DIY Holiday Gift Series: Decadent Chocolate Truffles

 

WARNING: the next few weeks will be possible SPOILERS for family and friends

Scandinavian Snowball Truffles

Truffles are so good, so decadent, and so seductive. For someone like me who doesn’t usually get all the fuss about chocolate, I can easily get behind truffles. Deliciously creamy bites of dark chocolate bliss are a sure winner for everyone and this is certainly the time of year to indulge.

But what if truffles were made with good, wholesome ingredients, so even as an indulgence you are getting a lot of good things your body needs along with it – like healthy and beneficial fat such as coconut milk, coconut oil, fair trade dark cocoa powder and allergen friendly chocolate?

Years ago, when I had a Trader Joe’s near me, I would get boxes of their truffles to give as gifts to people. So I knew one DIY holiday gift I wanted to make this year was truffles. I was inspired by Nourished Kitchen’s recipe (the post is worth a read – it tells her sweet and lovely wedding story) and in fact my Solstice Spice truffles are almost exactly like Jenny’s Mayan Chocolate Truffles. But I wanted to branch out a bit from her recipe and make a flavor with all the spices that remind me of Yuletide kitchens in Norway – cardamom and anise with coconut, and this is how Scandinavian Snowball truffles were born.

As I indicated last holiday season, when I “came out” on the blog as a Pagan, I talked about the Winter Solstice and how we celebrate this time of year. I follow the spiritual pathways of my Northern European ancestors who call this celebration time Yule. For Pagans of various denominations, this time of year is also about a birth, the birth of the Sun. Just like other religious celebrations during this time of year, we celebrate a festival of lights and honor the warming sun which on the Winter Solstice ends the darkest time of the year, giving birth to longer days. So this time of year I like to honor the sun and remember with fondness the time I spent in Norway, by incorporating the flavors and food culture into my celebrations. This celebration was the inspiration for the flavor of these truffles – warming and spicy.

To make it easy for my recipients, I made each flavor in a different shape. One I cut into “rustic” (to borrow Jenny’s language) triangular shapes, and the other, I used my hands to roll into a traditional ball shape. Each truffle is about a rough teaspoon in size. Each recipe makes about 100 truffles. As always, I included a card with the package that contains the ingredients. I made the package from a square of natural, unbleached parchment paper and tied with raffia.

INGREDIENTS: Solstice Spice:

20 ounces chocolate with high cocoa content, chopped coarsely (or chips) – I used Enjoy Life: Dairy, Soy and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chips
4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper powder
2 vanilla beans, opened and scraped
pinch unrefined sea salt
4 cups full-fat coconut milk
4 TBS coconut oil
cocoa powder ( @¼ cup) and a few dashes cinnamon mixed, for dredging truffles

INGREDIENTS: Scandinavian Snowballs:

20 ounces chocolate with high cocoa content, chopped coarsely (or chips) – I used Enjoy Life: Dairy, Soy and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chips
1 tsp cardamom, ground
½ tsp star anise, ground
1 vanilla bean, opened and scraped
pinch unrefined sea salt
4 cups full-fat coconut milk
4 TBS coconut oil
cocoa powder and desiccated coconut mixed (@ ¼ cup each), for dredging truffles

METHOD:

1. Toss chopped chocolate into a mixing bowl with the spices, scraped vanilla bean and a dash unrefined sea salt.
2. Bring coconut milk and coconut oil to a slow simmer in a saucepan over a moderate flame.
3. Pour coconut milk and oil over the chopped chocolate and seasonings then stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is thoroughly melted and the mixture, or ganache, becomes thick, uniform and glossy.
4. Transfer the mixture into a loaf pan or glass baking dish with sides lined with parchment paper, and allow it to harden in the refrigerator for eight to twelve hours, or overnight.
5. After the chocolate has hardened in the refrigerator for eight to twelve hours, remove it, unmold it from the parchment paper and carve it into irregular bite-sized chunks or for balls, use a one tsp measuring spoon
6. Toss the chunks with cocoa powder mixture and serve. Makes about 100 tsp sized balls and/or rustic chunks per recipe.
NOTES: Unless you live in a very hot climate, these truffles should keep at room temperature indefinitely.

