Sweets for my sweet ~ Date and Almond Fudge

Date and Almond Fudge17 years ago, I met my hubby on this date. We like to celebrate the anniversary every year in some way. :)

This year I chose to make some healthy, vegan fudge to mark the occasion. The fudge is sweetened completely with dates. It is something to feel good about eating, and they are sweet and chocolaty. Those two benefits rarely go together! ;-)

Date and Almond FudgeDate and Almond Fudge

14 ounces Medjool dates (about 2 cups), pitted

½ cup almond butter

¼ cup extra virgin coconut oil

6 tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a square 8-inch baking dish with parchment paper, leaving a few inches to overhang on the sides. (These will be your handles to pull the fudge out when it is set.) Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Spread the fudge evenly into the baking dish. Refrigerate until firm, about an hour. Pull the fudge out of the baking dish, and cut into desired shapes.

The little flags came from a website called Honey Bear Lane. They were created for Valentine’s Day, but I thought they were perfect to dress up this fudge. You could also sprinkle it with shredded coconut, sliced almonds, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Happy anniversary, my sweet!

Date and Almond Fudge

Family Dinner ~ Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragù

Pasta SauceThe flavors of this dish will transport you to the beautiful Tuscan countryside. You can almost see the rolling hills from your spot at the dinner table as you eat al fresco under the grape arbor. ;-)

This sauce is perfect for a dinner party since it’s a crowd pleaser, and it doesn’t need a lot of attention on the stove once everything is combined. The house will smell delicious when your guests arrive, and the sauce can simmer on its own while you chat with your company.

The original recipe was from a homemade pasta cooking class at Sur La Table. To make the dish a little leaner than the one from class, I used olive oil rather than butter, and I chose lean ground beef and chicken sausage rather than ground chuck and pork sausage.

Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragù

Based on a recipe from a cooking class at Sur La Table

Yield: 8 servings

For sauce:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 large celery ribs, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1 pound sweet Italian chicken sausage, casings removed

2 (28 ounce) cans San Marzano whole tomatoes

1 cup dry red wine

2 bay leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For onions:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

Sauce:

In a large pot or large, wide skillet, add oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery, stirring well to coat with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables turn golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until paste turns a darker red, about 2 minutes. Add sausage and beef, stirring occasionally to break up large clumps, and cook until meat begins to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, wine, and bay leaves, stirring well to combine. Reduce heat to medium and simmer sauce until thickened and reduced, about 40 to 50 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Keep warm.

Onions:

While sauce simmers, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are deep golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar, stirring well to combine.

Just before serving, stir onions into the sauce. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Use immediately with fresh pasta, or allow to cool and refrigerate up to 3 days. Any unused portions can be packed in an airtight container and frozen up to 1 month.

To make this meal even more authentic, make homemade fettuccine with your guests! It’s a fun and interactive project to do together, which is a nice icebreaker. The recipe for fresh pasta dough can be found here.

Tuscany

The time of the year for all things Irish ~ Individual Cottage Pies

Cottage PieSt. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays, and I love to make Irish recipes every year to get into the spirit. Cottage pie is a classic Irish dish, likely dating back as far as 1791. If you change the ingredients slightly, it is a different dish altogether: Use lamb, and it is a shepherd’s pie, sprinkle bread crumbs on top, and it is a Cumberland pie, and if you use turkey and ham, it is a St. Stephen’s Day pie. Those could be fun alternatives to try later to mix things up. It is also a simple and quick weeknight dinner, which is perfect since St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Tuesday this year. You can make it in one large casserole dish, or individual ramekins are very cute. The mash on top can be either traditional mashed potatoes, or better yet, steamed and puréed cauliflower.

Cottage PieCottage Pie

Based on a recipe from Bon Appétit magazine

For topping:

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets

3 tablespoons skim milk, or more for a smoother consistency

Earth Balance to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

For base:

1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon high heat oil, such as safflower or sunflower

1 pound leanest ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup beef stock

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 large carrot, chopped finely

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Steam cauliflower florets in a medium saucepot with the lid on until tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cauliflower into a food processor. Add milk and blend until it is a smooth purée. Add Earth Balance, salt, and pepper to taste, and pulse to combine.

Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, heat until shimmering, and then add mushrooms. Cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl. Add beef, onion, and garlic to same skillet and cook over medium-high heat until beef is brown, breaking up with spoon, about 8 minutes. Add flour and stir 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrot, stock, parsley, and Worcestershire. Simmer about 4 minutes, or until the stock is almost evaporated, stirring occasionally.

