Saturday, December 20, 2014

Eggless Almond Thumbprint Cookies

My 2-year old took a 3 hour nap yesterday. It is something that happens fairly unpredictably in the last few months. Whenever that nap matches up with a day that I actually don't need one myself, I am amazed at how productive I can be.

I might have written the day off as a bad one, based on our morning. As we ran out to get cranberries from the store, I ran into some car problems. This meant that both our vehicles would now be away at the "car doctor" for a bit, and we also needed daddy to come rescue us at the grocery store. But he did rescue us, and the nice mechanic who called me Signora, and told my husband to listen to me next time I complained of noises from the car, was able to fix it in a few hours. On a side note, this is why I love my new suburban city - it's filled with all sorts of nice old-school charmy folks doing nice things and saying nice things and kissing both cheeks when they don't even know you. Not to say it's without politics, drama or hot issues - but the kindness is just more overt here than the city. I'm sure if daddy hadn't rescued us, some kind stranger would have, without hesitation.

Somewhere in the middle of this interesting day, my son threw down a perfectly timed 3-hour nap. I did dishes, showered and baked 2 batches of biscotti and these thumbprint cookies. Any parent of toddlers might agree, that no matter what else happened, this is a downright perfect-day-maker. Oh, and the kid loves the cookies too, and they're not all that unhealthy, so that's fine! He doesn't feel the same way about the pumpkin cranberry biscotti (which are pretty great), saying "I don't like them for my mouth" (he's got molars cutting through - joy).

Quick Pumpkin Cranberry Biscotti with Ginger
For the thumbprint cookies, a recipe from Food & Wine caught my eye. It used half almond flour, and was spiced with cardamom. Not my personal favorite spice, but my family all like it, and most likely I'd be giving most away. The only problem was that my husband's family don't eat eggs. I decided to give egg-replacer powder a second chance in this recipe, and it actually worked out! (I didn't have such luck with it in cake). I also added the jam halfway through baking, instead of after, so that it got firm enough to stay in place.

My husband asked if these are easy to make. For me, I'd say no, they're not easy. But not difficult either. I just really hate holding a heavy hand-mixer, and waiting for butter to soften, and shaping each cookie. Here is my version of the cardamom thumbprint cookies, neither too easy nor too difficult (but very delicious):

Eggless Almond Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 36-40 2-1/2" cookies

1 C almond meal
1 C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1 T egg-replacer
3 T water (filtered)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 C sugar

Fruit preserves or chocolate spread. (I used Mixed Berry preserves and Nutella)

1. Heat oven to 350F.

2. Mix together almond meal, flour, cardamom and salt in a bowl.

3. In a small bowl, mix together egg replacer and water. Add vanilla and almond extract.

4. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. (It may take quite a while, maybe 4-5 minutes).

5. Add egg replacer and extracts to the large bowl and continue to mix on medium speed. Add the flour mixture slowly until incorporated and a dough forms. 

6. Using your hands, form the dough into a large ball. Pinch off a little at a time and roll using your hands to make small 1" balls. Place the balls 3" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten each ball to 1/4" thick using your hand and use your thumb to make a well in the middle. Bake for 8 minutes.

7. Remove cookies and use a small spoon to press down the wells in the centers. Fill each with 1 tsp of preserves or drop 1/2 tsp dollops of spread. Bake 8-10 more minutes, until firm but not browned. Cool a few minutes and then remove from pan to a cooling rack. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Poached Eggs Over Latkes with Kefir Creamed Kale

I can cook a lot of things, but for whatever reason, I just can not poach a proper egg. My husband asked if I could do it one day, and my answer was: "Nope, I can't do it. Not gonna happen, I just SUCK at poaching eggs. I need that special contraption like my mom has, from 1965." He could hardly believe me, like, how the heck can't I of all people, cook a stupid little egg. Why on earth is it so freakin' hard to poach an egg?  I know I'm not alone.

A conversation about this struggle with fellow moms - over delicious, perfect, poached eggs at Buckram Stables - left me wanting to try my hand at it again. So, I tested the method of adding a splash of vinegar to the water. I'm not real sure it helps much, but certainly didn't hurt. I also tried deeper water, but ended up fishing in a sea of loose whites for the lost little eggy stuck on the bottom. It's like baking for me - I can do OK, but not great. I didn't throw out any eggs, but I couldn't make them look pretty, or perfectly runny either.

