Yeasted Buckwheat Pancakes

Even though they had sat in a hotel warmer for longer than I had been awake those little Dutch pancakes or Pannenkoeken (trying saying it, it’s quite fun) were something special. Lightly sweet and airy in an unfamiliar way. Usually I hail pancakes for their fluffiness, these are not fluffy at all, rather they delightfully teeter on the line of crepe or pancake.

I thoroughly examined their little holes that covered their surfaced and wandered how they differed from the pancakes that we make nearly every Saturday morning. There was no chemical taste from the presence of leaveners but instead a well-developed flavor that extends beyond just “sweet”.

I’ve never been much of a fan of pancakes. Really the only reason why I do make them so often is because my kids love them and I find it rather idealic to think of them growing up with the memory of our weekend long breakfast tradition, but these pancakes have me changing my mind.

A couple things set these apart. For one they are made with yeast. Their bubbles aren’t chemically created by the presence of baking soda or powder but instead with the addition of yeast and a bit of time. Had I been more patient I would have tried letting this batter rest in the fridge over night as I imagine the flavor would have even been better. I can not confirm this, however because we ate it all in one sitting.

Secondly, there is a hearty amount of whole grain buckwheat in here. The pannenkoeken I found in the Netherlands weren’t as dark but I’m sticking to my version. I was skeptical as I smelled the batter and thought it smelled too healthy for my liking but as they cooked up the buckwheat softened and added intrigue and depth that can’t be found in a recipe using all all-purpose flour.

Maybe it’s because I love saying “pannenkoeken” or because I love the lightness or the depth of flavor from yeast and buckwheat flour or possibly it’s because they are the perfect vessel for loads of jam and powdered sugar. Whatever the reason, these are soon to become a family tradition, one in which I hope my kids will remember with great fondness.

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Yeasted Buckwheat Pancakes

1 generous cup/ 4 ¼ oz all-purpose flour

1 generous cup/ 4 ¼ oz buckwheat flour

2 teaspoons yeast

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups warm milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla or ½ vanilla bean

2 Tablespoons butter, for the skillet

 

Combine the flours, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients (except the butter) until everything is well combined. The batter is very wet.

Let sit for at least one hour, until many bubbles start forming.

Pre-heat a sturdy pan (cast iron is my favorite) on medium heat. Add a bit of the butter to the hot pan and let melt.

Carefully pour in enough batter to form 3-4” pancakes. Let cook until the entire surface is covered in crater-like bubbles. Flip and cook about 2 minutes more.

Keep warm in a gently warmed oven.

Serve with jam, syrup, powdered sugar, and lemon slices – if you like.

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Bruges, Belgium


 

Less than 24 hours in Bruges, Belgium – what do you do?

Eat as much as you possibly can, of course!

My Bruges (don’t ask me how to pronounce it, I practiced for a week which evoked many laughs and odd hacking noises) to-do list was as follows:

1. Drink a Belgian beer

2. Eat fries

3. Eat waffles

4. Eat and buy chocolate

That is a chocolate induced smile right there.

I’m happy to report that even in my limited time in that beautiful country I completed the to-do list and then some.

Upon my return I’ve created a new to-do list:

 

1. Make waffles as good as the Belgian’s do – particularly the Liege waffle.

2. Make Flemish stew.

3. Find a great source for Belgian beer in Seattle then drink some.

4. Plan my return trip to Belgium.

Of course there is more to this stunning city than the food. Like wandering the brick-paved streets in the middle of the night in silence as you take in the stunning architecture, the way the moon reflects on the frozen canal, and the warming thought of drinking a dark beer in a pub established in 1515 – oh, that’s food too, I’m hopeless.

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Home

I’m home. I may not be for long but it feels good to be here.

So much to process from this trip, as is the case with any trip, but this one in particular felt different from any other.

My dad summed it up pretty accurately as he reflected on his last trip to the Netherlands, “Stepping into that country felt like I was coming home.”

As with many of my revelations it took food for me to feel just as my dad described. Each bite was familiar and deeply comforting. With the anticipation of experiencing an entirely new culture I was greeted to one I had already known. At first I felt disappointed by this as it’s typically it’s the differences, when traveling, that evoke change and awe in me. As the trip rolled on I realized that what to me had seemed like a typical childhood was one that was deeply Dutch. The country, people, food, and traditions were already a part of me. Through this understanding I learned much more about myself, my family, and a deeper knowledge of the culture in which my family originated.

I leave the Netherlands with a great sense of pride, a hunger to learn more, and a strong fervent to instill in my children much of the traditions that marked my childhood. I also leave with boxes and boxes of Hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles typically served on white bread with butter), inspirations for many meals to come, stronger family relationships and new friendships with family I had never known.

 

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Dinner in 15: Harissa Chickpeas with spinach

My bags sit empty, the cameras are not packed, and I have yet to secure the final book reading list. But before I head off to the Netherlands for a week I wanted to say a quick hello and goodbye. It didn’t seem right to keep these chickpeas from you any longer and I didn’t want you to worry if this space sits unattended while I’m skating along the canals, wondering quiet towns and tucking into cafes when the chill is no longer endearing.

I can’t say much about the trip now as I really have no idea what to expect. I will say that I am so excited I can hardly think straight. I am traveling with my grandparents and some aunts and uncles to my grandfather’s hometown. This will be the first time I’ve visited the place where my family began and to experience that with my grandparents is incredibly thrilling. I’ll meet many relatives, stock up on chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag), and take a quick detour to Belgium for chocolate, waffles, frites, and beer. I welcome any and all suggestions on what’s not to be missed.

