Friday, January 27, 2012

Toffee Granola Bars

If you like crunchy granola and chewy, gooey toffee-like caramel with chocolate, give these bars a try.  They're not a one bowl thing, but very tasty.  The crisp base is very similar to those crunchy Nature Valley granola bars in the green wrapper, though not so hard.  Then comes a layer of toffee (caramelized sweetened condensed milk), and finally a thin accent of chocolate.  I love how it all comes together.  This recipe is adapted from an Eagle Brand recipe.  The girls were thrilled to get one of these as a lunchbox treat all week.  These are also easily gluten free with a quick substitution of the spelt flour to your favorite GF flour or just powder some of the certified GF oats.

Toffee Granola Bars
makes 36 bars

1 cup oats (get the certified kind for gluten free)
½ cup packed light brown muscovado sugar
½ cup whole spelt flour (or certified gluten free oat flour or your favorite gluten free flour)
½ cup finely chopped walnuts (crispy walnuts work great here)
½ cup (1 stick) butter, divided
¼ tsp baking soda
1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup (6oz) mini chocolate chips (they melt faster)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a 13x9 inch pan with parchment paper.  Melt 6 tbsp of the butter.  Combine the oats, sugar, flour, nuts, melted butter and baking soda.  Press firmly into bottom of lined pan.  Bake 10-15 minutes until lightly browned.  (You're going to bake it again, so don't over brown.)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine remaining 2 tbsp butter and condensed milk.  Cook and stir until mixture thickens slightly, about 7-12 minutes.  (Once it starts to thicken, it will do so quickly.  Watch it carefully and don't let it get too thick to spread.)  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Pour over baked crust.  Bake 10-15 minutes longer until golden brown.

Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chips evenly over the top.  Let stand a minute.  Spread melted chips with an offset spatula.  Cool and cut into bars.  Store bars tightly covered at room temperature.

Any of the crust that decides to fall off makes some darn fine granola!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Soy Free Mongolian Beef at last

 Once upon a time, I had a wonderful, favorite Mongolian Beef recipe.  It came from a friend and was my go to "impress-guests" dish.  And it's been three years since I've been able to make it.  The cornstarch is a cinch to avoid, just use arrowroot or tapioca starch instead; the soy sauce and bean paste for many of our favorite asian style dishes, not so easy.  Up until now, I had not been able to find a suitable substitute for the bean paste.  I did find coconut aminos a little over a year ago which, with a little sea salt, is a great substitute for soy sauce.

It's available at Whole Foods and some better grocery stores and health food stores.  (The ones on amazon are overpriced.  I pay $5.99 a bottle at my local health food specialty store.)  But just recently, I found something to replace the bean paste.  Miso:  Soy.  Free.  Miso.  I had actually seen an advert for it a while ago but it was not a locally available item.  Well I finally decided to special order some from this little family owned, artisan miso company.  It is located at South River Farm in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in Conway, Massachusetts, and they only ship during winter months.  [South River Miso and South River Miso Tamari are unpasteurized, living fermented foods. We can not ship these products during summer-like weather. The extended warmth and vibration of road travel can induce active fermentation and cause expansion and leakage of the product. We minimize this effect by shipping only during the cooler months of the year. Unpasteurized miso and miso tamari will keep for an unlimited time when refrigerated; so you can stockpile these products to cover your summertime needs.]  Check out their website to learn more.  I'm only sorry I waited so long to order some.  Now that I know it works so well, I don't mind having to order two jars at a time.  I got the 3 year Chickpea Barley Miso and it is amazing.  

Update: They do carry misos that are both soy and gluten free for those that have both those worries!

As to results, well...  Darling hubby is a Mongolian Beef lover.  It is what he always orders for Chinese food and he would be happy eating it 3-5 days a week.  He sat down to dinner and took a bite.  His eyes practically rolled back in his head and he looked over at me and mouthed "THANK YOU."  I asked him, "Is it Mongolian Beef?"  His reply was, "It's better."  This is the highest praise possible from my Chinese food lover.  The miso gives all that umami flavor we were missing.  And he loved the sauce, which is not heavy, but extremely flavorful.  Most telling in his reaction was the fact that he did not even bother to add any tamari, which I had put out for him.  (He does like to add hot oil to his Mongolian Beef, which I let him put just on his own dish.)  He and R both had two helpings and there were happy noises all around the table.  I am a very happy camper right now.  So if you've been living with a soy allergy and miss some of your old favorite Chinese food, give this one a try.  You will not be disappointed.  (Yes, the special order is worth it if you love and miss this kind of food.)

