10/27/2014

chocolate stout cupcakes

Yum

Okay: despite what I've said in the past about pie being suitable for birthdays (and don't get me wrong, it is), there is something super special about cake. Specifically, cupcakes. Remember when you used to bring in cupcakes or brownies (made by mom, of course) to school when you were a kid? No? Just me? Well, think back to your best birthday party: mine was probably my 5th, which was Little Mermaid themed (of course), complete with an amazing cake (okay, not cup-version, but still great) and even an Ariel piñata. Which actually gave me nightmares for weeks, but that's another story.


ANYWAY: the point here is that cake marks the occasion. You are a year older. You have learned a lot, probably, grown up, had experiences and made choices. Now, we reward you (or console you?) with dessert. Nothing has ever made more sense to me.


On a kick to make treats for my gluten-free friends, I decided to take my hankering to bake and use it to create a birthday treat like no other: chocolate stout cupcakes. Inspired by none other than Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman because I knew I could count on her for something decadent: next time, these.

I'm just going to put this out there: these are the best dessert I've ever made. I'm just saying it. There is it, in the universe. They've got a little extra flair (I'm looking at you, ganache filling), but what makes these a winner is the cake texture. It's exactly what I hope for every time I bite into a cupcake (which, if you know me, has been a lot of times) - it's airy and soft, full of chocolatey flavor and a hint of sour from the stout. They're perfect. Ganache or not, buttercream or not, I could just eat this cake plain.


But, since the point of a cupcake is to top it off with some cute frosting spritzes, for this recipe, you'll need:

For the cake
1 cup stout (Guinness is recommended, but any stout will do)
1 cup (2 sticks) of organic butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons sea salt
2 large organic eggs
2/3 cup organic sour cream

For the ganache filling
8 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup of organic milk (I used 1%, but anything other than skim is fine)
2 tablespoons organic butter

For the buttercream frosting
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1 stick of organic butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons of organic milk

To start, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line your cupcake tins with paper liners (this batter will make about 20-24 cakes, depending on the size of your pans). In a small saucepan, bring your stout and butter to a light simmer over medium heat. Add in your cocoa powder and whisk together until smooth - remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.


In a large bowl, whisk together your flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk your eggs together on medium speed. Add your sour cream and continue beating until combined. While still whisking, add your stout/butter/cocoa mixture to your eggs and sour cream. Once mixed together (about one minute), slowly add your flour mixture in 2 to 3 increments. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold together to combine the ingredients. Add your batter to the prepared pans, filling each liner about 2/3 of the way. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While your waiting for the cupcakes to bake, it's the perfect time to make your ganache. (Or, if you're like me and making these cupcakes at six in the morning, what, to have coffee.) Add your chocolate (broken up or chopped) into a medium sized heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat your milk and butter until simmering - remove from heat and pour over your chocolate, allowing the milk/butter to melt the chocolate. Whisk together until smooth, then set aside to cool. (Deb says you can cool this in the refrigerator as long as you remember to stir it every ten minutes. I had a lot going on that day, so countertop cooling was the way I went.)


When your cupcakes come out of the oven, cool completely on wire racks. Once fully cooled, using an apple corer or 1-inch cookie cutter (what kind of cookie is 1-inch, I'd like to know), take out the center of each cupcake. The trick is to go about 3/4 of the way down, but not completely through to the bottom so that the filling stays put. Once all your cakes have been cored and the ganache is cooled, pipe some ganache into the center of each.



For the frosting, begin by whipping your butter in the bowl of a stand mixture until airy and light. Add your powdered sugar (sift it first if it seems a little lumpy) one tablespoon at a time - I know it seems like that might take forever seeing as you may need up to four cups. But trust me, it lets you figure out how your icing is doing without adding way too much sugar from the beginning. About halfway through adding and incorporating your sugar, add your milk. Your frosting will have started to thicken up and the milk will make it a little runny again, but that's okay. Keep adding sugar until you've reached your desired consistency. For me, that was about 3 1/4 cup, but it will vary a little for everyone.


