, but raw honey is so deliciously complex, I always lick the spoon clean.

Sucanat - This is a commercial name for natural cane sugar (the name is derived from SUgarCAneNATural), the purest form of sugar from the cane.  It's very brown and in granules about the size of couscous.  Different types of sugars can be confusing - demerara, turbinado, raw sugar, etc. resemble sucanat, but are more processed.

Sucanat can be used anywhere white or brown sugar is called for.  It has a wonderful flavor, as the part that is usually extracted and made into molasses is still intact.

Adding Superfoods
It's all about the spinach and chia seeds for us lately. We started drinking smoothies after dinner as a way to curb the appetite for a post-meal treat, and so fresh spinach has found its way into my fridge more than usual. Now it's my go-to superfood that I sneak into anything I can think of.

Chia seeds can be added to smoothies, breads, added to oatmeal, and made into pudding.  I've seen lots of exciting recipes using them around, so the learning process continues.  They don't really have a distinct flavor, but do add texture.  Dry they are crunchy, and soaked, they turn soft and gelatinous.

Using Less White Flour
The idea of subbing some or all white flour with wheat flour has been around for a while, but I have never diligently applied it. Lately, I've been using freshly ground whole wheat flour, and that makes a big difference. It seems to be lighter than the bagged stuff.  Where I've tried subbing white flour for some wheat, I've noted in my recipes.  Some usual places I substitute are tortillas and pizza crust.

May 21, 2013

Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups - do I need to say anything else?

I was scared of making these because sometimes melted chocolate and I don't play well together. However, these were a dream to make - really super easy. Although, I did use higher quality block chocolate, which may have helped (I usually use chocolate chips for everything). The ones pictured below are mini size.

Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups
from Sprouted Kitchen

Makes 12-14 minis or 6 full sized cups

7 oz. dark chocolate
1/2 cup natural almond butter
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. fine grain salt
sea salt flakes for topping

Break up the chocolate and melt in a double broiler (a pot of simmering water with a bowl resting on top). Stir to make sure it is perfectly smooth.

Set out the liners in a mini muffin tin, this helps them hold shape. Spoon about a teaspoon of the chocolate into the bottom. Tilt and twist it around so the chocolate coats the side of the liner and rest it back in the tin. Repeat with remaining papers. Mix the almond butter, honey, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt together until smooth to make the filling. Scoop out a teaspoon of the almond butter filling and gently roll it into a ball between your palms. Give it a press down and center it on top of the thin chocolate puddle. Repeat. Spoon chocolate, about another teaspoon, on top of each almond butter ball to cover completely. You may need to add a few drops more to get the chocolate to level above the bump of the almond butter. Sprinkle a tiny pinch of flaked sea salt on each one and chill in the fridge to set.

They can be kept in a covered container at room temperature or in the fridge.

May 16, 2013

Curry Powder

Did you know curry powder is a blend of spices? It took me a while to figure that out. Because of this, all curry powders will taste a little different. I'm not an expert on curry powders and their variations, but I do like the idea of making my own spice blend. For one, I already had all these spices in my cabinet. And with an inexpensive coffee/spice grinder, grinding up whole spices is very easy and tastes better, too.

Try buying spices in bulk instead of at the regular grocery store.  You'll save a lot of money.

Curry Powder
adapted from Naturally Ella

1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 pieces clove
4 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons yellow mustard powder (or yellow mustard seeds, ground)
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon celery seeds

Combine cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and fennel seeds in a skillet and toast over medium heat until fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Once toasted, add those spices along with the cloves to a grinder or mortar/pestle. Grind until combined. Add ground spices to a bowl along with remaining spices. Stir until well combined.

May 14, 2013

Chipotle Drumsticks

Even though overall I try to reduce our meat consumption, we do eat an occasional meal where meat/poultry is the main attraction. I've been on the lookout lately for more recipes in this area. This one was fabulous. For one, the spice mixture was delicious. If you don't have chipotle chili powder, try subbing regular chili powder, but the chipotle flavor is very distinct. Also, the preparation method is easy but yielded perfect crispy chicken. I will try this method but with a different spice rub in the future for variety. Serve this with rice and a big salad for a balanced meal.

Chipotle Drumsticks
adapted from Jan's Sushi Bar

serves 5

2 pounds chicken drumsticks (about 10)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Combine all of the ingredients except for the chicken in a small bowl. Rub the drumsticks with the spice mixture, covering each as completely as possible. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Place the drumsticks in a single layer in a glass baking dish large enough to hold the chicken without the pieces touching. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the juices run clear when pierced with a fork.

Allow to rest for five minutes before serving.

