Thursday, September 30, 2010

A chance encounter/ Apple cake




I had always considered myself somewhat of a minimalist. I never had a stocked freezer. No long shelf dates on the food in my kitchen. And I would never shop at a warehouse.  Honestly, who needs a years worth of toilet paper on hand?
Also, living in a really old house, I had no storage.
No closets.
No pantry.
Nothing.





But it worked. I shopped at the grocery store almost everyday and purchased only as much as I could carry...or balance on the stroller without tipping it (and the rider) over. It worked because I lived in a town where I could walk to everything. My kids and I would average 5 miles a day,  just running errands. We didn't worry too much about our weight.




Then we moved. A difficult decision at the time. A great one in retrospect. Lots of emotion and trepidation...and excitement.  With so many emotions flooding me all at once it was difficult to know what I was feeling at any given time. Lots of tears were shed. Then I learned I was pregnant.
With twins.
The Universe, it turns out, has a sense of humor.





Recap: new city, new job, new house, 2 more babies on the way.
Enter Warehouse Shopping. Enter toilet paper for a year. Enter Costco.






So now I shop at Costco as though it were a local Mom and Pop. I'm there every week and I still supplement at the Farmer's Market.  At first, they must have thought I was caterer. Or a party girl when I was buying wine. But now when they see me with my entourage: Catholic seems their most likely explanation.






These trips are often uneventful. But not always. On a recent outing, as I was loading up my car, I was approached by a gentleman who looked to be in his mid60s, although I bet in reality he was only in his early50s. "Ma'am, could you help me?" he asked wringing his old, tattered hat in his chapped, weather beaten hands. "My family and I just moved here and we need some help"





His clothes were stained and threadbare. 
His hair, gray and patchy.
His teeth, missing. 
His face was lined with hardship. 
Unshaven.
Tired.





In my younger years I may have felt threatened, but time and experience have mellowed and wizened me. I asked about his family, his children, his move. He looked at me with his kind, soft watery eyes and told me about his wife and his boys.  Pride, love and concern filled the pregnant pauses between his words. I looked at my bounty: lots of fruits and vegetables. I wanted to give him something that would fill and last, something everyone likes. Something that my kids would want. He may have preferred money, but I gave him my apples instead. He graciously thanked me and walked away. 




Sitting at the traffic light, my breathing became choppy, and my eyes filled with tears. Sadness, wonder, anger, happiness...too many opposing emotions to deal with at the same time.
So I cried. 
I cried for his hardship. 
I cried for his pain.
I cried for his love for his family.

And I cried for my good fortune.





Yes, it's true The Universe has a sense of humor, but it also has a way of grounding you. Chance encounters like this one make me look outside myself and appreciate the world around me.
This is an apple cake traditionally served at Hanukkah, but in my family we enjoy it at every holiday.  For me it is forever linked with family and the good fortune we have been blessed with.

Apple Cake adapted from Cooking Light

*prepare the apples just before adding them to the batter. This way they won't get brown, or too juicy sitting in the sugar mixture.


Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups sugar -- divided
1/2 cup stick butter -- softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces neuchaftel cheese
3 ounces goat cheese

2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
6 cups chopped peeled apples (4-5 apples...the more tart the better!)
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream together 1 cup sugar, butter and goat cheese and vanilla together. Add eggs, 1 at a time. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, and mix until just combined

3. Add cinnamon to 1/4 cup sugar. Toss apples with all but 1 tablespoon of sugar/cinnamon mixture until they are evenly coated. Combine apples with batter. Pour batter into an 9-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoonful S/C mixture on top.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.

* reduce the baking time if you are using smaller pans: for the 4in ones I made I baked the cakes for 45 minutes. I'd rather have this cake a little underdone than overdone.

*If, for some reason you do happen to over bake it, no problem: just have it with a healthy scoop of ice cream. Or dunk it in your morning coffee. 




Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nutella Tart With a Kick




Every yoga class I have ever taken starts the same way: relax your breathing, clear your mind, then set an intention for your practice. This can be anything, from promising yourself to stay focused (good for when my brain is overdrive ), to dedicating the hour to a person you care about (good for when my brain is in neutral...or park).  The point is to practice with a purpose. Although I'm sure it's much more complicated , the theory is: Thoughts in your mind will present themselves on the mat.




Today I dedicated my practice to Nutella.
It's all I've been making this week.
It's all I can think about.
Just call me Willy Wonka.





Part of the reason I've been making this non stop is because my family has been eating it nonstop. I make a batch, 10 minutes later it's gone. I double it...they conquer it twice as fast.





So I came up with a plan. A brilliant, maniacal plan. (insert evil laughter here)
I turned up the heat. Added some cayenne pepper to give it a little bit of kick on the back end.
They were halfway through that batch before they realized. My oldest, J, looked up from the bowl, face flushed, fingers and pretzel stick dripping with the chocolate confection,  "Mom...I think this is poisoned"







Nutella Tart with a kick


Crust
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

In a bowl combine butter, sugar and salt. Beat in the egg, then flour until dough is loosely held together. Turn out onto a lightly floured countertop and smear with the palm of you hand once or twice. Form the sticky dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and chill it in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Divide dough up evenly, press into tartlet pans and prick bottom with a fork several times. Gently press aluminum foil into each shell and add 1 tablespoonful of uncooked rice on top. This will prevent any bubbles from puffing up the bottom of the pastry.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil. Continue baking until crust is golden.

