March 2010

First off, Happy Passover to anyone who is celebrating! If you’re looking for any good Passover-friendly recipes, be sure to check out Ricki’s recipe round-up (her delicious ideas range from almond-feta cheese spread to caramelized onion “quiche” to crimson mousse–yum!).  Also, check out Sally’s Sweet Freedom giveaway to win a copy of Ricki’s fantastic book!

As for me, I’m neither Jewish nor religious in any context, so I’ve decided to whip out some fresh baked bread since leavening isn’t an issue. It’s been awhile since I posted a bread recipe, and while I’ve been cutting back on my carb intake while training for the triathlon, sometimes you just need a good dinner roll or slice of bread.

Since I’m still wallowing in sweet potatoes from last fall (the last of the local produce until I can procure some in late April, early May), I’ve been using them up in everything from sweet potato mash to sweet potato fries to sweet potato bread. The latest, the dinner rolls, are definitely a winner. Beyond lending a marvelous spring-like color to the rolls, the sweet potatoes lighten the dough, resulting in a fluffy, chewy roll. While I didn’t add any whole wheat or other whole grain flour to the rolls, I think you certainly could, replacing the AP flour with 1/2 or 1/3 of a whole grain flour. And these rolls make the perfect base for the recipe I’ll share on Thursday–a new veggie burger!

Sweet Potato Rolls

2 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 1/2 c warm water (not hot–you don’t want to kill the yeast)
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar/agave
1 tsp dry active yeast
4-5 c all purpose flour
olive oil

In a medium pot, boil the sweet potatoes in water until tender (approx. 20-25 minutes). Drain the water and mash. Set aside to cool (I put mine in the fridge for 20 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a liquid measuring cup, add the salt, sugar, and yeast to the warm water, stir, and allow the yeast to proof for 10 minutes until foamy.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a large bowl, if making by hand), mix the sweet potato mash with the proofed yeast and water. Using the paddle attachment, slowly add flour one cup at a time (you may need more than 4-5 c, it just depends on the stickiness of the dough), until a ball forms. At this point switch to the dough hook (or place the dough on the counter to knead). Continue to add flour and knead the dough for 7-10 minutes, until the dough no longer sticks to the bottom or sides of the bowl. (If kneading by hand, do so for 10 minutes while adding flour to decrease the stickiness. When it’s pliable and not super sticky, it’s done).

Place the dough in an oiled bowl covered with a cloth/plastic wrap in a warm place and let rise for 1 1/2-2 hours, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and form into rolls. I made mine in cake pans, but you can place them separately on a baking sheet. Cover again and let rise in a warm spot for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the rolls in the oven and let bake for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and let bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the rolls are golden on top and sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from oven and let cool for at least 20 minutes.

Makes 15-16 medium sized rolls.

First off, thank you for all the birthday wishes! The bowling pieluck was a success with apple pie and raw berry pie and Russian Zebra Cake had by all! The bowling alley loses points from me for refusing to let us bring the pies into the bowling alley (who restricts food at a bowling alley? Seriously?), but we pie-d out before we bowled, and I think everyone’s combined scores were the lowest the US has ever seen. But it was fantastically good fun.

The next day, the equinox!, four of us tackled one of the taller mountains in Virginia, The Priest. We were given a beautiful day–mid 70s and sunny–and although we got a late start, the afternoon hike was just what I needed, something to clear my head and work my legs. With all of my energy focusing on the triathlon next month, I definitely need to remember to take a break and enjoy the mountains around me.

But I suppose I’ve kept you in suspense long enough–the pie. Like I said before, I like a challenge for my birthday, and this year I decided that I absolutely 100% needed to turn a Girl Scout cookie into a pie. Honestly, I have no idea how I came up with the goal, but somewhere in the back of my mind I was reliving my days of gorging on Girl Scout cookies, eating the whole box in one sitting, and loving every minute of it.

