Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Coconut Icebox Bars

Chocolate and peanut butter is one of my favorite combinations. Butterfinger bars were my favorite candy bar as a child, and in high school I enjoyed peanut butter and nutella sandwiches for lunch. My favorite sundae is chocolate ice cream with peanut butter sauce (and caramel!), and I love chocolate and peanut butter fudge.

But peanut butter and chocolate fudge is wildly unhealthy, consisting mainly of powdered sugar and more powdered sugar, with a bit of chocolate and peanut butter thrown in, for flavor. The same thing is true of my other love, icebox bars. Sugar, and then some more sugar. So last weekend I set out to make a healthier version of traditional icebox bars.

Instead of being loaded with sugar, these are loaded with coconut oil, which is so healthy, and so incredibly useful sometimes I think coconut is practically the perfect food. The beautiful thing about coconut oil that is so useful in this recipe, is that at cold temperatures it becomes a solid. In traditional icebox bars, confectioners sugar is used to thicken the peanut butter until it will hold shape when chilled, but in this recipe the cold coconut fat holds the peanut butter together, and the consistency is lovely.

If you wanted, you could make this recipe entirely paleo and refined sugar free, by using unsweetened chocolate chips and upping the amount of maple syrup to more like a 1/2 Cup. I used bittersweet chocolate chips because they were what I had, but this recipe is most definitely adaptable. 

I continuously urged S that though these were low in sugar, and though coconut oil is a "good fat," we should still show discretion in our devouring, as they are quite rich. In between each urging I grabbed another one out of the fridge though, I just couldn't resist. They're so perfectly heavenly. The texture is firm in the hand, but melt-in-the-mouth, with a fudge-like, velvety texture, and the shredded coconut adds just the amount of substance and variance to the texture. 

You could easily add all manner of mix-ins to these. Peanuts, chocolate chips,  peanut butter chips, m&ms, rice crispy crackly bits, or mini marshmallows would all be lovely mixed in right before the mixture gets poured into the pan to chill. I love them just as they are though, rich, creamy, flavorful, and decadent. Enjoy!

Chocolate Peanut Butter  Coconut Icebox Bars

1 1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 C maple syrup
1/2 C  coconut oil      
2 tbsp coconut butter
3/4 C peanut butter
5 oz bitterweet chocolate chips

Line a 8x13" pan with parchment paper. 

Combine coconut, maple syrup, 6 tbsp coconut oil, coconut butter and peanut butter, in the bowl of a food processor, and process until thoroughly combined, about 2-3 minutes. Turn off and set aside.

In a double boiler, or a heat-safe bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, add the chocolate chips and remaining 2 tbsp coconut oil and heat over medium-low heat, stirring often, until all chips are melted. 

Add melted chips to the peanut butter mixture in the food processor, and blitz again until well combined, about 1-2 minutes. 

Pour mixture into prepared pan, and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, until totally set. Keep in fridge until ready to serve. Remove from pan and cut immediately before serving.  Bars will get melty after a several minutes in a warm house or hand, so refrigerate any leftovers. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Spicy Kale Chips and Blue Cheese Dip

I love blue cheese. Admittedly, I love most cheeses- gooey, buttery, slightly funky double cream brie, tangy, soft, sort-of-pasty-consistency humboldt fog, nutty, firm aged gouda with the crunchy bits throughout, sharp, aged cheddar with a bite, I love it all. But I reserve a special place in my heart for blue cheese.

I love its funky sharpness, it's creamy-yet-crumbly texture, and the earthy, cave-y undertones.  I put it on a multitude of dishes. It's excellent on pasta salad, baked in blue cheese pull apart bread, it makes for a really tasty, interesting fondue. it was blue cheese, paired with balsamic vinegar and arugula that first made me enjoy salad. And of course, blue cheese dressing and buffalo wings is one of my all time favorite food combinations.

