Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Harvest (cup)Cake-Tasty and Super Healthy

Why am I proposing this cake in the middle of winter you might ask?  Well, as much as I try to only eat what is in season, zucchini are hard for me to give up, plus this cake is so tasty I didn't want to wait until September to post about it.  If you are inclined to only use seasonal ingredients I would imagine that parsnips could be substituted for the zucchini, I bet they would taste great.  If you have followed this blog for a while you know that I gave up gluten a little bit over a year ago.  Yes, and my profession is pastry chef, pretty ironic, right?   It has been a sad year for my baking as I had quite few baking disasters when I tried to convert  recipes containing gluten.  I learned that is not that simple, using gluten free flour doesn't always give you the results you want, and tweaking the recipes takes time.  Since I have a big sweet tooth I love to eat something sweet every day so I have been trying to master few recipes I can count on. Luckily there are so many wonderful gluten free sites and blogs so I have plenty of inspiration.  I have now accumulated a great deal of recipes, some I tried and some are in my recipe holder waiting for inspiration.  This cake was one I decided to try even if it meant to use zucchini not grown in California, it looked delicious. 

The cakes comes from the recently discovered blog Roost. I found this blog not because of the gluten free contents, but because of the stunning styling and photographs, I hope you go and take a look.  Caitlin/Coco, the super talented author, and her husband embarked in a dietary adventure for health reasons and one of the thing they eliminated from their diet was gluten.  Needles to say, I am in heaven when I read her blog.

This cake caught my eyes and made me salivate enough that I decided to try it.  It is wholesome, sweetened with honey, uses almonds as the bulk ingredients, which one of my favorite nuts, and has three cups of fruit and veggies.  I tried it and loved it, so after asking permission to post it here, I am now encouraging you to try it.  If this is not your cup of tea, try to make it for a friend who is gluten intolerant, she/he will thank you.

The cake is good without topping but if you would like to dress it up please try the topping as well, it is the most delicious and natural thing I have tried in a long time.  Cashews, honey, and dates are the main ingredients, and it is so good I wanted to eat it with a spoon, give it a try.

If you know me, you also know that I love sweet things to be small, they are much cuter, and you don't feel guilty eating two or four, plus I wanted to know how this cake would work in a mini form.  The verdict...it is even better, it is a tad drier and cooks super fast. 

The recipe calls for leaving the apples in chunks, but a trusty taster friend of mine suggested to cut the apples smaller, so do so if you want.  I like the chunky texture.  I used canola oil in the cake, something I usually don't like, but there not much of it and the other flavors cover it up.

Below find the recipe as written by Caitlin.

Harvest Cake (Makes 1-9inch cake)
  • 3 cups almond flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup ghee (or oil of your choice) if you use ghee make sure it is melted
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1 cup grated zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped apple
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9inch cake pan (you can use a regular cake pan if you prefer, not the fluted one pictured above). In a bowl combine dry ingredients. In a separate bowl combine wet ingredients. Pour wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir to incorporate. Pour into prepared cake pan and cook in oven for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Vanilla Cream (makes almost 2 cups)
  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked for three hours, water discarded
  • 1/2 cup fresh apple juice
  • 2 Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 TBS honey
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and pod discarded
In a high speed blender combine ingredients until very smooth. Spread on cake or muffins.
Cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 4 days or in the fridge for 1 week.

Other gluten-free cakes....
Orange cake with chocolate glaze
Fig hazelnut tart
Cherry almond cake

Monday, January 9, 2012

DHSPC #5-Creamy Cauliflower Soup

The result

In case you didn't know, I am a total Donna Hay's fan, willing to spend $10 a month to get my hands on her magazine.  I just realized I missed last month's magazine, I think my local store stopped carrying it, I better find it soon as it has lots of cookies in the front.  I love her magazine and books, and I have cooked from them quite a bit, with great success.  Her cooking is simple, most recipes only have few ingredients, and are easy to make.  But more than anything I love the photos on her magazine, they make you drool, they make you want to become a food stylist and photographer, they make you want to bake.