In all my previous travel experiences my blond hair and blue eyes have been a glaring beacon to the fact that I’m not a local. In the Netherlands I am looking forward to feeling right at home. I’m eager to taste the food that raised my grandfather and my great-grandparents and enjoying it all in the presence of family.

For now there are chickpeas. Spicy ones at that. I’m on a quick meal kick as I’ve been frantically crossing things off the to do list and fitting in as many snuggles as the littles will allow in anticipation of this trip. With all the ingredients on hand this meal comes together in minutes but carries with it a hearty, warm spice thanks to harissa. Mine comes from Morocco but you can get your harissa at fine grocery stores or online. It’s a perfect healthy winter dinner but I imagine in the Summer I’ll see it again, chilled,  in my picnic basket.

I’m looking forward to wandering unfamiliar streets and taking more photos than I know what to do with. Until then, I leave you with chickpeas.

 

 

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Harissa Chickpeas with spinach

 

In anticipation of rich foods and unhealthy eating habits while traveling I’ve been stocking up on simple, healthy meals like this one. I imagine I’ll see a nice big bowl of this upon my return. 

The amount of harissa is really personal preference so please feel free to adjust the amount I suggest.

 

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 15oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans) rinsed and drained

1 1/2 teaspoons harissa paste (more is fine too)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon chopped, fresh mint

2 cups fresh spinach

 

 

Add olive oil to to a medium saute pan, saute garlic until fragrant and golden, about two mintues. Add harissa and cook another minute. Stir in chickpeas and salt then simmer mixture for about 5 minutes – until any liquid has evaporated and chickpeas are tender. Turn off heat and toss in mint and spinach. Stir and let the residual heat wilt the spinach slightly. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Serve immediately with a hefty scoop of greek yogurt.

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Dinner in 15: a lighter caesar

It’s a rare move when I swap out ingredients in order to preserve calories. My philosophy, after years of learning through mistakes, has become quality over quantity. It’s actually become somewhat of a motto for my husband and myself becoming a daily practice in the kitchen and beyond (I find it particularly helpful in the closet as well).

I’d much rather eat a smaller portion of a bittersweet chocolate made liquid by the addition of hot cream and then served with more cream than a large amount of a less flavorful dessert containing ingredients that read “non-fat”. It has been my experience that I walk away from a few bites of something decadent and rich feeling very satisfied and quite okay by the fact that I left a good portion of it untouched or saved for someone else.

But what is really glorious is when you lighten a normally hefty meal without surrender the flavor or overall satisfaction. This salad has done such a marvelous thing.

It’s in these cool, gray months that my body yearns for food to comfort. Ones laden with cream and butter comfort me nicely particularly around the mid-section but there are times when I must resist such urges. With comfort food in mind I was set on a classic caesar. Slightly spicy, salty from a touch of briny anchovy and of course, creamy.

Where I would normally reach for oil and egg yolk to work the ingredients into an emulsion I grabbed greek yogurt – a very popular ingredient in our house as of late. The idea was to just replace some of the oil with the yogurt but when I tasted the mix of lemon, anchovy, garlic, dijon, parmesan, and yogurt I found no need for the oil. What I did find was a near replica of a classic caesar dressing without the addition of any rich oils or fats.

I did however top mine with a few nice slices of seared tenderloin (quality over quantity) and sat down to one of the best lunches I’ve had in quite some time.

 

 

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A Lighter Casear

A Lighter Caeser

This is a very forgiving recipe. Taste and adjust as you please, I promise I won’t be offended. Just remember that you want the dressing to taste strong as the romaine will tame its flavor. Top with slow-roasted tomatoes, shavings of Parmesan, roasted chicken, or steak for a complete and healthful lunch or dinner.

1/2 cup greek yogurt
2 teaspoons dijon
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 Tbl fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh pepper
2 Tbl finely grated parmesan

 

In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Carefully combine with fresh, chopped romaine. Serve with shavings of Parmesan.

Keeps in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for one week.

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Dating My Husband

If I could to speak to myself on the day of my wedding over eight years ago, this is what I would say…

I understand you’re a bit scared. You’re young and you are about to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life. You think it’s the right choice, you think you love him but what really is love? I know that’s what you are thinking because I am you.

For months leading up to the wedding day you’ve been asking everyone who would listen to help you understand what love really is. Sure he gives you butterflies and you can’t imagine not spending every day with this man. You’ve lost countless hours of sleep just clinging to his presence and not wanting to waste a moment with him. But is that really love? Is that enough to sustain a marriage that will survive moves across state lines, financial stress, young children, loss, and much more that we have yet to experience?

In case you do read this you should know that you made the right decision. But you didn’t really know love. The love you felt on the day you stared at him down the aisle, anxiously awaiting that glimmer in his eyes as he saw you for the first time in your wedding dress and the last time you weren’t his wife, that love was just the start.

At the time you thought love was how he made you feel. You questioned love the moment the butterflies didn’t flutter as rapidly as you thought they should. You resented him for shining light on parts of you that were selfish and gross. He didn’t complete you in the way you expected him to and surprisingly he didn’t completely understand you from the moment you both said, “I do.”

Love isn’t simply about how he makes you feel. I know that now. Love is a choice and love is action.

Now you realize that love is him warming up the espresso machine for you in the morning so it’s ready when you wander sleepily down the stairs. Love is how he saves the last scoop of ice cream for you, every time. Love is the way he wrestles with your sons (you have two and I can’t wait for you to meet them) after a long day of work. Love is the way he dances with your daughter (she’ll make you melt with each glance into her big brown eyes).

You slowly start to understand that when your dad told you, “Love is a choice”, he wasn’t being as unromantic as you first thought. You’ll realize that each day you have a choice. You can either choose to love Gabe and allow your feelings and actions reflect that or you can choose to allow the daily difficulties and his imperfections (yes, I know you can’t see it now, but he’s not perfect – and neither are you) to become a disease in the marriage.