My favorite cookie was the Tagalong. I know, I know, everyone loves Thin Mints. And they are good–especially frozen–but nothing said love to me more than a cookie topped with peanut butter topped with chocolate. Thus was born the Tagalong Pie: a graham cracker crust filled with peanut butter filling, and topped with dark chocolate ganache.  Between the salty, sweet cookie crust, the creamy, just sweet enough peanut butter filling, and the dark dark chocolate on top, you can’t go wrong.  And the kicker? It’s gluten-free and sugar-free. And it tastes divine.

Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Tagalong Pie

For the crust:
1 recipe gluten-free, sugar-free graham crackers
1/4 c vegetable oil
2-3 tbsp non-dairy milk

For the filling:
8 oz vegan cream cheese
8 oz/1 c firm aseptic tofu
1 c crunchy, all natural peanut butter
1/2 c agave nectar
1/4 c maple syrup
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache:
6 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until they are fine crumbs.

Place the graham cracker crumbs in a bowl and slowly drizzle in the vegetable oil and non dairy milk, mixing until the crumbs begin to clump together. You don’t want it to be too wet, just wet enough to clump.

Pat the crust mixture down into a pie dish and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Turn off the oven, remove the crust, and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in the food processor, place all of the ingredients for the filling and blend until completely mixed and smooth.

Once the pie crust has cooled, spoon the filling mixture into the crust. Cover and let cool in the fridge for at least 4 hours (I let mine sit overnight.)

After the filling has cooled, in a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Spread the chocolate on top of the filling and let cool for at least 1 hour.

Serves 8-10.

Thanks for all the suggestions on what to do with the domain name situation. For now I’m going to keep the WordPress domain and just mull over name changes and etc. I may just link the blog into a professional domain based on my name as a way to pull everything–my freelance writing, CV, baking, and blogging–together. Lots to think about!

As for right now, it’s perfectly acceptable to come home from a day of teaching middle schoolers, throw on PJ pants at 4 in the afternoon, and curl up with a cat, right? They really take it out of you! My cat, for one, isn’t complaining. In fact, he looks the happiest he’s been in awhile, but I’ve got to stay on track, stay focused, talk about how awesome these graham crackers are.

You see, tomorrow’s my birthday. And I’ll be working, of course (substitute teaching high school music–should be a trip! I’m hoping for a “let’s watch a movie” lesson plan), but afterward I have plans to eat amazing Mexican food and then go bowling with my friends. But not just bowling–no, bowling with a pieluck, a pie-themed potluck of sorts. I mean, cake was so yesterday, right? But I can’t show up empty handed to said pieluck. In fact, baking for my birthday is what it’s all about. I love to come up with something creative and challenging every year, and this year, I believe, is no different.

I’m going to leave you in suspense about the final product, but for the time being I will tell you that it’s going to be gluten-free, vegan, soy-free, and, perhaps, sugar-free. I haven’t decided on the sugar thing, I’m not sure if agave will sweeten the filling as much as I want, but I might give it a whirl.

For said pie though, I needed a graham cracker crust. Luckily Shauna at Gluten-Free Girl and Chef recently posted a recipe for gluten-free graham crackers–and they’re not only gluten-free but also sugar-free, something I found really intriguing. I normally don’t balk at sugar, but after going through (well, I’m technically on the last day today) a 10 day diet/cleanse, I ought to watch my refined-items intake. With agave sitting around, I subbed it for sugar with fantastic results. These crackers are definitely not as sweet as the store bought variety, but I like that. If you’d like to go sweeter, sub sugar back in–I think Shauna proposed some ratios with her recipe, so you can give those a whirl.

But for right now, the graham crackers. While definitely less sweet than the norm (something easily remedied by adding a cinnamon sugar topping if you’re going to eat them as-is), they pack the perfect crunch and nuttiness I like in a graham cracker. The flour combo is also superb–not too grainy or beany. I definitely sneaked a few of these while they were cooling, putting peanut butter on some, apple butter on others and, yes, they were perfect.

Gluten-Free Graham Crackers

slightly adapted from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

1 1/2 c + 2 tbsp sorghum flour
1/2 c + 1 tbsp brown rice flour
1/3 c tapioca flour
1/3 c + 2 tbsp sweet rice flour (glutenous rice flour)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp salt
7 tbsp Earth Balance
1/4 c agave nectar
3 to 6 tbsp cold water

Measure out the sorghum, brown rice, tapioca, and sweet rice flours into a large mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon, baking powder, xanthan and guar gums, and salt. Mix with a large spoon until everything is well combined.

