Monthly Archives: January 2011

Spanish Butter Bean Salad

Butter Bean Tapas and Green Salad

Butter Bean Tapas and Green Salad

There’s a market in Astoria, Queens that has a delightful variety of imported Spanish goods, and butter beans are one of my favorites.  So one night I had a friend over for a Spanish gastronomical excursion, and figured I’d highlight these delicious beans.  This recipe is super-simple and SO tasty. And very good for diabetics and hypoglycemics (read below).

Health Benefits:

Butter Beans (also called Lima Beans) are rich in dietary fiber and, when paired with a grain, are a perfect protein that’s very low in fat.  I could retype in my own words, but this information from World’s Healthiest Foods just says it so well.  Lima beans, like other beans, are rich in dietary fiber. For this reason, lima beans and other beans are useful foods for people with irregular glucose metabolism, such as diabetics and those with hypoglycemia, because beans have a low glycemic index rating. This means that blood glucose (blood sugar) does not rise as high after eating beans as it does when compared to many other foods. This beneficial effect is probably due to two factors: the presence of higher amounts of absorption-slowing protein in the beans, and their high soluble fiber content. Soluble fiber absorbs water in the stomach forming a gel that slows down the metabolism of the bean’s carbohydrates. The presence of fiber is also the primary factor in the cholesterol-lowering power of beans. Fiber binds with the bile acids that are used to make cholesterol. Fiber isn’t absorbed, so when it exits the body in the feces, it takes the bile acids with it. As a result, the body may end up with less cholesterol. Lima beans also contain insoluble fiber, which research studies have shown not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis. Just one cup of lima beans will give you 65.8% of the daily value for fiber.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of dried Spanish Butter Beans or large lima beans, dry
  • 2 Tablespoons of particularly delicious and organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 of a lemon
  • 4 tablespoons of fresh cilantro
  • sea salt to taste

Directions:

  • Soak the butter beans for AT LEAST 24 hours.  The longer you soak them, the more tender they’ll be.  I only soaked mine for about 18 hours and had to cook them longer.
  • Cook the beans in about 3 cups of water in a nice boil for about an hour.  Start checking them around 40 minutes – the longer you soak them the softer they’ll get.  When I made them into soup, I wanted them to be so soft they’d puree well.  This time I wanted them to have some firmness to them.  You want some ‘al dente’.
  • Strain the beans and place in a small bowl.  Add the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, and season with salt to taste.
  • Stir in the cilantro and squeeze the juice of the half lemon over everything.
  • Serve at room temperature.

Enjoy!  My buddy Jonathan and I decided that was one of our favorite parts of our meal.  The recipe feeds two people comfortably as a side dish.  And tastes just as good the next day.

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Bourbon Molasses Apple Pie (with candied bacon)

Bourbon Molasses Apple Pie with candied bacon

The problem with living in the best city in the world is that you can plan a refined night for you and your significant other of theatre and a late supper at a French restaurant, and then end up going to the theatre, then a rock club, then a blues club, then an Eastern European dive bar until the wee hours of morning, all the while proclaiming “we live in the best city in the world!”

Naturally, sleeping in the following morning was required.  And then the long subway ride home had me maneuvering construction-ed lines, packed by panicked tourists who ripped the bag of groceries I had been schlepping for far too many transfers.

But at least I was going home to PIE.  Apple pie, with molasses and bourbon and a bit of candied bacon on top.  As I was groggily hitting the elevator button, the boyfriend remarked that I had yet to bake him a pie.  As fellow dusty bakers can understand, this was less of a histrionically domestic complaint and more a phrase of endearment that had me humming on my way to the grocery.   My day had taken a turn to the apple world.  It’s a sweet world.

This is the third version of this recipe, lovingly entitled “Punch Yo Mama Kentucky Apple Pie”.  From my time on the border of Kentucky, I learned that those people do well with delicious food and honor their bourbon.

