Monday, April 21, 2014

Toasted Almond Torte with Ganache

           I love almond and dark chocolate together. I have a couple signature desserts that I have made hundreds of times for celebrations, Holidays, birthdays, weddings or other special meals. Dessert is not an everyday thing in my house but I do love it to finish off a special dinner.  

           Almond torte with ganache probably tops my list, along with lemon squares, carrot cake,  fruit crisps, pumpkin cake or various quick breads and cookies. I am not a great baker so I like to have a few recipes that I know will turn out. Almond torte is easy to make and turns out delicious and  lovely.   I usually will make one well known dessert and one first time, that way in case one does not turn out, I will still have my tried and true.

           That is what I did for our Easter lunch meal with my daughter's future "In-Laws".  Her fiancee's extended family has graciously included us in their holiday celebrations for more than a year. It is wonderful to be a part of this big and friendly family! 

              I have found that this torte is best made a day or two ahead of time. It gets moister and tastes even better. This cake is called a torte because it has more ground nuts than flour in it. While the chocolate goes great with this cake, it is also great with a simple glaze, a raspberry coulis or even plain. I think it is best with a complementary flavor but even plain it is not overpoweringly almond tasting. 

I have been making this so many years and changing it as I go but the idea for the plain almond cake came from a Sunset magazine 25 or 30 years ago. I am not sure how much I have altered the recipe but I want to let you know that a Sunset magazine back in the day was the original inspiration for this recipe!

Toasted Almond Torte with Ganache

1  cup   whole raw almonds, toasted       

   3/4  cup  Butter – Softened*
   3/4 cup sugar
  2   Large  eggs
  ½- 1  Tsp  almond extract
  1/2 Tsp vanilla extract
  3/4   cup  Flour

Chocolate Ganache
 1/3  Cup  Heavy Cream
  2/3  Cup+  Semisweet Chocolate, chopped  squares or chips if you must.  For deeper chocolate,  use a square or 2  unsweetened chocolate and the rest bittersweet
½ Tsp Vanilla Extract
Toasted sliced almonds for garnish 

*You may use softened coconut oil along with the butter. I used about a ½ c butter and ¼ cup coconut oil last time and it was great.

To toast almonds- You may use slivered almonds, sliced or blanched almonds if whole raw almonds are not available. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, watching carefully and stirring often, until golden inside. Cool

Grind almonds in a blender or food processor, about a ¼-1/3 cup at a time. Grind until almonds are meduimly ground, courser than flour but careful not to grind too long or they will become paste.. You may need to stir once.  

Preheat oven to 350 and butter or grease 8"-9" spring-form or cake pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Use parchment paper cut into a round to fit the bottom of your pan, especially if you are using cake pan without removable sides. 

In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Add extracts. Either on lowest speed or by hand, gently fold in flour and ground almonds.

Scrape mixture in buttered parchment paper lined 8"-9" spring-form  or greased,lined cake pan.

BAKE at 350F for 20-25 minutes until center springs back slightly.  Cool 15 minutes. If using spring-form pan, remove sides and continue to cool . Once cool, flip onto plate and peel parchment paper.  If you did not use parchment paper, run a thin knife between pan bottom and cake and very carefully use spatula to remove cake to serving platter.

   To prepare chocolate glaze.   In a small saucepan on low heat, heat cream and add chocolate and blend.  Remove from heat and stir until melted. Blend in vanilla. Pour warm glaze over cooled torte, starting at the center and working out toward the edges.  Just smooth glaze with a rubber spatula to the edge of the torte, not down the sides. Sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds if desired. 

Refrigerate until glaze is set and serve at room temperature.   

Store cake in an airtight container. 

Variation: You may add 1 1/2 tsp. finely grated, chopped orange zest to batter with flour, If desired.
You may top with Chocolate ganache or if preferred, make a simple glaze of powdered sugar, almond extract and a bit of water or leave cake plain. If leaving cake plain, you can sprinkle with almond slices before baking.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Green Velvet Smoothie with Avocado, Pear and Spinach

  I love to make smoothies for a healthy meal or snack, don’t you?  I love the taste and texture of this green velvet smoothie as well the nutritional punch it packs! Green smoothies are a delicious way to add veggies along with fruit. 
While this creamy smoothie is thick, it is easily drinkable

           This one is the creamiest, silkiest smoothie I have had and it tastes awesome too—gently sweet and satisfying. A Green Velvet smoothie makes the perfect breakfast or lunch and it can be a filling snack as well but it probably has around 230 calories so be aware.  It has such an awesome blend of nutrient dense foods yet is feels like a decadent milk shake. I think having a green velvet smoothie as a meal a few times a week can help me stay on a healthy, weight loss plan because it is so satisfyingly filling with good fats and protein along with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants from the vegetables and fruit!

           I don’t usually think of following any recipe for smoothies, I just throw in some fruit and kale or spinach along with yogurt or protein powder.  But this combination is so incredibly wonderful that I had to write it down so I would remember! I just love the silky consistency lent by the creamy avocado, yogurt and pear. The spinach and avocado add a beautiful green color but don’t make it too vegetal tasting. To me it is smoothie perfection!

          Even so, the ingredients here are all suggested amounts and optional items. I think I may change this up at times including something like a tart apple instead of a pear along with some ginger root. Or I may try a refreshing addition of citrus such as lime juice or part of a lemon.  Or perhaps a sweeter version made with a frozen banana or a greener version with a leaf of kale and some mint and parsley. This could easily be made vegan and dairy free by skipping the yogurt and adding more avocado with a bit of sweetener and vanilla. The vegan protein shake mix helps with texture, taste and nutrition but it can be omitted. I think the main things that must be here to make a green velvet smoothie include avocado and spinach with some kind of fruit.

Green Velvet Smoothie with Avocado, Pear and Spinach

2 servings

2 1/2  -3 cups fresh spinach, washed
5-6 oz. Greek yogurt (2 % or non-fat) vanilla or plain with  ½ tsp vanilla
1 pear, peeled and cored
½ avocado large, peeled (more if desired)
1 scoop Vega protein smoothie powder, vanilla (vegan protein)
10 grapes, optional
1/2 cup or more water or almond/coconut milk
2/3 cup crushed ice, more or less as desired

Combine and blend all to smooth,velvety consistency. This can be made all together but I like to split the ingredients into two single serving cups to blend.