Macarons

French Macarons are one of my son’s absolute favorite treats.  Whenever we travel to a ‘big city’ and visit a bakery he always begs for one of the cute, brightly colored little sandwich cookies.  I’ve read quite a bit about these and how difficult they are to make, so I never bothered to try at home until last week.  Fortunately for me, I have been practicing all the necessary skills to make macarons for years so my first two batches turned out great!

After realizing that I do not have a cookbook with this recipe (!??), I visited my most trusted blogger for French desserts,  David Lebovitz.  He offered great advice, links, and a well tested recipe for chocolate macarons.  After success with chocolate I tried Martha Stewarts recipe for plain almond flavor.

I was nervous about how these delicate cookies would come together, so I pulled out my baking scale for accuracy and set to work.  You can click through for the recipes I used, but I will share a few things I learned.  First of all, it’s important to pulverize the almonds into a fine dust with the confectioners sugar.  I used my Nutri Bullet for this and it worked great.  Secondly, my scale came in very handy.  It’s difficult to get accurate measurements without weighing ingredients.  The more I practice baking with a scale, the easier it becomes.  It’s very satisfying to achieve such precision.  Third, making macarons is all about whipping the egg whites and your folding technique.  If you’re not comfortable separating eggs, making meringue, and folding delicate batters, then this might be a frustrating recipe to attempt.  A good tip which I didn’t come across until after baking is that the batter should be like lava; on reflection mine was a bit too stiff and that’s why the tops were not perfectly flat and smooth.  I did not aim for perfectly uniform size with my cookies and instead went free hand with the piping bag.  I made smallish macarons and thought they were just the right size for sharing and having more than one.  Lastly, please keep an eye on the oven as they bake.  Both my chocolate and plain macarons baked more quickly than I anticipated and I came close to burning them!

I’ve mixed up the photos from the plain and chocolate batches, but you can get an idea of the process.  I was pleased that my macarons achieved that cute little ‘foot’ and a shiny top.  You can also see the sort of belly button lumps on top of most of my cookies which as I learned was a result of slightly stiff batter.  I attempted to smooth the tops of some of the plain cookies with a wet finger, but got overzealous and ended up with some ugly tops as seen below.  They still tasted wonderful!  I filled the chocolates with raspberry jam and the plain almonds with vanilla buttercream.

Vegan Meringues

For Valentine’s Day this year I made meringue cookies.  Although I’ve made meringue for pies many times, I had never made the cute little crispy cookies.  They were a total success and my son said they were one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.  Egg whites and sugar, what’s not to love?

About a week later I decided to explore vegan meringues.  I was aware of this as a theoretical possibility, but thought it was probably harder than it appeared.  Vegan meringue is made from aquafaba.  Aquafaba refers to the liquid from cooking any dried bean or legume. Beans leach proteins and carbohydrates into the water they’re cooked in, which transforms that water into a substance rich in those nutrients and ripe for whipping.  While aquafaba can come from canned or stovetop cooked beans, most aquafaba-based recipes call for the liquid from canned chickpeas.  This is because chickpeas are supposed to have a neutral flavor and reliably consistent starch content.  Okay, let’s see if the dessert made from chickpea water really tastes the same as delicious, marshmallowy meringue from egg whites.

For this recipe all you need is one can of chickpeas, cream of tartar, sugar and vanilla.  Sounds easy enough, and this will be another opportunity to practice my piping skills.

Vegan Meringues

Recipe from The Kitchn – click through for more tips for success!

Liquid from one can of chickpeas – about 3/4 cup

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees and line 2 baking pans with parchment.

Using a stand mixer, beat the aquafaba and cream of tartar until it forms soft peaks (see photo below).  Add the vanilla.  Slowly add the sugar with the mixer running.  Mix until stiff peaks are formed.

Use a piping bag to create little swirls and shapes for the cookies.  If you don’t have a piping set, just scoop by teaspoons onto the baking sheet.  If you’re new to piping, set the bag in a tall container and fold it down so that you have both hands free to fill it.  As you can see, my piping skills need more practice.  Bake the cookies for 2 hours, then turn off the oven and leave them for another hour until totally hard and cool.

So, it looks like meringue, right?  Yes, the chickpea water whipped up beautifully and this recipe was easy.  However, it had a funky smell and it was just…. weird.  When I tasted the meringue before baking it had a salty, acidic, beanish flavor that I didn’t love.  I thought maybe it would go away during baking.  I didn’t tell my husband or son what these were made of and just let them taste the results.

They both noticed that something was different.  They couldn’t say what was different and still liked them, but frankly they just are not as good.  The texture of the finished product is a little different from egg white meringues.  These are more starchy?  I don’t know.  Vegan meringues are a cool thing to make and very easy, but why?  They make a great substitute and you probably wouldn’t notice the difference in certain applications where there’s a sauce or some other toppings.  But you know, a substitute just isn’t the same.

 

Thai Green Curry Soup

The season of soups is here again!  Who knew that making delicious Thai curry soup could be so easy?  The hardest part is remembering to buy Thai Green Curry Paste and a can of coconut milk.  Like so many soup recipes, this one is easily adjusted to suit your needs.  You could make it vegetarian by leaving out the chicken, or use shrimp or tofu if you prefer.  Any vegetables would work, so don’t let a lack of these specific vegetables stop you from making this!

I fully customized this recipe to my family by keeping the chicken and one ear of corn separate from the soup.  My husband had a lot of chicken with soup on top.  My son got an ear of corn, some plain chicken, and a sample of the soup.  I had a nice bowl of soup with a little chicken in it.  Everyone was happy.

