Brunching on Easter

My sister is a pretty amazing cook.  Like really amazing.  I’m staying with her in Portland for a couple of weeks as I transition from Peace Corps back to real, fast-paced American life.  Just thought I’d share this meal we ate recently for Easter morning brunch.  Bacon-wrapped Eggs with Polenta and Spring Greens with Sherry Vinaigrette from Bon Appetit magazine.  Yum!

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Bread ‘N Jam – Yummy!

There’s nothing like bread and jam.  Homemade.  I was recently inspired by a plum preserves recipe I found in an old issue of Food Network Magazine.  I’m not typically a huuuuuuge fan of this magazine, but when I travel, I seem to indulge in more entertainment-like magazines.  While doing some spring cleaning I came across this recipe, and with the plethora of plums available in my town at this time, I got super excited  and inspired to create my own plum jam, which in the end, I called Spiced Plum Jam, mainly because it’s quite different from this original recipe.

Aaaaaaaand, With the lack of good, whole grain breads here in Costa Rica, I have taken to making my own.  I wanted something beyond the typical whole wheat sorta flatbread bread that I always fall back  on.  I was craaaaaaaving a rustic, crusty-on-the-outside, holy-and-light-on-the-inside kinda bread.  So I went with Ciabatta.  Ciabatta is often called “Italian Slipper Bread” because it is a fairly wet dough and hence why it creates a slipper-like shape.  I did not realize that making ciabatta took so many steps, but it did, and in the end it was completely worth it.  Crispy, artisan bread and homemade sweet, fresh spiced plum jam.  Pure, simple goodness.

So first, here is the recipe for my version of the jam, which is super duper easy, by the way.

Spiced Plum Jam

6 cups sliced plums
1 cup sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
Juice of one lime

Place the plums, sugar, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and allspice in a large, wide saucepan.  Squeeze the lime through a strainer into the pan.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves, and the mixture boils, about 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer registers 220˚F, about 25 minutes.  (To be sure that the mixture has reached the gel point, spoon some onto a chilled plate and put in the freezer until cool. The liquid should set; if not, continue to cook and retest after a few more minutes.) Remove the pan from the heat and let cool 30 minutes.

Enjoy fresh, and store in the refrigerator up to 10 days (if it lasts that long)!  Otherwise, prepare for canning procedures, which can be found here.

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As for the bread recipe, I used this one, and the only difference I did was substitute the last 25 ounces of bread flour for whole wheat bread flour.  The rest I followed to a T.  And it turned out great.

Enjoy the bread toasted with cream cheese and jam, or butter and jam!  Also sliced bananas on it tastes great also!



Peanut Butter and Cherry Jam Oat Bars

A rainy, October day inspired these bars.  It was yesterday.  I wanted something healthy, not too sweet, a snack, and different from regular ol’ oatmeal (which I love to have for breakfast every day in some fancy form) or peanut butter and jelly (which is just an old classic that I never tire of).  So, I thought why not combine the two into a afternoon treat to have with tea!

Now, typically, I don’t bake vegan, because I am a wholehearted believer that nothing is better than real butter. and real milk. and real eggs, and furthermore I don’t need to bake vegan, since I’m blessed with zero food allergies.  But when you find yourself without butter, without eggs, and it’s pouring rain outside and you can’t find the strength to walk less than a half a mile to the corner store, you improvise.  So vegan is my improvisation.  And instead of walking to the store, I walked to my backyard to pick an avocado.  Yes, that’s right, these have avocados in them.  You may have noticed from previous posts that I have incorporated avocado in place of the fat (oil or butter).  It’s a sneaky way to incorporate heart-healthy and cancer-fighting fats into your diet.

I used a german cherry jam in these bars, but any jam can clearly be used.  Additionally, the peanut butter could be omitted for those who don’t like peanut butter.  And of course with the streusel topping, feel free to be creative, adding any kind of nuts, seeds, or coconut.

Peanut Butter and (Cherry) Jam Oat Bars

1.5 cups whole oats
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp all spice
1 flax egg (1 tbsp flax+3tbsp warm water)
3/4 avocado mashed well
1/3 c honey
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp almond/soy milk

1 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup cherry jam (or any other flavor)
juice from 1/2 an orange
orange rind from 1 orange

Streusel Topping:

2/3 cup oats
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
water to moisten

Combine the dry ingredients (first eight) in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix the flax egg with the mashed avocado, honey, vanilla, and almond milk.  Stir well to combine.  Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture.  Stir to combine, gently.  Should be the consistency of cookie dough.  If too moist, add a little more flour.

Pat the mixture into the bottom of a greased 8×8 square baking pan.  Spread the peanut butter on top.  In a small sauce pan, heat the jam with the juice of half a small orange and the rind.  Boil down until mixture thickens a bit.

Spread the jam mixture over the oat bottom and the peanut butter.

Mix the streusel topping.  Sprinkle streusel over the bars and spread to even out.

Bake in 350 oven for 25-30 minutes until jam is bubbly and streusel is golden brown.

Cut into squares and enjoy with afternoon coffee or tea!  These also freeze well.


Smoooooooothie Time!