Spoon the beef mixture into an 8-inch round baking dish or individual ramekins. Spoon the cauliflower purée over the top, and serve immediately.

Cottage Pie

Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day!) ~ Mini English Pancakes

English PancakesMardi Gras came on the heels of Valentine’s Day this year, and since I was still in a British mood after our Downton Abbey themed Valentine dinner, I decided to celebrate this day as the British do…with pancakes! In England, what we call Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. They celebrate by eating pancakes, and they even have pancake races! This video of the yearly Parliamentary pancake race from a couple of years ago made me giggle. It gets quite competitive, as the video shows! Ha! This year’s race video featured a pancake-cam, which is also quite hilarious. ;-)

In honor of this fun tradition, I made mini pancakes to celebrate Pancake Day. English-style pancakes are much thinner than American pancakes. They are almost like French crêpes. The cakes are traditionally served with a little caster/fine sugar and lemon rather than maple syrup.

I chose to make a basic recipe from BBC Good Food. I replaced the plain flour with whole-wheat pastry flour, and I used fully skim milk rather than partly-skimmed milk as the recipe called for. I also made my cakes mini for an afternoon tea snack, but otherwise followed the recipe fairly closely.

English PancakesEnglish Pancakes

Based on a recipe from BBC Good Food

100g whole-wheat pastry flour

2 eggs

300ml skim milk, plus more if needed

1 tbsp light oil such as sunflower or safflower, plus extra for frying

Pinch of salt

Lemon slices, for serving

Caster/fine sugar, for serving

Blending in the flour: Put the flour and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Crack the eggs into the middle, and then pour in about 50ml milk and 1 tbsp oil. Start whisking from the center, gradually drawing the flour into the eggs, milk and oil. Once all the flour is incorporated, beat until you have a smooth, thick paste. Add a little more milk if it is too stiff to beat.

Finishing the batter: Add a good splash of milk and whisk to loosen the thick batter. While still whisking, pour in a steady stream of the remaining milk. Continue pouring and whisking until you have a batter that is the consistency of slightly thick single cream.

Getting the right thickness: Heat the pan over a moderate heat, and then wipe it with oiled paper towel. Ladle some batter into the pan, tilting the pan to move the mixture around for a thin and even layer. Leave to cook, undisturbed, for about 30 seconds, or until you see the edges getting a bit dry and golden. If the pan is the right temperature, the pancake should turn golden underneath after about 30 seconds and will be ready to turn.

Flipping pancakes: Hold the pan handle, ease a fish spatula under the pancake, then quickly lift and flip it over. Make sure the pancake is lying flat against the base of the pan with no folds, and then cook for another 30 seconds before turning out onto a warm plate. Continue with the rest of the batter, serving them as you cook or stack onto a plate.

English PancakesThe little flag was generated from the Keep Calm-O-Matic website. You can make your own personalized signs based on the classic British “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. So fun!

English Pancakes

Downton Abbey Valentine Dinner, Final Course ~ Battenberg Cake

Battenberg CakeFor the grand finale of our Downton Abbey-inspired Valentine dinner, I made a Battenberg cake! It is a classic British checkerboard-style cake, held together with jam and a marzipan coating.

The tale behind the cake is that it was created to celebrate the wedding of Princess Victoria (Queen Victoria’s granddaughter) to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. Given the romantic story about the cake, I think it is the perfect dessert for Valentine’s Day! A little more about the cake’s background and some fun facts can be found at SeriousEats.com.

I decided to make a chocolate and vanilla version rather than a traditional pink and yellow version, so I would not require any food coloring. (Or rather, since I am in a British state of mind, I should say “colouring.” ;) ) I started with a recipe from Jamie Oliver, but I changed it so significantly that the final result was a completely different cake. For my healthier Nooncafe Battenberg, I wanted to use whole grains rather than self rising flour, so I used whole-wheat pastry flour with the addition of baking powder and salt. I also didn’t want to use butter, so I replaced it with coconut oil, and added less oil than the recipe called for. To offset that change, I added more milk for moisture. I also reduced the sugar quite a bit in the batter, since the jam and marzipan also added a lot of sweetness. The final product was denser and heartier than a traditional sponge cake, but it was quite delicious!