If you've got a piping bag (which, if you used it for the ganache already, then you do), these cupcakes are the time to bust it out. They're already so tasty, they definitely deserve a little festive swirl (or star or spritz) of frosting. (Here's to you, Andrew!)


10/20/2014

butternut squash & black bean tacos with apple-ginger slaw

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It's pretty tough to go wrong with taco night. It's usually a staple in our weeknight dinner lineup and even though the classic combo is classic for a reason, I thought it would be interesting to mix it up by incorporating some fall flavors (and also using up some of our growing bounty of squash).


First of all, who knew butternut squash was one of my favorite winter squashes? I always thought of myself as more of a delicata kind of girl - though don't get me wrong, I still love it. But butternut, also known as the butternut pumpkin, just has an amazing natural sweetness. One of these days I'll probably roast it with cinnamon and maple syrup and call it dessert. Because trust me, it would work.

In fact, the reason I have a favorite squash or two at all is kind of crazy, considering I once excused myself from the dinner table and hid in the bathroom in order to avoid eating said squash at the dinner table. Had it been pressed between a corn tortilla with fresh apple-ginger slaw, it might be a different story (but probably not: I was ten).


What works so great about this combination is that the roasted sweetness of the squash combined with the tart almost pickle-y flavor of the apples is basically the perfect compliment, invented by nature, by the way, since both of these things are now at their seasonal picks. Amazing how that works, isn't it?

For this recipe, you'll need:

One small/medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups black beans, cooked, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1 small red onion, diced
1 small bunch Swiss chard or other cooking green, chopped
1 apple, preferably a tart variety like Empire or Granny Smith
Juice of half a lime
1 knob of fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Few leaves of fresh lettuce, washed and shredded
6-8 soft corn tortillas


Start by getting your squash in the oven - the longer it cooks the better it gets, so toss it together with a generous dose of olive oil and your cumin, garlic powder and paprika. Spread in a single layer in a roasting pan and put into a 350 degree oven for one to one and a half hours.

Next, julienne your apple and place in a small bowl with your fresh ginger and lime juice. Toss together with some salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate while you wait for your squash, which will allow the flavors to marinate and intensify. (Any leftovers, should you have any, are great on top of salads or as a sandwich add-on. Go crazy now.)


When your squash is about ten minutes from done (which you can test by stabbing a small piece with a fork), in a small saucepan add some olive oil over medium heat. Add your onion and sauté for about 3 minutes or until it starts to soften. Add your beans, chard, salt, pepper and vegetable stock. Cook together until all the liquid is absorbed.



Now for the taco assembly! We started with warm tortillas, lettuce, then added our beans, squash and topped with apple slaw. For a little heat, add some Sriacha or for a little non-vegan creaminess, a drizzle of sour cream. (We also added a bit of leftover rice and pesto, but this is completely optional. Tasty, but optional.)

These were a winner, to be sure. All the fall flavors you could want, packed together in a portable, hand-held dinner. Next time, I'll be doubling up on ingredients so there's enough for seconds. And leftovers. And seconds during leftovers.


10/15/2014

gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

Yum

Though I imagine that it can't be easy to live in a world without honest-to-goodness bread, other than that, it's not too difficult to be a gluten-free girl in the world right now. And I'm not even one, but when it comes to baking gluten-free treats for friends who are, baking without traditional flours has gotten pretty simple. Which is nice, to not have to feel like you're missing out on whole spectrums of eating just because of a dietary restriction that you can't control. Right?


These cookies are especially satisfying (and easy, actually) because of the use of oat flour, which really just lends a chewy, oatmeal-cookie flavor/texture, without actual whole oats. When buying oat flour, though (or making it yourself in a food processor), make sure to buy one that specifies no gluten, as there are lots of options available that still contain gluten. If you're as into reading food labels as I am, chances are you'll notice right away, as the word GLUTEN is usually somewhere on every food package these days in all caps, either with a NO in front of it or a FREE after it. Or, if it's got it, CONTAINS. You get the idea.


