A Pansy Tribute

Pansies are one of those simple plants that just keeps on giving.  There must be a pansy created for every condition and region of the country.  I first became aware of them in Greenville, South Carolina where they bloomed like crazy in the blazing summer heat.   In my McKenzie River garden,  violas and violets,  pansies’ relatives, were the first to poke their tiny purple heads out the early spring snow.

Late this summer, I hastily added a few pansies to fill out a sparse planter in my dooryard garden. Without much effort, they consistently carried on and bloomed with the least amount of care; and still, as  winter approaches,  pansies  remain one of the durable spots of color in my depleted pots.

I tend to go with plants that serve a dual purpose in my garden: I prefer attractive as well as edible varieties. Some are perennials, like herbs, towering garlic onions and nasturtiums.  Annual favorites are mesclun blends, petite tomatoes, and climbing baby cucumbers.  Weirdly, when it comes to harvesting the pansies I have resisted.  I’ve been happy to simply behold their nodding faces in a spectrum of purples, blues, reds and yellows, all perfectly framed by their deep green leaves.

As I headed out this morning, I was alarmed to note that the pot of pansies had diminished to a sad state of drooping heads and withered yellow leaves.  It signaled the end of a season.  Later in a moment of reflection, I decided to stage my own act of thanksgiving—gratitude for my garden and all the pansies that have given so much joy this year.

Back in the kitchen, I set about creating a special salad featuring the pansies in an end of season tribute.  So, here it is, a pre-winter canvas of mixed greens and fresh herbs with a bit of radicchio and shredded carrot for crunch.

The basis of the simple dressing is a mild yet flavorful German mustard blended with a bit of chives and lemon juice all whisked into an emulsion with extra virgin olive oil. Atop the greens, a few dried cherries are scattered with crumbled feta cheese, toasted almonds and walnuts.  Finally, a smattering of pansy blossoms and petals grace the plate with their gentle sweetness and color.

A Pre-Winter Salad with Pansies

Ingredients
Per serving
3-4 organic pansy blossoms
2-3 cups mixed greens with radicchio and shredded carrots
1 tablespoon fresh parsley and/or other herbs
2 tablespoon toasted walnuts and/or almonds
2 tablespoons dried fruit: cherries, blueberries or cranberries
2 tablespoon feta cheese, large crumble
Dressing
¾ teaspoon German or Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced chives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Pinch salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Directions

  1. Rinse and dry fresh pansies and any other available fresh flowers, mixed greens and herbs.
  2. Toast the nuts.
  3. Prepare the salad dressing: place mustard in small bowl, add the chives, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and combine well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify.  Adjust seasoning and set aside.
  4. In small mixing bowl, place the salad mix, tear the petals from 1 or two blossoms, drizzle with part of the dressing and toss to coat.
  5. To serve: plate the dressed greens mixture, top with crumbled feta, dried fruit and nuts, and tuck in remaining flowers.  Drizzle with a bit more dressing and serve. Yield: 1 serving.

 

Gaga over Tahini

Mornings can be hectic. There are days when I am lucky to get out the door wearing matching shoes—let along eat anything.  It’s at those times in particular I know I must grab something to eat along the way—and hopefully it’s beneficial.

Here’s my latest solution to eating on the run. It’s not designed as a meal replacement; it’s a tasty energy booster with food value that keeps me going until real food surfaces.

tahini bites

These wholesome raw bites are jet fueled morsels of sweet dates, toasted oatmeal, and my current fascination, tahini.  Since I’ve gotten pretty gaga over tahini, I thought it best to do a little more research—and was amazed at its nutritional value.

Call it a seed butter, in that tahini is made from roasted sesame seeds which give it a high oil content. In a 2-tablespoon serving, this powerhouse contains 178 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams carbohydrates and 5 grams of protein; with no sugar and 3 grams of fiber.

What that means, is tahini is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats known to lower harmful cholesterol levels, as well as lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. It is rich in thiamine (30% of daily requirement), magnesium (24%), phosphorous (22%), iron (14%), and calcium (12% daily requirement). Tahini’s list of benefits goes on.   It naturally helps lower blood pressure, aids in bone health and arthritic issues.

Yes, moderation is important, but in a full recipe of 20 or more Tahini Date Bites, only 1/3 cup of tahini is used. These are so satisfying that two or three sweet bites will certainly get the job done. I’m fortified, and ready to go the distance.

 Tahini Date Bites

Few ingredients and simple to make, these hold well and improve with age.  Suggested variations are noted.

Ingredients
1 cup Medjool dates (var include 2 Tbsp candied ginger), seed and chop well
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1-3/4 cup oats, (var part almonds or other nuts) toasted
Finishing options
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (var pinch cinnamon)
1 tablespoon matcha tea powder
¼ cup raw coconut flakes
½ cup diced pistachio/pumpkin seed blend

Directions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl combine the dates, tahini, honey, vanilla and salt.
  2. Stir in the oats, it will be sticky.
  3. Divide into approximately 20 portions and shape into 1” rolls.
  4. Allow to chill in refrigerator for at least an hour to set.
  5. To finish, dust tops finish as desired. Yield: about 20.

One-Bowl Formula Cookie

Old-fashioned, soft, spicy Hermit cookies have never really gone out of style, but they certainly could use a make-over. Here is an updated version designed to meet today’s taste for cleaner, brighter flavors and textures—with less fat and more fiber.

It is my latest go-to cookie because it lasts well, is very tasty, and nearly foolproof to make. I call it my formula cookie because it can be easily varied, depending on need, mood, and availability.

For example, the 2 cups of flour can be replaced with nearly any type or combination of flours. For best rising, I tend to use a base of at least 1 cup all-purpose flour. Any variety of dried fruits and nuts will work, I especially like to include dates because they are meltingly sweet and moist.