Chicken and Vegetable Green Curry Soup

Recipe adapted from Anna Kovel via Better Homes & Gardens magazine

Thai Green Curry Paste

1/2 onion, chopped

1 sweet or mildly hot red pepper

4 cups chopped eggplant, zucchini, and/or yellow squash

1 cup corn kernels

3 cups chopped greens such as kale or spinach

2 1/2 cups water or broth

1 can unsweetened coconut milk 

2 cups cooked shredded chicken

1 lemon

The whole recipe can be made in one 5 to 6 quart pot.  (I used 2 because I also had to cook the chicken.)  Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and add the onions and peppers and cook until softened.  Next, add the curry paste and cook until fragrant.  Now add the eggplant or and/or squash and zucchini and cook until brown, stirring occasionally.  Add the water or broth and bring to boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender.  Add the corn, greens, chicken and coconut milk and heat through.  Serve with lemon wedges.

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Herbed Bean Salad

What do I have in my garden right now?  It’s mostly a dry wasteland, but there are some nice red peppers, a lone basil plant and some hardy oregano.  Here’s a salad to use what I’ve got.  If you do not have these exact vegetables, this recipe is open to improvisation.  For example, you could leave out the celery or substitute cherry tomatoes for the red pepper.  Also, this dressing is pretty punchy, so you could tone it down with a little less dijon or vinegar.  I love this salad because the main ingredients are pantry staples that I always have on hand.  It’s easy, nutritious and delicious.

Herbed Bean Salad

2 cans cannelini beans, rinsed and drained

3 Tablespoons red onion, chopped

3 Tablespoons vinegar (apple cider or white wine vinegar are nice choices)

1 sweet red pepper, chopped

2 or 3 stalks celery, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard

1/4 extra virgin olive oil (that’s 4 Tablespoons)

1 cup fresh herbs, chopped

salt and pepper

Begin by chopping the onion and placing in a small bowl.  Add 2 Tablespoons vinegar and about 1/2 teaspoon salt and set aside.

Chop the remaining vegetables and herbs and set aside.

In a medium bowl, add the dijon and remaining 1 Tablespoon vinegar along with the olive oil and pepper.  Whisk or stir rapidly with a fork until creamy.  Add the onion and vinegar mixture and stir to combine.  Add the beans, pepper, celery, and herbs then stir gently to coat all ingredients in the dressing.

Let the salad rest and marinate for 10- 15 minutes or place in the refrigerator overnight.  This will get tastier as the flavors mingle and will be delicious for 3 or 4 days.  Serve as a side dish or on a green salad.

Cucumber and Avocado Salad

We’ve had a very rainy summer thus far and the cucumbers are coming in fast.  This salad highlights the crisp coolness of cucumbers by contrasting with the creamy richness of avocado.  The proportions for this recipe are not exact, so make adjustments according to taste and your abundance of cucumbers.

The secret to a delicious and crispy cucumber salad is to salt them before adding to your recipe.  Prep the cucumbers by peeling, seeding and chopping them to bite size.  Place them in a colander or on clean towels and sprinkle generously with salt.  The salt draws out water and tightens the cucumbers so they stay crisp and delicious.  Another trick is to wait until the last minute to add the avocado so that it doesn’t fall apart or get brown.  The vinegar will prevent browning to some degree, but avocado is best when really fresh.

Cucumber Avocado Salad

Fresh cucumbers ( about 4 – 6 medium size)

sea salt

1 avocado

1/4 onion or scallions

freshly ground pepper

3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

optional: a few cherry tomatoes and/or 1 sweet bell pepper

  • Peel the cucumbers and slice them end to end.  Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.  This is not necessary if you’re using very small cukes.  Chop them to bite size pieces and place in a colander over a bowl.
  • Sprinkle on 2- 3 teaspoons of salt and mix in really well so each bit has some salt.
  • Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour.
  • Discard the liquid, pat the cucumbers dry on a clean towel and place in a bowl.
  • Slice the onion very thin (I use a mandolin) and combine with the vinegar and some black pepper in the bowl.  Mix well so the onion is in contact with the vinegar.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • When you are ready to serve the salad, wash the avocado, slice it open, cut it in cubes while still in the peel, then scoop it out with a spoon.  Mix into the salad gently.  Add tomatoes or chopped bell peppers if using.

More cool recipes for hot summer days:

Cool Cucumber Soup

Gazpacho

Perky Pickles

Tahini Sauce

Have you ever used tahini in home cooking?  It is a paste made from toasted sesame seeds.  Tahini is high in minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and iron.  It’s also a good source of B vitamins, vitamin E and unsaturated fat.  Sesame seeds provide a complete protein that is easier to digest than some other nuts.  Tahini is a great addition to any diet, but it’s especially valuable to vegans, vegetarians, and people with food sensitivities and allergies because it provides creamy richness and lots of nutrition.

This creamy and rich paste is an important ingredient in hummus, but it can be used for so much more.  You can find it with the middle eastern foods at the grocery store, and it keeps well in the refrigerator.  I’ve been exploring non-sugary treats and recipes this month, so I finally made a simple tahini sauce and it was super duper delicious!  I could eat it with a spoon.  I used it as a dip for roasted vegetables, as a salad dressing, and spread on crackers for a snack.

I love a simple tahini sauce like this one from Cooking Light.  Click through for the recipe and notice the great tip for taking the bite out of raw garlic!  All you need is a clove of garlic, a lemon, and tahini.  I hope you will try it!