For Sweetness

Sometimes it’s hot and you still need to turn the oven on and BAKE things.

Sometimes you read 2 dozen recipes and none of them are the one you want to use.

Sometimes you want to slap yourself in the face for not being better to yourself.

Sometimes you just need a little sweetness in your life. (But not toooo much.)

And sometimes, you have too much zucchini.

Yes, I’m talking to you, because I didn’t plant any this year. (But if you have extra, I’ll take it off your hands…)

This recipe was born from all of these sometimes. It’s not zucchini cake, which is what most of the world is really making when they say “zucchini bread.” It’s a bread for toasting in the morning, or putting a scoop of ice cream onto in the evening without getting a totally insane sugar high that prevents you from going to be bed at a decent hour.

It’s chocolatey and subtly spiced, with a moist but toothsome crumb.

And! It makes 2 loaves! That means there’s one for you and one to take down the street to the neighbor who keeps mowing your lawn for you out of the blue, or to leave for your house-sitter to ensure the pets are well loved while you are half a world away.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
10-12 oz zucchini, grated. (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup any type of plain yogurt
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup or so of water

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, oil, yogurt, and applesauce until smooth. Add the liquid to the dry and mix until just a bit of dry flour remains. Then add in the zucchini. Mix it all in, adding just a bit of water at a time as needed to make it easy to work with. You don’t want it to be too wet.

Divide into loaf pans prepared with baking spray, butter and flour, or parchment paper.

Bake for 35 minutes, then rotate and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until it passes the toothpick test. Let cool in the pans a bit, then turn out onto a rack to cool the rest of the way before slicing. Stores great in the freezer in individual slices or whole loaves.

Lighten Up, Already

You might be noticing that there aren’t a whole lot of pictures from this trip to France I’m sharing with you. Part of it is because I had one of my cameras stolen at the very end of the trip.

Another part of it is that I was such a novice photographer then. I was using a camera I borrowed from my mom for the trip. Not only did I not know how to use it very well, at some point I realized it was taking terrible pictures because the lens was incredibly dirty in a place I could not clean. I didn’t have much experience with the DSLR format, and I had by no means learned anything about making my camera an extension of myself.

The third, and last part, is that I was so overwhelmed by how awesome everything was that I just plain forgot to take pictures. I was too busy living it.

Which is how it’s supposed to be on vacation anyway. Just like how when you’re on vacation you probably also do things you didn’t intend to do, you often forget to do the things that were on your list of “must-do”s. I definitely had a list like that, and probably didn’t do half of the things on it. I did however do amazing things I never would have thought of, like crawl through abandoned German Pillboxes from WWII, or swim in a chilly river to cool down from the 95º heat, or tour the Hennessy distillery.

I definitely also had a list of things I wanted to eat in France. In this case, I probably ate all of them. Bread, cheese, wine. Dessert. Sausages and classic roast chicken. More wine. Oh, and Pastries.

One thing I don’t specifically remember eating is quiche.

I was probably drinking too much wine…

Anyway. I do remember eating quiche with my Grandmother many many times in other places, however, so I’m sure we must have eaten quiche at least once. It was probably nothing like this quiche.

In France you don’t have to ever feel like you should be eating lighter. You never have to make excuses to yourself about why you just ate that crème brûlée after consuming some other rich thing for the main course. It’s because you ate a hearty, veggie laden salad for lunch and you walked halfway across whatever city you are in to do something spectacular like play pétanque or window shop.

You might be doing your normal thing, eating yogurt and toast for breakfast, and suddenly you realize you have eaten half a baguette smeared with thick, sunny gobs of salty french butter along with your full fat yogurt and delicious fruit straight from some quaint farm further south than you are. And then you go march up some steep hill to visit a tiny church with a gorgeous window and it totally doesn’t matter.

Here at home though, I’m not as active. Mostly because I’m on the lazy side when I’m not working, and also partly because I have a small kid and it’s kept me home and sort of stagnant a lot more than I’ve been used to in the past. Not that that’s an excuse, but I am not the slimmest I’ve ever been.

So lately, I’ve been attempting to lighten things up a bit. It’s been hard because the weather has been very reminiscent of a time other than summer, so the food part of that longed for season hasn’t exactly caught on all that strong yet. There’s been a few picnics and light summer suppers, sure, but so few that I can still count them on 2 hands.

I wanted to make this quiche with all cream and an all butter crust.

But I resisted.

It was kinda easy actually, because I knew it would be just as good as regular old rich French style quiche. Just…lighter. Rose would be proud. The peas get so sweet when they are baked into the custard, it’s really a treat. The tang from the buttermilk adds a layer of depth that you can’t get from just plain milk, and it plays so nicely with the eggs and the thyme. Just enough spicy (veggie) italian sausage to add a bit of heat, and just enough fat to make the whole thing seem indulgent and you’re set.

The polenta crust is a little different. When I saw this recipe from The Wednesday Chef, I put that on my list of things to try. Of course, I didn’t follow the recipe at all when I made it, I just made polenta like I would if I was going to cut it up and broil it so that it would be thick enough to mold into a crust. You could try adding an egg like she does, but I didn’t think it needed it. I would probably add cheese next time though, so if you give it a whirl let me know how it goes. The whole thing has a nice soft “this feels good to me” texture. The flavor is more delicate than a more traditional flour pie crust, and definitely won’t weigh you down as much.

Eat it with a salad and it will be good to you.

Then you can go back to eating richer things for dessert. I promise.

Buttermilk and Snap Pea Quiche with Polenta Crust
serves 6-8

For the Crust:

(I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything. It’s very straight forward and comes out great ever time, even if you can’t pay as much attention to it as you should. I’m going to repost it here with the adaptations I made for this recipe. It makes enough for 2 quiches or 1 quiche and some polenta to broil and serve with something else spectacular)

3 1/2 cups water or half water half broth (the original calls for 4, I reduced it to make the polenta set up thicker)
1 tsp salt
1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil (or butter as the original recipe calls for)

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy bottomed medium sized pot. Salt the water and turn down the heat to medium. Add the cornmeal slowly while constantly whisking. Once you’ve added all the cornmeal, turn the heat down to low. Continue cooking while whisking once every minute for the first 5 minutes.

