Raw Chai Coconut Pecan Brownies

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This week has been crazy.  Tom’s in the middle of an insane work schedule.  14 hour days for 2 weeks straight.  I have a 4 month old and a 9 year old who is acting more like a 15 year old lately.  Its been stressful, I don’t know how we do it.  I am so glad it’s almost over.

I’ve been craving sweets all week, but since I cut out dairy and eggs most of my favorites are off the menu.  A friend of mine recommended I try raw vegan desserts.  So I did some research and found this one at Green Kitchen Stories.  I have been a longtime follower of their blog.  I LOVE the photography.  Just beautiful.  I love macro and started out shooting macro with my grandpa’s camera a long time ago.  When it came time to take pictures of these brownies I dusted off my macro filters and began playing.

I had to change up the recipe a little since I didn’t have syrup or hazelnuts.  Plus I wanted more coconut flavor.

They. Were. Awesome.  Like incredibly awesome.  Especially when smeared with honey roasted peanut butter.

Raw Chai, Coconut & Pecan Brownies

  • 2 cups of pitted Medjool dates
  • 4 tbsp of extra virgin coconut oil, room temperature
  • 2 tbsp honey (or maple syrup)
  • 6 tbsp raw cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 bags of chai tea, cut open bags and use tea.
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

1.  If you have a good food processor then just throw everything except the pecans in and let it go, scraping down the sides occasionally, until its thick and pasty.  My magic bullet didn’t cut it, so I chopped up the dates until very fine.  Mixed all the ingredients in one by one with a spoon and then mashed everything with a fork until it was thick like paste.  Add the pecans and fold in until they are spread throughout the dough.

2.  Press the dough into a parchment lined brownie tin.  It should be about 1/2 inch thick.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Mini Blackberry Galettes

Last week I went to see my midwife who told me that the baby had turned again, back into the breech position.  She said not to worry, but that I should take a long walk everyday to encourage him to turn.  I used to love a long walk, but these days a long walk is across our long driveway to the chicken coop and back.  But I definitely want the baby to turn so I promised I would try.

The blackberries behind our house are still holding out their big harvest so yesterday Brae and I walked down the street to a large stand of blackberry bushes that were blanketed in plump sweet berries.  We should have brought a larger bowl because the one we had was full in less than 15 minutes.  After getting home we decided that these berries were too sweet and ripe to freeze.  Plus I had a spare pie crust in the fridge that needed to be used up so we made quick, super simple mini blackberry galettes.  They made the perfect end to a hot summer day.

Quick and Easy Mini Blackberry Galettes

  • 1 pie crust (I used 1/2 of Alice Waters pie crust recipe)
  • 2 pints of blackberries
  • turbinado or granulated sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Roll out the chilled pie crust and cut out circles about the size of your hand.

2.  Place a handful of sweet blackberries in the center of each circle and fold in the edges leaving the center open.  Sprinkle the tops with sugar and gently press some sugar into the dough.

3.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling.  Let cool for 10-15 minutes before eating.

Nectarine Crisp

Nectarines must have been a sacred fruit.  My idea of heaven on earth.  When in season they are sweet, juicy, tender, a perfect dessert all on their own.  But sometimes you want something a little more fancy.  Maybe your mother in law is coming over for dinner and you need something easy, but impressive.  Or maybe you are like me and need to have something sweet and fruity for dessert every night for the entire summer.

That’s what happened this afternoon.  I sat at the kitchen table thinking about dinner and absently staring at a bowl of yellow nectarines I bought yesterday until I was no longer thinking about dinner.  I was dreaming up dessert.  Something simple and not too unhealthy, but still sweet.  I almost made a galette, but decided on a crisp instead.  Both are stunning to look at and are perfect with summer fruits, but a crisp is faster and easier then making, chilling and rolling out dough for a tart.

It took all of 20 minutes to prepare.  Just slice the fruit in half and peel away the pit, then cut each half into three slices.  When you have about 3.5 cups of fruit toss it with a couple teaspoons of sugar and of flour.  Dump the fruit into a baking dish and sprinkle with a handful of frozen or fresh berries.  Then set aside to make the crisp topping.

To make the topping massage the flour, sugar, seasonings and nuts into small cubes of cold butter with your fingers until it resembles clumpy wet sand.  Sprinkle evenly over the fruit and bake on a cookie sheet for 45 minutes.  That’s it!  I like mine pretty hot so I wait about 15 minutes for the crisp to set before scooping some onto a plate.  You could wait longer, but I really don’t think you’ll be able to.  If I had some vanilla ice cream I would add a scoop on top as well.

