Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lemon Madeleines with Clementine Glaze


I generally shy away from foods that require their own cooking vessels. My life kitchen is sufficiently cluttered without single-purpose utensils, dishes, and molds, thank you very much. A happy exception to this rule is the madeleine mold. 

Madeleines are simple, slightly-sweet French butter cakes. They require few ingredients, rarely "flop", and are one of the rare pastries that tastes better the next day. Plus, they look and sound so chic, don't they?

Why yes, I am the fancy girl who brought homemade madeleines. Oh, you brought cookies? How very common. 


I should probably go ahead and drop this link to Marcel Proust's madeleine reference right here, just in case madeleines aren't pretentious enough. 

My madeleine recipe adds a subtle hint of citrus (lemon extract and lemon zest) to the batter. I also topped the madeleines with a clementine glaze for a sweet, tangy topping. 

It's probably very American of me to add a sugary glaze to a simple French treat, but such is life. I'd add a witty French phrase here, but I don't know of any other than the one that Patti LaBelle taught me. So, how about another picture:


Lemon Madeleines with Clementine Glaze
Yields 12 madeleines

For the madeleines, you will need:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup flour, plus extra for madeleine molds
  • 10 tablespoons butter, melted, plus extra for madeleine molds
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
Madeleine method:
  • Preheat oven to 375F. 
  • Grease 12 madeleine molds with butter generously. Dust with flour and set molds aside. 
  • In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, vanilla extract, lemon extract, and salt on high speed for approximately four minutes (until the texture is light and airy). 
  • Gradually incorporate sugar, mixing on high speed for five minutes. 
  • Reduce mixer speed (or use a wooden spoon) and gently fold in flour, then stir in butter and lemon zest. 
  • Spoon batter into the madeleine molds and bake for 12-14 minutes, until madeleines are golden and slightly browned on the edges. 
  • Remove madeleines from oven and let cool, then drizzle with clementine glaze (if desired) and let set for 15 minutes before eating. 
For the clementine glaze, you will need:
  • 1 clementine, juice and zest (remove seeds)
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
Clementine glaze method:
  • Whisk together clementine juice and powdered sugar until no lumps remain. 
  • Stir in clementine zest. 
Store madeleines in an air-tight container for up to a week. 


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sweet Potatoes: A Love Story


If you follow The Sparkle Kitchen on Instagram, you may have seen me post a picture or twenty of meals that involve sweet potatoes substituted for all things carb (sandwiches, tortillas, tortilla chips, etc.). I wanted to pull together a post that highlights different ways that I've made my lunch or dinner a bit healthier by using a sweet potato base. 

Why the sweet potato? The answer for me is that they're delicious. Plus, it's the easiest way that I've come across to avoid preparing two meals for dinner for a Husband who craves comfort food and a wife who prefers kale and quinoa. But I can sell the sweet potato for many other reasons. 

Sweet potato perks:

  • Sweet potatoes are both inexpensive and have a very long shelf life when stored in a dark, dry place (especially compared to the shelf life of a pack of rolls or a loaf of bread). 
  • According to the USDA Nutrient Database, a medium sweet potato has 162 calories, over 100% of the daily recommended Vitamin A, and six grams of fiber. 
  • Portion control: you're pretty well limited to the size of the sweet potato (except for my sweet potato French dip bowl pictured below), so it's easy to keep indulgent ingredients to a level that won't make you feel guilty (see my Mexican queso sweet potatoes below with no more than two tablespoons of queso - that would never work with tortilla chips!). 
  • Sweet potatoes are also rich in beta carotene, Vitamin C, potassium, and Vitamin B-6. 
  • They're easy for a work-week lunch without worrying about your sandwich being squashed in the back of the communal fridge. 
  • Sweet potatoes are versatile (microwave, bake, fry, grill, steam, or roast) and need minimal "work" to enjoy (I've been known to simply microwave and drizzle olive oil over a sweet potato, with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, when I'm pressed for time or want a no-fuss meal). 
Sold? Good. Now for the ideas!

French dip sweet potato bowls Husband was craving for a French dip last week, so I made Rachael Ray's recipe (plus sauteed mushrooms ,thin-sliced Provolone, and parsley) for a "his and hers" dinner. He got to enjoy the classic French dip:



And I had mine in a sweet potato (bonus: my serving was significantly larger than Husband's!). 



