Holiday Ready and Paleo Friendly

apricot-postApricot Almond Balls are a continuum of the previous post on holiday gifting in tandem with Raw Truffle Bites.

These raw sweets are made from dried apricots, almonds, dates, and hints of lemon and coriander. A quick roll in desiccated coconut dresses them up and makes them holiday ready in literally no time.  Use the best dried apricots you can find, the lemon zest really brings them to life and the almonds add the perfect counterpoint

Pretty Apricot Almond Balls aren’t just for holiday tables and gifting. The moist and satisfying bites are handy paleo friendly treats designed to take the edge off hunger or provide a quick pick-me-up when faced with a mid-day slump.  Stored air tight in the refrigerator they will last well beyond a week.

Apricot Almond Balls

Inspired by Apricot Energy Balls at paleogrubs.com.

Ingredients
1 cup almonds, chop
1 cup dried apricots, chop
7 Deglet Noor dates, pitted, light chop
1 ½ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
3-4 tablespoons unsweetened desiccated coconut, for rolling (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped.
  2. Add the apricot, dates, lemon zest, and coriander and pulse until a dough forms.
  3. Roll by rounded teaspoon of dough into small balls.
  4. Roll the balls lightly in coconut flakes.
  5. Store airtight in refrigerator for up to a week. Yield: about 30

Holiday Bon Bons and Changing Times

There was a time when shipping was a reasonable part of the Christmas gifting equation.  I would create schedules for preparing, baking, wrapping, and shipping elaborate holiday gift baskets for friends and family. Often there was a theme; once everything was smoked: from cheeses, to sausages, salsas, jerky, and nuts.

As shipping rates escalated, packages got smaller. Now, I’ve pretty much abandoned the whole shipping idea. Instead I turn to Amazon Prime and send something obscure and generic—no doubt these gifts are appreciated just as much as previous crumbled cookies or the occasional exploding jar.

truffle-postThis year I really wanted to share my latest discovery of high flavored sweet treats made with raw (paleo approved) all natural ingredients featuring dried fruits, nuts, flavorings, and no additional sugar.

Of the two I made, I can’t decide whether I like the chocolate or the apricot more, but it doesn’t matter because they complement each other beautifully. The Raw Truffle Bites have high quality unsweetened cocoa powder, pulverized roasted hazelnuts and Deglet Noor dates, and rolled in cocoa powder. They are a bit like an adult Nutella nugget.

Their companion Apricot Almond Balls, are made with dried apricots flavored with grated lemon zest, pulverized almonds plus a few dates for sweetness, and then rolled in desiccated coconut for contrast. Use the best dried apricots you can find, the lemon zest really brings them to life and the almonds are the perfect counterpoint. You’ll find more on the apricots in my next post coming up.

Much like fine bon bons, I reasoned less is more here and the smaller quantities would certainly suffice. Thus, I settled on US Postal Service small flat rate boxes which meant in round numbers, 8.5”x5.5”x1.5” box/postage at $7.00 each; about as reasonable as it gets.

Marginally reminiscent of a candy box, it also meant that the box would likely hold only one layer deep.  After the complicated packaging of previous baskets this would be pretty straightforward; I was more concerned with the strength of the box to do its job.

The raw balls came together in a hurry and in no time I was filling individual candy cups. Next I strategically packed them in colorful beribboned cellophane bags along with gift ingredient labels. The packages were then snuggly bound in bubble wrap and slipped into their waiting boxes—no rattling or shifting here. According to all accounts they arrived safely and fairly unscathed.

Raw Truffle Bites

Inspired by Raw Brownie Bites at paleogrubs.com

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups roasted hazelnuts (walnuts or pecans) light chop
pinch of salt
1 cup pitted Deglet Noor dates (or other excellent quality), chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

  1. Add roasted hazelnuts and salt to food processor and process until nuts are finely ground.
  2. Add the dates, vanilla, and cocoa powder and process until mixture begins to come together. If necessary, add a couple drops of water at a time.
  3. Transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using a slightly rounded teaspoonful, roll with hands into small round balls and chill well. Roll in cocoa powder if desired. Yield: 17 – 20 truffles.

Note:  These are best eaten cold. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for about 1 week.

 

Pear Butter: Crazy Good

Using a slow cooker for jam is pretty unconventional, since popular wisdom leans toward cooking the fruit down rather quickly to maintain the fruit’s freshness and suspend it in sugar.