Nectarine Crisp

Serves 4, and can be easily doubled

  • 7-8 nectarines (about 3.5 cups, sliced)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp flour
  • handful of frozen or fresh mixed berries
  • 1.5 cups of crisp topping

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Toss the sliced nectarines with the sugar and flour in a large bowl then spread evenly in an ungreased ceramic baking dish.  It’s best to use a smaller dish and have a deep layer of fruit.  Sprinkle a handful of berries over the fruit.  Evenly cover the fruit with crumb topping and bake for 45 minutes.  Check after 35 minutes and if the crumb topping is browning and the fruit has not started to bubble up then cover the crisp with foil or parchment paper for the last 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes check to make sure the juices are bubbling through the crisp and the fruit is fork tender.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.  Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream if you have it.

Crisp Topping

Makes 1.5 cups

  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Toast the walnuts for a few minutes in the oven or toaster oven.  Let cool then chop into small pieces.  Mix the nuts with the flour, sugars, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Add the butter and massage the butter and flour mixture together with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it is well mixed and resembles clumpy wet sand.  Keep in refrigerator until ready to use.  Can also be frozen for later use.

Cherry Jam Tart

Over the last couple years I have come to love making jam.  The patience it takes, slowly stirring the bubbling juice waiting for just the right thickness.  The simplicity of the recipe, just fruit and sugar, and maybe a squeeze of lemon.  Its practicality, turning fruit thats almost gone bad into something that will last a year after its been canned.  And finally, I adore the rich colors.  Cherry jam has the most luscious hue, close to what I imagine Dorothy’s ruby slippers would look like.  For the last two summers I thought jam making was just my newest fascination until I started writing this post and remembered the first time I made homemade jam.

I was in 8th grade and all my friends were hanging out at our friend Erin’s house.  As we lounged in the sun drinking lemonade Erin’s mom told us she was making jam and asked if we wanted to crack open a few pomegranates for her.  Every kid loves the tart juicy seeds of a pomegranate so we all readily agreed to help.  We sat around the table gossiping and breaking open pomegranates until the table, our clothes and our mouths were stained with red juice.  After a while my friends lost interest, but not me.  I stuck by Erin’s mom the entire afternoon absolutely entranced by the jam making process.  I took home a new found love of jam making and three jars of fresh pomegranate jam.

Since I began making my own jam a couple years ago I have been on the lookout for yummy things to do with all the jam that ends up in my fridge.  This last week I came across a jam tart via David Lebovitz and it was instant love.  Even more perfect, I had just bought a pile of sweet cherries that were begging to be turned into more jam.

But I don’t need more jam.  I have three kinds of homemade jam in my fridge as I write this.  The apricot and peach jam I made last week and a fabulous jar of blackberry jam, made by a friend.

I wanted to find something else to make with those cherries, but after finding David’s tart, the cherries won.  I made more jam… and a tart.

No Recipe Cherry Jam by David Lebovitz

Cherry Jam Tart

Recipe via David Lebovitz and The Wednesday Chef

  • 9 tablespoons of butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/8th tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups of cherry jam, or other favorite jam
  • 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar

1.  Beat together butter and sugar until well combined.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.  Set aside.

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.  Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture stirring until it forms a dough.

3.  Take 2/3 of the dough and shape into a disk.  Form the remaining dough into a log about 1.5-2 inches wide.  Cover both with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

4.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Take dough out of refrigerator and allow to warm up for a few minutes.  Press the dough into an ungreased removable bottom tart pan with the palm of your hand until the pan is evenly covered on the bottom and sides.

5.  Spread the jam evenly over the tart dough.  Take the log of dough out of the fridge and slice into 1/4 inch slices.  Cover the top of the tart with dough slices.  Sprinkle at least 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar over the top of the tart.

6.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 25 minutes or until the dough turns golden brown.  Cool before serving.

Best served at room temperature, the day after its made, but only if you can wait that long!

Getting Cultured – Making Yogurt

Cultured – an adjective meaning:

  • enlightened; refined
  • nurtured or grown
  • cultivated; tilled

I stare at the directions wondering if this is a huge waste of time.  Maybe I should just go to bed.  Everyone else is already asleep.  I look down at the milk that’s beginning to steam in my favorite saucepan.  There is no turning back now.

Slowly heat the milk to 180 degrees F.  Then bring the temp down to 110 F using a water bath.  Now stir in the yogurt.

