11/24/2014

gluten free pumpkin pie bars

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Autumn is officially here. I wrote this on the Sunday after we turned our clocks back (a day that always gets me a little down, despite the extra sleep), the evening is already nearly dark, the air is distinctly chilled, the leaves are crunchy. And I'm still wearing shorts. I'll let it go someday.

Anyway, since the gluten free version of these lemon bars came out far better than anticipated (better than better, actually), I thought why not make a fall-friendly version and swap the lemon custard out for, what else: pumpkin.



Pumpkin pie may be one of my favorite desserts ever. Even if it's vegan. If I could eat it all year round (which I guess we can), I would. It's got all my favorite elements: creamy, smooth, spicy, sweet. While you can swap out the crust for a gingersnap version or even make a traditional but vegan crust, either of these options could still pose an issue for our gluten-free friends. Gluten-free is tough time, y'all. I mean, getting better, to be sure, but it's still not a great feeling to get together for a holiday gathering only to find that you can't have any dessert: None. 'Tis the season, I guess.

So be the hero of your Thanksgiving table (or any table, really) by bringing along these super easy AND gluten-free pumpkin pie bars. All the elements of a classically wonderful pumpkin pie, all on a super quick gluten-free shortbread crust. Definitely don't expect any leftovers here.

For the crust, you'll need:

1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 stick of (cold) butter, cut into cubes
1-2 tablespoons cold water

For the filling, you'll need:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
15 ounces pumpkin purée, fresh or canned
2 large eggs
12 ounces milk, (1% or 2% will work)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Generously spray an eight-inch pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper.


In the bowl of a food processor, combine your flours, cornstarch and confectioners' sugar. Pulse together until evenly combined. Add your butter and pulse until the largest pieces are no larger than a pea. At this point, add your water (slowly) about half a tablespoon at a time. Allow to pulse between additions to see if your dough comes together. If it still appears crumbly, add more water. If not, turn out into your prepared pan and press evenly until your dough is evenly distributed. Chill in the refrigerator for fifteen minutes.

After your dough has set, bake for about 40 minutes or until lightly golden brown on top.


When your dough is nearly done (about 10 minutes or less), you can begin to prepare your filling. Start by adding your sugar, salt and spices in a small bowl. In a separate larger bowl, beat together your two eggs. Stir in your pumpkin and then your sugar/spice mixture. Whisk in your milk and pour over the pre-baked crust.

Transfer back to the oven (now at 425 degrees) for fifteen minutes. Reduce the temperature back to 350 and bake for an additional 40-50 minutes, or until the center of the bars seem firm. Allow to cool completely on the countertop then transfer to the refrigerator (well-covered) to chill overnight. 

Probably should have mentioned that part first, right?

Once the bars are completely chilled, slice into squares. You should probably try one before you take them to your event, holiday or otherwise, just to, you know, make sure that they're awesome. (Hint: they are.)



Note: If you find yourself with a little too much filling, you can always put some butter-brushed filo dough in muffin tins and bake for 30-40 minutes for a quick mini pie treat whenever the mood strikes. The mood will strike often

11/17/2014

roasted black futsu with jasmine-kale rice

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As you may know, I am a sucker for a produce stand. Seeing as the state I'm currently occupying is the Garden State and seeing as I live within minutes of acres of farmland, it's kind of hard to travel in any direction without finding yourself in front of a farm stand or a farmer's market or both. It's a good place to be. So many good sights and smells to take in, lots to learn about varieties and growing your own food.


Our CSA at Honey Brook Organic Farm (officially over for the season this week, sad) boasted a super beautiful and rare variety of winter squash this year: the black futsu. A short, squat and heavily ribbed variety of pumpkin, this Japanese heirloom fruit (yes, fruit) is, wait for it, rich, creamy and tastes distinctly like roasted hazelnuts. Due to their rarity, so far we only snagged one this season (and I picked up another at a Whole Foods that within days was riddled with mold, so: not cool, WFM), but oh man, was I impressed. Usually when someone tells me that something tastes like something else, I think, why? Shouldn't it taste like it's own thing? If I wanted hazelnuts, wouldn't I just have hazelnuts? Maybe, but then you'd be missing out on this beautiful squash that gets chewy and crisp at the edges. 


