Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pecan, Oat, and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A few weeks ago, Kurt and I had a conversation about sports drinks. We’d both been out in the hot weather and were feeling dehydrated, and Kurt asked if a good, all-natural sports-drink type of product exists. My short answer was no. But, the more I thought about it, I decided the best option might be coconut water. I personally have not conducted any scientific tests, but I do find coconut water to be very refreshing and hydrating after working out outside in the heat of summer. And, incidentally, when I choose a brand of coconut water, Harmless Harvest is my favorite. I want to point out that this conversation and the beginning of my preference for Harmless Harvest all happened prior to that company contacting me about their Harmless Movement campaign. I was delighted to receive gifts of a branded mason jar and espresso cup and coupons for samples of coconut water. My reasons for choosing Harmless Harvest are: they use organically-grown, special green coconuts and never use ultra-processed mixes or blends; their farmers use traditional cultivation methods ensuring unique coconut flavor goes directly into the bottle; rather than pasteurizing the product, they use a special multi-step micro-filtration process to protect flavor; their product contains no GMOs, no additives, and no preservatives; and theirs is the first-ever Fair for Life-certified organic coconut water. It’s very rare that I’m approached by a brand that I am so happily willing to promote. I was able to sample a flavor option I hadn’t tried before as well. Harmless Harvest makes a coconut water with Fair Trade coffee and a little caffeine boost. I thought a snack with some dark chocolate in it would be a good match for coffee-flavored coconut water. I pulled a recipe from my files from the May 2015 issue of Living magazine, and this not-too-bad-for-you cookie with no butter, no flour, and no sugar quickly became my new favorite treat. 

Not often do I shout from the rooftops about a vegan cookie with no flour in it, but this really is a delicious cookie. First, pecans are finely ground, and that’s what gives the cookies body and great flavor. To the ground pecans, oats, baking powder, salt, cornstarch, olive oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract were added. The mixture was stirred to combine, and the dough was ready to portion and bake. Keep in mind that this dough doesn’t spread or settle as it bakes, so after placing mounds on a cookie sheet, press each to the thickness you prefer before baking. The cookies baked at 325 degrees F for about 20 minutes. 

Kurt’s favorite cookie is oatmeal-chocolate chip, so he was excited to find these cookies in the kitchen. He took a bite and declared them fantastic before I let him know they contained no butter, no sugar, and no flour. None of that mattered. They’re rich from the pecans and olive oil, nicely sweetened with maple syrup, and the big chunks of dark chocolate don’t disappoint. And, they go perfectly with Harmless Harvest coconut water with Fair Trade coffee. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Grated Zucchini with Pine Nuts and Poppy Seeds

My virtual travel via cookbook reading has now taken me to Central Asia into Uzbekistan and the surrounding areas. I was intrigued to learn more about the food from this part of the world, and a review copy of the new book Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and The Caucasus made that possible. Samarkand is a city along the Silk Route in the Zerafshan River valley in Uzbekistan where trade brought immense prosperity from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries. Trade also brought a mix of cultures and cuisines, and the book includes dishes from the different ethnic groups that have influenced this city’s food. There are strong similarities to Turkish food but also elements of Russian and even Korean. A variety of spices are used for flavoring dishes but not to add heat, and herbs and fresh and dried fruits are used frequently. There are several fresh vegetable dishes in the book like a salad of Radish, Cucumber, and Herbs made with scallions, cilantro, and dill and Walnut-Stuffed Eggplant Rolls with pomegranate seeds, mild green chile, and garlic. Among the hearty soups, I’m most curious about the Apricot and Red Lentil Soup with cumin seeds, thyme leaves, lemon juice, and dried apricots. One chapter is devoted to Roast Meats and Kebabs and another to Plovs and Pilafs. Plov is a layered pilaf popular throughout the region. It’s a celebratory dish that represents “hospitality, community, and identity.” One of the pilafs I have to try is the Pumpkin Stuffed with Jeweled Rice which involves partially cooked rice with dried fruit, orange blossom water, saffron, sliced almonds, chopped pistachios, and spices that gets spooned into a hollowed and partially cooked pumpkin to finish cooking together. And, from the Breads and Doughs chapter, I did try the Kyrgyz Swirled Onion Flatbread. I was amazed to find the process for forming these flatbreads to be the same as that of making the Scallion Flatbreads I learned in a class taught by Grace Young. (The recipe is also found in her book The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen.) Rather than using scallions and sesame oil, here onions were caramelized in butter and spread on flattened dough. Circles of dough were rolled into ropes, twisted into spiral shapes, and then rolled flat again to disperse the onion filling throughout a flattened dough round. The rounds were then cooked with just a little oil in a hot skillet and were crisped on the surfaces and deliciously chewy in the middle. The other dish I tried was fresh and bright for summer with zucchini, yellow squash, and lots of bright flavors. 

