Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie

Sweet potato in a smoothie. This is a new discovery for me, and oh, it is a great one. This smoothie is pie in liquid form. It has all the delicious sweet potato pie flavors- sweet, caramel-y dates, earthy sweet potato, cinnamon and nutmeg, and an undercurrent of apple cider, but is made only from delicious healthy ingredients. 

It's Smoothie Week over at Williams Sonoma, and the theme is Weird, Wild, and Crazy Smoothies. I would certainly say throwing a boiled sweet potato in a frozen smoothie is my idea of a wild morning! I've experimented with vegetables in smoothies before, but have always stuck to greens- kale, avocado, and spinach, and I've never made a smoothie with an element I had to cook first before. 

My inspiration for this smoothie was a sweet potato pie from a little Caribbean takeout place in Chelsea that I fell in love with in college, it was rich and decadent with the perfect touch of spice, sweet, but not overpoweringly so. I wanted to channel that sweet earthy-fruity flavor into a healthy smoothie. 

This was my first attempt at putting dates in a smoothie at home, and they added just the right caramel-y sweetness which really helped drive home the pie flavor. I softened mine up a bit by cooking them with some maple syrup first because my blender isn't very powerful. If you have one of those fancy high speed blenders like the Vitamix (which I regularly drool over online), then your dates will probably blend down perfectly smooth without being softened first. 

Boiling the sweet potato first didn't turn out nearly as laborious as I expected it to feel. One potato didn't call for a large pot or much water, so it got to boiling pretty quickly and softened up in less than ten minutes. You could certainly do this the night before to speed up your process if making this smoothie for breakfast, but I did not have that kind of forethought. I popped my boiled potato in the freezer while I prepped the other ingredients and it chilled plenty in that time. And gosh, it was worth it, this smoothie turned out tasting just like pie! 

I'll be putting dates in more of my future smoothies. they'd make a brilliant sweetener for a coconut milk and coffee dessert smoothie, or a chocolate peanut butter shake. The sweet potato was fantastic too, it adds a lovely silky texture to the drink, and pairs beautifully with the sweet and tangy pineapple. The notes of cinnamon and nutmeg shout of pie, and the dates and apple cider add a lovely sweetness. Not to mention its brilliant orange color makes it fabulously seasonal!

Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie

1 medium sweet potato
1 C frozen pineapple
1 C apple cider
heaping 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
5 dates, pitted

Peel and chop the sweet potato into 1 inch cubes, add to a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook about ten minutes, or until soft all the way through. Drain potatoes and bring to room temperature on counter or in refrigerator. You can also boil the potato the night before.

If your dates are fairly dry, like my Deglet dates were, pop them in a small pan with 4 tablespoons of apple cider and cook over low heat until the dates have softened, about 3 minutes. If you're using a soft date variety, such as medjool, this will be unneccesary

Add the drained potato cubes, the frozen pineapple, softened dates, apple cider, cinnamon, and nutmeg to your blender and blend on high until smooth. 

Pour into glasses and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Honeyed Rosemary-Lavender Shortbread

Sometimes, after work, and dinner, and doing the dishes, right as it gets to be late in the evening, around say ten thirty- I realize that I need something. Like desperately, anxiously, urgently, seriously- climb the tallest mountains, swim the longest oceans- I need a cookie. 

So, on Sunday night, when that craving set in, I headed into the kitchen, took stock of my supplies and considered my options. Then I made these. Buttery, toasty, melt in your mouth, the texture of these cookies is absolutely heavenly. They're simultaneously rich, and yet not too heavy, dense in texture but meltingly light on the tongue.  

Shortbread is one of those treats that is deceptively simple. A friend of ours tried these last night, and was blown away when I told him the short ingredient list. "That's all that's in here?!" He asked incredulously. Yep, that's all! 

One of my favorite things about shortbread is the consistency. I always want to call it sandy, but I know that doesn't bring up great connotations in most people's minds. Yum, a mouth full of beach sand. But that's really the best way to describe it, these cookies aren't crumbly to hold or transport or store, but when you take a bite they crumble apart in your mouth like packed sand would. The absolute best, non-gritty, softest, sweetest sand ever, of course. And then that impossibly soft and sweet sand melts in an incredible way on your tongue.

According to Wikipedia, the delightful sandy, crumbly texture of shortbread comes from the high fat content. The prevalence of butter keeps the gluten from forming long strands, and thus it crumbles instead. Just another reason to love and worship butter. 

