Double Down Derby Day Guac

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Some days we have difficult choices. Saturday will be one such day. Do you wear a fine hat and celebrate the first Saturday in May according to Kentucky tradition, or do you scarf down some tacos and join the Cinco de Mayo party?

Or, do you do the sensible thing and celebrate both? Well duh! I do not normally do this, but I am posting two untried recipes. Whyyyyyy? Because it’s important! Because it’s Kentucky Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo AND its almost summer. That means it’s high time to get your guac on.

I am a wing it kind of guac maker. As a Californian that is my birthright. That said, you can always improve. These two new takes on guac are both from Mexican food jefe Roberto Santibañez by way of Food52.  The first is unique in approach but features totally classic ingredients. It hits all the must haves and nothing more: lime, cilantro, jalapeño, onion are all pulverized FIRST then added to avocados. As Santibañez says, “There is a very important textural thing to guacamole — we never really mush up the avocado.” I knew I liked this guy. I really felt the love though when I read about his second creation, which is totally wacky. It involves a splash of tequila (he had me there), apples (hello New England) and pecans (a nod to the America south and more weirdness). My awesome neighbor just came back from Georgia bearing two bags of pecans that she harvested and shelled herself. Fate. Kismet. Weird guacamole.

Anyway, here are the recipes. I will be making and testing them both on Saturday, celebrating both occasions of course.  If you do the same please tell me what you think and we can discuss. Whatever you choose to celebrate, have a fantabulous weekend!

P.S. Post time is 6:12. For the worst odds and the best name I’m taking Patrona Margarita, with 50-1.

Numero Uno:

Roberto Santibañez Classic Guacamole

Adapted slightly from Truly Mexican (Wiley, 2011)

Makes: about 1 3/4 cups

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh serrano or jalapeno chile, including seeds, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, divided
  • 1 large or 2 small ripe Mexican Hass avocados, halved and pitted
  • A squeeze of lime, if desired
  1. Mash the onion, chile, salt (the coarseness of kosher salt helps you make the paste), and half of the cilantro to a paste in a molcajete or other mortar. You can also mince and mash the ingredients together on a cutting board with a large knife or a fork, and then transfer the paste to a bowl.
  2. Score the flesh in the avocado halves in a crosshatch pattern (not through the skin) with a knife and then scoop it with a spoon into the mortar or bowl. Toss well (it should be like salad properly dressed in vinaigrette), then add the rest of the cilantro and mash very coarsely with a pestle or a fork. Season to taste with lime juice (if you’d like) and additional chile and salt.
  3. Guac Uno, as made beautiful on Food52

Numero Dos:

Roberto Santibañez’ Guacamole with Tequila & Apples

Author Notes: Roberto says:” The apple needs to be sweet and crunchy (not Granny Smith-tart) and diced not too fine, to contrast just vocally enough with the guac’s salty heat and richness. The pecans should be tossed in butter after toasting, not before, so you get fresh, unbrowned butter flavor, too. Adapted slightly from Truly Mexican (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).

Makes: 2 cups
For the apples & pecans

  • 1 large crisp, sweet apple, such as Gala or Macintosh, peeled, cored, and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon silver (blanco) tequila
  • 1 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 cup pecan halves, sliced crosswise or coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt, or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

For the guacamole

  • 1 fresh serrano or jalapeño chile, stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, or 1/2 teaspoon fine salt (or to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided
  • 1 large or 2 small ripe Mexican Hass avocados, halved and pitted
  1. Toss the apple with the tequila and lime juice in a bowl and let the mixture stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Heat the oven or toaster oven to 350° F. Spread the pecans on a small baking pan and bake until golden and fragrant, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the butter to the pan and toss to melt the butter and coat the pecans. Sprinkle with salt, tossing to coat.
  3. Heat a comal, griddle, or heavy skillet over medium-low heat and roast the chile, turning it over with tongs once or twice, until tender, blistered all over, and blackened in spots, 10 to 15 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the chile (you might have to use a paring knife).
  4. Mash the chile, onion, salt (the coarseness of the kosher salt will help you make the paste), and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro to a paste in a molcajete or other mortar. You can also mince and mash the ingredients together on a cutting board with a large knife, and then transfer the paste to a bowl.
  5. Score the flesh in the avocado halves in a crosshatch pattern (not through the skin) with a knife and then scoop it with the spoon into the mortar or bowl. Toss well, mashing the avocado coarsely with a pestle or fork, taking care to keep the avocado chunky.
  6. Gently stir in the apple mixture and most of the pecans just until it holds together. Garnish with the remaining pecans and cilantro. Serve right away with tortilla chips.

