Friday, October 24, 2014

Pear, Raspberry and Brown Rice Breakfast Bowl

Pear, Raspberry and Brown Rice Breakfast Bowl
I am most definitely a morning person.  I'd way rather meet you for breakfast than stay up until Midnight, trying to keep my eyes open and maintain any feeble attempts at witty conversation as the night wanes and dawn inches closer.

There is no better way to start the day than by having a good breakfast.  Even though getting up at 6:00 AM nowadays means that I am rising long before the sun does, a good, warm breakfast is something to look forward to and makes exiting the warm sheets to the injustice of bare toes on a cold floor just a little easier.

I like to have whole grains as the base for my breakfast and then topping them with some combination of warm or cold, raw or cooked fruit followed by nuts and yogurt.  Many mornings this means cooking up a bowl of old fashioned oatmeal - the kind with large flakes that have not been chopped before they are rolled. (read this article by the Kitchn for a clear explanation on the difference between various types of oats)  These are quick to make: 15 minutes max and I am sitting down to eat.  If I really want to treat myself to a fine start for the day, I use a whole oat groats; but this means I either need to plan ahead or plan more time in the morning.

The great thing about whole grain kernels (think wheat berries, spelt berries, barley pearls, brown rice kernels, and the less common whole oat groats) is that they reheat really well. The same goes for steel cut oats, a morning treat I absolutely love. So although the grains may take 30 - 45 minutes to cook, you can do that well in advance and either refrigerate them if you will be consuming them soon, or, even better, cook up a huge pot, spoon the cooked grains into unlined muffin tins, and then pop the frozen grain pucks out, freeze them in a zip-lock bag or plastic container, and you'll have a quick breakfast that you can thaw and enjoy in minutes.  If you fill each muffin cup to the top, you'll have 1/2 cup servings (approximately 250g) ready to go.  If the grains are a bit dry when you reheat them, add a small amount of water or milk to loosen them up and they will look and taste freshly cooked.

Whole grains are an excellent food choice for those who want to live a healthy lifestyle.  An article published in Harvard School of Public Health's Nutrition Source, Health Gains from Whole Grains says that an increase in the consumption of whole grains reduced the risks for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and Cancer.  Further, because whole grains contain a lot of fiber, your digestive health also vastly improves as a result.  In a chart published in the same article, it is recommended that 25% of our daily diet should consist of whole grains.  (For more information, read about the Healthy Eating Plate).

Unlike your average breakfast of cold cereal, which is largely made from refined flours, whole grains are minimally processed, so they retain all the marvelous benefits that are so good for us:  complex carbohydrates, key vitamins and minerals.  This article by the Mayo Clinic explains why.

This breakfast bowl calls for brown rice, but feel free to substitute the whole grain of your choice. The chewy, nutty satisfying grain pairs really well with this lightly sweetened, warm pear-raspberry topping. If you are reheating grains, the topping can be quickly made while the grains are warming up.

Now sit on down and Carpe Diem!

Pear, Raspberry and Brown Rice Breakfast Bowl
Pear, Raspberry and Brown Rice Breakfast Bowl

1 cup / 2.5 dl brown rice

2 cups / 500 ml water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup / 3/4 dl milk (non-dairy milk works well here too)
1 large pear, peeled and cut into large dice
1 cup / 2.5 dl fresh or frozen raspberries
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup / 1 heaped dl crushed pecans
1/2 cup / 250 ml plain, unsweetened greek or turkish yogurt

Combine the rice, water and salt into a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a full bowl; reduce heat to low; cover; and cook for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, drain the rice in a strainer, return it to the pot, add the milk, bring it to a boil, reduce to medium, and allow it to simmer as the milk absorbs for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the topping.  Combine the pear, raspberries and maple syrup in a small pot.  Bring to a full boil, then remove from heat.  Add the vanilla extract, stir to combine, and set aside until the rice has finished cooking.

To serve, divide the rice between four bowls.  Divide the pear & raspberry sauce over the top.  Add a large spoonful of yogurt to each bowl, then top with crushed pecans.  Serve warm.

4 servings.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cranberry Pecan Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Bread revisited
Pumpkin Bread from Starbucks used to be one of the things I waited for as summer faded into a sweet memory, the leaves fell around me creating a glorious carpet of yellow, orange and red, pumpkins starting popping up at every turn, and the weather got steadily colder.  I'd pop into my local cafe, alone or with friends, order a double tall latte or a chai tea latte and a thick slice of the Pumpkin Bread.  If alone, I'd sip and munch and read; when together with friends we'd laugh and talk and catch up on Life.

