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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Gluten Free Hazelnut Meringue Ganache cookies

I’ve been playing with this meringue for the last month now and I just keep making it. I originally found it as part of a cake recipe that I made and was struck by how good the meringue was all by itself. Frankly, the cake was a bit of a pain in the butt to make and I did it twice. The cookies are much easier and can be eaten alone, or with a decadent ganache filling! Bonus, this is a low sugar recipe and each cookie sandwich is only 200 cals. Win, win and win!

The only drawback to these is that they are time consuming, so plan accordingly. Better to make them the day before you want them and on a day when you won’t need your oven. The meringue will sit in there for 3 hours, but they will not need any attention other than turning the oven off once. Still worth it!

Ingredients:

Meringue:
1 Cup Hazelnuts, roasted (I bought them raw and roasted them myself the day I made this.)
1 Tablespoon coconut flour
1/3 Cup Truvia baking blend (or 1 Cup regular sugar)
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt if using unsalted nuts

Ganache:
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
6 oz unsweetened baking chocolate chopped
1/3 Cup Truvia baking blend (or 2/3 to 1 Cup regular sugar)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 oz Frangelico (I used one little sample bottle, like you get in hotel mini bars)

Parchment paper, jar cover, marker and a 2 greased cookie sheets


Undress your nuts (take the dark brown papery cover off of them) and put them in a food processor. Process until it looks like corn meal.


Add to it 1/2 of the sugar, the coconut flour and salt. Pulse once or twice just to get it all mixed up.


On the parchment paper, draw circles with the market and a jar top. My jar top was just over 2.5 inches across and I got 24 meringue wafers, which is what I based my calorie count on. You can make them as big or as little as you want really, but the larger ones are more fragile. Basically, you want a generous inch of uncooked meringue thickness or the cookies will just fall apart on you. Put this sheet INK DOWN on the greased cookie sheet. You want there to be enough butter on the sheet to hold the parchment paper down. I had to use two cookie sheets.


Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Now whip the snot out the egg whites! Okay, maybe just whip them to soft peaks, then add the other half of the sugar and THEN whip the snot out of them! Once they get firm peaks, fold in the nut mixture, until fully incorporated.


Preheat the oven to 250. Spread the meringue on the cookie sheet in the little circles. Try to keep the thickness about even through the whole cookie and between the cookies. These do not spread out like regular cookies, so if you want even cookies at the end, they need to be even in the beginning. Put these in the oven, preferably on the same rack, and bake for 90 minutes. At the end of 90min, turn the oven off and leave them in there for another 90min. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN FOR THIS 3 HOURS! Apparently, the world will end if you do, so just don’t. It is written.


After three hours, take them out and let them cool for 20-30 min before you mess with them. Now to the ganache!


Chop up the chocolate and put in a mixing bowl. In a small sauce pan, combine heavy whipping cream, sugar and vanilla. Slowly heat to a boil, stirring to keep from scalding the cream. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate, stir with a spatula and let sit for 10 min. Using the paddle, mix the chocolate until smooth, then either let it sit until it cools, or put it, paddle and all, in the fridge for 10-15min to cool. Pull it out and mix on medium or so until it starts to thicken. Lower the speed and slowly add the 2oz/small bottle of Frangelico. Otherwise, you will wear the Frangelico. (Yes, I’ve done that before, but it was years ago. Mostly.)


While the ganache is chilling or mixing (it has a better social life than I do), pour your meringue a drink! Peel the cookies off the parchment paper and brush the bottoms with more Frangelico or chocolate liquor. I used creme de cacao because I only had the little bottle of Frangelico and it went in the ganache. YUM! This adds moisture and flavor. While awesome, the meringue cookies can be a little dry, so this helps.

Don’t let the ganache get too thick or you’ll break the cookies trying to spead it. If it is too thick, just put the bottom of the bowl in warm water to melt it back down again. I try for the consistency of greek yogurt. It will thicken as it sits, but should smooth out if you just mix it for a few seconds again. Put a dollop on a cookie, spead, and add another cookie. You should have too much ganache unless you go nuts with it, so don’t be stingy, but the chocolate is powerful. Try a blob of this stuff in a cup of coffee when you’re done cooking. Mocha delight!