Some days are better than others but over time you’ll realize that praying for and encouraging him is more useful than resenting him. You’ll start to see all the things he does for you and your family rather than focusing on what he doesn’t do. And you’ll realize that on the day you married him you really had no idea what love was and that eight years later you love him in way that you never thought possible.

It’s going to be hard. You’ll find out things about yourself that you really wish could have stayed hidden and yet, through it all you slowly become a better person. One that really knows and understands love – at least I hope that’s what happens, I’m not quite there yet.

What I do know is that no matter how tired you are, no matter how much you would just rather curl up on the couch and tune out the noise of the day, every once in awhile you need to put the kids to bed a bit earlier and ask your husband out on a date, even if that date happens at home.

You’ll plan the meal with great excitement and get inspired staring at the vibrant produce at the store while Ivy (that’s your daughter) tries her best to pull everything off the shelves and into the cart. You’ll spend the next 7 hours, on and off, preparing for a meal that you and your husband will devour in 10 minutes. He’ll appreciate every minute of your effort and you’ll love every chop of an onion and knead of the dough. You remind yourself of this moment and how many times before you’ve learned the same lesson – choosing him over your own selfish desires is what love is all about.

Menu
orange and avocado salad with shallot vinaigrette
pulled pork with a fennel, apple and raddicchio slaw on a sesame bun
piment d’espelette roasted new potatoes
caramel walnut tart with whipped creme fraiche

 

Plan
To eat around 8:00 pm the pork should be in by 1:30pm at the latest. So plan to put the rub on the pork that morning or the night before.
The tart and both dressings can be made the day before.
I pulled the pork out of the oven for close to an hour and set it over very low heat on the stove top while I roasted the potatoes and baked the buns.
When the pork was nearly finished we made the orange salad and enjoyed that as our first course. As the pork cooled, I finished up the cole slaw.
All that and it was gone in under 10 minutes but we’ve been eating incredible left overs for days.

Orange Salad with Avocado and Shallot Vinaigrette

 

1 Tbl chopped shallot
3 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbl fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspon salt
fresh pepper, to taste
2 large oranges
1 avocado
2 Tbl thinly sliced red onion (optional)
1 Tbl chopped Italian parsley

 

Combine the first five ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together, taste, and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
Cut the peel away from the orange then slice in ¼” rounds. Arrange on two separate plates, top with sliced avocado and red onion, if using. Spoon a bit of the dressing on each plate. Top with fresh Italian parsley and serve immediately.


Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Fennel, Apple, and Radicchio Slaw

Pork Rub
for a 5-7 pound pork shoulder

3 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ teaspoon cayenne
3 Tbl paprika
3 Tbl kosher salt
1 Tbl brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 Tbl yellow mustard

 

In a morter and pestle or a food processor, mince the garlic then add the spices and salt. Stir in the mustard. Rub this over the pork and let sit for at least 1 hour or overnight in the fridge.

After the pork has bathed in the rub place in a large roasting pan and roast at 300*F for about 6 hours or until falling away from the bone.

Barbeque Sauce

1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbl yellow mustard
½ cup ketchup
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh black pepper
3 garlic cloves
1 small shallot, chopped
a few drops of natural hickory smoke

 

Combine all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside.

Once pork has finished roasting remove from the pan and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Add ⅔ of the bar-b-que sauce to the juices left in the roasting pan and scrape up any crusted on bits on the bottom of the pan. Simmer gently while the pork rests.
Using two forks and possibly your hands too, pull apart the pork into bite-size shreds.
Add the pulled pork into the sauce. Taste and add more sauce if you think it needs it or reserve remaining bar-b-que sauce to serve with the sandwiches.

On a freshly sliced sesame bun add a good amount of pork then top with the fennel slaw. Enjoy immediately.

Fennel, Apple and Radicchio Slaw

½ cup creme fraiche
2 Tbl mayonnaise
2 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tbl lemon juice
3 green onions, sliced
1 fennel bulb, julienned
1 apple, julienned
1 cup thinly sliced radicchio

 

In a small bowl combine the first six ingredients. Set aside.
In a medium bowl add the fennel, apple, green onions, and radicchio. Toss with about ¼ cup dressing to start. Taste then add more as needed.
Can be made up to an hour in advance. It keeps for a day – perfect for leftovers – but doesn’t look nearly as fresh and starts to droop a bit.
The dressing could be made up to 3 days in advance.

Sesame Seed Buns
makes 9-12 buns
The point of a date night is not to exhaust yourself before the date actually happens, so I realize that after roasting a pork shoulder for 7 hours many may feel that making your own buns is just asking too much. I’m okay with that. I am, however, a bit crazy and can’t get enough of playing in the kitchen, especially when doughs are involved. So I’ve included the recipe for those who are like me or if there comes a day when you do decide to make your own buns.

 

2 teaspoons yeast
1 ⅓ cups warm milk
2 Tbl honey
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 Tbl (1/2 stick) butter, soft
2 Tbl sesame seeds
1 egg, lightly beaten (egg wash)

 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the yeast, milk and honey. Let stand for 10 minutes as which point you should see lots of bubbles and some definite growth happening.
Add flour, salt, and egg and mix with the dough hook to combine. While the mixer is running on medium-low add the soft butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Scrape down the bowl then continue to mix for 8-10 minutes.
Cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap and let double, about two hours.
Roll the dough into tight balls estimating that you will get between 9-12 buns. This is just a bit under ½ cup of dough per bun.
Place on a parchment lined sheet tray (you may need two if you don’t want them to touch at all) then cover with plastic wrap and let double again, about 1 ½ hours.
When the buns are just about doubled, pre-heat the oven to 400*. Brush the buns with the additional egg and top with sesame seeds.
Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes, until deep golden on top and bottom.
Let cool on a wire rack to prevent steaming.

