Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spice Pears

If you haven't had spice pears, you are missing out!  They are these lovely little yellow pears about the size of a kiwi, and they have a sweet tart flavor with a buttery texture.  I had bought some a few days back, and was just simply snacking on them because they are so good on their own, but then I thought, why not make a spiced spice pear dessert?  So I decided on a parfait because something a little creamy and dreamy sounded good along with the spiced fruit!  I spiced up my pears with a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, scented them with vanilla and added some golden raisins to them, because I love golden raisins with spices!  Then I made some tofu creme for my something creamy in the parfait, because I enjoy it every bit as much as real cream, but it is a lot kinder on the system.  I spiced the creme with a bit of cinnamon, and scented it with vanilla and almond.  I thought that the parfait was needing a little something crunchy on top, so I made a batch of sweet and salty crunchy sesame almonds to top it off.  It was a beautiful dessert with the layers of the golden pears and the lightly colored creme in a glass!  But even better was how it tasted...the smooth cool sweet creme, and the spiced slightly tart pears together...and the crunchy almond sesame mix on top, heavenly!  Party in my mouth!  And I would never have been able to tell it didn't contain cream if I hadn't created the dessert myself.  Whip some up this fall if you would like a delicious treat! 

Spice Pear and Almond Sesame Parfaits
Makes 4

8 Spice Pears (about 2 cups) cut into medium dice
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
a pinch sea salt

1 pkg silken tofu
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp agave nectar
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 cup blanched almonds
1/4 cup raw white sesame seeds

nut topping:
3/4 cups sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 1/2 Tbsp agave nectar
2 tsp maple sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt

To prepare pears, place  them in a medium saucepan with the agave nectar and spices over medium heat. Heat, stirring often until the pears have softened about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract, and sea salt. Let mixture cool completly then chill until cold. To make creme, combine all ingredients in a food processor until very smooth. Place in the fridge to chill until very cold before assembling parfaits.
To make nut topping, heat oven to 375, line a baking sheet with foil, and spray with non-stick spray. Toss nuts and seeds with agaven nectar, sugar, and sea salt and mix until well combined. Spread out on prepared sheet, and bake for 10-15 minutes until seeds are fragrant and toasted. Remove pan from oven and let cool completley. You will only need some of these for the parfait recipe, so you can snack on the rest!
When ready to assemble, line up 4 12 oz glasses. Place a third of the creme in the bottom of each, dividing evenly between the three.  Top with half the pear mixute, dividing evenly between the three, then half the remaining creme, then the rest of the pears, then the last of the creme, and top with the almond sesame mixture, about 2 Tbsp each. Serve immediately or store in the fridge.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Exotic Caramel Corn

Yesterday I was really hungry... I had gotten up really early, raced a 10k in the morning, then drove about 3 hours to get home and was feeling rather tired.  It was a chilly morning, about 40 degrees, raining, and windy...the type of weather that makes you hungry for comfort food.  While I was finishing my cooldown I was dreaming up yummy things to make for dessert after dinner that didn't require a lot of time or effort and wouldn't leave me feeling like I had a sugar overload.  Caramel corn came to mind...maybe it was because of the fallish cool weather.  I know it is not the typical comfort food or dessert, but it was the type of thing I was craving...salty, sweet, and crunchy.  I thought I could make a version using agave nectar and honey instead of the usual corn syrup and sugar and coconut oil in place of the usual butter.   I decided to throw in some warming spices, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg, and some exotic ingredients, toasted coconut, pistachios, and cashews.  Some sea salt and vanilla were added as well to give it some extra goodness.  It all came together really quickly, and I just used a bag of  microwave popcorn I had in my cupboard for the corn part if it, since I didn't have any plain popcorn.  The caramel coating smelled wonderful as it was cooking with all the spices, and I couldn't wait to try it on the popcorn...once it was all mixed together and the goodies were added to it, I had to have a taste even before it cooled!  It was heavenly...sweet, salty and crunchy...the aromatic spices along with the add ins, it was definately the best caramel corn I have ever eaten.  It was the perfect remedy for the type of day I had, and even more wonderful as I enjoyed it with some spiced apple cider.  Try this  recipe out if you would like a little snack, or for an alternative to the usual desserts!  It makes a good amount, so share some with family and friends, they will thank you, and I guaruntee it won't last long. 

Exotic Caramel Corn
Makes about 10 cups

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup honey
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

1 bag of pop corn (3.5 oz), popped
1 cup large flake coconut, toasted
1 cup dates, pitted and quartered
1 cup shelled roasted pistachios
1 cup toasted cashews

In a small saucepan, combine coconut oil, agave nectar, honey, spices and sea salt.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, and cook for 2 minutes while stirring.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  In a large stockpot, place popcorn, coconut, pistachios and cashews.  Pour coating mixture over and cook over medium high heat for about 5 minutes more, stirring often.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray.  Remove popcorn from heat, stir in dates, and spread out on baking sheet to cool.