In the last two test versions the molasses flavor held its own but there was virtually no bourbon flavor.  So instead of heating the bourbon and molasses to make a glaze (which I found killed the taste of the alcohol) I blended them at room temperature with a little tapioca starch to thicken the mixture.  I also included bourbon into the pie crust, finding that the flavor works well baked in flours.  Previously I candied thick-cut bacon with a molasses / brown sugar mixture and baked it into the pie – this time candied thinner bacon and sprinkled it on when serving to retain its crunch.

The result?  The bourbon flavor came though just enough that you’d notice but not be overwhelmed by it.  I had added no sugar to the apples, and they came out sweet and caramely, and the cinnamon gave them a bit of punch.  The crust was a bit too crumbly on day one, but definitely didn’t distract, and was soft and manageable on day two.  (For a flawless crust try my Perfect Gluten-Free Pie Crust) By far the apple/molasses/bourbon combination was killer!  And the bacon was so crunchy and sweet that the crusts don’t even need sugar.

Notes: You can use regular white flour in the crust, or experiment with gluten-free flour blends you like using. This crust was a bit crumbly – I’d stick to my easy gluten-free crust or Perfect Gluten-Free Pie Crust, including the bourbon instead of water as suggested below.  If going gluten-free, just make sure you have enough starch and xantham gum to pull the flour together.  You can also use butter-flavored Earth Balance and omit the egg to make this dairy-free and vegan.  I’m experimenting with sugars lately, and used just a tiny bit in this, but it really doesn’t matter what kind of sweetener you use.  Yes, the flavor will vary slightly, but that’s one of the beautiful things about pies: make a crust and fill it with fruit and chances are you’re going to be happy.

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 14 small apples, preferably of three varieties
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon
  • 3 Tbsp. molasses
  • 2 tsp. starch (I used tapioca)
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon (preferably two different, pungent varieties – I used Indonesian and Chinese)
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/2 tsp.

For the crust:

  • 1 cup white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/2 cup sweet white sorghum flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca starch
  • 1 1/2 tsp. xantham gum
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sweetener – I used sucanat, crushed cane sugar, because I accidentally picked it up instead of fructose, which I was going to try using.  I’m still working on which sweetener I like best for health / baking reasons.
  • 16 Tbsp. butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon
  • 4 Tbsp. ice cold water
  • 1 egg, beaten, for brushing on the top of the pie.  You can also use egg white, melted butter or water.

For the Bacon:

  • 5 slices of thin bacon
  • Your choice of sugar – brown sugar or sucanat will flavor best

Directions:

Prepare the Filling:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Peel, core and slice apples, and let them sit in a strainer.
  3. In a small bowl, mix molasses, bourbon and starch.  Blend with a fork.
  4. Separate the apples onto two cookie sheets with high rims.  Pour 1/2 of the molasses mixture on each sheet, and mix thoroughly with your hands until the apples are coated.
  5. Sprinkle with each tray with 1/2 of the cinnamon and nutmeg
  6. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until just soft while you prep the crust.

For the crust: I use a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.

  1. Place flours, starch, xantham gum, salt and sugar in the bowl and whisk together.
  2. Toss in butter and start to mix on low speed until the butter is cut in, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the bourbon one tablespoon at a time, and then the water, using only just enough for the dough to pull together.
  4. On a floured pastry board, roll half of the pastry into a disk to fit your pie plate.  I make sure to thoroughly turn and flip my dough so that it doesn’t stick, as gluten free dough can break easily.
  5. Fill the plate with apples, tapping down slightly.
  6. Roll out the top crust, close pie, seal the edges with a fork.
  7. Mix a teaspoon of water with a slightly beaten egg, brush the top of the pie, and sprinkle with sugar if desired (After sampling, the pie was sweet enough without the sugar and would have been prettier if I had omitted it).
  8. Bake for 45 minutes, covering the edges of the pie halfway through to prevent browning, or until top of pie is slightly browned and apples cooked through.

