Sunday, May 1, 2016

Lilac Simple Syrup

Where I live, lilacs are blooming everywhere, which reminds me of living in Oregon -- the first place I lived with a noticeable number of lilacs. There are a variety of lilacs available -- and the area around me has a lot of them. Lilacs (Syringa spp.) are part of the olive family, and are native to the Balkan peninsula. Lilacs came to the American colonies in the 1700s, and when white Americans and immigrants moved west, in the 1800s, they brought lilacs with them -- and I can't say I blame them. These plants have showy flowers, which grow in panicles, and give off a light floral scent. The shrub itself will eventually grow a clonal thicket, if left to grow without human intervention.

Lilac flowers are edible, and taste pretty much like they smell (with a light bitter end, that'll probably seem familiar if you've tried other edible flowers), at least if you make them into a simple syrup. The flavor of each plant can vary, so you may want to try a flowers from a few different plants, if you have that option.

Lilac syrup actual turns out a lovely light pink, if you don't do anything to modify it. When I was looking into making lilac syrup, I saw a number of people suggesting that you make the syrup with a couple of blueberries to enhance the color -- and since blueberries are also delicious, and I happened to have some on hand, I figured why not?

The process is straight forward, and fairly fast, at least for active cooking time. I let my flowers steep in the warm sugar water for a while, which heightened the color of the syrup. The most time consuming part is removing the flowers from the stem. Ideally, you'll remove all the green parts, because those impart some bitter flavor to your finished product.

Generally simple syrup is a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, but I opted to increase the water a bit for a thinner syrup -- and because I knew that I was going to let the flowers infuse for a while, and I live in dry climate.

Lilac Simple Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups water
3-5 blueberries (optional)
2 cups lilac blossoms (I used a variety of color blossoms)
1/4 teaspoon citric acid OR juice from 1/2 a lemon

Remove the lilac blossoms from the stem, doing your best to remove all of the green parts.

In a saucepan, over high heat, combine the water and sugar, and bring to a boil. When all of the sugar is dissolved, reduce the heat and add the blueberries (if using) and lilac blossoms. Let simmer for 8 minutes, then remove from heat, stir in citric acid or lemon juice (to help preserve your syrup), cover and let cool for 12 hours.

Use a sieve to strain the blossoms from the syrup, and store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

French Silk Pie

A few days ago, More than a year ago, I posted about really wanting to make a  vegan French Silk Pie. I based mine on this recipe, and it was a bit of a rough (though delicious) experience. The recipe I used for inspiration suggested you could use silken or firm tofu -- which maybe is true if you have a fancy VitaMix blender (which I now have access to). I actually use a pretty strong blender and it was upset by the tofu I used (labeled as "soft" though where I live, the "soft" tofu is just as firm as extra firm a lot of times). Therefore, I had to add more liquid than what I'm going to list here to make it so the blender could blend the tofu until very smooth. I used a combination of water and soymilk. If you find yourself in a similar situation, add liquid about 2 tablespoons at a time until your blender can work with the tofu (and later, the tofu and chocolate mixture). You don't want it soupy -- it should be about the consistency of well-mixed natural peanut butter when you're done.
This picture was taken on my phone, and
unfortunately I messed up putting on the raspberries!

The fun part about this recipe is that you can eat a pudding-like version of it pretty much right away, or you can let it sit in the refrigerator and firm up. I think the flavors are actually best if it's had about 24 hours to rest, so if you can make this in advance, please do.

French Silk Pie (vegan, gluten-free)
1 gf vegan pie crust, pressed into a pie pan or 8x11 baking dish

For filling:
12 oz mori-nu Silken Extra Firm or water-packed soft tofu
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (Do not omit, it REALLY makes the difference, so chocolatey.)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons not-milk of choice*
scant 1/8 tsp salt
8 oz dairy-free chocolate chips (I used about 1 cup)
2-3 tablespoons agave or other sweetener

*You may need more not-milk or water, depending on how soft (or firm) your tofu really is.

Blend the tofu in a food processor or blender until it is very smooth (you may need to add liquid at this point, depending on the consistency of your tofu). Set aside. Melt the chocolate on the stove top over low heat, until the chips are just melted (careful not to scorch). All all remaining ingredients to the blender, and blend until very smooth (again, depending on the consistency of your mixture you should add more liquid a little bit at a time), about the consistency of unrefrigerated, natural peanut butter.

For whipped topping:
1 can full fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Raspberries, optional

Remove the can from the fridge. Turn it upside down and open it. Spoon out the solids and place in a chilled bowl. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar (and cinnamon, if using) and using a hand or electric beater, beat until it begins to resemble whipped cream. Spread over the top of the pie and refrigerate the whole thing until ready to serve.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Product Review: Barney Butter Almond Butter Cocoa & Coconut

I bought Barney Butter Almond Butter Cocoa + Coconut recently, because it was on sale at a local grocery store. I also wanted to treat myself because I'd just accepted (and signed the papers for) a new job. Barney Butter comes in a variety of almond-y goodness, including vanilla bean + espresso, honey + flax, and raw + chia.

I selected the cocoa + coconut variety because, frankly, I wanted chocolate in my nut butter. I've been on a quest for a chocolate-y nut butter that could remind me of Nutella, but which wasn't, in fact, Nutella. The Barney Butter Almond Butter Cocoa + Coconut is the closest I've come, and while it's admittedly been years since I've eaten Nutella (for a number of reasons I won't go into here), I think
it's safe to say that I prefer the taste of the Cocoa + Coconut combination Barney Butter makes.

I like that it has a distinct chocolate flavor (from Enjoy Life Chocolate chips, which I've previously reviewed here), but that this doesn't overwhelm my mouth with omgchocolate the way some other chocolate nut butters do -- nor does it leave me wanting to eat more simply to avoid that icky after-taste of some cheaper chocolates (ugh)! It is distinctly coconut-y, which I don't mind, but I know some tasters probably don't care for, and at the room temperature of my house (pretty cool this winter), it's quite thick. It's also incredibly smooth.

This nut butter separates -- or at least my jar had -- despite what the website says. I stirring it a bit more difficult than with most natural (pea)nut butters, but worth it. Once I stirred it, there wasn't a problem with it separating again.

For me, this will stay a special occasion nut butter -- even the plain varieties are pretty expensive, but it's one I'd consider gifting to foodie friends or to people who don't want more things in their life. I imagine it's also a product I'd splurge on for myself once in a while.