The chicken wings are great and all, but the star of the show, for me, has always been the mixture of spicy, buttery buffalo sauce and creamy, funky, tangy blue cheese. Something about that melding of burn-your-tongue-off spicy and cool-cavelike-creamy-funky-cheesy flavors is incredibly addicting.

But fried chicken wings, and more importantly, buttery buffalo sauce are pretty darn unhealthy. Especially when you eat thirty of them. So I wanted to make a snack that had that spicy-creamy-tangy flavor, that I could also eat huge amounts of without giving myself heart disease by the time I'm 30.

Thus, spicy kale chips with blue cheese yogurt dip. These are ridiculously good. They're very spicy, and using smoked paprika really adds a nice dark note. The baked kale is sufficiently crunchy, and the seasoning is salty and spicy enough to make these an addicting snack that becomes hard to stop crunching away at. 

And the blue cheese sauce is spectacular. I'll definitely be using this recipe the next time I make buffalo tofu. It's plenty creamy, and the tanginess of the yogurt brings out the blue cheese flavor wonderfully. Feel free to use 0% fat yogurt to really make this a healthy treat, however I would avoid greek yogurt, as it's a bit too thick for the thin kale chips, regular yogurt is a better consistency for this dip.

I would even use this sauce, perhaps a bit thinned out, as a salad dressing, if S didn't dislike blue cheese so much. It would be great slathered on arugula and cherry tomatoes. It would also be good tossed with bowtie pasta and fresh vegetables to make a pasta salad. I would put blue cheese on most things if S didn't dislike it, though. He's a lost cause. 

The pairing of the crunchy, spicy chips and cool, creamy dip is everything I want my snacks to be. I could eat bowl after bowl of these chips, and then finish the dip off with my fingers, but I'm not exactly classy when it comes to private snacking.

These would probably be really great at a party, but honestly I just made them to eat while watching tv on the internet on a Thursday night, and they were magnificent. I hope you enjoy them, too.

Spicy Kale Chips and Blue Cheese Dip

Kale Chips

2 bunches kale
4 tsp oil (2 per tray)
1 tbsp smoked pap
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
1  tbsp nutritional yeast
1  tsp cayenne (1/2 tsp if you prefer them less spicy)

Blue Cheese Dip

1 1/4 C plain yogurt (not greek)
4 oz blue cheese crumbles
3 tbsp olive oil
2-4 tbsp milk
dash worcestershire

Wash and thoroughly dry the kale (a salad spinner works well), if the kale isn't totally dry your chips will not be crispy. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove the thickest parts of the kale stems, and rip into 3" pieces. They'll shrink a bit in the oven, so rip slightly larger than typical tortilla or potato chips. 

In a small bowl combine salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, nutritional yeast, and cayenne, mix well. 

Place kale leaves in a big bowl and add the olive oil. Toss to thoroughly combine, then rub each leaf until it's well coated and the oil has been lightly massaged into the kale. You want each leaf lightly coated, but not soaked, in oil. 

Arrange kale leaves on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, in a single layer. The leaf edges can be touching, but overlapping will result in a loss of crispiness. You can cook two cookie sheets side by side at a time, if your oven size will allow it.  
Sprinkle arranged leaves liberally with the seasoning mixture. 

Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate pans, and bake another 8-10 minutes, or until the kale has become dry and crispy. More oily pieces of kale may retain some shine, but you want to make sure the leaves are totally crisp before removing from the oven. Allow to rest and cool on the pan for about 3 minutes before removing. 

While chips bake, combine yogurt, blue cheese, olive oil, and worcestershire sauce in the bowl of a food processor. Blitz until thoroughly combined. Add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, blitzing in between, until desired consistency is reached. Dip should be slightly thinner than most chip dips, closer to a thick salad dressing consistency. 

Dip can be served cool, or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer Salad with Simple Raspberry Vinaigrette

This is a recipe I had to share with you because the dressing is so simple, so easy, and so ridiculously good I thought everyone needed to know about it. Last week I wanted to make a raspberry vinaigrette, and rather than buy actual raspberries and cook them down with sugar to make syrup, I decided to be lazy and take a shortcut, and oh gosh was it a great idea.