On this egg-poaching morning, I actually concocted a pretty yummy recipe with random ingredients I had on hand. I wanted to make something like my favorite brunch dish, eggs florentine, but had no spinach. So I used some frozen kale. I discovered my heavy cream had soured, so I used the Kefir I've been drinking to cream it up, along with some shredded parmesan I've always got around. I puréed it to make it less chewy and fibrous, without having to cook it forever. I think our bread might have been moldy too, so I baked some Trader Joe's latkes from the freezer, which my 2 year old loves to eat.

There you have it: impromptu eggs florentine with a twist. A healthy, hearty little brunch at home. Also a great way to use up leftover latkes, if you've got those around. By the way, I suck at making those too, but I bet there's a way I figure that one out eventually!

So, how do YOU poach an egg?

Poached Eggs Over Latkes with Kefir Creamed Kale

poached eggs
cooked potato latkes
frozen kale
plain kefir (cultured milk)
grated parmagiano cheese

Heat the latkes and prepare the creamed kale. In a skillet or saucepan over medium heat, melt butter (about 2 T butter to 1 C kale). Add kale and cook until heated through. Lower heat and add kefir (about 2 T to 1 C kale), cheese to taste, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes or so, until some of the liquid evaporates. Puree or pulse to break up the stems, make it as smooth as you like. 

Poach eggs and serve over latkes and kale sauce. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Polenta Stuffed Sweet Peppers with Black Bean Salsa

I love the idea of stuffing things for vegetarian meals. It's a little more exciting than a casserole, but pretty much the same thing. Just prettier. Topping things with colorful salsa doesn't hurt either.

Anyone know what the skinny one is? It's medium hot, but I don't know the name!
The day I made these peppers, I had been to the farm to buy vegetables. They had a whole table of peppers in all shapes, colors and sizes that day. I just had to make something with them, heartburn or no. I guess it took me long enough to post the recipe, because it's now December and the farm stand has closed for the winter! Guess I'll be replacing farm-stand runs with wine shop sprees. I've certainly been hitting the bakery pretty hard too. I hate winter.

Developing a good pepper recipe requires a beer in hand at all times. 
Anyways, these stuffed peppers came out pretty awesome. Next time you see some beautiful peppers, grab a few and get some color, crunch and bonus vitamins and minerals into your dreary winter life. They're packed with Vitamins A, C, K and B-6. Good stuff.

Polenta Stuffed Sweet Peppers with Black Bean Salsa
1 hour

3 servings, as a meal. 6 servings, as a side dish

For Peppers:
3 medium sweet peppers, halved lengthwise, seeds and ribs removed
2 T olive oil

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
½ C onion, minced
½ tsp dried oregano
½ C instant quick cook polenta
1 C vegetable stock (or no-chicken stock)
½ C heavy cream
1-1/2 C shredded sharp cheddar
½ C shredded Mexican blend cheese (or more cheddar, jack or pepper jack)
¾ C fresh corn
¼ C black beans (canned, rinsed)
¼ C cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

For Salsa:
½ tsp garlic, minced
2 T onion, minced
1 C black beans (canned, rinsed)
¼ C cilantro, chopped
½ C fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ C canned crushed tomatoes
1 T lime juice
1/8 tsp fresh chili pepper, jalepeno or cayenne, very finely chopped (to taste, depending on how hot)
½ tsp cumin

1. Heat oven to 425F. Rub peppers, inside and out, with olive oil. Lay cut side up in a baking dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast 20 minutes.

Peppers ready to pre-roast
2. In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, add butter and olive oil. Sauté onions 3 minutes, add garlic and cook 1 minute.

3. Have all ingredients ready near the stovetop to add them quickly. Add stock and milk and bring just barely to a boil.  Using a wire whisk, add polenta slowly while stirring, continuing to stir 1 minute. Working quickly, keep whisking, and add cheese until melted. Still whisking, add corn, beans and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper and keep whisking another 3 minutes.

4. Stuff polenta mixture into the peppers and roast at 425F for 20 minutes. Extra polenta can be baked in ramekins or muffin tins.

5. Prepare salsa by combining all the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with lime juice, cumin, and salt, or more hot peppers if desired.

6. Serve each pepper topped with salsa.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Baingan Bharta (Fire Roasted Eggplant Stew)

The eggplants were so shiny and stacked up high at the farm stand last week, I couldn't resist. They were the perfect small/medium size for good flavor, and I thought I might make eggplant parmesan this week.