For decoration, I dyed some of the marzipan pink with beet juice. Just grate a raw beet on a cheese grater, place the grated beet inside of 2 or 3 layers of cheese cloth, and squeeze out the juice. Knead a little of the juice into the marzipan until it is uniformly pink. It’s a little messy, but so pretty! In the book A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes, it mentions that in the era of Downton Abbey, the food was highly decorated. Even the serving platters would have been decorated. Inspired by that fact, I cut out hearts with my pink marzipan and placed them all around my cake platter, as well as on top of the cake.

Since this is a very British recipe, I wrote most of the measurements in grams (and even gave you the Celsius temperature for the oven if you please!)

Battenberg CakeBattenberg Cake

200g coconut oil, plus extra for greasing the pans

250g fine or caster sugar

6 eggs

½ tbsp vanilla extract

6 tbsp milk

285g whole-wheat pastry flour

3 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

50g ground almonds

40g cocoa

125g apricot jam

450g marzipan

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease 2 small loaf pans, line the bottom with parchment paper, and grease the parchment as well. This will ensure the cakes come out of the pans in one piece.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt until very well combined. Set aside. Divide the coconut oil and sugar evenly between 2 bowls, and whisk until well incorporated. Beat 3 eggs into each bowl. Stir the vanilla and half the milk into one bowl, then fold in 175g of the flour mixture until just combined.
In the other bowl, fold in the remaining flour mixture, almonds, cocoa and remaining milk. Mix until just combined. Take care not to over mix the flour. Spoon the two batters into the greased pans. Bake both together for about 40–50 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. The chocolate cake may take longer to cook than the vanilla, so check often towards the end of the baking time. Cool for 10 minutes, and then turn the cakes out onto a rack.

To assemble, warm and strain the jam. Level off the tops and sides of the cakes with a serrated knife so each cake is a rectangle and the same size. Cut in half lengthwise so you have 2 long strips of each. Place 1 of the vanilla cakes on a board and brush the top and sides generously with jam, then do the same with a strip of chocolate cake and stick the 2 together, side by side. Gently place the remaining cakes on top, opposite colors on each, brushing all the edges with jam. Trim the cake so the sides are straight, if necessary.

Roll out the marzipan on a board sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar so it is large enough to completely cover the cake (with a little extra to use for decoration.) Place the cake on one of the shorter sides, and bring the marzipan up and over the top to cover 4 sides. Pat to make sure the marzipan adheres to the jam on all 4 sides. Trim to neaten the two exposed checkerboard edges with a serrated knife.

I find that videos are easier to follow than words when I have a technical recipe such as this one, so here is a link to a video I found helpful when assembling my Battenberg.

Battenberg Cake

Downton Abbey Valentine Dinner, Main Course ~ Mini Beef Wellingtons

Mini Beef WellingtonMy Valentine requested his favorite dish for our Downton Abbey themed dinner – Beef Wellington. I have made a full beef Wellington as well as a salmon version on previous occasions, both with delicious success! This time I decided to try mini Wellingtons with pâté, and I think my Valentine was happy with the result. :)

Looking into the history of the dish, the origin is a bit cloudy. It may have been around during the Downton era, or it may not have. It may have British origins, or it may actually be American. (Gasp!!) Anyway, the dish is a favorite in our abbey, so we included it in our celebration.

I used a tried and true recipe from Martha Stewart. This mini version is much easier to make than the full beef Wellington. It can also be made ahead of time, which is a lovely feature! It is admittedly a rich dish, but the base of beef tenderloin is a very lean cut of beef. To make it a little healthier, I used less of the pâté than the recipe called for, and I also rolled the pastry thin and cut off the excess, so I didn’t use the entire sheet. Since it was Valentine’s Day, I cut out little hearts for the top of the Wellingtons with some of the extra puff pastry. Just stick them on with a little egg wash. I only made half the recipe, but I will include the original full recipe below:

Mini Beef Wellingtons

From MarthaStewart.com

1 beef tenderloin (5 pounds), trimmed and halved crosswise

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons safflower oil

2 packages (12 ounces each) all-butter puff pastry, such as Dufours

8 ounces mousse pâté, such as D’Artagnan mousse de foie de canard

2 large eggs

Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy skillet over high heat. Add half of beef; cook, turning, until browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board; repeat with second half. Let cool, 40 minutes. Cut each half into 4 equal pieces.