The yogurt plops in and I begin to stir.  I quickly realize the thick Greek yogurt I am using should have been thinned a bit with the warm milk before adding it to the whole pot.  It would have blended in much better if it was a thinner consistency.  I will remember that for next time.

Pour into sterilized glass jars and incubate at 110 degrees for 8-12 hours…

I had to think about this one for a while beforehand.  I did some research online and discovered several different methods for making yogurt.  All of them agree on two key concepts.

  1. you must keep the yogurt warm for the whole incubation time and
  2. don’t move, jostle or look in its direction until its done or bad things happen.

I don’t have a heating pad, my oven wont maintain a temp that low (110F) and I would rather not have to fiddle with the yogurt in the middle of the night so no crock pot either.  I figure I am going to have to jerry-rig something else.

This is what I came up with.

I preheat the oven to 200 degrees (the lowest temp for my oven) and pour the yogurt into a sterilized quart Bell Jar.  This I placed in the center of my big stockpot.  I have a bunch of those rice/flax-seed muscle packs you heat in the microwave, so I tossed two of my big ones in the microwave.  When they were hot I packed them around the jar in the pot.  Then I covered the rice packs with a towel to trap the heat around the jar, leaving the jar mouth uncovered in the center.  The lid went on the stock pot and I put it in my oven with the oven turned off, but still preheated.  I finally went to bed and left the yogurt to culture all night.

The next morning.

I went straight to the kitchen and opened the oven.  Off came the lid.  I expected a ripe sour milk odor, but got only a slight whiff of sweet milk overpowered by the smell of hot rice.  The yogurt looked, well, like yogurt.  I lifted the jar and walked over to the window.  With better light I could see a tiny layer of whey on the top with a thicker solid mass below.  I shook the jar lightly.  Yup, that’s a solid mass.  I tried to push away all the rules I was taught as a kid about drinking milk that had been left out longer then four hours.  “You can get sick!” I was warned.

I assured myself that I pasteurized the milk and the jars, so it should be fine and plunged a spoon into the jar.  The solid mass wasn’t so solid.  It was actually… creamy and slightly lumpy.  I stirred the yogurt well and brought the spoon to eye level.

Well, here we go.  I licked the spoon.  Wow, less tart than I expected.  Actually not really that tart at all.  I pour some out into a bowl and take a larger bite.  It’s really good.  Far better than I expected.  Thinner then most yogurt and could be thickened by draining for a few hours in cheesecloth.  Actually, if I drain some overnight I could have yogurt cheese in the morning!  I love yogurt cheese!  I pull out the last of my cheesecloth and begin preparing for tomorrow’s yogurt cheese.

Yogurt

Makes 1 quart of yogurt.

  • 1 quart (4 cups) of milk, whole or 2% fat.  Try not to use ultra-pasteurized milk.  It doesn’t usually come out right.
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt, use high quality because you are only buying it once and you want to make high quality yogurt.
  • thermometer, not required, but extremely stress reducing.
  • cold water bath with ice

1.  Clip a cooking thermometer to a medium-sized saucepan. Slowly warm 1 quart of milk on med-low heat,  stirring occasionally.

2.  While the milk is warming, measure 1/4 cup of high quality greek yogurt into a small bowl.  Set aside.

3.  When the milk reaches 180 degrees F, which should take 20-30 minutes depending on your elevation, remove from the heat and set the saucepan in the cold water bath.  Be careful not to get any water in the milk.  Bring the temp down to 110 degrees F.  Remove from the cold bath and set aside.  Stir a few tablespoons of warm milk into the bowl of yogurt to thin it.  Then pour the yogurt into the pot of milk and stir well.

4.  Pour milk/yogurt mixture into a clean quart sized jar.  There are several ways to incubate the yogurt.  I have had success with the above oven method and with the thermos method (I used a small ice chest).  I leave my lids off when I use the oven method to reduce condensation in the jars, but when I use hot water in my ice chest I like to put the lids on to reduce possible contamination from the water.  Both ways work fine.

5.  Store in the refrigerator and use within 1-2 weeks.  When you have about 1/4 cup of yogurt left make more yogurt!  Use your remaining yogurt as your starter. 

Yogurt Cheese

  • yogurt
  • cheesecloth
  • small bowl
  • seasonings

Line a bowl with 4 layers of cheesecloth.  Pour half a quart of yogurt into the cheesecloth and gather the corners at the top.  Tie closed with some string and hang over a bowl in the fridge.  I usually tie the string to something on the fridge shelf, like a support, and place a bowl underneath to collect the whey.