Instead of berry syrup I put a few tablespoons of raspberry jam in my dressing and the result was fantastic! I knew immediately upon tasting it that I would have to make another batch (and actually measure the ingredients), to share with you.

Though I love making a good, long, laborious dish like pot pie or layer cake from time to time, the reality is that many days I don't get home from work until after seven, which is not the ideal time to start putting together a beef wellington or roasted chicken, so quick, easy fare tends to rule our kitchen on weekdays. Salad makes a great quick dinner. Some chopping, some toasting, some whisking, and you're done! 

But the highlight of this recipe is not necessarily the salad. Don't get me wrong, this is an excellent salad, I love the combination of crunchy almonds, juicy strawberries, and soft blue cheese amongst the crisp spinach. And of course the kale. If I can add kale to a salad without totally ruining the flavor, then I do. Which means I add kale to pretty much every salad. It's healthy and delicious!

But the true star of this salad is the dressing. It's raspberry flavored without being too sweet or artificial tasting like store bought raspberry vinaigrette, but the flavor is still there and the texture is thick and rich and as smooth as the best store bought dressing out there. Plus, it comes together in five minutes and is made of just three ingredients.

While it's wonderful on this salad (S said the dressing blended perfectly with the blue cheese, and he doesn't usually like blue cheese), this dressing would be lovely on just about any salad, so feel free to experiment. I'd even love it poured all over a big bowl of plain chiffonaded kale!

Summer Salad with Simple Raspberry Vinaigrette
Serves 4 large portions


1/3 C balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp raspberry jam
2/3 C olive oil


7 oz kale
7 oz spinach
1 cucumber
4 oz slivered/chopped almonds
12 oz strawberries
6 oz blue cheese crumbles
4 oz dried tart cherries (or cranberries)

First toast the almonds. You can use slivered, sliced, or you can rough-chop whole almonds, which is what I did because I already had whole almonds. Place chopped or slivered almonds in a small, totally dry frying pan and heat over medium low. Stir almonds continuously while cooking until they reach a pale brown color and have a toasty smell. Remove from heat immediately and pour into a bowl to prevent further toasting. Set aside.

To make dressing, combine jam and vinegar and whisk well. While whisking, slowly add in the olive oil. Drizzle it in slowly and whisk thoroughly and fast to emulsify the oil into the dressing. This is the secret of smooth salad dressing. An immersion blender works well for this too.

Wash and dry kale, then stack leaves into a pile of 5-6, then roll a pile to form a kale cigar. Using a sharp knife cut kale cigar into thin slices. They'll unroll into nice chiffonaded kale. Repeat with the rest of the kale. Place kale in a large bowl, add spinach and toss. 

Slice strawberries and cucumber. I cut my cucumber in half prior to slicing so as to have half moon shaped slices.  Combine with kale, add in the dried cherries, toasted almonds and blue cheese, toss until will mixed. 

I like to pour dressing into a measuring cup and allow everyone to add dressing to their individual bowl, that way leftovers store better and everyone gets to pick how much dressing they want. Alternatively, you can drizzle dressing over the whole salad while mixing. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sweet Corn Pesto Crostini

New Yorkers are not known for their humility. Least of all when it comes to pride in their city. Folks around here are known for believing this city is the Center of the Universe. When I first moved here at eighteen, it took a while for my midwestern sensibilities to adjust to such hubris.

Ohio doesn't exactly boast that same kind of unstoppable, insurmountable pride. And Cleveland certainly doesn't. While Clevelanders are fiercly loyal to their city, and will defend it's honor to their dying breath, they do not, typically, consider it the greatest place on earth, or the end-all-be-all of American cities. When a Clevelander tells you where they are from, it's with a note of caution. They're wondering if you're going to mention LeBron's departure, the sad state of the economy, the terrible luck of the Cleveland Browns, or perhaps the dreaded "Didn't your river catch fire?" 

