Monday, April 27, 2015

Chocolate Cranberry Pumpkin Breakfast Bars

Chocolate Cranberry Pumpkin Bars

If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll know that each month I like to play along at the Secret Recipe Club.  The club has over a hundred members, divided into four groups, and each month one member is assigned (in secret) to another member from their group.  That person then selects a recipe (or more) to make, photograph, and prepare a blog post - all in secret.  Then everyone in the group posts their recipe on the same day, and of course the secret is then out.  It's a always a thrill to find out who has posted something from your own blog, and is a great way to meet and discover some new blogs.   If you are a food blogger and interested in joining the Secret Recipe Club, be sure to check out the Join SRC page.

This month I was assigned to  A Kitchen Hoor's Adventures, hosted by Christine, who says she has been in the kitchen since she could see over the counter-top.  Christine's cooking and baking took a healthy twist a few years back when she joined Weight Watchers and lost about 100 pounds - wow, just wow!  Christine loves to cook healthy, low-fat fare for her husband and dog, Missy, and she even appeared on Emeril Live with her Elegant Sweet Potato Skins.

Christine's blog has an easy to use recipe index (something I always like to see on a good blog), which made searching through the hundreds of recipes she has posted very easy, and there were plenty of great looking dishes that appealed to me.  I've bookmarked a few to try at a later date:  Roasted Mushroom & Goat Cheese Alfredo, Portobello Stroganoff, (clearly I have a thing for mushrooms and pasta), and Peanut Ginger Stir-Fry over Soba Noodles.  In the end though, I'm always looking for something for a quick and easy breakfast-on-the-run, and it was Christine's Cranberry Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies that were calling to me.

I'm ashamed to admit that breakfast, along with a cup of coffee, is often something that happens in the car on the way to work these day, so these were ticking all the right boxes for me - packed with enough wholesome goodness to see me through to lunchtime, and very portable.

I did make a couple of very small changes to the original recipe.  Firstly, the recipe calls for canned pumpkin puree.  This is something which is simply not available in my country, so I steamed up some fresh pumpkin and then mashed up the required amount.  Secondly the recipe uses egg substitute, but I just used a regular egg.  Also I didn't have all the spices that Christine used in her recipe, so I just swapped it out for mixed spice.  And lastly, because I am an inherently lazy person, instead of spending time forming the mixture into little balls to make cookies, I just pushed the whole lot into a slice tin and made them into bars.

These bars have great texture, with nice bits of crunch coming through from the toasted quinoa and sunflower seeds, and lovely bursts of flavour from the cranberries.  I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, but did feel I would have liked a little more sweetness, and next time around (yes there will definitely be a next time) I'm going to try adding a bit of honey or maple syrup.  This time around though I added a chocolate topping.  This added just that little something I was looking for, and let's face it who doesn't want to start the day with a little bit of chocolate!  This also enables you to pass off what is really a very healthy little snack as something slightly more indulgent - "put some chocolate on top of it and they'll never know they're eating something healthy" are words to live by!

Chocolate Cranberry Pumpkin Breakfast Bars Recipe
Adapted, just barely, from this recipe
from A Kitchen Hoor's Adventures

For the bars:
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/4 cup apple sauce
2-1/2 teaspoons mixed spice
2 cups jumbo rolled oats
1/2 cup toasted quinoa
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the topping:
100g (3-1/2 oz) cacao butter, gently melted
30g (1 oz) cacao powder
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F), and lightly grease a 32cm x 18cm (13in x 7in) slice tin.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the bars.  Once everything is thoroughly combined, empty everything into the slice tin and press well, evening out the surface.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes (mine took about 18 minutes), until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and set tin on a wire rack.  Leave to cool completely.

Mix topping ingredients together well, pour over the top of the slice, and then set in the fridge until the topping has set.

Slice into bars and enjoy - on the run or at your leisure!