* Be sure to click on the DIY Holiday Gift Series tag to see all the posts in this series!

Drying Apples for Winter Storage

Fall is certainly apple season. One of the ways I like to celebrate my favorite season, autumn is by picking apples and pumpkins. I know here in Northern Vermont, apple picking season is pretty much over, but for all of you in slightly warmer climates, you probably have abundance all around you right now.

I must admit, as I have before on this blog, that I have never been a huge fan of apples. I am not sure why. But I think maybe they are just too sugary sweet for my taste buds. Over the past few years, I have learned to really enjoy whole, fresh apples in savory applications like this Apple Chard Cheddar Tart, which we love making at this time of year, when all the ingredients are still in season, or how about a new take on pulled pork with an Apple Barbeque Sauce? I have another fresh apple recipe I will be sharing with you soon.

I also have come to really love dried apples. In fact, this is my favorite way to enjoy apples. I first made Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut and Red Cabbage last year for our Yule celebration, and this combination of roasted pork, cabbage and slices of dried apple have become a favorite meal of ours this fall season.

Generally, I just sear the chops in coconut oil, butter or bacon fat, and then put them in my tagine. Then I dump shredded cabbage, maybe some homemade sauerkraut, sliced onion and minced garlic and some strips of dried apple. I season this all with salt and pepper, some coriander and raw apple cider vinegar. I put it in the oven at 350 F, for about 2 hours. If you don’t have a tagine, you could use a Dutch oven. It is simple, yet super delicious and flavorful.

So as you can see, there are a lot of savory applications for apples. Since we use them now, I thought about drying some for use over the winter. Drying apples at home for winter storage is really easy. You don’t need any special equipment and all it takes is time.

We harvested about 12 lbs. of apples. I saved about a dozen for eating, and used the rest to make dried apples. I cut the apples in thin, round slices. Then I laid them out on cookie trays, being sure to give them space. When you oven dry fruit or veggies it is important they don’t touch. This helps them to dry better and more evenly.

The first batch I did at 200 F for about 2-3 hours. They didn’t really feel dry enough, so I put them in mason jars and stored them in the fridge for later use. For the second batch, I did about 3 hours. I wasn’t sure they were dry enough either, so I put them on a plate on my kitchen counter and covered them with a kitchen towel. I mixed them with my hands every day, and then put the towel back over them until they felt really dry – about a week. Use your own judgment here. If you have eaten dried apples before, you know what they are supposed to feel like, leathery and a bit sticky from the caramelized sugar.

I made about 4 trays of dried apples, which equates to about 6-7 pints.

We are really hoping to revitalize the apple trees we have here on the homestead, and maybe add a few more trees next year. I am really excited at trying my hand at hard cider and making my own raw apple cider vinegar. Dried apples also make a great DIY handmade holiday gift for the foodies in your life. In fact some of my loved ones may receive some in one form or another this year. That is, if I don’t eat them all myself, first!

Sometimes if I have a craving for something sweet, I reach for a slice of dried apple. Its concentrated sweetness kicks the craving, and all I need is one!

 

Equipment for Drying Apples at home:

*An oven set at 200 F
*Cookie sheets covered with parchment paper (makes it easier to remove the apples, the sugar tends to caramelize and stick to a naked tray)
*Plate and kitchen towel for extra air drying time
*Mason jars for storage

Guest Post: Pasteli

 

I hope you all are enjoying this series of guest posts by some of my favorite food bloggers! I know I am.

This next edition is written by a great friend of mine, and one of the few blogging friends I have been able to actually meet in person – Peter Georgakopoulos from Souvlaki for the Soul. Isn’t that the coolest blog name? Not only is the blog name so inventive, but the recipes he posts are absolutely mouthwatering. Greek is one of my favorite cuisines, and Peter, although born and raised in Sydney, Australia, is of Greek descent, and this shows in his delicious food! He uses simple, fresh and delicious ingredients to their fullest potential, and more often than not, they include the flavors of Greece, including old favorites. Not only is the food divine, but the photography and food styling really bring his recipes to life.

