Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spiced Maple Pecan Shortbread







Last week was the first hard freeze in Minnesota.  Now, I am not a big fan of the cold by any means, especially bundling up to run in below freezing temps.  But as I headed out for my run on a frosty morning last week I was dazzled by the beauty of the frost on the grass, it was sparkling from the light the street lamps cast on it (as it was still dark).  This glittering frost made me think of sugar atop a dessert, and I had the strong desire to create one! 

Being that I didn't have a lot of time that day, shortbread seemed like a good idea.  It is one of my favorite simple cookies, and it lends itself well to many flavorings.  Since it is fall, I thought it would be wonderful to use pecans, maple and spice in my shortbread. This time though I was not going to make a typical shortbread recipe, I decided to go against the shortbread purists and use (gasp) coconut oil in place of butter in my recipe.  I have had success doing this in many other recipes, but this was my first time doing it with short bread.   I was worried that the coconut oil would affect the texture, being that it had to be warmed a little and liquified to be mixed in...therefore creating more of a batter than a dough.  But a good 20 minutes in the freezer before baking solved that problem!  The shortbread filled my kitchen with a heavenly aroma...almost like that of french toast from the maple and spices. 
Once the shortbread had cooled and it was time for testing I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this shortbread better than the classic!  The texture was a little different due to the oil, slightly more crunchy, but almost MORE flaky and buttery!  The flavor was intense, sweet and caramelly with light spice notes!  My Mom who tasted them told me that she would call these cookies something of a cross between a snickerdoodle and a pecan sandie...then she kept raving about how they were the best shortbread she had tasted!  I will definately be experimenting more with coconut oil in my shortbread in the future, and you should too!  Here is the recipe if you would like to try these out!


Spiced Maple Pecan Shortbread
Makes 12

1 cup coconut oil, slightly above room temperature
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup maple sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans
turbinado sugar for sprinkling top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with the rack set in the center. Mix all shortbread ingredients together in a large bowl until well blended, then press into an 8 inch tart pan with a removable bottom sprinkle sugar over the top and press in. Place in the freezer to chill until set, about 20-30 minutes. Place in the oven, and bake for about 30 minutes until set and lightly brown. Remove from the oven, score the shortbread into 12 wedges with a sharp knife. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Makes a dozen

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Roasted Pear Cardamom Vanilla Ice Cream





Pears are heavenly this time of year...I had made a pear crisp last weekend, and enjoyed it so much that I decided I needed to make more!  I always serve my crisp with some sort of ice cream, because I love the hot on the cold, and the creamy against the crunchy and jammy.  So I thought what better to make to go with my crisp than some ice cream made with the beautiful pears? 

Now, I didn't just want to puree them and throw them in there...although they were nice and ripe, I knew if I roasted them, it would bring out the sweet flavor as well as intensify the essence of pear in the ice cream...since this wasn't a sorbet made with only pears and I wanted them very present.  I decided to add cardamom and vanilla to my ice cream as well, because I love those two flavors with pears, and I can almost never resist putting vanilla in ice cream.  My only concern with this ice cream is that it would freeze too hard, and to prevent that I added a small amount of bourbon to the base.  When the ice cream was all finished churning and had ripened I had to have a try...just by itself, before I put it on my crisp.  It was so delicately flavored!  Light and refreshing on the tongue with the essence of pear, slightly carmelized flavor from the roasting, and the light vanilla and cardamom notes...heavenly!  It made my crisp more heavenly as well, double pear, can't go wrong with that! 

Roasted Pear Cardamom Vanilla Ice Cream
Makes about 6 cups of ice cream

4 medium pears, diced
3 cups organic full fat coconut milk, chilled
3/4 cup agave nectar
2 tsp bourbon
2 tsp ground cardamom
seeds of one vanilla bean
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt

To roast pears, preheat oven to 475 and line baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray.  Spread out pears on sheet, and roast until tender, about 20 minutes.  Let pears cool, then puree to a smooth consistency.  Chill pears until very cold.  To make base, combine all ingredients including pears in a blender, and process until well blended. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to package directions (mine takes about an hour, and is still a little soupy like the consistency of a malt, but firms up in the freezer later). Pour into a freezable container with a lid and place in the freezer for at least a few hours, or overnight to firm up for best results.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vanilla Scented Pear Crisp with Crispy Coconut Oat and Almond Topping