However, we are trying to eat a little healthier these days. The holiday, birthday, anniversary season is here and food is getting heavy! So we need to compensate a bit with what we can control. But, ugh, it's a lot more work making healthy dinners sometimes, isn't it?

I dipped into my experimental archives to find the bharta recipe I created last year. After moving, we were having fun with our bbq grill, and had actually made the effort to grill the eggplants and tomatoes over flame. I searched my computer and drawers and finally found my barely decipherable scribbling of a rough recipe in a drawer.  This time I did not feel like firing up the grill, so I broiled the eggplants and used canned tomatoes. This year's version was not as smokey as the first, but I did improve the seasoning of the dish well enough to share it here.

Baingan Bharta
1 hour, 4 servings 

2 small eggplants (3” thick / 8” long, about 1lb)
Olive Oil
1 T unsalted butter
1/4  tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, chopped
2 tsp (1/2” thick / ½” round piece) ginger root, peeled and sliced
2 large cloves garlic (about 1 T)
*½ tsp fresh hot chili pepper, finely minced (Thai/Bird chili or Cayenne) *optional, add extra chili powder to taste if not using fresh
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chili powder (Indian chili powder)
¾ tsp garam masala spice mix
¾ tsp kosher salt
½ C fire roasted tomatoes (canned with juices, or 3 fresh tomatoes broiled or grilled)
½ C green peas (frozen)
1 or 2 T fresh lime juice
¼ C Cilantro, plus more for garnish
*pinch of methi (fenugreek) leaves, *optional

1. Grill or broil the eggplants until mushy inside.

Pierce the eggplants a few times with a knife and rub with olive oil. Grill outside over flame or broil them on a foil lined pan. Grilling will be quick, 10-15 minutes, so check and turn every few minutes. Broiling takes about 20-25 minutes, turning every 5 minutes (don’t keep them too close to the oven’s coils or flames to avoid oil flare-ups). If you don’t have these options, 30 minutes in a 500F oven is fine. Test for doneness: a knife inserted should go in to the center easily and move around easily, you want a squishy mushy texture inside (like an over-baked sweet potato).

If using fresh tomatoes, add them (whole, coated in oil) for the last 5 minutes, just to char the skin. Chop them, including the skin.

Let the eggplant cool while preparing the other ingredients. Peel and discard most of the skin and stem (a few charred skin bits are good to keep) and give it a quick chop to break up the lengthwise strings of the flesh (careful to reserve the juices – I just run a paring knife through the mass inside a bowl to break up the strings).

2. It’s best to prep and measure all the ingredients before cooking. Measure out the powdered spices into a small dish ahead of time (turmeric, cumin, chili and garam masala). Also, making a paste of the onion, ginger and garlic is also a key to a more flavorful curry. If you have a food processor or mini chopper, add 1-2T of the onion, sliced ginger and garlic cloves and pulse until well chopped or even pasty. Otherwise, finely chop the 3 together and use a large knife blade at a 30 degree angle to mash and scrape them together with a little salt.

3. In a medium skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Toast the cumin seeds, stirring until fragrant and they start to pop a bit. Add the onions and cook 3 minutes until softened. Add the onion/garlic/ginger paste and fresh chili and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the dry spices and add the tomatoes, eggplant and salt. Turn the heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Check and adjust the seasoning to taste.

4. Add peas and simmer covered for another 5-10 minutes. Add lime and cilantro, methi leaves if using, and re-taste for seasonings. Leave hot or simmering until ready to serve.

Garnish with cilantro. Serve with basmati rice or hot naan (or other lightly toasted flatbread).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Famous Eggless Lemon Cake

Eggless Lemon Cake for a boy obsessed with "Yellow Balloons"

Here it is. The famous eggless cake from Ian's first, and now second, birthdays.

Last year, caught up in Pinterest fever for my son's first birthday, I threw him an elaborate themed party. (I swear it's some sort of hard-wired hormonal situation that moms of 23-month-olds simply have no control over). For that party, I felt that I absolutely needed 3 varieties of cupcakes - all eggless, as appropriate for vegetarian family members. Only the best eggless cake would do. I tried mixes, and even bought some from a vegan bakery, but was driven to concoct a from-scratch recipe that I fine-tuned over the course of a few weeks. Cake flour made dense cake, egg replacer powder made dense cake, soda gave it a chemical taste, and so on. We had a lot of cake last October, and we don't even like cake that much, ourselves. I'm also a notoriously lousy baker.