I just love Peter, and really can’t say enough about what he offers on his blog, so if you haven’t already been to Peter’s blog, you need to get on over there! So now, I will let Peter take it away! THANK YOU PETER!

First off, let me begin by saying that I am very honoured and proud to be a guest blogger here at the Leftover Queen. I’ve “known” Jenn and Roberto from the blogging world and have actually met them in real life too. Their food philosophies and passion for everything about it is infectious. They are truly a great example of people who believe and follow their dreams.

When Jenn asked me if I was keen to do a guest post I said “yes” straight away. My mind went to cooking up something Greek (of course) plus I wanted it to be healthy. I thought about all those hours they put in to running their farm-from herding the goats, looking after the chooks, planting vegetables and making cheese. This is serious hardcore work that requires some energy! So I came up with the idea of creating some natural “energy bars” known as pasteli.

Pasteli is Greece’s version of the sesame bar. Traditionally it is made with sesame seeds and honey and sometimes has nuts mixed through it. Once it sets, it becomes this chewy, irresistible, almost addictive snack. When I was growing up, I always looked forward to the “care packages” we got from Greece and they almost always had pasteli included in them. I must admit, I had a love/hate relationship with this all natural energy bar. I loved it’s taste (cause I adore sesame seeds) but hated the way it sort of got stuck in your teeth! Nevertheless, I still munched on them with great abandon.

For today’s recipe (which I adapted from Elly’s blog here ) I played around with this concept by adding some black sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and pistachios. If you can get hold of some Greek thyme honey it would make this recipe just about perfect, if not any honey will do. It’s as simple as toasting the seeds in a hot pan, adding in your warmed honey, letting it cook for a few minutes and voila! You have nature’s perfect marriage. Feel free to add any kind of nuts you like as well. I’ve made my pasteli a little thicker as I wanted them to look like energy bars but traditionally it is much thinner. If you want them thinner use a larger baking pan. Also, if you prefer a “crisper” i.e.”jaw breaking” pasteli you may wish to add some sugar ( I wouldn’t add more than 50 grams).

Munch on these during the day as a healthy snack between meals, pop them in your kids lunch boxes or serve them up with a cup of Greek coffee. Whatever you do just make these! Thank you Jenn-hope you guys like these.

Easy Herbed Chevre Stuffed Squash Blossoms

 

Everybody has heard the old saying, that during the summer, people’s squash plants grow so rapidly and abundantly, that they have to put them on their neighbor’s porches in the middle of the night just to get rid of them! Well, there is another way – which is far tastier. Just take the flowers, and make stuffed squash blossoms!

Well, we have been having the opposite problem in our garden this year – an abundance of beautiful blossoms, but only a few fruits just beginning. We weren’t sure – was the soil missing nutrients? Or maybe the soil temperature just wasn’t hot enough? Last year we got our squashes in too late and they were killed off by an early frost. This year we started them indoors and they turned out beautiful, but we were beginning to worry that we were going to have another dud crop this year – which would be so disappointing as we planted a TON for winter storage.

So I started doing some research into the matter. There are male and female squash blossoms and in the beginning of the season, the vine produces primarily male blossoms. The females are the fruit producing blossoms, and the males, do not produce fruit. I learned that it is the pollen from the male blossom that is needed for the female blossom to turn into fruit. This of course is done by bees and other insects, which is why the bee issue is so important to gardeners (and should be to anyone that eats). Luckily, both male and female blossoms grow on the same vine, and so if there are enough bees buzzing around, there shouldn’t be any pollination problems.

How can you tell a female blossom from a male? Female blossoms have a bump or immature mini fruit between the blossom and the stem, and the males lack the bump.

So if you have too many fruits, you can use some female blossoms to make the stuffed blossoms. If you don’t want to lose any fruits, be sure to use the male blossoms, since those will not produce fruit anyway.