When S first bit into one of these cookies he nodded happily and declared
"Just the right amount of sweet and savory."
The cookie is delicately sweet, the butter plays a starring role in the flavor and the sugar merely complements it, while the rosemary and lavender are a subtle but slightly surprising twist which matches wonderfully with the buttery, melty texture. The flavor of the herbs is light, certainly not overwhelming, but it is present. 

I've provided two variations on this recipe. One to make cookies like the ones I've photographed here-shaped, thin, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. And one variation to make shortbread bars, quicker to make, soft throughout, and a touch thicker. I've made both versions- the bars are wonderful when you want a dessert fix more immediately, while the cookies are great if you have a bit more time, or prefer a shaped cookie. Both versions are out-of-this-world delicious, enjoy!

Honeyed Rosemary-Lavender Shortbread
2 C flour
1 C butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
3 tbsp honey
2 tsp dried rosemary 
2 tsp lavender

In a medium bowl combine the flour, lavender, and rosemary. Mix with a fork until herbs are distributed evenly throughout.
Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the honey and almond extract and mix until creamy again. 

Mix the flour into the butter, mixing until the dough clumps up and all the flour has been thoroughly combined with the butter. The dough will be crumbly. 

Option 1: Shaped Cookies
Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and pour out half the dough. Form into roughly a log shape, then use the plastic wrap to help you form the dough into a log. Squeeze it together firmly and shape until you have a log 2 1/2 inches in diameter, and about 6 inches long. If you'd like round cookies, pop the log in the fridge now. If you'd like square cookies, place the log on the counter and use a cutting board to gently flatten the top and bottom, then turn on it's side and flatten the sides. Repeat until you have a long rectangular log, then place in the refrigerator. 
Let chill at least 1 hour (I chilled mine 2). Preheat oven to 325 F.  Remove dough from refrigerator, gently reshape a bit if needed, then use a sharp knife to cut dough into 1/3 inch slices. Place the slices 1 inch apart on a greased baking sheet. 
Bake 15-22 minutes, until edges are very lightly golden brown. Cool on a rack for 3 minutes, then enjoy!

Option 2: Bar Cookies
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Dump the cookie dough into the baking pan, and use your hands to pack it down into one uniform layer about 1/2 inch thick.
Bake for 35-40 Minutes, until the edges are lightly golden brown. Remove and allow to cool at least ten minutes, then enjoy!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spiced Toffee Date Cake

This cake is made for Autumn. The rich, dense crumb, the sweet caramel-y dates, the nutmeg-cinnamon-clove spice combination- this is a cake to eat curled up in front of a fireplace while orange and red leaves drift slowly down past your window. This is a cake to eat after you carve a pumpkin, rake your yard, or pick a bushel of apples.

I made this cake all the way back during last weekend, but I didn't get around to posting it until now because I have a very seasonal problem, a cold. This has been a big work week for me though, so I've been pushing through the sniffles and the sore throat and the foggy head. Slices of this cake have helped give me strength. 

I've been working assisting a wonderful food stylist here and there for the last few months, Frances Boswell. Her work is just incredible. She has done extensive work for Martha Stewart and Real Simple, as well as written a cookbook. I've accompanied her on several editorial shoots for various magazines, and this Tuesday I had the good fortune of helping cook for a Martha Stewart Living shoot. 

I even saw Martha herself. It was pretty wonderful. For obvious reasons, I can't spill what the story was or what we made, but everything was beautiful and delicious. The Martha offices are a wonderland of cooking and crafting, and the test kitchen was essentially Disney World to me- so many Kitchenaids! So many ovens! Stainless steel everything! So many sizes and types of every cooking tool you could ever need! 

The day after the shoot at Martha Stewart Living, I came down with this cold, and haven't been able to beat it since. I console myself that at least I wasn't a sneezy mess on a food shoot, but if things continue how they are I shall be a sneezy mess while working a wedding tomorrow. 

A few slices of this cake for breakfast would probably make me feel better, but S and I finished it off long ago. When I was a kid my mother used to make something called spice cake, which was a bit like gingerbread sans the ginger, and this is similar, as if it were a dense spice cake but with tons of dates. Or a gingerbread, without the ginger, and with fruit. 

This cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg give this cake a decidedly autumnal taste, and the spiced toffee sauce with it's notes of cinnamon and almond really rounds it out. I adapted the toffee sauce from a raw vegan caramel sauce I found on Nutrition Stripped, and amped up with extra dates and spices. 

