Saturday, October 25, 2014

Turtle Cake

I try to make a cake for DH's birthday every year. Past few years it's usually been the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake that has become the go-to for my family. However that is very much not new diet-friendly. But DH loves pecans... and he loves chocolate, so why not a turtle cake? Caramel is traditionally made with cream which is never a goo idea for me. So it took a little creativity and internet searching.

I used four recipes for this but I recommend dropping one of them (I'll talk about that later)

For the Cake I followed Minimalist Baker's One Bowl Chocolate Cake and Frosting as written. No need to reinvent the wheel there. I just froze each layer before frosting (double wrapped in plastic.) I found that coffee wasn't really that noticeable. I used the batter for one layer of the second batch for sad whoopie pies, it yields too flat and floppy cakes. Cool the frosting before using.

I based the filling off Oh Ladycake's Caramel Sauce

For the Caramel Pecan Filling you Need:

2 cups + 2 T unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
10 oz pecan pieces, toasted

1. Combine all ingredients, except the powdered sugar in a LARGE saucepan, use a non-stick utensil
2. Gentle boil on a low heat as possible, I used medium-low. Keep an eye on it in case it comes close to boiling over!
3. After 25 minutes, give it a stir and take off heat.
4. Stir in the powdered sugar.
5. Pour into a glass container and COVER. Store in a cool environment for a couple of hours.
6. Reserve the pecans for decorating

I also used a sticky caramel but it just gummed up everything.

To Assemble:
1. Take one frozen layer out, unwrap, and place on cake plate.
2. Working 3 tablespoons at time, shape into a snake and smooth around the circumference of the layer. You want to make a wall or dam for the caramel.
3. Sprinkle 2-3 oz of pecan pieces inside the frosting wall. Carefully pour caramel over the pecan, flooding the area but don't go over the frosting wall, leave some room betweent eh top of the caramel and the top of the frosting wall. Top with another layer of cake.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for each between layer.
5. When you have capped with the final layer, apply a crumb coat with a warm offset spatula, cleaning periodically (this is a soft cake, pourable frosting wouldn't be a bad idea honestly.) Cool for an hour.
6. Use the last of the frosting to cover.
7. Top the cake with the remaining pecan pieces, chocolate chips if you want, and carefully pour the remaining caramel.

Note: The described method creates a sort of chocolate caramel pudding between the layers. To keep the caramel sauce separate I suggest putting a thin layer of frosting on the top of the cake layer. I personally liked the pudding layer but DH wished there was more oozing caramel.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Moroccan Shepher's Pie (Vegan and Traditional Versions)

I think I've mentioned before how fantastic our local farmer's markets are. The one we go to is in Falls Church and always has great produce and several stands for fish, meat, cheese, bread, pickles, yarn, and even two soap/skin care stands. We've rarely gotten anything outside of produce but there's a Mennonite family who has a baked goods and meat stand that I knew stocked lamb and DH loves lamb. I've gotten whoopie pies from them before when I didn't want to bake a whole batch but had a craving. I was very pleased, tasted A LOT like home. They also have sticky buns, which are apparently a regional thing? Anyway, lamb, DH loves it, they had it, this seemed the perfect recipe to make that allows us each to have our dietary preferences.

This is not a quick evening meal. I assume it would freeze well (several portions are frozen for lunches now) so you could make it ahead. Really, I think of this as a Sunday dinner type meal. While it isn't really labor intensive, it just seems like it with all the ingredients.

Note: This Makes *a lot* of food. I divided it equally in half for the directions and each half lasted us a dinner and a number of lunches (I got 4-5 lunches out of my half plus dinner with a small side salad.) Next time, I'm making us each a quarter of the original recipe unless family is coming. If you want one batch, just combine the ingredients and follow Our Four Fork's directions (add the nuts if you want, I think with the meat the added meatiness and texture probably isn't necessary.)

Barely adapted from Our Four Fork's Moroccan Shepherd's Pie, mostly just how you approach it in prep.