Voila! Cookies sandwiches! I put these in the fridge overnight to get them set, then took them out the next day to warm.

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Clean your Coffee Maker!

Today was coffee maker cleaning day. Yes, that means what it says, I spent time fully cleaning my coffee maker to with in an inch of its poor life. Why you ask? Because coffee residue will build up and the coffee you make will progressively taste more and more bitter if you don’t. I’m not a fan of bitter coffee, I like it rich and smooth, so I take time to clean the machine. In fact, I have quite a little ritual to make sure my coffe stays tasting as good as that first cup I made when the maker was new.

My daily routine: Before I make my first cup of the day, I rinse the carafe and the top then rinse out the basket the filters rest in. I never leave the maker on but turn it off as soon as the water is done going through. Leaving it on will just cook the coffee and make it taste terrible unless you are at a coffee house and the stuff is turned over very quickly.

Weekly: I wash the carafe and filter basket with detergent and water. I wipe down the burner, inside, outside, the spot where the basket rests and run a full pot of hot water through, just for a hot rinse.

Once every month or two: This is a little more involved, which would seem a little annoying to most people, but we don’t have a dishwasher. I AM the dishwasher so I just do this while washing a sink load, so it doesn’t take much more effort and the results are worth it. I wash the carafe and basket, then fill the reservoir with hot water and just a touch of detergent. I run that through the system for a few moments, to clean that part, then use a toothbrush and scrub out the reservoir. Rinse. I ad a little vinegar to a cup of water and run that through. This helps to clean out any soap, stains, left over odd flavors and such. Vinegar is a wonderful thing. Rinse again and then run two full pots of clean water through the whole thing. Voila, a perfectly clean coffee maker! Yes, it seems like a long process, but the few times I’ve done this solo, while not washing dishes, it only took about 10 min or so.

“But I have a Keurig!” You say triumphantly. That doesn’t mean the machine can’t get guncked up by old coffee, it just means there’s less to clean. Anything that coffee goes through or sits in should be cleaned regularly, so that spot you put the little cup in needs a good cleaning as much as any other coffee machine.

If you use a french press, the same applies. Clean that bad boy regular like. And for the tea drinkers, you should do this too, but you have less to clean. I have a wonderful steeping screen and I wash that in detergent once a month as well. It has the exact same problem as coffee, oils from the leaves will build up on the screen/tea ball and make the tea taste more and more bitter. If you have a dishwasher, just toss it in there once in awhile and you should be fine.

Happy drinking!

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in Food, On a Personal Note

 

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On Having Lists

As writer and a dyslexic one at that, I am all about organizing, categorizing and filing. I have piles and lists and scraps of paper with important tidbits written on them. I have notebooks, and binders, folders and loose leaf paper by the sheaves. It’s something we do naturally as humans, we find ways of categorizing things, putting them in groups for easier assimilation by the computers in our heads. And it’s a tricky thing, because the slot we put things into isn’t always the ideal one, but we do our best, and as long as we remember that this is a tool and not a hard and fast rule, we’ll do okay by it.

My husband and I watched Avengers again this weekend, second time for him and third time for me and I was struck anew by the excellence of the movie. I commented that this movie is now on my top ten list of all time favorites and he agreed. It was a throw away line in a way because while I was sincere, the meaning of what I had said didn’t really sink in until I was laying in bed this morning, luxuriating in warm husband and warm blankets.

How would I really make a list of my favorite 10 movies of all time? What criteria would I use? Over all excellence of story telling? Most compelling characters? Most immersive? Could I count whole trilogies as a single entry? Star Wars and Lord of the Rings would make my list, as would all the Indiana Jones movies and right there I’ve used up nine slots and there are other movies I would just have to add. The Dark Crystal, The Dark Knight, and The Last Unicorn come to mind, so how to choose? Heck, I would toss Gladiator on there too if I had room simply because I love so much about that movie that I re-watch it regularly. And the beleaguered Sucker Punch as well. Honestly I like everything Zack Snyder has done. When it comes to mood and sheer artistry, that man is amazing.