This cake is gluten and refined sugar free, and could be called Paleo, depending on your personal Paleo standards. If you wanted, you could make the cake without the coconut sugar. It will be slightly less sweet, so perhaps add a few extra dates, or another tablespoon of maple. This an excellent dessert after an autumn dinner, or even as an ending for a decadent brunch. Enjoy!

Spiced Toffee Date Cake

12 oz dates, pitted
1/2 C butter, melted
3 tbsp maple syrup
5 eggs, separated
1/3 C coconut sugar
3/4 C ground almonds/almond meal
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
heaping 1/2 tsp clove
heaping 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 Cup milk (almond, cow, whatever you prefer)

Spiced Toffee
(adapted from Nutrition Stripped)
3 dates
1/2 C maple
1/2 C coconut oil
1/3 C + 2 tbsp almond butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 heaping tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
scant 1/2 tsp clove

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees Fahrenheit, and grease a 9 inch springform pan, (if you don't have a springform line a pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper to make removing cake easy.) I also like to cut a circle of parchment paper to match the bottom of my springform pan, and line it with it, to make cake removal a snap.

Coarsely chop 4oz dates and set aside.

Place remaining 8oz of pitted dates to the bowl of a food processor, add the maple syrup, and blitz until a thick paste forms. Dump this out into a medium sized bowl, and add the melted butter to it. Mix until butter is well incorporated. 

In  a second medium sized bowl, combine the egg yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, sugar, and almond extract. Beat until pale and creamy, about 2-3 minutes.
Stir egg yolk mixture into date mixture and mix until well combined. Mix in the ground almonds, milk, and the coarsely chopped dates. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter gently. Do not be over aggressive mixing in the egg whites quickly, take time and fold them in slowly. 

Pour batter into prepared springform pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out almost entirely clean. 

While cake is baking, prepare toffee sauce. Combine all toffee ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, or a high speed blender, and blend for 1-3 minutes, until sauce is smooth. 

After removing cake from oven, allow to cool a minimum of ten minutes before removing it from the springform. Serve with toffee sauce poured over top.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tropical Kale-Avocado Smoothie

First things first today, if you check out the upper right-hand part of this page you'll see a new link, called Recipes. It is exactly what it sounds like, a whole page devoted just to cataloging and organizing the recipes from this blog into different categories. There's something for everyone, from appetizers to desserts, bacon, chocolate, kale, there's even a paleo section. 

This smoothie recipe, for instance, would be found in the breakfast, beverage, fruit, kale, and Paleo sections. But don't feel your smoothie intake should be limited to breakfast, I love smoothie lunches, smoothie afternoon treats, and smoothies for dessert too. This one is packed with good things, including so many fruits and veggies they barely all fit in my blender.

This smoothie is my attempt at a copying the Solar Power smoothie from a lovely little cafe S and I sometimes walk to for brunch on the weekends, The Butchers Daughter. We originally discovered the Solar Power smoothie because the barista momentarily forgot about S's coffee order, so when he remembered he poured him a coffee, and whipped up a smoothie, I suppose as a bit of a liquid apology. We shared it and agreed it was heavenly, and very filling. 

Now the Solar Power is my go-to smoothie when I find myself hungry in that part of SoHo. This rendition of the smoothie is pretty darn spot on, flavor wise. Don't concern yourself about the uneven ratio of vegetable to fruit. When you pile it all in the blender a whole avocado and 4-5 stalks of kale may seem like a lot, but once it's all blended together you won't taste the kale at all (or at least, you won't realize you're tasting it), and the avocado will just be a silky, heavenly richness perfectly rounding out the tangy fruits. 

This smoothie is very filling, a perfect and very portable meal or snack. The original Solar Power doesn't call for banana but I find that a banana helps my 6-year-old blender really process everything more smoothly, and it added an extra bit of sweetness to the final product that I really appreciated. This smoothie makes an excellent breakfast or lunch, or a really healthy dessert! 

Tropical Kale-Avocado Smoothie
Makes 2 14oz smoothies

1 Avocado
1 Banana
1 Small bunch kale (about 4 stalks)
1/2 C Pineapple
1/2 C Mango
8 oz Coconut Water
Dried Coconut Flakes for topping (optional)

Pour the coconut water in your blender. 

Peel the banana and break it up into smaller pieces, add to the blender. Halve the avocado, remove the pit, and scoop out the flesh, add to the blender.

Rip up the kale leaves, add them to the blender. Top with the frozen pineapple and mango, put on the lid, then blend until smooth. 

