Friday, October 28, 2011

Coconut Stuffed Dates: Halloween 'Candy'

I have a confession to share.  Halloween is not my favorite holiday.  It never was.  For starters, there is nothing I hate more than being scared.  I hate scary movies, even the ridiculously-not-so-scary on the verge of comical variety.  To me, they are still scary.  The deep music, the poor choices made by naive women, I know what's coming.  I don't want to see it.  I hate dressing up.  I'm not one of those people who plan their costume months or weeks in advance.  You can find me on Halloween morning scrounging around the dismantled costume aisles with the other sad saps, pulling out leftover props, face paint, and mangled costumes labeled 'adult large,' that wouldn't fit a newborn.  When my last ditch attempts at pulling together some semblance of a costume fail, I inevitably leave the store empty handed and turn to my default setting.  I was a witch for three straight years.  I find the sad looking hat, de-crushing it's pointy top and put on all the black clothes I can find before heading off to our Halloween party.  I hate haunted houses.  The adrenaline rush most people find amusing is terrifying to me.  Walking through dark, narrow passageways, only to turn the next corner and find a mummy has come alive and conveniently blocked my exit.

Don't get the wrong impression.  I assure you I am not a bitter twenty-eight year old (I promise I will have a more uplifting holiday post in the upcoming months).  Halloween is for the kids after all, and I have found something about Halloween I truly enjoy.  I secretly love passing out candy at home and watching our neighborhood transform itself with pint sized superheroes, devils, and princesses.  They wait outside at dusk for the sky to turn a dark enough shade of bluish gray.  The streetlights come on as neighbors flick on their outdoor lights signaling they are ready for business.  Carved jack o' lanterns staked out at their respectable post, their sparse lights fluttering in the distance.  The little ones that come first are the most endearing, the ones that can barely walk up the stairs in their oversized itchy costume, their parents urging them to say trick or treat and to take a piece of candy.  A giant dinosaur body with a little face starring up at me, clearly confused, is at my feet.  This is the stuff Halloween is made of.  This is what I enjoy.  This, and my Halloween 'candy.'

Dates stuffed with a mixture of shredded coconut and coconut oil is so sweet, they classify as candy in my book.  It wouldn't be greenthyme if I didn't share a healthy candy recipe for all you health nuts out there.  Why not indulge in something better for you than those fun size candy bars you'll passing out.  Dates are naturally sweet and full of antioxidants, and there are all kinds of reasons why coconut oil is a good fat choice.  Topped with sea salt and an almond, it's a sweet and salty crave-worthy combination I'll be enjoying while I watch the Halloween show unfold.  These addictive candies make my Halloween a little sweeter this year, as does seeing my two favorite boys dressed up like Tigger and Spiderman.  Halloween and I may just be turning a corner after all.

~Coconut Stuffed Dates Recipe~

12 Medjool dates, pits removed
3 tbsp coconut oil
4 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
12 almonds
coarse sea salt

Make a slit with a knife down the center of each date.  Fold open the flaps of the date and remove the pit.  The dates are very moldable and I use my hands to create a pocket and open them up a bit.  In a small bowl, add coconut oil and shredded coconut.  Using a fork, press and mash both ingredients together until well incorporated.  Fill each date with a heaping 1/2 tsp of the mixture.  Depending on the size of your dates, you may need more or less of the filling.  If you find yourself with a little extra, top off any dates that look like they could more.  Top each date with the teeniest pinch of coarse sea salt, based on how salty you like to go.  I like to go pretty conservative with my pinch so it doesn't overtake the coconut flavor.  Press one almond firmly into the top of each candy.  Transfer to the refrigerator for an hour to harden.  Makes one dozen.  I like to serve these cold.    

My friend Arianne's beautiful boys :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Apple Crunch

I realize most everyone has their favorite apple dessert recipe, the one they turn to again and again.  I'm not attempting to reinvent the wheel and I'm sure you have a personal favorite in your own recipe arsenal.  I'm simply sharing the one I turn to.  I thought of omitting this recipe, since there is an endless number of recipes you could turn to, but this blog is more about a personal recipe collection for me.  So when my brother invited us over for dinner last weekend and I offered to bring dessert, it was apple crunch he requested, and it was apple crunch he got.  It's not such a looker in all honesty, but that's the essence of a crunch.  It's homey and comforting and truth be told, fall wouldn't be complete, at least for me, without making this dessert at least once.  It made the cut.