You Need (to make the full recipe, divide in half and so forth for smaller portions, instructions are for half and half):
1 red onion, diced
1 white onion, diced
3/4-1 cup parsley, chopped
1 1/2 cup chickpeas (optional for meat version, I used cooked but I think just soaked would be fine with the long bake time but this has not been tested)
1.5-2 lbs sweet potato, cut into equal sized chunks (we used a mammoth potato that was closer to 4 because we had shallower dishes)
1/2-3/4 lbs ground lamb (meat version only)
2.5 T olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T ginger root, minced
2 t salt (I used mineral salt)
3 t cumin
1 t cinnamon
1 t chili powder
1 T garlic powder
28 oz tomato, diced (I used canned, fresh would work as well)
~2/3 vegetable broth
1/2 cup raisins
1/2-3/4 cup pecans, chopped (optional, suggested for vegan version)
3-4 T unsweetened, unflavored almond milk

For the Meat filling:
  1. Brown the ½ lb ground lamb in a large skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Remove meat from skillet and set aside.
  3. Add ½ T olive oil to the pan along with the ½ the onion mix, 2 cloves garlic, ½ T minced ginger, ½ t salt, ½ t cumin, ½ t cinnamon, ½ t chili powder and cook for 8-10 minutes until the onion is softened.
  4. Return the meat to the pan (if using) along with the 1.5 cup chopped tomatoes and 1/3 cup broth.
  5. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes more.
  6. Add chickpeas (if using), ¼ cup raisins, and ¼ cup chopped parsley, stir and remove from heat.
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste
For the Veggie Filling
  1. Add ½ T olive oil to the pan along with ½ the onion mix, 1 clove garlic, ½ T minced ginger, ½ t salt, ½ t cumin, ½ t cinnamon, ½ t chili powder and cook for 8-10 minutes until the onion is softened.
  2. Add 1 cup chopped tomatoes and 1/3 cup broth.
  3. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes more.
  4. Add 1 ½ cup cooked chickpeas, ¼ cup raisins, and ¼ cup chopped parsley, stir and remove from heat. Here is a good place to add the pecans if desired for texture and meatiness
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste
For the mash:
  1. Boil  chopped sweet potatoes in salted water for 15 minutes or until tender.
  2. Drain well and add 1.5 T olive oil, 2 t cumin, 1 T garlic powder, 1 t salt and 3-4 T almond milk.
  3. Mash (we used a meat tenderizer since the masher was in the wash, I don't recommend)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place the meat filling in one casserole or pie dish, place the veggie filling in the other.
  3. Divide the mash between the two containers and carefully spread on top.
  4. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping is beginning to bubble up and brown. I used the broiler for a few minutes on high to toast

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Vanilla Bean Maple Applesauce

 Left is purred, Right is left fairly chunky and with a dash ground cinnamon

This is not the kind of applesauce you typically get in the store, for good reason. Now I could have gotten an excellent jarred sauce from the stand where I bought the apples, or the other good apple vendor next to them, but I wanted homemade applesauce. Now that I have it out of my system, I'll pick up a jar or two once these are polished off. That shouldn't take too long. 

This is also not typical in that it is both sweet and tart. Normally, I would use straight cider and cut the sugar significantly but I decided to use ACV. I could use the excuse that people talk all the time about how good ACV is for you but really I didn't want to buy a container of cider for sauce. I like how it turned out and will go with this version again. The wider range of flavors make for a more complex applesauce and will perfect to add to baked oatmeal, boiled oats, applecake, quick breads, mini pies, parfaits... I need to get baking.

For ~12 cups (depending on texture) You Need:

6 lbs apples, mixed (I used Cortland and Honeycrisp in almost equal parts, wish I used slightly more Cortland)
Scant 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup maple syrup (Grade A or B, but definitely use the real stuff))
3 T lemon juice
2 vanilla beans, halved and scraped
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/4 cups Apple Cider Vinegar (use 3/4 cup cider for less tart applesauce, also cut the sugar a bit)

1. Chop the apples into similar sizes, larger (3/4-1") chunks for chunky applesauce, smaller (<1/2") for smoother applesauce
2. Combine all ingredients in a large pot (I divided this into two batches since we have different preferences.) Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until soft. Stir occasionally.
3. Remove the sticks and bean pod. Keep the stove on low to let some of the extra liquid cook off.
4. Mash slightly for chunky, mash completely for smooth then puree. I used an immersion blender, probably could have forgone the pre-mash but I needed it anyway for the chunky batch. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Eggplant Rollatini with Roasted Vegetables

Influenced by Veggie Belly's Vegan Eggplant Rollatini with Couscous and Pinenuts. I can't leave well enough along and wanted more fiber, protein, and texture to the dish. DH wasn't thrilled about the fiber idea, he had a bad run-in with Thai Spaghetti Squash dish I need to tweak a little more, but in the end it worked out. I was going to serve a salad on the side but I think with the all the vegetables in the middle, that's just overkill for the two of us. If I were to make this for a dinner party or for family, I would add a side green salad, maybe some sort of crusty bread, and maybe a chickpea salad.