 Last weekend I bit into one of the most heavenly pears I have ever eaten in my life...it was succulent, sweet and buttery...with almost a vanilla like flavor!  I am sure I looked as if I was in some other world while I was enjoying the deliciousness, but it was sooo good!  It happened to be a Frog Hollow Warren pear that I had picked up at the store, thinking it would be interesting to try.  It was not the prettiest pear by any means, the skin kind of a light tan, not smooth or green like a Bartlett.  But you can't judge a book by its cover, or a pear by its skin for that matter...I have learned that some of the ugliest looking ones taste the best!  Since the pear was so good, I was inspired to create a dessert with it. 
A crisp was what it would be since I did not have a lot of time and wanted something that didn't require too much attention.  Since the pears had vanilla undertones, I decided to play them up with vanilla and coconut flavors in my crisp!  I ground vanilla beans, and added them as well as a splash of vanilla extract.  The topping had toasted coconut as well as coconut oil, in place of the butter...which was an experiment of sorts, because I have always used butter in my topping, but the coconut milk ended up being better than the butter because of its sweet flavor!  I also added some sliced almonds in the topping because I felt they would compliment the delicately flavored crisp well. 
The crisp was pure bliss to enjoy...all warm and sweet with the vanilla and coconut undertones with the succulent pears and crispy coconut almond topping...a scoop of coconut ice cream to melt slowly on the side of it...Mmmm!  There I was sitting enjoying it in another world again!  This was definately comfort food at its finest...the type of thing that causes a feeling of happiness almost on the level of a big hug.  If you can get a hold of some of these pears you should make this, or even some D'anjou would serve as a suitable substitute.  But be warned, get ready to travel to your happy place! 

Vanilla Scented Pear Crisp with Crispy Coconut Oat and Almond Topping
Serves 4

Fruit:
6 large sweet pears, such as Warren, or D'anjou cut into small chunks
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp maple sugar
3 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbsp vanilla bean powder*
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

Topping:
6 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour
3 Tbsp maple sugar
4 Tbsp coconut oil
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup large flake coconut

9 inch glass pie plate

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with the rack at the center position. Place a baking sheet lined with foil on the rack. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss together the pears, lemon juice, agave nectar, 2 Tbsp maple sugar, 3 Tbsp flour, vanilla powder, vanilla extract. Spoon into prepared pie plate, and cover with foil. Place plate on baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes until fruit is cooked through and bubbling. Meanwhile, to make the topping, combine the flour, sugar, coconut oil and salt in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender, or 2 knives, cut butter into the flour until it is in pea sized chunks and clumping together. Add oats, coconut, and almonds. With hands, squeeze the mixture together forming larger chunks as well as incorporating the oats coconut and almonds until it is evenly distributed as you go. Place in the fridge until the crisps are ready to top. When the fruit has baked for 35 minutes, and is bubbling, remove from the oven and top with the crisp mixture. Place back in the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until lightly brown and toasted (keep a close eye on it as coconut burns very quickly). Remove from oven and let cool until warm...enjoy!

* grind vanilla bean pods in a coffee or spice grinder for powder...it is a wonderful use for beans that have had the seeds removed for another use, or have been sitting in vanilla sugar.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Carmelized Autumn Nut and Date Tart



The beautiful leaves have all fallen off the trees...so now, all I see when I look out the window is bare sticks, not the prettiest part of Autumn, and I am sad that the beautiful fall colors are past peak.  But just because the trees are now ugly, doesn't mean that all the rest of fall needs to be, and so I decided that a beautiful dessert fit for Autumn needed to be made...specifically, a nut tart! 

I thought I could use different colors of nuts that remind me of this time of year, pecans, walnuts and pepitas, as well as some gooey dates!  I have made many nut tarts, but this one was going to be a new recipe, an experiment.  They usually contain lots of butter and cream, but I was curious to see if it was possible to create a vegan version that was just as heavenly.  So for my crust this time I relied on coconut oil to give it a rich texture instead of the butter and coconut milk in place of the cream in the filling.  Would it turn out?  I was very nervous when I pulled it out of the oven, because it didn't seem to set up quite the same.  But a stay in the fridge overnight after it had cooled was just what it needed to completely firm up.  It was delicious!  Gooey dates and crunchy nuts in a bourbon laced caramel...yummy!  You could not tell that the crust had no butter or the tart did not contain cream.  This one actually ended up being better than the original! 