The original recipe was my grandmothers,' passed onto me by my mother.  What I like best about this recipe is the topping.  Many similar recipes call for an oat crumble topping, but this is where our recipe differs, and this is what makes it standout for me.  Our topping has a crusty, almost biscuit-like consistency, without oats, that puffs and rises in the oven.  It's always been called apple crunch in our home, although you might call it a crisp or crumble.  I'm not sure if this is a regional difference or based upon ingredients.  In any case, this recipe is aptly named, as it has a great crunchy crust that sits atop cinnamon spiced sweet baked apples.  I've 'greenthymed' the original recipe, as I like to say, or altered it to pare down the sugar, swapping it for maple syrup.  I've also added whole-wheat flour to the mix and included a heftier ratio of crunch topping, if only to keep the crunch fighting to a minimum among the troops.

In an effort to convey just how enamored I am with this crunch topping, I'll share with you a childhood guilty admission. I once ate the entire topping off an apple crunch after it was cooling from the oven.  It started with a corner, continued with gaping holes, and by that point I couldn't stop myself.  I was already in too deep and polished it off.  My mother tried to put on her best stern face, but eventually laughed at the demolished dessert.  Everyone else had apples with the ice cream that night, sans crunch.  I, on the other hand, had a stomachache.  I think she threatened not making it again if I wasn't going to eat it the 'right' way.  I knew that wouldn't happen, and I have a copy of the original recipe to be sure of it.   

~Apple Crunch Recipe~

6-8 red apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4"-1/8" slices (any variety will do)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Crunch Topping:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup room temperature butter, cubed
1 egg beaten
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350.  In an 8x8 baking dish, arrange apples and sprinkle apples with brown sugar and cinnamon.  Using you hands, give the apples a good toss to distribute the brown sugar and cinnamon.  In large bowl, combine both flours, baking powder, and sea salt.  Add in egg, maple syrup, and cubed butter.  Using the back of a fork, press down, and combine the mixture.  It will appear crumbly at first.  Keep working it until it is well combined.  The mixture will resemble wet cookie dough.  

Using your fingers, pick up small pieces of the mixture, dropping it on top of the apples.  It will be sticky, so just be patient while you work with it, filling in the gaps as you move along.  Continue with this process until you have used up all the topping.  Place in the middle rack in your oven and bake for 1 hour until the apples are bubbling around the edges and the top turns a light golden brown.  We served this warm with vanilla coconut ice cream.  Serves 6.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fall Snapshots

I took a photography class this fall, hoping to learn a thing or two. While learning to decode  terminology like depth of field and aperture, I also learned to slow down.  Taking photos forces me to become more observant of my day-to-day surroundings, often finding beauty in something I would have missed otherwise.  Similar to my Summer Snapshots, I'm continuing the photo trend this fall season.  Here are some of my favorite autumn moments to date; including some colorful New England foliage I'm finding myself surrounded by.  Hope you enjoy.  Slow down and take a moment to enjoy your own surroundings this season.

~Driving through the backroads of NH...

~Rising with the sun on a chilly morning...

~Favorites from the farm and scenes around town...

"Slow down and enjoy life.  It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast-you also miss the sense of where you are going and why."-Eddie Cantor

Monday, October 17, 2011

Apple Pumpkin Muffins

You know what they say about the third time being a charm?  Well, it's certainly held true for me this week in my quest to bring you a pumpkin recipe.  I'm seeing pumpkins everywhere; on doorsteps, nestled next to lampposts, and in the form of mountain sized displays of canned Libby's.  My mind can't help but go to work dreaming up endless ways to use it.  It's pumpkin season after all and I intended to work with it, even if it wasn't willing to work with me.  Let me give you a rundown on my week of recipe testing, hold the exasperated expression.  There was the hazelnut pumpkin tart, which was lovely in my mind, but yielded a much too crunchy crust.  Then there was the pumpkin falafel idea; the mixture too wet, and the taste not quite what I hoped for.  But I kept trudging, and I think you'll be happy I did.  Alas, meet the apple pumpkin muffin.  Success.  Moist and plump with flecks of warm apple pieces hot from the oven.  I've created a better-for-you muffin while still delivering the best of fall flavors.