May 12, 2013

Almond Meal from Leftover Almond Milk Pulp

I recently posted how to make almond milk from raw almonds. The recipe leaves water-logged ground almonds (which I'll call pulp) that do not work in recipes calling for almond meal. After doing some research, it turns out you can easily turn the pulp into almond meal (aka almond flour) by dehydrating the almonds. I was able to do so in my oven, and it was very easy. Since it takes a while to dehydrate the pulp into meal, my work method is to put the pulp into the freezer until I've collected several batches after a few rounds of almond milk. I'm excited to try out more recipes that call for almond meal since I'll have plenty of it from now on.

On the left is the pulp, the right is the dehydrated and ground meal:

Almond Meal from Leftover Almond Milk Pulp

Spread the water-logged ground almonds from several batches of almond milk onto a large cookie sheet(s). Set oven to lowest temperature (mine was 170 F) and cook for 7-9 hours, until almonds are dried out and start to stick together in clumps. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Grind up the almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Store almond meal in fridge or freezer to extend shelf life.

May 10, 2013

Oatmeal Addiction

I'd have never thought I would gush about a basic bowl of oatmeal, but the truth is I've been eating this oatmeal almost daily now for about a month. It's that good. The author of the blog, Kath Eats Real Food, is an oatmeal champion. Check out this link to see how many variations of this oatmeal she's made. And they all look amazing. She uses this basic recipe, and then adds all sorts of creative toppings. I've only tried a few topping combinations and am still satisfied. And yes, the topping featured below uses chocolate chips, but I've eaten many a bowl sans chocolate chips.

Even though in the past I used to eat oatmeal pretty plain, including no sweeteners, I enjoy the slight sweetness provided by the banana here. The banana and chia seeds really help the oatmeal to be fluffy, or whipped, as Kath calls it. Every time I add a dollop of almond butter as one of my toppings, and it's my favorite part.

A plug for Kath Eats blog - I've only been following her for a few months, and she doesn't post many recipes. What I find most helpful and inspiring are her posts about what she's eaten. She eats simply, but has amazing ideas for very healthy, but delicious-looking, meals. These ideas have already helped me to throw more things together in new ways. Check out this post for lunch box (or lunch at home) ideas.

Whipped Banana Oatmeal
adapted from Kath Eats

serves one

1/3 cup old fashioned oats
1/3 cup almond milk
2/3 cup water
1/2 ripe banana, sliced thinly
1/2 tbsp chia seeds
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract (just add a few drops, no need to measure)

toppings: almond butter (or other nut butter), fresh or frozen fruit, dried fruit, chocolate chips, granola, chopped nuts, hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, coconut, cottage cheese, pureed pumpkin, etc.

To a small saucepan, add oats, almond milk, water, banana slices, chia seeds, and salt. Heat over medium heat until it starts to boil. Use a spoon to stir and whip up the oatmeal, really just make sure the banana gets broken up. Allow to cook a few minutes more until it reaches desired thickness. Pour into a serving bowl and stir in vanilla extract. Add desired toppings and enjoy.

May 9, 2013

Sauteed Asparagus

Here's another super simple preparation, but the kind that is fabulous, easy, and requires little time (meaning, oh yeah, I made the main dish, but forgot the other stuff). Spring is asparagus season. Store asparagus standing up, cut side down, in a cup of water. They stay perfectly fresh that way for a long time.

If you have a cast iron skillet, use it. It gives a hint of grilled flavor. I have made this without a cast iron skillet, and the asparagus still tasted great. Just have the pan hot enough (you might need medium high heat) so that the stems can brown a little.

Sauteed Asparagus

1 bunch asparagus, woody stems snapped off, cut into inch-long pieces (optional)
splash olive oil
coarse salt (kosher salt works well)

Heat a skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Add a splash of olive oil and the asparagus. Sprinkle with coarse salt. If using whole spears, allow to cook for a few minutes before turning. If using cut up spears, stir them more often - every minute or so. Asparagus are done when bright green, still retain some bite, but are starting to get tender.

May 7, 2013

Meyer Lemon Cardamom Crepes

Like the shortbread cookies in the last post, the flavor of these crepes is subtle but delightful. Meyer lemon could be substituted with regular lemon, but then the lemon flavor will be more prominent, which is not a bad thing. I thought the crepes were a little too sweet, so next year when I make these again, I'll probably try half the sugar.

Meyer Lemon Cardamom Crepes
adapted from Fahrenbite

4 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 c. wheat flour
4 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cardamom
2 c. almond milk
3 eggs
1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced (use only half the lemon for the juice)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a crepe pan or other non-stick pan, making sure not to let it burn. Let the pan cool.

Mix the flour, sugar, salt, and cardamom in a big bowl. Add the milk, little by little and stir vigorously to get rid of any lumps. Add the eggs and stir. Add the melted butter from the pan, lemon juice and zest, and vanilla extract and stir.

Reheat the greased pan at medium-high. When the butter is sizzling, hold the pan with one hand and pour the batter into the pan with the other. Hold the pan at an angle when you pour the batter and slowly move in a circle to make a very thin crepe. Add little drops of batter if there are any holes in the cooking crêpe where needed.