But these days I’m throwing out the rule book and giving my small crock pot a real workout. I’m also learning that using a slow cooker is not an exact science and there is a learning curve of sorts. In particular, the amount of liquid given off by ingredients is not always predictable. It’s reminiscent of recipes in old cookbooks that use the expression, “Cook until done.”

pear-butterIt seemed to me that winter pears should be the perfect candidate for my tiny crock pot.  Armed with a few lovely Comice pears and spurred by a bunch of different ideas, I formulated my approach and got busy. Several hours later I was completely enamored with the results.

In my small slow cooker set on low, I peeled, cored, and chopped 5 good sized pears, then added sugar, a little lemon, a pinch of coriander and cardamom.  Smuckers likes to tell us they use “a cup to a cup,” or equal amounts of fruit and sugar. But since I was not making enough for canning purposes, I decided to cut back and use an amount of sugar more suited to my taste.  Rather than 4 cups of sugar, I opted for 2 cups (which still seemed like a lot).

After about 30 minutes worth of maceration I kicked the temperature up to high.  I decided I would not cook it overnight in usual slow cooker fashion. Since ripe pears are fairly soft to begin with, it made more sense to keep an eye on it and cook until the fruit was soft and breaking down—and go from there. That took a little under 4 hours with the lid ajar to allow for moisture to escape. In spite of this attempt to reduce liquid there was an unbelievable amount left.  I tasted it and decided it was worthy of fine syrup status: excellent on just about anything from pancakes to ice cream. It was so good, I wondered if the fruit was worth saving—perhaps it had lost all flavor to the syrup? But I moved on.

The syrup was strained, 2 cups were decanted and set aside. I left small liquid puddles in the bottom of the pot to aid the fruit as the immersion blender was introduced to break it down into a smooth mass. In no time it was transformed from grainy chunks into a compelling, silky, slightly pink-tinged butter. When dropped from a spoon it held its shape naturally, but was not firm-set.

I could not have asked for more: the pears earthy perfumed flavors shined through gloriously. It was perfectly sweet, elegantly balanced with a whisper of citrus, and an exotic hint of coriander and cardamom.  Crazy good.

Pear Butter, Slow Cooked

Ingredients
5 large Comice pears, about 4 cups, peel, core, cut into chunks
2 cups granulated sugar
½ lemon, zest and approximately 1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
quick grind of sea salt

Directions

  1. Set slow cooker or  crock pot to low and add pears as they are prepped; then add sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice, coriander and cardamom. After 30 minutes, turn the heat to high; when mixture comes to a low simmer set lid to slightly ajar.  Cook for approximately 3-1/2 hours, until fruit is very soft and beginning to break down.
  2. Strain most of the syrup off the fruit and set aside for other uses.
  3. Using blender or hand held immersion blender, puree fruit until smooth and silky.  If desired, cook a little longer to eliminate any unnecessary liquid, about 30 minutes. Yield:  about 10 ounces.

 

Oregon’s Willamette Valley named Wine Region of the Year

willamette-valley-vine
Courtesy Travel Oregon

More awards come to the Willamette Valley!

Industry leader Wine Enthusiast magazine recently named Oregon’s Willamette Valley as their 2016 Wine Region of the Year.  Home to 530 wineries and nearly 20,000 planted acres, much acclaim can be attributed to Oregon’s world class pinot noirs.

Rivaling regions of Champagne, Sonoma, and Provence, these international honors were awarded for “the outstanding quality of its wines, the resulting international recognition and the tectonic shifts in wine investments have engendered.”

Read Full article here.

Date Delirium

datesNow that the weather is beginning to cool off and school is in session, it is time to get back to some serious cookie baking!  I jumped right in with an easy, unassuming cookie made with dates and a dash of oats for nuttiness and fiber.

What a surprise!  Be prepared for an unexpected cookie rush:  the dates manage to melt into distinct bites of light, perfumed sweetness, perfectly balanced with a mild coriander-spice blend.cookes-and-coffee

I know, they are so good for you, too.  You can  justify having another.

Since the dates are the star here, look for a premium variety, like Medjool; not desiccated nubs devoid of both flavor and moisture.  I found excellent well-priced Deglet Noor dates at Trader Joe’s.

The batter will be thick, I dropped rounds onto a cookie sheet, then flattened them slightly with a fork. dates-cookie-sheet This makes a small batch just over 2 dozen cookies, you may want consider doubling these if you have cookies monsters on premises.