To candy the Bacon:

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Fit roasting rack into a cookie sheet and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Place sugar of choice in a small bowl, and thoroughly coat bacon with sugar.
  4. Place on cooking rack and sprinkle more sugar on top of each slice.
  5. Cook for five minutes and, if desired, turn bacon and sprinkle with more sugar.
  6. Cook for five more minutes, remove from oven and remove bacon to a plate to cool completely before chopping into small bits.
  7. Sprinkle on top slices of pie for serving.

Gluten-Free Cow-dairy-Free Mac and Cheese!

 

Okay, so I follow a gluten-free diet.  And while I’m VERY allergic to cow’s milk protein, I can tolerate sheep and goat milk relatively fine.  But I had a HUGE problem finding a recipe for macaroni and cheese that contained NO cow’s dairy.  As I’m not a huge fan of overly cheesy dishes, I’ve never tried to make a recipe of my own.  Until now.

I must say, I LOVE this recipe.  It’s cheesy, but not chewy.  I added butternut squash, so there’s a little vegetable kick to it.  Using three types of cheese gave it a complexity and an enticing blend of flavors.  I’m very happy with the results…

So, here it goes.  Read the recipe in full, cause it contains a lot of steps that culminate in one dish.  The first three (cooking the pasta, roasting the squash and making the cheese sauce) take about the same amount of time, so active prep time really is about a half an hour.

The type of pasta obviously can vary, as can the type of cheeses.  I’d recommend getting one that will melt and blend well (why I used Drunken Goat, which has a texture close to a soft cheddar), one with some classic punch (authentic sheep Pecorino Romano from Italy) and a Chevre to layer in (remember, Chevre melts differently than most cheeses, and doesn’t blend well into sauces).

Ingredients:

  • I package gluten-free pasta, 12oz (I used Tinkyada rice spirals, which won our Gluten-Free Pasta Showdown)
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced in small pieces
  • 1/2 a large white onion, diced in small pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, plus one more tablespoon for cracker crust (I used butter made from goat’s milk – regular butter or ghee would work just as well)
  • 3 Tablespoons gluten-free flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour, which I find works well as an all-purpose gluten-free alternative)
  • 3 cups fresh goat’s milk
  • 4 ounces soft goat’s cheese (I used Drunken Goat), grated
  • 4 ounces of a dry goat or sheep milk cheese (I used sheep’s Pecorino Romano), grated
  • 4 ounces of Chevre goat’s milk cheese, forked into medium size clumps
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • About 1 cup of gluten-free cracker crumbs.  I used Glutino Original Gluten-Free Crackers, which taste (as far as I can remember) like classic Ritz.  That’s the basic taste you want.

Directions:

