Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pomegranate Torte with Cacao-Almond Crust

Happy Birthday to my girl Renee! In celebration of a great friend, who is also in the midst of a intense training block leading up to the Olympic marathon trials, this birthday treat had to be both delicious and nutritious. And by nutritious I don't mean #glutenfree #dairyfree #sugarfree #raw #vegan #organic #fillintheblankfree What I mean is made with love using real ingredients that also contain nutrients. I'll save this rant for another day.

Anyway, Renee is a professional runner with one of the biggest races of her life coming up. I know she's trying extra hard to eat well, get enough sleep, recover, etc. etc. So, instead of making her a more refined, sugary treat, I decided to make her a birthday torte that would match her goals for nutrition and performance.

This was my first time making a recipe like this. While it's pretty darn good, I think it could use some more texture for the next round. But, as I mentioned, my primary goal with this torte was to make something that nourishes the body and mind. Success!

To begin, I wanted to use ingredients that contain some other nutrients. What I mean by that are foods that contain vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats. So, although the energy (calories) in this treat might be similar to a cupcake bought at the store, the other "stuff" inside will give additional benefits to the body. And when you are trying to make every food count, there isn't room for junk. Here are some of the ingredients I used and why I think they rock in this torte:

  • Cashews: full of healthy fats and protein, along with copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. Also blend up really smooth, leading to a creamy finished product. 
  • Pomegranate: In season right now! Contain many antioxidants (polyphenols and flavonoids) and produce a festive red color.
  • Local honey: made in Central Oregon. It's also best to buy local if you can. Honey is sugar. So any recipe that claims to be "sugar free" and uses dates, maple syrup, honey, agave, fruit puree, etc. contains sugar. Don't be fooled. 
  • Dates: Instead of just using brown sugar in the crust I used dates because they are more sticky, holding the crust together. And dates, since they are not processed still contain some fiber. 
  • Cacao: I used cacao powder in the crust to make it chocolate-y. Cacao is essentially cocoa (chocolate), but raw. Cacao (and chocolate for that matter) contains antioxidants, mainly flavonoids and healthy fats. 
  • Almonds: Healthy fats, vitamin E, and some of the B-complex vitamins. I used these in the crust, but any other nut would work. I think hazelnuts would be really tasty in this recipe.
Ok, on to the more important part. How to make this delicious treat. First, I soaked the cashews overnight so they were soft and easy to blend. You could soak them in hot water for a few hours and probably get the same result.

To make the crust I blended almonds on high speed until they were crumbly. Then I added the dates, cacao, and vanilla extract and blended until well combined. Once the mixture resembles a thick, wet texture it's done.

Scoop into a pie plate or springform pan (or a single serving baking dish in my case), and pack down. I used my fingers to make sure it was well packed into the bottom of the pan.

Next, to make the filling I blended the soaked cashews, coconut milk, and honey until smooth.

I poured about 2/3 of the mixture into the pan and smoothed it around.

I added the pomegranate to the remaining filling and blended until it was a smooth, pink color. Then I poured the rest of the mixture on top of the torte and used a knife to create swirls. Very pretty :)

To solidify I put the torte in the freezer for a couple hours until it was firm. Then in the fridge until I was ready to serve it. Before serving, I topped the torte with pomegranate seeds.

Happy Birthday Renee!

Pomegranate Torte with Cacao-Almond Crust

by Stephanie Howe
Keywords: raw dessert nuts Birthday cake winter

    • 2.5 cups almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts (or a mix)
    • 1/4 cup cacao powder
    • 10 pitted dates
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 tbsp coconut oil
    • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
    • 2.5 cups cashews, soaked overnight
    • 1.5 cups coconut milk (more or less for desired texture)
    • 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
    • 1T lemon juice
    • 1 pomegranate, seeded
    Soak the cashews in water overnight so they are soft and easy to blend. If short on time, you can soak them in hot water for a couple hours.
    For the Crust
    Blended nuts of choice: almonds, hazelnuts, and/or walnuts (or a mix) on high speed until they are crumbly. Add dates, cacao, and vanilla extract, coconut oil and blend until well combined. Once the mixture resembles a thick, wet texture it's done. Scoop into a pie plate or springform pan and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to pack down.
    For the Filling
    Blend soaked cashews, coconut milk, honey, and lemon juice until smooth. Adjust to taste and desired consistency. Pour 2/3 of the filling into the pie pan. Add pomegranate (reserve about 1/4 c for garnish) to remaining filling and blend until well combined. You should have a pink/red colored filling. Pour the pomegranate filling on top of the pie and use a knife to swirl. Freeze for a couple hours to solidify and then store in the fridge until serving.
    To serve, top with remaining pomegranate seeds. Yum!
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    Saturday, December 26, 2015

    Kardemummabullar‬ (Swedish Cardamom Buns)

    I love traditions. For me, the holidays are synonymous with baking delicious treats. Inspired by my Scandinavian heritage and recent trip to Sweden, I decided to bake Kardemummabullar‬, traditional Swedish cardamom buns.