There are a few tricks I've learned in creating healthier baked goods that are worth mentioning.  For one, reduce and swap the sugar for something more natural like applesauce, agave, or in this case, maple syrup.  I can't tell you how many recipes I've attempted using little to no sweetness and winding up disappointed.  The last thing I want is a processed white sugar bomb, but you do need a slightly sweet element to make it work.  The addition of apple brings that component to these muffins as well.  Also, fruit and vegetable purees like pumpkin give the muffin a great moist quality without having to add in oil.  Applesauce and yogurt are great stand-ins too. 

The moral of the story kids?  If at first you don't succeed, try try again.  Or at least try three times, and if the third time's not a charm, I don't know what to tell you.  Time to move on I suppose.  I remember reading somewhere that failure is often a signpost to move into a different direction.  Also good advice.  I'm glad I stuck with the pumpkin and hope you are too.

~Apple Pumpkin Muffin Recipe~
Inspired by Ellie Krieger

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 cup butter, just barely melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup pumpkin puree (canned)
1 cup buttermilk (or milk/milk substitute)
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1 red apple, peeled, cored and diced
1-2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients: wheat and white flours, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  In a second bowl, add butter, eggs, pumpkin, maple syrup, and buttermilk.  Stir and combine together.  Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  Peel and core the apple and dice into small cubes, adding it to the batter.

Grease or line muffin tins.  Pour batter into each of the tins, 3/4 of the way full.  Sprinkle a few pumpkin seeds atop each muffin.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffins comes out clean.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes, and then place on a cooling rack.  You might need to gently run a knife along the muffin to make it easier to remove from the tin.  Makes one dozen.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cilantro Marinated Eggplant

Think bright cilantro, flecks of garlic, and notes of zesty lemon and vinegar soaked up by roasted golden brown eggplant slices.  Is your mouth watering yet?  A farewell kiss to my CSA share, this recipe is the last to come from those morning pickups, which have been charming me weekly since June.  It has come to an end for the season, foreshadowing the chilly months that lie ahead.   Sensing it's completion as we neared squash and apple season, I've been squirreling away my goods ever since.  Homemade tomato sauces and purees are resting in glass containers; jars of vinegary green tomatoes line shelves in my fridge, and bags of grilled corn are hibernating in the freezer.  

On the last day, we could pick as many tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplants as we wanted.  Just shy of backing up a truck into the fields, my husband and I brought as many reusable bags as we could carry and set out to do some damage.  This time of the year many of the overripe vegetables had already fallen to the ground.  It's a shame to see what goes to waste.  No vegetable was safe with us.  We hunted down more than we could carry, including hidden bushels of eggplants.  Many looked like they just needed more time to reach their full potential, a few more warm days, or some sunlight would have served them well.  Time was running out and they wouldn't be given this opportunity.  Most of the varieties we took home were Japanese eggplants, many smaller in size, but perfect for this recipe.

I realize I have overlooked sharing an eggplant recipe, which is ironic, given its weekly appearance on our dinner table since early summer.  The wait is over.  Cilantro and eggplant may seem like an odd pairing.  Most of us are familiar with Italian style marinated eggplant with basil or oregano.  However, I'm partial to cilantro, and I like to think outside the box.  Trust me, I'm onto something here.  It's unexpected and delightful.  We just polished off our second batch in two days.  It's also worth mentioning to resist temptation and wait a day before eating this.  Marinating it overnight makes all the difference.  You could enjoy this cilantro eggplant any number of ways.  It works well in sandwiches, on crostini, crackers, topped on pizza.  Me?  I broil slices of sourdough bread drizzled with olive oil.  Hot out of the oven, I slather the eggplant over top, making open-faced sandwiches.  It can't be beat.  

Greedy confession: one of the bags I mentioned earlier, the one holding the eggplant...well, that broke just as we walked into the kitchen.  I'd say the CSA served us well.  Until next year.  And a thank you to those family members who happily accepted the extra overflow we acquired that morning.  We couldn't help ourselves.  

~Cilantro Marinated Eggplant Recipe~

5 small Japanese eggplants (approximately 5 cups, sliced)
1 tbsp olive oil (for brushing eggplant)
2 cloves of garlic, minced 
1 tsp olive oil (for cooking garlic)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
few grinds of pepper

Preheat your oven to broil.  Cut eggplant into 1/4" slices and arrange on a baking sheet.  Brush one side with olive oil, turn, and brush the other side.  Place sheet of eggplant on the second shelf in your oven, broiling for 5-7 minutes on each side.  The eggplant will be tender in the center, but slightly crisp and brown.  Remove from the oven.

