Friday, April 29, 2011

Double Coconut Macaroons and Chia Gel

If I were to ask you what coconut macaroons and chia gel had in common, you might think it was a trick question. (You might actually think I was making up the concept of "chia gel" entirely, but I assure you--it's a thing. And only tangentially related to the chia pet.)

Yes, they're both two-word phrases, and yes, they both contain vowels. But beyond that, they're both goodies that I made yesterday to carry me through my first 50-mile run of the season, happening bright and early tomorrow morning. (!!!)

I'll ease you in gently with the macaroons.

I'm definitely a solid food girl when it comes to long-distance running. My stomach can't really handle energy drinks or gels in large quantities, but I can usually eat food without a problem. I enjoy my fair share of gummy bears and peanut M&Ms, but I try to stick to reasonably healthy foods for the most part--PB&Js, potatoes, bananas, etc. I prefer to make my own sweet treats as opposed to eating the ready-made stuff, because I know exactly what goes in them and I can try to make them healthy-ish (while making sure they still contain plenty of chocolate!)

I made a batch of mini Double Coconut Macaroons for my race. Instead of the usual sugar + butter + egg whites holding the coconut together, they get their goo factor from homemade coconut butter (basically just ground coconut) and maple syrup. They have the crisp outer shell and moist interior of the best sorts of macaroons, but with some healthier ingredients. I also added vanilla extract, almond extract, cinnamon, and of course, mini dark chocolate chunks. Put these puppies in a little baggie, and I'm ready to rock the trails!

Now let's talk ch-ch-ch-chia.

Chia seeds are native to Mexico and Central America and have been eaten as part of the native diets there for centuries, but it's only in the last few years that they've become the newest trendy "superfood." You can read more about their health benefits from this CNN article, but the short story is that they have lots of fiber, antioxidants, protein, and good fats. I first tried them a few years ago, but at the time I tried adding them to oatmeal and yogurt and wasn't very impressed. It's only in the last year that I've started making a chia gel to eat on my runs, and I've really grown to love it.

But I'm not going to lie, chia gel is weird. It starts out like this: a bowl of water, some supplements and flavoring, and the dry seeds.

Give it a little whisky-whisk, let it sit out for a few minutes, and you end up with this:

The soluble fiber in the seeds causes them to absorb the liquid and soften, and instead of crunchy little seeds you end up with something more gelatinous. I don't even know how to describe it, but they each have sort of a liquid force-field (gummy sack? goopy pouch?) around them:

I portion my gel out into little baggies, and suck one down about once an hour or so. Because it contains so much water it helps with nutrition and hydration, and provides lots of energy that seems to release over time, as opposed to the spike and crash of traditional energy gels and drinks.

Food is made, gear is packed, pre-race carbo loading is in full effect...I think I'm ready! Hope you all have fabulous weekends, and if you get a hankerin' for macaroons or chia gel, recipes are below.

Double Coconut Macaroons
Adapted from Oh She Glows

2 2/3 cups shredded unsweetened coconut (to make coconut butter)
2 (additional) cups shredded unsweetened coconut
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 vanilla bean
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chunks or chips (I like the Whole Foods store brand--very dark and flavorful!)

1. Preheat the oven to 300F and line a baking sheet with a non-stick mat or parchment. In a food processor, process 2 and 2/3 cups of shredded coconut for about 5-8 minutes until coconut butter forms. You will have to keep scraping down the sides of the bowl. For a coconut butter how-to, see this post. Alternatively, you can use 1 cup of store bought coconut butter.

2. Once you have made the coconut butter, mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

3. Scoop about 1-2 tbsp of dough onto a baking sheet. You don’t have to leave much room in between as they do not spread out. Bake for 20-28 minutes at 300F. I made minis so mine were done closer to 20 minutes, if you make standard-sized cookies they might take longer. Watch them closely after 22-23 minutes. They're done when they're golden around the edges.

4. Allow the macaroons to sit for 25 minutes so they can firm up. If you do not do this, the macaroons will crumble, so this step is crucial! Store in the fridge for up to 5 days in a sealed container. Makes about 22 large or 40-50 small macaroons.

Chia Gel
yield: 2 cups

Note: Chia seeds can be easily ordered online from many different websites. Amazon carries them, and I've gotten them for cheap on ebay before. They're also in many health food stores and my local Whole Foods has them in the bulk bin section.

