Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lemon Poppyseed Cookies

We have all had them.  Those work days that you are so tired and crabby by the end that you just want nothing more than silence and relaxation the rest of the night doing nothing but enjoying a large glass of red wine (or a dirty martini in my case), and watch TV.  So...I had one of those this week, but instead of simply sitting down and relaxing, I decided to bake some cookies instead.  Baking is my therapy.  The heavenly scents that it fills my kitchen with, the process of creating something, then enjoying the delicious end result somehow always manage to put my mind at ease and wash away the crabby.  I decided to make a cookie that was sunny and happy looking because I needed it...

I had some extra lemon curd in my fridge that was just begging to be made into something delicious!  I made some lemon poppyseed shortbread flower shaped cookies, then filled them with the tart curd.  They were wonderful!  The flaky buttery sweet cookies with the silky lemony curd...they were simply heavenly! There is no way anyone could be in a bad mood after enjoying some of these!  I definately felt way better after devouring them!  If you need a little sunshine in your day, or would like to brighten up someone else's here is the recipe!

Vegan Lemon Poppyseed Flower Cookies
Makes 12
2 sticks Earth Balance vegan butter, at room temperature
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract
1 Tbsp lemon zest
seeds of one vanilla bean
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup maple sugar, or granulated sugar
1/4 cup poppyseeds

Lemon Curd Filling:
3/4 cups fresh lemon juice
2 tsp organic lemon zest
1/2 cup maple sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
pinch of sea salt
2 Tbsp full fat coconut milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp coconut oil
Powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with the rack set in the center. Mix all shortbread ingredients together (except pink sugar) in a large bowl until well blended, then between 2 sheets of parchment paper roll out to 1/4 inch thick.  Use a medium flower cookie cutter to cut out cookies, then use a small round cookie cutter to cut out the center of half of the cookies.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, then put the baking sheet in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and bake for about 10-12 minutes until set and lightly brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, to make the curd, combine maple sugar, cornstarch, and sea salt in a medium pot, and whisk until combined. Add the juice and zest and whisk until smooth. Heat over medium high heat whisking constantly until thickened to a curd or pudding like consistency, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in coconut milk, coconut oil, and vanilla. Pour into a bowl, and let chill in the fridge until cold before using to fill cookies.  To fill cookies, place about a heaping Tbsp curd onto the side of each cookie without a hole that was facing down on the sheet pan, then top with a cookie with a hole in the center.  Dust the tops of the cookies with powdered sugar. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sweet N' Salty Honey Peanut Blondie Wedges

I often crave salty things more than sweet.  But salty and sweet together, now that is a heavenly combination like with salted peanut butter and honey!  I remember as a kid, my Mom would put peanut butter and honey sandwiches in my lunch.  Or she would put it on toast, and tell me that it was because she didn't like all the processed un-natural sugar in the jelly at the store.  It was delicious, and it is a combination that brings me back to childhood.  I used to love honey roasted peanuts as well, and now sometimes when I make sweet spiced nuts I use honey as the sweetener.  Today I was sitting on my break eating my tofu and raw beet salad, and for some reason I became really hungry for honey peanut butter toast.  Then I started thinking about the combination of honey and peanut butter and thought it would be really good in blondies! 

Even better with a little salty thrown into the mix with a little fleur de sel!  So this afternoon I got to work creating these salted peanut blondies!  I decided to bake them in a round tart pan to be different.

 They smelled wonderful while they baked, like honey filled peanut butter cookies.  But they tasted even better!  I had sprinkled fleur de sel on the top along with a bit of turbinado sugar for crunch and it was a lovely textural contrast to the soft sweet blondie! 

They were wonderful, peanutty, and a special sweet flavor that only comes from good quality honey.  And they are even better warm with a little ice cream.  Here is the recipe if you would like to experience them for yourself!

