Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mini Maple Pecan Monkey Breads

When I was a child, one of my favorite sweet treats that my Grandma made was monkey bread, or pull apart bread.  I was always happy when I walked into her kitchen and was greeted by the ring of sweet caramelly balls of soft yeast bread dotted with toasted nuts.  It was like a giant ball of caramel rolls!  I could never resist it!  It was delicious warm, but I always found myself going back to sneak pieces of it, even though Grandma would tell me I would get a tummy ache if I had too many sweets.  That never happened though luckilly.  Sad to say I haven't had any in at least 10 years, since my Grandma was not well enough to make it and is no longer with us.  I have never attempted to make it on my own, until this weekend! 

I thought it would be the perfect bread to have for Easter, since I always remember having some sort of caramel roll or cinnamon roll to accompany Easter brunch growing up.  I decided that I needed to come up with my own recipe for monkey bread however, since I am not a fan of pre-made bread doughs or loading things up with pounds of butter.  I know Grandma used Rhodes bread dough, but I am a home made bread kind of girl. 

So I used my sweet roll dough recipe for the base and got to work.  I decided that I wanted my monkey bread to taste like a cross between a cinnamon roll and regular monkey bread so I added a bit of extra cinnamon.  Cassia cinnamon, because it is the most fragrant and delicious with no comparison to other types!  I also wanted my bread to have the wonderful presence of maple, so I used maple sugar in place of the brown sugar, as well as maple extract.  I used Earth Balance in place of the usual butter for the caramel, as I wanted to keep these vegan.  Last, I added plenty of pecans, because I love them with maple and cinnamon! 

I could have simply baked my monkey bread in a round bundt or tube pan, but I wanted to be able to share them with others, since I had made a double batch.  So I made mini monkey breads in muffin tins!  The perfect size for one, and the perfect size to share!  They smelled so wonderful as they were baking, filling my kitchen with the aroma of maple cinnamon rolls!  When they were finished baking and just cool enough to try I dove into one...and it was wonderful!  Soft and light dough with the aroma of cinnamon and sweetness of gooey maple caramel and toasty crunchy nuts! 

Heavenly, and even better than Grandma's monkey bread I might add.  I think Grandma would be proud if she were here today to try some!  I left them on the counter to cool and a couple hours later I noticed there were 3 missing.  My Mom had snuck a few, and if she goes back for seconds on anything you know it is really good!  I would have to agree with her!  They were perfect for Easter, but I would make them for brunch any time of the year!  Here is the recipe if you would wish to try some for yourself!

Mini Maple Pecan Monkey Breads
Makes about 16 rolls

1 packet rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 tsp agave nectar
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup coconut milk or almond milk
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp maple sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp maple extract
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups organic bread Flour
1 1/2 cups organic whole wheat flour
1 cup toasted pecans

1/4 cup maple sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup maple sugar
10 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter, melted
1 Tbsp agave nectar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp maple extract
1/2 tsp sea salt

In a large bowl, combine yeast, 1 Tbsp agave nectar and water.  Let sit 5 minutes, until yeast is foamy, then add coconut milk, maple sugar, coconut oil, maple extract, vanilla, and sea salt.  Mix well, then add the flour 1 cup at a time until dough is not sticky.  Place dough on a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.  Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm area to rise for about an hour, or until doubled in bulk.  Spray a 12 cup muffin tin, and a 6 cup muffin tin with non-stick spray.   Drop about 6 pecans into the bottom of each hole.  When dough has risen, punch it down, and divide into 16 pieces, and cut each into quarters. Combine 1/4 cup maple sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon in a large ziplock bag.  Place half dough balls in bag, zip up, and shake in bag to coat. Remove from bag and repeat with remaining balls.  Place 4 dough balls into each muffin tin hole. In small bowl, for topping, mix together maple sugar, butter, agave nectar, vanilla, maple and sea salt.  Whisk until well combined and sugar is dissolved.   Pour  about 1 Tbsp over the dough pieces in each muffin hole. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise.  Let rise until almost doubled in bulk, about 35-45 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees with the rack set at the middle position.  Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and done in the center (keep a close watch as they brown quickly, and if they are brown after only 10 minutes, cover with foil and continue to bake until done).  Remove from oven and let cool slightly, about a minute, then invert onto foil sprayed with non-stick spray.  Serve warm while caramel is still gooey! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lovely Lady Martini

I appriciate being able to spend time with my Mom.  She is one of my best friends, and I love it when we can spend a Sunday afternoon together and go for a walk somewhere interesting and just chat about the past week, go windowshopping and enjoy looking at all of the interesting things, or have dinner and cocktails together since we enjoy the same type of food.  Last Sunday we decided to go for a walk and windowshop on Grand Ave. in St. Paul, and it was a lovely day!  We bought some spices at Penzey's, one of my favorite stores, because it smells the best, and also walked up Summit Ave. and admired all of the beautiful old Victorian houses and the spring flowers that were popping up in people's yards.  Quality time spent together, and that is the way it has always been between us.  It is the simple things that we both enjoy, and that includes a good cocktail.  My Mom often orders sidecars, and recently when we were at La Belle Vie in Minneapolis, she ordered a Citrus Sidecar which she loved!  I did have a sip of hers and it was good...but I am more of a dirty martini girl myself.  I decided to make my own version of a citrus sidecar, one which we would both enjoy, and came up with the "Lovely Lady Martini".  Named so because it is beautiful as well as delicious. 

