Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cauliflower Fried Rice

One of my favorite things to do is ask J what food he dislikes.. and make that for dinner. Cooked cauliflower is one of those things, so naturally I scoured the internet for 101 ways to work it in to meals. 

If you have been anywhere near the world wide web in the past year, you might have noticed that cauliflower is the vegetable version of Jennifer Lawrence. A popular cousin to kale, cauliflower is incredibly versatile. It has masqueraded as pizza crust, mashed potatoes, buffalo wings and other random things. See?? It's the crucifer who somebody finally noticed was awesome and now gets to be part of the "in crowd." (But it doesn't care about being in the in crowd.) Anyway, today I'm going to share with you yet another trendy way to up your vegetable quotient using cauliflower:

 Fried rice! 

There are numerous cauliflower fried rice recipes floating around the interwebs. There is even a YouTube video available for instruction on how to "rice" cauliflower in a blender. Yep. (You know you want to Google that.) For me, simply using a food processor works every time. BAM. The recipe I chose for my first foray into cauliflower rice last year was this one by Brianne at Cupcakes & Kale Chips. I was initially unsure of how this cauliflower trickery would actually taste and liked that her version was a 50:50 dilution with cooked brown rice (just in case....). 

Not surprisingly, J and I were impressed with the original recipe and we've since made "fried rice" a recurring theme on our dinner menu. Seriously- the cauliflower looks and tastes so much like traditional fried rice that we no longer mix it with brown rice at all. Look at us - we are so admirable and healthy! Tonight, we used it as a side dish for veggie potstickers, but with the quick addition of marinated tofu, chicken or pork, the recipe is easily transformed into a solid main dish. Again, this rice is infinitely adaptable to all sorts of manipulations. I used peas n' carrots because that's what I had in my house, but truly, my favorite additions are broccoli and snap peas. 

Cauliflower Fried Rice

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 25 min
Servings: 4-6 (side vs main dish)

one large head of cauliflower, raw
1 T coconut oil
6 scallions, chopped (separate dark green tops)
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 t chopped fresh ginger
¾ c sliced carrots
¾ c frozen peas
2 eggs                       
4 T reduced-sodium soy sauce, divided
1 T sesame oil

1. Chop the cauliflower into large florets and discard the leaves and stem.
2. Place cauliflower into food processor, and pulse until it resembles small rice.
3. Heat 1 T oil in a very large, deep skillet over medium heat.
4. Add the white parts of the scallions, garlic, ginger, and carrots. Saute for 3 minutes.
5. Add the cauliflower, stir to coat, spread out in the pan, then allow to cook for several minutes, until it begins to caramelize.
6. Stir, then spread out to caramelize again for another several minutes. Repeat for a total of three times.
7. While the cauliflower is caramelizing, lightly beat the eggs with 2T soy sauce and set aside.
8. Mix the sesame oil with the remaining 2T soy sauce and set aside.
9. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the peas.
10. Make a well in the center of the rice and pour in the egg mixture. Quickly scramble the eggs.
11. Stir the entire contents of the pan together, and stir in the soy/sesame oil.
12. Top with chopped scallion greens. 

NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving, 6): 
Calories 111; Total Fat 3.5g; Cholesterol 62 mg; Protein 7.2 g, Dietary Fiber 5.4 g

If you are at all interested, I encourage you to try it. It might rock your world and broaden your horizons when it comes to cooked cauliflower. Just ask Jason!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal

Sunday mornings are my favorite mornings.
(excluding those immediately following a deliciously inappropriate Saturday night)

I like sleeping until the sun rises to the second floor. Newton generally agrees. He settles in with a tiny groan and lifts his head only if there's a legitimate chance that it's time to go downstairs.

Meanwhile, it's cold again in Iowa - they even predict late snow showers tonight. For now, only one stubborn little patch of ice remains frozen in the back yard. Almost everything else has melted in the past two weeks, but maybe that just makes room for more. Even though it is technically spring, this particular Sunday morning calls for something that warms both the kitchen and the soul despite the 21 degree temperature.

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal.
 oh snap. Did she just work cake into breakfast??
That's right. But also - carrots. 