Sweet N' Salty Honey Peanut Blondie Tart
Makes 12 wedges

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp local honey
1/4 cup coconut oil, warmed to liquid
1/4 cup organic smooth peanut butter
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup organic coconut milk
1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
2 tsp fleur de sel
1 cup chopped roasted salted peanuts
turbinado sugar
fleur de sel

Heat oven to 325, and spray a 9 1/2 inch tart pan with removable bottom with non-stick spray.  In a large bowl, combine honey, coconut oil, peanut butter, vanilla, and coconut milk and whisk until smooth.  In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and  fleur de sel, and then mix into the wet ingredients until smooth.  Mix in peanuts until well combined, then pour into tart pan and smooth the top.  Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and  a little fleur de sel, and bake 20-25 min. until golden browned.  Remove from oven and let cool on rack.  Cut into 12 wedges. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Shamrock Martini

Being that St. Patty's Day is in just a few days, I have been hearing a lot of people raving about "Shamrock Shakes" from McDonald's.  I remember having one as a kid, and thinking it wasn't THAT good...maybe a little more mint?  I guess I was a bit snobbish in that I preferred a grasshopper malt to one of those any day!  But hearing about the shakes so much, I remembered how refreshing the combination of mint and creamy vanilla could be, and I had the urge to make something using those flavors. 

Instead of a shake or malt however, I decided on a cocktail, fit for St. Patty's Day.  I used a vodka base, with coconut for creaminess.  I am not a huge fan of artificial flavors in my own creations, so creme de menthe was not included, but instead a bit of real peppermint extract, and vanilla agave syrup to sweeten.  It was wonderful!  So smooth, and just the right amount of mint to be refreshing!  And festive as well, since I decided to decorate the rim with cute little green sprinkles!  So much better than green beer as far as I am concerned!  Here is the recipe if you would like to experience the drink for yourself!

Shamrock Martini
Makes 1

4-6 large ice cubes
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
a few drops green food coloring
4 oz Prairie Organic Vodka
1/4 cup full fat coconut milk
1 oz vanilla bean agave syrup*

In a martini shaker add the ice, vanilla, mint, vodka, coconut milk, and agave syrup, and place top on shaker. Shake until well blended. Pour through a strainer into a chilled martini glass, and serve!

*Vanilla Bean Agave Syrup: Combine 1/2 cup boiling water, 1/2 cup agave nectar, one vanilla bean (slit), and stir until agave nectar is dissolved.  Let sit until cool, then remove the vanilla bean and pour into a container.  Store in the fridge.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Minty Chocolate Fudge Filled Cookies

I don't know if it was the thin mint girl scout cookies that I was hearing about so much lately, or I was just thinking something sweet with mint sounded good, but this weekend I decided to make chocolate mint cookies. 

At first I was thinking a simple mint shorbread would be nice, but then that evolved into chocolate mint sandwich cookies.  I was going to simply melt a bit of chocolate and sandwich them together, but it ended up being fudge instead, because something a little gooey to go with the crisp cookies sounded wonderful!  So I made my intense dark chocolate shortbread laced with a bit of mint, then made a scrumptious fudgy filling to sandwich them together. 

I decided to decorate them with little shamrocks since it is St. Patty's Day this week and I was feeling a little festive!  These are easy to make, and so delicious!  If you like the flavors in thin mint cookies you must try these! 

If you don't want to deal with the filling, the cookie is also delicious on its own sprinkled with a little sugar before baking, and if you don't want to deal with cutting them out, you can bake the shortbread in a tart pan with a removable bottom.  I made some this way, along with the filled ones.  Here is the recipe if you would like to try some!