 

 

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Lamb Meatballs: a twist on the Easter feast

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Yes, the day before Easter is a little late to be making menu decisions, not to mention those that definitely require a trip to the grocery store. That said, you might want to live on the edge and make that store run because these are just plain tremendous.
 
Lamb and mint are familiar players at the Easter table, but not in meatball form. When you
taste these, however, you’ll wonder, “Why the hell not?” Even better than being delicious, these are beyond easy, requiring only one semi weird ingredient. I’m talking about you, harissa. Much as I love you, however, you can be replaced. The only change I made to the original recipe was to scale it up slightly. I also made them easier and healthier (you’re welcome) by baking them instead of frying them. This technique comes straight from our favorite buffalo chicken meatball recipe. 
 
There’s not much else to say about these. If you can’t make them for Easter I strongly suggest making them for some other occasion. I suspect they will go very well with leftover Easter candy.

Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt Sauce

Adapted from Matt Jennings Homegrown
 

Ingredients:

For the yogurt sauce:
  • 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt 
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced 
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill 
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint 
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
For the meatballs:
  • 2 pounds ground lamb 
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 3/4 cup fine fresh bread crumbs 
  • 1 large shallot, minced 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon harissa (or sambal oelek, siracha or another red chile paste) 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
 For garnish (totally extra credit but totally worth it):
  • Toasted sunflower seeds
  • Pickled chiles, homemade or store-bought

Method:

Preheat oven to 400.

Make the yogurt sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, garlic, 2 tablespoons of the dill, and 1 tablespoon of the mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, combine the lamb, egg, bread crumbs, shallot, harissa, salt, cumin, and pepper and mix well with your hands. Shape into golf ball sized meatballs, dipping your hands in cold water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking.

Assemble meatballs snugly in a lightly-oiled  13″ x 9″ baking dish (or any other combo of baking  dishes that work) so they touch each other. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes until they look yummy and done.

Spoon some yogurt sauce into the bottom of four bowls. Top with a few meatballs, and garnish with the remaining dill and mint, the sunflower seeds, and a few pickled chiles.

Serves 6 as a main course, our 4 with lotsa leftovers.

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Spring Chicken Soup

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This recipe is straight outta Steamboat from Tania, Bring It’s Rocky Mountain correspondent. Along with her husband, she invented this by merging three Thai recipes. As Tania  says,  “It can be tweaked anyway you want, but it is pretty amazing as written.” She also admits it’s a pain in the butt to make, but it’s really nothing more than a a few rounds of chopping sautéing and stirring. 

What I love about this soup, beyond it’s sheer freshness, is the way it builds in the pot, kind of like stone soup. I guess this is how Stone Soup would evolve in a community with really well stocked veggie drawers. It features a lot of greens, and can handle a lot of flexibility. That said, the first time I made it I was missing key ingredients—fish sauce, mint, red peppers—and used the wrong mushrooms and imposter jalapeños. (It’s New Hampshire. It happens).The result was ok but underwhelming. The next time I made it, with the right stuff, it got the kind of unsolicited rave reviews I NEVER get from soup.

There are no amounts listed for the fresh herbs, but be generous with them, according to your taste. If you want to freelance, I suggest doing it on the amount of oil and butter used at each phase, using whatever amount looks and feels right to you. It makes a lot, so as you reheat it during the week, give it fresh cha-cha  by adding more ginger, garlic and lime. 

Spring Chicken Soup

Courtesy of Chuck and Tania Coffey

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups of chicken stock
  • *olive oil
  • *butter
  • 1 ½ lb boneless/skinless chicken breasts
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 3” ginger root peeled and minced
  • 2 red peppers sliced thinly
  • ¾ lb shitake mushrooms sliced
  • 3 limes (skin from one lime)
  • ¼ c fish sauce
  • fresh basil
  • fresh mint
  • fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
  • 3 jalapenos diced
  • 2 fresnos cut in rings (easterners, you are forgiven if you can’t track these downw)
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 T brown sugar
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 11 oz  baby spinach (1 entire plastic coffin)
  • i package straight cut rice noodles

Method:

Pour all the stock into a big pot and heat on medium high.