Piment d’espelette Roasted Potatoes
It’s worth the online order or visit to a specialty store to gather this ingredient. Similar to paprika without the intense smoke and a stronger, fresh heat in place of it. A dear friend brought this back from France and I can’t help but put it in nearly everything.
If you can’t find it you could use paprika or simply do a perfectly delicious garlic roasted potato.

 

1 ½ – 2 pounds new potatoes, cut in rough ½” pieces
1 ½ Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons piment d’espelette
¾ – 1 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Pre-heat your oven to 400*F. Combine all ingredients and roast on a parchment lined sheet tray making sure the potatoes are not too crowded or piled on top of one another. Roast until interior is tender and the exterior edges are crispy and deep golden in places, about 40-50 minutes.

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Orange Salad // Pulled Pork Sandwich with Radicchio Slaw // Sesame Seed Buns // Roasted Potatoes

Orange Salad with Avocado and Shallot Vinaigrette

 

1 Tbl chopped shallot
3 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbl fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspon salt
fresh pepper, to taste
2 large oranges
1 avocado
2 Tbl thinly sliced red onion (optional)
1 Tbl chopped Italian parsley

 

Combine the first five ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together, taste, and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
Cut the peel away from the orange then slice in ¼” rounds. Arrange on two separate plates, top with sliced avocado and red onion, if using. Spoon a bit of the dressing on each plate. Top with fresh Italian parsley and serve immediately.

 

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Fennel, Apple, and Radicchio Slaw

Pork Rub
for a 5-7 pound pork shoulder

3 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ teaspoon cayenne
3 Tbl paprika
3 Tbl kosher salt
1 Tbl brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 Tbl yellow mustard

 

In a morter and pestle or a food processor, mince the garlic then add the spices and salt. Stir in the mustard. Rub this over the pork and let sit for at least 1 hour or overnight in the fridge.

After the pork has bathed in the rub place in a large roasting pan and roast at 300*F for about 6 hours or until falling away from the bone.

Barbeque Sauce

1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbl yellow mustard
½ cup ketchup
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh black pepper
3 garlic cloves
1 small shallot, chopped
a few drops of natural hickory smoke

 

Combine all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside.

Once pork has finished roasting remove from the pan and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Add ⅔ of the bar-b-que sauce to the juices left in the roasting pan and scrape up any crusted on bits on the bottom of the pan. Simmer gently while the pork rests.
Using two forks and possibly your hands too, pull apart the pork into bite-size shreds.
Add the pulled pork into the sauce. Taste and add more sauce if you think it needs it or reserve remaining bar-b-que sauce to serve with the sandwiches.

On a freshly sliced sesame bun add a good amount of pork then top with the fennel slaw. Enjoy immediately.

Fennel, Apple and Radicchio Slaw

½ cup creme fraiche
2 Tbl mayonnaise
2 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tbl lemon juice
3 green onions, sliced
1 fennel bulb, julienned
1 apple, julienned
1 cup thinly sliced radicchio

 

In a small bowl combine the first six ingredients. Set aside.
In a medium bowl add the fennel, apple, green onions, and radicchio. Toss with about ¼ cup dressing to start. Taste then add more as needed.
Can be made up to an hour in advance. It keeps for a day – perfect for leftovers – but doesn’t look nearly as fresh and starts to droop a bit.
The dressing could be made up to 3 days in advance.

Sesame Seed Buns
makes 9-12 buns
The point of a date night is not to exhaust yourself before the date actually happens, so I realize that after roasting a pork shoulder for 7 hours many may feel that making your own buns is just asking too much. I’m okay with that. I am, however, a bit crazy and can’t get enough of playing in the kitchen, especially when doughs are involved. So I’ve included the recipe for those who are like me or if there comes a day when you do decide to make your own buns.

 

2 teaspoons yeast
1 ⅓ cups warm milk
2 Tbl honey
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 Tbl (1/2 stick) butter, soft
2 Tbl sesame seeds
1 egg, lightly beaten (egg wash)

 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the yeast, milk and honey. Let stand for 10 minutes as which point you should see lots of bubbles and some definite growth happening.
Add flour, salt, and egg and mix with the dough hook to combine. While the mixer is running on medium-low add the soft butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Scrape down the bowl then continue to mix for 8-10 minutes.
Cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap and let double, about two hours.
Roll the dough into tight balls estimating that you will get between 9-12 buns. This is just a bit under ½ cup of dough per bun.
Place on a parchment lined sheet tray (you may need two if you don’t want them to touch at all) then cover with plastic wrap and let double again, about 1 ½ hours.
When the buns are just about doubled, pre-heat the oven to 400*. Brush the buns with the additional egg and top with sesame seeds.
Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes, until deep golden on top and bottom.
Let cool on a wire rack to prevent steaming.

Piment d’espelette Roasted Potatoes
It’s worth the online order or visit to a specialty store to gather this ingredient. Similar to paprika without the intense smoke and a stronger, fresh heat in place of it. A dear friend brought this back from France and I can’t help but put it in nearly everything.
If you can’t find it you could use paprika or simply do a perfectly delicious garlic roasted potato.

 

1 ½ – 2 pounds new potatoes, cut in rough ½” pieces
1 ½ Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons piment d’espelette
¾ – 1 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Pre-heat your oven to 400*F. Combine all ingredients and roast on a parchment lined sheet tray making sure the potatoes are not too crowded or piled on top of one another. Roast until interior is tender and the exterior edges are crispy and deep golden in places, about 40-50 minutes.

 

 

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Caramel Walnut Tart

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*that is not my kitchen in the video. I wish it was, however.

