Friday, October 31, 2014

La Bruja {A Halloween Cocktail}

Okay, spill the beans.....what are your plans for tonight?

Are you dressing up in the sexiest costume possible? (You little vixen, you).

Are you going to going to a haunted house?

Carving pumpkins?

Going to turn out your porch light, sit on the couch with a glass of wine and watch a scary movie?

We will be taking a creepy bride and either Spiderman, Superman, or Batman (I have a very indecisive two-year-old) out trick-or-treating in our neighborhood then head over to a friend's house for a little Halloween fiesta. I'm in charge of ghoulish cocktails and I think you're going to like this one.

Here goes.....first off, you make this perfectly sweet and sour tamarind simple syrup. "How the heck do I do that?" You ask. Good question.

You buy yourself a bag of tamarind pods from the Mexican market or order them here.

Remove the papery outer skin.

Place the pods with water and sugar in a small saucepan and cook them until they are really soft. Let it cool a little bit. Pour the whole she-bang in the blender and blend until liquified. Warning: there are seeds inside the pods which will produce a very loud noise while blending. Its okay, it won't break your blender. Strain out the seeds and voilá, tamarind simple syrup.

For a kid friendly drink you can serve the simple syrup with some sparkling water over ice like a fizzy tamarind agua fresca. But for you and me, who need something a little more potent after freezing our butts off walking around in the dark all night, this is what you do: combine the simple syrup with lime juice and dark anejo tequila serve it in a glass rimmed with chipotle chile powder and salt and you have a witches brew no broom-flying being could resist.

Have a Happy Halloween everyone!!

La Bruja

For the tamarind syrup:
5 ounces tamarind pods (about 6 pods)
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar

For the cocktail:
4 ounces dark anejo tequila
2 ounces tamarind simple syrup
Juice of 1 lime
lime wedges, salt, chipotle chili powder for rimming the glass

To make the syrup, remove the outer husk and stem from the tamarind pods. Combine pods, water, and sugar in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Whisk until sugar is dissolved and then bring to a boil. Boil gently until pods are soft, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Pour tamarind mixture into the blender and blend until liquified. Strain out the seeds and reserve. Syrup can be made up to a week in advance. Keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the cocktail, cut a slit in a lime wedge then rub it around the outer rim of your glass. Pour salt and chili powder into separate small plates then dip the glass in salt and then chili powder to coat (you can use as much as you'd like to make it spicy for your tastes).

Combine tequila, simple syrup, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosty. Pour into the prepared glass and serve.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mini Pan de Muertos with Tropical Fruit

We took the kids to see The Book of Life last weekend. I was initially prepared to not like the movie. We had watched the trailer and I thought it looked fine, it was going to be about Mexican culture, something I'm always on the hunt to promote North Dakota.....which is the opposite of Mexico.

Furthermore, the information was going to be presented in a way the kids could understand (cartoons) instead of the way they normally receive their cultural information, which is me, blah, b-blah, blahing about how, for example, Dia de los Muertos is important because it is how their people cherish and celebrate those who are no longer with us. To which they ask, "is it your people too, Mama" and then I say, "No, my people are from Germany" which leads to a whole other topic about why they can't be from where my people are from and then trying to explain that they are also part German, and so on and so forth until 30 minutes later we are no longer discussing Mexican culture but something more along the lines of Immigration Policy 101 for 6-year-olds.

So you see, as much as I thought the movie looked a little boring, I also thought it'd be good for the kids, so we took them last Saturday and I will say the first 30 minutes did nothing to change my attitude. But then it got kind of funny and kind of sweet and really explained in a beautiful way how important Dia de lost Muertos is to honor your loved ones who have passed—and the kids totally got it.

When the movie was over Louisa asked if we could celebrate Dia de los Muertos and I said "Yes! Of course" and explained to her that that's why we made the Sugar Skulls and the Pan de Muerto and all that other stuff we've been talking about for the last two weeks. "Aaahhhooo. " She said.

Last year I made the more traditional orange and anise-flavored Pan de Muerto, and its really good—made into one big loaf that you slice. This year I used chopped tropical fruit like mango, pineapple, and papaya. The glowing red papaya gives the skeletons a particularly creepy look if you save a few to dot their eyes with. I also, finally (after visiting three different ethnic markets) found orange flower water (also sometimes called orange blossom water) which is the key to authentic tasting pan dulce. When the Professor got home he said the house smelled like his old neighborhood, which I attribute to the orange flower water, and was about the best compliment one could receive if they are trying to make really good Pan de Muerto. If you can't find it you can substitute fresh orange juice instead—totally different, but still delicious.

