Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Roasted Sunchoke and Wild Rice Salad with Cherries and Toasted Pecans

The first time I ever saw a sunchoke in the produce section a few years back, I remember thinking...what is that, some sort of mutant ginger root?  Then of course I read the label above it which read "sunchoke", which sort of intrigued me.  Afterall, anything with the word sun in the title must have wonderful flavor right?  The curious person that I am, never being one to pass up trying a new vegetable I bought a few not knowing how to prepare them.  I looked in a few of my Vegetarian cookbooks and realized that there are many things that can be done with them.  But I decided to first try roasting them and trying them with just a touch of sea salt so I could get the full unaltered flavor.  They were amazing, like potato chips that tasted amazingly enough like artichokes!  I have ever since been hooked on them and I love to roast them until crispy then add them to salads or just simply snack on them.  I was all excited when I saw some locally grown ones last weekend so I bought a large bag.  Last night I knew I wanted to include them in dinner, and what I decided on was a grain salad that featured them. 

First I cooked off some wild rice, then roasted the sunchokes to perfection and added those to the bowl (the ones that didn't get snacked on and made it into the salad).  It was looking a bit uncolorful so I decided to add some dried cherries for color and a bit of sweetness. 

I thought the salad needed some crunch as well so I added some toasted pecans (which seem to end up in most of my salads this time of year).  Also, I had fresh rosemary for some savory fragrance as well as some shallots to make it even more delicious.  A cider balsamic dressing laced with dijon to complete it and voila, a delicious salad! 

It was hearty and filling, perfect for one of the last few days of November.  If you haven't tried sunchokes and you have access to them, you must!  Here is the recipe for my salad if you would like to try it!

Roasted Sunchoke and Wild Rice Salad with Cherries and Toasted Pecans
Serves 4

1 cup wild rice (uncooked), rinsed
3 cups sliced Sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes)
olive oil
1 shallot, sliced
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup toasted pecans
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp dijon mustard
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place wild rice in a medium stockpot and cover with plenty of water.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook rice until tender and starting to flower, about 45 minutes.  Drain and cool to room temperature.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 475 degrees, line a sheet pan with foil, and spray with non-stick spray.  Toss sunchokes with just enough oil to coat then roast until tender and starting to brown, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool and add to a large bowl along with rice, shallots, cherries, pecans and rosemary.  Whisk together dressing, then toss well with salad and serve!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spiced Maple Almond Ice Cream with Orange Cranberry Swirl

On Saturday afternoon, I was staring out the window at the falling snow enjoying a cocktail in my pj pants and sweatshirt.  A relaxing way to spend it, and you would think I would have had something hot cooking on the stove for dinner, but instead I was churning ice cream.  A true Minnesota girl, I will eat ice cream year round, and winter doesn't stop me from enjoying it.  Besides I cannot have a piece of warm apple pie or a pear crisp if not accompanied by the cold sweet ice cream.  Hence the ice cream making Saturday, which was because I was going to be making an apple crisp soon and had to have it!  I don't buy ice cream at the store anymore, because half the fun of ice cream at my house is coming up with new and interesting flavors!  I decided that I wanted to make something with a cranberry swirl this weekend because it seemed festive and I love the beautiful ruby red color of cranberries.  I combined cranberries and a bit of orange and cooked them until jammy along the maple syrup, then added some vanilla for a sweet note.  All of this before I even decided on the ice cream base, which may seem silly but the cranberries were the real star here. 

Now, I suppose a simple vanilla ice cream base would have been good, but red and white seemed more Christmasy than fallish and I was thinking a nutty flavored base would be good.  So I went with maple almond spice.  Rather than blending up whole toasted almonds, I added almond butter because I have fallen in love with using it in ice cream lately.  It makes it wonderfully silky even more so than a plain coconut milk base.  I spiced it up with a little cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, and laced it with maple syrup.  Upon tasting it before churning it was even delicious!  It was like a super rich smoothie, but I knew it would be fabulous once it was actually scoopable. 