Switch to a flat bottomed wooden or silicone spoon and stir frequently (at least once a minute) until all the liquid is absorbed. It should begin to pull away from the sides of the pot, which will take about 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and taste for salt and pepper. Divide the polenta into 2 cake pans and allow to cool enough to handle before moving on to the next step. You can also use a larger pie plate if you are planning on making only one quiche, but the recipe will not make enough for 2 regular sized pie plates (9″).

Once the polenta has cooled so that you can touch it, cover it with a sheet of plastic wrap and slowly begin pressing the polenta out to the corners of the dish, continuing up the sides. You want the polenta to fill in the corners and to be evenly spread across the bottom and sides of the pan. For a 7″ pan, half of a batch will go all the way up the sides, for an 8″ pan it will be a little shallower. Allow the polenta to chill a few minutes in the fridge while you prepare your fillings.

For the filling:
(for one 7-8″ quiche–easily doubles)

3 eggs
1/3 cup lowfat buttermilk (up to 1/2 cup for a larger quiche)
1/3 cup whole milk (up to 1/2 cup for a larger quiche)
3-4 oz italian sausage (I use veggie to keep it kosher/vegetarian)
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas, roughly chopped
leaves from 1-2 springs fresh Thyme
2-3 oz shredded sharp cheddar, gruyere or similar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

In a large skillet, brown the sausage and onions until the meat is well browned and the onions have softened. Pour into the crust(s) and top with the chopped peas. Sprinkle the thyme, salt, and pepper over. Mix the eggs and milk well in a separate bowl, then pour over the other fillings, being careful not to splash the mixture over the sides of the crust. Top with the shredded cheese and a bit more salt and pepper.

Baked until the mixture is completely set in the middle and the cheese is well browned, about 40-50 minutes depending on your oven. Allow to rest for 10 or so minutes before cutting, or it will be very loose.

One!

A year ago today I was dreaming wistfully about the cabbage and mango slaw I had eaten earlier in the week. From the looks of the few pictures it was warm, but probably not quite warm enough to eat outside.

Today, I am at a wedding on the East Coast. It is murderously hot and humid and I wish I could be naked as the day I was born.

Today though, it’s this blog that is as naked–maybe even nakeder–than the day it was born. A year ago, I didn’t know what to do with the words going through my head. There were a lot of them, all jumbled up in there trying to get out. I was still so new to being at home all day with kids, and I needed a creative outlet. I chose to start writing because it seemed natural at the time: Joe had been telling me for months blogging (or something similar) would be a good way for me to do something for myself, and I finally decided he was right. I believe that my writing has improved since then. I have learned to be more honest with myself and by extension, the page.

I have learned that writing a blog post doesn’t mean that I need to bottle it up and be happy every time, and that it’s OK to tell people I write a food blog–even though I still blush on the inside when I do say it.

Back then, my camera was not yet an extension of my hand. I was still getting a feel for how it saw, and how the differences between the way it sees and they way I see could be reconciled. I still have a long long way to go, but I feel more complete now that I can make the camera do what I want instead of the other way around. Most of the time, anyway.

My birthday wish for this blog would be that I could learn to make it bigger. I wish I could foresee success in some tangible way beyond feeling good about sharing the recipes that grow out of the moral code my family lives by. I’ll be heading to the BlogHer Food conference in a couple of weeks, and hopefully I’ll pick up some useful info. The truth is though, that I kinda know what I need to do. I need to get my hands a little dirtier. I need to be even busier than I already am.

I have some things in the works that could be the solution to my quandary. I and a friend are going to be hosting some backyard dinners this summer and early fall, and I’d love for you to get in on the action. The dinners are a fundraiser of sorts, and a way for us to work towards something even bigger on down the road. They will be prix fixe, and hopefully all will have good weather. Each menu will be seasonally focused and as locally sourced as possible. We’ll be testing out some recipes that will play a part in future plans for a venue where I will be serving food to the public and doing what I do best–sharing myself over a good meal.  If you are interested in attending a dinner, please do let me know. We’d absolutely love love love to have you.

In the meantime, I have a teaser for you–a birthday cake, if you will.

This cake has it all. It’s the cake you were waiting for. The cake of your dreams. And it comes with ice cream, so what could be better than that?

This trio is the embodiment of all the best parts of spring. The chiffon cake is airy and spongy like the soil in a well tended garden after a light rain. It’s warm and billowy with a delicate crumb that’s reminiscent of the way raw silk feels on the skin. The subtle fragrance of cardamom envelops you the way a just blooming flower bed’s intoxicating aroma would.

The snap of rhubarb left raw–green and grassy and tart with that unmistakable rosy cheeked smile hiding underneath–is the perfect pairing with rich, alluring ricotta ice cream. An ice cream as silky smooth as you could hope for, but lacking the aggressive sweetness of vanilla that might overpower the delicate flavors of it’s plate mates.

This is a trio of desserts that allows you to pick and choose. You can easily leave out the ice cream and do a simple very lightly sweetened whipped cream instead. You could leave out the cardamom if you like. You could even roast the rhubarb, if you don’t think you will like it raw (though I heartily encourage you to try it that way). You can switch it out entirely for a different fruit if that would please you. The only thing this cake and it’s accompaniments begs it simply to be shared with those you love, preferably in a pool of caressing sunshine–at the end of the day or at the end of a brunch. Even, perhaps, as a mid-afternoon snack.

