Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lentil Soup, Plain and Simple

When I say this is plain and simple lentil soup, I mean that it's not flashy. However, that does not mean it isn't good.
Lentil soup may not be the most gorgeous potage of all time, but it can really be nice and comforting when it's cold outside.
This version of lentil soup is thick, not too brothy, as some lentil soups can be. I suppose in a way it's like split pea soup, but the lentils won't break down very much as those peas tend to do. 
And not being a puree, there's just a bit of tooth to it.

The other thing about this soup is that it contains what I consider staples. The carrots, onions, garlic, celery and olive oil, plus broths are things that should be present in a well-stocked kitchen. Maybe not everyone has lentils laying around, but they're not a bad thing to have in the pantry. Dried and easy to store, they're just waiting to be used.  If they're not already present in your cabinet, perhaps they should be considered as you can easily create a meal without having to run out to the store.

Besides being low in fat and high in fiber, a thick and hearty lentil soup is filling and fabulous in winter. It has a way of really hitting the spot on a frigid day.

Possible soup accompaniments:
olive oil
plain yogurt or sour cream
minced fresh parsley, cilantro, or sliced green onions

Lentil Soup 
serves 6-10

3 cups (620 g)  French lentils
3 T (75 ml) olive oil
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 T (40 g) tomato paste
6 large cloves garlic, minced
9 cups (2. 12 liters) vegetable broth
1 T (17 g) kosher salt
3/4 t (less than 1 g, so to taste) freshly ground black pepper
1 t (1 g) dried thyme
1 t (1 g) dried oregano

Rinse the lentils well and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, and onions and saute several minutes until the onion is translucent and just begins to color. Add the tomato paste and continue to stir about 2 more minutes. Add the garlic and saute about 30 seconds, until it warms through and begins to smell garlicky.

Pour in the vegetable broth as well as the rinsed lentils. Add salt, pepper, the thyme and oregano, and stir everything through the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Place a cocked lid on top of pot and simmer about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding extra broth or water if the soup becomes too thick.
Season to taste and serve as desired.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Yogurt-Covered Raisins... Or White Chocolate Yogurt Dip

So, I recently saw a little post on Food52's Instagram with yogurt-covered raisins. There it was, and it included ingredients by name, but there were no measurements or instructions, and no recipe on their website either. 

Now, I would never say yogurt-covered raisins are an all-time favorite, but sometimes they might be what you "need"... as you might tell yourself. 
Although, thinking about them right now, they're sort of a strange food.
At the time I thought they sounded really good- especially imagining them with salted peanuts or tossed in as part of a nutty dried fruit trail mix.

Seeing everything covered in winter white might have been an extra inspiration.  

I can't say I crave white chocolate- mostly because it's overly sweet. Although there are times when it's not such a bad thing. It pairs nicely with buttery macadamia nuts, for instance.  Most of the time, I think that if you have white chocolate in a cookie, also having some dark chocolate helps to balance things out.

That said, yes, I am aware that white chocolate isn't chocolate because it doesn't have the cocoa solids. It's a different animal, and used for different purposes than dark chocolate much of the time.

Well, by no means are yogurt-covered raisins a health food. No way.
If someone chooses them over the chocolate-covered variety thinking they have some sort of an advantage, it's far from the truth. 
It's not only yogurt that covers those raisins. There's quite a bit of sugar, too. And there could be plenty of other stuff. 
(For instance, other recipes that I found included gelatin- not something I'm overly interested in for this particular application.)
The reason one really goes for them is their taste: a bit of yogurt-y tang cutting through some of that over-the-top sweetness.

As with that initial inspirational photo, the ingredients here are white chocolate, yogurt, and a touch of cream. While we could say there's plenty of junk in white chocolate, I would recommend when dealing with any type of "chocolate" (white, milk, or dark), look for something with 5 ingredients or less. Sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, soy or sunflower lecithin (acting as an emulsifier) plus cocoa solids for the dark and milk for the white (well, milk chocolate has both, so in that case it's technically 6 ingredients). There are bean to bar makers that do not include the emulsifier- but I don't know that I would purchase something like that for cooking unless it was something very special, as the expense could potentially be a deterrent. 

White chocolate blended with yogurt helps to make the chocolate more "healthy" perhaps (while cutting some of the sweetness), and the yogurt more decadent.

Not a raisin fan at all?
Maybe dried cranberries could be dipped, or prunes could get half-coated.