SOY FREE Mongolian Beef
Serves 4-6

1 small flank steak (¾-1 lb.-ish)
2 small onions, sliced into strips
1 small bunch green onions, chopped in 1" pieces (optional)
oil for frying (I use sunflower or refined coconut oil)

1-2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 tbsp arrowroot starch
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp dry sherry
¼ tsp sea salt
few dashes white pepper

5 tbsp coconut aminos
1 tsp coconut sugar (or regular sugar)
½ tsp sea salt
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp dry sherry
1 tsp vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
1 tsp chili paste
1 tbsp South River Chickpea and Barley Miso
2 dashes chili flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced 

Slice the flank steak very thinly against the grain (crosswise and at a 45º angle gives extremely tender results).  It really requires a perfectly sharp knife to do this effectively.  Whisk together the marinade ingredients and toss together with the meat strips.  Cover and let the mixture marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, whisk together the sauce ingredients in a measuring cup.

Heat ¼-½ cup oil in a wok or large skillet.  Fry the meat in batches just until cooked through.  It won't take too long if the meat is very thin.  Scoop out the meat as it finishes and set aside.  Fry the regular onion in the oil until crisp tender.  Pour off all but a couple tablespoons oil and return meat to wok.  Pour sauce over the top and add green onions if using.  (Save a few for garnish if desired.)  Cook for a few minutes until thickened to your liking.

Serve with steamed rice.

This post will participate in Monday Mania at the Healthy Home Economist and Allergy Free Wednesdays at The Willing Cook

Saturday, January 21, 2012

BBB - Cuban Bread (for when you don't plan ahead)

I must admit, all too often we go without bread because I forget to start it in time to be ready for dinner.   Sometimes I have to scramble for non-sandwich lunch ideas for the school kiddo because I have run out of sandwich bread.  No longer.  I wasn't expecting all that much out of this bread, but it is going to become my procrastination savior, I can tell.  I've already made it twice.  Here's the second loaf.  It's already gone too.

And I even forgot to set the timer on the second loaf and it did a complete rise and peak.  It still worked great for the cold oven method.  I'm starting number three now.  (And I am using part light spelt flour on these.)

This bread makes awesome french toast.  I grew up with true eggy bread: soaked well - we don't hold with two second dipped dry toast.  Yuck.  Some breads will try to fall apart on you with really eggy bread.  Not so with this one.  It has a nice firm, chewy crumb and holds up fabulously to soaking and squishing to get all the egg batter inside it.  Mmmmmmm.

I still love making long method, artisan breads, but this will be my go to "in-a-pinch" loaf from now on.  Give it a try and check out the original post at Lucullian delights.

from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

1.2-1.4 litre/ 5-6 cups of bread or AP flour
2 packages dry yeast, I used 50 g fresh
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
500 ml/ 2 cups hot water
sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

by hand or mixer (15 min)
Place 4 cups flour in a mixing bowl and add the yeast, salt and sugar. Stir until they are well blended. Pour in the hot water and beat with 100 strong strokes, or three minutes with a mixer flat beater.
Gradually work in the remaining flour (using fingers if necessary), 1/2 cup at a time until the dough takes shape and is no longer sticky.

kneading (8 min)
Sprinkle the work surface with flour. Work in the flour as you knead, keeping a dusting of it between the dough and the work surface. Knead for 8 minutes by hand or with a dough hook until the dough is smooth, elastic, and feels alive under your hands.

by processor (5 min)
Attach the short plastic blade.
Place 2 cups flour in the work bowl and add the other ingredients, as above. Pulse several times to thoroughly mix. Remove the cover and add 2 more cups of flour. Replace the cover and pulse to blend.
Add the remaining flour through the feed tube, pulsing after each addition, until the dough begins to form and is carried around the bowl by the force of the blade.

kneading (45 sec)
Turn on the machine to knead for 45 seconds.

rising (15 mins)
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in a warm (26-37°C/80-100°F) place until double in bulk, about 15 minutes.

shaping (4 min)
Punch down the dough, turn it out on the work surface, and cut into two pieces. Shape each into a round. Place on the baking sheet. With a sharp knife or razor, slash X on each of the loaves, brush water, and, if desired, sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.