Mini Pan de Muertos with Tropical Fruit

These mini loaves are perfect for sharing but if you do have any leftover it makes pretty amazing bread pudding. 

Makes 6 mini loaves

1/2 cup whole milk
4 heaping teaspoons dried yeast
4 cups white bread flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, divided
5 large eggs, at room temperature, plus 1 more for brushing
2 tablespoons orange flower water
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups chopped dried tropical fruit, such as mangoes, pineapple, and papaya

Heat milk to between 105-115°F. Pour into the bowl of mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sprinkle yeast over the top and let sit 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of flour and let sit another 30 minutes.

Add butter and half of the sugar to the yeast mixture and beat to combine. Add the 5 eggs, one at a time, letting the first one incorporate completely before adding the next. Add remaining flour, flower water, and salt, and switch the attachment to the dough hook. Knead the dough on medium speed for 8 minutes. Add dried fruit and knead 2 more minutes.

Oil a large bowl and transfer dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size.

Heat oven to 350°F. Remove dough to a lightly-floured work surface and divide into 6 pieces. Take one piece of dough and cut off one-third of it. Cut this smaller piece into thirds. Roll two of the smaller pieces into long ropes and the third into an oval shape. Take the larger piece and form it into a tight ball. Criss-cross the top of the ball with the long ropes, shaping the ends to look like bones and place the oval directly in the middle, shaping to look like a skull. Place the loaf on a parchment covered baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough until you've made 6 mini loaves.

Beat the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water and brush each loaf with the egg wash. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar over the loaves and place on the lower rack of the oven. Bake 35 minutes, or until dark golden brown and baked through (the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom). Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Breads will keep, covered tightly at room temperature, for up to 3 days.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Super Easy Sugar Skulls for Dia de los Muertos

Things are getting spooky around here. 

With Day of the Dead just around the corner I thought I'd share these soooooper easy sugar skulls or calaveras. I know a lot of blogs toss around terms like easy or simple and then you look at the list of ingredients and it includes things you'd have to drive to Cambodia for, "but once you get that home this recipe only takes 5 seconds!!!"

I swear to you that this little project is legitimately easy. You can trust me because I do not have a crafty bone in my body and I actually enjoyed this activity. All you need to do is drive to Mexico and pick up a skull mold....just kidding you can buy them at a Mexican market if you live in any largish-sized city or you can order it here. Then combine a cup of granulated sugar with a couple teaspoons of water. Rub the water into the sugar really good with your hands then pack it super tight into the mold. Flip the mold over onto a baking sheet and let dry in a low oven for 10 minutes. Let cool completely and decorate.

We used markers, glitter glue, and gems to decorate ours but you can get as fancy or simple as you please. Some people use food coloring, paint, frosting, or colored foil to decorate the skulls but I wanted to use things the kids could easily use on their own, while simultaneously keeping the mess to a minimum.

The molds I used were large molds, about the size of a softball with a flat back. 1 cup of sugar was enough to fill 1 of these molds. You can adjust the size of the batch depending on the size of your mold and how many you want to make. A lot of recipes for the skulls call for meringue powder which I've never used but I assume makes for a harder, more durable finished product, but the skulls we made with just sugar and water worked beautifully and have now survived a week with a very passionate two-year-old which is more than I can say about most things.

Sugar Skulls (Calaveras)

1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons water

Heat oven to 200°F.

Mix sugar and water together until sugar is damp throughout (this is easiest with your hands so you can really tell if all the granules have gotten wet).

Press mixture into the mold taking time to press really well into all the crevices. Firmly pack it in as hard as you can.

Very carefully invert the mold onto a parchment lined baking sheet, letting the sugar skull slip out.

Bake skull to harden the sugar for 10 minutes. Let cool completely, then decorate.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Spicy Fried Toffee Sweet Potatoes

Can we talk sweet potatoes for a sec? They seem to have captured the hearts and minds of all people everywhere. They are slightly sweet potatoes, I mean what's not to like? They have a stunning color, fantastic texture, not to mention, very appropriately named.

I grew sweet potatoes in my garden this year. As is my custom, I had NO idea what I was doing so I can't tell you if my crop was good or bad but I can tell you those suckers like to burrow. As we were pulling dinner together the other night I casually mentioned to my family that I was going to go dig up a few sweet potatoes to roast for supper and thought it would be a job that would take approximately 3 minutes tops. I went out with my trusty little shovel and started digging around where I thought they would be, you know, right under the surface of the topsoil. Then dug some more......then some more.... next thing you know I'm about a foot down, covered in mud, and 30 minutes into the task before I saw even a glimpse of the orange-hued tuber. By that point Hiro had been sent out to see if I'd fallen into a crevasse or if I was even still in fact in the backyard. Ha! 3 minutes my ass, I done got schooled by some sweet potatoes.