It had a vodka base with 2 citrus notes, orange and lemon with a dash of vanilla, because I love the beautiful something extra it adds to a drink.  But I didn't stop there...instead of using my usual vanilla agave syrup and being ordinary I made lavander syrup this time!  I thought it would go well with the citrus and vanilla, and I was right!  My Mom was very skeptical when I first told her of the concoction I was about to mix, when I was explaining what the liquid with flowers in it ( the lavander syrup) in the jar on the counter was.  But after I had mixed the drink and we were enjoying it she exclaimed "This is BETTER than the drink I had at La Belle Vie!"  It was very good, light notes of lavander in slightly sweet citrus laced vodka...heavenly, and lovely. It would be the perfect drink for Easter or Mother's Day, and I have a feeling I will be making it again for both!  Here is the recipe for those of you who would like to experience it for yourself! 

Lovely Lady Martini (lavander scented citrus martini)
Makes 1

4-6 large ice cubes
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 oz Prairie Organic Vodka
4 oz fresh orange juice
1 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp lavander agave syrup*

In a martini shaker add the ice, vanilla, vodka, orange juice, lemon juice, and lavander syrup and place top on shaker. Shake until well blended. Pour through a strainer into a chilled martini glass, and serve!

*Lavander Agave Syrup:

1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup boiling filtered water
2 tsp dried lavander flowers

Combine all ingredients in a clean jar and allow to sit for a few days to let the lavander infuse. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vanilla Scented Strawberry Agave Jam

Although raspberry jam is my favorite as an adult, as a child I loved strawberry...which is still a close second.  Although my Mom always had raspberry jam, my Dad always had strawberry jam on hand at his house, I remember making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with him for our fishing trips we used to go on.  It was something simple that we could eat quick that wasn't too messy, and stored well.  I still think of those trips when I eat strawberry jam to this day!  I don't buy much jam nowadays, because I don't care for all of the refined sugar which is added to a lot of commercial jams.  But when I do buy it I get the fruit sweetened variety.  I came across an agave nectar sweetened jam recently, and decided to try hand at making it!  I didn't do the whole canning thing this time which intimidates me, I simply made refridgerator jam which is more accessable. 

I used frozen berries, since the fresh aren't available yet, added a little lemon juice, and a vanilla bean as well, because I love the scent of vanilla, especially with berries!  I just let it bubble away while I did other things, and my kitchen was filled with the wonderful aroma of strawberries!  When it had finished cooking and it was time to taste my mouth was filled with the pure essence of strawberry...sweet with a touch of lemon and scent of vanilla...delicious! Way better than any jam I have bought at the store lately!  It would be fabulous on toast, but I am planning on making a few delicious desserts in the near future using it.  I love that agave nectar is the sweetener instead of sugar and you certainly can't tell.  Here is the recipe if you wish to try some for yourself! 

Vanilla Scented Strawberry Agave Jam
Makes 2 cups

2 bags frozen strawberries 10 oz each
3/4 cups agave nectar
Juice of one large lemon
a pinch of sea salt
1 vanilla bean

Lightly blend strawberries, agave nectar, and lemon juice in blender (you want to keep it chunky). Pour mixture into a pot and add salt.  Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise with a sharp knife, and scrape the seeds out.  Throw the seeds and bean into the pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour jam into an air tight container. Jam will store in your refrigerator for several months.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Vegan Strawberry Banana Scones

When I was a kid, strawberry banana yogurt was always a favorite.  In the deli I work at, the most popular smoothie involves none other than strawberries and bananas.  It seems that strawberries and bananas are a combination that is pleasing to many people's palates, making their taste buds happy!  Which is why this weekend I thought a strawberry banana dessert was in order! 

Now, of course I could have made a banana split, but that has too many other flavors and ingredients involved, so I decided that some sort of baked good such as a muffin, or a scone using simply strawberries and bananas as add ins would be perfect!  I have made banana muffins with berries in the past, but I guess I wasn't really in a banana bread or muffin sort of scones it was this time!

I have to admit it had something to do with one of my coworkers making scones on Friday, and how good they smelled and looked as they emerged from the oven.  Since I was at work and couldn't simly grab one, I made my own!  I tend to be biased and enjoy scones more than muffins because they are quicker to prepare and bake, and they have that wonderful crunchy on the outside, softer on the inside texture that I love! 

 I kept the othert flavors simple in theses, adding only vanilla in addition to the essentials wanting the flavors of the strawberries and bananas to be the stars!  They were wonderful!  Bursts of tart sweet strawberries and sweet bananas distributed throughout the sweet scones!  Especially delicious while they were still warm from the oven when the flavors are that much more intense!  Eating them reminded me of why I loved the strawberry banana combo so much as a kid, and had me thinking I should use it more often!  Here is the recipe if you would like some for yourself!

Vegan Strawberry Banana Scones
Makes 8

2 cups plus 2 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup maple sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick cold Earth balance vegan butter, cut into chunks
1 cup cold full fat orgainc canned coconut milk (whisked until smooth if chunky)
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 10 oz bag  organic frozen strawberries, cut into quarters or sixths if large
2 large organic bananas, cut into chunks
coconut milk for topping
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. In a small bowl, stir the vanilla into the coconut milk. Add the coconut 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 and bananas 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 lightly with the coconut milk, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown (after about 15 minutes you may need to reshape with 2 bench scrapers if the scones are spreading, then place back in the oven). Cool on a wire rack.