Thursday, June 28, 2012

Simple Snack: Radishes on Buttered Bread

I've been getting all kinds of goodies in my CSA pickup, including radishes; just picked, covered in dirt, fresh-as-they-come, radishes.  I can't say I've ever paid much attention to radishes.  They appear in salads, looking rather pretty with their magenta exterior.  They're slightly peppery, crisp, and like most other salad components, they marry well with their surroundings.  But I've come up with another one of those simple snack ideas I find myself making absentmindedly.  It showcases those pretty pink radishes you too might find yourself in the company of.  This simple snack carries me through the lull between breakfast and lunch.  There's something comforting about it, good bread smeared with good butter and crisp radishes soaking up sea salt.  It feels very French to me.  And while eating this hunched over your kitchen counter is sufficient, I could imagine something more civilized like serving it as an appetizer and sipping on wine.  Little crostini versions come to mind.

I'll be leaving for vacation tomorrow for ten glorious days.  It's a last minute trip that came together unexpectedly and beautifully.  It requires a proper write up that unfortunately I don't have time for at the moment.  I have a lengthy to-do list, a backpack that needs packing, and food to make for the plane ride over.  These biscuits are definitely coming for breakfast.  And I'm thinking black lentils, brown rice, and avocado for lunch.  Please pardon my absence for a little while.  In the meantime, I hope you'll accept my radishes as a parting gift ;) Or perhaps these flowers?  We'll catch up soon.  Enjoy some radishes, flowers, or whatever tickles your fancy.  Until next time.  I'll be back with lots of photos on where I've been and what I've been up to.

~Radish on Buttered Bread Recipe~

Smear butter on sourdough/multi-grain bread.  Use the best bread you can find.  Cover with sliced radishes.  Sprinkle with sea salt and top with fresh-snipped chives.  Make as few or as many as you like. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Better Strawberry Shortcake

As a child of the eighties, only one thing comes to mind when I hear the words 'strawberry shortcake.'  That would be the adorable girl with red hair wearing an oversized pink hat.  I'm almost positive I had a strawberry shortcake doll, stickers, and maybe even a few pencils.  I thought I dressed up as strawberry shortcake for Halloween, but my mother confirmed it was in fact Raggedy Ann, not strawberry shortcake. Apparently I had a thing for striped tights and red locks (looks like I'm not the only one).  What I never had a thing for was strawberry shortcake, the dessert.  I've had a few versions; the ones made from yellow spongy supermarket discs, and others made with very dry, perhaps even stale, biscuits.  Sugary pink sauce was a constant, as were the mountains of redi whip and cool whip.  But I'm ready to put all that behind me.  So I took a stab at a better version; better tasting, better for you.  If there was ever a time to make strawberry shortcake, it was right now.  Could the strawberries be any more amazing right now?

There are two ingredients I've immediately become smitten with on the baking front.  The first is almond flour, a fabulous gluten free option.  Not only is it high in protein and good for you, but it's delicious too.  It lends a rich, buttery flavor to cakes, cookies, and muffins.  I've been experimenting with it more and more and I'm always surprised at how moist and flavorful everything turns out.  My second of-the-moment smitten ingredient is ghee.  Ghee, widely used in Indian cuisine, is clarified butter.  It's made by gently simmering butter to remove casein and lactose.  It's high in antioxidants and contains vitamins A, D, and K.  Best of all, it tastes so incredible.  It's like a better version of butter, if that's even possible.  Because it's so rich and flavorful, it works wonders in baking.  These biscuits utilize both almond flour and ghee and are sweetened with a just a smidgen of honey.  They're pretty phenomenal.  

I split the biscuits open, stuffing them with super sweet red berries.  Nothing fancy.  No macerating, no extra sugar, no syrupy mess.  I let them be because there's nothing better than a juicy June strawberry.  Nothing I can think of at the moment anyway.  Ask me next month and I will say the same thing about raspberries.  Instead of making whipped cream, I topped the strawberries with Greek yogurt.  I used plain yogurt but you could add some orange or lemon zest if you wanted to gussy it up.  If you're looking for something sweeter, you could stir in some honey to taste.  These biscuits are buttery, dense, and moist, and suddenly have me keen on strawberry shortcake, the dessert not the character, but you knew that.

