Saturday, September 2, 2017

Can You Granita This?


Cold Brew Granita
Cold Brew Granita
We’re currently having a heatwave… no, not a tropical heatwave (Oh gee, I just dated myself). Tropical heatwaves might be more welcome because in that situation, I am envisioning that there is a beach and tropical cocktails involved. 

That is not the case here... we have this dry desert heat in this place that we call Northern California. AAAARGH! I am treating this as an emergency situation and opting to mostly stay inside – similar to house arrest. In this sweltering heat, I find myself thinking about cool things to keep myself from mental heat exhaustion. Things like shaved ice, winter ski trips, Jokulsarlon Lagoon in Iceland, or even watching Game of Thrones when they go North of the Wall (oh wait, that's Iceland too).

I also found myself looking back to my summer of granita and sorbets, more specifically – making my own granitas. I never made granitas before this year -- maybe because I had some free time last summer or just time to rest my mind, expand my horizons and had a chance apply what I have read.


It all began with a Strawberry Lemonade Granita. I had some left-over Strawberry Lemonade from Sauced BBQ.  After my free refill, I felt full so I opted to bring the rest home (along with half of that yummy baked sweet potato, but I digress). I intended to enjoy it through the rest of the day, but looking at the cold beverage and its gorgeous pinkish color, I remembered reading about how to make granita: put the selected beverage (preferably very sweet) in the freezer and “agitate” occasionally. The lemonade was indeed very sweet and that is why there are some left-overs. Seems easy enough... since I was home for the rest of the afternoon, I decided to give that a try. Also, it was a different way to use leftover juice.

I loved the results. I was hooked.

From that time on, I started playing “Can you granita this?”. Cold Brew Coffee was my next victim (first picture above). I found a recipe for coffee granita from Martha Stewart and started with those proportions. I typically cut the sugar by a third: so instead of 1/2 cup of sugar, I used about 6 Tablespoons for 3 cups or 2 T per cup. I still thought that it was a bit excessive, so I ended up using less (Please sweeten to your liking. I was tasting it, i.e. caffeinating, as I add sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time).

Martha’s recipe also used homemade whipped cream. Although I was initially resisting making my own, an older lady at the store convinced me to do so. She said it was so easy to make it with the mixer (She has a manual handheld one) and once you do it, you’ll never come back to pre-made whipped cream in a can (or tub).

After reading what was in ready-made whipped cream, I was convinced. There is so much extra stuff in there that I'd rather know what is in it - cream, sugar and vanilla extract. I bought heavy whipping cream and the results blew my mind. Another twist was I ran out of vanilla extract. I ended up using almond extract. If you have not tried that – give it a try. It will immediately transport you to Italy.

My next challenge was how to get rid of all the watermelon we bought for the potluck. Can I granita watermelon juice? Well, even better – This watermelon sorbet recipe from Delish.com said I can sorbet it. No Maddifications this time – although I considered adding a mint simple syrup instead of using sugar. But that means I have to figure out to make simple syrup (not that there is anything wrong with that). Adding sugar so much easier. I did garnish it with mint.


Chai Tea Granita
Chai Tea! Yes, chai tea was definitely something I’ve always wanted to granita. This is actually perfect because it’s a great way to freeze the extra chai tea that I have when I buy the Tazo Chai concentrates. It was also an awesome way to end an Indian-inspired meal. The chai granita really worked although I am still working on the whipped cream combination, though. Regular whipped cream or even almond whipped cream does not do the trick.

Strawberry Sorbet
Strawberries were obviously not safe to the “Can you Granita this challenge?” I was going to meet my sister at the farmer’s market and deliberately overbought strawberries for my nieces. However, she texted me and said that something came up – bummer. However, the next day as I was munching on strawberries, visions of strawberry sorbet came to my mind. This strawberry sorbet recipe I used was from King Arthur Flour. This time I did make simple syrup (and was wondering how to make basil simple syrup).

The sorbet turned out to be too sweet even though I cut down on the sugar. Perhaps the strawberries were sweet as it was. The sorbet itself was somewhat more difficult to keep scoop-perfect… But really, who cares – it's strawberry sorbet.

I did end up with an excellent solution to solve the sweetness: Get some sparkling water and some of strawberry’s friends like blueberries and blackberries. Put a scoop in a glass, pour some sparkly and pop some berries. Refreshing!!! (I wish I had some of that sorbet right now.)


It was an great way to spend the summer. I learned new techniques and have something to add to my repertoire.  This was a cool (yes, pun intended) way of making your own frozen desserts without an ice cream maker.

I do need to find better ways of photographing them. I tried different angles and this side view makes the best profile, for now.

That said, no lemonade, cold brew, or chai is safe from the freezer… at least during the summer. Also, Peet’s now knows why I get that extra order of cold brew -- Mwahahahaha!

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Non-Dairy" Avocado Ice Cream (or "How I Spent My Summer Vacation")


avocado ice cream with slivered almonds
Serving 1: With slivered honey almonds
It has been an interesting summer. I took a break from my dance class to rest my knees, get much needed recovery time, and get a chance to clean up around the house. It really felt I had a vacation, even though I was still working. I loved the extra free time that I had to take walks, window shop and even read! I miss that.