Cut the butter into small pieces (about 1/2 tablespoon size) and cut into the flour with a pastry blender until fully incorporated and you have a mealy texture.

Stir together the agave with 3 tbsp of the water. Add the agave mixture to the dough and work with a spoon until well combined. The final dough should be soft and pliable, even a bit wet. If it still has not come together entirely after a few minutes, add the remaining cold water, a tablespoon at a time.

Place the dough in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Divide the dough in half. With the one half, roll between 2 sheets of parchment paper, roll the dough out until it is 1/4″ thick. Cut the dough into equal sized pieces. Place the crackers on an oiled or parchment lined baking tray. Repeat with second half of dough.

Refrigerate for another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. After the crackers have chilled for 15 minutes, remove from oven and poke holes in them with a fork (in whatever pattern you like). Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden-brown.

Allow them to cool on the baking tray for at least 30 minutes so that they harden properly.

Makes 15-20 graham crackers.

First off, and before I get to the food, I have a conundrum. Apparently I’m a year late and a dollar short to jump on the domain wagon, but the domain is taken (though not used) by a clothing designer based out of LA. I emailed her to see if, since she bought a year ago and hasn’t used it yet, she’d be willing to transfer ownership to me, but no dice. So the options are to either stay here with a WordPress domain or to redesign the image of the blog. On the one hand, I don’t mind the longer WordPress web address, but it would be nice to have an easy to use “brand”-based domain to use for freelance baking and for the blog. I’m not very “punky” anymore, so maybe a name change isn’t all that bad, but I worry about losing readership & things like that. So if you guys have any thoughts, I’d definitely love to hear them.

Now, onto the food. One of my favorite not-so-vegan food blogs is Homesick Texan, and while Lisa tends to post all things beefy (or meaty, at least), she does post some amazing easily-veganified vegetable ones. Her most recent post on Ranch Style Beans, apparently a canned chuck-style bean that doesn’t pack a lot of kick but does have a lot of flavor, caught my eye. I love beans and I’ve wanted to experiment more with dried chilies, so this recipe seemed like the perfect one to start with.

And boy, was she right. The beans, while not super spicy-hot, are extremely flavorful. The ancho chilies give a nice smoky depth while the tomatoes lend a brightness to the pot. One of the things I noticed while cooking them is that the broth doesn’t cook down as much as the baked beans I’m used to making–the beans are a perfect mid-ground between soup and chili.

My cooking time was close to four hours, but, as Lisa mentions, it can be as short as 2.5 hours, depending on how fresh your pinto beans are. And while the recipe calls for pinto, I’m sure you could use a navy or other white bean instead. I served these as-is with some tortilla chips, but they would also be delicious with warm, fresh corn tortillas, a simple serving of rice, or as any side to any southwestern or Tex-Mex meal you’re making.

Ranch Style Beans

adapted slightly from Homesick Texan

1 lb dried pinto beans
6 ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 15 oz. can of tomatoes
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1 c of water
6 c vegetable stock
Salt and black pepper to taste

Soak the beans covered in water—either overnight or the quick soak method in which you place the beans in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat and let sit for one hour.

Drain the soaked beans.

In a cast-iron skillet heated up to medium high, cook the anchos on each side for a couple of minutes (or until they start to bubble and pop), turn off the heat and fill the skillet with warm water. Let them sit until soft and rehydrated, which should happen after half an hour or so.

In the pot you’ll be cooking your beans, heat up a teaspoon of canola oil and cook the onions for ten minutes on medium. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Throw the cooked onions and garlic in a blender and add the tomatoes, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, paprika, cumin, oregano, water and hydrated ancho chiles. Puree until smooth.

Add the pinto beans and beef broth to the pot and stir in the chile puree. On high, bring the pot to a boil and then cover; turn the heat down to low and simmer for two and a half to four hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and serve with rice, tortillas, or as a plain side.

