Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sweet Potatoes Take Center Stage!

I am in love with the sweet potato. And it's not only because it is loaded with vitamins and other essential nutrients. It's not only because it is a good source of fiber, or that it is low in calories and devoid of fat and cholesterol. Although it is certainly true that it is a nutrition powerhouse, I'm in love with the sweet potato because it is a delicious gift to someone like me, who gave up processed sugars a long time ago. And it doesn't need brown sugar, marshmallows, or maple syrup to be enjoyed. It is sweet on its own with a little butter and cinnamon. Mmmmmmm...

In a previous post, I shared a family favorite recipe for twice-baked sweet potatoes with fontina that I found in one of my favorite cookbooks. I've made this several times as a side dish, but each time I found myself enjoying the side dish, and pushing the entree to the side.

And so, I decided that it is time to let sweet potatoes take center stage. Which led me to my latest recipe creation: Sweet Potato Wedge Salad with Pecans and Cinnamon Dressing. I've seen several sweet potato or butternut squash salad recipes that called for some kind of cheese and usually dried cranberries, but most of them called for dicing the sweet potato or squash, and that would just not do. So I decided the salad needed to be topped with large wedges of roasted sweet potatoes! And from there, I started adding some of my favorite ingredients: The greens? Arugula! The crunch? Pecans! Oh, and I have been loving shallots lately, let's add those! And of course the best salad cheese EVER- goat cheese! Wait. Let's roast the shallots with the sweet potatoes and sprinkle the goat cheese over them as soon as they come out of the oven so the cheese gets all melty... Mmmmmmm...

As for the dressing, I decided on a cider vinegar and grape seed oil combination, sweetened with agave nectar and some mustard for a little bite. (If you can't find agave nectar, you can substitute a mild honey.) This is tasty on its own, but then I thought to add cinnamon which as it turns out was a great choice.

Although I invented this recipe as a main dish, I served it to my family with a roasted chicken, just in case. It went over so well, everyone had seconds. Tim proclaimed that he didn't need the chicken, they all fought over the leftover dressing, and Carly took a picture of it with her phone!

A few things I would do differently: Some of the shallots were a bit black so next time I will add them in about halfway through cooking time. I would have also preferred the pecans to be more coarsley chopped. Both of these adjustments will be included in the recipe I'm leaving you here.

Let me know if you try my new salad. And share your ideas for bringing sweet potatoes onto the main plate!

Sweet Potato Wedge Salad
with Cinnamon Dressing, Pecans and Goat Cheese

2-3 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and each cut into 8 wedges
2 large shallots, sliced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, or enough to coat
Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese
4 cups arugula, rinsed and drained
½ cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans
4T cider vinegar
2 T agave nectar
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T water
½ tsp. cinnamon
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
3 T grape seed oil

Toss sweet potatoes in extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet. Roast in 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, add sliced shallots and toss, turning the sweet potatoes. Roast 15 minutes more or until tender. Sprinkle with goat cheese. Set aside.

In large bowl, toss arugula with pecans. In small bowl, whisk vinegar, agave nectar, mustard, cinnamon salt and pepper until smooth. Slowly whisk in oil. Reserve a few tablespoons of dressing. Pour the rest of the dressing over arugula and pecans in bowl. To serve, place arugula mixture onto each plate, divide goat cheese topped sweet potato and shallots among each plate. Drizzle with remaining cinnamon dressing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Heaven

I promised a recipe for honey roasted peanut cookies, and yes, you will find it here, as well as a chocolate peanut butter pie that I'm sure will grab your attention. But first, the cookies. The inspiration for this recipe came from a contest in the latest issue of Food Network Magazine. Each month, a secret ingredient is featured on the last page and the winner of the contest receives $500 toward a purchase. Since I sweeten some of my desserts with honey, I thought I would give it a try.

I have been meaning to try making a healthy peanut butter cookie, and since honey was the secret ingredient, and honey roasted peanuts are a popular snack, I came up with the title of the recipe- Honey Roasted Peanut Cookies before I even came up with the recipe itself!

These cookies are made with natural peanut butter, roasted unsalted peanuts, and of course, the secret ingredient, honey- which sweetens the cookie as well as the frosting. I made them chunky by adding some whole peanuts to the cookie dough. I was pretty happy with the turnout, and although I wouldn't call it outstanding, I'll send this recipe along to the contest anyway, just for giggles. Here is the recipe:

Healthy Honey Roasted Peanut Cookies
½ cup peanut oil
½ cup natural peanut butter
½ cup honey
½ cup natural cane sugar (Turbinado)
1 egg
1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts plus more for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat peanut oil, ½ cup peanut butter, honey, and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg. On a piece of parchment or wax paper, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Mix dry ingredients into the honey mixture in thirds. Stir in ½ cup peanuts. Drop by tablespoons onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until cookies lightly brown.

Honey Peanut Butter Frosting- Wisk 2/3 cup natural peanut butter with ½ cup honey until smooth. Add hot water a tablespoon at a time if necessary until frosting is spreadable. Spread each cookie with frosting and top with peanuts.

Makes 25-30 cookies

As I mentioned earlier, that is not the end of peanut butter heaven. I must tell you about a peanut butter luster pie that I have been making for years. It is a truly decadent dessert and it has been requested so many times by family members and friends. My friend Jason tried it for the first time recently and he sent me an E-mail saying, "That was honestly the best peanut butter pie I have ever had. I am nominating you for the Golden Apple Award (a local teacher award) for your baking skills alone." But I cannot take the credit for the recipe. I got it from a Pillsbury Classic Cookbook published in 1990. The originator is Helen Macinkowicz of Michigan. It is quite honestly an outstanding slice of heaven, however, as my friend Stacey says, "It's set-it-on-your-ass good." In other words, it's so fattening, you might as well just set it on your ass, because that's exactly where it's going! Quite true, with 680 calories and 50g of fat for a mere one twelfth of the pie.

