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Friday, July 27, 2018

Flour Power

True story: I've been working with alternatives to wheat flour for many years now. I do this to provide something a bit more nutritious for myself, as well as create options for friends and family who need to avoid grains, either out of desire or by necessity. I've made these coconut flour brownies in the past, and they're very good. And recently, I spotted this grain-free brownie recipe online, and definitely wanted to try it!

I already had almond flour on hand (you'll remember those grain-free/egg-free chocolate-chocolate chip cookies from last month), and just needed eggs and some chocolate hazelnut spread to pull the whole thing off. After all, with only three ingredients, how hard could it be??? Of course, when the day came and the time was right, I gathered my loot and reviewed the recipe, only to notice a few minor details:

* I had a little more than half the amount of chocolate hazelnut spread as called for, but no worries - I'd just make half a recipe in a smaller pan.
* I had, inexplicably, bought jumbo eggs.
* I remembered, also inexplicably, I had about a Tablespoon of coconut flour left rattling around in the pantry.

The first two anomalies gave me more liquid in proportion to the dry called for in the recipe, but the third gave me the ability to correct for it - not to mention, use it up without letting it go to waste! I was confident (and greedy) enough to proceed, and dumped my ingredients, plus a bit of salt for balance, into a bowl and began to stir:

bowl of grain-free brownie ingredients

The batter came together, I set it in the oven to bake, and you know what? It worked! Fudgy, gorgeous brownies - nutty, chocolatey, and divine. I was grateful I had some experience with these ingredients under my belt, and didn't need to scratch the project completely. So, even though I didn't really follow a recipe, or even develop a new one, I still wanted to encourage you with this thought: cooking and baking with alternate flours is like any other cooking and baking. Once you get to know the ingredients and how they behave, you will be able to adjust as needed if circumstances aren't going quite to plan. If being grain-free is something you'd like to explore for any reason, don't be afraid to do so. I've created a new tag here on the blog for "grain-free", so you can find those options quickly. As well, I wholeheartedly suggest browsing through some of my long-time favorite sites, including Elana's Pantry and Deliciously Organic - and, for more awesome treats like those brownies, The Big Man's World! Be open, be curious, and take full advantage of the resources available. Others have been generous in sharing their work so you can avoid disappointment in your own kitchen. And, most importantly, enjoy :-)

grain-free almond flour brownie

Notes: If you really want to make these exact brownies, here's what I did!

Grain-Free Brownies a la Oops

13 oz. jar of chocolate hazelnut spread (you know the one, or use an organic one like this)
1/2 cup almond flour
1 Tablespoon coconut flour (alternately, increase the almond flour by two additional Tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 jumbo eggs (large or extra-large will still be fine)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8x8-inch baking pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients until fully combined, being sure to scrape the bottom frequently to catch and incorporate any dry bits. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the flours to absorb the liquid. Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are dry and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with fudgy crumbs. Let cool for a while before trying to cut and serve (they will actually have more flavor the longer they are allowed to cool). Baked goods made with almond or coconut flour are more filling than their conventional counterparts - you may be pleasantly surprised by feeling satisfied after just one serving!


Friday, June 29, 2018

Ave Maria

It was cookbook club time again, and our selection was Mexican Made Easy by Marcela Valladolid. There were some very tasty-looking recipes in there, full of spice and heat! But I really wanted to make a dessert, so I focused on that chapter and selected something described as a trifle. It used things like sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and fresh limes. Yum! Instead of something like pound cake, however, the recipe called for Maria cookies as the base, which are akin to tea biscuits and completely delightful. And the most wondrous things of all? After shopping for my ingredients, I actually FOLLOWED THE RECIPE to make the dish. Exactly. To the letter. Okay, I added a little splash of vanilla extract, but otherwise totally the same. And used some zest as well as the juice of the limes. BUT THAT WAS IT, I PROMISE. I layered and poured and layered again, and you know what? It was terrible! The flavors were excellent, but the consistency lacked...consistency.

It was like a baby had left their teething biscuits in all that milk and then you found this lime-zest-flecked montage-strosity the next day. I must have done something wrong, but I didn't have time to make anything else, so I suffered and brought my soupy mess to the meeting anyway. To everyone's credit, they dutifully tried it. Thankfully, there was a knockout dessert from another member, and all the other dishes were fantastic. But those Maria cookies haunted me. I knew they could be put to better use, and they had paired so well with the creamy milk and the sharp fruitiness of the lime. Heck, they were even delicious on their own! And I still yearned for a layered dessert, something to please the eye as well as the palate:

Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake Parfaits

Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake Parfaits

10 Maria cookies, finely crushed (you should have about 1/2 cup crumbs)
2 Tablespoons butter
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and diced

Melt butter in a skillet over medium-low heat and add cookie crumbs. Stir to coat the crumbs with butter, then continue to toast the crumbs for another 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. Let cool completely.

In a small bowl, thoroughly combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract until smooth. Using four glass dishes/containers/wine glasses (about a cup in capacity), place a quarter of the cooled crumbs in each. Carefully add a fourth of the cheese mixture to each dish, and spread slowly to cover the crumbs. Finally, add a fourth of the strawberries and serve!

Notes: These can be made 2-4 hours in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge until ready to serve. Absolutely use any kind of berry, fruit, or a combination to your taste. Can't be bothered to layer? Just make a double or triple batch of the cheese mixture and serve in a bowl as a dessert dip with sliced fruit and Maria cookies on the side (the cookies are also available in chocolate). I haven't tested it, but I bet the cookies would make excellent s'mores - if you try it, let us know in the comments!


Saturday, June 09, 2018

Double Trouble

It's been an incredibly long time since my last blog post, and I have nothing to say for myself! I will, however, offer two rather large, furry excuses for my absence - their names are Bella and Pixie:

I took responsibility for these girls about 18 months ago, and they have been both a delight and a challenge! While incredibly fun and loving, they are also a bit like having toddlers that can climb just about anywhere and get into everything. Such a change from my older girl! Xena has spoiled me for nearly two decades with her calm, intelligent, sensible approach to life. As one friend noted, she's been more like a housemate than a pet:

Now that she has attained "little old lady" status, I try to keep Xena as safe and comfortable as possible, which also means keeping her separated from the younger two. It's been quite a learning curve, but we've (thankfully) reached a point of stasis that seems to suit everyone. Mind, all three would each prefer to be the only cat in the house and the center of all my attention, but they'll just have to go on sharing ;-)

To celebrate my two younger ones, here's a recipe with twice the chocolate to keep you (and me!) going for the long haul:

Almond Flour Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup honey (local, if available!)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (mini chips like these work nicely)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, stir together almond flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt until combined. In a large bowl, cream butter, honey and vanilla together until smooth, then add dry ingredients and stir until completely incorporated. Gently stir in chips. Using a Tablespoon scoop or measure, drop onto lined cookie sheets and bake, one sheet at a time, for 10-12 minutes (you should get about 24 cookies total). Although they will puff while baking, the cookies will flatten as they cool. Transfer pans to racks and let cool completely before removing with a spatula (the cookies will still be very soft). Store in an airtight container at room temperature, or refrigerate for firmer cookies.

Notes: These cookies are a great choice for anyone with egg and/or wheat sensitivities. They will remain soft and chewy if stored properly, and also freeze well. Substitute any flavor chips for the chocolate chips, or replace with chopped dried fruit or nuts. And just three more words: ice cream sandwiches!