Serves 6.

Here’s 3.14…reasons why I love you all:

1. You challenge me to make new and exciting things
2. You post amazing recipes on your own blogs
3. You help form one of the most vibrant blog communities on the web (go vegans!)
.14. You don’t care that I use sweet potatoes in every recipe.

So without further ado, Southwestern Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie for Pi Day on Sunday. I hope you enjoy pie in all it’s wonderful sweet and savory forms tomorrow, and I hope that you’re having a wonderful weekend!

Southwestern Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

3 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into equal sizes
3 tbsp Earth Balance
1/4 c soy milk (or any nondairy milk)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 c carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large portobello caps, cleaned and cut into equal sizes, or 1.5 c chopped mushrooms
1 large tomato, chopped
1 c corn
1 15 oz can black beans, drained

In a saucepan, boil the sweet potatoes in water until tender. Remove from heat and mash with the Earth Balance and soy milk. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a skillet (or dutch oven), saute the onions and carrots in the vegetable oil over medium heat for 5-7 minutes until tender. Add the garlic, saute for 1 minute until fragrant.

Add the spices and saute for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with a splash of water and the mushrooms and saute for another 5-7 minutes until they release their juices and begin to cook through. Add the tomato, corn, and beans and cook for 2 minutes more. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Remove from heat.

If using a dutch oven, simply spread the mashed sweet potatoes on top. If using a casserole dish (8″x8″), transfer the vegetable mixture to the casserole, then spread the sweet potatoes on top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 5-6.

This past Monday I started a diet/cleanse regiment that allows me to eat one meal a day while basing the diet on meal replacement shakes & cleanse drinks.  Luckily for me, the shakes & cleanse don’t leave me hungry or without energy–in fact, I’ve been able to increase my swims from 1 mile with flippers to 1 mile without flippers (a huge energy shift)–and while I haven’t checked the scale today, I can definitely feel my body shedding some extra fat.  The fat-to-muscle transfer, of course, doesn’t show up on the scale, but my body feels tighter overall.  It’s not that I’m overweight–I’m definitely not–but I have an extra 8-10 pounds that I picked up over the holidays that just won’t seem to go away, no matter how much exercise I add on.  As much as I love going home and seeing my mother, I’m not sure it’s such a good thing for my waistline.

That said, the one meal a day that I do eat is extremely important to me. In case you hadn’t already guessed from the nature of the blog, I’m extraordinarily food-obsessed. And as I’ve learned over the past couple of days, my life revolves around cooking and eating. The act of chewing makes me happy. It seems sad, reading that last sentence, but it’s true. Without the ability to chew 2 out of 3 meals, I’m a little bit down these days. But it’s all going to be worth it, I keep telling myself–especially when I finish that darn triathlon.

In order to eat an almost carb-free, well-balanced, protein-packed, vegetable based dinner this week, I’ve turned to my least favorite, but now on good terms, soy product, tempeh. I’ve never understood tempeh, never understood how to get the bitterness out, how to make it shine the way the rest of you bloggers do. Some people seem gifted with the product, but I just feel dumb. That is until now.

After eating the most amazing tempeh benedict at Ipanema this past weekend, I knew I wanted to create something similar. Something similar, but something without the carbs and with more amazing vegetables. And right now, with my potato bin filled to to top with local sweet potatoes, I knew the tuber would play a major role. But the problem, of course, is that I don’t really know how to handle tempeh. But then this week Renee posted a recipe for marinated tempeh and, inspired, I decided to play around with the idea, see what I could cook up.

The finished plate is a bed of roasted sweet potato slices (slice the sweet potatoes into rounds, toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them for 45 minutes at 400 degrees F) topped with sauteed spinach and portobello mushrooms (with onions and garlic, in olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, and aleppo pepper), a piece of marinated and seared tempeh, and drizzled with a super garlicky tahini sauce. Delicious? I think so. And is tempeh alright with me? For sure. Gluten-free too. How could you go wrong?