If you're looking for something that would be more of an interactive dessert (a version of fondue?) pretzels or strawberries could possibly find their way into warm dip. 

Off camera, there were strawberries consumed with the white chocolate and yogurt.
And they were good. 
Though as a fresh fruit, I can say I would not recommend waiting for the dip to dry. Refrigeration however may be another story. Just make sure everything is dry before dripping. 
The same goes for pretzels: they'll likely become stale more quickly if you try to store them.

Perhaps add a little extra cream to facilitate pouring the dip as a sauce over a bowl of mixed berries? 

Yogurt-White Chocolate Dip
(covers about 2 cups of raisins)

1/3 c (70 g) Greek yogurt
4 oz (114 g) white chocolate
2 T (30 ml) heavy (whipping) cream
small pinch of salt

*Preliminary step
Place the yogurt in a fine mesh strainer or a piece of cheesecloth, suspended above a bowl in the refrigerator at least 2 hours to rid the yogurt of excess whey. The longer it drains, the shorter the time the raisins will require to dry. However, if you don't plan to use the dip as a dried coating, rather fresh and warm, you could probably skip this step completely.

Remove the yogurt from the refrigerator so it warms a bit before proceeding.
In a bowl over a small pan of gently simmering water (bain marie), place chopped pieces of white chocolate, the cream, and salt. Stir until just melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and let cool slightly, stirring a few times to help the heat dissipate. Add the yogurt and stir until completely incorporated.

If you plan to dip raisins, let the mixture cool a few minutes so that it thickens slightly. If you plan to use the dip with fresh fruit, you can do so at any time. 

To dip raisins:
Place several raisins at a time in the yogurt mixture. Using a fork, scoop the raisins out and remove excess dip by tapping the fork against the side of the bowl. A toothpick also comes in handy to scrape excess chocolate off the bottom of the fork. Place raisins on a parchment paper lined sheet pan, perhaps again using the toothpick to ease them off of the fork.
Let the raisins set and dry, undisturbed. When the tops are no longer tacky, ease the raisins off the paper so that the undersides can dry as well.

From start to finish, the drying time at room temperature took about 20-24 hours (that is, with the minimal 2 hour yogurt draining time). 

Store the dried raisins in an airtight container up to a week.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Snowy Day Sauerkraut

One of yesterday's projects...

Instructions here

Friday, January 23, 2015

Chocolate Hazelnut Madeleines

I decided to make this one a small(er) batch. While it can be a good thing to have something sweet around, it can also be a bad idea when they end up staring at you.
Better to have someone (or two) over to tea or coffee and share.
And besides, they're nicer within a day or two- another good reason not to make a huge batch.

When I first worked on this chocolate and hazelnut madeleine concept,  I only had one madeleine pan, which can be a bit of a nuisance when you have enough batter for 24 or more cakes. The pan is hot, you need to re-butter and dust the indentations...
They end up tasting great, sure, but the finish isn't quite as sharp on the lovely little shells.

I have since been (extremely) happily gifted a few madeleine pans from someone else who was going through their baking arsenal. She asked if I would like them, of course not knowing I was contemplating a purchase. The great thing about these is that they're used. They have a bit of character and a finish.

Well... I've made many variations of these over the past year or so.
Egg whites vs. whole eggs, with and without baking powder, increase some of this, decrease that, etc., etc.

Not to say that this will officially be 'IT'- I truly cannot promise that.
However, these aren't bad (and I don't think anyone would know they were gluten free, which certainly is a goal... and besides, it's kind of fun to experiment with different flours).

Chocolate Hazelnut Madeleines
Makes 12-18 (depending on the size of the moulds)

8 T (114 g) salted butter (or unsalted with a pinch of salt)
2 oz (57g) dark chocolate
1 T (15 ml) honey
1/4 c (20 g) hazelnut flour
2 T (18 g) tapioca flour
1 T (12 g) rice flour
1 T (8 g) corn starch
1 T (8 g) cocoa powder (plus extra for dusting the moulds)
1/4 t (2 g) baking powder
2/3 c (77 g) confectioner's sugar
2 large eggs 
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

Melt butter, chocolate, and honey together over low heat, or in a bain marie until just melted. Mix well to blend and set aside to cool until just warm.
In a bowl, blend together the hazelnut flour, tapioca flour, rice flour, corn starch, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Set aside. 
Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the vanilla seeds until frothy and slowly add the confectioner's sugar. Continue beating over medium-high speed several minutes until thick and pale. 
With the mixer running on low speed, steam in the warm chocolate mixture. Increase the speed and beat just until blended. 
Carefully fold in the flour mixture until the batter is uniform. 
Cover and refrigerate the batter 1 hour. 