  • Take the diced squash and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Spread on one layer on a baking sheet covered in tin foil.  Bake at 400 degrees until just soft, about 25 minutes (I used my toaster oven on the convection oven setting, so it took about 15 minutes).  When done, immediately turn oven down to 35o degrees.
  • Heat a large pot of water with a generous shake of salt over high heat and bring to a boil.  Add pasta and cook according to package directions, until al dente.  When cooked, drain under running cold water until pasta cools, to stop the cooking process.  Mine took about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan on medium/low heat and melt 3 tablespoons butter.  Add 3 tablespoons of gluten-free flour one at a time, whisking thoroughly between additions to dissolve flour.  Cook for approximately 3-5 minutes, whisking constantly.  The mixture will bubble slightly, and turn a beautiful golden color.
  • Add 3 cups of goats milk, again one at a time, thoroughly whisking while adding.  The first cup will sizzle a bit and the flour mixture may clump – so add the milk slowly and whisk constantly.  When all three cups are added, mix in the chopped onion and sage.  Turn heat to low and simmer for about ten minutes.  Stir frequently with a rubber spatula, being sure to gently scrape the bottom of the pan.  Any milk will curdle if burnt.  Gross.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg.  Temper the egg by adding about a tablespoon or two of the hot milk mixture to the egg, then beating thoroughly.   Slowly add another tablespoon of milk mixture to the egg, beating thoroughly.  Add the entire egg mixture to the saucepan, slowly and mixing thoroughly.  (Tempering basically means that you slowly bring an egg mixture to a higher heat, but progressively so that it doesn’t curdle and cook).
  • Season with salt and pepper to desired flavor.
  • Mix the Drunken Goat and Pecorino cheeses together, and add ¾ of the shredded cheese to the saucepan and incorporate thoroughly.
  • Now I used a 3 /12 quart La Creuset Dutch oven, but you could use a large baking dish and just cover in tin foil when cooking.  Spread the cooked pasta into the pan and toss in the squash.
  • Slowly add the milk and cheese sauce, mixing thoroughly.
  • Fork chunks of the Chevre in and mix into the top layer of the pasta.
  • Sprinkle the remaining Pecorino/Goat’s cheese.
  • In a small saucepan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, and toss in the cracker crumbs.  Sprinkle mixture over the pasta.
  • Cook for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
  • Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Gluten-Dairy-Free Maple Vanilla Scones

In her memoire “My Life In France”, Julia Child shares a little tidbit where she served something barely edible to a luncheon guest, then smiled as they ate it, never once apologizing for her botched experiment.

I think about that a lot, on days like today.

Not that this experiment was botched – in fact, I’m rather pleased with the results and will have no problem serving them with breakfast to my roommate and boyfriend tomorrow morning.  Today was just example of how maybe sometimes I need to be a little more organized in my playpen and a little less… um… dusty. Continue reading

Coconut Milk Rice Pudding

It’s freezing in New York City.  By the time this is posted, the snow will be falling once again and NYC will have gotten more snow in January than any January in history.

Which is why this weekend I’ll be grabbing the ingredients for this warm and filling dessert that I made up last year while similarly freezing in Cincinnati.  It’s not too sweet, and a delicious dairy-free alternative to that gorgeous pudding that too often stares at me from behind the windows at Italian and Portuguese restaurants, eying me up and down as I sip my espresso.

Health notes: This recipe contains coconut milk (with medium-chained fatty acids, it’s very anti-carcinogenic, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-viral, and helps build strong bones), and cinnamon (which helps to regulate blood sugar, has been shown to help arthritis symptoms and has a whole load of other health properties).

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup long grain or basmati rice
  • 1 cup coconut milk with 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 additional cups coconut milk
  • golden raisins / sultanas (about 1/2 cup but to taste)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ground cinnamon to taste
  • fresh nutmeg
  • 1 tsp lemon rind
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • your favorite sweetener to taste

Directions:

  • Cook the rice in your favorite form (stove top, pressure cooker, rice cooker etc.) with the 1 cup coconut milk, 1 1/2 cups water and raisins until all liquids are absorbed, the rice is soft and the raisins are plumped.
  • Add the extra 1 1/2 cups coconut milk, cinnamon stick, lemon rind, and vanilla and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  • When the liquid has reduced by half, add about 2 tablespoons of sweetener, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and about 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and taste.  Add more sweetener as desired.
  • Simmer until the liquid is absorbed to almost an oatmeal-like consistency.  Any further and it will dry out before being served.
  • Serve warm or chilled, with additional cinnamon on top or with sprinkled raisins or coconut.

Lavender Tea Cookies

I’m playing around with different gluten-free mixes and wanted to check out another from 1-2-3 Gluten Free (I reviewed their Pan Bar Mix).  So I’m testing their “Roll-out & Cut Sugar Cookies”, which are free of gluten, wheat, dairy, caseins, peanuts, tree-nuts, corn, egg and soy!  The mix does contain sugar, so be careful if you’re diabetic, hypoglycemic, or generally avoid white sugar.  Other than that, it’s a basic mix of rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch and the necessary xantham gum and baking powder.