Mince garlic and cook in 1 tsp of olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes until it is fragrant and golden.  Add to a food processor, along with cilantro leaves.  In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Add this mixture to the food processor.  Give it a whirl until the dressing combines with the garlic and cilantro.  In a small bowl, mix the eggplant slices with the marinade.  Refrigerate for at least a few hours, even better to let it marinate for a day.  Let it come to room temperature before serving.  Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Vinegary Green Tomatoes

It's a funny thing when a memory of someone speaks to you in an unexpected way.  I'm sure you've had the experience of driving in your car when a song playing on the radio triggers thoughts of someone.  Or maybe it's an old photo, a family recipe, or in my case, a favorite food.  That's exactly what happened when I received three oversized green tomatoes in my CSA share on Saturday.  Green tomatoes for me signal only one thing: my grandfather.  I still have images of him standing in his kitchen, leaning against the counter, a  jar of vinegar tomatoes in one hand, and a fork in the other.  He'd slowly work his way down the jar while we laughed together.  The memory is so vivid.  I can picture his mannerisms, one foot crossed over the other, his expression, and the feeling I felt being in that room.   He had a thing for salt and vinegar flavors and a jar of vinegar green tomatoes hit on both notes.  Never bothered by imperfection, he'd serve them up alongside his famous burnt grilled cheese sandwiches.

And just when you thought my tomato posts were over, here I am in October gushing over green tomatoes.  Green tomatoes are beautiful in their own right, firm, unripe, needing a little love.  The last one I sliced open revealed a muted pink hue on the inside.  For many of you, maybe fried green tomatoes come to mind.  Now, I'm no southern belle, and I've never had fried green tomatoes, so if you have a recipe, send it along.  I'll also admit that I've never seen the movie, which I believe is one of the ultimate chick flicks.  I am however, all about vinegary green tomatoes and have a thing for mason jars.  This version is a take on a recipe from an old family friend.  It's jotted down in pen on a small piece of paper residing in my mothers' recipe collection that's been folded again and again.  The edges are slightly worn with some vinegar stains along the writing, but it works like a charm every time.  I've altered it here and there over the years.  This is a small batch version and makes three jars.

I set up a little assembly line.  Using three mason jars, I drop the goods into the bottom of each jar; a smashed clove of garlic, sea salt, and dill weed.  If you wanted some heat, go right ahead and add a jalapeno or maybe crushed red pepper flakes.  Green peppers also work well, as do onion slices.  I went pure and simple with solely green tomatoes.  A mixture of apple cider vinegar and water are brought to a boil and poured into each of the jars.  The tomatoes are best in a few days after the flavors have a chance to hang out together, and good for a little over a week or so.  I prefer mine less salty with a good deal of vinegar punch, which these deliver.  I also refrain from adding sugar.  Crunchy and cold right out of the fridge, I can never eat just one.  I wish my grandfather and I could share a jar of these together.  Although I miss those moments in his kitchen, I'm happy that a few green tomatoes sent me back to reminisce about the times we shared together.  I'm planning on polishing off a jar of these in his honor.  

~Vinegary Green Tomatoes Recipe~

3-5 large green tomatoes (depending on size and variety you have)
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 tsp dried dill weed
3 tsp sea salt
4 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cups water
You'll also need three mason jars.

Core and slice tomatoes into wedges.  In the bottom of the three jars, add to each jar; 1 smashed garlic clove, 1 tsp dried dill weed, and 1 tsp sea salt.  Divide the tomatoes evenly among the jars, leaving a bit of room at the top.  In a saucepan, bring apple cider vinegar and water just to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Using a funnel, pour the vinegar/water mixture into each of the three jars.  Allow the jars to cool before placing the lids on.  Store in your refrigerator.  I let these go for a few days and periodically shake them up as I meander into the fridge. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Butternut Barley Risotto

When I arrived at the farm on Saturday to pick up my CSA share, there was a definite chill in the air.  For the first time in a long time, I left my flip-flops by the back door and opted for my favorite sweater.  Mums and corn stalks wrapped in orange bows lined the farm store.  Pick your own pumpkin signs had replaced the pick your own raspberry signs, and the familiar smell of apple cider donuts hit me hard.  I went through the line, taking my allotment of peaches, eggplants, and apples.  Towards the very end sat a bucket full of butternut squash harvest bearing the sign, 'take one.'  For me, all of this and more signaled the arrival of fall that morning.  That single butternut squash had me falling hard for fall.