For these cookies, you'll need:

1 stick of organic butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large organic egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup gluten free oat flour (like this one)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips


A quick note on chocolate chips: you know that sentence that's on almost any packaged food that pretty much spells d-r-e-a-d for anyone with any serious food allergy? "Processed in a facility that also processes nuts, dairy, wheat, shellfish, all other common, serious allergens, etc.?" Well, allergen-prone, rejoice: I have found a great brand that boasts "Produced in a facility that does not process peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and soy." If you knew the person I originally whipped up these cookies for, you would realize what a feat that is. No soy?! Really?! And no soy IN the actual chocolate chips? Just organic raw cane sugar, organic chocolate liquor and organic cocoa butter? Exactly. I just got their baking cocoa, too. Can't wait to try that guy out.


After preheating your oven to 350 degrees, cream together your butter and both sugars (using a paddle attachment on a stand mixer, if you've got one) until smooth. Add your egg and vanilla and continue to beat until fluffy.


In a separate bowl, whisk together your oat flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. The oat flour has a different texture that seems naturally clumpy, but whisking should mostly take care of that. Fold your dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture in two intervals, continuing to beat with each addition. Remove your bowl from the mixer and fold in your chocolate chips.


On ungreased cookie sheets, drop teaspoon size balls of dough about two inches apart. These cookies won't spread out too much, so don't worry about spacing them out any further. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Transfer your trays to wire racks for about five minutes, then remove from trays to cool completely. Which is actually a total lie, because who doesn't love a warm chocolate chip cookie, gluten-free or not?


I don't feel like I'm missing a thing with these guys. They're soft in the center and chewy on the outside and if any DO survive to complete cooling, a little crisp on the edges. Isn't that what we all look for in a cookie anyway? I mean, that's what Julia Roberts wants, and I think we can all stand to be a little more like Julia, if you ask me.


10/06/2014

roasted carrot falafel

Yum

By now, this vegan baked falafel recipe has become nearly a weekly staple in our household. It's easy enough to work for a weeknight, with a tiny bit of advance planning, and works great in salads, over rice or in sandwiches. Also great for next-day lunches and freezing for other nights when we need to get dinner together in a pinch.


Not that it needs any improving as is, but I was thinking about what we usually add to our falafel dinners and was wondering how I could incorporate some of those added flavors directly into the falafel balls themselves. My first thought was: what about carrots? I couldn't think of one good reason not to roast some carrots and add them in directly, and the result turned out to be even better than I thought. Slightly sweetened by the roasty flavor and the carrots themselves, this version might become a new dinnertime favorite.


For this recipe, you'll need:

1 cup dry chickpeas, rinsed and soaked for at least 2 hours
1 small shallot, chopped
1 cup carrots, roasted for about 1 hour or until tender
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt & pepper

So a decent amount of time before you want to get your falafel going, put your chickpeas into a pot or bowl and cover with water. It's best to give them about 2 hours to soak (even longer works, too), but 1 hour will work if you're pressed for time. Don't substitute canned chickpeas here, as this will result in a soggy, non-falafel mess. If I plan on making these for dinner, I'll start soaking my chickpeas first thing in the morning, or even the night before.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. In a small roasting pan, add your carrots with a generous drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. I wrapped my carrots in foil to avoid burning and let them roast away for an hour or until completely softened.

Once your carrots have come out of the oven, turn down the oven heat to 375 degrees. Drain and rise your chickpeas. Transfer to a food processor along with your onion, garlic and carrots. Pulse until well blended. And 2 tablespoons of olive oil and your spices and continue to pulse for another thirty seconds.