This is perfect for a quick and easy summer treat. Very little prep time/work and ingredients you probably have on hand.

Herbed Chevre Stuffed Squash Blossoms

INGREDIENTS:

6 squash blossoms (any kind of squash will do!)
¼ cup chevre
1 TBS of fresh herbs minced – I used a mixture of thyme, basil and chives
1 egg – beaten
Olive oil
Sea salt

METHOD:

Place about an inch of olive oil in the bottom of a skillet (I use cast iron) and heat it up slowly on low heat. Wash the blossoms and gently pat the dry, remove the blossom stamens any seeds or unwanted hitchhikers. In a small bowl mix the chevre and herbs together. Using your fingers, get a small amount of the chevre mixture and place in the blossoms (some people like piping the mixture out of a pastry bag, but fingers work just as well). Then dip the stuffed blossom in the egg and place in the hot oil. Fry on each side for about a minute, or until brown. Remove from oil and place on a cooling rack with a paper towel to drain and sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately.

Summer Solstice 2011

Happy Summer Solstice to all my readers in the Northern Hemisphere!

 

The Summer Solstice marks the beginning of summer and is the longest day of the year! Here in Northern Vermont, it began getting dark around 9:30 PM. Sitting out on our side deck enjoying the mountain views and listening to all the sounds – barnyard animals, birds, frogs, insects made me think about past Solstices, and I recalled my time living in Norway when it was still bright as day at 2 AM! Very different but both great experiences!

 

I like to celebrate my Northern European roots on the Solstices and usually we toast with a local sparkling mead. Unfortunately we were not able to find the mead yesterday, so we settled on Sah’tea by Dogfish Head Ales. I was drawn to the graphics on the label – as it features my favorite animal, the Reindeer. Sah’tea is based on a 9th century Finnish recipe, Sahti. It is brewed with rye and juniper berries. They break with tradition by adding chai tea at the end of the boil. The flavor of the ale was intense with the chai spices tickling the palette. The color was a darker amber than we are used to seeing in an ale. It is a very unique brew, not something I would want every day, but it was definitely a good choice for a celebratory meal!

As for the nibbles, we decided on an antipasti of sorts. For proteins we had prosciutto, fresh marinated anchovies, duck rilettes and 2 types of cheese – a raw cow’s raclette and a sheep’s milk Lancashire. We also had assorted olives, peppadew peppers (which were delicious stuffed with rilletes), artichoke hearts homemade pickles – daikon radish and carrots. For dessert we had fresh, local, organic strawberries with fresh whipped cream!

 

We had a great evening, enjoying our al fresco meal and ending the night by “tucking in” all the animals. It is quiet moments like this that make everything feel right in the world. Hope you enjoyed yours too!

Cooking with Friends: Sopes & Sangria

Sopes stuffed with local cheese and jalapeno jam

Part of feeling settled in a new community comes with making new friends. Having friends makes you feel more grounded in the place where you live and of course it is always nice to have people to share events, food and good times with! We have been lucky in this regard with our move to Vermont. We will have been living here for a year at the end of April, and we are lucky to have developed several groups of friends here in the local community.  The common vein is that all of these friends were met by way of food. But I guess knowing me, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise!

We met Corey and Kurt during a lamb butchering class we took with Cole Ward, The Gourmet Butcher , this past fall. It was an 8 hour class where we all learned how to butcher a lamb for our own consumption. Cole is a genius and a true artisan of the craft. I can’t wait to take more classes with him! Roberto and I were the only first-timers there. Of course during those many hours we all talked an awful lot about food and recipes. At the end of class, many of us exchanged email addresses. Several of us planned a lamb potluck for January, and for one reason or another, it ended up only being me, Roberto, Corey and Kurt at the dinner.

Since then we have been getting together regularly to enjoy good food, wine and each other’s company either at each other’s houses or out in the community.  Sometimes we even cook together and are making plans to start a Supper Club and acquire more foodie friends!