But they we're goooooood. So worth the mining they took to extrapolate potato from ground. And we had a decent amount although I plan on planting twice as much next year—digging up your own homegrown sweet potatoes is as good as gold.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy them is fried....duh. But then you make a quick, spicy caramel and toss the freshly fried sweet potatoes in that, sprinkle with a few sesame seeds and it is as good as candy. So good! They make a delicious, if not unlikely dessert to finish off a fall meal, but they are no stranger to the cocktail party either. They may seem fussy with the oil and caramel and all that business, but they actually come together very quickly and can be made with basic pantry ingredients, which makes them a great last-minute entertaining recipe, too.

Spicy Fried Toffee Sweet Potatoes

Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
Vegetable oil, for frying
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Scrub sweet potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices. Cut in halves or quarters if very large.

Fill a frying pan with 1-inch of oil and heat over medium heat until it reaches 350°F or a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds.

Fry sweet potatoes in the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, until slightly tender but still firm, about 2 minutes. Remove to a heat-proof bowl.

Combine sugar, salt, cayenne powder, and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Continue to boil, undisturbed until dark brown and thick, about 5 minutes.

Pour caramel over sweet potatoes and stir to coat. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with sesame seeds, serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Seeded Pull-Apart Rolls + Warm Green Chile Queso Dip

We are in full Halloween/Dia de los Muertos mode around here. 

One minute we are masking taping our sweatpants to make Spiderman costumes and the next has us using loads of glitter glue on our Calaveras.

Have you seen this beautiful video made by Yvette from Muy Bueno? If you know some to nothing about Day of the Dead or even if you know everything about it, this video is a gorgeous representation of how special and important the holiday really is to Mexican culture. The make-up alone is reason enough to spend 5 minutes out of your day watching it.

I would love to have a Dia de los Muertos party with plenty of papel picado and paper flower decorations. I would serve these delicious seeded rolls that are perfect for little hands to tear off and dip into warm, cheesy green chile queso. They are shaped around a large biscuit cutter or whatever heat-proof thing you have that will work as a space holder for your queso bowl. When they come out of the oven they are golden and crisp and loaded with an array of seeds and big flakes of sea salt. You can use as many or as few seeds as you like. I went all out and used everything from chia to sunflower seeds. Louisa's favorite was the sea salt and Hiro's was the sesame (the pumpkin seeds he picked off and threw over his shoulder).

But who knows, I would love to do a lot of things that never seem to happen because by the time they roll around I basically have enough energy to just get the food to the table, let alone actually invite anyone over or sweep the Cheerios off the floor so as to not be too embarrassed by the mess we normally live in. 

If you do summon up enough gusto to have a fiesta, this is perfect party food whether its a party of one (plenty of queso dip for me!!!) or more.

Seeded Pull-Apart Rolls + Warm Green Chile Queso Dip

Makes 4

For the Rolls:
1 1/2 cups warm water (about 105-110°F)
1 (7 gram) packet dried yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
3 cups white bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large egg
1/4 cup hulled (green) pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 tablespoon flaky sea salt

For the Dip:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) cream cheese
8 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) shredded Chihuahua cheese (or Monterey Jack)
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chiles
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

For the Rolls:
Place water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Sprinkle yeast over the top and let sit about 10 minutes or until yeast begins to dissolve and look foamy.

Add flour, salt, and sugar, and mix on low until combined. If the dough seems dry, add a couple tablespoons of water. The dough should be sticky. Turn the mixer to medium and knead for 8 minutes. The dough should be very soft and supple.

Coat a large bowl with the oil. Flour your hands and remove dough from mixer. Place dough in the bowl; turn to coat in oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 425°F and arrange rack in the bottom of the oven. If you have a pizza stone, place that on the bottom rack to heat as the oven heats up. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Flour a clean work surface then remove dough with floured hands onto the surface. Flatten the dough and cut into 32 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, pinching the dough together at the bottom to make firm.

Place the balls in a row on the parchment lined sheet or if you want to make a ring, place a large biscuit cutter in the middle of the baking sheet (this is where the dip will go) and place the rolls in a circle around the cutter, leaving about 1/2-inch space between them.

Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water and brush the top of each roll with the egg wash. Sprinkle the different seeds and salt among the rolls, you can use as many or as few seeds as you wish. Bake on the heated stone, or oven rack, for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden and rolls are firm. Remove the biscuit cutter and serve with warm queso dip.

For the Queso Dip:
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook 1 minute, whisking constantly.