Grill chicken (or cook up however works for you) 8-10 minutes per side. The breasts are undercooked because they are going in the soup.  When cool enough to cut, cube into 1” pieces and add to soup.

In a nonstick pan heat 1 T butter and 1T olive oil and cook garlic and ginger until fragrant.  Pour into pot.

In a large nonstick pan heat 2 T butter and 1T olive oil (I used less here) and cook mushrooms until fragrant and starting to brown. Add a half cup or so water to the cooking mushrooms if they seem dry.  Add to soup.

Add 1-2 T butter to pan and cook red peppers until slightly soft. Add to soup. You’re done with that pan now.

Grate the skin of a lime into soup. Add juice of 3 limes and the fish sauce to soup.Cut stems of cilantro into ½” pieces and add to soup.
Slice fresnos and mince jalapenos and add to soup.
Add coconut milk, red pepper flakes to taste and  brown sugar.
Chop basil, cilantro and mint leaves and add to soup with all of the spinach (you really have to use a big spoon to get it all in there).
Cover soup partially and cook until the spinach wilts (this happens fast).
In another pot bring water to boil and cook rice noodles according to directions. (alternatively serve this over jasmine rice)
To serve put noodles in a bowl and cover with soup.  Add red pepper flakes to taste.
The soup gets better the next day especially if you add a bit more garlic, ginger and jalapeno.

Looking for other fresh spring recipes? How about minty snap pea salad, or of course Marcharitas. And because it’s the confluence of soup season and sugaring season—what we lack in peppers around here, we make up for in maple—don’t forget maple oat breakfast bread.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Splash of Sunshine: Citrus Roasted Fennel and Red Onion

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Roasted winter vegetables cheer right up with citrus cha cha.

This recipe is a shout-out to my Auntie Tina, who lives high on a hill in Marin County, surrounded by her beautiful garden. When I think of her, I think of sunshine and a warm smile. That’s what this dish does for me on a gray winter day, or, as is now the case, a gray spring day. The fact that I used clementines for this (her full name is Clementina) makes the dedication feel all the more appropriate.

Citrus is a sign of hope and cheer. Roasted citrus is not for everyone. You love it or you don’t, and you know who you are. I love it (chicken or broccoli roasted with Meyer lemons? Yeah baby!) After being served  this amazing roasted chicken with clementines, originally from the Jerusalem cookbook,  I took a brief tour of the interwebs and found a salad featuring a similar combo.

Molly Stevens’ creation has inspired many subtle riffs and tweaks. My favorites include: adding pomegranate arils before serving; swapping navel oranges for Satsuma or blood oranges; adding fresh, peeled rounds of said oranges after roasting; and adding some zap with a splash of a sherry vinegar before serving. Do what you like, and enjoy this bit of roasted sunshine. Serve it with love and a smile, just like Auntie Tina would.

 

The pre-roasted look

Citrus Roasted Fennel and Red Onion

Serves 4

  • 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs (about 1 pound untrimmed)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 3 clementines (or 1 large navel orange), scrubbed.
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400 degrees F (375 degrees convection). Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (this prevents the oranges from sticking to the pan).
  2. Trim the fronds from the fennel. Stand a bulb on its base on the cutting board and cut it in half lengthwise, cutting from the core end to the stem end. (If the bulb is more oblong than round, as some are, you will create two halves that are thinner and flatter rather than thicker and bulbous.) Use a paring knife to remove most of the core from each half (no need to get it all out). Lay each half flat on the cutting surface and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick crescent-shaped slices. Toss onto the baking sheet and repeat with the second fennel bulb if you have two.
  3. Cut the onion in half, cutting from root to stem end. Peel and remove the root end from both halves. Slice the onion halves crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons and add to the fennel.
  4. Next, slice 2 clementines into ¼ inch rounds. (If using large orange, first cut off the ends and use them for juicing at the end of the recipe.)
  5. Add sliced clementines to the fennel and onion. Drizzle the olive oil on top and season well with salt and plenty of pepper. Toss to coat and arrange in an even(ish) layer on the baking sheet.
  6. Roast, stirring with a spatula after 15 minutes to ensure even cooking and again every 10 minutes or so. The vegetables close to the edge of the pan will brown more quickly than those in the center, so stirring and then shaking the pan to restore an even layer helps everything cook at the same rate. Continue roasting until the vegetables and orange are tender and the outer edges are beginning to caramelize, 25 to 45 minutes.
  7. Transfer to a serving dish, ideally a wide, shallow bowl. Let cool for at least 15 minutes or to room temperature. Cut remaining clementine in half. Squeeze the juice of one half over the salad and taste. If it tastes a little flat, add a pinch of salt and squeeze the other half clementine over it. *Drizzle with a little of your best olive oil and serve warm or at room temperature.