Before saying hi to the cows casually grazing in the field, or giving the ponies much attention, before gathering a few garden scraps for the sake of making the chickens happy or giving much of a hello to my parents, I headed straight towards the walnut trees at the mini farm that is my parent’s house.

I had never before watched the process of walnuts turning from a lime-like pod to become a buttery, slightly bitter nut that I know and love. The shadow that the large leaves provided was a perfect canopy to escape the warm summer sun. In the spring we watched a flourishing insect community take roost among the branches – some bad, most good. I examined every change and anticipated when they would finally be ready, all the while gathering recipes in my mind.

Then one day when the days were gray and the ground was wet it happened. I got a text from my mom with an image of walnuts half out of their greenish-brown coverings, strewn all over the green carpeted floor under the tree, “they’re ready.”

Before long the five of us we’re making an hour long trek to the little farm with fresh walnuts as the mission. Well, it was my mission any way,  I’m sure the kids were more excited about pony and tractor rides. Either way we were all eager and excited to stretch our city legs on the farm.

Ivy and I fetched a deep wicker basket from my mom’s collection and quickly headed towards those trees. Her black boot covered feet found balance difficult as she had only recently discovered walking. Quickly realizing the mission she proudly plopped walnuts into the basket even if it meant taking one out only to plop it in again. She noticed the joy on my face and collected as many as she could understanding that something delicious was to become of these wet and wrinkled shells.

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Ivy was right, something delicious did become of those walnuts. A caramel walnut tart. In my mom’s kitchen we made a vanilla scented butter crust. The sort of crust you dream about. One that doesn’t require cold butter and delicate hands and hours to chill. I’ve been known to force people to time me while making this crust – they oblige and it’s about 30 seconds. All the ingredients get dumped and stirred together, then the wet dough is patted into form. It bakes with no fear of shrinking and awards your minimal efforts with a lightly sweet, tender bite.

While the crust baked Ivy and I whisked together bittersweet chocolate, cream and creme fraiche anticipating the desire for a dark, bitter taste to balance the sweet caramel. We ate it, although not necessary. Both she and I are not ones to turn down chocolate.

Let’s talk for a moment about caramel. It can be intimidating, right? It is one of my favorite things to teach as so many are afraid to try but when they see how easy it can be it opens up a world of possibilities for them.

We start with a large, very clean sauce pan. If there is any fear of residue, wipe the interior with lemon juice or vinegar using a clean dish towel. All the utensils involved in making a caramel should be impeccably clean. In the restaurant this was the reason why we required a set of spatulas separate from the savory side – a speck of leftover anything can wreak havoc on a pot of perfectly golden caramel.

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Next add your sugar, lemon juice and enough water to enable the sugar to reach the consistency of wet sand. If you add too much water don’t worry, it will just take a bit longer to caramelize. During the next few steps I like to use my hands so that I can really feel where the sugar is and what is happening in my pan – a spatula works fine if you are opposed to sugar fingers.

Stir the sugar, lemon juice and water until completely combined. Wipe down the sides of the pan with more water until you don’t feel or see any sugar granules clinging to the side. What we are fighting against is crystallization - it’s the enemy of a smooth caramel. It’s the enemy of most candy making actually. Crystallization happens when sugar caramelizes at different points. So if you have sugar that is nearly caramelized and a granule falls into the pan from off the side you may have a problem. Now, in saying all this I don’t mean to add to the intimidation of caramel making but simply to inform you of the problem and give you the proper ways to avoid it.

At this point crank up the heat and don’t touch the pan. Let the sugar dissolve then boil like crazy but don’t walk away. It happens quickly and there is no coming back from a pan of burnt sugar.

If around the sides of the pan you notice some color but the middle remains colorless, carefully swirl to mix.

The caramel is done when it has reached the color of a penny – a deep amber. You can go lighter but I like to take it to the edge, teetering the line of bitter and sweet.

Turn off the heat and add the butter, cream, and creme fraiche. You will see why we use a large pan at this point as the caramel bubbles up madly at the addition of the cold fats. Stand back until it has calmed down then carefully swirl the pan to combine. Then you are done. Perfect caramel.

Unless you are okay with warm caramel puddling all over your plate, the only down side to this recipe is needing to wait. We couldn’t and didn’t with no complaints of puddled caramel. Being a resourceful bunch we used the crust to help mop up the mess.

My recommendation is joining this rich tart with a lightly sweetened cream. If you like the mature tang of creme fraiche add a heap of that to the cream you are whipping, I find it settles the intensely sweet caramel nicely.

This tart made the long wait for ripe walnuts completely worth it. That and seeing my baby girl clenching those golden shells around her pudgy fingers. I’m already excited for next year’s harvest.

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Caramel Walnut Tart

Tart shell

makes enough dough to for a 9” or 10” tart

¼ cup powdered sugar

½ cup butter (melted)

pinch salt

½ tsp vanilla

1 cup flour

In a medium bowl stir together all the ingredients. The dough will be quite wet but can easily be pressed into a tart pan or spring form pan.

Bake at 350*F for about 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden.

Let cool.

Chocolate Glaze

Not necessary to make this tart a memorable one but really what isn’t improved upon by the addition of chocolate?

½ cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup cream fraiche

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Add the chocolate to a medium bowl.

In a small sauce pan, heat the cream and creme fraiche over medium heat. Watch carefully as cream tends to bubble up and boil over quickly. When bubbles appear all over the surface, remove from the heat and immediately pour over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute the whisk to combine.

Can use immediately or store in a covered container in the fridge for 2 weeks. Makes a great ice cream topping or hot chocolate base.