Remove the batter from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C).
While the oven is heating, brush a madeleine mould with softened butter and dust with cocoa powder. Divide the batter among the prepared madeleine indentations. 
Bake the madeleines 10-15 minutes, or until the tops spring back when poked lightly.
Remove the pan from the oven and let cool about 5 minutes, then turn the madeleines out onto a rack to cool completely. 
Store any extras in an airtight container. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hot Toddies and Such

I wanted to go over a few more "fortified" cold-weather beverages here, beverages that can warm you from the inside in more ways than one (Irish Coffee has been covered).

A simple, Hot Toddy base has just a few ingredients, and you can dress it up from there to taste.

a shot of whiskey or bourbon= 1 oz = 2T = 30 ml
1T (15 ml) honey (or to taste)
boiling water

In a glass, mix the whiskey and honey, just to dissolve the honey a bit.
Top off with boiling water (6-8 oz or 177-236 ml) and stir to combine.

Add spices and citrus as desired:
Lemon slice
Orange slice
Cinnamon stick
A piece of fresh peeled ginger
A few whole cloves
A couple allspice berries

Let the mixture infuse with the spices a couple minutes prior to drinking. 

Hot toddies can be especially nice when you're feeling a bit under the weather.

Some other ideas:

Make it a Whiskey or Bourbon Cider- omit the honey and add hot cider to the bourbon along with spices as desired.

Hot Buttered Rum:
Now, I have no clue where the idea to add butter to a warm drink came from.
I'm hoping there was never anyone who said to themselves. "Gosh, a nice mug of warm butter sounds good right about now."
It has the potential to become a very slippery slope. One mug of butter leads to another, and then...?

Anyway, to make an individual hot buttered rum, blend 1 T (14 g) softened butter with 2 T (36 g) packed brown sugar along with a nice dash of cinnamon, a grating of nutmeg, and a touch of ground cloves if desired (plus a bit of salt if you're using unsalted butter here).
Place the compound butter in a mug, add about 4 T (60 ml) rum, and top off with boiling water. 
Stir and enjoy!

Granted, it's a little more decadent, more like dessert in a glass than a hot toddy, but sometimes that's what you need.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Prune-Cognac Chocolate Cake

Once upon a time I was thoughtfully gifted rolled chocolate truffles set in tiny prunes.

Prunes soaked in Armagnac are a classic, and nice either alone or served alongside chocolate cake.
I thought I'd go ahead and put them all together in some fudgy goodness.

Armagnac vs. Cognac vs. brandy.... well, it can be your preference here (or, of course, whatever you have available if you're going that route).
I will not attempt to pretend to be an expert on any of the above, though I can say that there's a difference in how Armagnac and Cognac are produced and distilled, as well as the regions of France where the two hail from.

The cake is dense, fudgy, somewhat boozy, deep and dark- a masculine chocolate cake if I may say so.
The booziness intensifies a bit as the cake sits, the flavors meld and the Cognac permeates the cake.

 If a piece is around to "test" the next day, you will likely be able to taste a difference.

And besides, who doesn't need a deep, dark, rich dessert as the weather gets colder?

Prune-Cognac Chocolate Cake
serves 12

1/3 c (80 ml) Cognac (or Armagnac or brandy)
2/3 c (100 g) prunes (dried plums), chopped
12 oz (340 g) dark chocolate (60-70%)
5 oz/10 T (142 g) unsalted butter
5 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 c (150 g) granulated sugar
1/2 t (2.5 ml) pure vanilla extract
1/4 t (2 g) salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 175 C. 
Prepare a 10 inch (26 cm) springform pan by buttering the bottom and sides of the pan and wrapping a piece of large aluminum foil around the bottom and up the sides of the pan. If you do not have a large enough roll of foil, pleat two pieces of foil together to create a wider piece. 

Put a kettle or a pot of water on to boil as preparation for later baking the cake.

Chop the prunes into 6 pieces or so (roughly raisin-sized pieces) and place them in a small bowl. 
Pour the Cognac over the prunes and let them sit at least 30 minutes, stirring every now and then. 

While the prunes infuse, place the butter and chopped chocolate in a large heatproof glass or stainless steel bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water, you only need an inch or two of water to melt everything. 