See the problem I’m running into now? Too much good stuff to choose from. So maybe I’d have to break it up by genre and pick my top 10 that way. But what about those movies that straddle the line? Like Starship Troopers, which yes, I love because it’s awesome. I could put that in Sci-Fi or satire. I guess, since my satire list would be light and Sci-Fi brimming with entries I could put it there, but is that fair? Aren’t I playing games with the lists now? And they can’t really be definitive because tastes change, new movies come along that shuffles the whole list around and just time of year can effect how I’d rate them.  Star Trek IV is still my favorite Star Trek movie and sometimes I forget about it because it’s so old.

So in the end, I guess I don’t have a top ten, I just have a list in my head of movies that I love. I’ll call that enough, because for me it really is. Putting them in order is less important than being able to articulate WHY they are on the list in the first place. And yes, Inglorious Bastards is on my list too. My husband likes Kill Bill more, but I think Inglorious Bastards and Django are better. I mean come on, any movie that can make a scene of people drinking milk so tense you can’t breath has got to rank. And they killed Hitler! (fan girl moment)

I can tell you that I am old enough now to follow directors and writers and here’s my list. Nolan, Tarantino, Whedon, Snyder. I’ll see anything these guys touch, even tangentially. Somehow this post went off the rails there. Sorry, but it is Sunday after all. Stay tuned for meringue cookies later in the week. And my flash fiction, which will have the word Hitler in it. There, all tied together, even if the knot is super messy.

And Chinatown is a terrible movie.  Just terrible.

 

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Cashew Noodle Salad

If you have never tried this dish, then you are not living life to its fullest. My mother and I discovered this dish years ago at a health food store in Memphis TN. It was part of a fondly remembered Saturday morning trip we took every few weeks. We’d get up early and go to a bakery that made chocolate cherry bread, a bread so popular they’d sell out in an hour or two of opening and only made for the weekend. And it was an old style peasant bread, heavy, dark cocoa colored and thick, with warm chunks of bitter sweet chocolate and dried cherries. served warm with butter, it was sheer ambrosia for the chocolate dependent. Yes, duplicating that recipe is on my list, never fear.

After that we’d hit the health food store, pick up some sushi if they had some fresh made and a quarter pound of cashew noodle salad. Served cold, it was rich and creamy with bits of chopped cashews, buckwheat somen noodles and hot pepper. It’s best when it’s just hot enough to make you tear up. I can’t eat it that hot anymore, because my lips now puff up like I’ve been stung by a bee, but if you like hot food, try it hot. If not, it’s still wonderful without the heat.

3.5 teaspoons peanut oil
4 teaspoons sesame oil
2 Tablespoons plus 1.5 teaspoons tamari soy sauce (If you are sensitive to salt, then use light soy sauce, it works fine)
3 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cashew butter
1/2 buckwheat somen cooked, rinsed in cold water
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3.5 Tablespoons unsalted cashews chopped
1/4 cup green onions or chives.
fresh ground pepper to taste
*I have made some modifications to this recipe for various reasons which I’ll explain with the pictures. I would also like to note that this recipe does not list salt. That’s because there is plenty in the soy sauce, and you can always add salt, but you can never take it away if you add too much.

Cashew Noodle Salad 01 photo Cashewsalad01_zps56d44b31.jpg

In a small saucepan combine oils, soy sauce and cashew butter.

Warm on low heat and stir until it all melts together. It might look like gritty, but that’s fine, that happens with mine because my cashew butter isn’t as finely smoothed as peanut butter is.

Set the pan aside and chop the nuts, or you can do what I do and just smash them up in a ziplock bag with the butt of a knife.

Add the somen noodles, chopped nuts, pepper flakes (I only use 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of the pepper) and onions to the cashew paste in the pan. Mix until well combined and the noodles are well coated.

If you want a lower calorie option or if you are going for gluten free, grain free or any other variant on that theme, then try kelp noodles. I found them at my local health food store and while they are a bit stiff and odd fresh out of the package, a night in the cashew mixture fixed that right up and they were delightfully tasty. Using them reduced the calories per 1/4 batch from 440 to 255, so that was quite a win. While I do love buckwheat somen, this recipe doesn’t suffer from the loss because you don’t really taste the somen, you taste the cashews.