2 cups water
2 tbsp powdered maca (optional, this is another "superfood" made from a root native to the Andes)
Electrolytes (optional, I use Nuun tablets or you could just add your favorite sports drink powder to the water)
Any other flavorings (sometimes I add lemon/lime zest, or even Crystal Light)
1/3 cup chia seeds

Whisk all ingredients together, and let them sit at room temperature until the chia seeds absorb some water and you have a gel. You can add up to 1/2 cup of seeds if you prefer a stiffer gel--mine is slurpable consistency. Portion it out into bags, or gel flasks, or whatever is easiest for you to carry around. I've had it last at least a week, but I can't say with any authority how long it's meant to last. Enjoy!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter Parade: Easter Egg Candies & More

Stick a fork in me, I am done.

Or, for a more Easter-appropriate figure of speech, hard-boil me and dye me. Okay, that one is weird.

Belabored metaphors aside, it's been a long couple of weeks months in the kitchen. I do love the holidays but I am so excited for a break from intensive candy-making/recipe development. Never have I been so glad there is no such thing as "Mother's Day candy recipes." With the end of the big candy holidays I am looking forward to a little more free time to cook for myself, get this blog up and running again, and--best of all!--launch a huge blog redesign. And not a second too soon. This place is a little dusty.

So dusty, in fact, I have a bunch of old photos that never made it into blog posts. These were last week's absolutely delicious strawberry-rhubarb double crisps. Sweet, tangy, with a brown sugar crumble studded with candied ginger, they were seriously good. Too bad they're old news!

You know what's not old news? Passover and Easter goodies! Here are a few things I've made lately that are floating around the internet. Maybe you'll find something to enjoy for your April holiday of choice!

Matzo Toffee for Passover: Photo Recipe

Coconut-Almond Macaroons for Passover: Photo Recipe

Easter Basket Cookies: Photo Recipe

Easter Egg Cake Pops: Recipe, Photo Tutorial

Marshmallow Chicks: Recipe, Photo Tutorial

Easter Bunny Truffles: Recipe, Photo Tutorial

Easter Basket Candies: Recipe, Photo Tutorial

Panoramic Sugar Easter Egg: Recipe, Photo Tutorial

Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Happy Eight-Hours-Of-Sleep-A-Night!


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

TWD: Cinnamon Ice Cream Tart

This week's TWD recipe, for a Coffee Ice Cream Tart, can be divided into two categories: things I did differently, and things I wish I'd done differently.

In the "Things I Did Differently" camp, we have the ice cream itself. Instead of doctoring up store-bought coffee ice cream with ground almonds (??) I made my very favorite recipe for cinnamon ice cream (found below). The ice cream is delicious. I have no regrets. You can keep your ground almonds!

In the "Things I Wish I'd Done Differently" category, we have...the rest of the tart. Sorry to say, the ice cream was totally the best part of this for me. The crust was way too hard, the almond flavor was too strong, and the layer of melted chocolate between the crust and the ice cream nearly shattered a molar. I was left gnawing on my crust like a crazed rodent. Not a good look.

On the bright side, I got to play around with piping some ganache on top, and I also had some candied flowers lying around (yes, I know my life is ridiculous) so I primped the tart for a little photo shoot. "You look maaaahvelous, dahling!" (Candied Flowers photo tutorial here.)

So, I'm not in love, but I can't be mad because any recipe that gives me an excuse to make cinnamon ice cream--and then lick said ice cream from inedible tart crust--is okay in my book.

For the original recipe, visit Jessica's blog, Domestic Deep Thoughts. If I were to make this again, I'd take a cue from Katrina of Baking and Boys! and make a chocolate cookie crust instead. She's a genius, that one.

Cinnamon Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 vanilla bean pod, split in two
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Place the half-and-half, vanilla bean pod, and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the half-and-half comes to a simmer, take the pan off the heat, cover it with a lid, and let it infuse for at least 30 minutes and up to two hours.

When you're ready to proceed, return the pan to medium heat, remove the lid, and whisk in the sugar. When the mixture begins to simmer, remove from heat, and whisk half of the mixture into the eggs. Whisk quickly so that the eggs do not scramble.

Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan, and cook until it reaches 175 degrees F on a candy thermometer, or until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon.

Remove from the heat and pour it through a strainer into a large bowl. This will strain out the vanilla pod, cinnamon stick, and any bits of egg that might have cooked. Whisk in the heavy cream, then add the vanilla extract and cinnamon. Press a layer of cling wrap directly on top and cool in the refrigerator until completely cold.

Pour cooled mixture into an ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Want to make chocolate bowls like in the photo? Chocolate bowls photo tutorial here.