To make my sweet potato French dip bowl, I microwaved the sweet potato until softened, then cut it into large chunks and placed in the bottom of a bowl. I added the au jus first, then placed a slice of Provolone on top and returned to the microwave for just a few seconds to melt the cheese before topping with beef, mushrooms, and parsley. 



Pulled pork stuffed sweet potatoes
We received a smoker for Christmas and have been feasting on ridiculous quantities of smoked meats ever since. I've been pulling in the sweet potato to avoid developing gout keep flavor interesting and meals somewhat healthy. 

Here's my Husband's amazing pulled pork (seriously, he's become a pro at the helm of the smoker) the way that he enjoys it best: 



And here's my dinner on the same night: 



Mexican-style sweet potatoes
In addition to sandwiches, I have substituted sweet potatoes in place of tortillas or tortilla chips when a Mexican craving strikes. And Mexican cravings strike often in the Sparkle household. Sweet potatoes pair exceptionally well with spicy flavors (in my opinion), downgrading the heat level of the hottest salsa to "tolerable". 

Below: sweet potato with guacamole, salsa, and refried beans. 



The sweet potato below may be my favorite of the bunch. I had leftovers from dinner at Chuy's and resisted the urge to eat all of the takeout in one sitting with a delicious sweet potato dinner. Now this is one of my go-to ways to enjoy Mexican food without overdoing it!

Below: sweet potato with Chuy's jalapeno ranch, leftover queso, salsa, and fresh avocado.



Other sweet potato-based recipes you may enjoy, if I've made a fanatic out of you:

What are some of your favorite sweet potato ideas? 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Roasted Cauliflower, Butternut, and Chickpeas in a Tangy Tahini Vinaigrette


When I have a good recipe on my hands, I make it repeatedly until I either run out of ingredients and get over the craving.I can incorporate the same leftovers into three meals a day and not feel bored at all. That's the story of this little recipe for roasted cauliflower, butternut squash, and chickpeas in a tangy tahini vinaigrette. 

I've only officially served this dish twice: on Valentine's Day with rack of lamb, and for lunch with my sister. But I'm not going to admit how many times I've made it for a quick weeknight dinner (hint: more than twice) or even a savory breakfast quinoa bowl (or two). 

I used just cauliflower in the version that I served my sister (pictured at the top of the post). I also used half parsley and half cilantro in the vinaigrette and added a bit of fresh basil. I happened to have all three on hand and I have no restraint to speak of when it comes to fresh herbs, so in they all went to the food processor. Although I am a huge fan of cilantro, I may actually prefer the vinaigrette with just parsley. 


On Valentine's Day, I incorporated butternut squash and chickpeas into the vegetable assortment. Because they're two of my favorite things to roast. That seems like as good a reason as any. I served the dish on the side of the lamb with a mustard-red wine sauce and soft Italian polenta. 

Sidenote: I modified Food & Wine's recipe for the rack of lamb (I used red wine instead of white and doubled the whole-grain mustard) and Emeril Lagasse's recipe for creamy polenta (I added bacon, corn, garlic powder, and chive and herb cream cheese). 


The chickpeas become slightly crispy when roasted at 425 Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. I think that crunchy chickpeas are divine, but if you don't agree, you may add them halfway through the roasting process to keep their soft consistency. I think that this dish would also be great with roasted carrots and beets. 


I've kept a jar of this vinaigrette in the refrigerator since whipping up my first batch. I have been pouring it on absolutely everything. Pictured below: a quinoa bowl I made with sauteed broccoli, summer squash, baby kale, leftover smoked pork, and (you guessed it) tahini vinaigrette. 


In addition to the daily occasional quinoa bowl, I've been pouring the stuff on salads as a dressing and dipping celery and carrot sticks into it as an appetizer. I've also been drizzling a good tablespoon or two of the vinaigrette on top of baked sweet potatoes and topping with fresh avocado for a quick and healthy lunch. The tahini flavor adds a great nutty depth and creaminess to a light dressing flavor. The dressing is thick and is great as a spread on sandwiches, too. Really, what can't this vinaigrette do? 

As I said at the start of this post: I can live on the same recipe or dish until everyone else completely hates it. I think I'll re-brand this characteristic as evidence of my dedication to the pursuit of recipe perfection. How very noble of me. 