An interesting side effect was I also ended up spending extra time in the kitchen. It is one of my creative outlets, although it is mostly due to the necessity of nourishment. Regardless, it gave me a chance to play with ingredients and be inspired. 

One of these experiments was making my own frozen desserts. I guess it started when I made Avocado “Ice Cream”. I’ve always wanted to make Avocado Ice Cream like my Dad did every summer. Avocado was one of his favorites (and still is) so he would take one or two avocados, mash them and mix them up with condensed milk and put it in the freezer and enjoy it for a week. Dad would be back at the fridge once or twice a day getting avocado ice cream while I had my normal Magnolia Chocolate Marble (Yeah!) or Mocha. Back then, I did not like avocado and preferred chocolate (well, I still do), so Dad enjoyed it all by himself.

bananas and avocado in blender
Frozen fruit in the (Ninja) Blender
Now, I love avocado. During the season, I may have an avocado or three every week – on toast, tacos, tamales, omelets, you name it. I am a “Californian” anyway, so I think its a law to have avocado (along with Kale). There was a time when I bought mini avocados. My Hubby was wondering why I bought them – but it was the perfect size for one serving.

Back to ice cream… With my making dairy-free banana “ice cream” last year, I was inspired to make a healthier and perhaps dairy free version of my Dad’s summer favorite. I am trying to minimize my dairy and condensed milk has tons of sugar, so that was my motivation. I had a vision of combining avocado with frozen bananas and getting the perfect scoop.

Freezing the avocado was also in my vision because I usually end up with half of an avocado after lunch. That was the other rationale for freezing. I thought freezing it will preserve the lovely green color.

Here’s what I have so far…


Mad Gourmet’s Healthier Dairy-free Avocado “Ice Cream”
Inspired by my childhood summers with Dad
Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 avocado (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 banana (about 1/2 cup)
  • (Up to) 1/4 cup of coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp of agave syrup (add more to taste)
  • Almond slivers or coconut shavings for toppings.


Directions

  1. Peel and cut banana and avocado into one inch slices.
  2. Freeze (I usually do this overnight).
  3. Put avocado chunks and banana in a blender.
  4. Add coconut milk as needed (consistency should be like ice cream not a smoothie)
  5. Top with almonds or coconut shavings and enjoy.


Verdict

avocado ice cream with coconut shavings
Serving 2: With Coconut Shavings
I love the combination of avocado and bananas. The bananas provide the creaminess that you usually get with ice cream. The addition of coconut milk adds to the creaminess and makes it closer to the ice cream that Dad loved. It also makes for a delicious but healthy tropical treat.

As blended, it is a yummy dessert, but tricky to make a perfect scoop. It usually has a yogurt-like (or shall I say guacamole?) texture that may be a bit runny for the scooper. I find that putting the mixture in the freezer until it firms up (about 20-30 minutes) does the trick. As I am writing this, I am thinking that a quenelle may be a good alternative presentation.

After that experiment, I became encouraged to make my other frozen treats. (Hmmm... I feel another blog post coming). Think granitas and sorbets... some with summer fruit. I never thought that these would be so easy to make.

So, here’s my summer tribute to Dad. By the way, he loved Durian too… but I don’t think I’ll acquire a taste for that.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Small batch No-bake Date and Tahini Balls

date-tahini energy ballsIt’s in the middle of summer and it's been very hot! I really do not have any desire to turn on the oven, but I have a lingering to make something quick, relatively healthy and even a quick energy boost.

I figured it may be time to make no-bake something. I’ve been seeing these in Pinterest and Instagram and was waiting for an opportunity to make them. I guess these hot summers are the best time to make them.

Most of the recipes that I found have a lot of protein through nuts and sugar through honey. I wanted a better balance of carbs and protein since I often need the quick energy from carbs (and sugar) but need the long lasting replenishment that protein provides.

Enter oatmeal. Oatmeal is usually my go-to breakfast. I love the fiber content and I usually have it in our pantry.


Now, what to mix it with.

Date spread and tahini
This looks like trouble... good trouble.

I happen to have Date Spread and Tahini handy. The date spread is from my “Try the World” subscription. I have not worked with date spread before and I think this would be a good recipe to try it on.

I usually have tahini during the summer because I love making tahini sauce and using it in my tuna salads since (I think) tahini lasts a bit longer than mayo in the summer heat. I have also been thinking about making cookies, but again, it’s been too hot. I guess this would be a good substitute.

I started with a small batch because I am not sure if Hubby or I will enjoy them. I have not envisioned myself getting satisfied with a couple of energy balls. In fact, I am afraid that I may end up eating all of it. Also, I want to save some of that date spread for other stuff. That said, since a number of folks seem to love these no-bake balls, I am willing to give them a try and see if I like them.

Here's what I have so far...