It was hard to wait until it was done, but it was so worth it!  The cranberry swirl was beautiful and ruby red, sweet and tart, citrusy and jammy.  It was wonderful with the silky lightly spiced almond ice cream.  I will admit I ate a large bowl if it before I even made the apple crisp...because it is never too cold for ice cream.  Not for this girl.  Here is the recipe if you would like to enjoy some.

Spiced Maple Almond Ice Cream with Orange Cranberry Swirl
Makes 6 cups

Cranberry Swirl:
16 oz Cranberries
1/2 cup maple syrup
juice and zest of one orange
a pinch of sea salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
To make swirl, combine all ingredients (except vanilla) in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.   Cook until cranberries have burst, are jammy and have fallen apart, and juices have reduced about 45 minutes .  Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and puree with an immersion blender.  Strain through a fine meshed strainer and let cool.  
Ice Cream:
3 cups organic full fat coconut milk, chilled
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup organic roasted almond butter (no sugar added)
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp maple extract
1/8 tsp sea salt

Combine all ingredients 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). Once processed, pour 1/3 into a freezable container with a lid, then drop a few large Tbsp cranberries.  Pour half remaining ice cream over, then more berries, then the remaining ice cream and more berries.  Swirl with a knife to distribute berries throughout and place in the freezer for at least a few hours, or overnight to firm up for best results.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Baklava Ice Cream

I can remember my first experience with baklava.  I was about 12 and my Mom had brought home some food from a restaurant called the "Olive Tree" for dinner that night.  It was my first exposure to Middle Eastern food and it was all wonderful...the tabouli, the crunchy falafel in pita pockets, and the stuffed grape leaves. But my favorite was the dessert.  The baklava, which was incredibly sweet and honey filled, and so crunchy with the many layers of carefully placed filo dough and nuts.  I would often times ask if we could pick up dinner from there just so I could have the baklava for dessert.  Now as an adult, many baklavas are too sweet for my tastes.  I had some at the state fair a few years back and it was bathed in way too much honey and sticky that the filo was no longer crisp. I guess I am pretty picky about my baklava now, and if I find some good baklava I am in heaven. I have made a few batches myself that met my standards, and I have to say it disappears quickly around my house!   I was browsing a cooking magazine last week and I came across a baklava cheesecake!  It sounded amazing, but I wasn't looking for something that rich to make at the time.  I had baklava on my mind after that though, and I decided that I must make something featuuring all of its delicious flavors. 

I was craving ice bingo!  Baklava ice cream would be perfect!  I thought I could even make some filo cups to serve it in so the wonderful crunchy filo part of it would not be lost. 

Now, I know traditional baklava has walnuts but I decided to put my own twist on it and use some almonds as well.  I included a bit of almond butter in the base to make it wonderfully silky and melt in your mouth as well as almonds in my crunchy nut mix that was to be mixed into the ice cream and sprinkled over it to serve. 

I added a good amount of cinnamon as well, and honey to give it the traditional baklava flavor.  It was wonderful!  Ok, so the filo cups were a little putzy, but once the dish was plated it was lovely.  More importantly though it was delicious.  All of the traditional things I love about baklava were there. Sticky sweet honey and the crunchy nuts and filo, but the ice cream added a rich element that made it even better!  I shared some with my Mom who is also a baklava lover and she approved.  We even talked about our past baklava buying and all the good memories associated with it.  I love it when I can put my own twist on a dessert and it brings back good memories!  I have included the recipe here if you would like to experience it as well! 