Roasted Cauliflower, Butternut, and Chickpeas in a Tangy Tahini Vinaigrette 
Serves 2 as a main course / 4 as a side dish

For the roasted vegetables, you will need:
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and cubed
  • One 16 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon garlic
  • Salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
For the tangy tahini vinaigrette, you will need:
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon light agave nectar
  • Dash cayenne
  • Optional: 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, 10 basil leaves
Method:
  • Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. 
  • Remove the majority of the stems from the cauliflower. Chop into thin slices and chunks; no need for uniformity. 
  • In a large bowl, toss together cubed butternut squash, chickpeas, and chopped cauliflower. Pour in olive oil, garlic, and spices. 
  • Toss to combine, then spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. 
  • Bake for 25 minutes, until cauliflower is golden brown. 
  • Meanwhile, prepare the tahini vinaigrette. 
  • Coarsely chop parsley, discarding stems. Add parsley and remaining ingredients to the bowl of a food processor (or blender) and puree until smooth and light green in consistency. Add additional olive oil if needed. 
  • Transfer roasted vegetables to a large bowl and toss with tahini vinaigrette. Serve warm. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

2 Quick Ideas Featuring Nicoletta Foods' Blueberry Jam


Disclaimer: I was given free product to review for Nicoletta Foods. All opinions are my own. 

Nicoletta Foods is a new small business based in Maryland that makes all-natural jams and marmalade using family recipes. The proprietors sent me a jar of their blueberry jam, and I have been savoring it ever since! The jam tastes fresh and fruity, less sugary than the mass-produced jams available at the grocery store. Some jams taste like pure sugar, with the tiniest note of artificial fruit flavoring. This is not such a jam. The jam features bits of fresh blueberries and a slightly tangy flavor. The website says that the company has been told that the blueberry jam tastes just like summer, and I agree. 


This will definitely be a pantry staple for me from here on out, and you'll probably feel the same way once you try it. Truth be told: I have probably eaten a good quarter of the jam straight out of the jar. It's very, very good. After staging my own self-imposed intervention, I decided to use the rest of the jam in two easy recipes that I could share with you all. 

First, I made a blueberry whipped butter with orange zest. 


The name of the recipe includes all of the ingredients in this one. It's about five minutes total of effort, but it's very much worth it. Flavored butters add the perfect touch to homemade biscuits or fresh bread. I co-hosted a bridal shower last weekend, and now I wish I would have done a biscuit bar with several whipped butter options! Whipped butter keeps well in the fridge or freezer and can last through multiple house-guests. 

Second, I've shared a "recipe" (i.e. not a recipe) for a quick happy hour nibble featuring brie, blueberry jam, and an optional drizzle of balsamic glaze. 


I love having last-minute cocktails with my friends and keep a few key ingredients on hand to ensure that I never have to serve corn chips and packaged cookies with a good bottle of wine. The ingredients are brie (I strongly recommend Saint-Andre Triple Cream Brie, it's heavenly and so soft), blueberry jam, and balsamic glaze (optional) on a bagel chip. It doesn't get much easier, and it really doesn't get much more delicious. 


Blueberry Whipped Butter with Orange Zest

You will need:
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons blueberry jam
  • Zest of one orange
  • Fresh blueberries, optional garnish
Method:
  • Blend all ingredients in a standing mixer using the whisk attachment. Mix for about five minutes, until thoroughly whipped and fluffy. 
  • Serve butter at room temperature, topped with a few fresh blueberries (if desired). Store any excess in freezer. 
Blueberry, Brie, and Balsamic Bites
No quantities are used here as you can very easily customize this for any size. It's a great go-to recipe when you have unexpected company. 

You will need:
  • Triple-cream brie cheese, room temperature, rinds discarded
  • Plain bagel chips
  • Blueberry jam
  • Balsamic glaze, optional
Method:
  • Spread a thin layer of brie onto a bagel chip. 
  • Top with a small dollop of blueberry jam. 
  • Drizzle with balsamic glaze, if desired. 
  • Serve on a platter with fruits (recommended: grapes, dried apricots, strawberries) and nuts. 