This has become one of my favorite go-to smoothies that I threw together one day trying to invent ways to use the plethora of avocados I have here at my disposal.  The avocado mixed with the bananas makes this smoothie oh-so-very creamy!

It’s chock full of potassium, calcium, and healthy fats thanks to the avocado.  Not to mention, it keeps you filled up for a long time.  AND, it couldn’t be easier to make.

Banana Avocado and Ginger Smoothie

1/2 ripe avocado
2 small bananas, frozen
1-inch chunk of ginger
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon

Place all in blender and blend!  Garnish with extra cinnamon if desired.


A New Love Named Buck…

……wheat, that is.  Buckwheat.

Buckwheat and I are very much in love.

It’s a new grain for me.  I have my usual favorites…couscous, bulgur, barley, quinoa.  And because breakfast is my most favorite meal in the whole wide world, I love to explore different ways of creating deliciousness to wake up to in the morning.  I’ve done the oatmeal, the smoothies, the scones, the pancakes, the quinoa hot cereal and so on.  But I recently discovered this grain – called Kasha for hot cereal – that makes for a verrrry delicious bowl of hot cereal!  Mixed with mashed banana, warm milk, cinnamon, almonds, raisins, a drizzle of honey, marmalade, and banana slices on top, it is a breakfast lover’s dream.

After doing a little investigating, I learned that buckwheat, or kasha, is a traditional Eastern European meal.  Furthermore, it is high in fiber, is wheat and gluten-free,  contains eight essential amino acids, and a large number of important minerals.

As with any grain, it’s extremely versatile!  A few weeks ago I cooked up a nice buckwheat pilaf with fresh herbs, peppers, leeks, lemon juice and white wine.  Savory or sweet, it’s my new fave!   Any other ways/recommendations for using buckwheat/kasha!?

This is what I used:


Pure Wholesome Goodness Scones

I didn´t quite know what to call these scones.  They are chock-full of all kinds of pure wholesome goodness…so I just went with that.  It´s a bit uncreative, but it honest, straightforward, and transparent.  I like that in a person, so why not in a scone?

Scones are pure comfort food for me, topped with some marmalade and paired with tea.  It´s a breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea´s lover.  Truly.  And scones, though they sound fancy and British, can be whipped up in no time, in and out of the oven, and in your mouth in 40 or so minutes.  Every scone recipe goes the same way – you mix the dry ingredients, cut in the fat, and then add the liquid.  It´s the same for biscuits.  Scones are a lot like biscuits in the chemistry side of things.  But we´re not talking biscuits, we´re talking scones.  So let´s talk.

I´m gonna go out on a limb and say these scones are quite healthy.  Many scones are not, often carrying ingredients such as heavy cream and lots of butter….though in moderation, there´s nothing wrong with those kind.  But these kind, are not those kind.  These scones are dense, flaky, rich, spicy, and not too sweet.  Perfect with chai tea and milk and honey.  I hate to admit, I ate three of them the day I made them, and they are disappearing quickly with house visitors….!

Pure Wholesome Goodness Scones

Makes about 15, depending on the size you cut them

1 cup buckwheat flour (or rice flour or any other kind of flour)
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup oats, quick-cooking or regular
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup any dried fruit mixture (raisins, apricots, cherries, figs, prunes, etc), cut into small pieces
3/4 cup+2 tbsp buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp raw turbinado sugar
1tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (first 11 ingredients).  Slice in the butter.  Using your hands or a pastry blender, work it into the flour, until it creates a roughly crumbly mixture, leaving small pieces of butter present.  Add the dried fruit mixture, mix.  Add the buttermilk and vanilla extract.  Mix well to combine all dry ingredients with wet.  Dough should be sticky.  If it´s too sticky add a tiny bit more flour.  Transfer the dough to a very generously floured surface.  Fold over 4-5 times, and flatten into a roughly round disc about 1-1 1/2-inch thick.  Cut into triangles of your desired size.  Brush each scone with milk, and top with raw sugar.  Place on prepared baking sheet and bake in oven 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool on rack, and enjoy warm with tea!!


Apple Ginger Cardamom Jam

So, my oven broke.  And since I’m living in a so-called “developing” country, and eeeevvverrrrything takes longer to get done, it might be awhile before I can post anything that requires an oven.  SADness.

Soooooooo, I decided to can, since I have a plethora of jars.

Has anyone out there made apple jam before?  With an abundance of apples in these parts, I figured why not give it a try.  I know it’s not your typical fruit to be used in jam, but it actually turned out quite delightful!  And paired with cream cheese on whole-grain, homemade bread?  You can’t beat it.

Apple Ginger Cardamom Jam

*Note: this recipe doesn’t make very much…about enough for 4-5 small mason jars.  If you wish to make more, double it!

6 cups grated, peeled apples
Juice of one lemon
2 cups sugar (or more if you prefer it more sweet)
3 tsp ginger (more if you want more kick)
15 green cardamom seeds

Place peeled, grated apples in pot with lemon juice, sugar, grated ginger and cardamom pods. Cook all on medium-high heat for about 25-30 minutes, or until you get a nice jam-ish set. The temperature should be around 240 degrees.

When slightly cooled, place in prepared, sterilized jars, and following hot water bath canning procedures.