The marinade for the tempeh is salty and tangy and smoky, which is kind of like the tempeh at Ipanema, and, thankfully, all of the bitterness associated with improperly cooked tempeh is nonexistent. Searing it gave it a nice caramelized crunch, and by cutting the protein in half width-wise, the portions are perfectly sized for someone looking to have a balanced meal. As for the tahini sauce, the only reason I’m posting it is because it’s out of this world. I mean, most tahini sauces are pretty darn good, but this time I randomly decided to unceremoniously dump the remains of my jar of capers into the blender, and holy yum, you should try it out. The capers add the briny element I was looking for in the sauce, but also add a kick–a perfect punch in the mouth to complement the pungent garlic and smooth tahini. So yes, blogging world, in addition to giving you yet another butternut squash soup recipe, I’m also giving you yet another tahini sauce recipe. Some things recycle after you’ve been doing this for 3 years (yup, February marked 3 years, even though my archives don’t go that far back–long story).

So if nothing else, go make some tahini sauce. Or, at least, celebrate because tomorrow is Friday!

Seared Tempeh with Tahini Sauce

For the tempeh:
1 8 oz package tempeh
1/4 c Bragg’s Amino Acids
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
pepper to taste

For the tahini sauce:
3 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced

Cut the tempeh into thirds. Then cut each third in half to make six evenly sized pieces.

In a casserole or pie dish, combine the Bragg’s, red wine vinegar, garlic, and pepper.

Place the tempeh into the dish and let marinate on each side for at least 2 hours. I did 3 hours on each side and the marinade was completely soaked up, minus the garlic, when I cooked it.

Meanwhile, blend all of the tahini sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender. Add water until the desired consistency is reached.

When you’re ready to cook the tempeh, warm 1-2 tbsp of vegetable oil (or peanut or coconut) in a saute pan over medium heat. Sear the tempeh for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Remove from heat and serve with roasted sweet potatoes and sauted spinach and mushrooms. Drizzle the tahini sauce on top of all components.

Serves 4.

How did it get to be Tuesday already? Time really flies these days. But in a good way–Spring is sort of springing (although I’m sure another cold front will wing through any day now). And while I still have some snow in the shady parts of my yard, I already have crocuses! Two little yellow ones are poking their gorgeous and oh-so-welcome faces through the garden and I’ve never been so excited to see some flowers in my life.

But back to Richmond. After Saturday’s adventures, the Photographer, my uncle and his new wife, and I collaborated on some pizzas (which I forgot to take pictures of). We used Jim Lahey’s no-knead pizza dough recipe for the crust and, while I was suspicious of the lack of kneading, it turned out great! We got a crispy, chewy, baked all the way through delicious crust. And my uncle, a chef, whipped up the most fabulous sauce which, of course, has no recipe, but featured tomatoes, oregano, basil, red wine, and my all time fave aleppo pepper, among others. I loaded my pizza up with garlic, onions, spinach, red peppers, and mushrooms and the combo was super super tasty.

The next day, Sunday, we all brunched at Ipanema and it was everything everyone said it would be. My uncle ordered the The Rhorer, a plate of toasted foccaccia bread with olive spread, roasted red peppers, melted cheese, and poached eggs, Priscilla (his wife) ordered the biscuits and gravy (which were oh so good), the Photographer ordered the day’s special–whole wheat walnut (I think) & banana pancakes with a cinnamon sugar Earth Balance spread–, and I ordered the Tempeh Benedict: an english muffin topped with smoky grilled tempeh, sauted spinach, mushrooms, tomato, and a citrus bernaise sauce. All dishes came with sweet potato hash and fruit, and I ordered, in addition to coffee, a tasty Bloody Mary. Thoughts: the dishes I tasted (the biscuits & gravy, my tempeh benedict, and the pancakes) were super delicious. I personally loved the hash, but The Photographer thought the dice was to small and cooked the sweet potatoes too much–no softness. My Bloody Mary was good but lacked the usual snacks (olives, celery, etc). I kind of missed the accoutrements. The staff was delightful and our food came quickly enough, and although I didn’t get to experience any of the amazing vegan pies, I will next time. And I’ll have to go back for lunch or dinner–their entrees look amazing!