Nicoletta Foods' jams and marmalades are available on their website. The blueberry jam used here retails for just under $7 per jar.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Roasted Cauliflower and Butternut Soup



If your family has had its share of wintery aches and ailments (I'm writing this post from my own deathbed sick bed), it's time for some nourishing comfort food. This roasted cauliflower and butternut soup is tremendously flavorful, with a texture so decadent that you may be tempted to accuse me of calorie-cramming. Fear not, though: the creamy consistency is due to coconut milk and cauliflower. 

Cauliflower is decidedly the new tofu. The vegetable (which is a member of the cabbage family) seems to be able to take on any flavor thrust upon it with ease. I've seen recipes for Alfredo sauce made with cauliflower instead of cream, cauliflower fried "rice", and cauliflower steaks. I've made mashed cauliflower and wasn't questioned by Husband, who can generally spot a potato impostor a mile away. 

When I made this soup for the first time a few weeks ago, Husband was initially skeptical. He couldn't smell bacon. I hadn't purchased any bread bowls. At first glance, the pot simmering on the stove did not meet (meat?) his aforementioned criteria for Husband Approval. Once he took a bite, though, he was sold. This is some good stuff. 


Now back to the suffering I mentioned. I have been down with a stomach bug for almost a full 24 hours, so I know the true depths of my penchant for drama despair. My stomach may be upset, but my taste buds are not; I'm just not a saltines and ginger ale person. In my feverish state last night, I tried to convince Husband to feed me guacamole and sliced bell peppers. He went with saltines and ginger ale. I've never felt so alone. 

Honestly, I'm vacillating between being completely unable to think about food and obsessively planning my "first meal" after I shake this off. On a related note, I apologize to all of my Pinterest followers for my exponential uptick in activity over the last day. So, confined to my misery couch, I have time on my hands to share a truly delicious recipe that I have been daydreaming about making again since approximately yesterday. Feel free to send flowers or Chanel shoes my way to support my recovery. 


Roasted Cauliflower and Butternut Soup
Yields 6 to 8 servings

You will need:
  • 1 large head cauliflower, stems removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon Cajun spice blend
  • 3/4 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoon dried parsley 
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 can coconut milk
Optional suggested garnishes: sundried tomato pesto, greek yogurt, toasted chickpeas, toasted pumpkin seeds, and avocado

Method:
  • Preheat oven to 350. 
  • Toss chopped cauliflower and cubed butternut in 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 1 teaspoon Cajun spice blend. 
  • Spread onto a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, until cauliflower and squash are slightly browned. Turn off heat and set the pan aside. 
  • In a large pot set to medium heat, saute the garlic, onion, and celery in remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 1 teaspoon Cajun spice blend. Cook for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Pour white wine and vegetable broth into the pot. Stir in cauliflower and butternut, including the liquids from the baking sheet. 
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and add bay leaves, parsley, and celery salt. Cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. 
  • Add coconut milk and cook for additional 5 minutes. 
  • Remove pot from heat and retrieve bay leaves from the soup. 
  • Puree the soup to desired consistency using an immersion blender or blend in batches in a food processor or blender. 
  • Serve hot, with desired garnishes. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Chili with Roasted Butternut Squash


As winter continues to chill us to the core, I feel sufficiently protected through my five layers of clothing to break out the food puns. Thus: chili. Because I'm chilly. 

I can hear your giggles from all the way over here. 

We had a perfectly relaxing weekend night at home a couple of weeks ago. It was almost idyllic, actually. We used our fireplace, and I heated up spiced apple cider on the stove with a couple of cinnamon sticks. We added some Fireball (cinnamon liquor) and Red Hots and watched Mops the fire with our slippers on. Ah, the good life. 


But, we cannot survive on cider alone, especially when the cider is spiked with Fireball. Mustering the motivation to get off the couch wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done, but dinner must be served.


Husband had been craving chili, I had been craving butternut soup, so a meeting in the middle was necessary. I lightened up the chili by using half ground turkey and half lean ground beef. I also take it easy on the beans; they don't add enough flavor for me to get overly excited about. 

The flavor that is worthy of excitement is butternut squash. Roasting the squash until golden brown with nothing more than olive oil, salt, and pepper adds a fantastic flavor contrast to the familiar tangy tomato and earthy chili flavors. I also think that butternut adds an element of creaminess in the same way that avocado does. 

