Friday, November 16, 2012

Coconut and Cilantro Make for the Best Winter Soup...

Sounds too good to be true, no?

You can call it by name -- Hey you, Mr. Coconut Cilantro.


Yep, coconut + cilantro + pumpkin = pure bliss.
I don't know about you -- when I think of fall, I think of apples and pumpkins. Big pans of tender baked apples, garnished with raisins and a sticky-sweet pan sauce, steaming pots of applesauce. Pumpkin pie. Pumpkin butter. Pumpkin ravioli.

And soup.

Being dairy-free (save for some hard cheeses and pastured butter), I’m always on the lookout for dairy substitutes that are, well, REAL. Creamy cream-less soups are a favorite, but I feel like pumpkin soup always needs the help from a bit of dairy (same with tomato)… so it’s been, um, 4 years since I was you last? So when I heard about a heart-warming, tummy-filling soup that swapped cream for coconut, I got all excited.

Plus doesn’t the combination of coconut and pumpkin (and cilantro) just scream summery, flavorful, and oh so fun?!

Well, it did for me. These are unusual soup ingredients (at least if you’re not serving up tortilla soup or chili). But they would be amazing together. Sweet and creamy coconut. Hearty pumpkin. Bright cilantro.

This recipe originally called for a Hubbard Squash. But after visiting my friends at the Norwich Farmers’ Market, the only local Hubbard was all to big for little me, so I picked up a close second, and local favorite for soups – a Red Kuri.

The technique itself is easy. Roast up your squash – save those seeds for a topping! Cool the flesh, mix with stock and coconut, add cilantro stems, and blitz.

For extra cilantro flavor, I used the trimmed stems of the entire bunch, and then half of the leaves in the soup, saving the remaining leaves for a garnish. As well, I toasted the seeds with some curry, cayenne, ginger, maple syrup, and salt. Be sure to taste the soup and season to your liking while it’s still warm. I think next time, I might add a bit of curry powder for a bit more depth (I like my food flavorful), and perhaps a ginger crème fraiche dollop on top.

Coconut Cilantro Soup

Adapted from Diary of a Locavore

Olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 medium Red Kuri or Hubbard squash
2 cups chicken stock
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
1/4 teaspoon curry powder, optional
1 bunch of cilantro, stems removed and trimmed, leaves fine chiffonade
Sea salt to taste

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Place, cut side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until the flesh is fork tender. Remove from heat and turn cut side up. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove warm flesh from the skin.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté, stirring often, until tender. Add the roasted squash, sauté a few minutes more, then pour in the chicken stock and coconut milk. Cover, bring everything to a boil, and then turn the heat down. Add the cilantro stems and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Puree the soup in a blender or using an immersion blender, and then transfer it back to the pot.

Turn the heat onto low, add half of the cilantro stems, cayenne pepper, and ginger and stir well. Season with sea salt to taste. Serve hot with cilantro leaves and crispy spiced seeds on top.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Perfect (Roasted) Peaches

I grew up eating my mom’s mom’s peach cake. Years ago, in an effort to capture her mother’s recipes (passed down), my mom typed up her own copy of each recipe onto 3x5 notecards using the old word processing tool – the typewriter. Complete with spelling errors and offset keys where you could tell something was misaligned, the notecards together make for a fun journey that I’ve always enjoyed looking through.

So peach ‘caje,’ as mom wrote it. It’s an old German family recipe. A light and yeasty dough is stretched to fit in a glass baking pan and sliced peaches, tossed with a bit of sugar, cinnamon, and perhaps a drizzle of butter, tops it all off. It was the perfect dessert, with ice cream, or even breakfast (with yogurt).

Now gluten-free, the cake doesn’t have the same appeal it once did. But the peaches. I’d forgotten about peach cake until recently, when I was left with two perfectly ripe specimens. Being a banana girl, I wondered, “what to do?”

Peaches don’t pack well, so they’re not great with lunch at school. But on a salad, with peppery arugula? Or baked until tender to top my morning kamut-meal (like oatmeal for us with oat allergies)? Now we’re talking.

One time, and I was hooked. Opening the oven door to check on the fruit, the aroma of the butter, cinnamon, and juicy peaches sent me right back to the peach cake like I’d just had it yesterday. Funny how memory and scent are linked.

I later made these over my birthday weekend. They were devoured along side bacon, eggs, and gluten free English muffins, and again later tossed with greens. They’re perfect with vanilla ice cream, yogurt, or even crème anglaise. I could even see myself putting them on a pizza, with salty prosciutto and a hearty green, perhaps a garnish of soft goat cheese.

How do you like your baked stone fruit?

Baked Peaches

6 peaches, halved and pit removed
¼ cup maple syrup, more if desired
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1-2 tablespoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In an 8x8-inch baking pan, combine all ingredients. Place peaches cut side down and bake for 30 minutes, checking to ensure the sugar doesn’t burn (this will vary with your peach). Once the peaches start juicing and breaking down, flip the peaches and continue baking until tender, about 60 minutes total. (If you have particularly unripe peaches, I’ve facilitated the tenderizing process by smushing them, cut side first, a bit).

Friday, November 9, 2012

Easy Maple-Bacon Salmon

This is my go-to, I'm-too-tired-tired-to-cook-something-hearty favorite. There is something about the rich, buttery flavor of the fish that melds beautifully with the sweet maple syrup and crisp and salty bacon. And aside from a stop at your local fish market, it comes together easily (and in less than 10 minutes). Serve with a side of steamed snow peas and roasted butternut squash for a healthy, hearty, and utterly delicious meal.