Date-Spiced Cookies

Concept inspired by Well-Fed, Flat Broke, Emily Wight

Ingredients
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup quick oats
3/4 cup pitted dates, dice
1 egg
2 tablespoon oil
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet with silpat or parchment.
  2. On waxed paper, sift flour through salt; mix in the oats, add the dates and toss to coat.
  3. In mixing bowl, whisk egg and oil together, whisk in the brown sugar and milk, then the vanilla. Stir in dry with large spoon only to combine, it will be thick.
  4. Form rounded teaspoonful’s of dough, roll into balls; place 2″ apart on baking sheet. Flatten with a moistened fork while rounding the edges.
  5. Bake 9-11 minutes, until barely set and tops begin to brown. They should be soft; they will firm up as they cool. Cool on rack and repeat.  Yield: 27 cookies

A Natural Wonder: Strawberries and Cream Polenta Orange Cake

This weekend we have finally been able to string a few warm days together.  It’s a welcome reminder that summer is on the way and flats of fresh strawberries are just around the corner.

One of my favorite ways to show off the season’s best berries is with Polenta Orange Cake, a low squat European-style beauty imbued with a slight crunchy-sweet corn essence.  The orange zest and polenta join together in a burnished gold crumb dense enough to welcome a good soaking of orange syrup or juicy berries.

Strawberries & Ricotta Cream Orange Polenta Cake

For strawberries and cream cake, slice the cake in half torte style, fill it with sliced strawberries, and spoon on whipped cream. Or, for my favorite ricotta cream, cut the whipped cream with half ricotta.  It’s a natural wonder.

Polenta Orange Cake

Ingredients
Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup medium to fine-grained cornmeal or polenta
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 orange, zest and @ 1/3 cup juice
Orange Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 orange, cut in half
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line a 9″ cake pan with parchment or foil and spray with baker’s spray.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter until light, slowly add the sugar and beat until light. Add the eggs one at a time, until fluffy.  Add the vanilla, orange juice, the zest and mix. Don’t worry if it curdles. Add dry ingredients, mixing just to incorporate.  Scrape bowl down and spread the batter evenly into pan.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes, until cake springs back when touched.  Remove from oven and brush liberally with orange syrup while still warm.
  4. For the Syrup:  place all but extract in a small saucepan and bring to a boil; continue to boil briskly for 6 to 8 minutes, until it begins to thicken.  Let cool slightly, remove orange and strain.  Add the almond extract and brush over the warm cake.

Strawberries and Cream Cake
4 cups strawberries, rinsed, hulled, sliced (save a few for garnish)
2 tablespoons sugar
Sweetened Whipped Cream topping
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Prepare strawberries and cream:  combine the berries with sugar and chill; save a few pretty whole ones for garnish.  Whip the cream, add the sugar and vanilla.
  2. To assemble:  slice the cake in half horizontally, brush the bottom layer with orange syrup, layer with some of the sliced berries, spread with whipped cream.  Add the top layer, top with more berries and garnish with whipped cream and few pretty berries.  Serves 6 or more.  The cake can be baked a day ahead.

Get exotic: preserve lemons

Creating my own preserved lemons has been high on my to-do list for some time now.  Although there aren’t many components, it took me a while to get it together:  organic lemons, a fair amount of good quality sea salt, a suitable jar, and time is really all that is required. Lemons and Jar (480x640)

Preserved lemons, used in lieu of fresh lemons, are becoming more mainstream and often available in specialty markets.  In North African and South Asian cuisine, preserved or pickled lemons can age in salt for months to acquire their unique taste. My speedy version will be ready in about a month.  Lemons salted (480x640)After 1 week on the counter and another in the fridge, I couldn’t wait any longer and I tested my first lemon. The rind was soft with a mellow flavor.  Clearly, its growing intensity will echo throughout any dish when cooked.  In this case, the rind of only one lemon wedge was enough for a simple yet superb vinaigrette. Preserved lemons (640x480)

I’ll let the lemons continue to ripen for a couple more weeks and begin to include them in upcoming stews, one pot meals, and plenty of assorted grains and starches.

Preserved Lemons 

Ingredients
7 ripe medium organic lemons, rinse and trim ends
2/3 cup coarse sea salt, approximate
24 ounce canning jar or larger, sterilized
8 juniper berries

Directions

  1. Cut 6 lemons into 8 wedges each, and remove any obvious seeds. Fill each lemon with salt and place in the jar. Continue to press down the lemons and pack tightly into jar, distribute juniper berries evenly. Juice will be squeezed out of the lemons during the process, if it doesn’t cover the lemons, use the juice from the 7th lemon to fill the jar.
  2. Tighten the lid and let stand at room temperature for 7 days.  Each day, shake the jar to distribute the salt among the lemons.  Add more lemon juice if the lemons are not completely covered.
  3. After 7 days, drizzle a little olive oil over the lemons and store in refrigerator for 3 weeks longer, until skin is soft. Test after 2 weeks in refrigerator. Rinse the lemon before using and use the soften rind only.