The Grated Zucchini with Pine Nuts and Poppy Seeds salad was easy to put together once all the ingredients were gathered. First, I tried to track down dried rose petals. Our Middle Eastern grocery store would normally have them, but they were out the day I was looking. I ended up using dried whole rose buds intended for tea, and I snipped off the stem end and loosened the petals. Pine nuts are easier to find, and they were toasted and cooled before being added to the dish. Ground sumac is also easy enough to locate these days, and it adds a lovely, lemony flavor. I used a mix of green and yellow zucchini from the farmers’ market, and they were grated into a big bowl. Poppy seeds, the toasted pine nuts, dried rose petals, zest and juice of a lemon, olive oil, ground sumac, cilantro leaves, and salt and black pepper were added, and the salad was served. 

The salad was crunchy, lemony, and so pretty with the mix of colors. And now, there are so many more flavor combinations I look forward to trying from the book. The Grape and Pistachio Orzo pasta salad with basil and Green Beans with Hazelnut Tarator are two I’m eyeing. When I can’t jump on a plane, virtual travel through food is the next best thing. 

Grated Zucchini with Pine Nuts and Poppy Seeds 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Samarkand

Raw zucchini has a pleasing crunch and nutty flavor that pairs well with the sweet taste of poppy seeds and pine nuts. In summer, a mix of green and yellow zucchini looks lovely with the pink rose petals. 

Serves 4 

4 small or 2 large zucchini, unpeeled 
1 tablespoon poppy seeds 
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted 
2 teaspoons dried rose petals 
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 teaspoon sugar 
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac 
a handful of cilantro leaves 
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Coarsely grate the zucchini into a bowl using a box grater. Toss with the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper. An extra pinch of salt flakes over the top is good as well. Serve immediately (it will soon get watery). 

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Peach Ricotta Scones

I’ve somehow let this summer slip by without baking much with local fruit. All the blueberries went into bowls with chunks of cantaloupe instead of being added to muffins or pancakes or turnovers. So, I was determined to do some baking with peaches before they’re gone for the year. I had extra motivation when I received a sample of Chameleon Cold Brew Texas Pecan Coffee. I’ve been a fan of this locally made cold brew coffee for years, and I couldn’t wait to try their new pecan flavor. The coffee is made with 100 percent organic, Fair Trade Arabica coffee and Texas Hill County limestone-cured water, and there is no added sugar in the flavored varieties. My plan was to whip up a breakfast full of Texas flavors with something deliciously peachy to go with this pecan coffee. I knew just what I wanted to bake. When I first mentioned the book Little Flower Baking I gushed a bit about how many recipes I wanted to try, and the Peach Ricotta Scones was one of them. They’re made with peaches mixed into the scone dough and an extra slice of peach of top of each one. And, the dollop of flavored ricotta on top was a revelation in scone-making. 

I’ve made just about every kind of scone there is from sweet to savory; with cream or buttermilk; cut into squares, circles, and triangles. But, this was the first time I’ve topped them with ricotta. Of course, I have opinions about making scones too. Here, the peaches were to be sliced and frozen before being mixed into the dough. That makes sense because peaches are very juicy and wouldn’t mix well into the dough after just being cut. However, next time I’ll cut the peaches into chunks rather than slices. The slices were a little too big to incorporate easily. Also, I usually mix the dough by hand rather than in a stand mixer. In the mixer, the dough can quickly become overworked, and the peaches broke and didn’t mix in as nicely as they would have by hand. To start, I used a mix of all-purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour combined with a little sugar, salt, and baking powder. Chilled, cubed butter was added to the flour mixture in a stand mixer and mixed until crumbly. Cream was added while mixing until the dough came together, and the frozen peach slices were added. The dough was transferred to a work surface and patted into a thick square before being cut into squares. The squares were placed on a baking sheet, and each was pressed on top to form an indentation for the ricotta. Whole-milk ricotta was mixed with vanilla bean seeds, a little sugar, and almond extract. A tablespoon of the ricotta mixture was placed in the indentations in the scones, and an extra slice of peach was placed next to the ricotta on each one. The baking sheet then went into the freezer for an hour before being baked. 

Although I would make a couple of minor changes to the process next time, I wouldn’t change a thing about adding vanilla seeds and almond extract to ricotta and spooning it onto scones. I highly recommend trying that. Also, the freezing step before baking was essential. The ricotta firms up and stays in place well after being well chilled. And, the mix of Texas flavors with the cold brew pecan coffee? The nutty, smooth, nicely cold coffee was exactly right with peach scones. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 
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