After 24 hours untie the cheesecloth and remove the cheese.  Place into a bowl and add a little salt.  Other flavorings can be added at this time including roasted bell peppers or garlic, herbs, or just a little pepper.  Serve with flat bread or chips.  Use within the week.

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*** For those of you who are lactose intolerant, I have read that although most commercially made yogurt contains some lactose, making your own yogurt will give you virtually lactose free product.  This has to do with the longer fermentation time in home yogurt making.  The longer you ferment the less lactose you will have.  Try fermenting for 24 hours.  It’s worth a try if you miss eating yogurt.

Afternoon Rituals and Strawberry Cake

Strawberry Cake

He first appeared on the corner in March with a tower of boxes & bags.  Mangoes and oranges.  Now, every afternoon I see him peddling his fruit, the most beautiful sunny smile on his tanned face.  He is a popular guy.  People look for him on their way home from work, while walking their dogs, and since he gives free fruit to the neighborhood kids, they love him too.  Since he arrived, my daughter and I occasionally make our way over to his corner, taste his wares and buy a few mangoes for a snack.

That is, until one day we were walking home from school and we saw new boxes.  Stacked up high next to the mangoes were bright yellow boxes with the words STRAWBERRIES Grown in California scrawled across the front in red.

Strawberry Boxes

Strawberries!  Probably grown in the extensive strawberry fields in Watsonville only 30 miles south of here.  I buy a box, that’s 6 overflowing green baskets, for $10.00.  What a deal!  That’s about $1.66 for each basket.  I search through my box expecting a few rotten ones hiding below and did not find a single one.  Each berry is perfect, sweet, juicy.

Now we buy a box of strawberries every week.  They are always on the table.  Simply rinsed and sliced.

Cutting Strawberries

But, after two weeks of plain strawberries at every meal we needed something different.  I found a Strawberry Cake recipe on MarthaStewart. com and got to baking.  I made very few changes to the recipe.  Her recipe called for 2 tbsp of sugar sprinkled on top and that seemed excessive when I was sprinkling.  I used about 3/4 tbsp and mine came out great.  The top is stunning and the taste matches.  It’s a lighter fluffy cake with a crispy outside that pairs perfectly with the soft fluffy interior.  The sweetness in the strawberries concentrates and intensifies into a deep warm burst of flavor when you bite into it.  It’s inspired me to try the roasted strawberries I have been hearing and reading about.

Strawberry Cake

Strawberry Cake

Recipe by Martha Stewart

Makes one 10 inch cake

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 pound of strawberries, hulled and halved

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Butter a 10 inch pie plate or 10.5 inch cast iron skillet.  Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

2.  Mix butter and 1 cup of sugar in a separate large bowl and mix on med-high with an electric mixer until the mixture is fluffy and soft, about 3 minutes.  Reduce speed to med-low and add the egg, milk and vanilla.  Mix until blended well.

3.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture.  Transfer the batter to the pie plate or cast iron pan and spread evenly.  The batter will be thick.  Arrange  strawberries on top of the cake, cut sides down.  I was not able to get all the strawberries on my cake.  I had about 3 large ones left over.  Sprinkle the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar on top of the cake.  I thought 2 tbsp seemed like a lot when I was sprinkling so I used 3/4 tbsp and it came out fine.

4.  Bake the cake for 10 minutes then turn down the oven to 325 F.  Bake until cake is golden brown, firm to the touch and pulled away from the sides of the pan.  About 55 min-1 hour.  Let cool in the pan on a wire rack.  Cut into wedges and serve.  Cover loosely and store on the counter for up to 2 days.
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Favorite Food Photos From April and Early May

I schedule time to practice food photography several times a week.  On many days I drop my daughter off at school and head straight home to take advantage of the early morning light flooding my kitchen and living room.  I end up taking so many food related photos that don’t ever make it onto my blog.  Instead of filing them away and forgetting them I want to share some of my favorites from the past few weeks.

Climbing PeasSpring Peas

Berry & Lemon Pancakes

Sun Toast from Super Natural Everyday Book

Lemon SconeLemon Scone

Granola on YogurtGranola on Yogurt

Carrot CakesCarrot CakesCarrot Cakes

Mini Lasagna

Back on Track Granola

Back on Track Granola

I stepped onto the scale for a bi-weekly weigh in. Oh crap. Do my eyes deceive me? Is it true? I groan and step off.