J and I have actually tested several different baked oatmeal recipes over the last year, and I love that they tend to make enough for a few extra breakfasts during the week. This new recipe is no exception. I originally found the idea published by Angela over at Oh She Glows, which is one of my favorite blogs to find healthy, plant-based recipes to test out on J. This oatmeal is free of refined sugars, contains no oil, and is packed with carrots. Win Win Win. I tweaked the original recipe to use ingredients that I already had on hand.

This recipe is going to be adaptable to all sorts of modifications. Angela serves hers topped with whipped coconut cream. I think the addition of crushed pineapple might be delicious. I also made our oatmeal dairy-free, but you can substitute whatever type of milk you like. Let me know if you try it out!

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Servings: 6

2 ¼ C old-fashioned rolled oats
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cups lightly packed shredded carrot (about 5 medium)
2 ½ cups unsweetened soy milk
C pure maple syrup
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons freshly grated ginger
¼ C raisins
¼ C chopped, toasted pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients (oats, cinnamon, baking powder, nutmeg and salt).
3. In a medium bowl, mix wet ingredients (carrots, milk, syrup, vanilla, and ginger).
4. Slowly mix the wet ingredients into the dry until the oats are coated.
5. Pour mixture into a greased 9 x 9 inch baking dish.
6. Sprinkle raisins and pecans on top and gently press into the oatmeal mixture.
7. Bake for 35 minutes and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
8. Top with extra pecans, syrup, or raisins, if desired.

Calories 278; Total Fat 7.3 g; Cholesterol 0 mg; Protein 8.6 g; Dietary Fiber 5.8 g

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fact and Theory.

Daylight savings is a conspiracy

That's right. I said it. 

What's worse is that this trickery is perpetrated by golfers! (and retailers; and the candy industry (!!) - I heard it on NPR, so I know it's true.) Did you realize that we spend more time abiding by "daylight savings time" than we spend in standard time?!

Nevertheless, at this end of the year, daylight savings actually means that we get to "spring" forward. Did you hear that? SPRING. After this (utterly miserable) Midwest winter filled with subzero temperatures and arctic wind, I am ready for anything that even hints at warmer weather (that is: ANY. OTHER. SEASON). 

Daylight savings time aside, one thing that always reminds me of warmer weather is Texas (duh). And... Speaking of Texas, Jason bought us second row tickets to see Robert Earl Keen last Thursday night. During my misspent youth undergraduate years in College Station, I had the pleasure of seeing REK in concert a few times. I am here to tell you that last Thursday night's concert was not like those times. For one, those Texas concerts were held in far less sophisticated venues than this one. (Hoyt Sherman Place is richly decorated little theater in Des Moines with plush red seats and a relatively sober tame crowd.) Second, there was no two-steppin in front of the stage. And there was nobody offering the band an armful of red solo cups filled to the brim with Lonestar.  But it was a really good time for Jason's intro to live Texas country music and a much, much appreciated (if only bite-sized) dose of home for me. Robert put on a good show and I left happy. 

Did you see what I saw?


Cute.  While it is unclear whether both of the miscreants were in on the photobomb, I consider them equally at fault. And to you, photobombers, what was your motive here? Did you wish to be forever embroidered into my life via this one anonymous shot? Well, you're in luck because.... 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fat Tuesday

One minute to launch. 

Weirdly, this was my groggy conscious getting serious after I'd invoked the snooze button for the third time this morning. This moment of motivation undoubtedly stemmed from a formative membership in the fifth grade Young Astronauts Club (you're damn right that's a real thing) and several field trips to NASA's Johnson Space Center. Undoubtedly.

But I digress. The truth is that (1) I still didn't get out of bed one minute later, and (2) I don't tend to launch myself anywhere. Unless by launch you mean move at a moderate speed in a reasonably direct path towards cake. In which case, perhaps my grumpy half-awake self knew that I'd want to get out of bed for this one.

Today is what folks along the Gulf Coast would call Fat Tuesday. That's the day when all of the Mardi Gras festivities culminate to explode in a cacophony of parade floats, body paint, plastic beads, and glitter. Or something like that. I've never been to New Orleans, and I've never truly celebrated Mardi Gras, but I did watch the Saints play in the Superbowl once.

Fact: I stood in a friend's living room in 2010 and drank champagne with cranberry and Grand Marnier.
Fact: I don't recollect what appetizer I brought to share (this has nothing to do with the champagne).
Fact: I vividly remember a soft, sweet, braided king cake that tasted like heaven in a cinnamon roll.
Fact: I have a genuine weakness for cream cheese filling.