Baklava Ice Cream  
Makes 6 cups

Crunchy nuts:
1 cup sliced almonds
1 1/2 cups walnuts
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp maple sugar or granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
Preheat oven to 375.  Lay out a piece of foil and spray with non-stick spray.  In a bowl, mix together nuts, honey, sugar, cinnamon, and sea salt and toss until well combined.  Spread out on sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes until nuts are fragrant and toasted. Remove from oven and let cool.  You will have extra for serving the ice cream.
Filo Cups:
6 sheets filo dough
coconut oil, warmed to liquid
maple sugar or granulated sugar
To make filo cups, lay out 1 piece of filo dough.  Brush it all over with coconut oil, then sprinkle with maple sugar and a little cinnamon.  fold in half and repeat.  Fold in half again and repeat, so that you still have a rectangle.  Repeat and fold in half so that you have a square.  Brush the top with coconut oil, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and fit into a muffin tin so that you have a cup.  Repeat with remaining 5 pieces of filo dough and when all the cups are formed, bake in a 375 degree oven until crisp and browned, about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven, let cool and remove cups from tin. 
Ice Cream:
3 cups organic full fat coconut milk, chilled
3/4 cup local honey
1/2 cup smooth roasted almond butter (no sugar added)
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp orangeflower water
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup crunchy nuts from above
crunchy nuts, filo cups and honey for serving

Combine all ingredients in a blender (except crunchy nuts), 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). Once processed, pour 1/3 into a freezable container with a lid, then scatter about 1/3 cup nuts over.  Pour half remaining ice cream over, then more nuts, then the remaining ice cream and nuts.  Swirl with a knife to distribute nuts throughout and place in the freezer for at least a few hours, or overnight to firm up for best results. To serve, scoop some ice cream into a filo cup, top with some of the extra nuts and drizzle with honey!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Truffled Vanilla Scented Kettle Corn

When the weather starts getting chilly and the sun has set before six, I like nothing more than to stay inside and relax after a long day.  This often involves sweats, a glass of good wine and a chick flick or a large pile of cookbooks.  Last Sunday I had gone out for a walk in the chilly air after the sun had set and I was thinking of having one of those relaxing nights.  My TV broke this week, but I did have the cookbooks and wine.  I felt as though I was in need of a delicious snack as well though.  Popcorn!  That was it, and it would go perfect with my Sauvignon Blanc!  I love a bowl of warm popcorn, especially made with coconut oil, which is the only way I make mine now, since my Mom introduced me to it.  I was craving something a little sweet too though, so kettle corn came to mind.

I had had a delicious truffled kettle corn at The Red Stag in Minneapolis recently, and it was so good I ate a huge bowl of the appetizer myself.  I am sure they used truffle salt on theirs as well as white sugar and butter and that is what made it so addictive. It inspired me to want to make some of my own at home my way.  I don't have truffle salt, but I do have white truffle oil so I knew I could make something just as delicious myself. 

I use my whirly pop to make popcorn, and it is wonderful!  You get perfect popcorn with few to none old maids (unpopped kernals) in just about 4 minutes.  It was a great investment since I love popcorn. 

I always use coconut oil in mine and even though I would be drizzling the kettle corn with truffle oil, I still used the coconut oil to cook it.  When it was all finished popping and the aroma was unbearable it smelled so delicious...

I tossed it with truffle oil, maple sugar and a bit of salt as well as a last minute ingredient you wouldn't expect...I decided to add vanilla bean to the kettle corn as well, thinking it would be delicious with the sweetness.  You may be thinking truffle and vanilla?  Yes!  It was amazing! 

Oh my goodness, it was better than the stuff at the restaurant.  And I admit that I ate the entire huge bowl in one sitting.  The truffle oil gave it an umami like earthy quality, the vanilla beans provided a delicious aroma and the maple sugar caramelly sweetness.  It went perfectly with my wine, and kept me from getting hungry as I browsed my cookbooks on the couch.  I know I will be making this often during the cool months, because it is very addictive.  Here is the recipe if you would like to enjoy some for yourself! 

 Truffled Vanilla Scented Kettle Corn
Makes about 6 cups

1 Tbsp coconut oil
1/3 cup unpopped white popcorn kernals
2 Tbs white truffle oil
seeds of one vanilla bean
2 Tbsp maple sugar or granulated sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt or to taste

Add coconut oil and popcorn to whirly pop and heat over medium heat.  Stir constantly with the crank and keep going until all of the popcorn is popped, about 4 minutes total.  (or if you make your popcorn in a pot, then cook it your way.)  Remove from heat, pour into a large bowl with a lid and drizzle with truffle oil, add vanilla bean, sugar and salt, then put the lid on and shake until everything is well distributed.  Enjoy!