After brunch, The Photographer headed home (road bike in tow–I’m borrowing it from my uncle so that I can compete in the Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon on May 1!) but made a quick stop at REI and Whole Foods on the way. At Whole Foods I found it–vegan pizza topped with Daiya cheese. The man working the counter was extremely grumpy and knew nothing about what brand the cheese was, but once I asked if it was Daiya, he said “yes,” so I’m going to assume that it was. The other toppings were mushrooms and shallots–a great earthy combo. The combo was a little strange with the cheddar Daiya, though, and the pizza maker definitely didn’t put enough Daiya on the pie to make it worthwhile. I could hardly taste it–even when I picked it off and ate it separately. Plus, he didn’t let it reheat long enough to melt. Super bummer. So, overall, my first taste of Daiya wasn’t all that exciting. I think I need to do an at-home experiment. If only I could afford shipping…

So that wraps up this month’s trip to Richmond and while I miss the great vegan restaurant food, it’s good to be home!

Guess where I am for the weekend? Yup, Richmond! Every couple of months (or, well, every month) I have to hit up a real city and get my fill of yummy vegan food, good microbrew, and awesome graveyards.

This time I decided to get my hair cut at Pine Street Barber Shop with Cupid, the awesomest hair stylist I think I’ve ever had. His hair cut rocked and he definitely understood how to work with curls. Plus the prices are definitely grad student friendly, so it’s worth hitting up if you’re in the area.

While I was there, guess who was in the barber chair next to me–armed with the most delicious coconut-chocolate-gluten-free cookie goodness?

Jessy! She was gettin’ her hair colored and cut and I almost flipped out when I realized it was her. Vegan blogger meet-up at the barber shop! We chatted it up and she mentioned some great places to grab some food–specifically this awesome all-vegan Chinese place on the same block as Ipanema. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to go there this trip, but next time I’m definitely finding it.

After I got my ‘do done, the photographer and I headed over to 821 Cafe for some brunchy eats. Last time I was super pleased with my vegan french toast, but it wasn’t available this time, so I branched out and got the vegan rancheros–two or three tortillas piled high with tofu scramble, black beans, pico de gallo, and salsa–with their luscious potatoes and super good vegan sausage on the side.

Bellies filled, we tromped off to Hollywood Cemetery, the final resting place of Presidents Monroe and Tyler and the “real” President (in the Commonwealth’s eyes, at least), Jefferson Davis. Davis’ gravesite kicks Monroe and Taylor’s ass–he and his wife and daughter have angels and statues and flags. Monroe and Tyler just have regular looking tombs with plaques.

The weekend is only half over, so who knows what other goodness I’ll be getting into. Trader Joe’s, of course, is definitely on the list. I need to stock up on 2 buck chuck (which is actually $3.29 these days–geez, how dare they increase the price?). With the beautiful sunny and relatively warm weather we’re having, it’s definitely a good weekend.

Hope everyone is enjoying yours!

Now that I’m in the behavior enforcement–er…substitute teaching–profession, I join the tens of thousands of teachers who get up far too early, deal with hormonally-raging kids, and who are never given enough time to relax and enjoy their lunch. Take today for example: I had to eat lunch in the lunchroom at the teacher’s table. With the high schoolers, it’s better–even if I don’t get a planning period, I can at least count on a 20 minute interlude of silence at my desk. But today? No. Today I got to awkwardly sit in front of the middle schoolers and eat soup. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate my job–some days, of course, are better than others–but I do miss the days of having a semi-relaxing lunch or a scream-free day. In today’s case, though, the soup did taste damn good!

The recipe for the Roasted Butternut & Carrot Chipotle Soup is a riff off of Homesick Texan’s Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup. Even though I have an insane amount of sweet potatoes that I need to use up, I was in the mood for making, yes, yet another butternut squash soup. It never gets old, does it? Since I wanted to make a big batch to eat all week for school lunches, I decided to throw in a bunch of roasted carrots. The result is spicy-sweet and just what I was hoping for. The roasted butternut squash, carrots, and spices add a lingering sweetness to the soup while the chipotle peppers add just the right amount of heat (remember, don’t add too many!). While it may not be the smoothest or creamiest or whatever-est soup, it’s definitely hearty and light at the same time and perfect for the end of winter blahs.