To make it extra special for my gluten-dairy-free-British colleague Dale I added adding some delicate dried lavender to make a tea-tasty cookie.

I had attempted to bake the cookies two different ways – first by rolling and cutting out as the mix suggests, then by rolling the dough with my hands into a ball and pressing flat, crisscrossing with a fork (with the intention to see if this may make a suitable snickerdoodle dough).  But my dough was too dry to roll out, and crumbled on my pastry board.  So I rolled about 1 tablespoon of dough with my hands and flattened it a tiny bit, placing 12 cookies about 2 inches apart on a thin baking sheet.

The result: Well, these cookies are very sweet to me.  But I like my pastries just-sweet, so this is probably good news for other bakers out there.  They do taste remarkably close to regular sugar cookies, even despite the lack of butter.  Mine are much thicker than what this recipe is intended for (rolling them thin and cutting them can make 40-100 cookies, my batch yielded 36), but the texture is great – soft and slightly crumbly.  The essence of lavender is perfect (I’d say 1/4 cup or less…).  Overall, I’m a little disappointed I couldn’t roll them out, but think it’s a great standard cookie mix.  And they’d make a great snickerdoodle by adding 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to the mix and rolling in cinnamon before baking.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box 1-2-3 Gluten Free Sugar Cookie Mix
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup dried edible lavender (you can get this at most bulk food / tea stores.  Any lavender you’d use for tea is appropriate for baking)

Directions:

  1. In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, cream shortening until smooth, about 3 minutes
  2. Add 1/2 cup of the flour mixture and blend thoroughly.
  3. Add egg and egg yolk, and beat until incorporated
  4. Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until you can make a solid dough-ball.
  5. Add the lavender and mix quickly until evenly dispersed (I tasted a bit of my mix to make sure I had the light flavor and scent I desired)
  6. Divide dough into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour until firm
  7. When dough is ready, preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  8. Using 1 tablespoon portions, roll dough into a ball and flatten slightly.  Place on baking tray 2 inches apart and bake for about 13 minutes (I discovered that putting them in the middle of the oven made the bottoms brown but not the tops, so I moved the second round to the top third of the oven)
  9. Let cool slightly and transfer to wire rack

1-2-3 Gluten-Free Baking Mixes

Occasionally, very occasionally, I indulge myself in a boxed mix of something gluten-free.  One night during a run of a play in Cincinnati I was CRAVING something sweet and stuck in the theatre all day without so much as applesauce to appease the pangs.  Later that night during my 11pm run to the grocery store, a box of 1-2-3 Gluten Free “Pan Bars” just happened to end up in my cart… oops!

The next morning, before another two-show day, I whipped the mix together with a few eggs and oil, and the 3/4 a cup of pumpkin that the box recommended.  Not to succumb completely to a packaged product, I spiced it up à la Dusty Baker with some cinnamon and freshly grated ginger.  Spread into a 9×11 pan, popped into the oven for a half hour, cooled for another half, sliced and covered and it was on its way to hungry actors and stage crew.

Now a good amount of actors are foodies – I’ve never met such a quantity of people through a profession who share my obsession with Saveur magazine and who sympathize with my insane desire to own my own chickens enough to send me email links to urban  “hen houses” (I WILL have my own eggs from the happy hens who live on my roof in my future apartment in New York City… that I will own…near my Dusty Bakery).

So I decided to see if there would be any adverse reaction to NOT telling people that they were gluten-free.  I set the pan out, headed to my little dressing room and waited.  Voices inquired about what they were, cursed me for bringing in another baked goods (actors are obviously always watching their waistline – which is why most things I bring in are relatively healthy anyway!), and then hailed them for their deliciousness!

