Sunday, September 14, 2014

September Daring Cooks' Challenge - Dairy-Free Bechamel

This month, the Daring Cooks got a little saucy! Jenni from the Gingered Whisk taught us the basics of how to make the five mother-sauces and encouraged us to get creative with them, creating a wide variety of delicious, fresh sauces in our very own kitchens.

There are several "basics" which every cook hoping to increase their skills really should learn.

One of those skills is how to make a correct, good sauce.

Well, this month's Daring Cooks' Challenge helped us learn exactly that.

There are five basic "mother" sauces from which you can create hundreds upon hundreds of amazing, delicious and impressive variations to use in almost any dish you can think of. Knowing the differences between these sauces and the basic tricks for perfecting them can increase your kitchen prowess (and confidence!) greatly.

The question for me this month was which sauce to try! Granted, I want to try them all over time. The trick, though, was finding one that we could fit into our schedule this month, and that had the greatest likelihood of most of the family eating. And enjoying.

Most of the sauces involve dairy of some sort - butter, milk or cream, specifically, all of which little man can't have.  So I decided to be creative.

I chose to make a simple, basic bechamel - a white sauce made from a roux (generally butter and flour) and milk, then seasoned.  But I challenged myself to make a dairy free bechamel.  Using little-man friendly ingredients.


Coconut oil in place of butter, coconut milk in place of milk. And flour. Because it's nice to not have to substitute all three major ingredients...

The basic process is simple.  Melt the butter (coconut oil for me), then whisk in the flour.


The recipe called for two tablespoons of flour. I could tell right from the first tablespoon, though, that the oil wasn't behaving the same as butter does, and that this sauce would need a little bit more flour in order to thicken up properly. So I went with three tablespoons.

Once the flour is fully incorporated and cooked, slowly add the milk (coconut milk).


And then you whisk.

And whisk.

And whisk some more. Eventually, the mixture comes to a simmer and thickens up beautifully. The whole process is supposed to take about half an hour.  I don't know whether it was the coconut oil, the coconut milk or the combination, but mine took a lot longer to simmer and thicken, but finally (after about 45 minutes) it did, as you can tell by how it coated the back of my spoon.


(I ran my finger through it to see if it would hold the line - it did!).

When it came time to add the seasonings, I had to think about what I actually wanted to do with this dairy free bechamel.  And then I remembered a chicken tikka masala spice mix given to me by a friend recently.


Coconut sauce... tasty spice mix... Aha! I added half of a can of diced tomatoes, a nice scoop of the spice mix and some diced leftover roasted chicken to my bechamel, let it simmer, and voila!


Served with cauliflower and a pan-toasted tortilla (I didn't have time to make naan - next time!) and there we had it! A dairy free, simple chicken tikka masala curry!


So maybe it's funny that a French sauce led to an Indian dinner, but either way, I'm super glad to have made this. Jenni, I never would have tried it without this challenge, so I thank you. And I look forward to trying other delicious sauces, too!!


Dairy Free Bechamel
(my own variation, based on the Daring Cooks' Challenge)

1 tablespoon coconut oil
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 coconut milk (I used Silk coconut milk beverage)

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the coconut oil.
When the coconut oil is fully melted and heated through, stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until a paste forms. It might not form a real paste, but stir until it is well incorporated and feels a bit thick. Continue stirring and heating this mixture for about four or five minutes.
Whisk in the milk about ½ cup at a time, making sure that the addition is fully incorporated before adding the next addition of milk. Continue to whisk the mixture over the heat until it simmers and thickens slightly.  This took me about 30 minutes once all of the milk was added, so be patient. I promise - it will work!
At this point, add in your seasonings. Salt, pepper and nutmeg are the standard for a basic bechamel, but let your creativity guide you as to how you'd like to use your sauce!
Enjoy!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins

Today is a big day in our house.

Today, little man has his orientation/meet the teacher day for preschool.


This might not seem like a big deal, but it is to me. 

For the last three and a half years, he's been my baby. But now he is starting school. Like a big kid. Once he starts, there's no stopping it. And that's scary. 



Yes, I went through this with little miss, too.

And now she's in third grade.  See? There is no stopping this.

BUT.

Back to school means one fun thing for a mommy-food-blogger.



It means after-school snacks!