But there is plenty to be proud of in Ohio. There is the lovely, endless-seeming lake, a river valley of wonderful parkland, beautiful rolling Appalachian foothills, dense swaths of lush forest, ancient caves complete with waterfalls, and wide open farmlands full of waving corn stalks. And then there is the corn itself. I've said it before, and I will say it at least 100 times more, the best corn in the world comes from Ohio.

When you tell this to someone from just about anywhere else in the country, they will inevitably try and tell you they have had excellent corn from Indiana, or Iowa, or even Georgia. But they are wrong. The best, sweetest, plumpest corn comes from Ohio. I know this to be true as surely as I know I am left handed. (My apologies to GA, IA, IN, and any other offended states. I'm sure you're the best at something. It's just not corn.)

Roasted corn on the cob is a staple of summer parties, backyard cook-outs, and bbqs throughout the midwest, in fact we have a type of party devoted to devouring the good stuff, called corn roasts. Since I can't exactly build a fire or a coal pit here in Manhattan, stove-top roasted corn has to suffice for my summertime cravings. 

The corn around here comes from New Jersey, and I will say that it's pretty darn good. New Jersey, despite being the most densely populated state in the country, grows some pretty tasty produce. It'll never be Ohio sweetcorn, but it's tasty all the same. And paired with goat cheese, basil, and garlic scapes it was phenomenal.

The sweetness of the corn on these crostinis mingles wonderfully with the herby pesto and tangy goat cheese to create a great, crispy, creamy, herby, roasted appetizer. These would be a great addition to a backyard barbecue, or a garden cocktail party, and they would certainly make you the star of your next potluck. Enjoy!

Sweet Corn Pesto Crostini

2 oz basil
2 oz garlic scapes (or 1 clove garlic)
2 oz almonds
1/2 oz (about 1/2 cup not-packed-down) shredded hard cheese
1/2 C + 1 tsp olive oil
2 Lemons
5.5 oz chevre (thats the soft goat cheese, frequently log shaped)
3 ears corn
Salt and pepper
1 Large baguette

Preheat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit, and slice baguette into 1/2" slices. Place directly on oven rack, or on oven safe cooling rack in oven, for 3-5 minutes, until toasted. Check often to keep from burning. Remove and allow to cool.

Chop the long, grassy, thin part of your scapes off, then chop into 2-3" long segments, place scapes, basil, hard cheese, almonds, and 1/2 C olive oil in food processor, and add the juice of 1 lemon, and a dash of salt and pepper. Blitz until mixture becomes a thick, pasty pesto, about 3 minutes. 
Add the goat cheese, and process again until thoroughly combined. Mixture should be relatively smooth, but some bits of basil or almond are acceptable. Set aside.

If you have a gas range, you can roast your corn directly on it. If you have a electric range use these instructions
For a gas range, shuck corn and place directly on the range, adjust heat so the flames lightly lick the corn ear, then turn often, until all sides of the corn have blackened a bit. Don't worry about making it even, just make sure to expose all areas to the flame for a bit. 
Remove kernels from the corn ear. To do this, I place a small, round tupperware, like the type one gets a small order of to-go soup in, upside-down at the bottom of a large bowl, stand the corn ear on top of it vertically, wider end down, then use a large, sharp knife to carefully cut straight down, removing the kernels from the cob. The tupperware makes a nice stand so the cob is elevated above the bowl, making cutting much easier. Remove tupperware from bowl after kernels are removed, and add 1 tsp olive oil, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon to the corn kernels, as well as a dash of salt and pepper, toss to combine.

Smear a spoonful of pesto goat cheese onto each crostini slice and spread out, then top with a little pile of corn. You can lightly press the corn into the goat cheese to help it stick, if desired. If not serving within an hour or so, I recommend waiting until just before serving to assemble. Otherwise, you can store assembled crostinis, covered, in the fridge. But if you store them in the fridge too long the toast will soften a bit. Enjoy!