Slowly add milk, whisking continuously, until smooth. Bring to a simmer, then add the cream cheese and half of the Chihuahua cheese; stir to melt. Add remaining cheese and remaining ingredients and stir until cheese is melted and combined. Remove from heat, pour into a serving dish and serve with bread.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Easy Squash and Black Bean Enchiladas

Helllooooo!!! Who's excited that it's Monday?!!

Not me. We just returned from an amazingly long road trip yesterday and I still can't get the theme song from The Backyardagians out of my head. We're backyard friends The Backyardigans.......holy Jesus I need new friends.

It is truly incredible how many times children can view the same video over and over and over again. I think my kids went for a world record yesterday. Is it bad that I let them watch non-stop videos whilst on road trips? Wait, don't answer that.

Who's excited about making dinner tonight?!!!!

Nope, not me either. But if it's going to be anything I want it warm, comforting and most of all, easy! So for you (and let's not kid ourselves, for me too) I made easy. The enchiladas are made with store-bought sauce, a can of black beans, and if you want it even easier, you can use the squash that is already, peeled and cut—simple right?

And because not a night goes by that I don't crave enchiladas, they fulfill the warm and comforting part too. I made a half a batch with cheese and half without for the Professor and both were good, so if you are doing the dairy-free and/or vegan thing these are for you! (Pretend I'm pointing).

You can use any winter squash here. I made them with my favorite buttercup squash but you could use butternut, kabocha, or like I said the peeled-and-cut-up kind, because peeling is kind of a pain in the rear. If you are going to peel yo' self (peel the squash I mean, don't peel your body that would hurt) use a Y peeler as seen in this video, trust me it will make your life soooo much easier.

Here's to a great dinner and an even better week!

Easy Squash and Black Bean Enchiladas

Makes 4 servings

6 cups peeled, cubed winter squash, such as butternut, buttercup, turban, or pumpkin
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
8 ounces (about 2 cups) queso blanco
12 corn tortillas
1 (15 ounce) can red enchilada sauce

Heat oven to 425°F.

Combine squash, onion, garlic, olive oil, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Toss until well coated with oil and spice. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Roast vegetables until golden and tender, about 20-30 minutes, turning halfway through. While vegetables are roasting, wrap tortillas in foil and warm them in the oven, about 10 minutes.

Pour vegetables back into a large bowl, add black beans and coarsely mash with a potato masher. They don't need to be smooth, just broken up a little bit. Stir in half the cheese.

Pour enough enchilada sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish to cover. Lay one tortilla on a work surface and place about 3 tablespoons of filling in the middle. Roll the bottom up over the filling and continue rolling to close. Place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling.

Cover enchiladas with remaining sauce and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Return dish to oven and bake until sauce is bubbly and cheese has melted, about 20 minutes.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mango Cashew Coconut Granola

We are leaving this morning to visit my family in Des Moines.... I come bearing granola. 

My cousin just had her second baby and I'm dying to wrap my arms around that little bundle so we are making what should be an 8 hour drive (but takes 10 with the kids) to see that little guy and also share some granola with his adorable sister.

Whenever I visit family everyone makes their requests and I try to come through. This time around the car will be bearing a cooler packed with an apple pie for my dad, caramel apple butter for my aunt, and my cousin didn't request it but she has mentioned on several occasions that they plow through boxes of granola like nobody's business, so how could I not make her some homemade?

As far as I'm concerned granola is about the best thing for a nursing mom. It is a little sweet, crunchy, chewy, and easy to eat straight out of the bag with one arm. I added chia seeds because the internet tells us that they are really good for you and are high in Omega 3s, protein, and calcium which are all helpful for tired mothers of newborns and really anyone.

I also used my new, favorite dried fruit—this ultra-chewy dried young coconut that is lightly sweetened and comes snacktastic in long strips. If you are existing on a granola diet (which most new moms are) some really good dried coconut can add healthy fats and nutty flavor. If you can't find the larger strips, regular sweetened coconut will work just fine.

Check out my Instagram for updates on all our family fun. There will be lots of baby shots if your into that kind of thing. Happy Friday Party People! XO 

Mango, Cashew, Coconut Granola

Makes 8 Cups

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
2 cups roughy chopped lightly salted and roasted cashews
1/3 cup chia seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sweetened coconut, chopped if large
1 cup chopped dried mango

Heat oven to 325°F.

Combine oats, cashews, chia seeds, salt, and ginger in a large bowl.

Combine honey, coconut oil, and vanilla in a separate medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour wet mixture over dry mixture and toss until evenly moistened.

Spread onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake until toasted and golden, about 25-30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Let cool, undisturbed, then mix in dried fruit.

Granola keeps in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.