Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Delicious Fruit Cake

Fruitcake.  It has a reputation for being the unwanted gift given at Christmas every year, the cake that is regifted due to nobody wanting to eat it.  The cake that has unnaturally colored fruits in it and is so dense it could be used as a doorstop.  Poor fruitcake, so unloved.  Alright, so I admit that I have never been given fruitcake and never eaten it...until this year.  Last week I had a dream that I was eating the most delicious fruitcake. 

It was filled with fruit soaked in bourbon and tasted of caramel and toasted nuts, and it was so good I ate the entire thing.  I woke up thinking maybe the boozy cocktail I had had the night before had gotten to me.  Afterall, isn't delicious fruitcake an oxymoron? 

I decided that I needed to put all previous fears of fruitcake aside and make one that was actually delicious.  Afterall, I knew it could be done, I had tasted it in my dream! 

I didn't want my cake to be dense as a doorstop, so I used an apple cake base that I have made before which I knew would be delicious with all the add ins.  I stirred into it cherries, crasins, and golden raisins soaked in bourbon, as well as a bit of the soaking liquid, and the batter itself was quite tasty.  Yes, I admit I licked the bowl, no risk of contamination with vegan cakes afterall! 

It smelled wonderful while baking, filling my home with the most heavenly aroma of cake that smelled faintly of vanilla and maple.  Once it was cool enough, I drizzled it with a bit more of the fruit soaking bourbon...afterall, fruitcake should be a little boozy should it not? 

I had originally planned on topping the cake with a frosting, but decided on toasted almonds and a caramel instead to preserve the beautiful character of the fruit filled cake.   

It was delicious, soft apple cake laced with bourbon, and studded with jewel like fruits, topped with a buttery gooey caramel and crunchy toasty nuts.  

It was the best fruitcake I have ever eaten! Well, also the only fruitcake I have ever eaten, but had everyone been exposed to this instead of the other stuff we would all be loving fruitcake.  I guess we cannot judge a cake by its name, or all cakes by one.  Just proves that if you have a good baker, you can have a delicious fruit cake!  Hope you all are having a lovely Christmas weekend :)!

Amy's Fruit Cake
Makes 2 6 inch cakes

1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried cherries
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup maple sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp grated organic orange zest
3/4 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp maple extract
1/2 cup apple cider
2 Tbsp reserved fruit soaking bourbon
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp reserved fruit soaking bourbon

1/4 cup maple sugar
5 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp agave nectar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp reserved fruit soaking bourbon
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped

Place dried fruit in a jar and cover with just enough bourbon to submerge.  Let sit at least 4 hours or overnight.  Drain fruit, reserving liquid.  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, baking soda, orange zest, salt, and sugar in a large bowl to blend well. Whisk apple sauce, oil, maple extract, vanilla extract, and cider  and 2 Tbsp fruit soaking liquid 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) stir in dried fruit. Transfer cake batter to prepared pans and bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on rack, about 1 hour. Cut around sides of pan to loosen. Turn cakes out onto platters, and peel off parchment paper. Let cool completely, and drizzle each with 1 Tbsp reserved fruit soaking bourbon.
To make caramel, combine maple sugar, butter, agave nectar, and sea salt in a saucepan over medium heat.  Heat until brought to a boil, cook one minute, then remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and bourbon.  Scatter nuts over each cake, then drizzle caramel over each. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dark Chocolate Shortbread with Toasted Almonds and Smoked Sea Salt

I have to admit, although I am a vegetarian I love the smell of bacon.  I was discussing it with a coworker recently who also doesn't eat it and we agreed that the aroma it gives off when cooking is wonderful, probably more enjoyable and satisfying than if actually eaten. 

I don't know of many people who don't agree.  It doesn't make me want to actually eat it however, because I realize that the things about bacon that appeal to me is the saltiness and the smokyness.  So when I came across some smoked sea salt at a store last weekend I couldn't pass it up! I figured it could be added to savory dishes, but I most wanted to pair it with chocolate! 

I thought it would be wonderful with dark chocolate and toasted almonds in a shortbread cookie.   I am on a cookie kick as of lately with the Christmas baking. I don't know if these qualify as "Christmasy" but I decided they needed to be made now because I couldn't wait. 

I knew they would be amazing when I tested some of the dough (ok a lot of the dough).  They had a rich deep flavor with a hint of smokyness.  The finished product however was even better, almost like a cross between a brownie and shortbread.

The cookie itself was melt in your mouth, intensely chocolaty due to the chocolate dough as well as the chopped dark chocolate I had added.  They had a hint of smoke which paired beautifully with the richness and nutty crunchy almonds which contributed wonderful texture. 