I am long way away from those friends now (miss you all!), and I don't frequent the local Starbucks here in Helsinki so I don't even know if they serve Pumpkin Bread.  But what I do without out fail every year is make Pumpkin Bread of my own to settle into to the new season, and serve it to the friends and family I've found here.

Hokkaido pumpkin and Cranberry Pecan Pumpkin Bread
This year, I created a new recipe for Pumpkin Bread.  I wanted to use barley flour as it has a pleasant sweetness to it that I thought would pair well with pumpkin, and it creates a very soft crumb.  I'd used olive oil with pumpkin once before so I knew that it works (even better than butter!) so I added that too.  And then I've been working on recipes that replace refined sugars with natural sugars, and have been playing with molasses as a nearly forgotten sweetener. The molasses in here plays really well with the variety of spices in the Pumpkin Spice Mix, though I've toned the molasses down just a tiny bit with the addition of honey.

This is not a recreation of the Starbucks version.  What you end up with is a dark, intense, lightly sweetened Pumpkin Bread, with a nod toward gingerbread and with a light tangy note from the buttermilk.  It's a delicious combination, particularly when you top it with a bit of creme fraiche and then bite into the pecans and dried cranberries scattered throughout.  Feel free to swap the pecans for walnuts and the cranberries for raisins, if you wish.  Also, if you like a slightly sweeter bread, double the amount of honey.

Get your ovens warming and your coffee brewing, folks, you don't even need to leave home to try this one.  And you may find that it's a healthier version than the one I enjoyed all those years ago.

Pumpkin Bread with a spoonful of creme fraiche and a sprinkling of pecans and dried cranberries
Pumpkin Buttermilk Bread

Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.  Lightly oil a loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl whisk together:
1.5 cups whole grain barley flour (all-purpose or gluten-free flours can be substituted)
3 teaspoons Pumpkin Spice Mix
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped

In a small bowl combine:
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup molasses (see note below)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 heaping tablespoons honey

Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture and stir well to combine thoroughly.  Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with soft moist crumbs.

Serve individual slices with a sprinkling of pecans and dried cranberries and a spoonful of creme fraiche. (Try making your own creme fraiche, you'll love it!)

Serves 12.

Note:  if you don't have molasses, you can replace both the honey and molasses and instead use 3/4 cup coconut sugar if you want to skip refined sugars, or 3/4 cup brown sugar, (which is, depending on the brand you buy, either unrefined sugar with residual molasses, or white sugar with molasses added to it.)

Make it Yourself: Creme Fraiche

Two simple ingredients + Time = Creme Fraiche
Ah, creme fraiche!  That lovely, creamy, slightly tangy, completely decadent dairy product.  The one that works equally well with both savory and sweet dishes:  serve it up with Blinis, caviar, red onion and a little cold smoke salmon, serve it along side your morning omelette, add a generous spoonful next to your morning scone or your afternoon chocolate cake or Pumpkin Bread - any way you spoon it up, it raises the dish it's added to to a whole new level.  It's a soured cream, but it's not Sour Cream; the bacterial cultures used to make cream fresh are much milder and sweeter than the American Sour Cream, and the resulting product is less thick and more viscous.

According to Wikipedia, European labeling disallows any other ingredients besides cream and a bacterial culture; however when I went to the grocery store to buy creme fraiche a few days ago, the long list on the back of the creme fraiche container, which included modified starch, guar gum thickener, locust bean gum and pectin in addition to the cream and bacterial culture, influenced my decision to save the recipe I had in mind for another day so that I would have the time to make my own creme fraiche.

This European manufacturer's creme fraiche, like many commercially manufactured creme fraiche products around the world, has these starches and stabilizers added to it in order to keep it shelf-stable for a longer period of time.  The ingredients added for shelf stability, however, make creme fraiche less stable for cooking; whereas creme fraiche made with only cream and a bacterial culture are excellent not just for cold dishes, but for adding to sauces or foods that will be cooked as the high buttercream content and lower protein content means there is no risk of curdling. (Source:  p. 49, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee)

You are not going to believe how easy it is to make your own creme fraiche if you've never done it before.  It's a case of combining two easy-to-find ingredients, stirring them to combine, putting a lid on it, and leaving it on the counter for 12-18 hours to let time and bacteria work their magic.

The best store-bought or homemade creme fraiche should contain only two ingredients:  Cream and a souring agent/bacterial culture.  Any more than that and your wasting your time.  This is a place where you want to keep it simple.  Just like with good dark chocolate, less is more.  If you don't need the creme fraiche right away, consider making your own.  If you start now, you can use it for breakfast tomorrow already.