Ian told me that the king cake had been special ordered from a bakery in New Orleans and he paid extra to have it delivered in time to celebrate the Saints' hopeful Superbowl win. In the year that followed, I begged; conjured up reasons; coerced; waited patiently for Ian to order another.

Instead, he sent me a web link for a bakery that *might* have been the place he ordered from.

We are done here, Ian. Finished. 

This is Ian and his wife, Tiffany.
Ian cannot be trusted.

It has been over four years since I tasted the confection of my dreams. FOUR YEARS. But the drought ends now, my friends. With the help of my trusty sous chef to my right (and sometimes left - that guy moves quickly), I rolled up my sleeves and dove into this recipe adapted from the LA Times.

I doubled the recipe with plans to eat a whole one taste test one and take the other to work. I whipped the eggs with the sugar and then proceeded to mix in 10 tablespoons of butter (one. tablespoon. at. a. time.) before I realized that I was supposed to add the yeast before the butter (you know how baking can be finicky like that). I took a breath and blended it all together with the hand mixer.....

My dreamy king cake quickly became a cold, sloppy swamp of yellow fat clumping in foamy, brown milk, utterly unlike any other recipe I had ever made. It was not good. The sous chef and I deliberated for a solid 3 minutes about whether to scratch the batch and save the bread flour or to forge ahead. Ultimately, we decided that there was nothing to lose, and I started trickling in the flour.

Low and behold, the dough came together and ended up alright alright alright*.

The cake was divine. Sometimes things just work out for the best**.

To pay homage to my blog title, I thought it fitting to make the first post almost entirely about cake. If you are feeling motivated to try it out for yourself, find my slightly adapted recipe with cook's notes here.

*(did you read that in Matthew McConnaughey's voice??)
** And it's a good thing it did because, between preparation and waiting 3 hours for two separate rises of the dough, this cake took FIVE HOURS TO MAKE. It would have been a crying shame had the dough not actually pulled through for us.

King Cake

It's Fat Tuesday, ya'll! 

My dreams of king cake began approximately four years ago during a Superbowl party near Atlanta where my friend Ian contributed a traditional king cake in honor of the Saints' hopeful win. I haven't had a bite since that day, but it has been on the "to bake" challenge list for quite some time. Today, I am happy to announce that I did it (with a little help from my sous chef) - and it was a success! My version of the cake was slightly adapted from a recipe printed in the LA Times a few weeks ago. 

The base of the king cake is a buttery Brioche dough that is rolled out, filled, and twisted before forming the dough into a ring. The dough goes through two resting cycles and will take time to rise (I let mine rise for 1.5 hours each time for a total of 3 hours). I recommend activating the yeast, measuring ingredients, and making the Brioche first. You can whip up the fillings while the dough in on its first rise. Feel free to get creative with fillings. I love the cream cheese, but simple cinnamon/sugar, toasted pecans, or other fruit fillings would be just as amazing. The recipe instructions call for use of a stand mixer with whisk and paddle attachments, but the sous chef doesn’t have one at his apartment, so I went ahead and manually kneaded the dough once it was too thick for the hand mixer. 

Tradition suggests that a small plastic baby (symbolizing the baby Jesus) or other trinket is to be inserted into the cake prior to serving. The person who happens to get the piece of cake containing the baby is said to have good luck and is also invited to bring the next king cake. We searched high and low for the food safe plastic babies in Des Moines during an early March snow storm and finally found them at Hobby Lobby. We are far, far away from the Gulf Coast and apparently they don’t take kindly to cookin' babies in cakes up here. (I hid the babies in the cakes after baking so as to avoid any possible toxic plastic fume infusion into the cake.)

As I mentioned before, this cake was worth the elbow grease and the dough was far more forgiving than I expected. Enjoy!

King Cake

Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (plus rising times)
Servings: 16

TOTAL INGREDIENTS (Dough and Fillings):
2 sticks butter (room temperature)
2 large tart apples (peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins
18 oz (2 ¼  8-ounce packages) cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 c plus 2T sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk, divided
1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting
Purple, green and gold/yellow colored sugars
Plastic baby

Brioche Dough
3/4 cup milk, divided
1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
2 eggs, plus ½ beaten egg (use the remaining half egg leftover from the cream cheese filling), divided
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. In a small pan, heat one-half cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk over medium heat just until warmed. (Let’s not kid ourselves – I microwaved this for 45 seconds). Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar, then set aside until the milk is foamy and the yeast is activated, about 10 minutes.
2. Whisk the 2 eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining one-third cup of sugar until fully incorporated.