(You were wondering how I was going to link this in, weren't you??)

My Secret Recipe Club assignment this month was Secrets From The Cookie Princess. I knew I'd love the blog just from the title. Cookies? Sign me up! And let me tell you, there are cookies galore - if you can dream it, Colleen can cookie it.  But there's also a great variety of recipes on the blog, too, from main dishes to appetizers and everything before, during and after.  Seriously, it's amazing.



When I started perusing the blog, I was actually looking for dinner ideas.  I was seriously tempted by her Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili. And by the Acorn Squash Soup. And I totally plan on making both of those this fall, when those squashes are more readily available. 



But then I saw her recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins and knew I just had to try them. 

The muffins come together very easily. As you can see from the photos, little man helped me out, too. A lot.


I guess that is the silver lining of his getting older, right?



And the results?



Yummy.

Super yummy.

And, seriously, they're really not that bad for you. So much so that I had no guilt at all giving them as an after school snack. Or as a treat breakfast the next morning. Oh yes, I did. 



Colleen, thank you so much for your awesome blog full of delicious inspiration. I can't wait to try your S'mores Banana Bread, all of your snickerdoodle variatioins, and many, many of your cookies!! You are amazing!





Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins
(slightly adapted from Secrets From The Cookie Princess)

1 cup rolled oats (old fashioned)
1 cup milk, divided (I used unsweetened coconut milk beverage)
1 egg
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled (I used coconut oil, just above room temperature)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I used regular whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 12-well muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine oats and 1/2 cup milk.  Let soak for 5-10 minutes.
While the oats are soaking, whisk together the egg and brown sugar in a large bowl until smooth and caramel colored.  Gradually add the butter (coconut oil), constantly whisking to temper (I didn't have to temper, but I had to get teh consistency nice and smooth), then whisk in vanilla.
Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine.  Add in oat mixture and stir in the rest of the milk, then fold in chocolate chips.
Divide batter evenly into the prepared muffin pan.
Bake at for 18 minutes or until tops are golden and a tester inserted in center comes out clean. I had to bake for three extra minutes, but I think that's just my oven.
Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely or serve warm.
Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August Daring Bakers' Challenge - Chimney Cake

Oh my gosh, this month's challenge was so awesome.

I absoltuely love when challenges introduce me to new things and new methods, and this one did both.

The August Daring Bakers' Challenge took us for a spin! Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen taught us to make rolled pastries inspired by Kurtoskalacs, a traditional Hungarian wedding pastry. These tasty yeasted delights gave us lots to celebrate!

Kurtoskalacs, also called chimney cakes, have their roots in Transylvania, and are fun treats baked in a super fun way.

It starts with a very sticky, soft dough. Once the dough is ready, the fun begins.

A section of dough is rolled out very thinly on a well-floured surface, then cut into a long strip. Easily achieved by cutting the roughly-square shaped thin dough in a spiral pattern.


The strip is then wrapped around a rolling pin that has been wrapped in many (I did four...) layers of aluminum foil.  This was a little tricky, since you have to keep the dough from unwinding as you go, but once you have all the dough on the rolling pin, just give it a couple of rolls on the counter top to seal all the edges and keep it in place.

Then brush it with some melted butter (or, to keep it dairy free, like I did, melted coconut oil)...


...and roll it in some cinnamon sugar.


Then, you bake. I rested the handles of my rolling pin along the edges of my roasting pan to make sure that the heat would get all the way around the pin and dough, and to keep the finished chimney cake from having a flat side.

And, much to my surprise and delight, it worked!


When it came out of the oven, I sprinkled on a bit more cinnamon sugar, then removed it from the rolling pin mold by firmly tapping the end of the rolling pin on the counter top. Again - I was delighted and surprised when that actually worked!


And the finished product was both super fun and super delicious.  Seriously, these were fun to eat. Somtimes we'd fill the hole with some ice cream, sometimes we'd just grab a section and un-ravel it as we went. Either way, it was delicious, and I really want to make it again.


Swathi also provided us another recipe for a different coiled treat, a Spanish treat called an Ensaimda. I didn't have the opportunity to make both recipes this month, but stay tuned, because I really, really want to try those, as well.

Thank you, Swathi, for this amazing, delicious and fun challenge!

To see the challenge as it as presented to us, check it out here.


