Thursday, May 26, 2011

I never knew carrot had addictive qualities

This is probably the fourth carrot cake I've made for a co-worker who has become a customer.  It's the same recipe each time (lots of ginger and orange), and he and his wife just love it! 

And I'm loving the way they subsidize my baking habit.

Already packed up and on its way to work.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Strawberry-Almond Smoothie

Tonight at 5pm I did my same little 5 o'clock routine.  Turned off computer? Check.  Turned on the volume on my phone? Check.  Packed up the backpack? Check.

The last thing I do before leaving the office... the frigid, oh-you-of-few-windows office... is take a glance out the one window available to me (in my boss' office) and see what's going on outside. Of course, it's just like packing in January for the Bahamas (not that I have any personal experience of that): it's extremely difficult to make yourself pick out warm-weather clothes when your toes are numb.

So, seeing the waving trees and somewhat dimly lit exterior of the building, I concluded that it was cold and windy outside (the weather-man says rain!) and therefore my fancy new black trench coat belonged on my shoulders, around my waist, and up against my neck.

Walking down the hallway: cold.  Elevator ride down a floor: cold.  Stepping out into the cement cavern of a basement parking garage: cold.

I could only ride my bike one block before I had to stop.  Woah!  What's this?  The sun exists?  It was 75 degrees.

A brand new freezer in my apartment meant that those first-of-the-season strawberries I stashed earlier were solidly frozen by now... I think it's time to put them to use.  By the way, does anybody have the troublesome problem of going slightly batty when strawberries first appear at the market for less than an arm and a leg?  Anybody else out there who pounces on them, snapping up 3 packages for a household of 1?  Hence the freezer.

Strawberry-Almond Smoothie
handful of fresh mint leaves
1 c. frozen strawberry slices
1/2 c. almond milk (if using unsweetened, you might want to add honey to this)
1/3 c. plain Greek yogurt

Place the mint in the blender, followed by the strawberries.   Pour almond milk over and give it a few good whirls at high speed.  Add the yogurt to thicken as desired. 

Drink in the sunshine with a straw.

Reason #492 to grow your own herbs

An easy weeknight dinner.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An All-Day Bake-a-thon

My friend Alyssa and I had a spare Saturday last weekend, and we decided to spend that precious free time by baking (naturally).  It was all going towards a good cause (our church's youth group), so we went all out. 

Early in the morning (Alyssa's a morning person, and I'm... always running late, so I wanted to get a head start), we visited two different restaurant supply shops and the grocery store.  First up: Lemon-Glazed Cheesecake. While that cooled over in the corner, we spread out our supplies and got started on the Peanut Butter BonBons.

Alyssa, the chief chocolatier for the day

Our third project was an individual version of the Chocolate Coconut Tart I had experimented with the week before.  I just love the little tart pans I've had for about 10 years now.  In fact, I don't have a regular-sized tart pan, just those.  If I need a tart pan, I usually make do with a springform.  It's not as pretty since it doesn't have fluted edges, but it works.

Sadly, I misjudged the oil to almond flour ratio and the crusts crumbled badly.  Oh well, once they were placed in display boxes, it was hard to tell anyway!  The filling was still delicious - we know, because we got to make little ramekin-sized tarts for ourselves!  It was a great Sunday afternoon treat the next day.

As we wrapped up the cheesecake, the bonbons, and the chocolate tarts, I kept wondering aloud if we should go ahead with our fourth item, Palmiers.  They are very easy and fairly quick to make, but very messy.  And we were running out of time.  Alyssa prepped the ingredients while I made the lemon glaze for the cheesecake.  I rolled out the dough, sliced it in scroll shapes, and we got the Palmiers in the oven just in time.  Some of them were still warm as we made our way out the door!  We took full advantage of any we deemed "damaged goods" while we were in the car on the way to the event.

All's well that ends well, and every item sold at our little bake auction.  I heard rave reviews of the cheesecake the next day, and the Palmiers even got passed around the tables that same night, thanks to the bidder's generosity.  Looks like these recipes are keepers!

From left: Palmiers, chocolate tarts, lemon cheesecake, and our two little pots of chocolate for ourselves.  Bakers' treat!

 The Lemon Cheesecake was exactly the same recipe as this one, but we made use of the lemons I had instead of oranges.  

Peanut Butter BonBons
1/2 c. smooth peanut butter (I used natural)
3 Tbs. butter, softened
(add a little salt if neither the butter nor peanut butter already has some)
1 c. powdered sugar
8 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 Tbs. vegetable shortening

In a medium mixing bowl, combine peanut butter and butter.  Gradually add powdered sugar.

Shape into 1-inch balls and place on a rack set in a rimmed cookie sheet.  Place in the fridge while you make the coating.

Melt chocolate and shortening over low heat in a small saucepan, stirring constantly.  Use a spoon to cover the peanut butter balls with chocolate, or dip them right in the chocolate.

Store in an airtight container, chilled.

1 box frozen puff pastry, slightly thawed
2 c. sugar
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix the sugar and salt in a small bowl.  Clear a large workspace and spread half the sugar on the counter.

Unfold the puff pastry onto the sugar.  If the pastry came in two sections, handle one section at a time.  Spread the other half of the sugar on the pastry and use your rolling pin to firmly embed the sugar in the dough.  Go ahead and roll it out a bit until most of the sugar has been rolled in.

Roll up each long end of the puff pastry towards the middle, like a scroll.  Slice 1/2 inch sections and lay on their sides on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Leave room around each, about 2 inches.

Bake for about 10 minutes, watching carefull so the sugar doesn't burn.  Let them cool for a minute or two on the baking sheet (if you can wait that long!) so the sugar can harden a bit, then transfer to a rack.  Store in an airtight container, or they will become soft.

Chocolate Coconut Tart

I never used to get cravings for chocolate.  I liked it, for sure, but I didn't crave it like so many do.  That is, until about two years ago.  Call it getting older, call it life changes, call it coming to my senses....

Now?  Now I know when I want chocolate, and only chocolate.  If you're trying to battle one of those oh-so-strong chocolate cravings today, don't bother fighting.  Just make this tart and consider it an I.V. of the good stuff headed straight for where it counts.... your belly.  It packs a whallop and it's the real deal.

Although it has "Coconut" in the title, it's a very subdued flavor.  Sort of like a supporting actor in this play starring almond and chocolate.   It's also gluten-free, and "Paleo", if you're interested in those things like I am.

Chocolate Coconut Tart
adapted from So Good and Tasty

1 1/2 c. ground almonds
1/4 c. coconut oil, melted
pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla

1 14oz can coconut milk
10 oz good semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (or a mix of the two)
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the crust ingredients together and press into a tart pan or pie plate and bake for 10 minutes.  Let cool while you make the filling.

Chop the chocolate and pour into a large bowl.  In a medium saucepan, bring the coconut milk just to a boil, then pour over chocolate and let it set for 5 minutes.  Slowly stir the chocolate until melted and smooth. 

In a small bowl, whish the eggs, vanilla, and salt, then pour slowly into the chocolate, while whisking.  Pour filling into the crust and bake about 20-25 minutes.  Top with unsweetened coconut (toast for more flavor!) and sliced almonds.  Serve at room temp or chilled.