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I did, and visit the links below to check out all the other great dishes my Secret Recipe Club friends made.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Autumnal Farro, Fig & Blue Cheese Salad

Autumnal Farro, Fig & Blue Cheese Salad 3

Over the last few weeks, I've missed out on a bit of our culinary journey with Diana Henry over at I Heart Cooking Clubs, but I felt I couldn't miss the opportunity to join in this week as we bid our fond farewells to Diana.  She is definitely an inspirational cook and I have loved cooking from her culinary tomes in which I have invested - A Change of Appetite and Salt Sugar Smoke.  I love a cookbook which is as much a joy to sit down and read as it is to cook from, and I have certainly found that in both of these volumes.  Sitting down with one of Diana's cookbooks to have a read and find a little dinner inspiration is like sitting down with a good friend, and I know that I will continue to enjoy her company in my kitchen.

Right now my neighbour's fig tree is literally groaning under the weight of its ripening crop, and it's a constant vigil to get to the fruit at just the right time before the birds do.  Must be the spectacular summer that we've had in my part of the world this year, but the fruit seems to be bigger, fatter, sweeter and juicier than ever before, and I knew that my farewell dish to Diana would have to include this much coveted autumn treat.

Autumnal Farro, Fig & Blue Cheese Salad 2

Inspiration came from Diana's recipe in A Change of Appetite for her salad of farro, hazelnuts, grapes and figs.  I changed things up a little bit to use ingredients I had on hand, but I think the spirit of this dish remains the same.  I tweaked the dressing a bit using red wine vinegar instead of white balsamic vinegar, leaving out hazelnut oil because I didn't have any, and adding in a bit of pomegranate molasses because ... well, just because.  I swapped out red chicory and watercress in favour of baby kale leaves which I had on hand;  I used roasted almonds instead of hazelnuts, blue cheese instead of goat cheese, and plump golden raisins instead of grapes.  I also pan roasted the figs in honey before adding them to the salad.

This salad is the ultimate ode to autumn on a plate.  The nutty flavour and texture of the farro is the perfect foil to the soft, sweet figs, the tangy dressing, the crunch of the almonds, and the salty hits of the blue cheese.  This was easily satisfying enough for me to make a meal out of it all on its own, but would also make a great accompaniment to perhaps a roasted chicken or some great sausages.

A glass of shiraz or a great pinot on the side, and you have a meal made in heaven.  I hope you'll give it a try.

Autumnal Farro, Fig & Blue Cheese Salad 1

Autumnal Fig, Farro & Blue Cheese Salad Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Diana Henry
from A Change of Appetite
Serves 2 as a generous meal or 4 as a side dish
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

1x cup farro
juice of 1/2 lemon
extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
baby kale leaves
generous handful roasted almonds
generous handful plump golden raisins, soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes
3-4 plump, fresh figs
1 tablespoon honey
50g blue cheese, crumbled

3x tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1x tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Put farro in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer the farro until tender but still with a little bite - about 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain well and add lemon juice, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, and season liberally with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile make the dressing.  Place all ingredients in a small jar and shake vigorously until everything is well combined.  Taste and adjust flavourings to your taste.  Set aside.

Cut figs in half.  Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small saute pan and add the tablespoon of honey.  Add the figs to the pan, cut side down, and allow the figs to soften and warm through in the pan.  Remove from pan, cool slightly, and cut each half in half again if figs are large.

Now that the farro has cooled, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Add the kale leaves, almonds and plumped-up raisins to the farro, and toss to combine.

Arrange farro mixture on a serving platter, nestle fig pieces into the mixture, and strew nuggets of the blue cheese over the top.  Serve immediately.

If you would like to get to know Diana Henry a little better, and to see what everyone else has cooked up this week, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links (who knows, you might even want to join the journey and cook along with us) ...

Diana Henry badge 1A

... or check out A Change of Appetite and Diana's many other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, or Fishpond NZ.

And make sure to come back next week as we begin a new six month culinary journey of cooking with French chef Jacques Pepin.

I'm also sharing this at Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays, hosted by my very lovely friend Deb at Kahakai Kitchen.