Caramel Filling

The recipe in the video had double the caramel but I found it to be a bit too much. As it is this recipe is quite rich but I like this ratio of crust, caramel, and cream much more pleasant.

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 tbl lemon juice

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoons crème fraîche

1 cup walnuts, toasted, roughly chopped

Place sugar, water, and lemon juice in a heavy, large saucepan. Stir to combine. Wash down the sides of the pan until no sugar remains. Set on high heat and boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber color, about 7-10 minutes depending on the power of your stove and the pan you use. If the sugar around the sides begin to caramelize more rapidly, gently swirl the pan to mix.

Remove from heat. Whisk in butter, cream and creme fraiche (mixture will bubble vigorously).  Stir in walnuts. Let cool until slightly thick before pouring into prepared crust. Let cool until caramel is set. If you are really eager you can pop it in the refrigerator for a bit.

Serve with lightly whipped cream.

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Reliving the details: Morocco

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Atlas Kasbah, Agadir

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Anticipating what is said to be one of the worst snow storms that Seattle has seen in decades I find myself sitting on the couch, waiting for the snow with a beer in hand and falling deeply back into the images from Morocco. I have so much more to share with you all and I feel that if I don’t do it now it may never happen as February brings with it a new set of fun excursions. (!!)

Using my journal from that trip as a guide I’m reliving the details. At the end of each day I made a scattered list of all that that day entailed. I’ve learned from previous experiences that I tend to quickly forget the details and it’s in those where the real journey lies.

Each day was packed full of new sites, new sounds, and not enough sleep, leaving little time to write so what I do have written down is quite cryptic but it’s enough to help me return to that place.

On the fourth day we woke up at the Atlas Kasbah in Agadir. The stucco-like facade covered an exterior that resembled a castle. The surrounding landscape reminded me of the Umbrian region of Italy where I would look out over the cliffs of Orvieto and see vineyards, monasteries, and long winding roads leading to places I wanted to explore. Here the rolling hills weren’t covered in grape vines but of Argan trees and plants that looked prickly even from the distance of where I stood. The varying brown hues and absence of much green was a welcoming reminder that I was indeed in Africa.

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The Atlas Kasbah is the dream of a husband and wife team. The kasbah is welcoming and immediately sets the scene of a place for respite and rejuvenation. I encouraged such behavior and found myself laying by a pale blue pool in the middle of November having just had a traditional Moroccan spa treatment. I lay back in the chaise for a moment soaking in the warmth of the sun and this rare moment of complete and utter relaxation.

You see those moments are a distant memory when three children are my daily routine. I was torn between the desire to just sit in that moment or record a few of the details in my journal as a way to sort of safe-keep that moment so I could live off of it for the months to come.

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I anticipated the points in my days when I would need to stop and find a piece of that sun-filled happy place in order to find perspective in the midst of a messy house, screaming children, and an uncooked dinner.

Briefly I wrote of that hot sun and how the gentle breeze would interrupt at just the right moment, never allowing you to get too hot but making you miss its warmth before it returned. It took only a few seconds but I wrote of the pool and the vibrant gardens, the rosy orange glow of the kasbah at sunset, and the smell of Moroccan basil – softer and more subtle than our varieties. Then I lingered in that place cementing it in my mind and appreciating every aspect of it.

The scribbled details weren’t much but as the snow threatens and the kids perform their nightly regime of warding off sleep I am so thankful that I wrote.

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Our last two days were in Marrakech and it is here that I vowed to return to this country. It seems that in every foreign country I visit it is always the city that I most love. The energy of its people, the sounds of excitement and life, and the smells; so inviting, yet so different.

I found it hard walking as with every step I found an image that I wanted to preserve. The colors filled me with inspiration in shades of blue and orange. I picked up a few items in the souk to help me relive fragments of Morocco and its culture – a tagine, spices like harissa, and ras al hanout, mint tea, and a pair of vibrant orange pointed shoes that I wear around our house daily.

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At the end of our day we found silence and calm at the Four Seasons. I snuck deep into the bed eagerly anticipating the nightly Facetime date with my family. Over the phone I kissed and hugged each of my kids. I talked to a very tired husband who spoke freely of how excited he was that only two days separated us. I was excited too but also fearful.

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Right after the page in my journal detailing the scene surrounding me and the warm Moroccan sun I wrote, “I’m afraid to leave for fear I’ll never return.”

It goes without saying that I missed my family it’s just that I wasn’t ready to leave. I wanted them to fetch a plane and meet me in Morocco instead of me heading home.

What better way to leave a place than not wanting to leave? The memories of that place are forever set to induce a pleasant longing. When you talk to others about it your entire face lights up and your insides swell. It becomes a mission, of sorts, to encourage others to venture there and demand they take you with them when they do go.

I do hope to return, but for now I am living in the details and in the feeling of never wanting to leave that place.

*update* The snow came and we’re at about 5 inches or so. For Seattle that’s life changing.

*Also, I made a blurb book from images from my trip. Many you’ve seen on the blog. The reason I tell you is more of a suggestion of what to do with travel photos. Instead of sitting on my computer I now have a beautiful coffee table book to peruse at my leisure and to share with others. As far as I know you can purchase the book if you want but I don’t make much, if any, money on it. Just wanted to share.

*Finally, thank you. I feel as if I forced you all to sit through my travel slideshow but rather than fall asleep and roll your eyes (well, maybe some of you did that) I was overwhelmed by the gracious responses to these posts. Thanks so much for encouraging me to share.

*Last thing, I promise. I was graciously sent to Morocco by the Moroccan tourism board. All photos and words are my own.


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Jalapeno and lime marinated kale tostada

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I really just want you to have this. I could make you wait another day until I can successfully start AND finish this post with a tale or a thought that might actually make sense OR I could let you have it now. And I really just think you need this as soon as possible.