And when I tried them, I wholeheartedly agreed!  They were moist, light and fluffy.   And one particular friend, who had said he wasn’t interested in any way in trying something gluten-free, declared them delicious and stuck to his opinion after I unveiled my bit of trickery. Score for the gluten-free-ers!

I was also thrilled to tell the group that the boxed flour was delightfully simple – which is why I gave in and bought it to begin with (most boxed mixes have WAY too much stuff in them for me).

Ingredients in the mix:

Sugar
Rice Flour
Tapioca Flour
Potato Starch
Aluminum-free, corn-free baking powder
Salt
Xanthan Gum

So the only things I would have changed if making this from scratch myself was the white sugar and the potato starch (I would have experimented with tapioca starch or arrowroot to exclude any trace of nightshade vegetable).  And the ingredients are free from gluten, wheat, dairy, casein, peanut, tree nut, corn, egg and soy!  The recipe could easily be made with applesauce, carrot or zucchini instead of pumpkin, and chickpeas instead of eggs to make egg-free (there’s a recipe for this on the inside of the box).

So, needless to say, I am VERY supportive of this brand from my one experience.  The blend doesn’t contain too much sugar or additives, and produces a light and fluffy cake.  I was extra excited to learn that this company hails out of Cleveland – only a few hours from where I’m typing right now!

Thanks, Kimberlee, for this wonderful product!

Visit 1-2-3 Gluten Free

Portuguese Kale Soup – Caldo Verde

Caldo Verde - Portuguese Kale Soup

I have weird comfort food cravings.  Sometimes it’s grilled sardines.  Sometimes pasta with tuna and peas.  Sometimes paella.  What can I say, I’m a Portuguese gal (and Italian and Irish, so there’s lots of other cravings that go along with comfort).

In the cold of winter, a favorite is Caldo Verde – Portuguese Kale Soup.  My father’s from the Azorean island Sao Miguel, and I’ve been there many times in my 30 years.  It’s so savory and creamy and hearty and spicy and just full of rainy/snowy day deliciousness.

So I was thrilled when I realized how easy it is to make! Some potatoes, kale, butter, chorizo, maybe some leeks… brava!  And it’s so easy that quantity and process are nothing to a bit of inspiration and flow.  I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio last year for a performing gig and upon two visits home to Connecticut my father sent me packing back on the plane with chorizo, kale from the garden and hot pepper.  What more perfect dish to make than caldo verde, no?

Bom Apetite!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bunch of kale (about 6-8 pieces), shredded thinly
  • 6 small white potatoes
  • 1 large chorico sliced in thin rounds
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • Salt to taste
  • Garlic (ground or minced fresh) to taste

Directions:

  • Place shredded kale in a large soup pot and fill 3/4 of the way with water.
  • Add about 2 teaspoons of salt.
  • Peel and half potatoes and include in soup pot.
  • Bring to a medium / high boil and cook until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.
  • Remove potatoes from pot and place in large bowl, blender or food processor with a cup or two of the soup water.
  • Add chorico to soup pot and turn down to low.
  • Blend the potatoes and soup water (with hand mixer or other source) until very smooth.
  • Add back into the soup pot progressively, mixing thoroughly until incorporated.  Add more water if needed to thin the soup a bit.
  • Add butter and olive oil, taste, and add more as desired.
  • Simmer soup at least 1/2 hour or longer

Serve with Portuguese rolls or toasted Italian bread and an awesome red table wine and you’re good to go!

Notes from soup #2, January, 2010

So I made this soup again the first week of 2010, when my father had sent me home some chorico after the holidays.  This chorico was finer than the last, with a glorious dark-pink inside, less fat and thin casing.  Longer than its previous brother, it had a tight, pungent sent, perfect for flavoring the caldo verde that my cold bones were craving!  I varied the process of the recipe, and turned out the same great (albeit slightly pink in tone) soup! It made me realize the amazing flexibility of such a cuisine: because I didn’t want the fresh chorico my dad had sent to go bad,  I used two long pieces instead of one.  This, of course, made me need a bit more water and potatoes.