Put the whole thing in the fridge and let it sit over night. You can try some fresh, but it’s a let down and really needs that time to let the flavors meld and it’s better cold by far.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Food, Just to be Random, On a Personal Note

 

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Flash Fiction

I’m not getting a lot on the writing front done, which is quite typical of me really.  I have an inner critique that could make Simon Cowel look like someone’s dotting grandmother talking to her favorite grandchild.  I will often not proceed with any project that I don’t think, on some level, I can do well.  It’s a paralyzing thing, and I am working on.

Okay, flash fiction.  That’s what I’m doing right now.  While I think about what I want to do next, pick up an old project that I’m probably not competent enough to write yet and do any justice too, or start something a little more simple, I’m doing some flash fiction.

I like it for a couple reasons.  First is that it’s short and fairly easy to do, without the rigors of long plotting, world building and character developing sessions.  Second, it keeps you writing and with the word limits, keeps your writing tight.  It teaches you to drop the extraneous word clutter that slows down the reader and bores them to tears.  Everyone could learn to write lean.  Third, and perhaps my favorite reason, my inner critique is SILENT when I write flash fiction.  I don’t worry about messing it up, I don’t care if it’s good or not.  Well, I care if it’s good, but I’m not concerned about ruining a long, arduously built world and story.  If it comes out being terrible, it’s okay, I haven’t wasted months on it and I’m not going to have to spend a month trying to fix it.

Reason four, I don’t mind sharing it either.  And here’s the picture I used as a prompt.

Flash Fiction 03-07-2013

Lacruse put one steel shod foot on the rail and looked up, trying to ignore the sweat running down his back. The tree was enormous, not only the largest he’d ever seen but beyond what he’d imagined possible. It was as big around as the walled city of Padfeal and was rumored to hold more people. The forest that grew around it looked more like clumps of tall flowers than proper trees.

He wiped a gloved hand across his damp forehead and took in the shallow lake, mazed with roots from the monster that reached to the shores like drunken bridges, allowing access from every direction. People in simple, colorful clothing walked them, burdened like pack mules. They looked a lot cooler than he felt in the thick, humid air.

The first level of the Great Tree Dwelling was visible, the sun low enough to reach it and set its brightly colored decorations to glowing even from across the water. Blue lights that hung in the darkness of the upper levels winked through the leaves reaching up and up, out of sight.

And the whole damned thing was completely indefensible.

He kept his face neutral, betraying nothing to the natives around him.

“Gentke, how high is the city from the water?” he asked his translator and official leason.

The dark eyed young man considered. “Dry season now, so six men, maybe seven.”

“The dry season?”

Gentke nodded, fingering a bright yellow and blue feather that adorned his much thinner and far more comfortable looking shirt. “Rains flood the lake in two moons time. Will be much higher then.”

He ignored the impulse to take off his helmet and throw it in the lake. “How high does it flood?”

The native pointed to a passing tree.

Lacruse looked, running his eyes up the trunk, along the thin tendrils that reached to the water from it like roots. Twenty feet up the tendrils disappeared and the trunk became smooth bark, like any tree. He felt relief flood him. No army would have enough boats on hand and then he realized that there weren’t any boats on the water around them. They’d taken a boat from the highlands, this wasn’t a native vessel.

“Do you have boats that you use in the rainy season?”

Gentke blinked. “No. Only fishing men need boats.”

“So you stay in the city in the rainy season?”

Gentke looked up at him as if he were a child asking if the sun would come up tomorrow. “No.”

Lacruse felt his face flush in the tropical warmth and asked, teeth firmly clenched. “But you don’t have boats. How?”

“The branch-ways.” He pointed up at the huge branches that radiated out from the trunk. They were easily as large as the roots and he thought he could just make out small shapes moving along them.

“Where do they go?”

“To the high places.” He said slowly and nodded to the hills that rose around the lake.

The Lord Protector of the great highland kingdom of Rarimor wanted to laugh. In the dry season an army could walk to the city along the roots and in the rain they could walk along the bloody branches.