Vegan Carmelized Autumn Nut and Date Tart
makes one 10 inch tart
Crust:
1/2 cup coconut oil, at room temperature
1/4 cup maple sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup coconut milk

1 cup full fat coconut milk
3/4 cup maple sugar
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp maple extract
2 Tbsp bourbon
1 1/2 cups very soft dates (such as medjool) pitted and quartered
1 cup toasted pecans
1 cup toasted walnuts
1 cup toasted pepitas

In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in coconut oil with pastry blender or hands until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add coconut milk, and mix together with hands until dough comes together, adding a little more if necessary to form a cohesive dough ball. Lightly flour a surface, and roll dough out to fit a 10 1/2 inch tart pan with removable bottom (chill a little while in the fridge if dough is too soft to work with). Press dough into pan, and place in the freezer. Freeze 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 350. In a medium saucepan, place coconut milk, maple sugar, agave nectar and heat on medium high until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Let boil 4 minutes, while stirring, then remove from heat and stir in vanilla, bourbon, pecans, walnuts, and pepitas. Scatter dates evenly over the crust, then pour caramel and nuts into crust, and bake on the middle rack of the oven on a sheet pan lined with foil (to catch any spillage) about 40-45 minutes until browned and bubbling (check the tart after 20 minutes, and if it is getting too dark, cover it loosely with foil until finished baking) . Cool on rack completely, then refrigerate overnight before serving.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Good Earth Tea Infused Ice Cream


I am obsessed with Original Good Earth Tea!  I drink at least 3 cups of it a day...it brings some enjoyment to my work day, and calms me at night.  I call it the non-tea drinker's tea, because anyone who has told me they don't like tea I have suggested it to and they loved it.  Dessert in a tea, it has a wonderful sweet cinnamon aroma and flavor that fills your nose as you drink it and a heavenly sweet flavor.  In the summer I make Arnie Palmers with it (tea and lemon juice) and they need no sweetener since the tea sweetens itself! 

So when I was racking my brain trying to think of what type of ice cream I would like to make since the temperatures have soared high above normal this week in Minnesota it popped into my head to infuse the cool dessert with the tea!  Why not?  Other people use chai... I ended up using 5 tea bags to infuse the ice cream.  I used a coconut milk non-dairy ice cream base, and flavored it with nothing but the tea and a hint of vanilla.  I didn't know if it would have enough flavor, but when I tasted the base it was perfect!  It didn't need as much sweetening as some other ice creams I have made since the tea was so sweet.  It was almost like a cinnamon ice cream, but way better...like having my Good Earth Tea and ice cream together!  It has got to be one of my favorite simple ice creams that I make!  It is fabulous on its own, but I enjoyed some with apple crisp and it was delicious!  Try some for yourself, especially if you are a fan of Good Earth Tea!


Good Earth Tea Infused Ice Cream
Makes about 4 cups of  ice cream

1 cup full fat coconut milk at room temperature
5 Good Earth Tea bags, regular or decaf
2 cups organic full fat coconut milk, chilled
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt

To make base, heat 1 cup coconut milk to boiling and add tea bags.  Let steep a few hours, then squeeze the bags into the milk to get all the liquid out.  Discard bags, and chill milk until very cold.  Combine all ingredients including infused milk in a blender, and process until well blended. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to package directions (mine takes about an hour, and is still a little soupy like the consistency of a malt, but firms up in the freezer later). Pour into a freezable container with a lid and place in the freezer for at least a few hours, or overnight to firm up for best results.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Molasses Spiced Haralson Apple Crisp with Crispy Oat and Pecan Topping