3. If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. (*see note in text)

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

5. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and somewhat silky (it's a rich dough and won't be entirely smooth), 5 to 7 minutes. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours. (I like to preheat the oven to 180-200 degrees and turn it off; then set the dough in the oven to rise; 90 minutes was perfect to double to size of the dough)

6. Meanwhile, make an egg wash: Combine the remaining beaten half egg with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk.

7. When the dough is doubled, punch it down (it will be very smooth and elastic) and roll it out onto a lightly floured surface into a 10-by-28-inch rectangle. Lightly score the dough lengthwise to divide the dough into 2 equal halves.

8. Spoon the apple filling down the length of one side, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and sides. Repeat with the cream cheese filling down the other side of the dough, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and each side. Lightly brush the edges and center of the dough (along the score) with the egg wash to moisten. Gently and carefully pull the dough over the cream cheese filling, sealing the edge of the dough along the score mark. Repeat with the apple filling. For the love of all things holy, DON’T OVERFILL so that you can appropriately seal the edges - press them firmly together until they are SECURE.

9. Gently twist the length of the dough to form a braid-like shape. (Don’t lie. This doesn’t look like a braid). Wrap the dough so it forms an oval wreath and gently press the edges together. Carefully transfer the wreath to a parchment-lined baking sheet. (The sous chef helped lift the cake here… having four hands is a bonus)

10. Brush the top of the wreath lightly with egg wash and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour, or loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight, removing it from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking for the dough to come to room temperature.

11. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly brush the wreath with any remaining egg wash (If you have overfilled and the dough is stretched thin, it will tear. Be careful) and place the sheet in the oven.
12. Bake the cake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (the toothpick will remain moist if it hits the cream cheese filling, but there should be no crumbs sticking to it), about 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.

13. Allow the cake to cool before it is frosted (if it's too hot, the glaze will run off the cake and not adhere). Drizzle the glaze evenly over the cake, then lightly sprinkle over the colored sugars. If using the plastic baby, hide it somewhere in the cake (press the baby in through the bottom of the cake so as not to disturb the top or sides of the cake). Serve the cake warm or at room temperature. (warmed is best!)

Calories 408, Total Fat 24g, Cholesterol 101mg, Sodium 341 mg, Protein 7.1g, Fiber 1.1g

Apple and Cream Cheese Filling Recipes for King Cake:

For Apple Filling:
2 tablespoons butter
2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, just until the apple starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes (the slices should still be crisp). Remove from heat and stir in the raisins. Spread the apple mixture onto a baking sheet to stop the cooking process and allow the apples to cool quickly, then cover and refrigerate until needed.

For Cream Cheese Filling:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 beaten egg (save the other half egg to make the egg wash for the cake)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese with the vanilla, salt and sugar. Add the beaten egg to the cream cheese mixture and beat until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For Cream Cheese Glaze:
2 ounces (¼ of an 8-ounce package) cream cheese
1/4 cup (½ stick) butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a medium bowl using a hand mixer, whisk together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt until completely combined. With the mixer running, add the sifted powdered sugar, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

This recipe is quite a doozy for my first post, but it happened at the right time - and they don't call it "Fat" for nothin'!

Monday, March 3, 2014

I am...

a blogger.

Yep (and just when you think you know a person, too). I won't call myself a writer, because I think maybe that term is reserved for those much more talented (or persistent) than I.

My current blog title (sugar is smoking) is stolen from the poem highlighted in the sidebar. Read it.
I know, poetry. Right? But it's short. And accurate to the letter. 

Why am I here?
Quite plainly, I choose to write for you. I want to reach out to those who might give a damn despite the deadlines and miles between us. I write to share my life with you in some way apart from missed calls and Facebook. Oh, but don't be fooled - I also choose to write for myself. As it turns out, words are a healing liquidation of thought in a sometimes baffling world -

- and I am an open book.

Welcome to my diary of life and little pleasures.