I enjoyed some with red wine and it was a beautiful combination.  In fact, it would be perfect to give as a gift with a bottle of wine, I know I would love to recieve it!  Here is the recipe if you would like to enjoy some for yourself! 

Dark Chocolate Shortbread with Toasted Almonds and Smoked Sea Salt
Makes 12 shortbreads

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 stick plus 3 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan butter
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp regular fleur de sel
1/2 tsp smoked sea salt
6 oz good quality vegan chocolate, chopped, or chips
1 1/2 cups toasted coarsely chopped almonds

2 oz good quality vegan dark chocolate
additional smoked sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.  In a large bowl, beat together butter, maple sugar, vanilla, and salts until light and fluffy. Mix in dry ingredients until well combined, and then the almonds and chocolate 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 a little fleur de sel and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until set.  When done baking, score again, and cool on a wire rack completely before unmolding.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

White Christmas Martini

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...hey, a girl can dream even though it has been 40 degrees in Minnesota, it is brown outside and there is no snow in the forecast in the next five days.  It just doesn't seem right to not be going nordic skiing, for walks in the snow, and staring out at the glittery white beauty.  I went for a walk after work today and saw a guy in shorts!  Really? 

Last year at this time we had plenty of fluffy white goodness outside and I was skiing at this point.  Since I can't have my snow and I can't control the weather, I thought I would create my own "White Christmas" in the form of a delicious drink. 

Eggnog sounded good, but I wanted a non-dairy version that didn't come from a carton.  So I came up with my own twist on the classic made creamy with coconut milk, spiced with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg and scented with vanilla and almond. 

It seems that people like different types of liquor in their eggnogs, but I decided to skip the rum and do a combination of cognac and bourbon which is what I have on hand.  It was the best eggnog I have ever had (if you can really call it that, but it is my blog so I will)! 

It was smooth and boozy but also contained light and beautiful flavors due to the vanilla and almond.  I garnished it with some nonpareils because I could and I just couldn't resist!  It tasted like Christmas, and a snowy White Christmas at that!  If I hadn't looked out the window I could have sworn we had snow.  If you are snow deprived as well, I have included the recipe if you wish to make a "White Christmas". If you have snow I am jealous, but you should still make yourself one.  Cheers!

White Christmas Martini
Makes 1

2 Tbsp colored red and green nonpareils
1 Tbsp agave nectar

4-6 large ice cubes
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
3 oz bourbon
1 oz cognac
2 Tbsp vanilla bean syrup*
1/4 cup full fat coconut milk
a dash of cinnamon
nutmeg for sprinkling

To make rim, Spread sugar out on a small plate. Coat the rim of the martini glass with the agave syrup by dipping it into it on a plate, then dip the agave coated rim into the nonpareils and set aside. In a martini shaker add the ice, vanilla, almond extract, liquors, vanilla bean syrup, coconut milk, cinnamon and place top on shaker. Shake until well blended. Pour through a strainer into a the prepared martini glass, dust with a little nutmeg and serve!
*Vanilla Bean Syrup:

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup agave nectar
seeds of one vanilla bean

Heat water until boiling, remove from heat and whisk in agave nectar and vanilla beans, until nectar is dissolved. Chill well before using in drinks. Makes 1/2 cup syrup

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cindy Lou Who Martini

If you haven't seen the movie "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", this post may confuse you a bit.  I would advise you to check it out as it is my favorite Christmas movie and is considered a classic!  I have to watch it at least 3 times during the Holiday season, and my favorite character in the movie is Cindy Lou Who.  I think we all need to have a little bit of Cindy Lou Who mentality around the holidays to stay sane.  Afterall, there are plenty of Grinches around.  People who refuse to be jolly, steal things, or get so caught up in buying presents and running around that they forget the real meaning of the season and become grumpy etc.  Cindy Lou Who is naturally sweet and happy, knowing the real meaning of Christmas isn't in the gifts and decorations, and rushing around but in the spending time with loved ones.  I think I have done a good job this year remaining level headed and not getting stressed out about the Holidays.  No Grinch like attitude for me! 
I thought it would be fun to create a cocktail in the spirit of Cindy Lou Who.  Although she is underage and would be unable to drink it technically. 

I wanted it to be light and cheery, sweet, and beautiful.  I decided on a pomegranate pear combination with a little bit of vanilla.  I can see the Whos having pomegranates and pears on their table at a celebration and sweet vanilla is like the essence of Cindy. 
I also added a bit of lemon to balance the drink and it was perfect!  I garnished the rim with pink and red for fun and it was adorable! 

Of course I have included the recipe if you would like to make one for yourself!  Hope you are all feeling cheerful like Cindy Lou Who!  Cheers! 