Directions:

  • Peel and cut about 8 small/medium white potatoes into quarters.  Place in a large soup pot and fill with water until covered, add about 2 tsps salt.  Boil until the potatoes are soft.
  • When cooked thoroughly, remove about a third of the potatoes.  Using a hand blender, blend the contents of the pot until the potatoes are thoroughly dissolved.  If the broth is thin, add the rest of the potatoes progressively and blend.  The consistency should be a little thinner than a pureed sweet potato or squash soup; not watery like a standard chicken or beef broth, but thin enough that the kale and chorico will be able to slide around comfortably.  If too thick, simply add in warm water and stir until you get the desired consistency.  If too thin (like my first attempt with this trial), simply add more potatoes and continue to a thickness you like.
  • Slice the two chorico into disks about 1/4 inch thick, and add to the pot.  Cook about 10 minutes on heat just high enough to keep it at a low boil.  You should start to smell a gloriously rich scent wafting from the pot.
  • Add the 1/2 bunch of shredded kale and cook until soft, about another 10-15 minutes.
  • Drizzle in some olive oil and about 4 tablespoons of butter.

Remember, as I learned quickly, this recipe is really adaptable.  I don’t think any of my relatives ever had a recipe written down, and I never saw them measure a thing when cooking.  Portuguese cooking should be full of tasting, reseasoning, and adding personal touches.  Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Showdown!

There are so many delicious dark chocolates out there, and knowing that they’re full of antioxidants and can help with things like high blood pressure and heart disease makes them even that more enticing.

So we tried out six types of dark chocolate and rated them for your viewing pleasure… it was a hard task, very hard, but somebody had to do it.  Chocolates were rated by richness, sweetness, and overall deliciousness, each on a five-point scale.  Oh, some of them are not rated on all three ’cause I explained the directions poorly… sorry.  Because they were so different and all delicious, we didn’t pick one favorite, and I’m putting the individual scores on for your perusal!

The Judges

Judges

The Chocolate!

1. Theo Organic Dark Chocolate

70% cacao, made in Seattle, Washington, theochocolate.com

  1. Laura: Richness 2, Sweetness 3.  “Somewhat of a bitter aftertaste. Started out creamy, but fell apart.”
  2. Ruark: Richness 4, Sweetness 4, Overall 4.  “Nice, mild dark chocolate.”
  3. Erika:  Richness 4, Sweetness 5.  “Amazing!”
  4. Jacqueline: Richness 2, Sweetness 3.5, Overall 3. “Sorta dry.  Nice and deliciously bitter but blah texture, nice and nutty.”

2. Nirvana Single Origin Sao Thome

70% Cacao, Made by hand wth the “finest cocoa beans available in the world”.  Cocoa beans from Africa, made in Belgium, NirvanaChocolates.com

  1. Laura: Richness 3,  Sweetness 2. “Didn’t stand up against no. 1 for flavor, much more mild, but almost no flavor – somewhat fruity. While I thought it had a soapy aftertaste, my friend liked this one more than the first.”
  2. Ruark: Richness 4.5, Sweetness 4.5, Overall 4.5.  “Very similar to #1, a bit more of everything but just slightly.
  3. Erika: Richness 3, Sweetness 2. “Nice aftertaste.”
  4. Jacqueline: Richness 4, Sweetness 4, Overall 4.  “Creamy, tangy.”

3. AlterEco Dark Chocolate Blackout

85% Cacao.  Made from fair-trade, Bolivian cocoa beans in the Swiss tradition.  Contains no artificial flavors, chemical additives or emulsifiers. AlterEco.com

  1. Laura: Richness 4,  Sweetness 2,  Overall 3.  “Way too bitter – sour in flavor.”
  2. Ruark: Richness 3.5, Sweetness 3, Overall 3.25.  “A bit bitter, almost tangy.”
  3. Erika: Richness 3, Sweetness 1, Overall 2. “Bitter, a little citrusy.”
  4. Jacqueline: Richness 3, Sweetness 1, Overall 4.  “Very bitter, good strong taste, I LOVE bitter chocolate.  Would be good for baking in sweet dishes?

