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! 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Eats!

Easter brunch and dinner have always been exciting to me, ever since I was a kid!  My Mom used to have the family over and we would all have a big brunch and hunt for easter eggs.  My favorite dishes were the cinnamon rolls, my Mom's cheesy potato casserole, and her raspberry apple jello ring.  I have to say the ham and sausage were never at the top of my list though.  Since my tastes and traditions have changed, there is never any meat on my table and it is usually a small gathering.  Good food is still important to me though,  and I always incorporate the fruits and vegetables of  spring into my menu since they are at their best and tastiest!  Since Easter is fast approaching this weekend, I thought it would be fun to do a post highlighting the dishes I thought would be fabulous to serve at an Easter meal! As far as I am concerned the dessert is the most important part, but why not have some fabulous mains and sides to serve along with it! Below, I have included both savory dishes from my blog Garlic and Sea Salt, and sweet ones from Fragrant Vanilla cake...drinks, main dishes, salads and many many desserts!  The most important part of Easter is celebrating Christ rising again, but second, and also very important is spending time with the ones you love and enjoying a delicious meal!  Happy Easter!   

Vanilla Girl Martini

Lovely Lady Martini (Lavander Scented Citrus Martini)

Blueberry Basil Martini

Lemon Cream Pie Martini

Golden Beet and Chevre Gnocchi with Caramelized Fennel and Toasted Walnuts

Carrot and Avocado Ravioli with Toasted Almonds

Roasted Potato and Celeriac Salad with Truffle Oil and Pecorino Romano

Strawberry Rhubarb Salad with Toasted Almonds and Chevre

Tahini Dressed Crisp Romaine Salad with Baby Potatoes, Asparagus, and Snap Peas

Beet and Strawberry Love Salad

Lemon Poppyseed Almond Rolls

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp  

Coconut Orange Carrot Cake

Vegan Spring Strawberry Cake

Lovely Lemon Cake

Luscious Lemon Curt Tart with Almond Poppyseed Shortbread Crust

Caramelized Pine Nut Tart

Banana Butterscotch Trifles

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. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lemon Cornmeal Strawberry Jam Filled Scones

 One of the things I enjoy most about running in the spring is passing by people's gardens in thier yards and seeing the first signs of life popping out of the ground.  Especially in the form of flowers.  It is a little early for tulips in my neck of the woods, but the lovely little yellow daffodils have arrived!  They look so cheery thanks to their bright color!  It is always tempting to pick some, but then nobody else would be able to enjoy it would be considered stealing and tresspassing. 

Flowers from my Dad's Garden 

I was thinking it would be cute instead to make some baked good into a yellow flower shape to enjoy.  Maybe I was just hungry, as I hadn't had breakfast yet, but I thought something cornmeal based would be perfect!  I find that there are very few people in the world that don't like cornbread or corn muffins in some form or another. I am no exception.  The sunny yellow color it has as well as the sweet corn flavor and wonderful cakey yet substantial texture make them so delicious.  I especially love the combination of cornmeal baked goods and lemon, or with berries.  I have made lemon cornmeal blueberry muffins in the past and loved them! 

So last weekend I thought that a lemon cornmeal scone filled with some home made strawberry jam would be delicious!  I decided to be a little creative this time with my scones and instead of simply shaping them into triangles, I shaped them like flowers, using my flower cookie cutter in honor of spring.  I didn't want to use all cornmeal, because I thought it might make the texture too heavy, so I used cornflower combined with cornmeal (which also makes them gluten free) to keep it light.  I laced the dough with lemon zest, and juice to give them a little zing, as well as a good amount of vanilla since I love its flavor in scones of any sort!  I filled them with my home made vanilla scented strawberry jam, to give them a touch of gooey sweetness as well as a nice surprise for anyone I shared them with!  I topped them off with a bit of turbinado sugar for crunch and poopped them into the oven.  I was a little concerned that the jam might ooze, or the flower shapes would spread but neither of those things happened and they came out perfect! 

They smelled wonderful, like sweet lemon cake!  I sampled one right away, and they were a bit delicate due to the cornflower, but firmed up nicely once cooled.  They were delicious!  Like the flavor of a lemon corn cupcake combined with the texture of a scone...then the oozy gooey sweet jam on the inside!  Heavenly!  These would be perfect at brunch but I wouldn't limit them to that.  I shared one with my Mom who is one of the few people in this world who doesn't like cornbread and she actually loved it!  I love changing people's opinions about foods...anyways, you should try these out as well, you will love them.  Plus they will bring a bit of sunshine to your day!  Here is the recipe! 