You should know that I gave it a valiant effort. After tonight’s attempts I now have a Google Doc entitled, “Failed Blog Entries”. Because you never know – one days failure might be another’s success.

This is just the sort of meal that belongs in January – heavy on vegetables, balancing December’s cookies and February’s chocolate, with vibrant flavors and comforting heat.  You know what I realized today? January is nearly half-way through, so what I’m saying is we really don’t have another day to spare. Who knows, the way the first half of this month has gone, you may be waiting a very long time.

So without further ado or with any ado for that matter have some kale.

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Jalapeno and Lime Marinated Kale Tostada

Serves 2 very hungry people or 4 less hungry

With the aid of our juicer and this recipe we’ve been going through kale faster than we can remove those hearty stems. After a lazy soak in lime juice and spice the kale surrenders a bit of its heft while retaining a freshness that is so often lacking in food this time of year.

If you don’t care about skimping on some calories and mess you can fry the tortillas in a shallow pan and a bit of oil around 360*F until golden brown.

 

4 flour tortillas

2 teaspoons olive oil

Brush 4 tortillas with butter or olive oil, sprinkle with salt then bake at 400* for 10 – 12 minutes or until completely crisp.

Kale Marinade

¼ cup fresh lime juice

2 T olive oil

½ jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

¼ cup cilantro

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin

4 cups kale, washed, thick ribs removed and roughly chopped

Mix first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add the chopped kale and toss to coat. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Black Beans

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves

1 T shallot, finely chopped

pinch salt

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

In a small sauce pan saute garlic and shallots in oil over medium heat until just fragrant. Add beans and simmer about 5-7 minutes, until soft and warmed through. Taste and add salt if needed, keeping in mind the kale and Cotija add a brightness and salt as well.

Assemble

1 avocado, roughly cut

1/4 cup crumbled Cotija (available at Mexican markets or many fine grocery stores. If you can’t find it you may substitute Feta or Chevre)

Place baked tortilla on plate, top with warm beans, marinated kale, chunks of avocado and about 1 Tablespoon crumbled Cotija cheese.

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grapefruit salad with sweet milk granita

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In the weeks leading up to my trip to Morocco it was the tagines and fragrant spices that I anticipated. Thoughts of fatty, braised chunks of lamb studded with apricots and warming harissa made the days before I left move at a pace that would make a snail appear as a sprinter.

As one can expect, the food did not disappoint. There was couscous so perfectly prepared that my satisfaction in the store bought version has been crushed. A sweet and savory b’stilla laced with chicken and showered with cinnamon and powdered sugar and a chicken tagine with french fries – that’s right, FRENCH FRIES!! – sealed my love for this vibrant country. But it was the Moroccan breakfasts that I most long to recreate now that I’m home.

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Fresh squeezed orange juice greeted me nearly every morning and woke me up more effectively than three children jumping on my bed ever can. Beyond the juice there was an assortment of breads. Some resembling airy pancakes, others seemed to enjoy a leisurely bath in hot oil before settling into their position of my breakfast. With the breads there was always Amlou, honey, and assorted fruit preserves. Speaking of fruit; the hot Moroccan sun does wonders to intensify the sweetness. Bananas are nearly half the size and twice as sweet, grapes taste of candy, and the citrus requires no additional sugar to tame its pucker.

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Proving that point was this salad. A simple salad made up of no more than four ingredients in stunning jewel tones and sweet, slivered dates. Its beauty drew me in but the taste left me pining for its presence during the days that followed.

Segmented grapefruit sat next to bright bites of lemon. The tartness took me by surprise as I had never simply eaten a bite of lemon, except maybe as a child to somehow impress other with my sustainability against the harsh sourness. With the addition of the dates, the entire bowl was perfectly sweet.

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And then there’s mint. The herb that I had once relegated to tea and little else. Even refusing to allow it to be a final course garnish as it never made sense to me to add something for the color when the flavor was not wanted. Now there is rarely a day that goes buy when I don’t reach for the emerald leaves.

I’m home now and citrus season is in full swing along with the desire to enjoy a bit more fruits and vegetables ridding myself of nearly an entire month where sugar and butter made up the bulk of my diet. No regrets here, but it did leave me longing for the freshness of a salad such as this one.

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The sweet milk granita is purely optional but turns this salad into a stunning, and healthful dessert. I love the ease of turning this sweet cream into a granita. After stirring the ingredients together I add it to a metal cake pan and pop the whole thing in the freezer. Every thirty minutes, or whenever I remember, I simply give the mix a quick stir with a fork to break up any large ice chunks, until the mixture is well-frozen. The resulting granita is flecked with vanilla beans, light ice crystals and a soft texture that melts into the crevices of the segmented citrus that it’s scooped over. You can also churn this mix in an ice cream maker if you want a smoother texture. The choice is yours.

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When the presence of fry bread and fresh squeezed orange juice are missing from my mornings, this salad fills the void and reminds me of what Morocco tasted of.

 

Grapefruit Salad with Sweet Milk Granita

Grapefruit Salad

Inspired by a salad enjoyed at Heure Bleue Hotel in Essaouira, Morocco

Makes 4 smallish servings.

While I loved the puckering tang of the lemon in this salad I do prefer the much gentler sourness that comes from a Meyer lemon, so I’ve used that here instead.

2 large grapefruits, segmented

1 meyer lemon, segmented

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh mint

1/4 cup thinly sliced dates

Combine the citrus segments and the mint. Add the dates just before serving.

Finish with a small scoop of Sweet Milk Granita if you desire.