4. Phinney Chocolate Factory Nib Brittle

65% Cacao (contains milk). “Fair prices, direct trade, community development and environmental stewardship”  From Theos Chocolate.

  1. Laura: Richness 1,  Sweetness 4,  Overall  2.5. “We didn’t like this one – very grainy, though that could have been the “brittle” – it stayed grainy in the mouth. Very sour aftertaste.
  2. Ruark: Richness 4, Sweetness 4.5, Overall 4.25.  “Nice flavor with the chips”.
  3. Erika: Richness 3, Sweetness 3, Overall 3.  “I like the crunch, but it’s a little bitter.”
  4. Jacqueline: N/A… No milk for me.  Note the lower the cacao content the higher possibility of milk.

5. Pure and Dark Chipotle Rounds

No other information (cue mysterious music).  From a delicious shop on the corner of Bleeker and 10th Street in NYC.  Dark chocolate with a dusting of Chipotle!

  1. Laura: Richness 5, Sweetness 4, Overall:  4.5.  “Nice and creamy, very nice kick to it, and a lovely sweetness behind the heat.  Wonderful surprise!”
  2. Ruark: Richness 4.5, Sweetness 4.5, Overall 4.5.  “Nice richness and sweetness, but WHOAH!! What a kick!”
  3. Erika: Richness 5, Sweetness 2, Overall 3.5.  “Oh, spicy!  Intense, I only ate one.”
  4. Jacqueline: Richness 5, Sweetness 4, Overall 4.5.  “Very creamy, love the kick, taste even more awesome the more you eat.  Good for a meat recipe!”

6. Pure and Dark Cardamom Rounds

Same deal as above, but with a dusting of cardamom!

  1. Laura: Richness 5,  Sweetness 5, Overall 5.  “This was my favorite – love the cardamon, very creamy and a wonderful combination of sweetness and spices – fantastic!”
  2. Ruark: Richness 4.5, Sweetness 4.5, Overall 4.5.  “Another flavorful chocolate, accentuated nicely by the cardamom.
  3. Erika: Richness 4, Sweetness 3, Overall 3.5.  “Less spicy but still has some kick.
  4. Jacqueline: Richness 5. Sweetness 5, Overall 5. “Love the cardamom!

Vegan Chocolate Fudge Cake – The Easiest Recipe Ever!

Adding a can of pumpkin to a boxed chocolate cake mix.  A gluten-peanut-dairy-soy-free chocolate cake mix?

Success!

I can say without a doubt that this is the easiest recipe for a vegan fudge chocolate cake EVER!  The pumpkin obliterated the dry, crumbly issue I had last weekend with the gf cakes, and the denseness and moistness balanced out the dark semi-sweetness of the chocolate.  My host commented on how you couldn’t taste pumpkin specifically, but that it added a vanilla finish instead.

I served the cake on a dish of coffee vanilla sauce, also vegan, and with a few fresh blueberries.  While one desserter noted that the sauce tasted like something you would get at a vegan restaurant, another said it was the coffee that hit them first and then the texture.  Not a bad pairing for the cake, but I’m going to find a better one.

Conclusion to this experiment?  I will, with confidence and excitement, use a can of pumpkin and a boxed allergy-free cake mix to make a cake for those with food sensitivities and food snobs alike.

Oh, and our hosts created a phenomenal dinner for us – short ribs that literally fell of the bone, beet and goat cheese salad, cheese and cured meats that were divine, and more bottles of Prosecco and red wine than I care to admit.

Not a bad Friday night for this tired, dusty baker.

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