Nutella
2 cups toasted hazelnuts with skins removed
1 cup chocolate chips
scraped seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper*

This is a variation of the recipe I used here. It comes out a little thicker. Perfect for a tart.

Pour the nutella into the crusts and freeze for about an hour.
Or overnight if your like me and forget.

*this is my preference. I like a little bit of tingle on my tongue that lingers for a few moments. For those of you who are more courageous and want to break out in a full body sweat...please feel free to add more

Monday, September 20, 2010

Feel like a kid: Nutella




Nutella is one of those modern miracles I had always put into the same 'Food' category as Cheese Wiz and  Fluff. A non-food food. A caloric intake vehicle void of any nutrition whatsoever. That is certainly true for what is awaiting you today in that oddly shaped plastic jar sitting on the shelf in your local grocery store...beckoning you to take it home, like a 1 year old Labrador puppy who has found himself at the the dog pound pleading with his big brown eyes: 'you'll like me, really you will...and you won't regret this!'. And so you grab the jar and feverishly open it in the car on the way home, but inevitably there is regret because today it is basically flavored sugar mixed with ingredients not commonly found in your average kitchen, like soy lecithin.
Whatever that is.








However, it didn't start out that way. Seventy years ago it was created by the resourceful Italian choclatier named Pietro Ferrero during WWII when cocoa was difficult to come by. He took stock of what was available, {hazelnuts in this case} and unknowingly created a chocolaty spread that would be become a favorite treat internationally for both the young and the old experienced.






As a kid, I would have made it a staple, had I been allowed, but since my parents deprived me of this, I had to wait until we visited my family in Germany before I could bask in the glorious ooey gooey ambrosia. With the stealth of a sniper, my cousins, my siblings and I would surreptitiously enter the kitchen, huddle under the table  and we would stick our fingers into the jar. The older cousins knew to crook their forefinger so as to get the highest finger:nutella spread ratio. (They also taught us lots of German swear words and other inappropriate things to say...it's true that kids pick up foreign languages quickly). We'd leave the pantry a brown, sticky mess...the evidence written all over our faces.






I'd like to tell you that as I have matured so have my tastebuds. But that would be a lie. If I am in the same room as a jar of Nutella I'm probably going to stick my finger in it.
Unless someone is watching me.
Then I'll just wait until they leave.





Though my love for all that is rich, sweet and decadent hasn't changed much over the years, my interest in more sophisticated foods has, so I left nutella behind in my past for many, many years.
Then we found each other again.





It was a beautiful moment full of love and warmth, longing and nostalgia.
I was whisked back 25 years into the kitchen of my Oma's house. The smells, the emotions, the memories all came flooding back. 
It was powerful.
I offered some to my 8 yr old, J. He gave me that sly smile, peered inside the blender, and moments later had a two person serving resting comfortably in the crook of his finger.




Recipe (adapted from Nuts in the Kitchen by Susan Hermann Loomis)

2 cups whole hazelnuts
1/2 cup powdered sugar
5 Tb. good-quality unsweetened dark cocoa powder



Toast hazelnuts on a baking sheet at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes...until you can smell them and the skins are dark. Transfer them onto a towel and wait for them to cool.

Unless you like holding scorching hot things.

Grab a handful and rub them between your hands as though you are washing with a bar of soap. The skins come off easily, but don't worry if you don't get every little piece.
Transfer them into a blender. 
{just an aside: I LOVE my blender.  It has more horsepower than my first car and made a butter out of the hazelnuts in no time. I don't know if all blenders can do this.}

Mix in the sugar & cocoa powder. 
Voila! Done!

If you have any self control whatsoever, this will last for about a month in your pantry. However, I like to store it in the fridge. This makes it thicker...more like frosting.

See? I told you my tastebuds haven't matured.




Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chicken Salad

Over time, I have become somewhat of a chicken salad snob. I will no longer order the chicken salad when I'm out.  I used to. In fact, that was my go-to dish. My usual. My signature. But then I had the rather unpleasant experience of biting into a small piece of grizzle. That somewhat hard and rubbery substance that bounces back like a dime store super ball when you bite into it. Totally gross. Makes me gag.  {even writing about it makes me feel queasy} Since then, I can no longer trust another being to be diligent enough to prepare chicken salad sans grizzle.






Also: raw onions. They seem to be a favorite ingredient, and if I eat those, my husband, N, won't want to kiss me.






 And so I have started making my own onion and grizzle-free chicken salad. I usually kill two birds with one stone {no pun intended}, and start by making chicken soup. When the chicken is done, I take it out and shred it. Shredded chicken is so much better than diced. It holds together better, the flavors meld with one another nicely, and you don't need as much mayo. Also, it gives you the distinct advantage of spotting any grizzle or other unpalatable substance that may be lurking, in the meat.  But be warned: depending on how much you make {which in my case is enough to feed a small army... with tapeworms, that is} this can be a rather labor intensive chore, so make sure you have on your comfortable shoes, and some good music.






It all starts out the same: chicken and mayonnaise, but everybody has their favorite add-ins. Mine are: apples, grapes & nuts. And since I enjoy the sweeter side of things, I always squeeze an orange over the top.





This is something I love to make when we have family or friends coming to visit. I'll set a huge bowl of it out on the table accompanied by a couple loaves of crusty french bread. Gathered around a simple meal; good conversation and good friends, I find life really can be sweet.

Recipe

Shredded Chicken
mayonaise
Diced apples
diced graped
diced celery
chopped nuts (i like almonds or cashews)
juice from 1 orange
thyme
salt & pepper






Friday, September 10, 2010

Farmer's Market- Zephyr & Tomato Tart





One reason why I love going to the farmer's market is getting to meet the growers. This past Saturday I stopped at a stand to admire some beautiful yellow squash.  "Zephyrs, that's what those are" the rugged looking man behind the table told me. Yellow and fat on one end; green and skinny on the other (the squash, not the farmer). The yin. The yang. I liked it. So I bought a few... pounds that is.






"What in the world are you going to do with all that?!" He asked me. Well, I wasn't sure, but I knew I'd figure something out. "SOUP!" I replied, not really knowing what else to do with so much of it. I told him I will let him know how it turned out when I see him next week. He asked me to email him the recipe to post on his website. Isn't that something?  Here's this farmer, whose first memories probably date back to the Great Depression, standing across from me, and I could just picture him out in his fields, tending his crops and updating his blog on his iPhone. Oh, and I'm sure he Tweets.






So I made a soup, similar to this one. However, I realize I have not been writing this blog long enough to justify repeating myself {already}. Instead, I will offer up my go-to recipe for anything that has come from the ground...not fallen on the ground, although....






I usually have frozen pie crust slumbering in my freezer, but today I didn't so I prepared a simple tart crust, which forgive me, but I don't really have  recipe for. I basically just throw about a cup of flour into a bowl, add a hunk of butter and some iced cold water.. or milk...or half-and-half... or cream (you get the idea) and I pinch it and mix it until it looks about right. Sometimes it's REALLY good...sometimes it's just eh. At some point  I should really figure this out ( mental note: possible New Years Resolution).







So I looked upon my heaping mound of Zephyrs. Grabbed one and started chopping. I sauteed it with some onions.  {Just a side note: everything tastes better with sauteed onion. Seriously.} I then fork-whisked a few eggs with some milk and goat cheese. Dumped the sauteed vegetables in with the egg mixture and used a spoon to divvy it up in to the little tartletts I had prepared. Topped it off with some heirloom tomatoes I bought at a side-road stand {that, by the way, has an 'Honesty Policy'. I kid you not.  Nobody mans the stand. The owners simply leave a jar for you to put your money in.}






They took about 5 Pandora songs to bake (which is probably around 15 minutes). But only 3 minutes to devour!



 


Recipe:
pie crust
zephyr squash
onions
eggs
milk
tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste

Gently press dough into tartlet pans. Saute squash and onions until soft. In a bowl whisk together a few eggs and milk . Add salt & pepper. Add sauteed vegetables and chopped tomato to egg/milk. Divide among tartlet pan. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until the egg looks just set.





Saturday, September 4, 2010

Flax/Oatmeal Bars



 I'm always hunting for something new. Dried fruits are not something I normally run toward, but they are fun to photograph because of their interesting shapes and malleability. They are the Gumbies of the fruit world. The bendy girl in yoga who turns herself into a pretzel, then balances on one arm without so much as breaking a sweat. And they are sticky...perhaps more so than Ms Bendy in yoga.




When the water is removed, these little morsels get much sweeter because the sugars get concentrated into a smaller package. It's a handy way to preserve fruit for those times in the year they are not readily available {a good thing}, but it is also easy to blow through a crateful without thinking twice {maybe not a good thing}.




So I found this recipe that was super simple.  Just a few ingredients....



which can be whatever you have on hand...

Soak it in almond milk (or soy milk or rice milk....but I'm not sure about regular milk, that might be gross) overnight. Mix it together in a blender and pop it the oven on a superlow temperature until it has dried out some.






Easy


Yummy




Recipe: adapted from Dr Joel Fuhrman
1/2 cup dried apples
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup apricots
1 1/2cups vanilla soy milk
1 cup rolled oats
3 tablespoons ground flax
1 tablespoon almond butter

soak apples, raisins & apricots in half of the soy milk and store in fridge overnight. Mix flax &oats and soak in other half of the soy milk and store in fridge overnight. Blend dried fruit & almond butter in blender. Add oat/flax mixture. roll into logs/ or spread on baking sheet. bake at 200 degrees x 30 min to dehydrate
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