Dairy-Free Chimney Cake
(from the Daring Bakers' Challenge)

For the dough:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, room temperature
3 tablespoons melted butter (I used coconut oil)
1/2 cup milk, lukewarm temperature (I used coconut milk)

For baking:
melted butter (I used coconut oil)
sugar (I used cinnamon sugar)

For the topping:
Approximately 1/2 cup sugar (I used cinnamon sugar)

Directions:
Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and the active dry yeast to the lukewarm milk and set aside for 5-10 minutes until it proofs (becomes foamy).
In a large bowl combine flour, sugar and salt. To this add egg, melted butter, and milk/yeast mixture. Stir the mixture until it comes together to form a dough, and then knead for about five minutes.
The dough will be sticky. Don’t be tempted to add extra flour. Grease your hand if needed.
Transfer the dough to a well greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap (spray the plastic, too) and allow the dough to rise for 60 minutes at room temperature, until doubled in volume.
While the dough is rising, prepare your rolling pin(s) by covering it (them) with aluminum foil. You'll want to use at least two or three layers, to protect the pins from burning in the oven.
Brush the wrapped rolling pin(s) with melted butter.
Gently deflate the dough and divide it into 4 equal parts (about 4 oz each).
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
On a well floured surface, roll out one portion of the dough, shaping into an approximate square shape, about 1/6 inch thick.
Using a pizza cutter or a very sharp knife, cut the dough into a long ribbons of about 1/2 inch wide.
Wrap one end of the dough strip around the prepared rolling pin, tucking in the end so the dough doesn’t unwind.
Keep the dough very thin (under ¼ inch (6 mm)) as you stretch and wind it on the rolling pun. Then roll the whole thing slightly on the counter top to flatten it/press it together.
Brush the rolled up dough with melted butter and roll it in the (cinnamon) sugar.
Set the rolling pin in a roasting pan and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
Turn the rolling pin at once least once (or more) throughout baking time to ensure uniform cooking.
When cake is done, roll it once more in sugar again.
You can be creative here and use other toppings, like nuts (or whatever you want) at this point. If you are using other toppings brush on more butter, then roll the finished cake in the toppings of your choice.
Tap the end of the rolling pin on a table top to release the cake and set it up right to cool on a cooling rack. It might not seem like it, but it will release pretty easily.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August Sourdough Surprises - Granola Bars


Okay, so if there's one thing that Sourdough Surprises has taught us, it's that you can use your sourdough starter to make just about anything!

So when the August theme of granola bars was announced, I was pretty excited. Because, while I've tried some crazy things with my starter, I'd never have thought of granola bars.

The best part about any homemade granola bar recipe is how adaptable it is. You can add any mix-ins you want to make it fit any taste preference or food restriction you have going on.

I was inspired by the seemingly very popular recipe on the Wild Yeast blog, but I made tons of adjustments to make sure that both of my kids could enjoy them. I replaced the peanut butter called for in the recipe with Sunbutter and replaced the chopped nuts with sunflower seeds. And, for good measure, I added in some flax meal and chia seeds. Because... why not give these a super-food boost?

And the result?


These are pretty good! They're chewy and full of flavor - you can definitely taste the sunflower seed flavor (between the seeds themselves and the Sunbutter), but the honey gives exactly the right amount of sweetness. Definitely a fun treat that you can eat guilt-free.


So how did your sourdough granola bars turn out? Link up and let us know!





Chewy Sourdough Granola Bars
(based on Wild Yeast)

100 grams dried cranberries
100 grams sunflower seeds
110 grams rolled oats
pinch of salt
Sprinkle of golden flax meal (I didn't measure, but it was probably about 2-3 tablespoons)
Sprinkle of chia seeds (Again, I didn't measure, but it was probably about 2 tablespoons)
100 grams smooth Sunbutter
100 grams honey
200 grams 100%-hydration sourdough starter (can be discard, can be fridge-cold)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a 9 x 13-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. You can also use parchment (sprayed), I just didn't have any.
In a medium bowl, combine the cranberries, sunflower seeds, oats, salt, flax and chia seeds.
In a small bowl, stir together the Sunbutter and honey.
Add the Sunbutter mixture and the starter to the oat mixture. Mix with your hands until everything is evenly incorporated. Trust me - your hands is the best way to go.
Press the mixture into the prepared pan. Mine didn't spread all the way, so I spread it as far as it went and used foil to create a barrier to allow it to hold its shape as it baked.
Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes, until nicely brown. Mine needed about five extra minutes.
Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares.