Maple-Bacon Broiled Salmon

One 12-ounce salmon fillet, skin on
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 slices bacon, cooked to a crisp

Preheat the broiler to high.

Place the salmon fillet, skin side down, in a 9-by-12-inch baking pan. Drizzle half the syrup on top. Place in the oven, no more than 2 inches under the element. Cook for 4 minutes, then rotate pan 180 degrees. Cook 4 minutes more, or until the thickest part of the fish is almost cooked. Remove from the oven, crumble the bacon on top, and return the fish to the oven for 1 minute more.

Drizzle the remaining syrup on top and serve immediately.

Servings: 4
Nut-free, Gluten-free, Kid-friendly

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Carrot Cake for (Carrot) Lovers

It was for my 30th, after all.

First of all, yes. I exist. Sorry for the radio silence. I've just been too busy with work, feeding myself, and playing outside in the wilds of Vermont -- when not sleeping.

But oh boy you are in for it! I plan on ramping things up over the next two weeks, with full-fledged culinary fun coming in December. And if everything-holiday isn't quite your cup of tea, I'll have some fresh and healthy ideas to intersperse with all that triple creme cheese, Champagne, oysters, pie, cookies, and more, you'll be indulging in.

But first things first. I must properly share with you maybe one of my favorite recipes of the year. Not because it's perfect (in fact, far from...). But it was delicious, and is what helped me usher in the next stage of my life - the big 3-0 - with a bang. Perhaps I can blame it on the cake, because I don't necessarily feel old at all (unless you mention the number of friends wedding and bearing kids. Oh goodness...). I kind of feel young and free...

Back to the cake. Gluten Free. Moist. CARROT CAKE. Need I say more?

Kate gets the claim to fame here. Over our annual girls weekend in Rhody, she mentioned some GF creation from Saveur, and my ears perked up.

'WHHAATTT?!!' Cake? Saveur? My old employer!

I'd spent 3 months there, testing recipes, and testing again. Nothing GF. Nothing special dietary-wise. The magazine, I feel, focuses on sharing the flavors of the world with its readers. That's why I was partly surprised. And, once I'd looked the recipe up, surprised and delighted more as the recipe was developed by a colleague of mine!

I was kind of envious of this colleague. Her private cheffing career had taken off. She was a part of this group, the same group I'd looked into, of savvy ladies, cooking up a storm for well-paying families. But I didn't feel ready for it yet, mentally, physically, psychologically back then. Something held me back... (and in retrospect, it all makes sense because it wasn't, isn't, the right thing for me now). She had it all in my mind. Healthful cooking, a joy and warmth she brought to the room. You couldn't not like this woman. And apparently, not like her cake, either.

I followed the recipe to the nines, except for swapping canned pineapple for fresh, finely chopped in the Cuisinart. And I swapped cornstarch for arrowroot, due to my corn allergy. Overall, the flavor of the cake was superb. We baked it in a sheet pan rather than round, but I felt the thin layers were fine given the delicate nature of the sponge-nature of the cake.

For frosting, I thinned out the given recipe with about 1/4 cup of milk, and reduced the sugar by 1/2 cup. Plenty sweet for my taste. The cake was the hit of the night (and the best breakfast ever come Monday morning). It's a new favorite for ushering every new year of my life now!

Carrot Cake
Adapted from Saveur Magazine

For the cake:

1 tablespoons butter, for greasing pans
4 eggs, divided and at room temperature
2 egg whites, at room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ cups shredded carrot (4 medium)
20 oz. fresh pineapple, finely chopped and drained
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnut pieces
1 cup cornstarch (or arrowroot starch, as I used)
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, soft
½ cup butter, soft
2.5 - 3 cups confectioner's sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut (optional)

Heat oven to 375°F with rack in the center position. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans with butter and line with parchment; set aside. Combine egg yolks with ⅓ cup brown sugar in a medium bowl and beat on high speed 2-3 minutes until very thick and pale in color. Fold in shredded carrot, pineapple and vanilla extract; set aside.

Pulse walnut pieces in a food processor until finely ground. Add starch, baking soda, salt and spices; pulse to combine and set aside.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl until foamy. Slowly whisk in ½ cup sugar and beat whites until stiff and glossy. Fold walnut mixture gently into whites, then fold blended whites gently into carrot mixture. Spread mixture evenly in prepared pans and bake 20–25 minutes until cakes are lightly browned and have pulled away slightly from the sides of the pans. Allow cakes to cool 30–45 minutes in the pans. Run a knife around the edges of cakes to loosen from pan, remove parchment and invert onto a wire rack.

Beat cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until well-blended. Slowly beat in confectioner's sugar and vanilla. Place one cake round on stand or serving dish and spread ¾ cup of frosting evenly over surface, leaving a ½-inch border around edges. Sprinkle with ¾ cup of coconut and press lightly into the filling to set. Top with second layer, using remaining frosting to cover surface and sides of cake. Press remaining coconut evenly around sides and over top of cake. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Are We Dam-Ed?

They were a way out of the Great Depression - it was a great idea, at the time, for FDR. But imagine if we opened up all those dams and opened them back up to their (original) ecosystem. Think of the fish and wildlife that would return?

Sure, hydropower is a benefit of damming rivers. It's a clean and renewable energy. But is it significant enough to sustain?

Hear from dam-busters and pro-wildlife supporters and hear their stories yourself. DamNation is a pretty wild film.