Roll out 1 sheet of puff pastry to a little larger than 16 by 12 inches. Trim edges; cut into four 8-by-6-inch squares. Place one piece of beef, cut-side down, on a pastry square; top with 2 tablespoons mousse, spreading evenly. Lightly beat 1 egg, then brush over edges of pastry, fold up corners to enclose filling, and gently press to seal. Repeat with remaining pastry, beef, and mousse. Arrange Wellingtons, seam-side up, on parchment-lined baking sheet; wrap well in plastic and then foil. Freeze up to 2 weeks. Alternatively, if you are not freezing the Wellingtons for later, wrapping is unnecessary. Just chill for an hour in the refrigerator before baking.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly beat remaining egg, then brush over frozen Wellingtons. Divide between 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake about 35 minutes for medium-rare. If your Wellingtons are not frozen, bake for only about 25 minutes. The internal temperature of medium-rare beef is between 130-135 degrees.

Remove Wellingtons from baking sheet and let rest 10 minutes before serving with mushrooms.

Serve with sautéed mushrooms (I made this recipe, which is the recommended pairing on MarthaStewart.com), and a salad.

P1240983

Downton Abbey Valentine Dinner, First Course ~ Cream of Watercress Soup

Cream of Watercress SoupHappy Valentine’s Day!

My hubby and I enjoyed another themed dinner at home for Valentine’s Day, which is the way we like to celebrate this holiday every year. :) We love to try new things together in the kitchen, and we have had a lot of fun over the years making new and different recipes – Most recently, for Valentine’s Day two years ago we made two kinds of ravioli (beet and lobster), and last year we made sushi with miso soup. This year we decided to try a Downton Abbey theme! I made three vintage British dishes the characters might have enjoyed at one of their elaborate dinner parties on the show.

I learned that for a grand dinner, there could be as many as nine courses. Since I was playing the part of both Mrs. Patmore while cooking the dinner, and Lady Grantham while enjoying the dinner, I limited our meal to three courses. ;-) Our first course was a cream of watercress soup based on a recipe I found in A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes. I replaced the butter with safflower oil, and replaced the cream with 2% milk, but otherwise followed the recipe rather closely. I ended up using three bunches of watercress. Remember to save a few sprigs to garnish the plate. :) Also, this can be made a day or two ahead of time, which is always a plus.

Cream of Watercress SoupCream of Watercress Soup

Based on a recipe from A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey

Serves 4

1 tablespoon light high heat oil, such as safflower oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1 large leek (white part only), washed and sliced

1 large potato, peeled and chopped

Salt and pepper

3 cups hot chicken stock

9 cups watercress, de-stalked and chopped

A large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

⅔ cup 2% milk

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, then add the onion, leek and potato and stir to coat them in the oil. Season with salt and pepper and let the vegetables sweat with the lid on over a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are tender, add the hot stock. Bring back to the boil, then add the watercress and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Take the pan off the heat and liquidise the soup. Stir in the milk and pour into bowls to serve.

Cream of Watercress SoupWe paired our dinner with the perfect wine: Downton Abbey Bordeaux Claret 2012. I learned that great English houses of the Downton era enjoyed many French wines and foods, so this was similar to the wine the characters on the show may have paired with their fine meals.

Stay tuned for episode 2 of our Downton Abbey dinner – The main course!

Cream of Watercress Soup

Valentine’s Day Treats ~ Chocolate Coconut Truffles

Chocolate Coconut TrufflesHappy Valentine’s Day!

I can’t think of anything that says Valentine’s Day more than chocolate truffles! Traditional truffle recipes are decidedly heavy, made from a combination of chocolate and cream, so I wanted to make something that I would feel better about eating and sharing. These little chocolate coconut truffles fit the order. :) They are a rich treat, but they use ingredients that are good for my Valentine and me. :) I hope you’ll give them a try!

Chocolate Coconut TrufflesI coated my truffles in cocoa powder as the recipe calls for, but I also made some with a coating of unsweetened coconut. The color contrast was really pretty. :) I also used a food processor rather than a high speed blender, which worked very well.