Flip over the crepe with a spatula when light brown edges are showing. Cook for approximately 10-15 seconds on the other side.

Place the cooked crepe on a plate, with foil to cover to keep warm until served. Enjoy with desired toppings (fruit or Meyer lemon curd tastes great!)

May 4, 2013

Lemon Lavender Shortbread

More Meyer lemon love - this recipe works with lemons or Meyer lemons. The lavender (use culinary grade) adds such a delicate, sophisticated flavor and aroma. Shortbread isn't the type of treat I gravitate towards, but I'm not sure why. These cookies are delightful and pretty.

Lemon Lavender Shortbread
from Pastry Affair

1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, room temperature
1/3 cup (45 grams) powdered sugar
Zest of 2 lemons, divided (or Meyer lemons)
1/2 teaspoon lavender buds, ground or chopped finely
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, powdered sugar, zest of 1 lemon, lavender, vanilla, and salt until the mixture looks like a coarse sand. Mix in the flour until the dough comes together.

In a small bowl, mix together the remaining lemon zest and granulated sugar with your fingers until fragrant. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out shortbread un 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle on the lemon scented sugar and lightly press it into the shortbread with the rolling pin. Cut out shapes and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

May 2, 2013

Vanilla Coconut Popcorn

When I was in high school, I used to say my favorite foods were onions (in stuff, not raw), black licorice, and popcorn. Still love all three, though I might have to add a few more items to the list. I'm so excited to have discovered a few new ways to prepare popcorn lately (maple-glazed). Scrumptious!

I was skeptical about coating the popcorn with coconut oil, but with the vanilla and honey, this all worked together beautifully. I haven't tried using butter to coat, but the original recipe says either one will work. I knew butter would be delicious, but I wanted to branch out. The added coconut flakes were good, but for some reason I couldn't taste them that much. Not sure if that was just me, but in the future I might leave out the flakes. Also fine flakes would probably mostly collect at the bottom of the bowl, as the large flakes tended to do that too.

Vanilla Coconut Popcorn
adapted from Greens and Seeds

1 T. coconut oil
1/2 c. popcorn kernels
1/4 c. large flake coconut (if using fine-flaked, use a little less)
2 T. butter or coconut oil
2 T. honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
salt to taste

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil and 2 or 3 of the corn kernels in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium or medium high heat. When the kernels pop, add the rest of them to the pot and cover. Shake the pot every 10 seconds or so until you don’t hear any popping for about 10 seconds. Remove from the heat and let sit until it finishes popping. Pour into a large bowl.

Place the coconut in a small skillet over medium low. Toast the flakes until they turn a bit brown and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Don’t let them burn. Toss into the bowl with the popped popcorn.

In the same skillet, heat the butter or 2 Tbsp. coconut oil until melted. Add the honey and vanilla and stir to combine. When it starts to bubble, turn off the heat. Pour over the popcorn and toss to coat.

May 1, 2013

Roasted Spring Panzanella

Panzanella (bread salad) is amazing. I've only had it a few times (see Summer Panzanella), but seriously gobble it up each time. This version uses roasted vegetables instead of raw and chickpeas for some protein. I used artisan whole wheat bread from this recipe.

Roasted Spring Panzanella
adapted from The First Mess

For the salad:
2-3 cups roughly cubed stale bread
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 cups cooked chickpeas
2-3 leeks, tough greens and roots trimmed away
1 small red onion, peeled and quartered
4-5 stalks kale (tuscan or curly)
2-3 radishes, thinly sliced
chopped chives for garnish
salt and pepper

For the dressing:
1/4 cup chopped chives or 2 Tbsp. chopped green onions
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
splash of water
2 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper
1 tbsp raw honey or maple syrup
1/3 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

On one sheet, toss the cubed bread with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season to your liking. Once all of the bread is coated, slide the sheet into the oven. Bake for about 13-15 minutes or until bread pieces are deep golden brown. Set aside.

Cut the trimmed leeks in half down the middle, lengthwise. Rinse them thoroughly to remove any grit between the layers. Place them on the other lined baking sheet. Place the quarters of red onion on the sheet as well. Toss the vegetables on the sheet with the remaining tablespoon of oil and some more salt and pepper. Slide the sheet into the oven and roast for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are browning and getting tender. Toss the kale leaves onto the sheet in the last 5 minutes if you like, or leave them raw. Allow vegetables to cool slightly.

While vegetables are roasting/cooling, make the dressing: Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor. Mix or pulse everything until a pale green and creamy mix is achieved. Taste it for seasoning, adjust if necessary and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas and toasted bread. Chop up the leeks, red onions and kale into bite size pieces and toss them into the bowl as well. Season the whole mix with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing on top (you might have a bit extra). Toss everything together to combine. garnish the salad with chopped chives and sliced radishes. Serve immediately.