He closed his eyes and with great deliberation unbuckled his armor. The breast plate fell to the wooden floor of the boat with a clang, followed closely by the back.

Gentke looked on with interest while his man servant looked horrified and came running to collect the piece. He grinned. “Come on Fourt, help me get the rest of this mess off.”

“Sir.” The man said with a bow of his head but his tone clearly said he thought his Lord was touched.

“Gentke,” Lacrouse said, shucking out of a boot with a sigh as fresh air cooled his wet clothes. “I hope you might provide me with clothes in the style of your people?”

Fourt made a strangled sound behind him, but he ignored it.

Gentke grinned. “You will be more comfortable.”

“I’m begning to see that.”

“Fourt, bring me a fresh set of clothes.” He looked down at the heavy wool of his shirt and frowned. “Make that a fresh set of under clothes. Anything else would be foolish in the extreme.”

“Sir?”

“We aren’t in Rarimor. I have three moons, maybe less to try and defend this place. I think I should learn about it first.”

“I did not think there was wisdom among the mountain people. I am glad I was wrong.” Gentke said.

Lacrouse laughed.

 

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2 eggs and Bacon!

Ah, the first day of being able to eat fats again was a glorious day indeed. I looked forward to it like a child…okay like I look forward to Christmas. I dreamed of the foods I would be able to eat, I thoughts about them every waking hour of that last week and in fine fashion, I made things before I could even eat them, just to be ready you understand. One of those things was pimento cheese. Now I lived in the south for a number of years, but I never had pimento cheese. It wasn’t made in my house, because we’re from New England and such things are not made in the homes of the cold north. But while trolling YouTube for tasty things to fantasize about eating I came upon this video about a chicken fried hamburger of all things. And while the burger itself looks really good, I fell in love with cheesy goo he put on the burger. So I set forth and made it!

Now, when I first make a new recipe, I follow the directions and don’t adjust anything, I write notes about things to change when I’m done. So this is the recipe in the video, thought there are things I will change about it, but I’ll cover those at the end. Here’s the recipe I used.

Pimento Cheese (Original)

16 oz shredded cheddar cheese
1 Cup Mayonnaise
7oz jar Pimento red bell peppers chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 Tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro
dash of cayenne paper
juice from 1/4 of a lemon
fresh ground black pepper
dash sea salt

Pimento Cheese 01
I put the cheese in a bowl, added the parsley that was already chopped from the night before and then chopped things.

Pimento Cheese 02
These things are pretty slippery so cutting them was a bit of a pain. Next time I’m using a food processor on them!

Pimento Cheese 03
Everything’s chopped, measured and added. While I do prefer to use my own mayonnaise, I find that Safflower mayo is incredibly tasty and a good alternative to the crap made with the horrible-for-you canola oil that every other mayo on the planet is made with. It also has no sugar in it, which is key for me right now. And why is there sugar in mayo anyway?

Pimento Cheese 04
This looks really nice just like this, but I found it to be a little runnier than I would like, so I strained some of the mayo out and saved it for later.  And traditionally you whip it up in the food processor, which I ended up doing to make some pimento cheese sandwiches for entertaining friends. I was a little jealous since they got to try it before I could even eat it, but it was a big hit. One of the guys is gluten intolerant so I served it up to him as a dip with corn chips and he found that to be an excellent solution. He also said it was better than the stuff he used to get as a kid, and while I’d like to take credit for that, I can’t. I’m pretty sure the cilantro and parsley are the key to this recipe.  And the mayo.  Seriously, if you haven’t tried safflower mayo, you should.  Just saying.

Pimento Cheese 05
And finally I get to eat it! I put it on my eggs and it was very good, though a little too salty for my taste, and that’s saying something on this diet. I’ve never been one to eat what most people would consider a normal amount of salt. Most things made for me by someone else, such as in restaurants, tends to be too salty. On this diet, I was craving salt like it was illegal. And this was too salty, so in future I would not add salt. And I would cut the mayo by half. This lowers the salt further, but also gives the mixture a firmer texture that would make using it as a sandwich filling a great deal easier and cuts some unnecessary calories as a bonus. And I do like it enough to add it to my recipe box.

 

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