Cardamom Chiffon Cake with Ricotta Ice cream

For the ice cream (makes 1 Quart)

1 lb whole milk ricotta cheese, as fresh as you can find
1 cup cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
juice of one lemon

First, in the bowl of an electric mixer or other heat proof bowl, heat the egg yolks with a tiny splash of water and the sugar, whisking constantly, until the sugar is just dissolved. Remove from the heat and continue whisking unti it becomes light in color and thickens (ribbon stage).  Whisk until completely cool. Next, heat the honey with the cream just until melted–you don’t actually want the cream to get hot. Whisk in the ricotta, then fold in the egg mixture. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and let chill in the refrigerator for several hours. Freeze following the instructions for your ice cream maker, then return to freezer to set. Either the custard base or the ice cream itself can be made a day in advance of when you plan to serve it.

For the cake (makes one 9-10″ cake, in a tube pan)

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 tsp cardamom
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
5 eggs, separated, plus 2-3 extra egg whites
3/4 cup cold water
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cardamom. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, melted butter, water and vanilla. Next, whip the eggs whites together with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

Pour the first mixture over the egg whites and slowly fold the two together with a spatula. Pour into an ungreased tube type pan and bake for 50 minutes, rotating half way though. At 50 minutes, check doneness by pressing with a fingertip–it should spring back quickly. If it’s not quite done, give it another couple of minutes, being careful not to let it over-bake or it will dry out. Remove from the oven and cool upside down on a rack.

While the cake is cooling, wash and slice the rhubarb–about 1 stalk per person. Toss with a couple of Tbsp sugar per stalk and let sit unrefrigerated until service. You can just as easily replace the rhubarb with any fresh, seasonal berries or stone fruits.

Butter and Jam

I’ve had a rush of a week. It’s been terribly crummy weather here in my hometown of Seattle, but I’ve tried not to let it slow me down. Over the weekend, in addition to all those birthday parties, I helped a friend make her television debut on our local PBS station. That busy schedule doesn’t even include the usual things like training for my tri (getting a little too close for comfort!) and kid stuff.

And, in addition to the half sheet cake I baked for one of those birthday parties, I hosted a fancy schmancy 4 course dinner for a small group of friends on Saturday night.

It was just before the weather turned sour on us, so we were able to BBQ. Thick slabs of alder plank salmon atop salads of grilled sweet corn, fresh mint, and the tiniest rocket you’ve ever seen–all brightened by a splash of grapefruit juice…I just made myself really hungry.


We also had green garlic soup with dollops of créme fraîche, and a kosher version of Salad Lyonnaise, with smoked salt almonds in place of lardons. Everything with very fresh bread and hunks of Seastack cheese, a local fave.


Plus lots and lots of wine. And, a little hoola hooping–gotta burn off all those calories somehow.

By the time we got to dessert and were opening a bottle of prosecco, it was almost 10 o’clock. But even at that late hour, a tart this good is hard to say no to, especially since we had an influx of fresh faces just for our sweet course–friends who couldn’t make it for the dinner but wanted in on the action nonetheless.

This dessert is for days when you want something that feels fancy but you can’t devote a lot of time to it. It’s simple steps come together quickly and leave room for breathers, so you don’t have to work start to finish–you can actually make all of the components ahead of time.

Since I’ve been on a rhubarb kick lately, what with it being the only fruit us Northwesterners get until about June (when the berries really get going) I had loads of it in the fridge–stolen from a dear friend’s mother who nurtures a plant the size of a wheelbarrow but whose family won’t touch the stuff. I chose to do the rhubarb two ways, both in the filling and some roasted on top, but you can just as easily leave off the topping.

The real nitty gritty is in the filling itself. Rich and buttery but also light and fruity, it’s a flavor twist not often found so effortlessly combined. In a lightly sweet butter crust, it all pulls together to convince people you’ve pulled out all the stops even if you really didn’t have the time. I’ve even made it again once since Saturday, wanting to use up the tart dough and brown butter since we’ll be in Baltimore for a wedding this weekend. It was the perfect treat for the end of a “family meeting” on a rushed weeknight–just right to slow us down a bit before moving on to the next task. There was even a slice leftover for after lunch the next day. Paired, of course, with a little spritzer made using the leftover syrup from poaching the fruit. Bonus: I didn’t even feel that indulgent, since it’s so heavy on the fruit.

This tart might be just the ticket to showcase some seasonal fruit as an endcap to your Memorial Day plans. Mine, however, involve sitting around a table covered in blue crabs. And plenty of Old Bay seasoning.

One note: I did make my crust from scratch, but I don’t want to overwhelm the simplicity of the tart so I recommend you just plunk in a premade pie crust, or you can use whatever recipe is your go-to tart shell recipe. Mine is almost all butter with a bit of cream cheese, and very lightly sweetened, with eggs as part of the liquid. I’ll have to share it someday, but for now–for “easy as pie” pie–use whatever you like.

Butter and Jam Tart
makes one 9″ tart (I used a rectangular pan, but there will be plenty of filling for round if that’s all you have)

For the “jam” filling:

1 lb fruit such as rhubarb or stone fruits, cleaned and cut into large chunks
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar

Toss the fruit in the sugar and let sit at room temp for about an hour or so. Once the juices from the fruit have combined with the sugar and it’s all nice and syrupy, toss it all into a pan and add a splash of water. Cook over medium heat just until the fruit starts to get soft, then strain out (reserve the liquid for cocktails or to combine with sparkling water). Put the fruit into a container and refrigerate until cool if you’re making it ahead. Otherwise, you can use it warm and refrigerate and leftovers, which would be excellent in yogurt or oatmeal, or to top waffles.

For the brown butter:

1 stick unsalted butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
splash vanilla extract
couple good grates of fresh nutmeg

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter until the milk solids start to turn brown and it gets foamy. As soon as some of the foam starts to die away and it’s a nice golden brown color, remove it from the heat. It will continue to cook a bit in the pan, so don’t let it go too far or it will burn.