Makes about 3-4 adult meal servings, assume 3 rolls a piece with a hearty veggie mix.

You Need:

1 cup green lentils, washed
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, separated and smashed
1 tsp seasoning (I used herbed poultry to not waste an otherwise unused herb blend)
1 box pinenut couscous (or make your own mix)
1-2 large red pepper, chopped
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3-6 stalks softer kale (not curly), chopped
2 medium eggplants
1/2-1 1/2 cups marinara (I used a mushroom marinara)
Olive and Vegetable Oil
mozzarella-like topping (optional)

1. Prepare the lentils: Bring 2 cups of water, the lentils, bay leaf, one of the cloves of garlic, and the seasoning of choice to simmer in an uncovered sauce pan. Monitor for the next 20-30 minutes, adding water as needed to keep the lentil submerged by 1/4". Taste closer to the 20 minute mark, the lentils are done when no longer crunchy but NOT mushy. A little on the al dente side is fine for this preparation. Drain, pick out the bay leaf and garlic, and set aside. Rinse out saucepan.
2. Prepare the Couscous: In the rinsed out sauce pan, heat 1 1/2 T or so of olive oil and toast the other clove of smashed garlic. When soft and fragrant, add 1 1/4 cups of water and the seasoning packet that came with the couscous (add garlic powder, onion powder, pine nuts, and dried chives in making your own). Bring to a soft boil. Stir in the couscous. Cover and leave off heat to steam for 5-7 mn. Fluff and mix into the lentils. You can leave the garlic in since it is softer and mixes in nicely.
3. Prepare the eggplants: slice 1/4" thick through the length of the eggplants. A mandeline would be easiest, with a chef's knife I was getting uneven slices at times. Take care to not get too much skin on each slice, I discarded the end slices since they were smaller and mostly skin. Alternatively, peel and chop up the discarded pieces for the vegetable mixture later.
4. Brown each slice of eggplant on both sides in a small amount of oil in a skillet. Arrange around the perimeter of a cast iron skillet or baking dish. Lightly grease your preferred vessel if not already well seasoned.
5. Top the widest part of each eggplant slice with 1-2 heaping tablespoons of the couscous lentil mixture. Roll the eggplant around the mixture, tucking - if possible- the narrow end under to secure. Place around the edge of the vessel, turning them so that the mixture can only fall to the middle and the rolls unroll into each other.
6. Place some of the leftover mixture between the rolls to stabilize and the remainder in the middle of the skillet.
7. Top the middle section with the chopped vegetables. Feel free to play around with the ones used, this was just what was in the crisper. I tucked pieces of broccoli around the edge as well. Season everything with a pinch of salt and pepper.
8. Pour your desired amount of sauce over the eggplant. Top with chopped parsley.
9. MAKE AHEAD CHECKPOINT: If making this for dinner later (I don't know how well it would free but within 24 hours should be fine), cover and refrigerate at this point. Add 15-20 minutes to cook time.
10. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Stir the vegetable mixture once or twice. Dish is done when the sauce is bubbling happily. Top with mozzarella for the last 5 minutes.

Notes: Steps 1-3 can be done simultaneously, the eggplant is not harmed by sitting out once browned.
You can omit the lentils and double the couscous for a quicker but less hardy meal. Prepare the couscous while browning the eggplant.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

This was influenced by The Food Lab's Science of the Chocolate Chip Cookie and Half Baked Harvest's Mom's Simple Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. The only other chocolate chip cookie recipe I liked used pudding mix and I needed to use only what we had in the pantry- and allow for experimentation with the Food Lab article I had read that afternoon. This is the result. Poor Olive was going crazy hearing "cookie" mentioned over and over. Note, these are definitely on the cake-y side of the cookie world, if you prefer a gooier, flatter cookie, melt the butter substitute and use baking soda instead of baking powder.