And so, as you might imagine, I became inspired to create a healthier version of that much loved pie. I started off with the whole grain crust I've referred to in a previous post that can be found on the wholefoods website. Unfortunately, I was short on whole wheat flour by about a quarter cup. I decided to use a quarter cup of almond flour along with the cup of whole wheat pastry flour, figuring that a nut crust might go well with a peanut butter pie. Unfortunately, the crust came out way too crumbly, and I am not sure whether that was due to the almond flour or that my dough may have been too wet. The next substitution was the chocolate. The original pie called for a chocolate frosting to be spread along crust before filling it with the peanut butter layer. Instead of making a frosting, I melted dark chocolate and added some butter and just spread that on the crust. For the peanut butter layer I kept the butter but used raw cane sugar in place of the brown sugar. I used organic peanut butter instead of natural peanut butter because I have had a hard time finding a natural peanut butter that is creamy enough to bake with. The organic peanut butter I used had no trans fats and a very small amount of organic sugar. In place of the cool whip, I whipped up some heavy cream. Here's where I made another error. The original recipe calls for beating the cool whip into the peanut butter layer on low speed. When you do that with whipped cream it separates a bit- which is not good!! Next time, I will fold it in gently. I definitely should have known better.

As it turned out, the pie was beautiful to look at and according to my son Connor, tasted delicious, but the texture was not right at all. So it's back to the drawing board. If I manage a healthier version of the chocolate peanut butter pie that I am happy with, I will definitely pass along the recipe. But for now, you'll have to be satisfied with the set-it-on-your-ass version. It's worth some extra time on the treadmill!

Peanut Butter Luster Pie
from Pillsbury Bake-Off 34

15 oz. pkg Pillsbury All Ready Pie Crusts (I made an all-butter food processor pie crust)
Chocolate Layer:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 T butter
2-3 tsp.water
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
12-oz container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 T butter
2-3 tsp. milk
1 1/2 tsp. corn syrup
Frozen whipped topping, thawed (I used real whipped cream)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare pie crust according to directions. Bake at 450 degrees for 9-11 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely.
In small saucepan over low heat, melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1 T butter with 2 tsp. water, stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar, blend until smooth. Add additional water if necessary for desired spreading consistency. Spread mixture over bottom and up sides of cooled crust. Refrigerate.
In medium saucepan, combine 1 cup butter and brown sugar. Cool over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is smooth, stirring frequently. Refrigerate 10 minutes. In large bowl, beat peanut butter and brown sugar mixture at low speed. Beat 1 minute at med-high speed. Add whipped topping, beat an additional 1 minute at low speed or until mixture is smooth and creamy. Pour over chocolate layer, refrigerate.
In small saucepan over low heat, melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1 T butter with 2 tsp milk and corn syrup, stirring contrantly, until mixture is smooth. Add additional milk if necessary for desired spreading consistency. Spoon over filling, carefully spread to cover. Refrigerate at least 2 hours to set topping. Garnish with whipped topping and peanuts.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookie Challenge

Who doesn't love chocolate chip cookies? And since I eat dark chocolate every day for-uh- health reasons, yeah, that's right, health reasons, I wondered if I could make that daily treat extra special occasionally with a healthy chocolate chip cookie.

My first discovery came to me when I was searching for a healthy dessert to make for my friend Stacey's birthday. I found a recipe for an almond cake covered with dark chocolate (delicious as it turned out the for the trial run, but a disaster for the actual day, which is another story...)and there on the site was a chocolate chip cookie recipe that is made with almond flour! I have been a fan of almonds and the flavor of almonds my entire life, so this definitely sounded intriguing. These cookies have no flour, no eggs, no butter, and are sweetened with agave.

Elana's chocolate chip cookies. These are a bit of a pain to work with. The batter is thin and if you're not careful, they will fall apart as you are transfering them from the pan, even after cooling. They come out very flat but tender and very tasty! Everyone in my family loved them so unfortunately they were gone way too quickly. The recipe can be found on the Madhava Agave Nectar website, but I've seen it elsewhere on the Internet, so I don't think it originated there. Here is the link:

The second attempt was my own invention. Inspired by the almond flour in Elana's recipe, I took a traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe I've had for years and made some substitutions. The white flour became half whole wheat pastry flour, half almond flour and I used agave in place of the sugar. This cookie, in contrast to Elana's has the butter and eggs that you would typically find in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but are made healthier with no processed sugars or flours. I added some toasted almonds and a little almond extract and had my new invention- a healthy almond dark chocolate chip cookie!

I'm finding that I am enjoying making healthy versions of desserts. Next up- honey roasted peanut cookies. Recipe coming soon!

Maria's Almond Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
(may be doubled)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 egg
1/2 tsp.vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1/2 tsp. hot water
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup almond flour (or very finely ground blanched almonds)
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup 60% cacao chocolate chips
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Beat butter and agave until smooth. Beat in egg, vanilla, and almond extract, then dissolved baking soda. On a piece of parchment or wax paper, whisk together dry ingredients. Mix into wet ingredients in thirds. Stir in dark chocolate chips and toasted almonds. Refrigerate if necessary. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 325 until golden. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely.