Snacks

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Once in a while, I get the itch to try something new in the kitchen. I’d probably act on that itch a little more if someone else would clean up after me, but whatevs. I finally decided to give  aquafaba meringues a chance after seeing them pop up on some vegan food blogs. I’m not vegan, but I do love a chance to try something interesting. I’m also not a huge fan of eggs (the traditional base for meringue), so this was a perfect experiment for me.

First: aquafaba. It’s just a fancy name for bean juice. You can make your own by soaking and cooking dried beans, but the easiest thing to do is to spend a buck on a can of chickpeas and drain the juice into a container. Any bean will do, but chickpea juice is a) nearly flavorless and b) nearly colorless. Cannellini or white beans are good alternative. A black bean meringue is probably going to be very bad and very ugly, though. Learn more about the science of aquafaba here.

Anyway, get y’self a can of chickpeas, drain the juice and then set aside the chickpeas for something else, such as hummus, lemony chickpea stirfry, roasted chickpeas, or just toss them into a salad as is.

You just put your ⅔ to ¾ cup of chickpea juice into your stand mixer bowl (gotta be a stand mixer for this challenge) with some cream of tartar (or arrowroot powder, if that’s what you have), whip, then add sugar (vegan sugar if you want it to be vegan) and flavor, whip some more and 15 minutes or so later, you’ve got meringue! It’s that easy. And super safe to eat without cooking. Here’s the recipe I used that was based on one from The Kitchn, though I’ve made some notes and also filled in some steps that they missed.

Aquafaba Meringue Cookies
yields 4 to 6 dozen cookies, depending on size

Ingredients

¾ cup aquafaba (the juice from 1 15oz can of low-sodium garbanzo beans/chickpeas

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar or arrowroot powder

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavor--see notes)

Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 200°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the aquafaba in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium speed until very foamy, about 3 minutes.

While continuing to beat, gradually add in the sugar (about a tablespoon at a time so it is fully dissolved) and vanilla. Once all the sugar and flavor has been added, increase speed to medium high (I put it on 7 on my KA mixer). Beat until glossy and to stiff peaks, about 7-10 minutes longer. You can stop and check for stiff peaks with a spatula. When you scoop a bit out and hold it upright, it should maintain its shape instead of falling.

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a star piping tip. Pipe the meringue onto the lined baking sheets into 1-inch rounds (and 1-inch or so high). You can also scoop the meringues onto the baking sheets in tablespoon rounds or use a sandwich bag with the corner cut off.

Place both sheets in the oven (or you can do one at a time). Bake until completely dry to the touch, about 1 hour. Larger meringues with require 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the meringues from the oven and cool completely before using or storing.

Notes: You might be tempted to use almond. I did that and I don’t recommend it. The flavor doesn’t bake out right at the lower temperature, so it retains some of that metallic almond taste that’s so common in almond emulsions and extracts. YMMV. To save the almond ones I made, I added a bit of cherry-flavored Stur, which made them tolerable. They’re the pink cookies in the photo.

For a second batch, I used a ½ teaspoon of lemon extract and a ½ teaspoon of vanilla and I *loved* that flavor. But, as you can tell from the photo, I didn’t whip them long enough, so they did not retain their shape as well. That’s really the only issue with not getting the stiffest peaks: not keeping their shape. They still tasted great.

Also, try to use two baking sheets at a time if you can. After an hour of sitting in the fridge, the leftover meringue needs to be whipped again to stiffen up and over-whipping may make it break down. That is true for eggs, at least. I didn’t really have that problem, but it was a concern.

You can also make thicker and bigger cookies and they’ll have a bit of a marshmallow texture on the inside. Try it, you might like it.

Another cool thing is that a ½ cup of sugar only has 387 calories, so even a small yield of 4 dozen cookies (I actually ended up with something like 8 dozen because mine were small), they calorie count is very low. You’re eating mostly flavored air. You can also use aquafaba to make a meringue topping or a pavlova. Pretty cool!

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Every year, in the aftermath of my defeat in the Tomato Art Festival recipe contest, I vow I will never enter again. And every year, I enter again.

This year, though, I couldn't resist. The theme was "dips" (not salsa!), which is something I could easily bring along with me and keep in a cooler while enjoying the festival and not have to worry too much about with plating. But a dip with tomatoes? I don't really make many dips and when I mentioned it to my husband, he said, "so you're going to make Ro-Tel and call it a day, right?" Brilliant idea! Except Ro-Tel needs to be warm. Next.

I thought about favorite dips--mine and those of others and there were some recurring ingredients: cream cheese, sour cream, and ranch dressing mix. Those three alone are pretty good, but how to take them to the next level? And be sure that the dip features tomatoes?

I thought about previous years and how I thought I'd just toss in some pork belly just to win and I realized I didn't have to do that; I could just get the flavor I wanted from roasting the tomatoes and adding smoked paprika. So that's basically all this dip is. Those first three ranch dip ingredients with roasted tomatoes and paprika. But it's damn good.

zestytomatoranchdip

I wanted to use fresh tomatoes in this recipe to keep the spirit of the contest, but truth be told, I think you could use a can of already fire-roasted diced tomatoes (Hunt's and Muir Glen both make them) or even just a can of Ro-Tel and get a great dip that is even easier and quicker than this one is to make. Serve it with tortilla chips as a dip or use as a topping for nachos or enchiladas! But don't skimp on the smoked paprika. I used a hot version for a great kick. If you don't have any, add a tiny bit of Liquid Smoke instead (to taste).

Zesty Roasted Tomato Ranch Dip

Ingredients:
4 medium tomatoes (see note for substitution)
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 1-ounce package of Hidden Valley “Original Ranch” dip mix
Hot smoked paprika (see note for substitution)

Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Chop the tomatoes into one-inch cubes and place onto a lined baking dish or jelly roll pan. Roast until the juice has mostly dried and the tomatoes have some char, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Add the cream cheese, sour cream, and dip mix in a medium bowl and mix together until smooth. Add about a tablespoon of smoked paprika and stir until combined. Test and add more to taste. Stir in the cooled tomatoes and serve with tortilla chips.

Notes: for an easier and quicker dip, substitute one can (~15 ounces) of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, well-drained for the roasted fresh tomatoes. If you don't have smoked paprika, you can substitute a small (one or two squirts) amount of Liquid Smoke and some chili powder.

By the way, I was once again a...let's say, "non-winner." But (also, once again) the competition was fierce from some folks who really brought in some unique flavor combinations and really interesting dips. It's still a winner as far as Mr. Eats is concerned. 🙂

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I am not going to pretend this recipe isn’t a gigantic cheat. I’m also not going to pretend it isn’t absolutely delicious. Pillsbury’s Crescents rolls have been a guilty pleasure since my childhood. But I’m carb-conscious and try not to buy too many convenience foods that are primarily empty calories, so I hadn’t had any for years. But when my friend, Alexandra served a version of these Crescent Roll-Ups at a party a while back, I couldn’t resist. She used generous slices of cheese that melted out and crisped up on the baking sheet. We ate them fresh from the oven, but they were actually just as good warmed in the microwave…I know, because I took a lot of the leftovers home and had them for breakfast.

Anyway, the next time I got an invitation to a party, these Crescent Roll-Ups were the first things on my mind. Easy to make, but insanely delicious. When I bought the crescent rolls, I got a pleasant surprise, too: there’s only 100 calories in each roll. So, technically, you could make a meal off a can and not feel too bad about it. Okay, that’s a stretch. Half a can. As long as you eat it with a bunch of steamed vegetables. Though I recommend only eating two, both stuffed with cheese and fruit.

As always, the most important part is to use good cheese. I used the Cabot Seriously Sharp white cheddar for mine and rolled them up with D’anjou pear slices, though any of your favorite pear or apple slices would work well.  As you can see, these rolls won’t win any beauty contests, but you’ll be delighted with how they taste.

I'm sorry; I know it's ugly, but it's so good.
I'm sorry; I know it's ugly, but it's so good.

Cheddar and Pear Crescent Roll-Ups
yield: 8 Roll-Ups

1 8 ounce can Pillsbury Crescents rolls
1 pear
4 ounces block cheese

Pre-heat oven to 375F.

Slice the pear and the cheese into eight equal slices each and set aside. Open the rolls and separate the eight triangles. Place one slice of cheese and then one slice of pear on the widest end of the triangle and then wrap around the dough around the cheese and pear until the point is on top and place on the baking sheet at least two inches apart (and not too close to the edge). Repeat with the remaining triangles and bake 10-12 minutes or until nicely browned.