In a large, heatproof bowl, combine the other ingredients with a whisk. Once the butter is done browning, add directly to the egg mixture, whisking all the time to ensure that the hot butter doesn’t cook the eggs. The brown butter filling can also be made ahead. Just pop it in the microwave (or into a saucepan) for a minute to warm it up a bit, then give it a good stir before adding it to the tart.

When you are ready to assemble your tart, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a tart pan with the shell of your choice and pop into the freezer or fridge for a few minutes to chill the dough while the oven heats. Once it’s good and firm and the oven is completely hot, put the tart shell on a baking sheet and add your fillings. First spoon a layer of jam into the tart, filling it not quite halfway full and making swoopy places for the brown butter to fill in. Then, pour over your brown butter filling. Be sure to leave a little bit of room at the top when you pour in the filling, as it will rise a bit as it bakes and you don’t want it to spill over the sides of the pan–it will make the tart very hard to get out later.

Bake the tart until the top is completely set and a nice brown color. While it bakes, you can roast more fruit to spoon on top. Just wash and chop about 3/4 cup or so of fruit per serving of tart, and toss in a little sugar. Roast on a baking sheet until it starts to caramelize and is nice and soft. Serve at room temp.

Biscones

It’s been gorgeous here in Seattle.

Warm enough for BBQs and rose on the deck at sundown. Warm enough for all day picnics and (almost) lake swimming.

I’m sure it won’t last for long. It never does.

Since I’ve been training again for a triathlon that is coming up in June, I’ve been trying to eat better, mostly so I will look hot in my wetsuit. So far, I’ve had mixed results. I can easily eat a salad for lunch most days…but others I must have potato chips and PB&J. And cookies. And there was that pie that I made twice last week.

Moving on.

I have been trying very hard–last week I ran almost 6 miles to an event at our synagogue (Then I devoured 4 pieces of pizza and 3 s’mores.)–and I have discovered that it’s all about balance. Balance healthy things with things that make you feel like you did something naughty. Balance an extra scone on the edge of your plate covered in salad and lean proteins.

These scones are the payoff for an extra 20 minutes on your bike. They’re light and flaky like a biscuit, but just dense enough that a couple are plenty satisfying. They make a good breakfast for a busy morning, and are equally at home on a decadent brunch buffet as a counterpoint to sweeter fare. Or you can eat them for lunch, or a snack, or eat them with soup for dinner…Basically they’re good anytime.

These babies inspired a small family altercation at our Mother’s Day Picnic, they’re that good. Just saying.

 Potato, Cheddar and Chive Scones

makes about 12 scones

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt + big pinch
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
6 oz small potatoes
3 Tbsp chopped chives
3.5 oz grated cheddar cheese
2/3 cup whole milk or buttermilk
1 egg yolk
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold
olive oil for frying potatoes

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Wash the potatoes and remove any bruised spots, but leave the peels on. Slice them thin, and if the potatoes are bigger than about 1 1/2″ across, cut the slices in half. Heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet and then add potatoes. Toss on a big pinch of salt, and fry the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown and are tender all the way through. Set aside to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Cut the butter into about 20 cubes, 1/2″ or so big. Set aside. Mix together the egg yolk and milk in a small bowl and set aside. Grate the cheese and chop the chives and set aside. Lastly, roughly chop the cooked potatoes into small pieces.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or another large metal bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and black pepper. Toss in the butter and either mix on low or use either your fingers or a pastry cutter –cut in the butter until the chunks are about the size of peas. Add the egg yolk mixture and mix just until there are no longer visible puddles of liquid on the surface. Next, add in the remaining ingredients and mix until the dough starts to clump together.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and use your hands to gather it all together into a ball. Knead it gently a few times if necessary until it holds together, then pat the dough out with your hands to about 3/4″ thick. Using a 3″ circle cutter, cut the scones by pressing straight down and lifting the cutter straight back up. This keeps the layers of fat from smooshing together on the edges so they rise up nice and tall. Place the scones on a parchment lined sheet pan about 1″ apart and repeat with the remaining dough.

When you can’t cut any more circles, gently scrunch the dough back into a ball and press out flat again. You don’t want to mash it all together, or the fat will start to melt and the gluten in the flour will activate too much and the scones won’t be as tender. Repeat as necessary until you get 11 or 12 scones. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake for about 10 more or until the tops are lightly golden and the bottoms have a good firm golden crust.

The Nature of Comfort

The other day I found myself singing a song to Lilli that I never in a million years ever expected to be singing to her. It was “Getting in Tune” by The Who.

I’m not going to lie: I am a big Who fan. I even have a tattoo inspired by Pete Townshend. And no, I am not joking either.

I am also not joking when I tell you that I recently started making my own brown sugar. Because I didn’t want to pay for someone else to mix molasses into my white sugar when I am perfectly capable of doing that myself. An extra bonus to saving money is that it tastes more molassesey. I don’t think that’s a word, but it is a real thing.

Anyway. That song isn’t really a kids song, but it did fit the moment. We were not getting along particularly well, and then she asked me to sing her a song and that’s what came out. (By asked me to sing her a song, I mean that she picked up a candlestick, put it to her mouth like a microphone and said “do, do, do” and then put it up to my mouth. Toddlers are hilarious.)

The song was an opportunity for me to take a breath and get closer to her, which was what she needed in the first place so that she wouldn’t be so toddler-ish.I took my cue.I’m trying very hard to be a better mother than I feel like I am some days. I know this is all part of parenthood, but for somebody who has been doing it for an extra 6 years before I ever actually became a real-life mom, I get down on myself because I am a perfectionist and I feel like I should be doing it better already. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter at all if I’m perfect, and that really, nothing is.

(That is sort of a confusing sentence. Sorry. I’m totally failing at having a working brain right now. Bare with me…it’ll pay off in the end.)

