The Hunger

During Passover it was hard to find a good snack. Normally if I’m looking for a good satisfying mid-day snack I will eat a handful of tortilla or pita chips dipped in hummus, a bowl of fresh popped corn with garlic salt, or a rice cake with peanut butter. But all of those things–corn, peanuts, garbanzo beans, rice, and leavened wheat–are forbidden by Ashkenazic tradition during Passover.

We ate a lot of eggs and fruit and cheese, which is OK for a little while but can get old pretty fast when you can’t mix it up a bit. And there’s always matzah roca, which is a good sweet bite when you need to satisfy that sort of craving–but you can’t eat too much of that without feeling some good old fashioned Jewish guilt.

So what’s a girl in training to do?

Eat nuts.

Handfuls of them raw in yogurt, almond butter spread over matzah with a drizzle of honey, or nuts like these:

Words like salty and sweet don’t really do these mixed nuts justice, because even though they are those things, that’s not enough. There are more layers of flavor to them than there are layers of matzah in matzah lasagna.

With an immediate crunch and a lingering heat, these are pretty much the perfect snack. The orange zest adds a brightness that isn’t easily brought by other ingredients, and the cardamom adds a floral zing. The chipotle knocks on the door and says “HI!” at just the moment, when you’re thinking you might need a way to get off the phone with the sweetness. And of course, salt. All good toasted nuts have salt.

Even though we ate a big bag of them during Passover, I couldn’t resist making a fresh batch to go with us on the train to Vancouver, where we are right now. It’s supposed to be pretty rainy here this week, and even chillier than the city we left behind, so a good homemade snack was essential to keep up our spirits on this Not-So-Tropical vacation. Along with the bottle of wine no self-respecting international train traveller leaves behind, they make the perfect travelling snack. They’ll cure pretty much any hunger pangs, and be easy to carry around to boot.

Stovetop Toasted Orange Spice Nuts
makes 12 1/4 cup servings

1 cup each raw Cashews, Almonds, and Walnuts, or any nut you like.
1/2 tsp Ground Cardamom
Zest and juice from one orange
1/2 tsp Ground Chipotle pepper
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1 tsp Salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp butter

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.

In a good, heavy bottomed skillet (cast iron is the best) melt the butter. Add the nuts and sugar, stirring to coat, then add the other ingredients. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the nuts have turned a rich golden brown and most of the liquid has evaporated from the caramel. You want it to be thick but still a little bit sticky–it should take about 15-20 minutes. Turn the nuts out on the sheet pan and allow to cool, stirring every few minutes, all the way through. Once the caramel is no longer sticky or flexible at all, they’re cool enough to store in an airtight container for several days.

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!