My flavor preference for rich, creamy taste is probably not unrelated to the fact that I once ate an entire can of coconut milk. That's enough calories for several days. Of note: butternut is remarkably low in calories and high in fiber (as well as many other vitamins). 


Chili with Roasted Butternut Squash
Serves 6-8

You will need:
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 medium-sized yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • Salt, pepper, and cayenne - to taste
  • 1 pound each ground turkey and lean ground beef
  • 2 x 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 14 ounces chili beans or kidney beans
  • To serve (optional): cilantro, avocado, sour cream, grated sharp cheddar
Method:
  • Preheat oven to 375. 
  • Toss peeled, deseeded, and cubed butternut squash with two tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, until slightly browned. 
  • Meanwhile, add remaining two tablespoons olive oil to a large pot set on medium heat. Cook onions, garlic, and bell pepper for about six minutes, until onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant. 
  • Stir spices into the onion mixture (chili, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper) and cook for about two minutes. 
  • Add ground turkey and beef, breaking up clumps with a large wooden spoon. Cook until the meats have browned, stirring frequently (approximately 10 minutes). 
  • Pour diced tomatoes (including liquid), tomato paste, and beans (including liquid) into the pot. Stir to combine, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Add roasted butternut squash and cook for another five minutes. 
  • Serve hot, with toppings of your choice (my favorite: cilantro, avocado, and a dollop of Greek yogurt on a bed of quinoa).

Friday, January 16, 2015

Blueberry & Macadamia Nut Granola with a White Chocolate-Cinnamon Drizzle


I (barely) managed to stave off a major cookie craving this weekend thanks to some ultra-indulgent granola. Calling this granola "ultra-indulgent" is perhaps a bit strong, but compared to other granola recipes, it's a full-on dessert course. So, "ultra-indulgent, relatively speaking," would probably be more precise. 

My killer craving this week has been white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. But, I am right in the midst of 40 Days to a Personal Revolution, a yoga-meditation hybrid course that focuses on healthy lifestyle (including the food department). The participants log the food that they eat as part of the "presence" component of the course (i.e. do you really think about what you put into your body? or do you mindlessly consume without noticing?). 

In my case, the answer is yes, I do really think about what I put into my body. I think about it much of the time. I think long and hard about exactly how many white chocolate macadamia nut cookies I am going to devour, I think about whether or not I should just eat half of the dough, and I am very much aware and present during the entire process. 

However, I don't think the point of the program is to encourage me to refine dessert recipes. So: healthier options that I don't feel ashamed to confess to a room full of yogis it is! But that doesn't mean I am going to go without a few "compromise" treats here and there (I mean, forty days is a very long time). And the good news is that my arms are way too sore from daily yoga practice to do too much work in the kitchen. Nothing that requires hand-stirring or appliances larger than an immersion blender will occur in the Sparkle Kitch until mid-February.


I loved the contrast between the salty roasted macadamia nuts and pecans with the sweet bursts of blueberry flavor. The real flavor decadence here came from the white chocolate and cinnamon drizzle on top of the entire granola dish. I used just enough; if you are a drizzle-fanatic, you may need to double the recipe to get your fix. 

Namaste, and happy cooking!


Blueberry & Macadamia Nut Granola with a White Chocolate-Cinnamon Drizzle
Yields 4-6 servings

For the granola, you will need:
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • 1 cup dried blueberries
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, optional
For the white chocolate-cinnamon drizzle, you will need:
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 4 tsp. milk
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla 
  • dash cinnamon
Method:
  • Preheat the oven to 250. 
  • In a large bowl, stir together oats, nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and coconut (if using). 
  • Stir in maple syrup and oil to evenly combine. 
  • Arrange granola in a single layer on a large baking sheet. 
  • Bake for one hour, removing the pan from the oven to stir every 15 minutes. 
  • Once the granola has cooked, remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Scatter dried blueberries onto the pan. 
  • To make the white chocolate-cinnamon drizzle, combine ingredients in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl. Cook for 20 second intervals, removing from microwave to stir after each. 
  • When white chocolate mixture is smooth and evenly melted, drizzle over the granola using a spoon or carefully pouring directly from the bowl. 
  • Allow the white chocolate drizzle to cool on the granola for 20 minutes, breaking up any clumps as desired. 
  • Granola will keep in an airtight container for up to two weeks.