Creme Fraiche served with Cranberry Pecan Pumpkin Bread
Make it Yourself:  Creme Fraiche

1 cup / 250 ml cream
1 tablespoon buttermilk / piimä

Combine the ingredients in a glass jar with a lid.  Stir well to combine.  Secure the lid tightly and set on the countertop at room temperature for 12-18 hours.  You'll know that it's ready when you tilt the jar slightly and the contents don't move.  It'll be a lightly thickened, completely smooth and utterly decadent treat.

Makes 1 cup / 250 ml.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Make it Yourself: Pumpkin Spice Mix

Cinnamon, dried ginger, dried nutmeg, allspice berries and ground cloves for Pumpkin Spice Mix

The next few several weeks are going to be all about pumpkins and squash varieties, as we gather the rest of the harvest and march through Hallowe'en, All Saints Day, Thanksgiving Day in America (the Canadians have already celebrated!), and all the pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin bread that is enjoyed as part of the festivities or in spite of them.

Here in Finland, there's no Pumpkin Spice Mix to be found on the shelves, so I made my own.  It's as simple as mixing up a few spices in a jar, adding a label so you know what it is, and then your off and ready to start all those Fall baking projects you've been waiting for.  The only thing to take note of here is that all of your spices should be as fresh as possible.  You can grind them yourself, as I do with nutmeg and dried ginger, or buy the fresh from a trusted source.  Either way, your only a few minutes away from a jar of the spice whose scent epitomizes this season.

Pumpkin Spice Mix

1/3 cup ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1.5 teaspoons ground cloves
1.5 teaspoons ground all spice.

Pour all the spices into a jar, cover with a tight lid, and shake to combine.

Makes just over 1/3 cup or 1 dl.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Celeriac, Cabbage & Carrot Coleslaw

Celeriac, Cabbage & Carrot Coleslaw 
It seems I can't get enough of cabbage-based salads these days.  I've been moving into the realm of coleslaw - that humble, almost homely looking salad with an addicting tangy flavor and a satisfying crunch - a salad that seems to pair well with a variety of main course options from pulled pork to roast chicken to barbecue ribs or hamburgers.  Or you can skip the meat all together and add  toasted nuts to make a light main course.  Or pile it onto your soft tacos for an extra zing and crunch.

I always use cabbage when I make coleslaw, and usually carrot, and then I sling in a few other items that happen to be in the fridge to add an extra flavor profile.  Sometimes I grate apple or pear - both which offer a delicious sweetness.  This time, though, I grated up a quarter of a huge celeriac root to add to the mix.

Giant Celeriac
While the texture of this salad comes from the vegetables, the dressing is what will make or break a good coleslaw.  The dressing can be made creamy with the addition of mayonnaise or a thick, plain yogurt; I prefer yogurt because, well, I just don't like the flavor of mayonnaise very much and yogurt adds and extra tang that I love.  Or, you can leave out the creaminess altogether and pull the flavors of the vegetables together with a vinaigrette, which is what I've done here.  

As we move into late Fall, leaving the fresh, soft salad greens behind, we are left with a variety of winter cabbages and root vegetables.  Cabbages come in such a huge variety of options, and since I look to cook with what is is season, I am looking forward to working through and experimenting with as many as I can.  I had my week of Savoy cabbage, and now am finishing of the last of the white cabbage with this salad.  Next I can move on to Brussel Sprouts, Caraflex (suppilokaali), a little more Kale, some Napa Cabbage (Kiinankaali) or Bok Choy for some Asian soups and stir fries, red cabbage for that glorious color, and pair it with any variety of cauliflower and root vegetables.

Change up the flavor by adding different herbs and by using different vinegars.  Add yogurt, or not.  Use mustard, or leave it out.  Add garlic or sriracha or ground cayenne pepper for a welcome kick.

Oh yes, this is good stuff right here. Make it your own, or start with this one.

Both smooth and crunchy, this coleslaw is easy to eat

Celeriac, Cabbage & Carrot Coleslaw

1.  In a medium bowl combine:
1/4 celeriac (celery root; juuriselleri)
2 cups / 5 dl shredded white cabbage
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
3 green / spring onions (kevätsipuli)

2.  In a small jar with a lid, combine together and whisk well:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon liquid honey
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

3.  Pour the dressing over the salad greens and mix with your hands so all of the vegetables are well coated.  Allow the salad to marinate for 20-30 minutes before serving

Optional but highly recommended:  sprinkle toasted walnuts over the top.