When I was 10 my Mom made the best apple pie!  Well certainly the best I had ever tasted, and everyone else that tried it told her so as well!  None of this too sweet tastless canned apple stuff with a boring crust.  Her apple pie was wonderfully tart and sweet, the perfect balance of flavors.  Instead of a top pie crust, she used a crunchy oat topping laced with cinnamon, and her pies always tasted caramelly because she didn't use white sugar in them.  Of course love was the secret ingredient, as it always makes things taste the best, but recently I asked her what made her pies so good, and she replied "the Minnesota Haralson apples, they are so good they don't need much sweetening."  So I needed to try making something with them to see if this was the case (since she hasn't made a pie in over 10 years).  So I bought some Haralson apples and went to work on a dessert!  I opted for a crisp with a oat crumble topping however not wanting to fuss with a bottom crust of a pie this time.  I wanted my pie to taste caramelly as well, so I went with a mixture of agave nectar, molasses and maple sugar...it all baked up into a pile of caramelly apple goodness just the right amount of tart and sweet like Mom's.  I spiced my crisp up a little however using a mixture of cinnamon cardamom and nutmeg, and added some pecans and coconut to my topping.  Although my crisp was different from Mom's pie ingredient wise, the flavor was there!  It is the type of comfort food you crave warm in the fall with a big scoop of cool ice cream to melt down the side as you enjoy it.  My Mom thought so as well...of course I had to have her taste test it!  I gotta agree with her on the Haralson apples, they do make a heavenly pie!


Molasses Spiced Haralson Apple Crisp with Crispy Oat and Pecan Topping
Serves 4

6 large Haralson, cut into small chunks
1 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp agave syrup
2 Tbsp maple sugar
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp maple extract
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

Topping:
6 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour
3 Tbsp maple sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp nutmeg
4 Tbsp cold organic butter
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup large flake coconut

9 inch glass pie plate

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with the rack at the center position. Place a baking sheet lined with foil on the rack. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss together the apples, molasses, agave nectar, 2 Tbsp maple sugar, 1/4 cup flour, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, maple extract, vanilla, and 1/4 cup flour. Spoon into prepared pie plate, and cover with foil. Place plate on baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes until fruit is cooked through and bubbling. Meanwhile, to make the topping, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, butter and salt in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender, or 2 knives, cut butter into the flour until it is in pea sized chunks and clumping together. Add oats, coconut, and pecans. With hands, squeeze the mixture together forming larger chunks as well as incorporating the oats coconut and pecans until it is evenly distributed as you go. Place in the fridge until the crisps are ready to top. When the fruit has baked for 35 minutes, and is bubbling, remove from the oven and top with the crisp mixture. Place back in the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until lightly brown and toasted (keep a close eye on it as coconut burns very quickly). Remove from oven and let cool until warm...enjoy!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kabocha Squash Ice Cream with Spiced Pepitas



It would be tough to pick my favorite vegetable...but if I think if I had to it would be Kabocha squash.  It is sooo good, so sweet and buttery I could eat it plain by itself right out of the oven roasted.  And I do.  I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert!  Or at least make dishes out of it for each of those.  Dessert is one of my favorite ways in which to use it. Some of you may be thinking Squash?  For dessert?  But yes, it is actually sweeter than pumpkin, and I prefer it over pumpkin when making desserts.  It is wonderful in pies and custards! 


This is why I thought I should make it into an ice cream.  Sort of like a spiced pumpkin pie ice cream, but a different sort of squash.  I used a coconut milk base, sweetened with agave nectar with a dash of bourbon and some wonderful spices added.  Cinnamon of course was a must, but I also used cardamom and nutmeg because I love the combination of the three together especially with squash.  I added some vanilla and maple extracts as well to make it even tastier!  The ice cream itself was wonderful...so creamy like a frozen pumpkin pie (squash pie) that melted slowly on the tongue and left with a subtle hint of spice and vanilla.  I decided to make some spiced pepitas to go along with the ice cream, because I thought something a little crunchy would be nice on top...and it was!  The salty spicy crunchy seeds played nicely off the creamy silky smooth ice cream.  Make some of this fallish delight for yourself if you have an ice cream maker...maybe you too will decide you like kabocha squash better than pumpkin! 


Spiced Kabocha Squash Ice Cream with Spiced Pepitas
Makes about 4 cups of delicious ice cream

Ice Cream Base:
3 cups organic full fat coconut milk, chilled
1 cup kabocha squash puree
3/4 cup  plus 2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp maple extract
1 Tbsp bourbon
1 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp sea salt

Nuts:

1 cup pepitas
1 Tbsp agave nectar
1 Tbsp maple sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground chipotle powder
To make base, combine all ingredients except pepitas in a blender, and process until well blended. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to package directions (mine takes about an hour, and is still a little soupy like the consistency of a malt, but firms up in the freezer later). Pour into a freezable container with a lid and place in the freezer for at least a few hours, or overnight to firm up for best results.  

