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. 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

A One-Dish Meal for Fall


This is on of those fairly easy throw-together meals, potentially put together ahead of time and layered in a single dish.
Just toss together a salad, perhaps offer fresh cranberry sauce, and open up some cider for a warm and homey fall dinner.
Maybe pull out some grainy mustard, too...


In this instance, since I've made the dish in an open pan and everything is cooked at a high heat, the sausages are roasted.


If you would like them instead braised, just bury them under everything else. That or cook the meal in a covered pot, such as a Dutch oven, to keep all that moisture completely contained.




There's a hint of maple syrup included. If you're not a maple fan, you're more than welcome to exclude it, but it only adds a hint of sweetness to the juices of the finished dish.
And if you're one who happens to love a maple-y flavor, add a bit more.



Sausage with Apples and Butternut Squash
serves 6 or more 

3 lb. (1.36 kg) butternut squash
1 t (5 g) salt
several good grinds fresh black pepper
3-4 apples (I prefer Honeycrisp or Braeburn)
3/4 t (scant 1 g) dried thyme
1/2 t (2 g) cinnamon
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
1 T (15 ml) good maple syrup
1 large yellow onion 
8-10 bratwurst

Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C).
Halve and peel the squash. Scoop out the seeds and cut the squash into 1-1 1/2 inch pieces. 
Place the squash in a 9x13 inch (or so) pan with sides (or a Dutch oven). Sprinkle the squash with salt and pepper.
Peel the apples and cut into eight slices, then cut each slice in half so that the apple pieces are roughly the size of the pieces of squash. Scatter the apples over the squash, sprinkle with the dried thyme and dust with the cinnamon. 
In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil and maple syrup. Drizzle the mixture over the top of everything. 
Cut the onion in half, pole to pole, and slice into 1 cm thick half moons. Layer pieces of onion over the apples. 
If a teetering pile, carefully place the sausages on top of everything (things will cook down a bit and slump). 
Place the dish in the oven and bake 35-40 minutes, or until the squash and sausages are fully cooked. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Salted Caramel Pot de Crème


It's amazing sometimes how a few simple ingredients can create something wonderful. If put together in the correct way, a combination of cream, sugar, vanilla, and eggs, plus gentle heat will yield a creamy caramel dessert. 




Rich caramel flavors are so appropriate for the fall. Well, richer things are better in general as the weather becomes cooler, but caramel pairs well with fall fruits such as apples and pears as well as nuts.
However, this is just caramel on it's own.  


Salted Caramel Pot de Crème
serves 5

1 c (240 ml) heavy cream
1 c (240 ml) half and half (light cream)
1/2 vanilla bean (or 2 t vanilla extract)
1/3 c (66 g) plus 2 T sugar (24 g), separated
1 1/2 T (25 ml) water
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/4 t (2 g) salt

Heat oven to 300 F/150 C.
Warm the cream and half and half over low heat in a medium saucepan.

Place 1/3 c sugar and the water in a separate medium saucepan and heat over medium. Swirl the pan occasionally to dissolve the sugar and so that the mixture caramelizes evenly. Cook until the sugar syrup is dark amber.

Carefully pour the warm cream into the hot sugar syrup- be careful, as it will boil and steam. Stir the mixture to dissolve the syrup into the cream. Bring the mixture to a boil and set aside to cool 10 minutes.

Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with the remaining sugar and the salt. Carefully whisk the warm caramel cream into the egg yolks. Strain the mixture into a bowl or large measuring cup. Divide the mixture among 5, 5-oz ramekins and place them in a 9x13 inch or so baking dish with sides.

Pour boiling water into the dish so that it comes about an inch up the sides of the ramekins.
Place the pan in the oven and bake 50-60 minutes, or until the custards are completely set, but slightly jiggly.

Remove the ramekins from the pan and let cool on a rack. Refrigerate several hours until completely cold before serving.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Red Lentil Soup


In cool weather (with and without rain) I crave soup- all kinds of soup.
Over here we tend to eat a lot of soup on Fridays.
Soup makes an easy meal.
As the main, it can be a very casual and warming, light yet filling meal.