Corey and Kurt are big foodies. Having lived all over the world they have experienced a lot of different food cultures. They have big plans to host gourmet getaways to Vermont. They already have a beautiful cabin in rural Vermont that they rent out to guests, and are working on having a kitchen put in where they can offer cooking classes and gourmet dinners to their guests.

 

 

The last time we got together, they hosted and made Mexican food.  They had recently taken a class with Chef Courtney Contos (the chef on the Gourmet Butcher DVDs), and decided to keep practicing their new recipes by trying them out on us. I offered to bring drinks. I made nice winter sangria using a dark red zinfandel as the base. I added to it several shots of lavender scented vodka, a splash of vanilla extract and a variety of fruits we had preserved this fall, including, raspberries in syrup and plums in a vanilla-cardamom-rum syrup. I also added sliced blood oranges. I soaked the fruits in the vodka overnight and added a pinch of dried lavender. I meant to take a picture when we served it, but we were already a bottle of wine in, and it slipped my mind. The photo above is one of my favorite photos from this blog and a summer sangria recipe.

For appetizers, Corey made the coolest stuffed masa boats, called Sopes.  Masa is Spanish for “dough” but it usually refers to dough made from reconstituted corn meal.  My friend Ben from What’s Cooking Mexico has a great tutorial on making sopes and other tortillas .

Making the Sopes

 

The only thing we did different with our sopes is that we folded up the sides of the small tortillas to make “boats” before frying them to shape them. We stuffed our sopes with several different options – guacamole, Boucher blue cheese (Highgate, VT) and plain Chevre (Boston Post Dairy, Enosburg, VT). Both of the cheese options were topped with some of Corey’s homemade Jalapeno jam from peppers grown in Georgia, VT. They were all delicious, but I really loved the unique combination of the Boucher blue and jalapeno jam.

Dinner was Mexican rice, homemade beans, and a stewed chicken dish in a tomatillo sauce (via Corey and Kurt’s garden last year), served with freshly made tortillas. For dessert they had roasted pears and pineapple served with homemade caramel. Again, we forgot to take photos, but I promise it was good! We ended the evening with an impromptu Scotch tasting and tea. Definitely a great night!

Trail Mix and Raw Milk Hot Cocoa

 

Well since Old Man Winter came back with a vengeance last night, I figured I would honor him by posting about one of my favorite winter activities, snowshoeing. I thought this post was going to have to wait until next winter, as we had a definite hearkening of spring this past week. But last night we got hit with the biggest storm of the year by far, with at least 2 feet – and it is still coming down!

Roberto and I discovered snowshoeing last year, and this winter we decided to get our own snowshoes. This morning they came in handy when we had to go out to collect firewood in 4 foot snow drifts, and are very practical when living in a climate such as ours, just to survive and do chores around the house. But they are also a great source of fun for us during the long winter months.

 

(If this picture looks familiar it is because you have likely seen it before, but usually it is bare feet and there is sand instead of snow!)

Snowshoes and cross-country skiing are pretty big sports in Vermont and much like when I lived in Norway, people make a day of going on an adventure. There is nothing like being out in the woods following deer trails or making your own path through the forest. It is not only great exercise, especially towards the latter part of the season, when even with snowshoes on, you sink to about knee high, but it is also breathtakingly gorgeous. The views are all for you, you feel like you are alone in the world, and it is so quiet you can almost hear the snow fall. My favorite time to be out snowshoeing is in the middle of a storm – when you feel very much like you are walking in one of Mother Nature’s snow globes. I always picture it on one of her shelves with the words “walking in a winter wonderland” on it.

Since snowshoeing does take a lot of energy, we always make sure to bring nourishing snacks with us. We usually find a beautiful spot to stop and have a nice snack. Our staple snack is always homemade trail mix. We usually also have a nice bar of dark, fair trade chocolate and sometimes a Tanka Bar. But the trail mix is a must. It is a nice hearty combination of dried fruits and soaked nuts.

