Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash is so sweet and delicious, and a pain in the butt to peel and chop. So the option of making soup with it is a good one if you want to avoid the peeling and chopping. All you have to do is cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, roast it, scoop out the flesh, add it to broth (or just plain water), and puree it.

Then you can freeze single portions and thumb your nose as you pass the soup aisle in the grocery store. The freezer is the only preservative needed here.

Step 1 - Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, rub olive oil on the exposed flesh and sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and place cut-side down on a sheet pan and roast in a 375-degree oven for about 30-50 minutes (depends on size) until the flesh is soft. Put the squash aside to let it cool off a bit.

Out of the oven, cooling off:

Step 2 - Add some low-sodium vegetable broth (or just water) to a large saucepan. The amount is personal preference (I used about 1/2 quart). Scoop out the flesh of the squash and add it to the broth. Add 1/2 - 1 tsp curry powder (again, personal preference) and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Broth and scooped-out squash on the stove (not quite simmering yet):

Step 3 - Now it's ready to be pureed, however you're equipped to do so (blender, hand-blender, etc.). I use a hand-blender, so I don't have to let it cool off. Puree to your preferred consistency (I like it pretty thick), adding salt and pepper (to taste).

Another ingredient I like to add is goat cheese. It adds a little creaminess and slight tang. For this batch, I didn't have the usual plain soft goat cheese so I crumbled in a feta-style goat cheese that I had. The cheese isn't necessary, nor is heavy cream that a lot of recipes call for.

Blending in a little goat cheese:

Es todo (that's all):

Friday, August 24, 2012

Coconut Oil Brownies (Brownies without the Soy)


My friend (you know who you are :) ) and I have been commiserating about how soy is in EVERYTHING. Even our beloved chocolate bars. Soy lecithin is added to keep the cocoa butter and cocoa from separating (i.e., an emulsifier). We -- my friend and I -- agree that too much soy is something to avoid, for many reasons.

So I've been trying to decrease (eliminate, if possible) the soy from the chocolate desserts I make. Since I love the coconut oil/cocoa powder combination in the Homemade Chocolate Bars recipe, I wanted to make brownies using that combination instead of using a bittersweet chocolate bar (with its soy lecithin). (My friend and I also believe in the health benefits of coconut oil.)

My first attempt wasn't entirely successful. This is why I still consider myself a beginner when it comes to cooking. I equate where I am with the "branching" phase that eaglets go through when learning how to fly. First they flap their wings (avid eagle watchers call it wingersizing) while standing around in the nest. Then they hover over the nest for brief periods. The next step is branching, when they take short flights to a nearby branch then return to the nest again.

The first brownie batch was based on my best estimate of ingredient proportions. It turned out thin and very dry. Not to worry about wasting food here ... a topping of pistachio gelato saved the day. It was passable only with the added gelato.

I did more research and discovered the tweaks I needed to make. And this is the recipe I'm sticking with for the foreseeable future for brownies, because it's so good! It got the rare "check mark, plus, plus" hand notation on my working copy.

Ingredient notes:
  • About the bittersweet chips. I thought I may have found some soy-free chips, however it's never that simple, is it? There is not a single soy ingredient listed on the package. But when I ventured onto their website to find out what ingredient is used as the emulsifier, it states that soy lecithin is used in their products ... but it's not clear if the chips are one of those products specifically mentioned. I haven't received a reply to my inquiry (and don't expect to). I think these would still be delicious without the chips, if you wanted to avoid the soy possibilities altogether.
  • I used slightly less than 1 cup total sugar. I'd be curious to find out if using all brown or all white makes a noticeable difference.

Coconut Oil Brownies
(adapted from

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup extra virgin coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1 tsp espresso powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bittersweet chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square pan (I used coconut oil).

Sift the cocoa powder into a medium bowl, then add the coconut oil and stir until completely smooth. Add the sugar and mix well. Stir in the espresso powder, vanilla, and salt, then add the eggs. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Lastly, fold in the chips.

Gently spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.*

* I baked them for 22 minutes, with a toothpick coming out clean ... and they were not dry at all (they weren't gooey, but they were moist enough). Next time I may try a bit shorter time, more like 20 minutes, just to experiment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Whole Wheat Beer Bread

No messing with yeast, no waiting for rising, simple ingredients, and it has enough flavor to stand on its own. The most time-consuming part of making this bread is getting the additives ready -- chopping the herbs and garlic, grating the cheese -- which is all optional, in ingredient choice and amounts.

For the beer I used a black mocha stout because that's what I had in the frig (and I like stout). But a stout beer isn't necessary; use your favorite beer. For the cheese I used Pecorino. I tend to switch back and forth between Parmesan and Pecorino for the hard cheese to keep on hand, but I think I like Pecorino a little better. It's more flavorful ... a little nuttier and sharper.

The original recipe called for white flour, with an optional replacement of 1 cup with whole wheat flour. To me, a beer bread screams for whole wheat flour, not white. Why use ultra-refined white flour when a more nutrient-rich (i.e., healthier), flavorful whole wheat flour will do nicely?