I'm also keen on food festivals of any kind.  And if you've been following along, you may remember the asparagus festival from last month.  Last Saturday, Donny and I went to a local strawberry festival and left with three quarts in hand.  When he asked me how many quarts we really needed, my answer was the same as it always is when it comes to berries, "more."  The fields were full of kids picking and sampling.  Everyone seemed to be carrying around those light green-overflowing containers.  Those who were more serious had a flat.  I picture these individuals canning strawberry jam into the next millennium.  I kind of want to join them.  There were old-fashioned strawberry doughnuts and strawberry shortcake too.  But shhh, I like my version best.  I hope you do too.  I picked these shortcakes right up with my hands and ate the most delicious 'sandwich' I have in a long time.  My cutting board and hands are also stained a nice shade of red for the time being.  It's a small price to pay.

~A Better Strawberry Shortcake Recipe~
Biscuits adapted from Elana's Pantry
2 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup melted ghee
2 eggs
2 tbsp honey

For the shortcake:
sliced strawberries
Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt, and baking soda.  In another bowl, blend together melted ghee (I do this in a small bowl over a saucepan-avoid microwaving), eggs, and honey.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet until the dough forms.

Drop batter onto parchment paper using heaping 1/4 cups, leaving a few inches between each biscuit.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the biscuits are lightly browned on the bottom and golden.  Allow biscuits to cool thoroughly.  Carefully cut each in half with a serrated knife (they're delicate).  Put bottom halves on a plate and top with strawberries and a few dollops of Greek yogurt.  Cap each biscuit with top half.  Makes 6 biscuits.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mini Black Bean Patties with Cilantro Pesto

I have a habit of buying cilantro and never using it completely.  I don't know why this is the case.  I'm rather fond of cilantro.  Its fresh flavor brightens up anything it lands on.  But for some reason, it buries itself in my fridge under the lettuce or spinach, which always seem to get more attention.  Then I find the cilantro later in the week and think of all the ways I should have used it.  I remedied this situation by making a quick cilantro pesto to accompany little patties I had in mind.  Many of you seemed to like my brown rice chickpea burgers.  These are similar in nature but rather than making traditional burgers, I've made mini patties.  They could be served as part of a main spread but would also work as an appetizer.  Little sliders come to mind.

I've been making lots of these mini concoctions lately: mini quinoa patties, mini lentil patties, and mini bean patties.  They appeal to me as they lend to excellent snacking, perfect for those times when you don't want a big meal but need something substantial to hold you over.  I've never really been one to grab a handful of crackers and carry on.  I run well on mini meals.  These mini black bean patties are the perfect fuel.

While I often cook my beans from scratch, I've cheated here and used canned.  I suspect many of you will do the same.  The recipe calls for one can and if you have some leftover brown rice in your fridge, even better.  The patties come together with red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and lime zest.  They're quickly pan fried then topped with the cilantro pesto.  It's bright, clean, and fresh tasting.  I've used sunflower seeds in this pesto but you could experiment or use any nuts or seeds you have on hand.  Sunflower seeds are a great thrifty trick for when pine nuts aren't in the budget.  If you're not up for making the pesto, top them with avocado mashed with a little lemon or lime juice, which is equally as delicious.  Happy grazing.  

~Mini Black Bean Patties with Cilantro Pesto Recipe~

1 1/3 cup cooked black beans (1 can)
1 cup short grain brown rice, cooked
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced
handful of cilantro, chopped
zest of 1 lime
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, add black beans and brown rice.  Using a potato masher, mash black beans and brown rice together until they form a paste.  Add in onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime zest.  Add in the beaten egg and breadcrumbs.  Use your hands to combine.  Form mixture into one large mass.  Score the mixture with your hands, creating four equal portions.  Separate each portion once more, giving you eight equal portions.  Form eight mini round patties.

Heat extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a skillet pan.  Add the patties and cover.  Cook for approximately 4-5 minutes on the first side until the patties get a nice brown crust on them.  Flip and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and serve with cilantro pesto.  Serves 2 as a main, 4 as an appetizer.