Baking (205°C/400°F; 45-50 min)
Place the baking sheet on the middle shelf of a cold oven. Place a large pan of hot water on the shelf below, and heat the oven to 205°C/400°F. The bread of course, will continue to rise while the oven is heating. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the loaves are a deep golden brown. Thump on the bottom crusts to test for doneness. If they sound hard and hollow, they are baked.

This post will go up for Yeastspotting!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Streusel Topped, Maple Glazed, Peach Carrot Buttermilk Muffins

Streusel Topped, Maple Glazed, Peach Carrot Buttermilk Muffins.  Say that three times, fast.  Better yet, eat one.  It's like crumb cake peach cobbler.  And these are some rich and delicious little crumb cakes.  I had seen a delicious looking similar recipe last year but it used a lot of mixes and things you had to special order.  So I put it off until I could come up with my own version.  I love how it turned out.  The muffins are tender, moist and rich and not too sweet, but with a nice sweet glaze to balance it all out.  Of course, this time of year I did use frozen peaches.  But they are beautiful local peaches with loads of fresh peach flavor in them.  The muffins are great slightly warm too.  ☺  This recipe makes 2 dozen, but it can definitely be halved.  (I'll bet these would be great with apples too - just like the Costco apple streusel muffins, only a manageable size!)  I included the recipe for the homemade pancake mix that I used.  Most commercial mixes are not allergy friendly for R, plus they have nasty hydrogenated oils in them.

Oh, R is going bonkers over these.  She wants them for snacks AND treats.

Streusel Topped, Maple Glazed, Peach Carrot Buttermilk Muffins
makes 2 dozen standard muffins

2½ cups pancake mix (recipe follows for homemade mix)
2 cups finely chopped fresh or frozen peaches
~¾ cup finely grated carrots (about 2 small/med carrots worth)
¾ cup sunflower oil or liquified coconut oil
¾ cup old fashioned oats (or a mixture of oats and barley flakes if you have them)
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs, slightly beaten
zest of one orange
¾ cup buttermilk

Streusel topping:
2¼ cups pancake mix (recipe for homemade follows)
1/3 cup finely chopped or ground pecans (optional)
½ cup melted butter
½ cup light brown muscovado sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp maple syrup (Grade B is best)
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted to remove lumps
1-2 tsp hot water

Preheat oven to 350ºF and line a standard muffin pan with paper liners.  Combine the oil, brown sugar, oats/barley flakes, cinnamon and vanilla and stir to make sure there are no lumps of brown sugar.  Add in the eggs, buttermilk, peaches, carrots and zest and whisk together well.  Add the pancake mix and stir well with a wooden spoon until smooth.  Fill muffin cups/liners about ¾ full of batter.  (I used a muffin scoop for uniformity.)
To make the streusel, combine the pancake mix, optional pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.  Drizzle in the melted butter and combine with a fork (or your fingers) until crumbly.  Top the muffins with the streusel.  Be generous, there's plenty.  Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden and done.  Let cool in pan for 5-10 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.  (I like to get my muffins out by sticking a bamboo skewer down the side to lift them.)
While the muffins are cooling, make the glaze.  Combine the powdered sugar, honey, maple syrup and 1 tsp hot water in a bowl and stir to combine.  Add more water, a few drops at a time, until the glaze is of the desired drizzling consistency.   Use a fork to drizzle or if you want to be fancy, stick the glaze in a ziploc bag and snip the tip for even-sized drizzles.

Enjoy!  (They might be crumbly if you eat them too warm.  Try to wait at least 20 minutes. ☺)

Homemade Pancake Mix:
4½ cups flour (I used 3 cups all purpose, 1 cup light spelt and ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour)
¼ cup non hydrogenated shortening (Spectrum organic)
¼ cup cold butter, cut into pieces
2 tbsp + 2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer and mix on low speed until the consistency of Bisquick.  About 5 minutes.  Store in the refrigerator.