* if you want to fancy it up with a vinaigrette, squeeze the orange ends or halved clementine for 1 Tbsp juice. Whisk with 1 tsp sherry vinegar and a pinch of sea salt. Slowly whisk in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Drizzle away!

 

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Seed Bark Granola

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Nutty, grainy, and way better tasting than bark. I promise!

January is not for sissies. In looking back on January posts just for this blog, there are some common themes: soups, breads…and a lot of complaining about the general bleakness all around. I’m not going to entirely break with tradition—I’ve had a perpetual pot of soup (any variation of Sugar and Spice Squash Soup is my fave) and have ditched all pretense of gluten-free living because, a girl’s gottta dunk something! But, I’ll skip the bellyaching this time.

This year’s January challenges come with an ongoing healthy eating quest, fueled by eating advice that ranges from confusing to Draconian. As discussed in November, when trying to eat for maximum brain and heart health there is a lot of conflicting info to navigate. As part of this mission, I’ve made things that look like dirt and some that taste like dirt. I’ve crammed way more vegetables into every meal but also “jumped the shark,” by putting kale in dishes where it has no business, thereby ruining my kale cred. I brought a peanut dip to a party that was pretty delicious but looked like baby poop, which turns out to be a significant enough deterrent.

At a certain point, you have to do the best you can, in a way that will be sustainable. As I forge though January I’ll post the best of what I find. Every recipe won’t meet everyone’s standards of “healthy” or “clean” eating. But my promise to you is that they will all be good enough to bring outside your home, and give with pride.

This granola/topping/snack comes straight from Engine 2 cookbook, which is a fantastic resource to have around. The Esselstyn tribe are Vegan, oil-free wizards. This granola reminds me of my beloved Bread of Life “Dirt” Bread, as well as the PITA lifechanging crackers. The good news here is that it’s a whole lot easier to make than either of them, and with no grains whatsoever it comes close to satisfying all versions of clean eating. The only debatable ingredient is maple syrup, but it doesn’t call for much and c’mon people—live a little!

Seed Bark Granola

From The Engine 2 Cookbook, with some pro tips

Ingredients

1 ½ c raw pumpkin seeds
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup raw sesame seeds
¼ cup flaxseed meal
2 Tbsp chia seeds
2-3 Tbsp maple syrup (2 Tbsp was perfect for me)

Method:

Preheat 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, ending with the syrup. Mix it up well. Pour it all on the baking sheet and press it out to 1/4 -1/3 inch thick (no thicker than an almond). Pro tip: To make this easier and more uniform lay another sheet of parchment paper on top of the mixture and press down hard on it with another baking sheet.

Bake 18 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned on top. Rotate the pan halfway through if you are inspired and watch to be sure it does not burn.

Remove from oven and leave it to cool. As it cools, it will speak to you by crackling. It’s saying, “Leave me alone–I’m getting crispy, baby!” After at least 20 minutes, you can be dramatic and lift the cookie sheet a few inches then drop it. Or, break it up it yourself into whatever sized bits you want.

When completely cool, store it in an airtight container. It lasts 10 days or so they say. I would not know. I do know it is delicious, and is a healthy gift to anyone you love.

Bark, ready to bite

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Holiday Favorites: Stay Sane, Go Nuts, Be Happy!

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Fluff up your marmots and break out all things sparkly, the holidays are here. This is the season for many things: fake fur, sequins, fizzy drinks, warm everything. This is not the season for experimentation. We’re keeping our heads above water here, which means sticking with what we know. tried and true meals that make us happy, and treats to give that make others happy.

Maple oat breakfast bread

With that in mind, in my own kitchen I’m revisiting whole lot of Bring It tried and trues. That means soups like Thai Coconut Corn Soup, or Sugar and Spice Squash Soup. And yep, that means a crock pot full of Chicken Taco Chili that feeds a crowd with about 6 minutes of prep. All of the above, of course, beg for People’s Choice Cornbread or No Knead Challah or a honkin’ slice of Maple Oat Breakfast Bread to dunk in there. That is, UNLESS dirt bread is your thing…you know who you are, you little hemp seed eating chia pets. I’m with you there.