Chocolate Coconut Truffles

Chocolate Coconut Truffles

From Epicurious.com

Makes about 40 truffles

1/2 cup coconut butter/oil, warmed to soften

3/4 cup agave nectar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup dried shredded coconut

2 1/4 cups cocoa powder, sifted

In a high-speed blender, blend the warmed coconut butter/oil, agave nectar, vanilla, and salt. Add the shredded coconut, 1/2 cup at a time, and blend until smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in 2 cups of the cocoa powder until thoroughly combined. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes or more to set slightly.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup cocoa powder onto a small plate. Spoon heaping tablespoons of the chocolate mixture and roll them into balls. Roll these in the cocoa powder. Store the finished truffles in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Coconut Truffles

Go Seahawks! ~ Nacho Kale Chips

Nacho Cheese Kale ChipsHappy Super Bowl Sunday!

To celebrate the Super Bowl, I made a batch of nacho kale chips to have during the game. (Although, they are disappearing quickly, and I may need to make another batch before tomorrow!) Nachos are a popular Super Bowl snack, so I figured a healthier version might be appreciated amid the rich choices of party food. (Plus they are green, which is the right color for my home team! ;-) Go Seahawks!)

Nacho Cheese Kale ChipsI based my chips on a few different recipes, combining the ingredients I liked. The result is something I think I’ll make again and again! They are really nice to have around the house when you want a cheesy, crunchy snack. I hope you’ll give them a try!

Depending on how cheesy you like your chips, you can use either one or two bunches of kale. The chips in the pictures were made using only one bunch, so the nacho coating is relatively thick. Also, any kind of kale will work. I have used curly kale (in the photos) as well as lacinato, and both are delicious!

Nacho Kale Chips

1 or 2 large bunches of kale, rinsed, dried, stalks removed, and torn into chip size pieces

1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked overnight

1 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¾ cup nutritional yeast

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch of cayenne (or more if you like spicy chips)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. I needed three sheets for one bunch of kale, and six sheets for two bunches.

In a food processor, blend all of the ingredients except the kale until smooth.

In a large bowl, combine the kale and the blended cashew mixture. Rub the mixture into each piece of kale so they are evenly coated.

Spread the kale out on the baking sheets, making sure not to overlap. This will ensure the chips get crispy.

Bake for about 2 to 3 hours, checking every 45 minutes or so. Flip the chips halfway through, and make sure they are not sticking to the pan. They are done when dry and crispy.

Store in an airtight container.

Nacho Cheese Kale ChipsThe football cones are the same ones I used last year from Snap! They are so cute that I printed them again. I dressed them up with some Seahawk printables from a website called Elegance and Enchantment. (They have Patriot decorations, also, if that’s your preference. :) )

Nacho Cheese Kale Chips

Happy Australia Day! ~ Cheddar and Chive Dampers

Cheddar and Chive DampersHappy Australia Day! Every January 26th, Australia celebrates this national holiday. It falls in the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere, so much like the way we celebrate the Fourth of July, they celebrate with barbeques, fireworks and outdoor concerts.

Twenty years ago this month, I had the good fortune to travel to Australia through my university. (How did twenty years go by already? Wow!) It was an extraordinary experience I will never forget.

Cheddar and Chive DampersTo celebrate the holiday and the good times I had in Australia, I decided to make a special Australian dinner. We had split pea and ham soup with Cheddar and chive dampers. I chose the menu based on an article from CNN Travel about forty dishes Australians call their own. It is a fun article filled with many foods I have never tried before. There is much more to explore!

For the dampers, I was inspired by an Australian recipe website called Taste, but I ended up changing the recipe to a large extent for my own version. Mainly, I used 100% whole-wheat pastry flour combined with baking powder rather than self-rising flour, and I made individual dampers rather than one large one. I also made only half of the recipe, and reduced the portion size. They were the perfect accompaniment to the split pea and ham soup!

The cute little flags were printed from Jellyfish Prints. I couldn’t resist adding them for a festive touch. :) They are completely adorable, and also free!

Cheddar and Chive DampersCheddar and Chive Dampers

1 ¼ cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup Cheddar, coarsely grated

½ bunch chives, finely chopped

½ cup buttermilk

1 egg, scrambled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cheese and chives in a large bowl, whisking to combine. Add the buttermilk and egg, and stir until well combined. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until it comes together. Divide into 4 equal pieces, and shape each piece into a ball. Place each ball onto a parchment lined baking sheet, flattening the top slightly. Bake about 15 minutes, or until the underside of each damper sounds hollow when tapped.

Cool for 5 or 10 minutes, and serve warm.