Take a large cast iron skillet and generously coat with another 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Using a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, scoop out about 2 tablespoons worth of your mixture and form into tight balls. This part is a little messy (but fun!) and a little tricky (but fun!) to keep together, but last time I checked, nobody was into crumbly falafel. Repeat until you've used all of the mixture, should make about 12-14 falafels.


Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until brown and crispy on the pan-side. Flip (caaarefully) using a small set of tongs or a fork and bake for another 15 minutes or until brown and crispy again.

And then you're ready to serve! Pictured here are the carrot falafels with cucumber-dill salad, kale and bell peppers, but there are no rules here: make it your own!



10/03/2014

fig and fennel flatbread

Yum

A few weeks ago, we found ourselves with an overwhelming bounty of figs. Trust me, no one was complaining. As a kid, I was never a huge fan of the fig, which is half-reasonable, considering that figs are a little beyond what kids are into. Though what do I know is that kids these days are a lot more advanced than I was, but that's a topic for another day. So, if you see a kid eating a fig somewhere between pre-advanced biology club and classical flute lessons, let me know.


Anyhow, I regularly shunned figs as a kid. Didn't like their texture, didn't care for their overly sweet taste. A taste, that now, tastes like real sweetness to me, and not just an overload of sugary grit. Now, I'm living up to my half-Greek heritage: I loooove figs. Can't get enough. Doesn't matter the color, the type, the level of ripeness, I am there.


But the only problem with these delicate little fruits is that once they're ripe, the window of time in which to use them closes fast. One day they're perfectly in their prime, and the next they're molded and slumped over.

As for fennel, that's not exactly the most kid-friendly root vegetable either. With its funny looks and often sharp taste, it often gets abandoned in the grocery store produce aisle with shrugs and shaking heads: "I have no idea what to do with that." Well! Trust me when I say that figs and fennel are a match made in vegetation nirvana.


So in order to act fast and make sure to use up all these fantastic figs we were in possession of, I decided to incorporate them into our next dinner time with this fig and fennel flatbread inspired by Anya Kassoff's The Vibrant Table. Our experience with her gluten-free potato pizza was so good, I figured this one would be just as great.

For this recipe, you will need:

1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin (green fronds set aside)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
14 ripe figs, sliced (we used black mission, but any variety would be great)
1 ounce feta or goat cheese, optional

For two personal-size crusts (The above ingredients are enough to top one crust; double to use on both. I used kale pesto and heirloom tomatoes on the other), you will need:

1 1/2 cups water
3/4 tablespoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 cups whole wheat flour (or your flour of choice), plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided


Begin by making your crust. Transfer your water, salt, and sugar to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake together until your salt and sugar have fully dissolved. And your vinegar and shake to combine. Measure out one cup of this mixture and set aside.


Sift 1 1/2 cups of your flour into a large bowl. Add the baking soda and 4 tablespoons of your olive oil and stir together. Add your 1 cup of liquid and stir together. If the dough seems liquid-y at this point, don't worry, it will come together soon! Continue adding the rest of your flour in half-cup increments until your dough is uniform but not stiff. When you achieve your desired texture, transfer to a well-floured countertop and knead by hand for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two equal portions; shape into flattened disks and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for thirty minutes.

While you wait for your dough, preheat your oven to 415 degrees. Brush your sliced fennel with olive oil and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and transfer to the oven to roast for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through.


Once the dough is ready to be rolled and the fennel is done roasting, reduce the oven's heat to 395 degrees. Dust a rolling pin with a bit of flour and roll out your disks until they are about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush each crust with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Bake for ten minutes to get them moving along.

After ten minutes, top with your fennel, figs and cheese (if you're going to use that) and pop back into the oven for another twelve minutes. Be sure to cover the flatbread all the way to the edges, as this dough is prone to burning, much like the gluten-free potato pizza.


After the dough has crisped up around the edges, remove from the oven and top with your fennel fronds before serving. So good!