Enjoy!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

August Daring Cooks' Challenge - Freezer Meals

This month, the Daring Cooks challenged us to think inside the box - the icebox, that is! Audax taught us some really cool tips and tricks for stocking our freezers with prepare-ahead meals that can keep our taste buds satisfied even during the busiest of times.

I have a confession to make. And it's a doozy.

This is the first month ever that I don't have something new and original to post for a Daring Kitchen challenge.

It is not that I didn't want to. Or that I wasn't interested. On the contrary - I found the challenge topic fascinating and useful and really and truly perfect.

But this was a difficult month for me to fill a freezer. Between moving and the family being sick, we actually spent more time emptying freezers than filling them.

BUT.

I learned a lot.  And the dishes that our members chose to freeze? Who knew!

You can par-bake pizza dough and freeze it. I knew you could do that with dinner rolls, but never thought to try it with pizza crusts.

One member froze falafel "dough," to speed up the prep time for future falafel-baking endeavors.

You can freeze fruit and veggie purees.

You can freeze a variety of prepared casseroles.

You can freeze soups and sauces.

Heck, during the school year, I prepare a week's worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each Sunday night, storing them in the freezer, so that making little miss's lunch each morning is a snap.

You can pretty much make weeknight meals stress free with just a little bit of forethought and preparation.  And that is awesome.

I was the lucky recipient of some freezer meals when each of my children were born, and have shared prepared, frozen meals for friend when they've had babies or surgery or I felt they needed the time-saving help.

So now, after this awesomely thoughtful, informative and well prepared challenge, I have even more inspiration to fill both my freezer and those of my friends.

Audax, thank you so much for hosting this challenge.

To see the challenge as it was presented, check it out here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Chai Tea Bread

Hello and happy August!

I have to apologize again for my lack of posting. Things here have been crazy. Getting used to the new house, each of the kids have had camps and other fun summer activities, and then... we all got sick. All of us. So I've been concentrating on disinfecting the house and trying to get all of the germs out of here!

That being said, the bright spot of this month was my Secret Recipe Club assignment!  This month had me scouring Morsels of Life, and, let me tell you, there is no lack of inspiration there! This blog... let me tell you. It's awesome. And there's something for absolutely everyone. I promise.

I was worried that I was going to have a hard time choosing, and, don't get me wrong - there were plenty of awesome choices - but when I saw a posting for Chai Tea Bread, I knew I had a winner. You know my love of all things chai, so this should come as no surprise at all!

I made a couple of changes, but just to make the recipe dairy-free.

For my base chai flavoring, I steeped a chai tea bag (a special spicy one!) in coconut milk, which I used as my main liquid for the bread.


I did wind up having to heat this a bit (I just transferred it to a small saucepan and put it over low-medium heat for a few minutes) to extract more flavor, but that was no big deal.

While that heated, I mixed together the dry ingredients, including the delicious chia-inspired spices (cardamom, cinnamon and ground cloves).


Then it was a simple matter of mixing up the wet ingredients and barely stirring in the dry ones...


...then transferring it to a loaf pan to bake!  Right before popping the loaf into the oven, you do something magical.  You sprinkle it with shredded coconut.

While the bread bakes, the coconut toasts.

And the results are amazing.


This was a really delicious bread - it had a nice, smooth chai flavor without being too strong (remember, little miss isn't a fan of cardamom - and this bread satisfied my chai-love and still made her happy!).

Everyone's favorite part, though, was that toasted coconut on top.


Absolute perfection.






Chai Tea Bread
(only slightly adapted from Morsels of Life)


1/4 cup butter (I used coconut oil)
2 cups flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat and 1 cup white.)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cardamom, ground
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves, ground
1/2 cup sugar
3/8 cup milk
1/2 cup Chai concentrate or Chai tea
(in place of the milk and chai concentrate, I used 5/8 of a cup of coconut milk, into which I steeped a chai tea bag)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/8 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, butter, eggs, chai concentrate or tea, milk and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet, combining them until just barely moistened.
Pour the prepared batter into the prepared loaf pan.
Sprinkle shredded coconut on top.
Bake until a lovely scent wafts through the kitchen (which it will!), about 50 minutes.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July Daring Bakers' Challenge - Surprise-Inside Cake


For the July Daring Baker’s Challenge, Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to bake a cake. But not just any cake; she asked us to add in a special surprise for our eyes as well as our taste buds!