What it really comes down to is comfort. I am uncomfortable feeling vulnerable, which is what being a parent to kids who aren’t my own makes me feel. They are uncomfortable feeling close to someone who isn’t their actual Mom, so they take it out on me. Lilli gets uncomfortable when she sees that there is tension between the boys and I, and then she acts out because she doesn’t know how else to handle the situation. And then I fall back into my very old and very ingrained habits and seek out comfort the only way I know how. To Eat.

I’m very good at comforting with food. I comfort myself with it, and I comfort others with it. I have slowly started to back away from the tendency to comfort with typical comfort foods and to try and replace them with snacks that are lighter, or even walks. I am struggling lately though, not least of all because I sense that others in my life also need comfort.

This week I made a pie for a friend who recently returned home from a prolonged anti-vacation. He was stuck somewhere he didn’t want to be stuck, and he was stuck there for a long time without any friends of family to feed him. So when he got back, we decided to fill him with comfort by being there to entertain him with wii Pictionary and Thanksgiving-esque foods.

I brought dessert, of course.

There is nothing about apple pie that doesn’t say comfort. Especially not this apple pie. This is a pie that is rich enough to take you shopping at all the bougie Pacific Place shops and then take you to a light supper and the symphony after. But, it isn’t so rich that you’ll feel weird wearing holey jeans while you eat it. The tart green apples are just beyond soft, and the all butter crust has everything you could ever want–as long as all you could ever want is deliriously perfect pie crust with no lard in sight. The extra molassesy brown sugar doesn’t hurt either.

I recommend that you do like I did, and share this pie with many people. Otherwise, you might need a more comfortable pair of pants, and that’s just not the sort of comfort I am going for here. I think I’m going to share it again this weekend, with my Mother and Grandmother, who appreciate good pies and are my original comforts.

Deep Dish Caramel Apple Pie with Oatmeal Streusel

For the Crust:
(Totally optional. If you don’t want to make pie crust from scratch, just add the cinnamon from this recipe into the filling itself)

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes and frozen
6 oz all purpose flour
1 big pinch salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4-1/3 cup ice water

For the Filling

3 lbs tart green apples, such as granny smith
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
pinch salt

For the Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup each brown sugar, all purpose flour and rolled oats mixed together in a small bowl. Add 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon. Take about 4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) very warm-melty butter and mix with your fingertips to combine, until the topping starts to form lumps that stick together when you squish them. (Don’t hate. Squish is a scientific term, I can assure you.) Set aside.

For the Crust:

In a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients for a few seconds, just to combine. Add the butter and pulse about 5-6 times, until the chunks have become about the size of garbanzo beans. Next, add a couple Tbsp of water and pulse again 2-3 times. Keep adding water and pulsing just once or twice until the dough starts to look lumpy and the largest butter pieces are about the size of small peas. Dump all the dough into a quart size sip-top bag and mush it all together until it roughly forms a disc about 5″ across. Set in the fridge to chill and relax for at least 1/2 hour, but up to overnight. (The dough can be frozen for up to a couple of months at this point, if need be.)

When you are ready to assemble your pie, take the dough out of the fridge and put it between 2 sheets of parchment paper at least 12″ square. Roll out the dough, making 1/4 turns every couple of strokes with the rolling pin. Use flour if the dough starts to stick to the paper too much, but you want to limit the amount of extra flour as much as possible. Once the dough reaches about 11″ across, remove it from the paper and gently fold in into quarters to transfer it to a 9″ deep dish pie pan, or a 9″ cake pan with at least 2″ sides. Let it hang loosely as you ease it down into the corners of the pan, and then leave the excess dough hanging from the edges. Put the whole thing into the fridge while you prepare the filling.

For the Filling:

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place a rack in the top third and another just underneath that.

Peel and core the apples, and cut them into 8ths. In a heavy bottomed skillet, melt the butter and sugar until golden and bubbling. Add the apples, cream, flour and salt all at once. Stir quickly with a wooden spoon to coat the apples and encourage the caramel to emulsify. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the apples start to become tender, about 5-6 minutes.

Pour it all into your pie crust, being sure to scrape all the caramel out. Put the topping over the apples, then fold the overhanging pie crust up over the edges of the pie. Bake on the top rack with a cookie sheet underneath to catch drippings, about 45 minutes, then check for doneness. You want the apples to be soft enough for a fork to pierce with no resistance, but not so soft they’re mushy. Rotate if necessary for even browning, and give it 5-10 minutes more if you feel like it needs it.

Allow the pie to cool for several hours before slicing, to let the caramel set up and for the pectin in the apples to come back together a bit. I heartily encourage you to eat this pie a la mode, even though a slice by itself is plenty indulgent on it’s own. After all, if you’re going for comfort, you might as well go all the way.

Not Quite Yet

At night when I internet stalk–I mean catch up with my feed reader–Joe always inquires how I can possibly read about all that good food. It’s even worse during Passover, which is now on it’s 5th day. The good news is that leaves just 3 more to go, the bad news is that we’ve consumed a lot of matzah.

Not as much as usual, because I’m keeping us on a strict “only as much as absolutely necessary” matzah rationing type of diet, but still more than I’d like.

Lillia pretty much won’t touch the stuff, and I kinda think she’s on to something.

I’m definitely counting down the meals until I can stop washing everything by hand because we don’t have enough passover dishes to get through one day, and until I can eat a grain besides matzah meal. That’s not even a real grain, people.

But, just because I can’t eat delicious bready things doesn’t mean you all have to suffer too. You should eat a sandwich for me, and then tell me all about it. I’ll just stick to salads and stuff like that.

OK, OK. Mine won’t have any croutons or breadsticks. I refuse to feel sorry for myself though…it’s only a couple more days.

In all honesty, I am kind of a glutton for punishment I guess, which probably has something to do with why I signed up for another triathlon this year. And I bought a wetsuit, so now I’m pretty committed to “being a triathlete” just so I can get a good return on the investment for the damn thing. I’m gonna have to do a whole bunch more of them, even though I totally hate running and biking isn’t really my thing.