So while you could totally make this recipe with your favorite winter squash (and you might have to, seeing as this one can be tough to track down), black futsu will take it over the top. A little tip: wait until the black skin has faded to a ruddy brown color. That way you'll know it's ready to eat. Do not, of course, wait until it starts sprouting a white, fuzzy beard. Ahem.


For this recipe, you'll need:

One medium black futsu squash, quartered and sliced
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup brown jasmine rice or other fragrant variety, prepared according to instructions
2-3 whole cloves
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups of kale (any kind), finely chopped
1/2 cup dry toasted pumpkin seeds, from your pumpkin of course (optional, but: seriously?)

Start by getting that squash in the oven. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and arrange your squash pieces (skin on) in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Toss them in your olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon and cayenne until evenly coated. Transfer to the oven for about 35-40 minutes or until the squash has softened and easily peels away from the skin, rotating halfway through.


Meanwhile, get your rice started according to package instructions. Add your cloves, fennel seeds, salt and pepper to taste and just a touch of olive oil. As always, I'm super partial to the jasmines or basmatis. I don't know, they just add a little something extra and make the food feel a little fancier, plus they pair beautifully with the headier spices like cinnamon and cloves. 



In a small skillet over low heat, add your (rinsed and dried) pumpkin seeds. These will toast up quickly and can burn if you don't watch them closely. Stir them often until just barely browned, then remove from the pan and set aside.

When the rice is just about done, stir in your chopped kale. You want to just wilt it down, not cook it, so wait until you're just about ready to serve. Toss in your golden raisins. Serve alongside your beautiful slices of black futsu and top with your toasted pumpkin seeds. You could peel the skins off of the pumpkin before serving, but that way you may risk losing a lot of the glorious goodness within them. Besides, the skin gets beautiful and almost reddish in color, and fighting for your food is part of the fun, right?



11/10/2014

maple carrots, white beans and spicy greens with warm orange vinaigrette

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So recently, our oven broke. I discovered this while attempting to cure a hankering for kale chips which, after an hour in the oven, were limp and oddly chewy. Tragic, I know. And yes, I probably should have noticed after about twenty minutes seeing as a four hundred degree oven + 1 hour + kale would ordinarily result in an unidentifiable source of burnt.

Nonetheless, despite my lack of observation on this particular afternoon, broken it was. With a bounty of squash to be roasted, including a massive cheese pumpkin, and a unseasonal but enormous pile of tomatoes taking up our refrigerator, a broken oven is a sad, sad day. Even sadder when you find out that parts need to be ordered, which will take at least a week, if not more.

And of course, I'd never had a stronger urge to bake something. Like scones.


When it came time to do something for dinner, soggy kale chips tossed aside, I realized just how much I actually use my oven. Every day, actually. Even in the summer. Whether I've got a coffee cake to bake or some veggies to roast, a no-oven dinner in our house is a rarity. Pasta night, maybe. Or tacos. Even then, we've made exceptions.

So I decided to make a version of a dish I had been thinking over, forgoing the use of my oven, relying solely on my four working burners, the silver lining in this disaster.

For this stovetop dinner, you will need:

8-10 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons of butter or vegan margarine
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 cup white cannellini beans, cooked
3 cups of sturdy salad greens (can be a mix, chard, kale, whatever you prefer)
The juice of one orange
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 red onion, sliced as thinly as possible
2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 cups prepared grain of choice


A note on the grain: I went with a long grain brown jasmine rice. I find that fragrant rice is a favorite, but also tends to pair well with the flavors used here. I cooked this with a palmful of fennel seeds, salt, olive oil and a teaspoon of ras el hanout spice, a blend of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, coriander and nutmeg. "Ras el hanout" translates to "head of shop" which implies that it is the best that the shop owner has to over. Because of this, the combination of flavors will vary, but it's traditionally meant to pair well with rice.