I love Simone's DH styling and photography challenge, it pushes me out of my comfort zone.  Every month Simone, the author of the gorgeous blog Jungle Frog Cooking, has chosen something very different, not only as a food choice but as a study on styling and photography.  I actually participated to last month's challenge but I struggled with the pictures, run out of time because of the holidays,  so I never put up a post.  The recipe was really tasty, mini corn cakes with prosciutto and sage, to see the photos that were submitted check Simone's post.

This month I am early, getting it out of the way right away.  This month's challenge is a wonderful creamy cauliflower soup,  published in Donna Hay Magazine issue #51, which I don't have.    The soup was really tasty, and not too heavy, you can find a printable version in Simone's post. I only made a half batch and it was plenty for four people, maybe Australians are big eaters....  Below you can see the photo, shot by Ben Dearnley, that we were challenged to replicate.  The colors are beautifully dark, mostly black, the light comes from a 1:30 direction and doesn't seem to be bounced, so the bottom left, the opposite corner from the light, is pretty dark.  The styling is rather simple, but it highlights the light color of the soup and the delicious topping. 

The Challenge

Now for the creative process...I noticed that the light was coming from 1:30/2 o'clock, and it wasn't from a huge source, notice the white reflection on the bottom surface, the top left part is darker, how they did that I am not sure.  The light, which doesn't seem diffused, is reflecting on the black fabric,  on the top left corner, creating a whitish hue, something that I noticed other times I photographed black backgrounds, sometimes it ruins the picture, in this case it lighted the overall composition.   That gave me another clue on where the light came from.  The light looks natural to me, but impossible to know.  I have no clue on how they got that whitish patina on the photo, maybe they used a high ISO setting?   I will never know.

I was able to find all the right props in my house, incidentally I bought the black table set in December because I love dark moody photos so I wanted something really dark to showcase the food.

Below is a series of photos I took, all in manual mode, the camera was set on sun light, low ISO that were increased with the last photo to 400, and I used a tripod, with a 2 second delay so the camera wouldn't shake.    Big aperture was f5 (I can't go lower than that with my camera), and different shatter speed depending on the time of the day.

This picture was taken early morning, the light was bright, but the color were all wrong, and the light reflected too much on the soup and the spoon.  I decided to wait.  The angle of the camera was also wrong, too high.

Early afternoon,  sun was too high in the sky, it created even more reflection on the soup, something the original photo didn't have.  I decided to wait again.

Once the sun went being a big redwood tree I knew I hit the jackpot, however the camera read the new light differently and imparted a bluish hue.  I didn't change the camera settings, I just adjusted the color on i-photo.  The light was coming from the right direction but wasn't harsh any more nor created too much reflection.
 This picture was taken early morning, the sun was still really low and the same bluish hue was seen, I love it but it was not real nor close to the original photo.

Simone would love if any of you joined this group so if you are inclined please follow this link for the how to.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Using up Pantry Items #2-Chicken Broth

Few simple ingredients

This is not rocket science, nor Iron Chef's material, but if you never had home-made chicken broth you don't know what you are missing.  My maternal grandmother was the queen of chicken broth.  If I close my eyes I can see her sitting at her marble table, eating a bowl of piping hot chicken broth with some little pastina floating inside.  It was also a favorite of mine.  We even had our own private game, I would go downstairs to her apartment and ask if I could have "la solita", or the usual one, because it was a typical hospital food and I must have tasted it during one of her hospital stays.  I miss my nonna Anita, although she was a stern woman, and lost her mother was she was young and had to help rise her siblings, I knew she loved me deeply.

Wasn't she beautiful?

There is no comparison between a store-bought chicken broth and the one that you can make at home with little effort and few ingredients.  Next time you eat a whole chicken save the carcass (and some of the other bones if you want), add an onion, two carrots, a stalk of celery, few stems of parsley, cover with cold water and bring to a simmer.  Simmer covered for two hours, discard the solids and cool.  To remove all the fat, chill overnight in the refrigerator and remove all the coagulated fat from the top.  Simple and delicious!