Anyway, back to the reason I have to do all that exercise: bready stuff, which is my one true love. I know this because it likes to stick around after I’ve eaten it, usually in the form of thighs and hips.

Before passover started I was trying to use up everything that had any grains in it in the freezer. This included eating weird soups, baking a lot of things in mystery dough tart shells, and eating breadsticks to use up the stash of pizza dough I like to keep in there for emergency dinners.

I know, I know. Breadsticks aren’t anything new. But you know how they tell you to write stuff down when it’s stuck in your head, so you can get to sleep at night without worrying about it at 3 am? Just think of this post kinda like that. I have to get these breadsticks off my brain so that I can think about what kind of egg-potato-matzah meal creation I’m gonna make for dinner tonight.

I rolled these breadsticks up with a ton of pesto I made in a huge batch when the arugula in my garden needed to get pulled out to make way for spring planting. I’ve also been slathering in on fish and can’t wait to eat it on pasta…yeah, when passover ends. The pesto is just bitter enough, just spicy enough to really lend it’s flavor to the dough. The saltiness of the cheese kicks it up a notch, and letting the cheese caramelize in a super hot oven is pretty much the best way to get a good savory crunch.

Arugula Pesto Breadsticks
makes 8

1/2 cup or so arugula pesto, recipe follows
1/2 cup or so shredded parmesan
One 9.5 oz portion of your favorite pizza dough
salt and pepper to taste

Heat your oven at hot as it will go, and if you have one, put a pizza stone on the lowest rack. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Let the dough come to room temp, then stretch it out to about a 6″x 8″ rectangle. Let is rest 10 minutes or so, then come back and roll it with a rolling pin until it’s very thin and about the size of your cookie sheet.

Smear the pesto all over the dough, all the way to the edges. Then sprinkle the parmesan over. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 8 roughly equal portions. Twist each portion a few times until it holds itself together well and looks all pretty. Press any loose parmesan back into the twists, give a good sprinkle all over with salt and pepper, and slide the whole tray in the oven on the lowest rack.

Bake for about 10 minutes, then take them out and check them. Turn them over for even coloring and give them just a few minutes more in the oven. Don’t let them get too brown or they won’t be tender anymore. Serve with dipping sauces if you like, but they’re pretty fantastic on their own.

Arugula Pesto

This is the easiest part of this easy recipe. You just take a big bunch of thoroughly washed arugula (or any other green, really) stuff it into your food processor and grind it up with a couple of cloves of garlic and a big handful of pine nuts or walnuts. When it’s pretty broken down, add a big pinch of salt and drizzle some olive oil in, about 1/4 cup to start, until it starts to look creamy and pretty smooth. I leave the cheese out, because I store extra in my freezer–to use on pasta later, or for dishes in which I can’t have cheese (kosher meat dishes)–and it freezes better without the cheese anyway. To store it in the freezer, fill an ice cube tray and freeze the pesto until solid, then store in an airtight container. Pull out a couple as you need them.

The Eleventh Plague

Time to get serious folks: Passover is coming.

I wanted to give you a minute to either let you totally freak out because you haven’t really started thinking about it yet or else be really confused about why this would be a big deal.

Passover’s imminent arrival means that Jews everywhere are cleaning out cupboards, using up the last of whatever flours, rices, and beans they have sitting around, and pulling out the boxes of passover dishes. Not to mention stocking up on things like matzoh, matzah, and matzo–otherwise known as the Eleventh Plague (I swear I didn’t just make that up…OK maybe I did…a little).

Our house is no exception. It’s got sort of a slow build up and then one night (a week ago Sunday for me) you are laying in bed just on the edge of sleep and suddenly it stikes you: you have to clean your house and convert it for passover in a little under 2 weeks. This is when the panic can sink in if you aren’t accustomed to it.

If you aren’t familiar with the inner workings of a Passover kitchen, this might seem like much ado about nothing. But, I can assure you it is not. Some might compare Passover to Lent, since it involves giving up something in order to be a more spiritual person–better connected with the soul and your ancestors, less concerned with the day to day and the material. There are similarities, but Passover is much stricter and in my own experience, much much harder. For Lent you aren’t required to give up several entire classes of foods, nor are you required to enact a physical change over your dwelling space to ensure that those forbidden foods do not come in contact with your person. And though Lent lasts far longer, each person is at liberty to choose what they will give up, so it can be easier to exercise will power over this extended period.

Passover is meant to be a time to reflect deeply on ones roots–the ancestors of the Jews who were exiled from their homeland of ancient Israel, instead serving as slaves to despotic and racist Egyptian pharaohs. We are asked to place ourselves in the shoes of these ancestors, for good and bad. We give up leavened bread (and lots, lots more) and humble ourselves so that we can imagine what it was like as slaves fleeing our captors. And then, we celebrate the exodus from Egypt as if we ourselves had been there and were set free. But there is lamenting also, for ourselves in the desert, and for the Egyptians who were the victims of the Ten Plagues.

For me, Passover is also a way to discover how I came to be where I am. There are some who believe that when G-d handed down the 10 commandments to Moses all those many years ago in the desert, every single soul of every single Jew who ever existed or ever would exist was in attendance, hovering around to see that historical moment. Sort of mind boggling to be sure, but it is heartwarming to think that even a humble convert like me was actually intended to be Jewish–that somewhere deep inside me was a seed of this spirituality, nurtured into existence by my life experiences up to the point of contact with the Jewish world, when it then came into full bloom.

I have mentioned before that I was not born into Judaism. When I met my now husband, Joe, I was not a religious person–I still don’t consider myself to be. I was raised by parents who had respect for others’ spiritual practices, but none of their own beyond pretty much just being. My parents were, and for the most part still are, total hippies. They taught me to question anything that seemed outwardly authoritarian and religion was included in that group. I went to church occasionally with friends, and even had some friends who were Jewish, but I didn’t have a sense of what that meant.

