Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Winter Wonderland

Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Herbs
Tim and Tom
Valles Caldera

Usually by mid January I have had it with winter. Daydreams of warm, sunny, long, laying- in- the- grass- under- a- tree days are not far off. But this year, maybe because I am not in school or maybe just because I am willing time to go more slowly, I have a little more appreciation for the winter season in its entirety.

Last weekend, on a snowy cold Sunday, my family drove to The Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains. The preserve was initiated through a trust to preserve the historical and ecological nature of a huge heritage ranch nestled in the crater of a collapsed volcano. For a reason unbeknownst to me I had never previously been there- though I had heard of its reputation as an amazing place to hike, spot rare wildlife and enjoy meadows bursting with wildflowers in a relatively isolated location. I also had heard many a time about the sleigh rides that take place in the Caldera throughout the winter months and I was determined to go this year.  

And it was amazing. Despite it being freezing, it was quite unlike anything I had ever experienced. In New Mexico it is usually blue skies all the time (not a bad thing). But winding up the mountains, there was a misty surreal haze, with snowflakes gently falling onto the thickly carpeted white forest floor. 

We were greeted by the horse drawn wagon near a cluster of cabins only accompanied by a few silhouettes of pine trees in the vast whiteness. The sound of the jingling of silver bells as the horses trotted through the muffled silence of the falling snow was just how you would imagine. 

I am sure that most of you would agree that the best way to end a day of playing in the snow is to go inside and enjoy something toasty. Something like muffins fresh out of the oven and tomato soup made with tomatoes that have basked in the oven for hours mingling with herbs to become their tenderest, thickest, juiciest, tomato-iest version of themselves. The beautiful vermilion red soup and fluffy, half-cornbread-half-pumpkin bread muffins are sure to make the best winter days even better. 

Slow Roasted Tomato Soup

3 pounds Italian plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
Ground coriander
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup flame raisins
2 to 3 cups vegetable broth

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Trim the tomatoes and cut them in half lengthwise. Place them in a bowl and toss with olive oil, then lay them face side up on the baking sheet. Sprinkle a pinch of coriander, salt and pepper over every 4 tomatoes.
2. Roast for about 3 to 4 hours until the tomatoes start to become wrinkled yet juicy in the middle. Sprinkle the fresh herbs and raisins over the tomatoes and continue to roast for about 1 hour. Remove from oven.
3. Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor with 1 cup of broth, to start. Add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, whirring until the soup is smooth and desired consistency.

Pumpkin Corn Muffins (GF)
makes 12 muffins

1 cup sorghum flour
3/4 cup gluten free cornmeal
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup warm almond milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
Pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the sorghum flour, cornmeal, potato starch, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt and cinnamon.
2. Beat in the eggs, canola oil, almond milk and pumpkin with a hand mixer. Spoon batter into muffin cups, smooth out the tops and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds. Bake for 20 minutes until domed and golden. Test doneness by pricking them with a toothpick.

Recipe slightly adapted from Karina's of Gluten Free Goddess

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Try the Unexpected

I really don't have an aim for this post other than to encourage you to try something new. I suppose this relates to cooking and life in general.

When I saw chioggia beets in the store I immediately knew I wanted to make a tart with a polenta crust, showcasing the vibrantly hued candy- striped vegetable. However, time got the best of me and I knew the beets would age more quickly than the time it would take me to scrap everything together and actually execute the tarts. 

I pondered if there was anything I could do with the beets in less than 10 minutes. They were sitting wearily in the refrigerator, limp and altogether not very promising on the outside. One was nearly crushed under the neck of a full bottle of wine, placed there days ago to prevent the wine from leaking out. The others were in nearly just as poor shape, deteriorating under bags of lemons and celery root. 

For the first time in a while, I was throwing together vegetables with no plan of what the outcome would be. I know, its just a salad, but I have become so used to meticulously planning dishes that I want to make.