Cheddar and Chive Dampers

A bright salad for a winter day ~ Kale and Citrus Salad

Kale and Orange SaladThis is a healthy, easy, and colorful salad to put together as a side dish to any meal. I love to make it at this time of the year, when citrus is in season. (Isn’t it cool that citrus fruit is at its peak in the middle of winter? It brightens up the darkest months. :) ) Feel free to add any other favorite ingredients. I think grapefruit, avocado, beets, or pomegranate would go well. The sky is the limit! I kept mine simple this time around. It is a good, basic recipe to build on.

Kale and Citrus Salad

Serves 2

4 or 5 large stalks of kale, cut or torn into bite-size pieces (Discard tough center stems.)

1 orange, cut into supremes (For how-to, check out this link.)

Juice of the remaining portion of the orange (After supreming, squeeze the remaining portion of the orange over a liquid measuring cup to use all of its juice.)

Lemon juice, added to the orange juice so the total volume of the combined citrus juice equals ¼ cup

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Place the torn or chopped kale into a large bowl.

Slowly drizzle olive oil into the citrus juice mixture, whisking as you go until it is emulsified into a vinaigrette. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour as much of the vinaigrette over the kale as you would like. Rub the vinaigrette into each leaf, so every piece is well coated.

Top the greens with the orange supremes and enjoy!

Kale and Orange Salad

A dessert that fits into your New Year’s resolutions ~ Mint Chip “Ice Cream”

Mint Chip Frozen DessertI am fascinated with recipes that find creative ways of using and combining raw, plant-based ingredients. It’s a different way of thinking about food, and I think it’s really interesting and exciting! (Not to mention, exceptionally healthy, which is kind of the whole point of eating that way. :) ) For example, this recipe combines raw ingredients that come close to mint chip ice cream. It is a rich dish with the coconut and the nuts, but it is quite a bit healthier than a classic mint chip ice cream. If you are going to have a frozen dessert in January, the month filled with resolutions of healthier eating, this is a good one! I hope you’ll give it a try. :)

The recipe is from Laura Miller, who hosts an online food show called Raw. Vegan. Not Gross. Her style is as fun and quirky as the title implies. ;-) You can find the episodes on a cooking channel called Tastemade.

Mint Chip Frozen DessertMint Chip “Ice Cream”

Based on a recipe from Laura Miller

2 cups soaked raw cashews

2 cups coconut meat

3/4 cup coconut water

3/4 cup agave

2 teaspoons mint extract

1/2 cup coconut oil, liquefied

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cacao nibs, finely chopped

1 teaspoon matcha powder or spirulina

Open your coconuts, scrape out the flesh/meat, and add it into a high speed blender, along with agave, mint extract, matcha powder, salt, cashews, and coconut water.

Next, add in oil, and blend again. The more you blend, the creamier your finished product will be.

Pour the mixture in a medium-sized bowl, and just stir in the cocoa nibs.

If you have an ice cream maker, use it according to the machine’s instructions. If not, place your bowl in the freezer and come back to stir every 30 minutes or so for 3-4 hours.

Mint Chip Frozen Dessert

Lucky Dinner for the New Year ~ Sausage, Lentil, and Kale Soup

Sausage, Lentil, and Kale SoupOne of our first meals this year had not only one, but two lucky ingredients to eat in the New Year! Lentils and kale. If I had used pork sausage, it would have been three, but the healthier option won out, and I chose chicken sausage. This is a hearty and delicious soup for a cold winter night. :) Perfect for the New Year!

Sausage, Lentil, and Kale Soup

Based on a recipe from MarthaStewart.com

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces sweet Italian chicken sausage, casings removed

2 celery stalks (with leafy tops), thinly sliced

1 medium yellow onion, diced medium

1/2 cup dried lentils

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 bunch (about 1/2 pound) kale, preferably Tuscan, stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces

Coarse salt and ground pepper

2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add sausage and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add celery and onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add lentils, broth, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a rapid simmer, partially cover, and cook until lentils and vegetables are tender, 25 minutes.

Add kale and season with salt. Return soup to a rapid simmer, cover, and cook until kale wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove soup from heat, stir in vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.

Sausage, Lentil, and Kale Soup

Happy New Year’s Eve ~ Cute Wine Bottle Labels

New Year's Eve WineThe Blissful Bee updated her New Year’s Eve wine bottle printables, so I started and ended my year with the festive labels. Cute! I recommend checking them out and adding them to your New Year celebration. :)

Happy New Year from Noon Cafe! May you have a happy and healthy 2015.