Lemon Cornmeal Strawberry Jam Scones
Makes 8

2 cups corn flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup medium grind cornmeal
1/2 cup maple sugar (or granulated sugar)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp lemon zest
1 stick cold Earth balance vegan butter, cut into chunks
1 cup cold full fat orgainc canned coconut milk (whisked until smooth if chunky)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry jam (heaping) preferrably home made* but storebought is fine
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, cornmeal, 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 (if dough is too wet, add a little more flour). Place dough on a floured work surface, and pat down until 1/4 inch thick. Use a medium round cookie cutter to cut into circles (re-pat the scraps to make more). There should be about 16. make an indentation into half the circles in the middle and spoon about a heaping Tbsp jam into the center.  Top with the halves without the jam and gently press the edges of the scones so jam doesn't ooze out.  Use a bench scraper or large spatula to transfer scones to the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops lightly with the coconut milk, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool on pan until set, and remove to a wire rack.

*My jam recipe:

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.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mocha Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Working is always so much more enjoyable when you have fun people to spend the day with!  My friend Gabrielle who works with me at the deli always makes my day go faster, and not seem so much like work.  She is always making me laugh, and we have fun joking around while still accomplishing our cooking tasks.  I have known her for 4 years, and she is an amazing vegetarian cook!  She is one of my inspirations for vegetarian food, and we often bounce ideas off of one another for some sort of dish or another...or spend large amounts of time talking about delicious desserts we would like to make. 
It is her Birthday this week, and I wanted to make her something in the form of dessert.  But what to make?She is the biggest chocolate lover I know, so I knew that chocolate must be included this time!  Also, she loves good coffee, so I went with mocha! 

I added pecans, since she loves to include them in everything.  All of these flavors came together in an intense chocolate shortbread drizzled with even more dark chocolate!  I hope she loves them, because to me they are delicious with their deep chocolate coffee flavor, toasted nuts, and smooth chocolate drizzle!  I have included the recipe if you would wish to enjoy some too! Happy Birthday Gabrielle!
Gabrielle's Birthday Cookies
(Vegan Mocha Pecan Shortbread Cookies)
Makes 12 shortbreads

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli)
2 Tbsp freshly ground good quality coffee beans
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 stick plus 3 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup maple sugar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp fleur de sel
4 oz vegan dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling
2 oz vegan dark chocolate for drizzle

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, coffee, and baking soda.  In a large bowl, beat together butter, maple sugar, vanilla, and fleur de sel until light and fluffy. Mix in dry ingredients until well combined, and then the chocolate and pecans until well incorporated.  Turn out into a 10 inch tart pan with removable bottom, and press firmly into the bottom to the sides, and flat.  Score the dough into 12 triangles, sprinkle with turbinado sugar (press in) and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until set.  When done baking, score again, and cool on a wire rack completely before unmolding.  When cool, melt dark chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals, and drizzle over shortbreads. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Trompe l'oeil for April Fools Day

April fools day is all about silly things like playing jokes...some of them mean spirited, and some just plain silly.  I remember when I was little I gave my Mom a cup of tea, along with some salt that she thought was sugar...needless to say she figured out really quick what I had done and was not happy.  Looking back on it now though it was quite funny!  Sometimes April Fools is just about tricking someone, and so I thought what a better way to celebrate it than to make a sweet dish that looked like a savory one!  A trompe l'oeil (fooling the eye) of sorts.   I made some sweet meatballs out of chocolate and nuts in some raspberry sauce with shaved white chocolate that looked like the parmesan cheese that would accompany meat balls.  They were delicious, and way better than real meatballs...but I am biased being a vegetarian, since I wouldn't eat real meatballs anyhow. 

For the balls I used a mixture of toasted pecans and almond butter with some cacao nibs sweetened with agave, and made chocolaty with rich cocoa powder.  They were delicious, almost like truffles with crunchy nutty bits!  The sauce I made with rasperries laced with a bit of vanilla, and it was perfect with the chocolate and nuts!  The white chocolate I shaved on top was a perfect parmesan!  The dish as a whole I must say looked amazingly like meatballs, and was rather cute!  But not too cute to devour!  Here is the recipe if you wish to create a little bit of trompe l'oeil for yourself!

Chocolate Nut Sweet Balls with Raspberry Vanilla Sauce and Shaved White Chocolate
Serves 3

1 12 oz bag frozen raspberries
2 Tbsp agave nectar
2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tsp water
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup finely chopped toasted pecans, divided
3/4 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts, divided
2 Tbsp almond butter
3 Tbsp agave nectar
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup cacao nibs

unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbsp shaved vegan white chocolate

To make sauce, combine berries and agave nectar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook until berries have thawed and fallen apart, then add cornstarch mixture and cook until slightly thickened.  Add vanilla, and allow to cool. 
To make balls, Combine 1 cup of the nuts, almond butter, agave nectar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and sea salt.  Process until almost smooth, but still a little chunky.  Add cacao nibs and reserved nuts and mix in until everything is well combined. Shape the mixture into 9 balls, then roll in a little cocoa powder.   To serve place 3 balls on each plate, top each with a third of the sauce, then sprinkle with the white chocolate shavings.