The salad was fresh and beautiful. It also made me notice each ingredient. The beets were crisp, yet tender and very sweet. Its pretty amazing to think about how a root that originated on the rocky coasts of the Mediterranean, named after a fishing village in Italy, came to be in my refrigerator in New Mexico. I know I take for granted the access that I have to so many incredible varieties of food. 

My conclusion: try mixing things up a bit. Combine two items in your refrigerator that you never thought of combining or if you want to go bigger, change up your schedule. Try squeezing something in that you always wanted to do, but never thought you had time for. Check out One by One on the sidebar :)

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Valentine Black Forest Cake

When I was younger my family lived in a house just on the outskirts of downtown, so growing up I was used to a somewhat "urban" lifestyle. Since we didn't have much space to garden, the concept of being able to grow our own food was very new to me when we moved to the country. We did however have two large healthy fruit trees- one plum and one sour cherry- sandwiched between our house and our neighbor's. I remember how exciting it was to climb up the tall ladder to pick the cherries and bring them inside to bake a pie with my mom and brother, encasing the tart gems in a messily patched together lattice crust.

Ironically, when we moved to the country and had the intention of growing many fruit trees, we were actually much less successful than we were in the city. The condition of our current soil being packed clay makes it extremely difficult to grow anything. Of all our stunted fruit trees, only a single little sour cherry produces. So in the summer I watch the tree very carefully over a course of weeks, picking each cherry when it turns its ruby hue and freezing it.  Perhaps a little obsessive, I know, but I believe that a single one of these cherries cannot be wasted. 

I knew I had to wait for the perfect occasion to bake something staring the summer bounty. I believe that Valentine's day was a fitting one for a cherry studded sweet and decadent dessert, like a black forest cake.

The cake itself is deep, dark and chocolaty. It is completely gluten, grain, sugar and dairy free, yet retains a moist texture because of the almond flour and honey. If you do not have access to sour cherries, you can use frozen bing and add more lemon juice, like 1/4 cup, for extra brightness. 

With its intense layers of crumbly cake, snowy whipped mascarpone cream, and delectable ruby compote, this cake seems like it came right out of the forest in Germany for which it is named, a region renowned for its sour cherry trees.    

Dark Chocolate Almond Cake (GF)
makes two 6-inch round cakes

2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup Dutch cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup dark chocolate, melted
2 eggs
1 tbs. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 6 inch cake pans with nonstick spray and dust with cocoa powder. Whisk together all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, then whisk in the rest of the wet ingredients.
2. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined. Pour batter into cake pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool completely in pans before removing and cutting.

Recipe slightly adapted from The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook via Comfy Tummy 

Sour Cherry Compote
makes enough for one 6-inch layered cake

2 cups sour cherries
1 cup bing cherries
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for about 10 minutes.
2. Pour cherries into a sieve and return juice to saucepan. Continue to simmer until it becomes a thick sauce. Take off the heat and mix in the cherries. 

Mascarpone Whipped Cream
makes enough for one 6-inch layered cake

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup mascarpone
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. In a separate small bowl, lightly beat the mascarpone and powdered sugar together until smooth. Using a spatula, gently fold the sweetened  mascarpone into the whipped cream until fully incorporated. 

Recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Assembling the Black Forest Cake 

1. When the cakes are cool, slice them in half. Place one half on a serving platter. Top with 1/2 of the sour cherry compote, then 1/3 of the mascarpone whipped cream. Repeat the laying process, using 3 halves of the cake and ending with the whipped cream. Top with fresh cherries, if desired. You can make mini cakes using the remaining cake half, or create an extra tall Black Forest cake.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Savoring the Moment

Lately it seems like my mind is always a million different places at once. I am always thinking about the future. I am worried about the significant changes that will happen, going away to college, making decisions about what I want to do next. Thinking about the little things, what I need to do to complete my work, thinking about how I shouldn't be thinking so much about what I want to draw, photograph, and bake. Trying to keep my priorities straight and not neglect my responsibilities, pondering how to redeem friendships with people with whom I have failed to stay in touch.  It can all get a bit overwhelming, yet I know it is the norm. I believe I can speak for most of us by saying that our minds are always just going and going, and sometimes we just have to find a way to make them shut up. 