Oh look, we were a little obsessed with Brown Bear and making things cute.... Pinterest accidentally threw up in my house... (FYI this is just one station... there was one for each character... who was I a year ago and where did I find the time???)

So, being a lousy baker who hates cake (I had pie at my wedding, not cake), why should you even continue reading for my recipe? Because, I somehow created an eggless cake recipe that's super easy with only a few ingredients that I always have on hand. Even I have not managed to screw it up, after several batches. Everyone at our party last year loved this cake, hardly believing it was actually eggless. There were no high-pitched "oh these are... great" comments... like, they took them home, ate more, and emailed me for the recipes. I think that qualifies as a "famous" recipe you might want to try!

Cupcakes for the class
I recently repeated the lemon version of the cake for Ian's second birthday. It took a giant batch of batter, but in just 45 minutes I pumped out 12 cupcakes for his pre-school class and a double layer 9" cake for the family. Frosting time is additional, but that's up to you what type of frosting you prefer and how crazy you get with it (I don't expect many re-Pins of my cake pics based on their decorative merit). The cake holds up nicely when made ahead of time (even a few days) and refrigerated, protected by a layer of frosting. The 2-year olds devoured them, and the family was happy to see it again too. My MIL informed me that I'll need to make all the family cakes now.

Just a quick shot of the inside, in the hurry to hand out slices
Eggless Lemon Cake
Two 9” round cakes for a double layer cake
or 24 cupcakes

3 cups milk (2% or Whole) – or use your favorite vegan milk (I like almond or hazelnut, or use soy if you’re going nut-free)
3 tsp apple cider vinegar (white is fine in a pinch)
3 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp almond extract (omit for nut-free)
4-1/2 tsp lemon extract (this is not a typo, you need a lot)
2-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable or canola oil (vegetable oil is usually from soy, it works slightly better here)
3 cups all-purpose flour (cake flour does not work well here)
2-1/4 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 T fresh lemon zest (from 3-4 lemons)

Cupcake liners or non-stick spray
5 Cups Frosting (see below for Basic Buttercream recipe)

1. Heat oven to 350F. Prepare pans with non-stick spray or cupcake liners.

2. Measure out milk and whisk in vinegar. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, soda, powder, and salt. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, combine sugar, milk and vinegar mixture, oil and extracts. Whisk it vigorously until it bubbles and froths.

5. Right before you are ready to bake, slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients a little at a time. Combine and whisk just until the lumps have disappeared. Whisk in the lemon zest.

6. Pour the batter into the cake pan, or use a 1/3 C measure to scoop batter into cupcake pans. Bake at 350F until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 9” cake: 25-30 minutes. Cupcakes: 18-20 minutes.

Cool 15 minutes and remove cake from pans to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting. Refrigerate frosted cake covered in plastic wrap (I suggest serving within 1-3 days, but it keeps for much longer), or freeze wrapped in plastic and foil.

Chocolate Cake
Omit lemon extract and zest. To the dry ingredients, add 1 cup high quality unsweetened cocoa powder (such as Dagoba)

Chai Cupcakes
(These go great with a whipped cream frosting)
Omit lemon extract and zest. Use chilled Chai tea made with milk instead of plain milk. Add spice mix to dry ingredients.

Spice mix:
6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

For the tea:
Use 3-1/4 cups milk or soy milk (extra to account for evaporation), bring to a boil in a saucepan. Toss in 6 Chai tea bags (Indian Masala tea) removing paper from the strings. Reduce to a simmer for a few minutes and remove from heat. Discard tea bags and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

Basic Buttercream Frosting
One 9” cake (1 or 2 layers is fine) or 24 cupcakes

1 C unsalted butter at room temperature (this may take 2-4 hours)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 C confectioners sugar
1 T milk or cream, optional

Using a hand mixer in a deep bowl, cream the butter and extract. Add sugar a little at a time, blending on low-medium speed, until the consistency is creamy but not too thick. You can add milk to thin it, or more sugar to thicken it.

Some novice notes on buttercream:

I stick with a basic buttercream frosting because it’s easy. Milk helps it spread easier, but it’s not necessary. I leave out the milk if I plan to let the cake sit at room temperature for several hours. I usually frost my cake, reserving any extra frosting. I blend a little more sugar into the extra, along with any coloring to make a thicker decorating frosting.

It’s always easier to make a big batch of frosting than a small one, so if you will do much decorating, increase the recipe right from the start (such as use 3 sticks butter + 6 cups frosting, 1-1/2 tsp vanilla).

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