While your rice or other grain is simmering, get some water boiling in a small-medium stock pot. Once it's reached a boil, add your chopped carrots and cook for 5-8 minutes or until soft enough to spear with a fork. Drain immediately. Return your pot to the stove and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add your butter (or margarine), maple syrup and a dash of salt and pepper. Add your carrots back to the pot and stir until coated. Add your white beans, reduce the heat the low and cover.


In a small bowl, whisk together your orange juice, olive oil, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. In a small pan over low heat, using just a touch of olive oil, sauté your onions for about 1 minute, just enough to get them softened and take away a little bit of their bite. Add your walnuts and raisins and stir together for another minute. Pour in your dressing and stir together until just warm. Quickly pour the warm dressing over your greens and toss together. Inside tip: use a bowl that's decently larger than you think you'll need. The dressing will help to wilt down the greens, but more space is best.



To serve, add some rice to the bottom of wide bowls. Top with carrots, beans, a little extra sauce (if any remains) and top with your warm salad greens.

Honestly, I had some doubts. Things were coming together, things were smelling good and tasting right, but I thought, "What could replace the beauty of a roasted carrot?" Not many things, I tell you, but maybe, just maybe, some bitter greens and maple syrup could do the trick: such a win.


Update: our oven has since been fixed. Hooray! Our super kind handyman, after saying parts had to be ordered, uncovered a forgotten spare and came back the next day. For this, I am grateful. Speaking of gratitude, check out The Gratefulness Project to take on a 30-day challenge towards thankfulness.


11/03/2014

vegan apple peanut butter coffee cake

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One of my favorite anytime snacks is an apple with peanut butter. The tarter the apple the better, and always with salted, crunchy peanut butter. There really is nothing better or more satisfying for between meals, post-workout, late night, you name it.

So I thought, shouldn't this affinity be translated into cake-form? (I ask this questions about a lot of golden flavor combinations.) In keeping with our mostly-vegan tradition and in attempting to mimic this summer version we had in August with peaches and cinnamon, I decided to try my hand at a vegan apple & peanut butter ... coffee cake.


Coffee cake is one of the best kind of cakes. Why? Because it's delightfully diverse in that you can have it after dinner, with coffee, of course, or in the morning, as a slightly sweet but perfectly-okay-nutritional-wise breakfast. Right? Whole wheat flour, oatmeal, apples, peanuts. It's pretty much born into balance.

Alright, I'm pushing it a little, but you try to turn down a nice crunchy corner piece of this cake at 7AM on a Monday: notttt going to happen.


For the cake layer, you'll need:

1 cup of almond milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups apples, peeled and diced

For the crumb topping:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
4-5 tablespoons peanut butter (melted)

If the peanut butter you use is unsalted (why?), adding a pinch of salt to your crumb topping will really lift up the flavor of the peanuts. Which is why you should buy peanut butter with salt in the first place. But I digress.

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a square 9"x9" baking dish and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together your almond milk and apple cider vinegar until it is slightly foamy. Allow to sit for 3-4 minutes, then add your sugar, coconut oil and vanilla. Whisk to combine - if it seems slightly separated, don't worry about it.


In a larger bowl, whisk together your flours, baking soda, baking powder, ground ginger and salt. Combine with your wet ingredients. Quickly fold in your apples and transfer to your prepared baking dish.

To make the crumb topping, put your flour, brown sugar, walnuts, ginger and salt (if using) in a small bowl. Mix together, with a spoon or your fingers. Add your peanut butter (1-2 tablespoons at a time) and toss together with your hands. Large crumbs should start forming, but if the mixture still looks sandy or dry, continue working in your peanut butter one tablespoon at a time until you've reached the correct crumb consistency.


Sprinkle this mixture evenly on top of your batter, then transfer to the oven for about 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. The topping should also look slightly browned.

So while this baked treat version of my favorite snack isn't going to replace my apple-a-day routine, it could certainly give it a run for its money. Sweet, a little salty, a hint of spice from the ginger and the crunch of the walnuts, this cake is better than good. It might even be better than the peach one.

What do you think?