This month's challenge was both fun and extremely challenging. Most months, we are introduced to a new style of food or challenged to try a new and interesting recipe. This month, the challenge wasn't recipe based - it was a test of our creativity! And, as an extension, it encouraged us to try new techniques for creating tasty masterpieces.

A surprise-inside is just what it sounds like - a cake that, when cut into, has something unexpected or special that could not be seen until the cake was cut.  I have actually made some previously that qualify, including this zebra cake and this rainbow cake.  So for this challenge, I wanted to try something different.

Now, please keep in mind that we moved a week after this challenge was announced. So, my kitchen was in disarray and I had a new oven to test out. Which, as it turns out, is not calibrated correctly. It actually runs about 40 degrees (F) low. Which is a lot. Live and learn.

Anyway, for my surprise inside, I wanted to try my hand at this cool tie-dyed heart-inside cake

Now, remember, this was all about technique for me. It was also all about getting over my aversion to food coloring. Just for this cake.

I started with my go-to yellow cake recipe. And then came the tie-dye aspect.  I divided the batter into four portions and let the kids choose some colors.

Little miss started with blue.


Little man started with green.


And then we added pink and purple.


Each of these tinted portions of batter was then transferred to a zip-top bag. Simply snip the tip of each bag and... make a mess.


No, seriously, it was a mess. Squiggle the batter around a (sprayed) (and next time - parchment lined!!) rimmed cookie sheet, but try not to blend the colors. Make sure to reach the corners of the tray!

Then bake!


Pretty cool!

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have just frosted that and been done - called it a surprise tie-dye cake and called it a success.

But I wanted to make the heart-inside cake. And I was super optimistic.

The next step is to create the hearts. Using a cookie cutter.


My cake was really soft. Which... should have clued me in to the fact that maybe this wasn't the right recipe for this kind of treatment. But, again, I was optimistic.

I cut out as many hearts as I could from my tie-dyed cake and lined them up on a pan.


These went into the freezer, and I then prepared another batch of the aforementioned yellow cake batter.

Now, following the technique demonstrated in the youtube video linked above, I lined a loaf pan with foil, sprayed it well, and poured in a thin layer of cake batter. I then baked this for about ten minutes to let it begin setting up.  After those ten minutes, I removed the pan from the oven and removed the hearts from the freezer.

The next step is to stack up as many hearts as it takes to run the length of the pan and... embed them in the partially baked cake.


Upside down, no less. So that when you turn the cake out, it's right side up.

Then simply pour the rest of the cake batter over all of this and continue baking until done.

Which I'm sure works if your oven is actually the temperature that you tell it to be... and that it tells you it is... but I suppose that's another story.

This story had a frustrating next chapter. The cake took forever to bake (probably because the oven was 40 degrees too low), I tried to frost it while it was still too warm, and, because this cake is more delicate than it should be for this treatment, it completely fell apart. And my camera batter died. And the charger was resting comfortably at my old house. Yeah. None of that worked out very well.

BUT!

I still had ten hearts resting in the freezer!

And I was still optimistic!

So I tried one more time. But with the same cake recipe. Because... I really, really wanted it to work.

This time, I tried a few things differently. First, I retrieved my oven thermometer from the old house and adjusted the oven temperature setting accordingly.  Secondly, I didn't pre-bake any portion of the cake batter before adding in the frozen hearts. I just lined the hearts in the empty, sprayed pan, then poured the batter around it.

The results?


Still extremely crumbly. Again, because I really think that this technique requires a slightly heftier cake batter.  But - you could see the heart!

Even though...


...the hearts did turn sideways during the cooking process.

BUT.

I learned a lot. And had fun doing it. And everyone thought it was both fun and delicious, so, regardless of how frustrated I was that it didn't turn out as beautiful as the example, I was told that this was a success. So I will accept it as one.

Ruth, thanks for inspiring us to bake outside of our comfort zones this month!


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