Sunday, March 30, 2014

Caramel Apple Bars

I am an unabashed lover of chocolate.  Still, there are other types of sweets I can appreciate, like a nice salted caramel.  Sadly, caramel IS sugar, so a no-refined-sugar version of most caramel desserts is out of the question.  Lately though, I've come across a few recipes using a date puree as a sort of caramel stand in.  It won't work for every application, but dates are sweet, and they puree up soft and creamy, so I could see how it might work.

These bars were inspired by a caramel craving, and the fact that we had apples in the fridge and a party to go to.  They're soft and gooey, and very sweet without being cloying.  Just the thing for a light dessert or an after school snack.


Shortbread Layer:
1/3 cup (about 6) pitted medjool dates
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups (about 20) pitted medjool dates
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

1 tart apple
1 tsp coconut oil
a sprinkle of cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Start by kneading the 1/3 cup of dates into the flour.  Do this by tossing the dates with the flour, then squeezing and smearing date chunks and flour between your fingers until you have a fairly homogenous mix.  You can make this step quicker by mixing a little with your hands and then whizzing the flour and dates in the blender, but it can all be done by hand without too much trouble.  Mix the butter in with the dates and flour, and pat the resulting dough into a 9x9 baking dish.  Prick the dough all over with a fork, and bake in a 300 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until just lightly browned.

While the shortbread is baking, prepare the caramel and apples.

Core the apple and cut into uniform thin slices.  Melt the coconut oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat, then lay the apple slices in the pan in a single layer.  Sprinkle the apple slices with a light dusting of cinnamon, and place a lid on the pan.  Allow the apples to steam in their own juices for about 8 minutes, then flip the slices and put the lid back on to allow them to steam for about 8 minutes more.  When done, remove from heat and set aside for assembly.

For the caramel, place the remaining dates, butter, and milk in a microwave safe bowl and heat in 30 second increments, stirring each time, until the butter is melted and the milk is steaming.  Puree the date mixture with an immersion blender (or transfer to a conventional blender if that's all you have).  When smooth, stir in the vanilla and salt.

Finally, assemble the bars by spreading a small amount of caramel onto the baked shortbread (this acts as a glue to hold the apples in place).  Cover the bars with an even layer of apple slices, then spread the rest of the caramel.  Top the bars with the chopped walnuts, and press them in firmly to avoid runaways when the bars are cut.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mini Chocolate Pudding Cakes

Sometimes, you just get a craving.  Friday night was one of those nights.  It had been a long work week.  I was tired, my blood sugar was low, and I just wanted a yummy little *something*.  So, I did what you do, and started monkeying around in the kitchen.

The result was exactly what I had in mind.  Rich, dense, decadent.  Hot from the oven, these little cakes were the perfect match for the last of the coconut vanilla ice cream I made for Manflesh's birthday last week.  Tonight, after a couple of days on the counter, they were still almost as good after a 5 minute warmup in the oven.

See that fudgey, pudding-ey middle?

You need:

1/2 cup (one stick) softened buter
a heaping half-cup of Medjool dates (10-12 big dates), pits removed - measure the fruit by packing it into the cup
3 eggs
a dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 tablespoons cocoa powder
5 tablespoons whole wheat flour

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put the butter, dates, and eggs in a small bowl.  Attack with the immersion blender until the dates are ground smooth.  You will need to stir the chunks up from the bottom and re-blend a few times.  Add the salt and vanilla and mix thoroughly, then mix in the cocoa, and finally the flour.

Spoon the batter into 8 silicone muffin cups.  I have, and love, these, from Chicago Metallic. You can probably get away with well greased metal pans as well, but release will be trickier.

Bake for 8-9 minutes, or until the middles are not quite set.  Remove from the oven, and allow to cool just enough to handle.  Turn the cakes out onto a plate alongside some vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or some other tasty white creamy thing.

To re-heat leftover cakes, try 5 minutes at 350.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pumpkin Lasagna

I love pumpkin, which is good, because we grew a lot of it last year.  They stored fresh for quite a while, lining our dining room like overstock holiday decorations, but when one started to get a little soft around the edges, manflesh took on the task or roasting them all up and freezing bags of puree for later use.

Since that day, it's been my goal to come up with as many ways to work pumpkin into our daily diet as possible, so that we can eat through the backlog before the next crop comes in.

To that end, I give you pumpkin lasagna, a delicious creamy savory dish that hits the spot any time of year.

You need:

2 small or 1.5 large onions
olive oil
9 whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 cup walnuts
shredded mozzarella cheese

For the pumpkin-ricotta filling:
4 cups pumpkin puree (home roasted is preferred, but canned will do in a pinch)
16 oz ricotta
2 eggs
1 tbsp Italian herbs
1 tsp salt

For the creamy garlic sauce:
2.5 cups milk
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp salt
6 cloves garlic

Start by caramelizing your onions.  Cut them into half-inch slices, and add to a frying pan with a hearty glug of olive oil and a shake of salt over medium heat.  Keep the lid on until the onions are really soft and translucent, then take it off and stir them occasionally to help them caramelize evenly.  They're done when they reach a warm golden brown color.

While the onions are cooking, boil your noodles according to package directions, mix up the pumpkin-ricotta filling ingredients in a large bowl, and mix the garlic sauce ingredients in a large spouted measuring cup or a smaller bowl (a spouted cup will make it easier to pour later).

To assemble, start by pouring just enough of the garlic sauce into the pan to barely cover the bottom.  You'll need to stir the sauce each time before you pour to keep the corn starch mixed evenly.

Layer three noodles over the sauce to completely cover the bottom of the pan.  Follow that with half the pumpkin-ricotta mixture, spread evenly, then scatter half the onions and half the walnuts over the top.  Pour about a half-cup of sauce over the layered ingredients.  Cover everything with three more noodles, and repeat the layers from there with the rest of the ingredients, ending with a third and final noodle layer.

Pour the rest of the sauce over the top noodles, then add a hearty layer of shredded mozzarella.  Bake at 350 for about an hour, or until everything is hot and bubbly all the way through.

Not my finest photographic work, but I swear it tastes better than it looks.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

We might be getting some cows!

Okay, so they wouldn't be ours, they would just come visit us for a while.

A guy showed up at the door today because our neighbor across the creek suggested that we might be willing to let some of his cows come graze our unloved pasture.  Apparently he's got 16 cows ready to calve, and not enough acreage at his house, so he's a little desperate.  We'd love to get all that manure and have some grazers down there getting the land into shape, so it would be a win-win.

No promises yet, but he seems motivated and we're definitely open to it, so my hopes are high. I'd love to have some cattle down there without having to put in the work myself.  Rest assured, if this pans out, cow pictures are in your future.