As I started getting serious with Joe I realized that I needed to learn more about what it was he was doing with his spiritual self or I would never be able to truly connect with him. And since he kept kosher, I needed to learn something about that so that we could share meals together, especially ones that I had prepared. I realize now that this was my diving board into Judaism. I already had a passion for food, which I was building on by going to pastry school, so it was fitting that this was a way I could connect with him. Plus, you know. The way to a man’s heart is totally through his stomach. Whoever said that was not lying.

When I eventually chose to become a Jew there were a lot of elements at play. What it came down to was the spirituality that being a Jew can imbue into the everyday experience. Even beyond praying (which to be perfectly honest, I still have a hard time with), daily activities–and in some cases, restrictions–are meant to elevate the Jew beyond the physical world. And to me, food was the culmination of these ideas. Keeping Kosher is about treating things right: our G-d given bodies, the bodies of the animals who give their lives to nourish us, and the earth that houses us all. It’s about using food as a tool to connect you to the being that is G-d.

So, like that time Joe and I were dining out in a restaurant for one of the very first times and he wouldn’t share a bowl of measly clam chowder with me because he didn’t “eat shellfish,” I now find myself answering questions about how I won’t eat this or that, or why this or that dish isn’t something you will find in my repertoire. I still have a hard time with some things–nobody is prefect and it is incredibly hard to be a newly converted kosher foodie–but I do my best and I occasionally rededicate myself to “keeping Kosher” in the home and out. There are some modern rules for keeping kosher that I continue to have a hard time understanding, like why you aren’t supposed to mix poultry and dairy, even though chickens don’t make milk (and it’s therefore impossible to cook a chicken in it’s mother’s milk).

Here on Kernels and Seeds, I reflect this in subtle ways: many of the recipes are in a kosher category, and I try very hard to make sure they are all at least kosher style. The recipe I’m sharing today is kosher too. Yes, even for Passover. But it’s not really a recipe so much as an idea. I mean, you should be able to bake a potato and do whatever you want with it–but sometimes you just need a little inspiration.  I’ve been loving these potatoes and I will continue to do so all the way through passover–they don’t even require you to bring the Eleventh Plague upon your house.

The earthiness of the potatoes is a natural partner for tangy, buttery blue cheese and sweet roasted leeks. Pair it with a big green salad for lunch and you’ve got yourself a matzah free meal that even the pharaohs would have had trouble turning down.

Baked Potato with Roasted Leeks and Blue Cheese
serves 4 for lunch or a light supper

4 medium sized organic russet potatoes
olive oil
4 oz good quality blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup sour cream
1 lb of skinny young leeks, or one larger leek per potato
milk or buttermilk, just a splash or two
salt and pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes however you normally would. I do this in a 375 F oven. Take your potatoes and really scrub them, then lightly coat in olive or canola oil. Rub in a tiny bit of salt and poke it all over with a fork. Place directly on the rack, with a baking sheet on another rack just below the potatoes to catch any drippings. They’ll bake anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour or more, depending on how big they are and how many you are baking.

While the potatoes are baking, you also want to bake the leeks. Slice each leek in half and soak in cold water to remove any grit that is hiding in between the leaves. You might have to gently rub the layers to work any remaining grit out. Remove the darkest green parts–you just want the whites and palest green leaves as they are the most tender. Place the leeks on a baking sheet and coat in a light splash of olive oil. Sprinkle just a small pinch of salt over. Toss to coat. Place the baking sheet in the oven with the potatoes and let them roast until they are tender all the way through and starting to get crispy. When they’re done, let them cool a bit and then chop them roughly, place them in a bowl. Cover with foil and set them aside.

While the potatoes and leeks are in the oven, prepare the blue cheese topping. Crumble the cheese into a bowl and stir in the sour cream, kind of smashing it all together as you go. Add milk or buttermilk until it’s a consistency you’re happy with. It will thicken a bit more as it sits, so you can add more later if it thickens too much. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the potatoes are done, slice each one almost through into quarters or sixths, and let each person top their own potato with leeks and blue cheese. Serve with more salt and pepper if need be.

World Party Day: Snack Time

This is a post for World Party Day, which is coming up April 3rd. If you don’t know much about it, you can find out more here, and catch up on the previous tutorials at Big Things, who are organizing this whole big shindig.

Let’s face it you guys. It’s not a party without some snacks.

You can forget about filling up on candy from the piñata, because that will only take you so far. A delicious breakfast is a good way to start the Day, but late in the night you might need a little something extra. Well, there’s always bags of chips and hummus…But that’s just not REAL party fare, am I right? And who wants to spend hours in the kitchen making snacks before hand (well, besides me…)?

Here is a snack that is super easy to make and IT’S TWO FOR ONE.

That’s right! You can do the work for just one awesome home made snack and still get two different ones. That’s what I call a win-win.

We’re gonna make little snacky bread puddings. They’re snazzy snacks. We’re gonna make 1 batter, then split it in half and flavor it 2 different ways. This version is vegetarian, so you won’t have to worry about all those non-meat eating party guests. BUT–this is a super versatile recipe. If you don’t like the add-ins I have here, you can swap them out for similar ingredients, just be sure to keep the same ratio.

Here’s what you need:

1 1/2 loaves of bread: any bread will work, but decent bread is better. Not too fresh now, you want the bread to be a little bit thirsty.
4 cups of whole milk, or even 1/2 & 1/2
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar plus 2 Tbsp
1 cup dried cherries
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 14oz package of a savory veggie sausage, I used Tofutti brand Italian style
3-4 good sized sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 cup or so sliced raw almonds
salt and pepper to taste, plus a pinch of salt for the custard

Here’s what you do:

Put on a fancy apron, if you’ve got one.

If the crust on the bread is particularly tough or thick, cut it off. If your bread isn’t sliced, use a serrated knife to cut it into good thick slices, maybe 3/4″-1″ thick. Now either cut the slices into cubes or get down and dirty with your bread and tear it into bite sized chunks. Divide the chunks in half, and put each half into a big bowl.