 

In Norway, when I used to go ut på tur, or out on a walk – which in the winter meant cross-country skiing, we always brought a nice thermos of something hot to enjoy on our break. So I carried the tradition to our snowshoeing tur here in Vermont. Usually I bring raw milk cocoa, and sometimes I bring a lovely thermos of spicy tea. I learned to make raw milk cocoa from some friends in New Hampshire. It is a revelation in its simplicity. I don’t even feel the need to sweeten it because raw milk is already sweeter than pasteurized milk. So this makes it a definite “health drink” as opposed to a splurge. Regardless, the break and the snack help to re-fuel us for the journey back home.

But trail mix really is good for any time of year. It is a well-balanced snack and definitely keeps you going. So even if it is already spring where you are – make up a batch today and enjoy on the go!

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Trail Mix

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup raw soaked and dried organic almonds
1 cup raw soaked and dried organic cashews
½ cup of raw soaked and dried pepitas
½ cup dried (organic, no sugar added, un-sulfured) blueberries
½ cup dried (organic, no sugar added, un-sulfured) cherries
¼ cup dried (organic, no sugar added, un-sulfured) Turkish apricots
*You could also add dark chocolate or carob chips, or other fried fruits as suits your palate

METHOD:

Here is a great link for the whys and hows of soaking and drying nuts. You can also chose not to soak them. Mix all ingredients together.

Raw Milk Cocoa

For each serving:

INGREDIENTS:

8 oz raw milk
3 TBS fair trade cocoa powder
Pinch of cinnamon
Maple syrup to sweeten

METHOD:

Heat raw milk in a saucepan for about 3-5 minutes, over medium heat, until hot but not boiling. Stir in cocoa powder and cinnamon. Sweeten with maple.

Curing Olives at Home

I intend most of my Thursday, Let’s Get Cultured posts, to be about cultured dairy products. However, from time to time I might feature non-dairy cultured items on Thursdays. Today I am going to talk about curing olives at home.

I learned about home curing olives from Jenny’s blog, Nourished Kitchen. She has an awesome and easy to follow step-by-step guide on how to crack, cure and season olives. She also has one of the best blogs out there, so I suggest once you are over there, to check out her fabulous recipes. I am not re-inventing the wheel on olive curing, so I will refer you to her fantastic blog where you too can see the process for olive curing at home. I do however, have some notes, and then I would like to share with you the various flavors I added to my olives.

But first I will share with you my source for the olives. Chaffin Family Orchards is a diversified farm in the Sacramento Valley of California. Their farm has been in the hands of the Chaffin family for 5 generations. Most of their olive trees are over 100 years old. The farm has been harvesting and producing olives and olive oil for over 75 years. Their olives are farmed without using chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. They use cover crops and rotations of cattle, goats, sheep and chickens to control vegetation and fertilize the orchards. The goats are also used to prune the trees!

Most of the research I did on olive curing suggests that you should soak your olives in water (changing twice daily) for 2-4 weeks. This is the process whereby the raw olives lose their bitterness. If you have ever tried eating a raw olive, you will see why this step is of utmost importance.

Olive Curing Notes:

I found that even 4 weeks was not enough time – I think we soaked our olives for close to two months, and they were still a bit bitter after all that time. I am not sure if it is because I cured them during winter, and it was just too cold in the house, or what. So after about 2 months, we decided to decant the olives, and flavor them but we added about ¼ cup of raw apple cider vinegar to the individually flavored jars. This seemed to take care of most of the rest of the bitterness – but it is not consistent from olive to olive. Some olives still are bitter. We have only started eating one jar, so we will see how the other jars are as we get to them. Maybe they just need a little more time.

Curing olives is really quite easy and straightforward. It is a fun project, especially if you have children and would make great presents to give to family and friends! It is a great traditional skill to add to any homesteader’s repertoire.

My Flavors:

*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Saffron
*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Herbs de Provence
*Lemon, Bay Leaf and De Arbol Chili
*Juniper, Mustard, Lemon and Black Pepper
*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Habanero Pepper
*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Coriander Seed, Cumin Seed, Sumac, Ras el Hanout