You might be needing some holiday entertaining staples like pomegranate everything (along with a genius pomegranate wrangling technique). What’s winter without fondue, and the easiest in the world Guinness Fondue at that? And what’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” without snacks? I highly recommend a batch of Nootch Popcorn or a bowl of Hail Mary Coconut.

As far as gifting and hostess offerings, you will never go wrong with crackle and its intriguing, slightly sophisticated dark cousin, pretzel and beer Crackle 2.0. And cookies? Yeah we’ve got those, basics like my faves—champion chip cookies—as well as totally slacker kiss my crust cookies, made from refrigerated pie crust and whatever chocolates you have around. If you need to scare up a snowstorm, or a reason to start a sweet family tradition make up a snow ghost pie.

Snow Ghost pie ad

And lest this be a pure re-hash of deliciousness we have an actual new recipe. I realize this blog has a somewhat extensive nut treatment, including honey thyme walnuts, spicy rosemary maple walnuts and an entire holiday nut anthology. But it turns out you really do need one more way to make roasted almonds. These are very similar to ginger glazed almonds (see anthology above), but without the ginger and with a coating of sesame seeds. You can choose a mix of sweeteners for your preferred flavor dimension (honey and sesame were pretty much born for each other), but for the best texture and glaze use at least some brown sugar.  

We’re talking nuts here, not rocket science, so be bold and mess around with flavorings, spices, herbs, types of nuts etc. Above all, enjoy the madness of the season and, like James says, remember “Shower the people you love with love.”

Sesame Almonds

Makes 3 1/2 cups almonds

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (or sub out up to 2 tablespoons with honey or maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (or your healthy oil of choice)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 pound raw almonds (a scant 3 ½ cups)
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) white sesame seeds

Method:

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet and 2 wire cooling racks with parchment paper and set aside.

Pour the almonds into a mixing bowl. (If you keep your nuts in the freezer, warm them up in the oven for a few minutes first). In the microwave or on the stovetop stir together the brown sugar/honey/syrup, oil, salt, paprika, and vinegar over low heat. Pour mixture over the almonds and toss until the almonds are thoroughly coated. Transfer the almonds to the prepared baking sheet and spread into an even layer.

Bake, stirring every 5 minutes, until the almonds are brown and fragrant, 12 to 15 minutes total. They should be a rich brown color and just start to smell toasted as you open the oven door.

Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the hot almonds and stir to evenly distribute the seeds. This is where I go a little overboard, and try to get as many sesame seeds as possible to coat the almonds. Divide the nuts between the 2 prepared cooling racks and use a spatula to spread the nuts out so they do not touch. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Break apart any nut clusters that are stuck together if needed.

Bringing It:

Pour these babies into a treat bag, jar, tin or a cardboard takeout container lined with festive tissue paper, and store them in the fridge until you are ready to give them or devour them.

 

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Aquafaba Mayo: Magic for the Leftover Feast

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Let the sandwich building begin!

Yum. The work and the stress are over. All that remains are the leftovers. Well Hallelujah to that! The Holy Grail of the Leftover Kingdom is the turkey sandwich. It can be a straight up turkey affair, a turkey salad mixture or an elaborate layering of turkey, stuffing and cranberry. Any way you slice it, however, an essential element for many of us is the dollop of mayo.

Alas, mayo can turn an otherwise healthy meal into an irresponsible feeling indulgence. That is, until you discover aquafaba mayo. We’ve dabbled in aquafaba here before, and in the sheer wackiness of using the liquid from a can of chickpeas as an egg substitute. I mean, who knew?  This iteration tastes great, and can be made even more delicious by blending in fresh herbs or by cutting it with ABC Summer Sauce

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Baby steps…first, make this heart-healthy mayo if you’re feeling experimental or impressing the Vegans in your midst. You can roast the chickpeas or use them in party time hummus for your weekend festivities. Then, start enjoying those leftovers—even this Vegan pumpkin pie— with a little extra glow in your halo. Happy Black Friday all. I hope you’re enjoying it in whatever way makes you smile!

Aquafaba Mayonnaise

Ingredients

  • 115-ounce can of chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • ¾ cup sunflower oil *

*Safflower and other neutral oils work also, but avoid using olive oil. It gives it a weird taste.