To make spiced pepitas, heat oven to 375, line a baking sheet with foil, and spray with non-stick spray. Toss seeds with agave nectar, sugar, spices, 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. Serve with the ice cream as a nice crispy topping.  You will only need some of these for the ice cream, so you can snack on the rest!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Vegan Mocha Almond Layer Cake


 I really enjoy making layer cakes...the whole process, all the steps involved I actually find enjoyable.  What I enjoy the most of course is the sampling of the excess trimmed from the layers and licking the excess frosting from the bowl, but there are artistic elements involved as well.  There is something calming to me about decorating the cake and admiring the finished product with all of it's towering beautiful layers of goodness!  Which is exactly why this weekend I decided I needed to make one!  But I didn't want to end up in a sugar coma from too much refined white flours and sugars, so it was time for me to get creative and come up with a layer cake that would be kind to my system, but still be scrumptious! 


Chocolate was going to be included for sure this time, because I was in the mood for it.  I haven't made a vegan cake in years but I decided that this would be the perfect time to do so, and I had a great vegan chocolate cake recipe!  It is actually adapted from the Moosewood Cookbooks, but has my own spins on it since I never leave recipes alone.  What I love about it is it takes minutes to mix up and pour into the pans if you have all the ingredients ready, and bakes in 20 minutes.  An idiot could make this, as it is really hard to mess up no egg whipping and beating of air involved...and if you baked the same recipe in a 9 inch pan and had one layer it would be really simple. 


I wanted this to be a mocha cake, so I added my leftover morning Alakef Highlander Grogg coffee to the batter instead of water, and added a little coffee extract.  I also threw in some cinnamon for good measure.  The layers were delicious, and if I were tasting this cake and didn't know any better I would not be able to tell it was vegan!  I wanted a decadent gooey fudge like frosting, so I blended together creamy almond butter with agave nectar and cocoa powder with some coconut milk to smooth it out even more.  It was so good...lucky there was enough to finish frosting the cake, because I "sampled" so much of it!  It was like fudge...nutty chocolaty goodness.  I topped the cake off with crunchy toasted almonds and voila!  Heaven...well, at least eating it was.  Almost like a stacked brownie with fudgy goodness that melted in the mouth.  Hard to believe this cake was vegan, and wouldn't have had I not made it myself!  Every chocolate lover should try making this cake, and if the idea of layers scares you, bake it in a 9 inch round pan and frost the top and sides. 


Vegan Mocha Almond Layer Cake
Makes 1 6 inch 4 layer cake

2 6 inch cake pans

Cake:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use ghirardelli)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup maple sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup cold strong brewed coffee
1 Tbsp finely ground good quality coffee beans
2 tsp coffee extract
1 tsp pure almond extract
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp cider vinegar

Frosting:
1 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup toasted almond butter
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp coconut milk, or more if needed
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, or more if needed
1 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp coffee extract

1 cup toasted sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and position rack in center of oven. Line two six-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with parchment paper. Coat parchment paper and pan sides with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and sugar in a large bowl to blend well. Whisk oil, coffee, ground coffee, coffee extract,  almond extract, and vanilla extract together in small  bowl to blend well, then whisk into the flour mixture until well blended.  Whisk in cider vinegar and stir quickly (pale swirls will be in the batter, which is the baking soda reacting with the vinegar, which allows the cake to rise since there are no eggs). Transfer cake batter to prepared pan and bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on rack, about 1 hour. Cut around sides of pan to loosen. Turn cake out onto platter; peel off parchment paper. Let cool completely, then place in the fridge to chill until very cold to make slicing easier (since cakes with no eggs crumble easier).  When chilled, slice cakes horizontally in half so that you have 4 layers. To make frosting, whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl until very smooth, adding more cocoa powder if the frosting is not thick enough, or more coconut milk if too thick. Place a layer of cake on a plate, and spoon about 1/2 cup frosting over, almost to the sides, then top with another layer and repeat. Top with another cake layer, another frosting layer, then the top cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and the sides of the cake, and sprinkle almonds over the top of the cake, and at the base.

*if you would like a 4 layer 9 inch cake, double this entire recipe and bake in two 9 inch cake pans.