If, like me, you do not have a high powered blender you may end up with some teeny tiny flecks of kale leaf. I could see mine, but couldn't discern them from the rest of the smoothie in my mouth. If you have a high powered blender, good for you. Your fancy-schmancy blender should make the kale totally smooth. Flavorwise there shouldn't be any difference though.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Apple Cinnamon Pretzel Rolls

Happy October! Now is the month to obsess about cold snaps, crunchy leaves, warm tones, halloween shopping, and pumpkin flavored everything. It's also apple season. Before everyone became so enthralled with the idea of pumpkin and pumpkin smell and pumpkin spice, and consuming as many pumpkin products as possible, I seem to remember apple used to be the flavor of Autumn. 

Remember apples? Apple pies, apple crisps, apple cider, apple picking- apple used to be Autumn's signature food. Don't get me wrong, I like pumpkin, I buy a cute little sugar pumpkin every year and turn it into a pie at Thanksgiving. And I like pumpkin flavored things, too. I just think it's silly that we've all forgotten how lovely and Autumnal spiced apples are because these days by October 1st nearly all of  America seems to be afflicted with the plague of Pumpkin Spice Madness. 

This is apple season. There is no better time of year to crunch into a Gala, Pink Lady, Jazz, or Golden Delicious. My personal favorite, which I used in this recipe, are Honey Crisp. Sweet but also a bit tart, juicy, and super crisp- these are my favorite elements of a good apple, and most Honey Crisps have them all. 

These buns are delicious. They're made from my favorite dough- pretzel dough, and filled with cinnamon spiked caramel and diced apple bits. The sweet-salty dough pairs amazingly with the salted dark caramel and juicy, sweet little apple bites. 

These are hefty buns, and the recipe will make twelve, enough for a brunch, a bring-along to a party, or a large family gathering, but probably way too many for your immediate family on a Sunday morning, so feel free to cut it in half if needed. I would use two apples in a half recipe though, rather than 1 1/2. Nothing wrong with a bit of extra apple. Enjoy!

Apple Cinnamon Pretzel Rolls
Makes approx. 12 rolls

1/2 cup warm water
and additional 1 cup room temp water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 cups flour
2 ounces unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
Vegetable oil or butter, for pan
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp water

Apple Cinnamon Filling
2.5 tsp cinnamon
3 apples
3 tbsp half n half (or milk)
1 C brown sugar
7 tbsp butter 

Pour warm water into the bowl of your standmixer (or just a mixing bowl), sprinkle package of yeast over the water and let sit for 8-10 minutes, with the top of the bowl covered with a towel.
combine flour, sugar, and salt in a separate bowl, mix until well combined. Melt 2 oz butter in small saucepan over low heat or in microwave.

Once yeast has foamed up like the head of a beer add the flour to the bowl followed by the melted butter and 1 Cup water. Using stand mixer, or wooden spoon mix until a dough forms, adding more flour if the dough is too wet, more water if it is too dry. 
Once dough comes together, give it a couple of kneads, maybe five or so, then form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. I also rubbed my dough ball down with a bit of melted butter, but this is optional.
Allow to rise 1 hour, or until dough doubles in size. I like to cover my bowl with a towel and put it in a warm place.

While dough is rising, chop the apples into 1/2" cubes. Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a frying pan and add the apples. Cook about about 5-7 minutes, until apples are soft. Remove the apples from the pan and place in a bowl. Add to the pan the remaining 5 tbsp butter and the brown sugar and cinnamon, cook together until the sugar is totally melted. Cook an additional 3 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken, then add the half and half, (warning, it will bubble up when added), and mix in well. Cook another 5 minutes, or until sauce is fairly thick. Remove from heat. Pour half the sauce into a measuring cup and set aside to be your glaze. Add the cooked apples to the frying pan with the other half the sauce and stir them together.

Butter a 1/2 sheet cake pan, or other large rectangular pan, or 3 pie pans.

Once dough has risen, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove the dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured counter top. Using a rolling pin, roll dough out to be about 3/4" thickness, in a large rectangle. 
Spread the apple/caramel mixture over the rolled out dough in an even layer. 

Beginning with a long edge, gently roll the dough into a log. Some caramel will probably escape, don't let this worry you, there's plenty inside. Once you have a long dough log, slice it into 1 1/2 inch segments, and place each one in the buttered roasting pan. Brush down the tops and sides of the rolls with the egg yolk/water mixture, then bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown on the outside and cooked through. 
Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before drizzling the rest of the caramel glaze over top of the buns, and enjoy!