(This is a half batch, but any more would spill out of my kitchen-aid during mixing, and this is enough for a full batch of muffins.)

Inspired by Chef Tess Bakeresse

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cheddar Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

These tasty little bites are fairly quick to whip up and pack a lot of flavor into one mouthful.  This is the other old favorite recipe that I re-discovered when I went hunting for that fudge recipe.  Though it's been years since I made them, I do recall that certain family members used to double check with me to be sure they would be on the menu for whatever gathering was up next.  They can be assembled an hour or so ahead and chilled until serving time.  And you can certainly change up the cheese, they are equally good with Jack or Havarti or even Swiss if that floats your boat.  If you want to fill them with a piping bag, be sure to use a plain tip; the cheese shreds will get stuck in a star tip's edges and make things difficult.  (Yes, I speak from experience.)  At any rate, this is a nice little treat to add to the appetizer tray.

Cheddar-Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
makes about 36 tomatoes

2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 pkg. (8oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (4oz.) finely shredded cheddar cheese
1 tbsp milk
2 small cloves garlic, mashed
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne
¼ tsp black pepper

Cut a cone shaped core from the end of the cherry tomatoes.  (The original directions say to cut the stem end, but cutting the bottom and not the stem end will sometimes provide a more stable base for the little rollers.)  Gently scoop out the centers.  Drain the shells upside down on a paper towel while you prepare the filling.  

Cut up the cream cheese in a bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients (except the tomatoes of course), and mash with a fork until well blended.  (Yes, you can use a mixer if you want to dirty up more bowls and such.  It will yield a more homogenous mixture.)  Spoon the filling into a pastry bag with a large plain tip and pipe into tomatoes.  Or use a small spoon to fill them.  

The filling and tomatoes can be made up ahead separately and assembled an hour before serving.

Adapted from Holiday Cakes & Cookies by Family Circle 1999/2000

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken

This recipe has been pinned to my "likes" board on the time suck that is Pinterest for a couple weeks now.  I happened to have a couple spare chicken breasts so I decided to try it out.  It's a winner.  Not only in the fact that R raved over it, but also that it was good enough for hubby to decide to take the small amount of leftovers to work.  And it's like pulling teeth to get him to take leftovers.  Sorry about the picture, there was no holding the hungry horde at bay.  And that in itself says that it was a good meal.  I adapted it to be soy and corn free, so I'll post the original recipe with my changes in parentheses.  R misses Chinese food often and feels left out when hubby gets it for himself or to share with little sis.  Everyone definitely said I could make this again.  The original post also has a good looking fried rice, though we used steamed.  (I made a half batch to serve our family of four.)  I'm sure this would be great with bell peppers added in during baking, but since I was out I just steamed and lemon peppered some broccoli.  It's one of the girls' favorite dinner veggies.

Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken
serves 6-8

3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper (sea salt and fresh ground pepper)
1 cup cornstarch (arrowroot starch)
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup canola oil (refined coconut oil)

¾ cup sugar
4 tbsp ketchup
½ cup vinegar (apple cider vinegar)
1 tbsp soy sauce (coconut aminos + fine grain sea salt)
1 tsp garlic salt (garlic powder + salt)

Preheat oven to 325ºF and grease a 9x13" pan.  Whisk together sauce ingredients and set aside.  Rinse and dry chicken and cube into bite sized portions.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Dredge the chicken well in the starch and place in a gallon ziploc bag.  Pour the beaten egg over top, seal bag and shake well.  Heat the oil in a large skillet and brown chicken but do not cook completely.  Place the chicken in the baking dish and pour the sauce evenly over top.  Bake for one hour, turning chicken every 15 minutes.  Enjoy!

I fried my chicken almost done and baked for 20 minutes, turning a couple times.  Cut the preparation time in about half.  For a full recipe you may need to fry in batches; my half batch filled up my nice big skillet, but they were huge chicken breasts too.  I also added a few dashes of tabasco to the sauce but next time I think I'd just add a few crushed red pepper flakes for a tiny bit more heat. 

In any case it was good stuff.

Adapted from life as a Lofthouse