Minty Chocolate Fudge Filled Cookies
Makes about 16

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 stick (8 Tbsp) plus 3 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup maple sugar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp mint extract
1 tsp fleur de sel
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

small heart cookie cutter

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 Tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp peppermint extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.  In a large bowl, beat together butter, maple sugar, vanilla, 1 tsp mint extract, and fleur de sel until light and fluffy. Mix in dry ingredients until well combined, then between 2 sheets of parchment paper roll out to 1/4 inch thick.  Cover with some plastic wrap and chill until very cold, at least 30 minutes.  Use a small heart cookie cutter to cut out hearts, then sprinkle with pink sugar and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Place in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and bake for about 10-12 minutes until set and lightly brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Little Irish Oatmeal Cakes

When I was just getting into baking, I decided to make my Mom a Birthday cake.  I still had a lot to learn about baking a cake, but I thought I could pull it off.  My Mom decided on an Irish oatmeal cake.  It was a layer cake with maple caramel frosting, and it sounded delicious!  Being the newbie baker that I was however, I didn't grease and flour the pan, and I didn't line the bottom with parchment.  To make matters worse, when I tried to turn out the cake, the middle was a little underdone.  The cake was basically a falling apart mess on the plate, very sad looking, but we couldn't help but laugh at it.  It was in no shape to be sliced into layers, but we made the frosting anyhow, globbed it on top, and took scoops of the pile of cake.  It tasted delicious thank goodness, but it wouldn't win any beauty contests that is for sure! 

I have since made no attempt to make an oatmeal cake, but I got the idea in my head on Friday that it sounded delicious!  Although I am confident in my layer cake baking and assembly at this point, I decided to make little mini cakes this time. 

I had just recieved a mini bunt muffin pan from my Dad as a gift, and I was itching to bake something in it.  So I came up with a vegan version of delicious Irish oatmeal cake.  This time I stirred in dried currants, because it just seemed to fit with the oatmeal and the Irish theme.  I only had one pan, so I baked some mini cakes in the bundt muffin pan, and used the extra batter to make myself a little cake to enjoy in my little 4 inch cake pan. 

The cakes smelled wonderfully as they baked up, like a cinnamon oatmeal maple cookie!  They didn't take long to bake at all, only 15 minutes, being so small.  I didn't let them cool very long before I sampled, and before long the 30 little cakes were only if the chefs cake I had baked to sample wasn't enough.  They were wonderful! 

Lightly cinnamon maple flavored, sweet but not too much so with the little pops of currants for flavor and the oatmeal for a nice textural contrast!  I was going to give them a maple glaze, but I decided that they were so good on their own that all they needed was a little dusting of powdered sugar to make them prettier!  They were so cute, and who doesn't love a one bite sample of cake once in a while?  They were beautiful unlike my cake disaster years ago, and I am going to have to try making that oatmeal layer cake again someday...but for now I am loving these mini cakes!  Here is the recipe if you would like to experience them for yourself!

Little Irish Oatmeal Cakes
Makes cakes about 60 cakes

Two 30 hole mini cake pans, or mini muffin pans
1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup maple sugar or granulated sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup lite organic coconut milk or almond milk
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp maple extract
1 cup dried currants or blueberries
2 Tbsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and position rack in center of oven. Spray the wells of the mini cake pans with spray, and dust with flour, shaking out excess.  Whisk flour, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, sea salt, and sugar in a large bowl to blend well. Whisk oil, milk, vanilla extract, maple extract together in small bowl to blend well, then whisk into the flour mixture until well blended. Stir in currants or blueberries until well incorporated.  Whisk in lemon juice vinegar and stir quickly. Transfer cake batter to prepared pan, dropping by 2 tsp fulls into each hole, and bake cakes until tester inserted into center of a cake comes out clean, and they are lightly brown, about 10-15 minutes. Cool cakes about 5 minutes, then invert onto a parchment lined rack and let cool completely on rack (or you can cheat and let cool until edible, as they are good warm as well).  Dust with powdered sugar, and enjoy!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Raspberry Almond Oatmeal Scones

Last week in the deli I work in, I was putting out some cookies I had just wrapped.  I was imagining to myself which one I would eat if I could have one at that moment.  I couldn't decide, but then my eyes rested on the blueberry oatmeal scones on the rack below the cookies.  I decided that the scones sounded about 100x better than any of the cookies, and came to the conclusion that I am more of a scone girl than a cookie girl! 