Cindy Lou Who Martini
(Pomegranate Pear Vanilla Martini)
Makes 1

For the rim:
1 Tbsp agave nectar
1 Tbsp red sugars
1 Tbsp pink sugars
6 large ice cubes
4 oz pear vodka
1 oz fresh lemon juice
2 oz pomegranate juice
1 oz vanilla bean agave syrup*
pomegranate seeds
lemon zest twist

For the rim, put 1 Tbsp agave nectar on one plate, and sugars on another.  Dip the rim of the glass into the agave nectar coating the edge, then dip it into the sugars.  To make drink, in a martini shaker add the ice, vodka, pomegranate juice, lemon juice, vanilla syrup and place top on shaker. Shake until well blended. Place a few pomegranate seeds into the martini glass, Pour the drink through a strainer into a the prepared martini glass, garnish with lemon zest and serve!

*Vanilla Bean Agave Syrup:
makes about a cup

1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 vanilla bean slit lengthwise

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar, place top on and shake a few times.  Place in the fridge and let sit at least a day before using (the longer it sits the more pronounced the vanilla flavor will be. Keeps at least a few months. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Beet and Pomegranate Jewel Salad

It has been a rather dreary 3 days in Minnesota.  Instead of having a winter wonderland covered in sparkly white snow, it has been raining and dark.  Now, it would be all fine and dandy if the sun were out and it were 40 degrees, but instead it is damp and foggy.  I haven't let it dampen my spirits however, and I am still in a rather sparkly mood this week despite the rain.  Spending time with some good people, getting some good workouts in and making some tasty food have helped.  Since it was blah outside, I thought I would share a favorite recipe of mine which is bright and beautiful as well as tasty.  My beet and pomegranate jewel salad.
I have made it many times, especially during the Holiday season as it is so festive.  Red and yellow beets, with ruby like pomegranates and sweet juicy oranges make it rather lovely which is why I named it jewel salad.  It is sweet and tart, fresh and vibrant from the citrus and pomegranates, and is quite a work of art!  I have added green pistachios as well for some crunch as well as color.  Hopefully
tomorrow the sun comes out, or we get some snow soon, but until then, beautiful things like this one bring some sunshine!  Here is the recipe if you would like to taste it for yourself!

Beet and Pomegranate Jewel Salad
Serves 3

1 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp orange zest
2 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp maple syrup
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 medium organic cooked golden beets, skin removed, and cut into large dice
1 medium organic cooked red beet, skin removed, and cut into large dice
seeds of 1 organic pomegranate
2 medium oranges, cut into supremes

1/2 cup salted pistachios shelled

Whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl, and set aside.  In a larger bowl, combine beets, pomegranate seeds, and oranges.  Toss salad with dressing, sprinkle with pistachios and serve!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Naughty Elf Bites

I imagine elves like to be naughty once in a while.  Afterall, they don't need to be good all year round since they do not need to be on the good list for Santa...they just work for him, they aren't the recipients of the toys they assemble.  It would be hard to sit in one place all day long assembling toys, and following orders, so I am sure at night when the elves get a break they like to have a nice hot toddy or some spiked hot chocolate and let loose a bit. 

Maybe they like to have a few sweets as well, cookies would be a must, but maybe tiny cakes, afterall elves are small.  Yes, I have an imagination, which is precisely why I named the treats I made this weekend "naughty elf bites". 

I was feeling a little like an elf myself after working hard on "nice" sweets, and felt that a little but of naughty was needed.  Although I am a big fan of cocktails, I thought some bourbon laced pretty elf sized brownies would be fun! 

So I used my vegan brownie recipe, baked it in tiny baking tins and sprinkled them with a bit of bourbon.  They needed a bit of frosting to be more naughty, so I made a dark chocolate frosting which tasted of fudge, and was of course laced with more bourbon.  Lastly for a magical elfish touch some christmasy non-pareils were added. 

They were boozy and delicious, dark fudgy brownies with the silky frosting and bite of bourbon!  I imagine the elves would have a hard time not eating too many after a hard day! 

Maybe you feel like being a naughty elf here is the recipe if you wish to indulge!

Naughty Elf Bites
(mini bourbon laced brownies)
makes 24

Brownies: 1/2
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup coconut oil
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/2 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp pureed pumpkin
1 Tbsp bourbon
1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
bourbon for sprinkling
1 cup agave nectar
1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup bourbon
a large pinch sea salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

red and green nonpareils for decorating

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle position. Line two 12 hole mini muffin tins with liners.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, sea salt and set aside. In a large bowl, place chcocolate and oil. Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between to melt the chocolate, until the chocolate and oil are smooth and well combined. Whisk in agave nectar, along with vanilla, and pumpkin, and whisk to blend until well incorporated. Whisk in 1 Tbsp bourbon and vinegar until well blended and there are pale swirls throughout the batter.  Spoon into prepared tins and bake for about 15 minutes until set and toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attatched.  Let cool completely.  When cool, using an eye dropper, drop about 3 drops of bourbon onto each brownie. 
To make frosting, beat all ingredients together until frosting consistency (adding more cocoa if it needs to be thicker, or more agave if it is too thick).  Place in a pastry bag, and pipe onto brownies.  Sprinkle with nonpareils. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Partridge in a Pear Tree Martini