Chop up the cherries and add them to one of the bowls of bread. Add the thyme to the other bowl–if you’re using fresh, strip the leaves from their stems first.

Next, heat up the milk to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt in there. When it’s good and warm but not boiling, pour out 2 cups (important to measure here) and add that to the bowl with the thyme. Add the sugar and almond extract to the remaining 2 cups of milk, give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar and then pour it into the bowl with the cherries.

Put a plate into each bowl and weigh it down with a can or something heavy. You want the bread to be immersed in the liquid as much as possible.

Let the bread sit for an hour or so. Then, preheat your oven to 350 F and put racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.

When you’re almost ready to bake these babies, take out your sausage and heat up a skillet. Slice the sausages into 1/4″ rounds and toss em in. Let them get good and brown on at least one side, then turn off the skillet and set aside.

Grease 2 regular muffin tins with butter or pan spray. Don’t use cupcake liners to bake the puddings in, you want them to get brown and crusty from contact with the metal pan. Save the cups for later when you serve the puddings.

Now, take the “lids” off your bread and give each one a good stir. Crack 2 of the eggs into a little bowl and break them up with a fork. Add them to one of the bowls with bread. Repeat for the other bowl. Stir the eggs in really well, so that no streaks of egg are visible. Add the sausage and the crumbled feta to the pudding with the thyme, then a big dose of fresh cracked black pepper and an extra pinch of salt, and toss to coat.

Fill each tin with one type of pudding. You want each cup to be full and heaped out of it’s little well. For the cherry almond puddings, sprinkle a pinch of sliced almonds on top–they’ll get nice and toasty when they bake. If you have leftover bread mixture, that’s OK, just bake more once the first batches are done.

If you have large roasting pans, you can put each muffin tin into a roasting pan and add some boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the cups. You can skip this if you don’t have pans big enough–the puddings might not stay as moist but they’ll still be delicious, I promise.

Bake for about 15 minutes then spin them around, switching the top pan for the bottom one and vice versa. Bake for about 15 more minutes, until the tops look nice and brown. Let the puddings cool for a few minutes, then pop them out of the muffin tins so that they don’t steam themselves as they cool. If you need to bake more mix, be sure to re-grease the pans and fill the wells in the middle of the tin first so the puddings don’t burn before they’re done baking.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen, and it can be made a day in advance–just wrap the puddings in foil and reheat for 10 minutes or so in a low (250 F) oven before serving. They’re good at room temp though too.

Smooth Moves

Two True Facts:

1) We are doing a lot of travel by airplane this year, and also some by train. Three quarters of it is international and so I am super excited. (That was an extra fact. 3 for the price of 2.)

2) Lilli loves to dance. I would show you a funny video of it but every time I try to video her the little radar inside her head telling her when I’m thinking about turning my camera on starts alerting her to the fact that I’m thinking about turning my camera on for the sole purpose of actually photographing her and she freezes up. Either that or she comes over and starts adjusting knobs and stuff on the camera and it turns into a video taken by Lilli instead of of Lilli.

Lilli’s new favorite dance move is inspired by the fact that we are doing a lot of travel this year. The mascot for the website Hipmunk does a little arm waggle dance when you are waiting for the site to turn up search results. For a while Lilli would imitate the chipmunk and it meant that she wanted to see him on the computer. Now it’s just a part of her dance repertoire.

My favorite new dance move involves an immersion blender and a jar of almond butter.

That’s because it’s not a dance move, it’s a smoothie.

I have historically had a hard time with smoothies. I want to love them. I’ve tried lots of combinations of fruits and veggies and protein powders and other weird add-ins. I’ve tried them with milk, I’ve tried them with water and juice, and both with and without ice. I serve them to my family at breakfast and sometimes I get a “Wow, that’s tasty” and other times half of the smoothie gets fed to the chickens. I just can never seem to get it quite right.

Recently I tried some new smoothie recipes that had peanut butter in them. They sounded like they would be good, but instead they just smelled like the inside of an empty peanut butter jar that’s been soaking in the sink for too long.

Then I came across a smoothie that included almond butter and *chocolate* in the form of protein powder. This is something we keep on hand because both Joe and I find that a good protein shot is really key in overcoming the fatigue after an exceptionally exerting exercise day. (And, yes, that was exactly the right way to phrase that…)

It also had banana in it, and ice and water. I had already had a banana with breakfast, so I wasn’t particularly in the mood for that again but I was hungry and a smoothie sounded like just the ticket. Since I didn’t want banana and I have slowly come to realize that I don’t really care for the texture of a smoothie made with ice (plus I didn’t want to use an actual blender) I decided to look in the freezer and see what kind of fruit I had in there.

That’s when I saw the cherries, and knew my snack destiny.

The frozen cherries were leftover from the tart that went with me to cookbook club. The one where we each consumed approximately a stick of butter, because all the food was from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Just thinking about that makes me sort of cringe, in a good way.

Anyway, there was only about a cup of cherries in the bag so I dumped them into a big old jar. Then I put in a scoop and a half (3/4 serving) of the chocolate protein powder and a few other things. When it was all blended and I was just on the verge of drinking it, I realized it was sort of like drinking a smoothie made of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and then I did a happy smoothie dance. Then I got back to work.

Chocolate Cherry Smoothie
makes 1 big smoothie or 2 small ones

1 cup frozen black cherries–you could also use canned or fresh (pitted!) and add a handful of ice.
1 Tbsp or so almond butter–either creamy or crunchy will work
3/4 serving (or more if you’re really really hungry) chocolate protein powder
1 cup water or milk of choice

Put all the ingredients into the cup that came with your immersion blender or a wide mouth quart jar. You can also use a regular blender for this. Blend it all together until there aren’t any big chunks left. This part is especially important if you use crunchy almond butter like I did.

Drink up!