For me a way to settle the mind a bit is to go out for a walk or run and quietly observe some nature and wildlife. Granted it is still difficult not to let thoughts wander, but it definitely helps to focus outward.

A couple weeks ago as I was walking along the acequia that runs parallel to the river, I came up behind a large apple orchard. The trees still bore wrinkly yet plump red fruit on their skeletal dark limbs and there were literally hundreds of geese and sand hill cranes grazing on the grassy paths among the rows of trees. It was a beautiful sight.

The wind and rain beaten apples reminded me of the apple molasses that I made for the first time last autumn. It is basically just a way to capture the intensified tartness and sweetness of an apple in the form of rich syrup. Previously I enjoyed it integrated into one of my typical breakfasts- mixed into plain yogurt along with plain granola. This time however, I had a bit of a craving to make all components of my “breakfast parfait” from scratch, granola and yogurt included. I was a little surprised to discover how silky and creamy the yogurt became, and the two granolas offer two different spectrums of flavors, mixing warm spices with toasted nutty granola and bright dried fruit. 

There are many ways to become aware of the present, whether it be going on a leisurely walk, taking in a breath of fresh air, or even just relaxing and taking the time to eat a homemade breakfast. Sometimes it can just be so nice to savor the essence, the flavor, the taste, of the moment. 

Homemade Yogurt
makes 1 quart

1 quart 2 percent milk
3 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt

1. Place milk in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until it reaches 180 degrees F, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool to 115 degrees F. 
2. Whisk together 1 cup milk and the yogurt. Stir into remaining milk.
3. Transfer to a 1 quart mason jar or leave in the saucepan and wrap without a lid in 2 clean kitchen towels, completely covering sides and top. Let stand undisturbed in a warm place (I found the incubation works best in an area about 100 degrees F. You can try preheating your oven earlier to a low setting then turn it off and place the covered jar or pan in the warm oven) until yogurt has the consistency of custard, 4 to 5 hours.
4. Refrigerate uncovered jar; when it's cool to the touch, about 30 minutes, screw on a tight-fitting lid. Yogurt can be refrigerated up to 1 week.

Recipe from Martha Stewart Living December 2012

Pistachio and Apricot Granola
makes about 1 quart

2 cups gluten free old fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cups raw pistachios, hulled and chopped
1/2 cup pepitas
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine oats, maple syrup, olive oil, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and cardamom. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, making sure to bring in the granola from the sides of the sheet, as it browns more quickly. Mix in the pistachios and pepitas and bake another 15 minutes, until granola is brown and well toasted. Take out of the oven, stir in the apricots, and let cool. 

Recipe adapted from Erin's Food Files Love and Olive Oil

Almond Coconut Berry Granola
makes about 1 quart

2 cups gluten free old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup coconut flakes
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup mixed dried berries

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together oats, coconut, brown sugar and salt. In a small saucepan, bring honey, oil and water to a simmer over low heat. Drizzle over oat mixture and stir to combine. Spread out mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, making sure to bring in the granola from the sides of the sheet, as it browns more quickly. Mix in almonds and bake another 15 minutes, until granola is brown and well toasted. Take out of the oven, stir in the berries, and let cool. 

Recipe adapted from Cook Smart with Pam Anderson 

Apple Molasses

Bring 1 gallon of fresh apple cider to a boil in a non- reactive stock pot over medium-high heat. Lower heat and let simmer until the consistency of thick syrup and reduced to about 2 cups (this can take awhile, so make sure you are around for a few hours). Store in a jar in the refrigerator and enjoy with yogurt, waffles, pancakes, ice cream, etc.