Method

  1. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the bean liquid. Save chickpeas for another use. Measure out 1/4 cup of the bean liquid (aquafaba) in a large glass measuring cup. Add vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice and dry mustard.
  2. Using an immersion blender (or a really good regular blender), mix until combined. With the blender running, very slowly drizzle in the oil in a thin stream. It should take 4 to 5 minutes to add all of the oil. The mixture will emulsify and thicken.

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Heart of Darkness Chocolate Cups

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Come to the dark side, for the good of your heart and soul.

I hit the food stash jackpot, when Sister A rolled into town with a carry-on full of Trader Joes nuts. I already had a decent stash of raw walnuts and almonds, but she brought in the exotics: pecans, pistachios, pepitas, cashews, macadamias. My pre-holiday ship had come in!

This happy event coincided with the other fortunate circumstance of having a lot of really good dark chocolate on hand. It’s not a huge leap to imagine what happened next. Yes my friends, I had a Reese’s ah-ha moment. Maybe I could make a slightly more mainstream yet totally healthy version of Reese’s Redemption Cups.

The revelation here is homemade nut butter, ever-so-gently spiced up, but not sweetened…and dark chocolate…and a pixie dust sprinkling of flaky salt, but only if you dare. Dark chocolate is just plain better for you than a whole lot of un-fun things, and when the health police serve up an opening like this you run through it!

The below list of directions is daunting, but basically you are doing this: Making nut butter by roasting raw nuts and whirring them in a food processor with cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Then you are melting chocolate, pouring a bit in the bottom of lined mini muffin cups, adding a blob of nut butter then spooning more chocolate on top of the whole shebang. With that vision, read on bravely, and know that you will end up with something delicious no matter what it looks like.

Don’t over think this one. Just make up a bunch when you’re feeling it, and enjoy them as needed. You will not regret having this stash on hand.

Heart of Darkness Chocolate Cups

Adapted from betterwithcake

Makes 14-16 mini cups of joy

First, you’ve got to make your nut butter. See below. From there it’s just a matter of melting chocolate. Again, whatever darned chocolate you feel like. The darker the chocolate, the higher percentage the cocoa, so the slower it will melt and the more temperamental it will be to work with. If you’re going way dark, add some coconut oil. You can also use vegetable oil, but it will thin the chocolate more and you will have fallen off the superfood wagon. Don’t worry. You won’t be lonely there.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup or so of homemade, chocolate hazelnut almond butter (or store bought chocolate hazelnut butter if you must. The texture will be gooier)
  • 1 bag (10-12 oz) good quality dark-as-you-dare chocolate chips, Vegan if needed.
  • 2-3 tsp coconut oil (optional, but it makes your life easier)
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Optional toppings of choice: toasted shredded coconut, finely chopped toasted nuts, dried fruit, crushed peppermints, leftover candy corn, etc, etc, etc. 

Method:

Line a mini muffin tin with 16 paper or silicone liners.

Melt chocolate, with coconut if you are using, by your preferred method. I do mine in a small, retro double boiler over simmering water. If you are among the tens of millions of people with a working microwave, you can try that method.

Use a teaspoon to drizzle some melted chocolate into each the muffin liner. Don’t use all your chocolate; save at least 1/3 of it to spread on top once your chocolate cups are filled. Adjust the number of cups you make accordingly.

(At this point, if you are making big cups (not mini), or if you going for perfection, put them into the freezer for a few minutes to set up. If using mini ones, you’re good to keep going.)

Drop a very scant (ideally a slightly flattened oval) teaspoonful of your nut butter into each cup (if you went pro and froze the first layer then go ahead and press down on the nut butter to level it).

Once all your cups are filled with the nut butter, use your designated chocolate spoon to cover the filling with the rest of the melted chocolate. Give the cups a sprinkle of salt and/or your garnish of choice and place them into the fridge to set, or the freezer to store longer term. They will keep in the fridge for several weeks and in the freezer for 3-6 months. Riiiiiiight.

Chocolate Hazelnut Almond Butter

The not very perfect but oh so delicious cross-section

~Vegan, Dairy Free, Paleo Friendly, Shazaam!

The beauty of this nut butter is that it’s easy, and the spices add cha-cha without any sweeteners. I go with cocoa and cinnamon but you can do a chai spiced one with cardamom, or a chile spiced one. Get creative and dream big here people. Once you’ve got the nut butter made you are totally set up for success.
Makes approx 2 cups of pretty darned healthy chocolate-hazelnut almond butter. This is way more than you need for a bag of melted chocolate chips, so you’ll be enjoying this on apples and toast, in smoothies and sandwiches, etc.