Merry Christmas ~ Creamy Chestnut Soup

Chestnut SoupInstead of roasting chestnuts over on an open fire, I made a festive and creamy chestnut soup with truffle oil for Christmas this year. :-) It was a unique and delicious first course to our family dinner!

Chestnut SoupThe original recipe was from a cooking class at Sur La Table. I omitted the 1/2 cup of heavy cream altogether since it was luscious and creamy without any dairy, and I replaced the butter with Earth Balance. I also added a little more chicken broth than the original recipe called for to make the soup a little thinner.

Chestnut Soup

Creamy Chestnut Soup with Truffle Oil

Based on a recipe from Sur La Table’s cooking classes

Yield: 6 servings

2 tablespoons Earth Balance

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup roughly chopped onions

1/2 cup roughly chopped carrots

1/2 cup roughly chopped celery

1 medium garlic clove, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups cooked peeled chestnuts

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup dry sherry

2 (4-inch) thyme sprigs

3 cups low-sodium
 chicken broth, plus more to thin the soup if you desire

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Black truffle oil, for drizzling

Place a large, heavy saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Heat the Earth Balance and oil until melted. Stir in the onion, carrots and celery and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir in the chestnuts and salt and cook until the chestnuts are coated in the aromatics and warmed through, about 4 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the sherry and thyme and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the chestnuts are tender, about 30 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs.

Using an immersion blender or standard blender, puree soup until smooth. Return the saucepan to the heat, add more broth if you would like the soup to be thinner, and bring back to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve: Using a ladle, transfer the soup to individual bowls. Drizzle with truffle oil and serve immediately.

Chestnut Soup

Special Dinner ~ Salmon Wellington

Salmon WellingtonBack in November, I made my hubby a beef Wellington for his birthday. Ever since, I have been interested in trying other versions of the dish with different savory fillings. When my birthday rolled around this month, I thought I would make a simple salmon Wellington to celebrate. :) I was out all day, but these little Wellingtons came together quickly and easily. (Much easier than the beef version!) The tarragon really makes the dish, and the little fish cut out of the extra puff pastry on top made me smile. :)

Salmon Wellington

From Bon Appétit magazine

1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed

4 3/4-inch-thick 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets

6 tablespoons minced shallots

4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon

1 egg beaten to blend (for glaze)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Roll out each pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to 12-inch square. Cut each in half, forming four 12×6-inch rectangles. Place 1 salmon fillet in center of each rectangle, about 3 inches in from and parallel to 1 short edge. Sprinkle each fillet with salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon shallots and 1 tablespoon tarragon. Brush edges of rectangles with some glaze. Fold long sides of pastry over fillets. Fold short edge of pastry over fillets and roll up pastry, enclosing fillets. Cut off any excess pastry if necessary. Seal edges of pastry. Place pastries, seam side down, on baking sheet. Brush with glaze.

Bake pastries until dough is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes.

Salmon Wellington

Christmas Baking ~ Gingerbread Cupcakes

Gingerbread CupcakesI baked a batch of gingerbread cupcakes to go with my gingerbread caramels. (Sensing a gingerbread theme this month?? I figured Santa might like choices! ;-) )

I based the recipe on Martha Stewart’s Gingerbread Snacking Cake. It is such a flavorful recipe with the addition of fresh ginger, but I wanted individual cupcakes instead of one big sheet cake. I replaced the butter with light olive oil, and I replaced the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour. The bold flavors of the cake stand up the whole grains beautifully. I hope you’ll give this recipe a try! I will definitely keep these cupcakes in my holiday recipe collection. :) Yum!

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Based on a recipe from MarthaStewart.com

½ cup light olive oil

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 cup boiling water

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar

1 cup unsulfured molasses

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine boiling water and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, sift together flour, ground spices, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, mix oil and brown sugar. Beat in molasses and grated ginger, baking-soda mixture, and flour mixture. Beat in eggs.

Pour batter into a muffin pan lined with paper liners, filling each about ½ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Merry Christmas!!