To keep with my only new year's resolution, I used things I had on hand and made this broth for the next dish I am working on, so stay tuned!


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lentils with Roasted Delicata Squash-aka Using up Pantry Ingredients #1

In the previous post I mentioned how I tend not to make new year's resolutions.  Well scratch that, I just made one!  While doing some much needed after-the-holidays cleaning, I saw the mess in my pantry took stock of my pantry ingredients, and noticed how many items I have accumulated.  One thing you might not know about me is that I am a compulsive buyer, I see something that tickles my cooking brain and buy it (well...except for things that are over-prized as I am a "cheap" compulsive buyer).  Then life takes over, the item goes into the pantry, and I often forget  about it, and sometimes I end up finding the item when it has pasted its prime so it goes into the compost (not really green, isn't it?)   Wishing to spend money more wisely this year, and decrease the waste, I decided to not buy any more ingredients until my pantry is completely clean, which will take a while I imagine.  I then thought that it would be a great way to start the year blogging the dishes I make with those ingredients, which are for the most part really healthy.  

I started with lentils, a great favorite of mine, a powerful ingredient, and versatile too.   Since I also had a wonderful delicata squash on hand, I used that one up as well. 

Not such a great photo of a beautiful squash

I love making lentils and eating them with roasted squash, so here is the first dish of the year.  I am sure most of the dishes I will make will not be new to you, but if I can introduce some new great healthy ingredients, or a new way of cooking them,  my life as a blogger will be fulfilled.

I wish the photos were better, I took the photos at different times of the day and in different light conditions.   I need to learn how to be more professional and set up a photo shoot so I can take pictures at the same time.  That could be another new year's resolution, don't you agree?


Lentils with Roasted Delicata Squash

1/2 cup lentils (I used the little french lentils)
1 medium delicata squash (or any other squash you prefer)
Sage leaves, chopped fine
3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Smoked cheese of your choice to grate on top (I used mozzarella)

Pre-heat oven to 375F.  Cook the lentils in plenty of water until tender (with lentils is not necessary to soak them overnight, but if you are inclined to do so they will cook faster).
While the lentils are cooking, cut the squash lengthwise (delicata squash doesn't need to be peeled), remove the seeds and cut in slices.  Roast until soft.  
Drain the cooked lentils and sauté them with 1 TBS olive oil, add salt to taste.
Sauté the squash slices with 2 TBS of olive oil, the chopped sage leaves, and salt and pepper to taste.
Mix the lentils with the squash and top with some smoked cheese if you are using it (amount is personal, I used about 2 tablespoon).
Makes two servings.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year and Few Wishes

One of the advantages of being an early riser is to be able to witness the most magnificent sunrises, the one photographed below was breathtaking, the colors were spectacular.  I talked about the West Point Inn before.  This century-old inn is located on Mount Tamalpais, is reachable only by foot or bikes, and has the most amazing views of the San Francisco Bay.  It was build for people coming up with a gravity cable car which has long been dismantled, and luckily  for us it has survived for all of us to enjoy.  I recently spent two nights up there with my family and a group of friends.  We cooked, we laughed, we hiked, we had meaningful conversations.  Life is good

I am wary of making New Year's resolutions because I rarely keep them, but I can't stop wishing.  My big wish  for myself is to find a meaningful and fulfilling job this year.  A job where I can use my creativity, be challenged and also have fun. 

I wish my readers a year full of meaning, happiness, and peace.  If you wish to share your wishes for this new year please add them in your comments.

My wish for the earth, this magnificent place we inhabit, is that people and their leaders will wake up and realize that we need to slow down our depleting of natural resources, use less, re-use, and re-purpose more.  I wish all my readers would make few changes in their lives, even small, to use less plastic, eat less meat, use less energy, and spread the word with their actions.

Be well!


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