Once everything is melted, whisk the mixture together so that the butter and chocolate are emulsified. 
Remove the pan from over the top of the pan of water. 

In a separate, medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt to combine.
Whisk the egg mixture into the melted chocolate mixture until everything is well-combined.
Fold in the soaked prunes and any extra liquid using a rubber spatula so that everything is blended throughout the cake batter.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and place the pan inside a large roasting pan that will easily accommodate it.
Pour boiling water halfway up the side of the cake pan and cover the top of the cake pan with foil. 
Place the roasting pan in the preheated oven and bake about 50 minutes, until the cake is set. 

Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and remove the foiled cake pan from the roasting pan and onto a cooling rack. Remove the foil from the top of the pan as well as from around the bottom of the pan, being careful to remember that everything is still hot. 
Let the cake cool completely, remove the ring from the pan, and slice with a very sharp knife- making sure to rinse the knife in hot water between slices and wiping the knife dry before proceeding for clean cuts. 

Refrigerate any leftovers.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Everything Halva

If you've eaten more traditional halva, this version will likely be a bit different for you.
It's sort of like a power bar, chock full of nuts and protein. Compared to what it could be, this "everything" halva is not too sweet- the sugar comes from a small handful of dates and a bit of honey.

Though I do like picking up halva on occasion at the store, I find I'm usually somewhat disappointed at how overly sweet it is. I guess I'm always surprised and don't remember it being quite so tooth-achingly saccharine.

Nut-based halva is usually made of ground nuts and seeds mixed with lots of sugar syrup.

It's not the case with this version here.
And besides, with all that's in it, I think this halva tastes better and is much more interesting to eat than what I can buy at the store.
Plus, if using appropriate oats, it's free from gluten in addition to eggs and milk if those are allergens you watch for.
Though caution- there are nuts.

Though not completely necessary, goji berries add a nice pop of color, along with some different texture and flavor.
(I always think it's quite strange that as berries they taste like graham crackers- well, they do to me, anyway.)

Everything halva is a nice sit-down treat with black coffee or tea, or great as a pick-me-up on it's own when you need a little something for a snack.

I like to slice into little fingers, perhaps 36-42 per batch.

Everything Halva
Adapted from The Vibrant Table by Anya Kassoff

6 large medjool dates, pits removed and flesh soaked in water for 1 hour
1 c (150 g) raw hazelnuts
1 c (120 g) raw walnuts
1 c (130 g) raw cashews
1/2 c (56 g) raw pecans
3/4 c (75 g) rolled oats
1/2 c (75 g) roasted sunflower seeds
1 T (15 ml) coconut oil
1/4 c (60 ml) tahini
a pinch of salt
1/4 c plus 1 T (75 ml) honey
1/4 c (38 g) sesame seeds
1/4 c (44 g) chia seeds
1/4 c (38 g) hemp hearts
1/2 c (66 g) pumpkin seeds
1/2 c (70 g) roasted and salted pistachios
1/2 c (55 g) goji berries (optional)

Soak the dates in a bowl of water 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C.
Prepare a small pan with sides (8x8 inch, 9x9 inch... I like an 11x7) with a layer of parchment paper that extends up the sides of the pan. 

Place the hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, and pecans on a baking sheet, making sure that the hazelnuts take up a section by themselves to facilitate removal of the skin after toasting.
Toast the nuts about 10 minutes, then remove the sheet pan from the oven and allow the nuts to cool completely. Rub the hazelnuts between two layers of a towel to remove the skins, trying to keep those bits as separate as possible from the other nuts (though skin really won't hurt anything). 

Place the oats in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times so that they are mostly broken down. Remove the ground oats to a large bowl. 
Pour all the nuts into the food processor along with the sunflower seeds and process until they resemble chunky breadcrumbs. Drain the dates and add them to the nut mixture with the coconut oil, tahini, and salt. Process the mixture well, until it is combined and smooth as possible. 

Pour the contents of the food processor into the large bowl containing the ground oats. Add the honey, sesame seeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, and goji berries. 
Knead everything with your hands until everything is well-combined and the mixture is relatively homogenous. The mixture will be sticky and should hold together if your take a bit and compress it in your fist. 

Turn the mixture out into the parchment-lined pan and press it tightly into a single layer. 
Freeze the halva in the pan 1 hour. 
Remove the pan from the freezer and lift the parchment paper and halva from the pan. 
Slice the halva into serving-sized bars using a large sharp knife. 

Halva can be refrigerated 3 weeks stored in an airtight container.