Saturday, February 16, 2013

Baby's Oat Bars

I have been asked for this recipe more times than any recipe EVER. And I've only been making these for a few months now! If you do not currently have any progeny to feed, don't let the title fool you. These are not just for baby. They are so good. And very healthy! I should re-name them "Power Snacks for Hikers, Bikers and Skiers." It just doesn't have the same ring.

I must admit. I'm blogging about these mostly so that I can stop forwarding the same email to other moms over and over again. I can just give them this link! But this is a recipe to make and to share. It makes a ton of bars, they freeze very well, and they are the perfect, healthy on-the-go snack. Most importantly, every baby loves them. (Well, except when you give them as a snack for three days running, like I did... toddlers, well, at least my toddler, demands var-ie-ty!)

These are a riff on the popular British sweet snack "flapjacks." If you are reading this stateside you might wonder - aren't flapjacks just pancakes? And well, yes, they are over there, but over here, they are mightily delcious, cloyingly over-sweet bars comprised only of oats, butter and a disgusting, very sweet, very sticky syrup called "golden syrup."  (Very similar to our modified corn syrup; they both have sugar molecules chemically altered to make it taste sweeter.) The end result is that flapjacks are actually very delicious, but very, very bad for you. I am working on a way to make sweet flapjacks that do not use any chemically-altered sweeteners, but the only way I can find to make the oats bind together without using golden syrup is to use eggs, like these savory ones do.

While these flapjacks may not sate your sweet-tooth, they will fill you up with wholesome oaty and veg-y goodness! I hope you and your family enjoy this one!

Baby's Oat Bars (aka Savory Flapjacks)
adapted from The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook

I usually use 200 grams grated carrot and 100 grams grated sweet potato. A friend has used grated apple but her bars fell apart, so I would use caution if attempting to substitute a fruit or vegetable with more water content. If you are making these for adults, feel free to use salted butter, and to experiment wildly with different cheeses. For babies, I use half mild cheddar, half mozzarella. Use a very, very large mixing bowl (unless you are not adding vegetables.) I have to use a specialty 7-litre bad boy that I picked up at my favorite store in the world, but a large pasta pot would work too. Also, do not use a mixed-grain porridge. Oats only!

100 grams (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter
300 grams porridge oats (quick rolled oats are fine)
350 grams grated cheese
200-300 grams grated firm vegetables such as: carrot, sweet potato, zucchini (courgette), red onion, parsnip
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 10x15(ish) jelly-roll pan (swiss roll tin). Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.

Place your very large mixing bowl on a scale and grate in your vegetables. Zero out, and measure and add the oats, then the cheese. Mix all this together well (hands work best!) Pour in the slightly cooled butter and mix well. Stir in the eggs and mix well.

Turn out the mixture onto the greased pan; press and mould it down evenly.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly, the edges are slightly brown and the veggies are cooked. Let cool for 5 minutes then cut into squares. Then let cool completely before removing the squares. (They will break apart if you try to do this when warm.)

One batch makes about 30 small bars. These freeze very well.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Brown Butter Chocolate Pear Cake

Happy Valentine's Day!

I got this recipe from one of my absolute favorite bloggers. I bake something new from her recipe archives at least once a month. I had been wanting to try a pear and chocolate combination and this recipe looked simple at first glance. If you actually read the instructions though it is not that straightforward. The first step involves whisking the eggs until they are "pale and very thick" and Deb (of smitten kitchen) said it took five minutes on her professional grade kitchen aid to gain sufficient volume. I wish she had said by how much the egg volume should increase. I beat mine with regular beaters on a handheld machine for about five minutes and felt like the mixture was very pale and not getting any thicker. My cakes turned out great BUT the batter did not rise up to enfold the chocolate and pear pieces as Deb said it would- those beautiful chunks remained stubbornly afloat. Now I'm not sure if that happened because I didn't whisk the eggs enough or if it was because I made mini-cakes instead of a single large cake. I think it was the latter. This cake is delicious even with that one hitch. (which wasn't even that much of a hitch because it made the cake-lets even more beautiful.)

I highly recommend making this for your valentine tonight. And treat yourself to some cute silicone moulds too - its a great way to make your cakes more shareable, more pretty and easier to take out if the pan! (if that isn't a winning combination then I don't know what is.)

Brown Butter Chocolate Pear Cake

Adapted from Al Di La restaurant in Park Slope via Smitten Kitchen

I used Anjou pears and thought they worked great. This recipe did not take me nearly as long to make as I thought it would - don't let the butter browning or egg whipping intimidate you away from enjoying a subtle, delicate award-winning flavor combination!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3-4 pears, ripe but firm, peeled, in a small dice
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour (or butter some silicone mini-cake moulds), set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (Takes at least five minutes.) While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the heat to allow it to cool slightly.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn off the mixer. Fold in the flour mixture and the cooled browned butter in three parts, starting and ending with the flour. (Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour.) Do not over-fold the batter or it will lose volume.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out with moist crumbs.

Carrot and Fennel Soup

There's been a chill to the air here in London. And after being slightly jealous of all the snow New England received from Nemo, we even had a snowfall! So, in honor of winter, here's a nice warming pot of soup for you to cook up and keep warm with. Not only is it quite delicious, it's healthy too!

If you're like me and make a double batch just because you had a lot of carrots on hand, never fear, it freezes like a dream.

Not only that but my son, who eschews carrots in their native state (what is that orange circle defiling my plate?! I shall throw all of them on the floor!), loves this soup! That's saying something.

Carrot and Fennel Soup

adapted from The Essential New York Time Cook Book by Amanda Hesser

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium fennel blub, trimmed, fronds reserved, and thinly sliced
1 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sour cream
freshly ground black pepper

Heat butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat until foamy. Add the fennel slices and cook, stirring, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and cook for another minute. Pour in the water and season with the salt. Bring to a simmer and simmer, covered, until the carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes

Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the orange juice, sour cream, and reserved fennel fronds. Pour 2/3 of the mixture into a food processor and blend. Mash the remaining 1/3 with the back of a spoon leaving it chunky. Pour the pureed mixture back in. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Apple cornmeal muffins

It has been a lazy morning. After a long week of toddler-wrangling (that sounds like a new extreme sport!) all I wanted to do this morning was read a good book in peace and bake. I left the boys to go enjoy some (rare) bright sunshine on the Heath, and I've successfully completed my two stated goals, as well as managing to make it until 1pm before contemplating rocking something other than pyjamas.

I'm still in those pjs but I really just wanted to share this recipe before rectifying that. I was inspired by a friend's amazing apple coffee cake, but this recipe here is what you bake when you want the taste of an amazing cake without getting a sugar-high and with some actual nutritional value. And now that baby boy is over one and out of the honey danger zone - this has the best kind of sweetener.

Apple Cornmeal Muffins

A sweeter baking apple, such as Gala (or Bramley if you are in British-based like me) would work well here because the batter is not very sweet. Also, feel free to play with the ratios of flour, and add in while wheat or spelt in place of some or all of the all-purpose.

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup agave syrup
1/8 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2-3 apples, peeled, cored and diced

Whisk together honey, agave, and oil in a large bowl until well combined. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition.

In a separate small bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet as stir just until combined. Fold in the apples. Fill muffin tins 2/3 the way full and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out with moist crumbs.