Overly sweet cookies are something I have to be in a certain mood to eat, but scones, with their subtle sweetness, flaky, yet cakey texture and crunch on the those are always right up my alley!  Since I couldn't eat any of those scones at work, just day dream about them, I decided I needed to make some of my own which were equally as good last weekend! 
I decided on Raspberry with toasted almonds and oatmeal!  I love the texture oatmeal gives to the scones, making them a little more hearty, while still being light!  As for the berries, I had some frozen ones and I was craving some summer produce!  The almonds were to add a hint of toastiness and crunch! 

Scones are always so quick to throw together and that is what I love about them!  And they were baked in less than 1/2 an hour after I started making them, which I was very thankful for as I was taking in their heavenly aroma! 

They smelled like a raspberry crisp crossed with a vanilla cake with a hint of almond!  They were so wonderful to enjoy while they were still warm from the oven with the tart jammy berries!  Here is the recipe if you would like to experience them for yourself!
Raspberry Almond Oatmeal Scones
Makes 8

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup maple sugar, or granulated sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick cold Earth Balance vegan butter, cut into chunks
1 cup toasted sliced almonds
1 cup regular rolled oats
1 cup cold full fat coconut milk (chilled in the fridge is best), mixed well
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 oz bag frozen raspberries
coconut milk for brushing
turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425 with the rack set at the middle position. Line a baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture starts to clump into pea sized pieces. Mix in the almonds and oats.  In a small bowl, stir the vanilla into the coconut milk. Add the milk to the dough, and stir a few times, but do not overmix. The dough should hold together when squeezed, but still be clumpy. fold in berries until evenly distributed. place dough on a floured work surface, and shape into a 4 inch wide log. Use a bench scraper to cut into trianges. There should be about 8. Place scones on the prepared baking sheet, reshaping slightly if necessary. Brush the tops with the coconut milk, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 8

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cherry Vodka Balls

I had made some bourbon balls at Christmas and shared them with my Mom, and she has been raving about them ever since.  She asked me when I was going to make them again, since she enjoyed them so much and wanted to share some with her friends.  I agreed to make them on one condition...they would be totally different from the first batch but just as good!  Because I happened to be out of bourbon at the time, and didn't have any pecans, which were a main ingredient in the first batch.  I did however have vodka, and cherries which she loves, and I thought they would go perfectly with a vanilla cookie as a base.  I added a bit of lemon zest, and blended the mix together.  I dipped the balls in dark chocolate, and then as an afterthought, I saw my beautiful pink Himalayan sea salt on the counter and decided to sprinkle a little on top of each one because it pairs so well with chocolate. 

They were awesome!  Cherry booze balls, we were calling them, because they were a little boozy, as "bourbon" balls or vodka balls should be, but they were delicious!  The tart sweet cherries were delicious with the vodka which almost gave a cooling affect.  The sea salt on the dark chocolate was the perfect thing to balance out the sweet confection!  My Mom loved them just as much as the bourbon balls, thank goodness!  These are delicious, and I should have made them for Valentine's Day, because of the deep red color they have on the inside, had I thought of it.  But since it is past, I would say these need no occasion, just make them to enjoy them!  Here is the recipe if you would like some! 

Cherry Vodka Balls
Makes about 20

2 1/2 cups vanilla cookie crumbs, packed
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp vodka

8 oz vegan chocolate
pink sea salt

In a food processor, combine cookie crumbs, cherries, agave nectar, vanilla extract, lemon zest, sea salt, and vodka, and process until smooth.  Place in the fridge to firm up, about an hour until firm enough to shape into balls.  When cold, shape into small 1 1/2 inch balls and place on a foil lined sheet pan.  Place in the freezer and freeze until somewhat hard, a few hours.  When chilled, heat chocolate in a bowl in the microwave in 30 second intervals until smooth.  Dip each ball in chocolate, and place on the sheet pan.  Sprikle with a few grains sea salt, repeat with other balls, and let chocolate set (if you put them in the freezer it goes faster).