Lentil soups are similar to split pea soups, but don't let that deter you if you're not a fan of split peas. This is not the traditional version one might imagine, and I, for one, like this much better.


I'm aware that the finished product does not look particularly red (as the title would suggest). However, I promise it's made with red lentils.
Curiously, red lentils (or masoor dal if you go with the Indian name) are more salmon-colored than red and become a golden color when cooked. Well then, that cheery shade is magnified a bit by the addition of turmeric in this particular soup.


Keep in mind that you are certainly able to adjust seasonings to your taste. If you hate something in particular, maybe tone it down, leave it out or substitute something else. The recipe as written turns out to have a nice curry flavor (and you've just mixed up your own curry without using a pre-made blend, folks). Depending on how spicy you like things, you may want extra cayenne. I originally made it with 1/2 t cayenne, which had some really nice warmth, but thought it might be too much for some people.  If you want the greater intensity, add that 1/2 t cayenne. If you prefer just a hint of heat, maybe use just a pinch instead.



Red Lentil Soup
serves 6 or more

1 large onion, diced
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 T (20 g) fresh ginger, finely grated
1 t (2 g) turmeric
1 t (3 g) cumin
1/2 t (1 g) coriander
1/4 t (1 g) cayenne pepper
1/4 t (1 g) cardamom
1/2 t (2 g) black pepper
6 c (1.4 L) chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
2 c (396 g) red lentils
1- 1 1/2 t (6-9 g) Kosher or sea salt (depending on the salinity of your broth)
1 can (400 ml) coconut milk

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot, add the onion and saute several minutes until translucent.
Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, cardamom, and black pepper.  Saute the mixture about 30 seconds or so so that the onions are coated in spices and the texture becomes pasty.
Pour in the broth and add the dry lentils. Stir the mixture, scraping the bottom of the pan a bit to release the onion and incorporate all the spices
Bring the soup to a simmer and cook about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally (more so towards the end of the cooking time). The soup will become much thicker as the lentils cook and break down. 
At the end of the cooking time, add the coconut milk and stir though. Remove the pan from the heat
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Alternatively, carefully puree the soup in batches in a standard blender.
Adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, cayenne) to taste.
The soup will thicken slightly to a nice creamy consistency as it sits a bit. 
I don't find it gets too incredibly thick after refrigeration, but thin if desired with a little extra broth or water. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fig and Raspberry Jam


Together figs and raspberries create a perfumey concoction bridging two seasons.
A lovely end of summer/beginning of autumn jam to make and put away for when you might need something a little different and special.

(I just love making jam whenever I get the chance.)



Cooking figs always smell like the woods to me- the woods on a crisp autumn day. There's something about the air and the crunchy leaves that have fallen from the trees that smell like figs.
Combine the fig scent with that of ripe and juicy raspberries and you have an interesting fragrance, an earthy sort of sweetness that permeates the house.


Port added near the end of cooking lends a bit of raisiny depth and helps increase the autumn-ness of this jam. It's bright, but cozy.

As I have said before when speaking of confiture, I do not actually can and process jams as they are for my use/friends/family and they go directly into the refrigerator after the jars are cool enough to handle (NOT into the cabinet to sit at room temperature since they have not been processed).


With both figs and raspberries, and being unstrained, this certainly turns out to be a seeded jam. I don't mind that though, it's real. It is what it is.

Fresh jams are always great on a piece of hearty grainy toast, a crumpet, or a warm scone.
I think this version would be especially nice with cooked with pork or served with turkey- or as part of a cheese board (perhaps along with some chevre, brie, or triple-crème?).
Stir it into yogurt.
Use it as the filling for a crostata...



Some of the technique is taken from the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook.


Fig and Raspberry Jam
makes about 10 pints

2 lb (about 910 g) fresh figs
water
2 1/2 lb (1 kg plus 130 g) raspberries
5 c (1 kg plus about 110 g) sugar 
1/4 c (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
1/2 c (120 ml) Port

Place a small plate and 4-5 spoons in the freezer to later check the jam consistency.

Remove the stems and cut the figs into eights (or into 12 pieces if larger), place in a large saucepan and cover with about 1/4 inch of water. Cover the pan with a lid and heat the figs over medium high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. 