Makes 2-3 dozen

You Need:

1/2 cup butter substitute, cold (warm or melted for flatter, gooier cookies)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup egg beater (pumpkin here would be delicious for a vegan option, Ener-G would work as well)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup bread flour (substitute 1/2 cup with AP for less cake-y cookies)
1 teaspoon baking powder (soda for flatter, gooier cookies)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2-1 cup nuts (almonds or pecans, OPTIONAL)

1. Line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper
2. Cream the sugars and butter substitute
3. Add egg beaters and vanilla. Partially mix in (you don't want it completely liquid/sloshy but you want it partially)
4. Add in flours, cinnamon, salt, and powder. Mix thoroughly
5. Add in oats and chocolate (pecans or almonds would be a good addition here, start with a half cup, go as high as a full cup)
6. Freeze dough for five minutes or refrigerate for an hour and preheat oven to 350
7. Drop on sheets in rounded tablespoons about an inch apart (these do no spread that much)
8. Bake for about 15 minutes, until set on the top and browned around the edge

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Baked Falafel and Homemade Tzatziki

I've tried fried falafel, both homemade and at restaurants and while they're good - the oil upsets my stomach (no surprise there, what doesn't these days.) There are a number of recipes out there for falafel both baked and fried, so I cobbled a number together to make a mostly baked version. DH and I both liked the result. I had mine on a salad but DH had his on tortilla (I know pitas are traditional but I didn't want the extras hanging around the house and we needed tortillas for another meal that week.) Using Tori Avey's notes on cooking chickpeas, I used only soaked chickpeas for this recipe to let them have a better chance of holding together. I've made this with canned as well but tried frying them, let's just say our frying technique needs a little (lot) of work, not something we'll probably get around to improving unless I'm really craving fasnachts one year.

Based off Oh She Glows's Falafel with a Twist, Cookie + Kate's Crispy Baked Falafel, and Tori Avey's Traditional Falafel

You will need:

- 2 1/4 cups soaked, uncooked chickpeas
- 1/3 cup red onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup packed chopped parsley
- ¼ t cumin
- ¼ cup ground flax
- 2-3 T whole wheat flour (add 2 then add more if needed to hold together)
- pinch salt
- pinch pepper
- pinch ground cardamom
- pinch red pepper or cayenne
- 1-2 T lemon juice
- olive oil or high smoke point oil (sunflower, grapeseed, etc)

1. Combine all ingredients in food processor until between couscous and paste (Torie Avery suggests a course meal)
2. Make sure all chickpea chunks are broken up
3. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours (I refrigerated 3 because of when I started making dinner)
4. Preheat oven to 350
5. Heat large cast iron skillet (I needed both of mine to not crowd) with a little oil, enough to coat the bottom
6. Form into patties using about 2 T of mixture for each, use 1/4 cup if you want larger falafel or patties. 2 T yields ~12 falafel
7. Place patties in skillet(s) and brown on both sides before sticking in the oven
8. Bake for 5 minutes on each side

Alternative cooking methods: You can fry these in 1 1/2 inches of high-smoke point oil (2-3 minutes a side) but may need to add more binder. You can also use less oil and still cook them on the stove, just browning them.

To Serve: On a pita with red onion, hummus, tomatoes or on a salad with similar. I add a Tzatziki sauce for salads because why not.

The recipe for the Tzatziki is as follows (note, I do use dairy yogurt for this recipe, I hate the taste of coconut yogurt and that's the only non-dairy yogurt our main grocery store stocks- but if you can find a neutral tasting non-dairy yogurt, go for it.)

You will need:
1 1/2 cups Greek Yogurt (I use Fage 0% since they're the only ones with actually 0mg of cholesterol per serving)
1 large Cucumber, peeled, cored, and chopped or shredded
1/2 cup Fresh Dill, chopped
1-2 t Sea Salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T lemon juice
Splash olive oil

1. Salt the cucumber and let drain for 30 minutes
2. Squeeze dry the cucumber
3. Combine all ingredients
4. Taste a day later to season to taste (I tend to up the salt and lemon juice)

Note: Tzatziki is best the next day but I've made it the same day without any problems but at least make it the same time as the falafel mixture to meld.