Ingredients –

  • 1 cup of raw almonds
  • 1 cup of raw skinless hazelnuts* (or use all almonds or sub hazelnuts with raw cashews or macadamias)
  • 1 Tablespoon of vanilla bean extract
  • 1 Tablespoon of cocoa (or cacao if you’re fancy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt flakes

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350

Line a large baking sheet with baking/parchment paper (or a non stick silpat mat) and pour your raw nuts on, making sure they are spread evenly and not crowded.

Roast your nuts for 10 mins, until lightly roasted and slightly golden.

If you are unable to get skinless hazelnuts you’ve got an extra step here. roast them on a separate tray and once they are roasted, place on a clean dry hand towel and fold it in half. Rub it gently between your hands and the skins should come loose. Once the hazelnuts have shed their skins, discard the skins and proceed with the recipe as normal.

Pour your roasted almonds and hazelnuts into the bowl of your food processor or blender and process until smooth and creamy (or your desired consistency). It takes a minute or two to transform from ground nuts to creamy butter. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally as you go.

Once you’ve gotten the desired consistency, add the salt, cocoa (or cacao, whatev) and vanilla then process until combined.

Taste and adjust flavors accordingly – this is where you make you’re personal statement, adding extra salt or vanilla or maple syrup or whatever floats your boat. You can also lube it with a bit of coconut oil if you like.

Scrape that deliciousness into an air-tight jar and keep it in the
fridge for several weeks.

Bringing it:

My suggestion here is to keep a stash of this nut butter at the ready, and then, whenever you have a window of time and some extra chocolate lying around, make up some of these. With a stash of them in the freezer you are never without a healthy dessert, a peace offering, a hostess gift or just a little love bomb of chocolate.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bringing It With Heart: Peacemaking Pepitas

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Bringing on the love, and healthy debate.

You can’t please all the people all the time. This is true when it comes to food, and especially when it comes to what people consider “healthy” food. For various reasons, I’ve been flirting lately with both Vegan and Whole 30 ways of eating.

For those of you oblivious to food trends, Vegans avoid all food that comes from something with a face—meat, fish and all dairy, including eggs. The most vigilant Vegans also avoid honey, to protest the enslavement of bees. Whole 30 basically lines up with the Paleos, who embrace “high quality” protein, and especially animal protein. They make the sign of the cross to all grains, beans, processed foods and soy, which means tofu, tempeh, seitan and the like. Paleos blame life’s ills on inflammation, which come from the body trying to deal with sugar, a whole lot of which comes from grains. Vegans embrace grains and beans because without all that Verboten animal protein they get darned hungry.

Vegans are among the most creative eaters, making cheese from nuts, milk from hemp and mayo from chickpeas. The paleos get crafty points too, making pancakes without flour, oatmeal without oats and pizza crust from cauliflower. Martha points for all! Vegans get smug when the topics of obesity and high cholesterol come up; Paleos get smug when the Vegans look wan and tired; and the topic of bacon will polarize a mixed crowd faster than you can say Trump. All of this explains the popularity of the Mediterranean diet, which cuts right down the middle. Mediterranean eaters sit back and watch the show, enjoying a little bit of everything. They snack on olives, guiltlessly savor their dark chocolate and red wine and think, “Ah, yes. Life is moderately good!”

We had a recent health scare in our house, which prompted a close look at nutrition. People showed up bearing delicious, heart-healthy meals, as well as plenty of dark chocolate. It reminded me of how much I love our community and inspired me to tweak Bring It towards the healthier end of the spectrum. Like many of our friends, we lead pretty healthy lives, but there’s always room for improvement.

As discussed above, “healthy” means different things to different people; but, we’ve all got to try to get along in this world, especially at the table, and especially while we striving towards our own healthy, realistic, sustainable way of eating. Most of us just want good, healthy food that won’t break the bank, or take all day and an advance culinary degree to prepare. Fortunately, there are a few things on which all zealots agree, and I like to picture them as overlapping areas of a Venn diagram. The overlapping area of foods to avoid or seriously limit includes sugar, processed foods and, sadly, cheese. The overlapping area of acceptable foods includes greens, colorful veggies and roots, nuts, avocados, fruit (more or less) and coconut in its many forms. So we’ve got a starting point for common ground.