Serves 4 as side dish or 2 as a main course

Monday, October 20, 2014

Carrot & Goat Cheese Soup

Carrot & Goat Cheese Soup
Is there anything better than a big, warm bowl of soup on a cold Fall day?  Not in my book, especially if the soup calls for just 7 easy ingredients and can be made in about 20 minutes.  And that's if you chop it.  For the absolute fastest cooking time, grate the ingredients before adding them to the pot and they'll cook in a flash.  If you'd rather chop them to a rough dice, that's fine too; the cooking time will be slightly longer.   Use soft goat cheese for this recipe.  It'll melt into the carrot and potato and make for a really smooth, creamy texture.  The potato thickens the soup and adds substance.

Go on, get outside!
I love that this meal comes together so quickly.  Even on the busiest, craziest of days, you can still get this one going as soon as you get in the front door, and let it simmer while you get a few other things done, and then sit down for a satisfying, warm, flavorful meal.  Or, pack it into a thermos, grab a few slices of bread, and bring it on one last hike in the beautiful Autumn woods.

Carrot & Goat Cheese Soup

3 tablespoons oil
1 yellow onion, diced
4-5 large carrots, peeled & grated
1 medium potato, peeled & grated
4 cups / 1 liter water (to make this faster, add hot or boiling water; otherwise cold is fine)
1 teaspoon salt; more to taste if needed
1 - 200 g container of soft goat cheese
chives, optional

In a medium-sized heavy bottom pot, heat the oil and then add the diced onion.  Cook until the onion is soft and translucent; about 5 minutes.  While the onion cooks, bring 4 cups/1 liter of water to a boil.

Add the carrots, potato and water to the pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and allow to cook until the vegetables are soft: 10 - 15 minutes depending on how you cut them.  Turn off the heat and, using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth (alternatively you can pour the hot soup into a blender or food processor and blend it there).  Add the goat cheese and salt and stir until the goat cheese has melted and is fully incorporated into the soup.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Garnish with chives, if desired.  Serve with bread and maybe a small side salad.

Serves 4.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Tart

Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Tart
Here's a savory tart that matches the colors of a beautiful Fall day.  Like this one.  The sun is shining in through my window this morning and I love the feel of the heat on my face, even though I know it's close to freezing outside.

This is my favorite season, and I plan to relish it, outside whenever possible, until every last leaf is gone and snow covers everything.  But you gotta eat.  And if you plan to get out into the great wild wonder that surrounds us, you'll need some serious sustenance.  This tart really delivers in flavor and nutritional value, with a crispy crust that shatters slightly underneath the tines of your fork, and the creamy goat cheese melting into the pepper combined with the mouthwatering flavors from the herbs.

Try this making this with oat milk, even if you aren't lactose intolerant.   The oat milk works so well here, adding to the creaminess and creating a lightness in the custard that holds the whole tart together.

It will leave you smiling for hours afterward.  Especially if for some reason there are leftovers and you can have another slice later.

Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Tart
Sweet Pepper & Goat Cheese Tart

Heat oven to  200°C/425°F

1.  Make the crust

1 cup / 2.5 dl oatmeal
1/3 cup / 1 dl flour; preferably whole grain (I like barley flour in this; gluten-free flour also works well)
1 large carrot, grated
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and stir to thoroughly combine.  Make sure the carrot strands are mostly separated and covered in flour.  Pour the olive oil over and stir well to combine. Press the crust into the bottom of a tart pan and up the sides.  Bake for 10 minutes until crust is golden brown.

2.  While the crust bakes, make the filling

2 tablespoons rapeseed or other cooking oil
3 sweet peppers (I like to use one each of orange, yellow and red)
1 small onion, diced
1.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or 1/2 teaspoon each rosemary, oregano and thyme)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 - 200g log of goat cheese, sliced, each sliced halved, and each halved cut into thirds
3 eggs
1.5 cups / 4 dl of oat milk or cow's milk

Place a heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat and pour in the oil.  When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook until they are tender and translucent.  Add the peppers and cook until the begin to soften a bit; 5-6 minutes.  Add the salt, herbs and pepper, stir to combine, and remove from heat.

Beat the eggs in the bowl you use for the crust, add the milk, and beat again to combine thoroughly.

3.  Assembly

Remove the crust from the oven and turn the temperature down to 190°C/375°F.  Spread the goat cheese across the crust in a single layer, then spread the pepper-onion mixture over the top.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over the vegetables and cheese.  Place the tart into the hot oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the tart is set.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes.  Serve with a side salad.

Serves 4-6.
Nearly ready to bake