Gingerbread Cupcakes

A Decadent Holiday Treat ~ Gingerbread Caramels

Gingerbread CaramelsI typically don’t make treats quite as rich as these, but a small bite is all you need to feel like you’ve had a decadent treat. Share them with friends and family since they travel well, or leave them by the tree for Santa. He might like them even better than cookies. ;-)

I have never made caramels from scratch on my own before, so I followed the recipe from Martha Stewart to the letter. Candy making is really a science, and a few degrees can be the difference between a success and a dud. I learned two important lessons through this experience. The first is to make sure your thermometer is calibrated. I learned this the hard way, as my first attempt was a mess that did not set since it did not boil to the proper temperature. The second lesson I learned is that you can rescue your caramel if it doesn’t set by re-boiling it! On my second boil, I used a different thermometer, and the temperature reached the accurate level. Ta da! Success! :)

Gingerbread Caramels

From MarthaStewart.com

4 cups (2 pints) heavy cream

2 cups light corn syrup

4 cups granulated sugar

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup unsulfured molasses

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

Lightly coat a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking
sheet with cooking spray. Line with parchment
paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on short
sides; spray paper.

In a large pot over high heat, bring cream,
corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses to a boil,
stirring until sugar has dissolved. Continue to
cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently,
until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm-ball stage)
on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla, salt, and spices. Immediately pour onto prepared sheet, without scraping pot. Let stand, uncovered, 24 hours at room temperature (do not move pan).

Generously coat a large cutting board with cooking spray. Lifting it by the parchment overhang, invert caramel onto the cutting board; use a sharp knife to loosen parchment, and remove. Cut into 1-by-1 1/4-inch pieces. Wrap each in cellophane or waxed paper. Caramels can be stored up to 1 month in airtight containers.

Gingerbread Caramels

Happy Thanksgiving ~ Wild Rice and Goat Cheese Stuffing with Chorizo

Wild Rice and Goat Cheese Stuffing with ChorizoHappy Thanksgiving!

This stuffing recipe has become a Thanksgiving standard in my family. :) It adds a little spice and a little Southwestern touch to the dinner! I wrote about this recipe in Noon Café’s first year, and I thought I would repost it this year since it still holds up as a delicious addition to my Thanksgiving table. :)

Wild Rice and Goat Cheese Stuffing with ChorizoWild Rice and Goat Cheese Stuffing with Chorizo

Based on a recipe from Chef Bobby Flay

1 1/2 cups wild rice

5 cups water

Salt to taste

1/2 cup finely ground chorizo (Mexican)

1 finely diced large onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 finely chopped carrots

3 finely chopped celery stalks

3/4 pound cubed stale hearty white bread

6 ounces goat cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 1/2 cups low sodium free-range chicken stock

Boil the rice, water, and a little salt to taste in a medium saucepan until the grains open and the rice is tender. Drain. (This can be done a day ahead if you desire.)  Cook the chorizo in a large saucepan over medium heat. Pour the chorizo over a bowl lined with a paper towel to drain the excess fat. In the same pan, add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery and cook until the onion is tender but not browned. Add the rice, chorizo, bread, cheese, parsley, thyme, and stock and combine it all together. Season to taste with a little salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking dish and bake at 350, uncovered, until golden brown on top, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Wild Rice and Goat Cheese Stuffing with Chorizo

This month isn’t *all* about turkey ~ Moroccan Chicken Tagine

Chicken TagineTurkey doesn’t need to get all of the attention this month. ;-) I thought I would write about one of my favorite chicken dishes, as well. It is so flavorful and moist that it literally falls apart with a fork. This recipe works for a special occasion, but it is easy enough for a weeknight. That’s the kind of recipe I am most thankful for in this busy month of Thanksgiving. :)

Moroccan Chicken Tagine

Based on a recipe from Sur La Table’s cooking classes

Marinade:

1 medium onion, cut into ½ inch dice

1 medium garlic clove, minced

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon cilantro, minced

Pinch of saffron threads

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

10 (4 ounce) chicken thighs, boneless and skinless

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup water

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced

In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients for the marinade together. Arrange the chicken in a shallow baking dish, and pour the marinade over the top, mixing so all of the chicken is covered on all sides. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat a large heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add remaining oil. Remove chicken from marinade (reserving the remaining marinade) and sear. Pour the remaining marinade onto the seared chicken, and add the water. Cook until the liquid boils, reduce heat, and simmer about 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender and nearly falling apart. Add the thyme.

Serve with couscous.

Chicken TagineMake this dish and be virtually transported to a far off land in the desert. :) Ahh…Sunshine and palm trees.

Desert Palms