Mad Gourmet's No-Bake Date and Tahini Balls

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 Tbsp date spread
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cocoa nibs


Directions
  1. Toast oats on a pan (Optional - to give it some additional texture)
  2. Combine tahini and date spread in a bowl until it is thoroughly mixed.
  3. Add oats and cocoa nibs. (I added them gradually to ensure an even mix)
  4. Roll into balls about an inch in diameter.
  5. Cover and put dough in the freezer or refrigerator until firm.


Verdict

I love this recipe. With the combination of dates and tahini, each bite can transport you to Turkey or somewhere in the Middle East.

This is the perfect snack after my martial arts class. Two balls are surprisingly filling for a snack. The blend of carbs and protein are a great post-workout recovery snack. The addition of the date sauce give it a natural sweetness and cocoa nibs the additional crunch. I am not sure if toasting the oats is needed, since it softens once its mixed in.

I love that its quick and relatively easy to make. I think it took me about 20 minutes to make the first batch, because I was thinking of what to do next. I can imagine that this will take me half that time once I get the recipe down.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. My next step – try it with Peanut Butter. Oh my!



Saturday, July 15, 2017

Vegetarian Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps


It’s potluck season.

Tofu Mushroom Lettuce Wraps
Ready for Potluck
Nowadays, however, our martial arts group potlucks can be challenging for me to prepare for. We have a bunch of vegetarians, and a number of folks are opting for gluten-free options. Our crew usually brings spicy lentil or chickpea dishes, Indian style rice, veggie gluten-free pastas, chili and gluten-free cornbread. Occasionally, there is still the omnivore who brings chicken adobo (and no, that is not me – although I do eat meat and I am Filipino).

On top of it all, I was the designated baker until Sempai B joined the group. Desserts are his specialties. In the last few potlucks, he made a gorgeous and moist chocolate cakes, light chocolate mousse with homemade whipped cream. So good… I love Sempai B’s desserts. They are delicious, decadent, and gives me much inspiration and something to strive for. However, since someone usually brings cookies, I suspect that I am out of the job – for desserts at least.

So, what to do…

My other expertise are salads, so that remains an option. I also make a mean salad, most likely because it’s has been default lunch in the summer. Because of that, I have also become an expert in disguising my salads and changing the presentation a bit. I do get tired of eating the same thing so I have to trick myself. My salads are very healthy too – no heavy dressings and low sodium.  I usually pick vinegar-based (apple cider has been my recent favorite) dressings with EVOO and lots of aromatics and herbs. OK - Maybe it's too healthy.

For our last potluck, I decided to bring vegetarian lettuce wraps. This dish was actually inspired by my Hubby. He initially suggested chicken wraps. One problem: chicken - it has to be vegetarian.   That said, it was an excellent idea and I used his Vietnamese Chicken Wrap recipe as a base, but tweaked it.

What I have is below… let me know what you think.


Mad Gourmet’s Vegetarian Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps
Based on Hubby’s Vietnamese Lettuce Wrap

Ingredients

Filling and Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 1/2 package of tofu, Firm, lightly mashed
  • 1 portabella mushroom, finely diced (almost minced)
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil (if using fresh, use about 3/4 - 1 tsp)
  • 1/4 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/4 cup shallots minced
  • 1/2 tsp lime juice, fresh squeezed
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce (to taste)

Wraps and Garnish
  • 6 leaves butter lettuce
  • 1/2 cup peanuts, chopped, toasted
  • 1/4 cup cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup carrots, shredded
  • 1/4 cup of cilantro sprigs

Directions
  1. Ahead of time, chill the lettuce, cucumber, carrots and herbs (recommend to put it in a leak proof glass or stainless steel container)
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the lime juice, sugar, and sriracha. Set aside.
  3. Saute shallots, tofu, and portabella mushrooms. Add ginger powder and basil. (Turn off heat after saute)
  4. Add sriracha mixture and scallions to tofu mixture. Toss to combine and chill for 1/2 hour.
  5. To serve, put tofu mixture in lettuce leaves and garnish with the cucumbers, carrots, or cilantro.



Verdict

This was a hit in the party. The biggest compliment, I think, was when my friend (who is an excellent cook) wanted the recipe. Incidentally, that is why I initially wrote this recipe down.

The original recipe did use fish sauce, but I cannot add that because it is supposed to be a vegetarian dish. I was going to substitute something else for it, but the combination of lime juice, Sriracha and sugar was tasty enough. The tanginess of the lime juice combined with the sweetness of the sugar and heat – BAM!  Remember, if you want it to be vegan, do not use honey. I think this recipe is close enough to be vegan, but I am not sure of the tofu.

I love the addition of mushrooms in this dish. I have become a big fan of mushrooms since they have a texture similar to meat. It’s rich in Vitamin D as well.

Next time, I may serve it with peanut butter sauce. Also, I was thinking of doing a quick pickle on the cucumbers and carrots (think Banh Mi, folks).  I may add quinoa or rice for a heartier dish. In fact, my other buddy and I were doing Rice Pulao and Tofu wraps, and it works! Ah, the possibilities.

Hope you enjoy!


P.S. I am still going to find a way to bring my low-fat banana brownies. Those are awesome! It's a slightly modified version of my basic brownie recipe and I am working on making it gluten-free.