I have been only listening to non-stop Christmas music at work for less than a week and it is already getting to me.  I find myself singing it to myself while I am at home where it is silent and waking up with the tunes in my head in the morning.  It wouldn't be so bad, except there are only so many Christmas songs and of course many different renditions of them so you end up hearing the same one five or more times during the day.  Don't get me wrong, I am in a jolly mood staying away from the grinch attitude, but I have to laugh at all the Christmas music at times.  I made myself martini when I got home from work tonight, because I had a rather good day and who says you have to reserve martinis for the bad ones. 

It was made with pear vodka, which oddly enough was a mistake purchase.  I had meant to buy plain, but got home and realized it was pear!  Oh well, it is fragrant and I rather like it!  So I used it to make a pear martini today, and after all the Christmas music I decided it needed to be called "Partridge in a Pear Tree" martini since that ear worm is stuck in my head at the moment. 

To the pear vodka I added a little fresh lemon juice, and some ginger syrup I had on hand for a bit of warmth, as well as thyme since I love fresh herbs in drinks.  It was well balanced and delicious!  Now I suppose I will be singing "The 12 Day's of Christmas" all night, but oh well.  I have included the recipe if you would like to experience some of the holiday cheer for yourself!  Cheers!

Partridge in a Pear Tree Martini
(Pear Martini with Lemon, Ginger and Thyme)
Makes 1

6 large ice cubes
1 sprigs fresh thyme
4 oz pear vodka
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz agave ginger syrup*
fresh thyme for garnish

To make drink, in a martini shaker add the ice, and the thyme and muddle it until thyme is fragrant.  Add vodka, lemon juice, ginger syrup and place top on shaker. Shake until well blended. Pour through a strainer into a the martini glass, garnish with thyme and serve!

*Agave Ginger Syrup:
makes about a cup

1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 Tbsp sliced ginger

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar, place top on and shake a few times.  Place in the fridge and let sit at least a day before using (the longer it sits the more pronounced the ginger flavor will be), and strain out ginger before using in drinks.  Keeps at least a few weeks. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thai Peanut Ice Cream

I have said it before and will say it again, I will never be one to keep ice cream making strictly to the warm months of the year.  And I am never one to make conventional ice cream flavors. 

Which is why I decided to make thai peanut ice cream.  Now, I like to make cocktials to celebrate good things, but I also like to make ice cream.  Which is why on Wednesday when I got the good news from my doctor that my x-ray showed my stress fracture being healed I decided to make ice cream.  After going on a celebratory run of course.  I was in the mood for something exotic...I had some limes, a thai chili and fresh ginger on my counter and so I thought Thai coconut!  But that quickly morphed into Thai peanut because I love a thai curry with coconut AND silky! 

Now before you start thinking that all of these things do not belong in ice cream you are wrong.  I told my Mother what I was concocting and she told me I was nuts!  But despite the unusual ice cream ingredients here it was quite amazing.  I knew it was good when I had the base made and tasted it before pouring it into the mixture.  It had the most amazing texture and a subtle exotic aromatic flavor remeniscent of thai curry, but just the sweet side of it.  I couldn't help but think how delicious these flavors might be in rice pudding as well (and might just have to try making it with them).  Once churned however it was even better.  It was smooth and rich, silky and just as aromatic with lime and ginger and the light kick from the chili. 

The peanut butter flavor was light and subtle with the sweet coconut.  It was heavenly!  It would have been perfect with some grilled pineapple, but I just enjoyed it with some fresh mango.  My Mom doesn't think I am nuts for creating it anymore either because I gave her a taste and she was pleasantly surprised saying it would be perfect to end a meal of thai curry.  So...just goes to show that unconventional ice cream can be some of the best out there.  Here is the recipe if you would like to experience it for yourself! 

Thai Peanut Ice Cream
makes about 6 cups

Ice Cream:
1 cup lite coconut milk
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
half of a thai chili, seeded
2 cups organic full fat coconut milk, chilled
3/4 cup agave nectar
3/4 cup organic smooth salted peanut butter (no sugar added)
1 Tbsp organic lime zest
juice of two limes
1/8 tsp sea salt

Combine fresh ginger, chili, and lite coconut milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and chill until very cold (to let the ginger and chili infuse).  Combine all ingredients in a blender (including ginger infused milk), 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 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.