Roasted Butternut & Carrot Chipotle Soup

adapted from Homesick Texan

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut in half
1 lb carrots, peeled
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 c vegetable broth
2-3 chipotles in adobo (depending on your heat tolerance) chopped
1 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Juice of one lime
3 tbsp of olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large casserole dish, place the butternut squash and carrots. Coat with 2 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 45 minutes-1 hour until tender. Remove from oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet saute the onion in 1 tbsp olive oil for 5-7 minutes until tender. Add the garlic and chopped chipotles and saute for 1 minute more until fragrant. Add the spices, cook for 30 seconds, and then add the lime juice to deglaze the pan. Remove from heat and set aside.

Put half the roasted vegetables and the onion mixture into a food processor or blender with 2 cups of the vegetable stock and puree. Empty the soup into a bowl or pot on the stove and repeat with the remaining roasted vegetables, onion mixture, and stock.

Reheat the soup on the stove and serve or store in an airtight container for later use.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Oh, hello everyone! It seems that I’ve forgotten you in my muddle of teaching and going to school and cooking for two and avoiding snow (it’s snowing again–will it ever stop?). It seems that I’ve had a case of the February blahs–my cooking has been pretty bare, just like the trees outside (well, when they’re not covered in snow, but you get the idea). I’ve been subsisting on a steady stream of lentil quinoa falafels for lunch when I’m teaching (the batch makes a ridiculous number of servings–I think I’ve eaten it for 12 meals thus far, and, yes, I’m getting rather sick of it), soup I’ve stored in the freezer, and overnight oats. But now that it’s March and hopefully the weather will turn relatively soon (I’ve got my fingers crossed for a snow-free birthday), I hoping that my creativity will bound back.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe I meant to give you weeks ago, right after Valentine’s Day, actually. Granted, the photographer and I have just started dating, but I wanted to give him something special (and homemade) for Valentine’s–and I knew it had to be chocolate (he’s a dark chocolate fiend, one of the many reasons we get along so well). I toyed with making Homesick Texan’s Mexican Chocolate Pralines, since he hails from Texas, but I never got around to finding any Mexican chocolate and with Fresh Market right up the road, I knew I could get some high quality dark chocolate and truffle oil easily. The pralines, though, trust me, are on the to-make list.

Using Hannah’s recipe almost exactly, I was surprised at home easy and intensely chocolatey these truffles are. If you don’t have a microwave, of course, you can use a double boiler. As for the intensity–watch out–these truly are for the chocolate lovers at heart. The truffle oil adds this crazy, earthy element to the chocolate, and to some, I’m sure, it’d be too much. I was even a bit terrified to give these to the photographer, given how intense they are, but, thankfully, he loved them. You do want to cut the truffles into tiny squares–one square goes a long way–but other than that, I’d recommend the recipe for anyone wanting something insanely decadent and delicious.

Intense Chocolate Truffles

adapted slightly from Bittersweet

9 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used 6 oz of Scharffen Berger’s 60% semi-sweet and 3 oz Baker’s semi-sweet)
1/4 c coconut cream
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp truffle oil
sea salt
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder

Line an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil and lightly spritz with cooking spray. Set aside.

Place the chocolate, coconut cream, and olive oil in a microwave safe bowl, and heat on high for one minute. Stir thoroughly with a spatula, and if necessary, heat for an additional 30 – 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly between each 30-second interval until completely smooth. Add in the truffle oil, mix well to incorporate. Pour the liquid chocolate into your prepared pan, and lightly dust the top with a pinch of sea salt. Let cool, and then chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before proceeding.

Once cool and firm, use the foil like a sling to pull the truffle rectangle out of the pan, and set it on a cutting board. Slice it into very small squares, about 1/2 – 3/4 inch, and dip the sides and bottoms into the cocoa powder. Let come to room temperature before eating for the most powerful truffle flavor, but keep chilled in an air-tight container for storage.

Makes 30 – 40 Truffles