Of course, there will be many things that are beyond the universal overlap of all “healthy” diets. There are also times when you just have to go off the reservation. I’ll point you to those recipes with gusto, even if I’m not making them myself for a while. Case in point are these bronzies that a friend brought over recently. They totally raise the dessert bar, and WILL make you MVG (Most Valuable Guest).

For today, we’re keeping it simple and healthy: Pepitas roasted with sweet/salty coconut aminos. Coconut aminos are soy- and wheat-free, and while they are still a form of sodium, it’s less than straight up salt (a Tablespoon of coconut aminos has 300 mg sodium, the same as in 1/8 tsp salt). Even better, the Paleos turn a blind eye to the main ingredient, coconut sap, which sure sounds like a form of sugar to me. Shhhh! Let’s just enjoy this.

These pepitas are great sprinkled on salad, soup (like this one!) or roasted vegetables or as a snack any time of day.

Peacemaking Pepitas

Tweak the amounts up and down, but for best results don’t crowd your baking sheet. 1½ cups of nuts at a time per sheet is about the max.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw pepitas
  • 1 Tbsp coconut aminos (or more if you’re feeling it)
  • ½ -1 tsp chili powder (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pour pepitas on the parchment lined sheet, drizzle with aminos and stir them around to coat. Sprinkle with chili powder if using.

Bake for 10 minutes. Stir and check them for doneness. Return to over for 5 more minutes.

Let cool on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container (they get soggy otherwise).

Bringing it:

Warp ’em up! These make an excellent hostess gift or contribution to any feast.

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Drunken Fig Jam: Where fresh figs go to party

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Fig Jamming New England style, with cheddar of course

How did I make it through life this far without ever canning? Why did I start now? Two fine questions. My two fine answers are fresh figs and fresh corn. They’re only around for a bit and they are so darned good.

Let’s start with figs. This recipe come from Treas, out in Cali, head chef at Granite Chief Command Central. Her recipe, which she shared with me after two years of my passive yet unremitting coersion, says that fig season is only in August. This handy guide to all things fig, gives us a larger window. According to google, there is a short season in early summer and then a longer season in late summer/fall. Either way, fresh figs are not around forever, and once you buy them you’ve got to use them fast. We should have a few more weeks at least, and cognac is always in season, so we’re good there. 

A little heads up to you non-canners out there. You need a big pot, you need to know that when you fill it too full with water and then put your jars in, your stove may have a hazardous overflow situation. You can only use canning lids once, which is why that whole mysterious section of parts in the grocery store exists. I guess that’s about it. I was going to get into racks for the bottom of your pot, but this recipe doesn’t call for one, so let’s run with the “ignorance is bliss” theory.

Another small cautionary note: When you are heading out to book group for three hours it’s best to turn the burner under your boiling fig jam OFF.  Next up? Corn relish to give Stonewall Kitchen a run for their money…and a new stockpot.

Fancying up a fall salad

Drunken Fig Jam

Recipe and action shots from Treas Manning
Makes 6 1/2 pint jars

Ingredients

• 2 lemons
• 4 pounds ripe fresh figs (preferably black), stemmed,
cut into 1/2-inch pieces (use food scale for accuracy)
• 4 cups sugar
• 3/4 cup brandy or Cognac
• 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Method:

Using a vegetable peeler, slice peel from lemons (try to avoid as much as the white part as possible) in long strips. Cut peel into matchstick-size strips. Combine lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in heavy large deep saucepan; let stand at room temperature 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens (30 to 35 minutes), and is reduced to 6 cups, stirring frequently and occasionally use a hand blender to puree the mixture. It’s fine if there are small bits of lemon peel and fig, but I do like the bits to be minimal. Remove from heat.

Ladle mixture into 6 hot clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water 10 minutes. Cool jars completely. Store in cool dark place up to 1 year.

Notes: At high altitude over 5500 feet, process the jars for 15 minutes.

Drunken Fig Jam is yummy:

  • on a toasted baguette with a slice of melted Irish Cheddar, and a walnut on top.
  • on crusty bread with fresh burratta or mozzarella
  • on a grilled bone in pork chop, or on slices of pork tenderloin
  • on whole wheat toast topped with a strip of bacon for breakfast.
  • with cheese, sliced pears and walnuts on a groovy pizza

Bringing It and Giving It:

Makes a darned nice Christmas gift, especially canned in a Ball and Mason squatty wide mouth jar

 

 

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