Cilantro Pesto Recipe
2 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor.  Scrape down the sides as necessary until the ingredients are well combined.  This makes a thick pesto.  If you would like a runnier pesto, simply add more olive oil until you reach your desired consistency.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Frozen Strawberry Lemon 'Cheesecake'

Hello there.  Life has been busy and wonderful.  Apologies for the silence.  Donny and I flew down to D.C. last weekend for a dear friends' wedding in Virginia, a garden party set on the Potomac River.  On the flight home, I kept replaying scenes of the wedding in my head and smiled.  It was a beautiful sunny day in June, the kind of day every bride hopes for.  We drank wine on the grass, danced barefoot into the night, and indulged in cake as light as air.  It was a weekend filled with good friends, good food, and lots of laughter.  I thought I'd share a few scenes I captured during the day, including the pink and yellow flowers scattered around the venue.  Pink and yellow also happen to be the inspiration behind the strawberry and lemon flavor in this cake.

We arrived back in Boston on Sunday under a cloudy gray sky.  The week that followed is somewhat of a blur.  My party dress still sat in a wrinkled ball in a backpack I had yet to unpack.  I barely had time to go grocery shopping or complete a single load of laundry, never mind cook a decent meal.  I consumed a lot of cereal and almond butter on toast.  I also took in a little houseguest, a chihuahua in transition, who I'm happy to report found a lovely home by Friday morning.  This filled me with overwhelming joy and I could finally sleep a solid night's sleep.  Life resumed to normalcy and I found my way back to the kitchen thanks to the arrival of strawberries.  I picked them.  I ate them.  And then I made a cake.  Not just any cake, but a cheesecake.  And not just any cheesecake, a 'cheesecake' made with cashews.  Did I mention it's raw and frozen and doesn't require any baking?  I can't take credit for this idea.  Most any raw dessert cookbook will likely have a raw cheesecake recipe. I've also seen beautiful versions here and here, which I've adapted from.

This cake is dairy free, gluten free, and sweetened with raw honey.  The crust is made from ground almonds and dates, which makes for both a sweet and crunchy base.  The filling is comprised of cashews, coconut oil, lemon juice, and honey.  It's so wonderfully different than the traditional version.  It's light, tangy, and has a luscious smooth consistency that can't be beat.  What really puts this cake over the top for me is the final layer.  It reminds me of strawberry Italian ice, a frozen slushy mixture that melts and oozes down the cheesecake as it thaws out on the counter.  It's become my go to indulgence, transporting me straight to my happy place, a place that allows me to avoid my overflowing hamper temporarily.  I could actually go on avoiding most of life's unpleasantries with a slice of this cake.  I'd encourage you to do the same.  

But first I'd encourage you to go strawberry picking because this season's juiciest and sweetest berries will make the best cake.  I picked a few quarts yesterday morning with this cake in mind.  I also take back what I said before about never massacring June strawberries in a blender.  I did it and I don't regret it.  I should warn you; the most difficult part of this recipe is waiting for the cake to freeze before eating it, and then waiting again for it to thaw.  Minus the wait, it's all pretty effortless.  Cut a giant slice of pretty pink goodness and find cause for celebration.  It looks like June is shaping up to be pretty sweet so far.  I have photos of a beautiful bride and a beautiful wedding to prove it.  

~Frozen Strawberry Lemon 'Cheesecake'~
Adapted from Roost and My New Roots

1 cup almonds
1 cup Medjool dates
1/4 tsp sea salt

3 cups raw unsalted cashews, soaked overnight and drained
1 cup strawberries
2/3 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup raw honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 cup strawberries
1 tbsp raw honey
1/4 cup orange juice

Crust: Pulse almonds, dates, and sea salt in a food processor until well combined and crumbly.  Press the crust into the bottom of an 8-inch spring form pan.

Filling: Combine cashews, strawberries, coconut oil, raw honey, lemon juice, and vanilla extract in a food processor or high-speed blender until smooth and well combined.  Pour the mixture on top of the crust and spread evenly.  

Topping: Add strawberries, raw honey, and orange juice to blender.  Blend until smooth and pour on top of the 'cheese' layer.  Freeze overnight.  Take the cake out to thaw for about 40-50 minutes before serving.  You'll want to cut it when it's still semi-frozen.  Serves 8.