    My desire to create Kardemummabullar‬ was twofold. One, I could not get enough of the Swedish baked goods while visiting. We indulged in saffranbullar (saffron buns) and pepparkakor (gingersnaps), but did not have a chance to try kardemummabullar. Second, I am obsessed with cardamom. So really, it was a no-brainer. Plus, I like the challenge of baking something new, and kardemummbullar seemed a little complicated. Challenge accepted.

    To begin, I wanted to use whole cardamom seeds and crush them myself. This proved a little hard to find in a small town the day before Christmas. After some searching I found whole cardamom seeds, which was so worth the effort! There is nothing more satisfying than grinding your own spices and sensing the fragrance come alive.

    Making the buns was not as complicated as I thought. I looked online for some inspiration, and found that most recipes were similar to a yeast roll. Not too tough to recreate. I like to use few ingredients when baking and cooking, which was easy for these rolls. My list included: flour, yeast, milk, butter, brown sugar, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon.

    To make the dough, I heated milk in a saucepan over low heat. I used 1% because that's what we had in the fridge, but I think 2% or whole milk would be even better. Once the milk was lukewarm I added the yeast and mixed until it was dissolved. In my mixer I combined the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, and cardamom, and added the milk. I turned the mixer on low and slowly started to incorporate the butter (cut into cubes), then increased the speed for about 5 minutes using a bread hook to knead. (You could do this by hand too- knead for about 5-10 min) After mixing, I rolled the dough into a ball and placed in a bowl, covered, to rise for about an hour.

    While the dough was rising I did two things: 1) made the filling (easy as mixing butter, sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon together), and 2) Made coffee. Baking and coffee go together like cooking and wine. I can't do one without the other. Plus, in honor of Sweden and all the coffee drinking done there I felt it was only fitting. Also, it was 4:00am when I started baking, and coffee seemed necessary. I'm still jet lagged from my trip....

    ............Twiddle thumbs and drink coffee for an hour..........

    Then finally the dough was ready. I rolled it out in a long rectangle and spread the filling over the entire surface using a spatula. The filling was pretty thin and I think I maybe would make a touch more the next time.

    Next, I folded the rectangle in half the long way. 

    To make the classic knotted bun look, I had to do some searching. I tried a few times and it just didn't look right. For my attempted description at how to form these, see recipe below. Otherwise, a photo says a thousand words.... 

    Cut into 10-15 long stripes.

    Cut a slit about 3/4 of the way up each strip and twist the ends inward to make a spiral.

    Fold the two ends over each other and tuck in behind the bun.

    Something like this.

    And if you can't get them to look right, just make a messy knotted bun. I promise they will still taste good!

    After forming the buns, let sit for about 30 min before baking. I used this time to prepare the glaze (which again, was as easy at mixing sugar, water, and cardamom together).

    To bake, preheat the oven to 400 F. Bake for about 8-10 min and remove. The buns should be starting to brown on top, but still soft. I took mine out at 8 minutes because I like them a little underdone rather than crispy. And my oven runs hot.

    Immediately spoon the glaze over the top and let it seep into the buns.

    Pair with coffee and enjoy!

    Kardemummabullar‬ (cardamom buns)

    by Stephanie Howe
    Prep Time: 30 min.
    Cook Time: 10 min.
    Keywords: bake breakfast cardamom Christmas Scandinavian winter
    Ingredients (10-15 buns)
      For the Dough
      • 1 c (250 ml) milk
      • 1 package dry active yeast
      • 1/3 c (60 g) brown sugar
      • 3 1/4 c (420 g) flour (I used a mix of al purpose, spelt, and pastry)
      • 1 teaspoon cardamom
      • ¼ teaspoon salt
      • 5 Tablespoons (70 g) butter at room temperature
      For the Filling
      • 4.5 tablespoons (60 g) butter at room temperature
      • 1/4 c, scant (30 g) brown sugar
      • 1½ teaspoons cardamom
      • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
      For the Glaze
      • 1/4 c (50 g) brown sugar
      • 1/4 c (60 g) water
      • 1 teaspoon cardamom
      For the Dough
      Warm milk over low heat and add yeast. Stir until dissolved. Add flour, sugar, cardamom, salt to a mixer with a bread hook attachment. Add milk and begin to mix. After a few seconds, start to add butter. Mix for about 5 min (or knead by hand for 5-10 min). Roll dough into a ball and place in a bowl. Cover, and rise for about 1 hr.
      For the Filling
      Mix all ingredients in a medium sized bowl and stir until well combined. Set aside.
      To Shape
      Roll out dough into a long rectangle. Spread filling evenly over the entire rectangle. Fold in half longways. Cut 10-15 evenly shaped long strips from the rectangle (see photos). Make a slit with a knife about 3/4 of the way up the long strip. Twist ends inward to make a spiral shape. Take twisted ends and cross them over each other and tuck the loose ends behind the bun (this sounds complicated, but really just make a 'messy' bun look- the shape doesn't terrible matter). Place on a baking sheet and let rise for another 30-40 min.
      For the Glaze
      Mix water, brown sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon together in a small bowl
      To bake
      Bake at 400-425 for 8-10 min. Remove from heat and spoon glaze on top while still warm. Sprinkle with decorative sugar if desired.
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      Thursday, December 17, 2015