Meanwhile, place the raspberries and sugar in a large bowl to macerate and set aside.

Once the fig mixture boils, stir and reduce the heat to low. Re-cover and let simmer 5 minutes, then mash the figs with a potato masher to reduce everything to a juicy pulp. Cover again and let the mixture cook 20-30 minutes, until the figs develop a soft and mushy consistency and the mixture is relatively uniform (mashing and stirring every 5 minutes or so).

Pour the raspberry and sugar mixture into the pan of fig puree and stir to combine. Add the lemon juice. 

Pour the fruit and sugar mixture into a preserving pan or wide, nonreactive pan.  Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring every now and then to keep the jam for scorching on the bottom of the pan. After about 10 minutes of simmering, add the Port and stir though. Continue simmering and stirring 15 minutes more, then check the consistency of the jam by taking a spoonful in one of the frozen spoons. Place the spoon and plate back in the freezer about 3 minutes to re-chill, while continuing to cook the jam on the stove. 

Remove the spoon and plate from the freezer and tip the jam from the spoon. If it falls thickly and slowly from the spoon, it's a good jam consistency. If it's still quite liquid, cook longer and check in the same manner every 5 minutes or so. 

When the jam has reached the desired consistency, remove the pan from the heat, fill sterilized jars with hot jam, and screw (or clamp) the lids on. 
*At this point process as desired if you would like you jam to be shelf stable.
  
Let the jars sit at room temperature until you're able to handle them easily then place the jars in the refrigerator.
Jam should last at least a month and up to several if kept refrigerated. 


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Pantry Cookies


Edison had the lightbulb, Tesla the alternating current.
Today, as far as societal contributions go, I have cookies.
No, it's not necessarily in the same realm as the other two- I can freely admit it.
Then again, those two things are dangerously inedible.

But as far as inventions go, this is one I've been working on and tweaking. The thing about wanting to get it right is that sometimes you have to try and try again. With cookies, it's both a good and a bad thing (though bad is relative and the degree is debatable...).


It's definitely good to be able to share something like this when you're making multiple batches. That way, you can get input from multiple people while sharing the wealth, so to say.
And, of course, there IS a point when you just can't deal with more cookies.


I figured these are things generally found in an American pantry (thus the name).
Well, they're found in MY pantry, and I'm betting 9 times out of 10 I could make them without having to make a grocery run.


I've been using natural peanut butter as of late- just ground peanuts and nothing else. Not completely creamy, but not totally crunchy either, it's somewhere in the middle. I don't know how the recipe would behave with another type of peanut butter- namely the more commercial creamy peanut butters one might normally choose for cookies.


The cookie dough is slightly crumbly, but malleable. As such, they should be rolled into balls, or packed tightly before baking. They may take a tad more work when portioning them out, but the good news is that the resulting texture is crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.

There is potential for multiple adaptations. Add some nuts, try dried cranberries, take out the raisins, add a little more chocolate.



Pantry Cookies
Makes about 40, generous tablespoon-sized cookies

1 1/2 c (375 g) natural peanut (... sunflower or almond) butter

3/4 c (160 g) packed brown sugar
1/2 c (120 g) granulated sugar
1 t (5 g) salt
1 1/2 t (7 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 t (4 g) baking soda
2 large eggs
3/4 c (90 g) rolled oats (GF if that's what you're looking for)
1/2 c (45 g) shredded coconut
2/3 c (100 g) chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
2/3 c (80 g) raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 175 C.

In stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the peanut butter, sugars, salt, vanilla and baking soda until well combined. 
Add the eggs one at a time and mix well between additions then scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
Add the oats and coconut and mix well.
Pour in the chocolate chips and raisins, and mix just until evenly dispersed. 

Using a small cookie/ice cream scoop or a spoon, scoop generous tablespoon-sized (walnut) portions of cookie dough onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Make sure the cookie dough is well-packed to insure that the cookies stay in one piece. Alternatively, roll walnut-sized balls of dough and place on the cookie sheet. Flatten the mounds of dough slightly with your fingers. 

Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes (they will continue to cook and set as they cool).

Let the cookies cool on the pan about 10 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container.