Next time I think I'll add more herbs (just more of the same) and maybe leave out the cheese. Speaking of cheese, I'm thinking I should have stored the loaf in the refrigerator due to the cheese ingredient. I think I messed up on that account. I'd really like to get that assumption verified ... anyone? Thanks in advance!

Whole Wheat Beer Bread
(adapted from a recipe by joninnye)

1 cup spelt flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 garlic cloves, chopped (more or less, depending on how much you like garlic)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese (amount and type optional)
1-2 tbsp fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped (amount and herbs optional)
1 12-ounce beer
3-4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter/oil a loaf pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, garlic, cheese, and herbs in a large bowl, and lightly mix together. Carefully pour in the beer and let the mixture sit for a few minutes. Stir until the beer has been absorbed throughout (the dough will be thick).

Pour the dough into the prepared loaf pan and gently spread it evenly. Pour the melted butter on top of the dough. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the top is golden and the loaf is firm to the touch.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chewy Snack Loaf

Chewy Snack Loaf is not the original name of this "cake" -- it's actually
Tu bi'Shvat Cake, adapted by David Lebovitz from The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur. I adapted it a step further and can't bring myself to call it a cake. It definitely makes a great mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack.

I used white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, used brown sugar instead of white (and a little less of it since the dried fruit adds enough sweetness), and chose dates, apricots, and cranberries for the dried fruit and walnuts, hazelnuts, slivered almonds, and a few pecans for the nuts.

Although David Lebovitz says in his blog that even he was skeptical about the extra long baking time (90 minutes!) but determined it was the correct time, I think I'll try a little bit shorter time when I make this again. For me, it seemed a bit too well-done ... but just on the very outside "crust"; the inner part tastes just right.

I'd love to hear how it turns out for others.

Chewy Snack Loaf
(adapted from David Lebovitz)

7 tbsp white whole wheat flour
5 tbsp brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups dried fruit, chopped*
1 1/2 cups nuts, chopped and lightly toasted**

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the eggs, then the dried fruit and nuts.

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 90 minutes.*** 

Let cool in the pan, then move to a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut into 1/4-inch thick slices. It should keep for at least a week (wrapped or in an airtight container) at room temperature.

*Use any combination of dried fruit, such as cherries, cranberries, raisins, figs, apricots, etc. (I used dates, apricots, and cranberries)

**Use any combination of nuts (I used walnuts, hazelnuts, slivered almonds, and pecans)

***The original recipe calls for 90 minutes baking time. That proved a bit over-done on the outside crust for my loaf. I would suggest keeping an eye on the baking time.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chocolate Mini's

The name needs some work, but it's basically a donut recipe made into mini cupcakes. This is not your typical donut-like cake. What makes a donut a donut (I asked myself)? It's sweetened flour dough that is usually deep-fried (an Internet search responds). Then the only thing donutty about these is the sweetened part, and barely that since they aren't sickeningly, overly sweet like typical donuts.

This really was a trial run. I didn't want to invest in another specialty pan if this wasn't going to work out. (And, do I really want to get into making donuts ... even if they're a healthier, baked kind?) I waited to see what the dough consistency was like before choosing a pan to use. I was hoping to go the donut-hole route, dropping balls of dough on a sheet pan. But the dough wasn't stiff enough to hold the ball shape. So, the mini-muffin pan was the next choice.

These turned out better than I expected, and definitely worth another go, or two or three. There may be a donut pan in my future.

A gooey, chocolaty batter:

The usual small-batch (16 mini-muffin cups worth):

After cooling off, the minis get dipped in a little chocolate for a shiny finish:

The recipe used here was adapted from the Chocolate Cake Donut recipe in Erin McKenna's Babycakes Covers the Classics. I substituted spelt flour for the original recipe's rice flour and garbanzo & fava bean flour. And, as I usually do (especially when experimenting), I halved the normal amounts to make a small batch (hence the odd measurements).

Chocolate Cake Donut
(adapted from Erin McKenna's Babycakes Covers the Classics)

1/4 cup + 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp spelt flour
1/2 cup + 1/6 cup natural cane sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp + 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/16 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/6 cup extra virgin coconut oil, melted
2 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Oil a mini-muffin pan with coconut oil.

Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the applesauce, coconut oil, and vanilla and stir just until combined. Divide the mixture into the oiled pan (about a heaping tablespoon per cup, for a total of 16 cups).

Bake for about 15-16 minutes, rotating the pan at the half-way point. Let cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then move to a sheet pan to prepare for topping.

Chocolate Glaze

Break up or chop about 2-3 ounces of a dark chocolate bar and melt in microwave oven: first, microwave for about 30-40 seconds, then let rest for about 4 minutes, then microwave again for another 20-30 seconds. Stir, and add about 1/2 tbsp - 1 tbsp unsalted butter (or other desired amount, OR use coconut oil) and stir to melt and combine completely. Stir in a pinch of salt.

Dip the tops of the minis into the chocolate.

Note: Some of my minis had deflated centers, so I spooned some extra chocolate onto the tops.