“Tom, somehow I gained ten pounds in the last few weeks!”

Tom smiles and crosses the room to hug me from behind. We both look into the bathroom mirror.

“You always look incredible to me.” He kisses the top of my head, pats me on the bottom and heads back into the bedroom. Easy for him to say, he could eat a whole cow and not gain an ounce. I look back into the mirror with a critical eye. I call them stretch marks, Tom calls them battle scars. I think my hips are too wide, he thinks I actually look like a woman and not a ten-year old boy.

Had I really been eating that bad? Well, I have been drinking a lot more juice instead of water or my always present green tea. Those caramel coconut walnut brownies I made for dessert on Easter were to die for, but probably not the greatest thing for my blood sugar… or my behind.  I also made my chocolate chip cookies last week, which were heavenly.  And I have been reaching for the butter and even reserved bacon fat instead of olive oil when I want to fry something.  A quick glance at my twitter feed told me what I already knew, I had been indulging, like its Christmas.

Back on Track Granola

I guess its time to get back on track.  My energy has been low and I feel sluggish during the day.  Unmotivated even.  So I am starting with a healthier breakfast.  I often skip breakfast (gasp!), but lately I have been eating brunch instead.  A lot of brunch.  Pancakes covered in real maple syrup, lots of fried eggs in butter, and bacon…  oh bacon…

No! No bacon!  At least not until I lose these extra 10 pounds.  Then I can have a little bacon.

OK, OK back to the granola.  This one is not too different from the granola bars I posted a while back.  They use the same ingredients with lots of room for variation.  I can eat this granola all day.  In a bowl with milk in the morning (warm or cold), on a salad for lunch and sprinkled on top of a cup of plain yogurt with fresh berries for dessert.

Back on Track Granola

Back on Track Granola

  • 3 cups of old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup crushed cashews (or peanuts, or walnuts, or brazil nuts, or a mix)
  • 1 cup of roasted sunflower seeds, without shells
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (or raisins, or apricots, or cherries, you get it right?)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup or a richly flavored honey (or a mix of both!)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup of chocolate chips (optional – not optional for me, but maybe for you)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Grind 1/2 cup of the oats to a flour in a food processor.  This is an optional step, but the flour helps clump the granola.  In a large bowl combine oats, oat flour, nuts, seeds and brown sugar.  In a smaller bowl mix together the maple syrup/honey with the oil and salt.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together.  Mixing with your hands is the way to go here.  Just get in there and pretend to be five again making mud pies.

When everything is well coated spread onto two lightly oiled sheet pans and bake for about 75 minutes.  Carefully stir oats around with a spatula every 15-20 minutes while baking so they cook evenly.

When finished, remove from the oven and transfer to a large bowl.  Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before stirring in the chocolate chips.  I like my chips to melt and stick to the nuts around them.  If you want yours to stay solid then wait until your granola is completely cool before adding the chocolate.  Store in a large glass jar or ziptop bag and enjoy.  Makes one week worth of granola, enough for a family of 4.
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Salted Caramels

Salted Caramels

When I told Tom I wanted to try making caramels his first response was typical of many non cooks.

“Why would you want to make them when you can buy a bag from the store.  Why don’t I just pick some up today?”

I couldn’t answer his question.  Why did I want to make caramels when I could buy them from the store?  Working with sugar is supposed to be hard.  You need a thermometer, kids far from the kitchen, no distractions.  Yet, I love caramels, not those from the grocery store Halloween caramels.  The only caramels worth eating are the ones I get from specialty chocolate shops, and we are not talking See’s Candy here.  These handmade caramels, made with a chocolatier’s love take me over the moon.  The are soft and creamy instead of hard.  They melt in your mouth without a single bit of graininess. Yes, these were the caramels I was after.  If I could make them myself and not pay an arm and a leg then all the dangers of cooking sugar would be worth it.

Salted Caramels

What did I find out?  Making caramels is easy.  I mean really really easy.  So easy I may never buy caramels from a chocolate shop again.  Well, not really.

My caramels came out just like a chocolate shop’s caramels.  Creamy and smooth, melt in your mouth.  Unlike any store-bought caramel I have tasted.  As the caramel set we happily licked the pot and spoon burning our tongues on the hot sugar, but no one cared.

Many thanks to Julie from My Cooking Adventure and Bree from Baked Bree for their wonderful recipes and caramel expertise.  Follow their guidelines and you can’t go wrong.

Salted Caramels