      Beginning to Heal, Finally

      It was raining. And I was running, uphill on a trail I'd run many times before. I was in Corvallis, just a day away from defending my dissertation, and I needed a release. It was the straw that broke the camels back. Through the raindrops I could feel the warm tears running down my face. I was so over this, whatever this even was. I was well enough to run, and running temporarily made the pain go away, but the aftermath that would follow loomed over me. There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than an injury that feels better by the thing that causes it in the first place. That doesn't even make sense....

      My mind started churning, and suddenly I just stopped, mid run, and whipped out my phone. I had a moment of clarity. An email was sent, and then I continued on my way, feeling somewhat lighter. A huge weight had just been taken off my chest and there was no where to go but up.

      I had just made the decision to start healing. 

      Anyone who's been close to me knows over the last 6 months I've been struggling with my left achilles and foot. I've been able to run and race through it, but was pretty unhappy doing so. It's been mentally defeating because not only does it not hurt when I run, but it also feels better. Wtf?! The high, however, is followed by a massive crash hours later pushing me further and further down a dark hole. This low, characterized by pain, stiffness, and frustration, has been haunting me every single day since April. I've been on this emotional roller coaster for far too long. And last week, I decided I needed to take action. Within the span of a couple hours I emailed the doctor, asked Zach if he would go with me, and booked plane tickets to Sweden....leaving 3 days later. Talk about making things happen! 

      My travel partner for this adventure!

      Sunrise somewhere over the Swiss Alps...
      And so here I am, in Umea, Sweden recovering from surgery. But boy is it a good feeling! Not that my foot feels good, because it doesn't, but my soul feels happy. I know deep down that I am starting to heal, finally. For so long I tried to avoid getting surgery, but every time a modality was thrown at my foot and it failed, my outlook became more and more bleak. 

      Holidays in Scandinavia
      I wasn't going to write about this. I don't like sharing my struggles publicly all that much. But, after some thought, I felt I needed to share. Part of why I am here, on the road to recovery is because others had the courage to share. If they hadn't, then I might still be at home falling further behind and more frustrated by the day. I cannot thank Sandi Nypaver and Lauren Fleshman enough for their encouragement and support as I came to the decision to seek surgery. Both have had achilles injuries, both have come to Sweden to see Dr. Alfredson, and both are happy. Enough said.

      So why Sweden? The biggest reason was to see Dr. Alfredson at the Alfredson Tendon Clinic. Dr. Alfredson is the achilles expert; and probably one of the nicest, most knowledgeable docs I have ever met. Within minutes of visiting with him I understood more about my injury than over the entire last year. Instead of some unknown mystery, I really understood why my foot was hurting. 

      Post-surgery with Dr. Alfredson
      My whole visit to the clinic took place over two days. I arrived on Wednesday morning for my consultation. We talked for a bit, he took ultrasound (on both sides) and showed me the results. It wasn't all bad news, in fact my achilles itself was pretty healthy. But there was a pretty big superficial bursa over my heel and a smaller bursa near my bone. Both were contributing to the pain. In his opinion (and mine after seeing the images) there was no way this was going to get better without surgery. I was ready. 

      The surgery was amazing. I was awake and Dr. Alfredson told me what he was doing the entire time. The entire procedure lasted about 30-45 minutes and and during that time two bursa were removed, the bone was smoothed a bit, and my plantaris tendon exicised. Apparently my plantaris tendon was unique in that it wrapped around my achilles and attached to the back of my heel. He kept saying "I've never seen anything like this before!" Hmmm, not exactly what you want to hear when your foot is wide open. He was more amused than concerned though. After the surgery he sent me home with a book of research articles on the 9 different positions of the plantaris tendon. And now we will have to add a 10th article for the position of your tendon! Glad I could provide some amusement :)

      The next day I returned for a follow-up and saw the new ultrasound images. Everything looked great and I left the clinic with just one crutch, and was encouraged to walk around with 50% body weight. That to me was impressive!

      Walking around Umea, just 24 hrs after surgery
      The recovery is going to be long and I'm sure I will struggle at times, but I know I've made progress. There is no where to go but up, and right now that's a great feeling! 

      And cheers to being a Dr.!!!