The ingredient variations listed below are a recent favorite, but don’t let that stop you! The warm spices of cinnamon, coriander, and ground ginger are an excellent combination that works well with a variety of dried fruits and nuts, especially dates, dried cranberries, and a few pumpkin seeds.

This cookie is easy to assemble and best of all, it requires only one bowl. The fairly heavy dough comes together very quickly, yielding a soft cookie when baked. Best when not overcooked, plan on about 10 minutes per batch.  Store these airtight at room temperature for a week or longer.

Hermits Redux

Ingredients
2 cups AP flour, or of choice:  1-1/3 cups AP flour, 1/3 cup whole wheat flour, 1/3 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons warm spices of choice:  1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. coriander, 1/2 tsp. dried ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup quick oats
¾ cup dried fruit and nuts: 1/2 cup pitted dates, 2 tbsp. dried cranberries, 2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
1 egg
2 tablespoon oil: coconut, safflower, or canola
2/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line baking sheet with silpat or parchment.
  2. On waxed paper, sift flour through salt; mix in the oats, add the dried fruit, nuts 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 ingredients with large spoon only to combine, it will be thick.
  4. Using a small scoop or form rounded teaspoons of dough and 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 the tops begin to brown. They should be soft and seem undercooked; they will firm up as they cool.  Cool on rack and repeat.  Yield:  27 cookies.

Peanut Butter Cookies to Impress

We’ve talked about peanut butter before. There are times when nothing is more satisfying than creamy, rich peanut butter—with a spoon, right out of the jar.  The next time that impulse strikes, you might want to consider a slightly more civilized approach.

Here’s an opportunity to have an easy peanut butter fix in cookie form.  These seductive thumbprint cookies are tailor-made with five basic ingredients, and they bake in ten minutes. If you can recruit any tiny hands, their simple shaping contribution will make everyone happy.

The thumbprint variation allows for the option of quickly filling the little center imprint with whatever pleases you:  jelly, jam, Nutella, dulce de leche, or perhaps marshmallow crème.

Roll the cookies in granulated or brown turbinado sugar before baking for an extra sparkly touch.  When cookies are set, remove them from the oven and fill the center of each with the product of your choice. Briefly return the cookies to the oven to finish baking and set the filling.

Beware.  Do not be tempted to eat these standing up, directly from the pan. Let the hot cookies rest briefly in their pan to firm up and then cool on a wire rack.  You will avert scorching any hovering open mouths.

Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients
1 cup peanut butter, either creamy or chunky
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup granulated or turbinado sugar (optional, for rolling)
Filling of choice:  berry jam, grape jelly, Nutella, dulce de leche, or marshmallow crème

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray a baking sheet with baker’s spray or line with parchment or silpat.
  2. In a medium bowl stir the peanut butter and sugar together with a spoon. Add the beaten egg and baking soda and stir to evenly combined.
  3. Using a teaspoon, shape rounded spoonfuls of dough into balls. Roll in sugar, if desired.  Set on the baking sheet about 1” apart. With a water moistened thumb, press down in center about ½” to make a well.
  4. Bake for 7 minutes until puffed.  Using back of small spoon, press the thumbprint down again and fill with jam or other filling.  Return to oven and bake another 3 minutes.
  5. Let the cookies cool a couple of minutes and remove with spatula to cooling rack.  To store, layer cookies between sheets of waxed paper.  Store airtight for up to a week.   Yield: approximately 24 cookies.

Little Black Dress of Desserts

We love our nuts in the Pacific Northwest, especially hazelnuts. When you throw in a little chocolate even the French would agree life doesn’t get much better.

Here’s a chocolate-nut torte I have been making for so long, I have no record of the original source.  What I do know is this combination has been making folks happy for quite a while.  A chocolate center is surrounded by a bottom citrus laced cookie crust and crowned with a gooey, crunchy, layer on top.

choc-nute-torteIt is easy on the cook because it is made in three simple steps.  The crust is a snap with the help of a food processor. It’s pressed into the bottom of a springform or other easy access pan and briefly baked until set.

Hot out of the oven, a few handfuls of excellent chocolate are scattered across the crust, left briefly to melt, then spread evenly across the bottom.

Meanwhile, the top layer is whizzed up in the same food processor bowl. A couple of eggs are whipped well, brown sugar, a few dry ingredients are added to stabilize the batter, and chopped nuts are thrown in to pull it all together. In the blink of an eye, it is spread over the chocolate and back in the oven it goes for a brief 20 minutes.

Beyond this simple execution, the torte is nearly indestructible—especially if kept in its protective pan for transport. It does not need to be refrigerated for a day or so. Take it down the road to a potluck or dessert at a friend’s house. Unmold to a platter, give it a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar, and finish with a sprinkling of nuts. You’ve got a dessert for all occasions.

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

Ingredients
Crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, cut up
1/2 package semisweet chocolate chips (6 oz.)
Filling
2 large eggs
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts or walnuts, chopped (6 oz.)

Additional:  powdered sugar for dusting,  toasted nuts for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. For crust, combine flour, sugar, grated rind and salt in food processor; cut in butter and whirl until crumbly.  Press evenly on bottom of 8″ or 9″ springform or tart pan.  Bake at 375° F for about 10 minutes, until firm to touch.
  3. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, let stand 2 minutes to melt the chocolate; spread evenly over the crust with spatula.
  4. For filling, beat eggs until frothy; add sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla, and stir until smooth.  Fold in nuts.  Spread over chocolate.  Bake at 375° F for 20 minutes longer, until the top is firm and golden.
  5. Cool completely.  Remove from pan and dust lightly with powdered sugar and top with nuts. Store in cool place up to 24 hours, do not refrigerate.  Serves 8.

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.