Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fresh hazelnut cream (dairy-free)

Hazelnuts are quite possibly my favorite nut. They remind me of old Europe, where they were cultivated and used in cooking throughout time. Most people I know who've traveled to Europe will readily mention the way that history seems to permeate everything there, from the old stone buildings to the ancient twisting trees. Everything looks like how fairy tales are set in your head. And I don't know why, but the little round nuts look to me as if they fell straight off of old tree on the skirts of a European forest and were packaged up and sent straight to me. I guess it sounds weird when I say it out loud, but I can't help but be enchanted by anything that reminds me of another age.

But hazelnuts can be quite enchanting in and of themselves! The flavor has such a unique heaviness. What's more, they're very rarely used in American cuisine, making their flavor seem exotic to me whenever I taste it. When I started making nut milks, hazelnuts seemed like an obvious choice... but you could never guess radiance of the aha! moment I had when I realized I could make not only hazelnut milk, but also hazelnut cream. You see, in the process of making nut milks, you can control the amount of water in the finished product. To make a nut cream, all you have to do is use about a fourth of the water you would normally use, and voilà, cream!

This recipe could be used to replace heavy cream in many different kinds of recipes, but I love to use it as a coffee creamer. I add about a tablespoon of honey and a dash of nutmeg to the recipe below, and the result was nearly exactly like a sweetened coffeemate creamer. Whether you're trying to remove cow's milk from your diet or not, I think this recipe is definitely worth trying for its own sake. Believe me, it will shock you how much like cream it is. If you give it a go, let me know what you think!

Fresh hazelnut cream

1 cup raw hazelnuts
1 cup water
1 tbsp honey or other sweetener (optional)
dash cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

Soak hazelnuts in water for 6 hours or overnight. If you can, agitate the nuts occasionally as they tend to float. Drain soaking water.

Place hazelnuts, 1 cup of fresh water, spices, and sweetener (if using) in a blender or food processor. Blend until hazelnuts are of a very fine consistency. Pour mixture through a nut milk bag, cheesecloth, or fine mesh sieve and collect fresh cream in a bowl or jar. (If you can, save the nut pulp for use in other recipes -- you can dehydrate it and make a meal, or mix it into porridge.)

Store hazelnut cream in the refrigerator in an airtight jar. Be sure to report back here to tell me what recipes you use it in!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Forest berry tart with vanilla cream (vegan, gluten free, raw)

I once lived in France for 4 months in a cute little suburb on the southeastern edge of Paris called Charenton-le-Pont. There's something about the fresh spring air that reminds me of all the baked goods that incorporated fresh, whole fruits in the pâtisseries in my little town. One of my favorite indulgences to pick up during the walk home from the métro were personal-size vanilla custard tarts covered in dark forest berries. The baker at my favorite spot, a kind-eyed middle-aged woman, would even take the extra step of glazing the top of the tart with a clear gelatin, just to set the berries in and make them shine. Stopping in her shop always made me smile because one could tell that she was doing what she loved.

A classic French tart has a crumbly, buttery crust, a thick, gooey vanilla custard, and fresh fruit of any variety. My personal favorite berries are raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, which the French call fruits du bois, or forest fruits, so I've aptly name my little creation a forest berry tart, to pay homage to my little séjour in Charenton.

But I have to admit my recipe is far from traditional French cuisine. I have been enamored by all the whole foods blogs on the web, and the little dessert creations they come up with that can be labeled wonderful things such as vegan, raw, and gluten free. My recipe is a bit of an amalgamation of all I've learned about using more healthy ingredients. I used a walnut based crust with a cashew cream, which is meant to mimic the traditional vanilla custard. I did put a little bit of half and half in mine, just to give richness to that vanilla flavor, but you could use coconut cream (the cream that gathers at the top of a can of coconut milk), a soy creamer, or even use a touch of almond or other nut milk. If you are gluten free though, do be aware that only some brands of oats are certified gf.

Do let me know your thoughts on my recipes, and I hope that you are enjoying the budding spring as much as I am in my little corner of the world.

Forest berry tart with vanilla cream

1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup date paste

vanilla cream filling
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp raw honey
1 tbsp date paste
2 tsp vanilla extract or 2 vanilla bean pods
2 tbsp cream, creamer, or milk (such as half & half, coconut cream, almond milk, soy creamer)

1 box blackberries
1/2 box raspberries
1/2 box blueberries

Soak the raw cashews in 2 cups of water for 4 hours or overnight.

In a food processor, combine all crust ingredients and process until a fine but still fluffy consistency. Smash the crust into the bottom of a spring-form pan and pop into the freezer to set, as the coconut oil will harden the crust.

Clean out the food processor and now combine all filling ingredients and process thoroughly until there is no grittiness remaining from the cashews and the cream has a smooth consistency. Spoon the filling over the crust and pop back into the freezer.

Wash and rinse your berries and place them in a strainer. Before the cream filling hardens too much, arrange the berries in a pattern of your choice. Don't push too heavily, but push enough that they will set into the cream. Place in the refrigerator until serving. For a firmer crust, freeze no longer than 1 hour before serving.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Fennel & citrus salad with spinach and chickpeas

As spring settles in here in the Mid-West, I begin to crave cool, fresh fruits and vegetables that feel as though they sprang up out of the Earth. There's something about that crunch and moisture on first bite that makes me feel like I'm eating an awesome gift from nature. One of my recent obsessions has been fresh fennel, which actually does grow surprisingly well in this area, but I've been having trouble racking my brain of what to do with it.

Fennel is a unique vegetable in both texture and flavor. It has a white, hard-textured bulb at it's base, with long, celery-like stalks topped with herbal throngs. It has an aromatic, spiced flavor, similar to anise, that is cool and refreshing, yet it seems as though it could easily get muddled by certain overbearing flavors. Thankfully, it got stuck in my head the other day that its subtle sweetness might be awakened by the brightness of fresh citrus; and wow, was I right!

This recipe is my first attempt at giving fennel a proper place in my cuisine repertoire. It is a highly under-appreciated vegetable, so I very much recommend that you give it a try, especially if you've never had it before. It can be enjoyed raw or cooked, or even as a unique component in fresh juice. 

I hope you enjoy my recipe below, which I think showcases this awesome vegetable in all its glory. The salad is very versatile and customizable, but I find the spinach and chickpea to complement the fennel and citrus perfectly. The dressing, a homemade orange vinaigrette, melds with the flavor of the fennel and really brings this salad to life.

Fennel & citrus salad with spinach and chickpeas

1 fennel, with bulb, stalks, and throngs
1 half large white onion
1 bag fresh spinach
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 medium-sized oranges
1 half lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
anise seed
smoked paprika (optional)
salt & pepper

Separate the bulb of the fennel from the stalks. Slice the bulb thinly, in long slices, along with the half onion. Place the onion and fennel bulb in a skillet on medium-high heat along with a tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté until tender and allow to cool. With the remaining fennel stalks, slice into bite-size pieces all the way up the stalk and mince the throngs.

Cut the ends off of 2 of the oranges and discard. Slice down the rind and remove white pith. Now attempt to cut out the individual wedges as one would a grapefruit -- so as to remove the membranes, which would become bitter in the salad. Add the wedges to a serving bowl along with sautéed fennel bulb and onion, fennel stalks and throngs, spinach, and chickpeas.

In a small bowl, combine remaining olive oil along with the juice of 2 remaining oranges and one half lemon. Stir in around one-half teaspoon of each anise seed, thyme, sage, smoked paprika, and salt and pepper. Stir, and season additionally to taste. Pour into serving bowl and toss. Chill or serve immediately.