My favorite way prepare butternut squash, like most vegetables, is to roast it.  I would cut open the bright orange flesh and watch it transform into sweet magic, destined to be the star ingredient in my barley risotto.  Arborio rice is traditionally used in risotto, but I've swapped it with barley.  Barley is a great source of fiber and selenium.  It's hardy and stands up well next to the delicate and sweet squash.  I like the contrast of textures it brings to the dish as well.  I use the same method you would with a traditional risotto, slowly adding stock until the barley becomes slightly tender and creamy.  Warm and filling, it was a perfect lunch on beautiful, if slightly drizzly, fall day.  

~Butternut Barley Risotto Recipe~

1 medium butternut squash cut into 3/4"-1" pieces (approximately 6 cups)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/4 cup pearl barley
3/4 cup dry white wine
6 cups low sodium vegetable stock
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
handful of parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the butternut squash cubes onto a baking sheet.  Drizzle with a little olive oil, and using your hands, combine and coat the squash.  Cook for 30 minutes.

In a small saucepan, add the vegetable stock, bring the temperature up and keep on low heat.  You'll want to add the stock to the risotto warm.  In a large pan or Dutch oven, add onion and garlic to olive oil over medium heat, cooking for a few minutes until it softens.  Add in barley, cooking for just another minute.  Add white wine, cooking for an additional few minutes.  

Using a ladle, add in your first two ladles of stock to the barley.  It should be just enough to cover the barley.  Adjust your heat to a low-medium heat.  Let the barley cook and absorb the stock.  When the liquid has absorbed, continue this process of adding two ladles of stock at a time until you have used up the stock.  The entire process should take about 45 minutes.  The barley risotto will still retain a slight bite, but will be cooked through and creamy.  At this point, add in the cheese and chopped parsley.  Finally, carefully fold the roasted butternut squash into the barley risotto.  Serves 4.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Warm Apple Amaranth Breakfast Bowl

I realize I am somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to eating grains for breakfast; although many cultures do just that.  It's the standard American diet that often leaves much to be desired, especially in the breakfast department.  If a grain for breakfast is not your thing, you may want to pass on this one.  But if you are a bit more adventurous, and curious as to how great you can feel, I encourage you to try it.  It might take some getting used to, but over time you won't miss that sugary processed cereal or pastry.  Eating a real grain with a natural sugar will fill you up and satisfy you in the best way possible. Amaranth is a teeny tiny grain that was a staple of the Aztec culture.  It's similar to my old faithful quinoa; and like quinoa is high in protein and loaded with calcium and fiber. 

For those oatmeal lovers out there, this should go over well with you.  It's the perfect time of year to have a warm breakfast bowl.  Amaranth has a slightly nutty flavor, and once cooked over the stovetop with milk, vanilla, and cinnamon, it becomes creamy like porridge.  I for one love the warm and cool factor; the warm amaranth contrasts with the cold crisp apple.  I go topping heavy with walnuts and granola, and drizzle a hefty amount of maple syrup over top.  If you are new to a breakfast like this, indulge yourself with some maple syrup to sweeten up the amaranth, similar to what you might do with oatmeal.  I make this at the beginning of the week, and breakfast is ready to go for the next few days.   

~Warm Apple Amaranth Breakfast Bowl Recipe~

1 cup amaranth
1 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cup milk or milk substitute (I used vanilla soy milk)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

Toppings: (divided among four bowls)
2 large apples, diced
1 cup granola
1 cup walnuts, chopped
real maple syrup for drizzling (about 1-2 tbsp per bowl/serving)
sprinkle of cinnamon

Soak amaranth overnight in a bowl with water.  In the morning, drain the amaranth and place in a saucepan with water, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Bring to a slight bubble.  Cover and reduce heat.  Simmer away for about 40 minutes, until the liquid has absorbed and the amaranth is cooked through.  It will have a porridge consistency.  Divide among four bowls and drizzle maple syrup on top of each warm bowl.  Top with chopped apples, granola, walnuts, and additional cinnamon if you like.