Sunday, February 14, 2010

Orange You Glad I'm Your Main Squeeze?

So today is Valentine's Day and this year I don't have anyone to share such corny, lovey-dovey puns with. So, once again, I bonded with my sexy, red Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and created these Orange Coconut Macaroons Kissed with Dark Chocolate.

Ok, I wasn't completely alone. Lyle Lovett, She and Him, and Missy Higgins provided just the right recipe of irony, melancholy, longing and retro-flavored optimism for such an occasion. I'm convinced that everything I cook or bake tastes better if made while listening to music I love. And, by the way, Lyle Lovett is my boyfriend. He just doesn't know it yet.

Orange Coconut Macaroons Kissed with Dark Chocolate
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
10 tablespoons cane sugar
2 pinches of kosher salt
The zest of one large orange
The juice of half a large orange
1 egg, beaten
3 cups of medium flaked coconut (Not the sugar coated yuckiness you find in baking isle but unadulterated, plain, flaked coconut)
About 2 to 2.5 ounces of good quality dark chocolate (I love Trader Joe's Organic 73% cocoa dark chocolate bar and about half the bar should suffice. God knows I don't believe in wasting chocolate.)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Zest the orange and set aside. Do this first, because if you forget and juice the orange first, it's very tricky to zest a mushy orange. With a stand or hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the salt, egg, orange juice, orange zest and coconut. Mix until well incorporated. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. All cookies seem to bake more evenly and hold their shape better when the dough is chilled.

Once chilled, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and form mounds about the diameter of silver dollars. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until firm and the tops are golden brown and crispy. Let the cookies cool a bit before removing them from the parchment paper with a small spatula. If they don't hold together well, they're still malleable enough as you remove them from the paper to smoosh them back together. (Yes, "smoosh" is a technical term.)

Once the cookies have cooled, melt the chocolate. I prefer to create a double boiler with a glass Pyrex bowl with a lip that fits snugly in a small sauce pan filled with water or a small sauce pan and a slightly larger sauce pan filled with water. I know a lot of people like to melt chocolate in a microwave, but I always burned it when I used that method and it never melted evenly. Did you know that microwaving food changes its molecular structure? I got rid of my microwave last summer and haven't missed it once.

Transfer the macaroons to a piece of wax or parchment paper and arrange them so they're clustered in a circle and touching on all sides. This will insure that when you drizzle the chocolate on them the chocolate lands on the cookies, not on the wax paper spaces between the cookies. Using a wire whisk, flick (another technical term) the melted chocolate on the cookies. Transfer the cookies to the fridge to firm up and allow the chocolate to harden. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Who needs a sweetie when you have cookies like this? Oh, I hope Lyle didn't hear that. Yields 24 cookies, just the right amount for a party for one on Valentine's Day. ;0)

Afterthoughts: You'll likely have a some chocolate left in the pan. Again, wasting chocolate is sacrilegious, so whisk in some milk, heavy cream, a little sugar and a liqueur or choice and you'll have a decadent hot chocolate to enjoy with your cookies.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Have You Met Quinoa?

Do you know about quinoa?? If not, let me introduce you. Gluten-intolerant reader, meet quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa"). Quinoa, meet the gluten-intolerant readers. I'm sure you two will get along just fine.

Do you miss couscous or bulgar-wheat tabbouleh? Do you have to steer clear of corn or oats? Quinoa is a great substitution for recipes that call for many of these ingredients. It's also a very healthy alternative to rice and is packed with protein. It's an ancient grain from the mountains of South America. It has more protein than any other grain and it's a complete protein with an essential balance of amino acids. Quinoa also provides starch, sugars, oil (high in essential linoleic acid), fiber, minerals and vitamins. It's also easy to digest, which is important to many of us with sensitive tummies. It's good stuff.

Here are two recipes I've created, a breakfast quinoa loaded with protein for a tasty start to your day and a red quinoa salad that tastes light and fresh but will indeed fill you up!

Breakfast Quinoa
1 cup quinoa
2 cups of water or milk of choice (I use almond milk.)
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
Any additions you'd like such as nuts, fresh or dried fruit, butter, cane sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup...

Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and combine with the liquid in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Once the quinoa is fully cooked, transfer to a bowl and stir in the cinnamon and your desired mix-ins. My favorite is a pat of butter, a little brown sugar or cane sugar, pecans and fresh blueberries. That's a good start to any day.

Red Quinoa Salad
1 cups red quinoa
2 cups of water (For other quinoa recipes, I sometimes use chicken or veggie broth for more flavorful, but I like water best for this light salad.)
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
The juice of one large lime or lemon or combination of both
1/2 tablespoon oil of your choice (I use grapeseed oil.)
4 green onions, whites and greens finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and combine with the water in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed. Once the quinoa is fully cooked, allow it to cool, transfer to a large bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients. Chill well before serving.

Afterthoughts: Bulk quinoa is usually the most economical option. Just remember the one part quinoa to two parts liquid ration for cooking. Costco sells a four pound bag of organic quinoa for about $8 or $10 dollars. Trader Joe's has a small, organic box for $4, which is a good start if you're new to this ingredient. Finally, red quinoa can be trickier to find but most health food stores carry it in the rice isle if they don't carry it bulk.

This salad reminds me of a Greek salad I used to make with bulgar-wheat tabbouleh. To give this more of a Greek influence, add some feta cheese and toasted pinenuts.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fruity, Decadent Goodness

Pears poached in red wine, cardamom, cinnamon and orange. Fruity, decadent goodness. Give it a try. Oh and I bet you think that's a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream atop the pear, right? Oh no, you misguided soul, allow me to enlighten you. That, my foodie friend, is lemon frozen custard!

If you're not from the Midwest, you may not know about the delicacy that is frozen custard. Frozen custard is a type of ice cream but it contains more butterfat than ice cream (at least 10%) and also contains 1.4% egg yolk. Some ice creams do contain egg yolk, but less than 1.4%. Finally, frozen custard is churned much more slowly than ice cream, which creates less air in the product, and is served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream. All this creates a richer, smoother and denser frozen treat that puts traditional ice cream to shame. I was raised in Wisconsin, where the gold standard of frozen custard is Kopp's. Here in Seattle, where I live now, we are lucky to have Peaks made just like the best frozen custard I grew up with back home. If you don't have frozen custard in your town, I guess you'll just have to slum it with good quality ice cream. I'm sorry.

Decadent Poached Pears
1 750-ml bottle dry red wine (I used Malbec.)
2 cups sugar (I used organic cane sugar.)
2 cups water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cinnamon sticks
4 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut in half (I used Anjou.)
Lemon frozen custard (Or lemon ice cream or sorbet, if you must.)

Combine the first seven ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the pears, cut side down, and return the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer slowly until the pears are tender when pierced with knife, about 25 minutes. Transfer the pears to a plate and cover with foil if you'd like them to stay warm.

Boil the liquid in the saucepan until it's reduced to about three cups of syrupy goodness. This will take about 20 minutes. Allow the sauce to cool before serving or the hot syrup will instantly harden when it hits the frozen custard or ice cream. Serve the pears cut side up with a generous scoop of frozen custard or ice cream and drizzle some of the poaching liquid over your masterpiece.

After thoughts: Refrigerate leftover sauce and pears separately or the pears get mushy. Both can be reheated when leftovers are served or served cold. You will have plenty of syrup leftover which is tasty on frozen custard or ice cream on its own. Or you can drizzle it over goat cheese or blue cheese and serve with crackers, or drizzle it on pancakes and waffles.