Sweet Milk Granita

adapted from pastrychefonline.com

I love the simplicity of this granita and the fact that it doesn’t need an ice cream maker. The resulting texture is light, with flaky ice crystals that melt freely into the citrus. Usually I would oppose this texture when cream is involved but for this it works. If you prefer a perfectly creamy texture feel free to churn in an ice cream maker.

1 cup  (9 oz) sweetened condensed milk

1 1/4 cups (9 oz) hot water

1/2 vanilla bean, split

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients and stir well. If you are using an ice cream maker, chill this mixture completely before churning.

If turning into a granita add mixture to a metal pan (I used a 9″ square cake pan – the bigger the pan the faster it will freeze). Let sit in the freezer for about an hour initially then break up mixture and any formed ice crystals with a fork every 30 minutes until completely frozen. This process will give the desired light texture with uniform ice crystals – the mark of a well-made granita.

Best served the day it’s made.

*If you happen to forget about the granita and it freezes solid you can either remelt and start again or you can process in the mix in a food processor to break up ice crystals.

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Goodbye 2011

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For the first time in my life I’ve kept a journal. I have repeatedly tried and with great excitement I would carefully select a fabric bound notebook with hundreds of blank pages and infinite possibilities. I dreamed of the words that would fill those pages with images of an older me reflecting on the memories and my poignant words that would turn those memories into lessons that shape who I am today. I would painstakingly choose a pen with a black point – not too thick, not too thin – and begin to fill the pages. Closing the book with a sigh eagerly anticipating what the next entry would hold. Returning to the journal I re-read the entry and push aside the book with embarrassment as to what I wrote. This is why I have stacks of journals with hundreds of empty pages and a few torn pages marking where the single entry once lived.

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This blog has become my first journal to extend beyond the first page. Truth be told I have done the equivalent of ripping out some of the pages but many have remained despite my deep desire to not ever have to look at my images from the first four or five years.

I imagine you readers don’t view these pages as journal entries as they often don’t go beyond our dinner the night before but I look through them and each entry, each meal, each photo marks a place in time that I can now draw from because I recorded it here. Little pudgey fingers that enter the frame as I’m trying to photograph cookies and eager eyes peering over my set, words that hint at our days and the reality of what life looks like in those moments. There is a part of me that feels selfish for including all of that. The words that are found in many how-to writing books instruct to think of the audience but the truth is many times I’m thinking of myself.

I’m imaging myself scrolling through these pages after years have passed recalling every sense that the images provoke and laughing over the stories scattered throughout the pages. Remembering the times that were hard, appreciating the good and trying so hard to refrain from deleting the entries that no longer meet my standards.

In no way do I dare discredit your part in all of this, dear reader, but when I think of my audience many times it’s my family and me, much older.

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During the days leading up to Christmas my husband and I looked through images from the Christmas a year before. And while it seems it was only yesterday the images tell a different story. My baby girl was actually that – a baby. One that lays content on the ground and where her smiles are still so new to us. The boys were both a bit more round containing the last little bits of baby pudge and now they are boys; tall and slender, strong and tender.

The years pass more quickly than I ever thought possible and yet in their pages are hundreds of memories and the evidence that much changes in a year.

So forgive me while I have a moment and read through my journal over the past year. It’s been a great one, hasn’t it?

2011 exceeded my wildest expectations. We started the year off with lofty and well thought out goals. Many achieved, some were tried only to find that a better option was prepared for us, and some I’m still working through.

In the midst of it all we ate well.

There were quick meals and lingering date nights.

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Quick Garlicky Noodles

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Dating My Husband: Peanut Butter Pie

There were birthdays and cakes. Lots of cake.

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Gradient Cake. For her 1st.

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Poppy seed cake with mascarpone and strawberries

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Lego/Pirate party

And oh the sandwiches.

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Ham, gruyere, and arugula

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Pork meatball Banh Mi

And then there were opportunities that I never dreamed would become a reality.

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I’m on TV, whee!

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Shot for BonAppetit.com

I was reintroduced to film.

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Of course there was chocolate. There’s always chocolate.

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Butterfingers

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Cadbury Eggs at home

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Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars

And a few incredible trips.

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A coffee tour of Portland

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Morocco

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Thanks for reliving these moments with me. Such a blessed year. So much to be thankful for, so much to learn from and make me stronger.

If at the end of the year you can say you’ve laughed, cried, and became a bit wiser than I consider it a successful one. And if there was chocolate, there must always be chocolate.

Happy Goodbyes to 2011. Hello 2012.

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Cocoa Nib Coffee Cake

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The stockings are nearly full, the gifts are either wrapped or en route to our home, and countless cups of cocoa have been consumed. There has been Christmas music playing for weeks, opening of advent doors, and readings of a humble birth. We’ve seen lights, reindeer, a Space Needle all lit up, and a camel named Curly. With only a few more traditions to cross off our list the day is approaching quickly and we all are counting the sleeps.

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It’s true, I’m giddy at the thought of nine kidlets and cousins joyfully tearing into their presents, and thrilled to imagine the warmth of a fire I’ll sit next to for countless hours, but it’s this coffee cake that is making the days leading up to Christmas feel as if they are taking far too long to pass.

I made this cake last week to test if it was Christmas morning worthy. Since then I’ve resisted making it again and again. Now the anticipation is making me weak.

Let me assure you, it is Christmas morning worthy.

This coffee cake makes eating cake seem perfectly appropriate for a morning’s activity. And really Christmas morning needs no excuse to be eating cake, but this one avoids being overtly sweet with layers of tanginess from both creme fraiche and cream cheese. A subtle citrus flavor runs throughout complementing the soft bitterness from the cocoa nibs.

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Let’s pause there for a moment so I can convince you that your pantry needs cocoa nibs. It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago when I myself felt no need to have cocoa nibs be a part of my regular routine. Then a packaged arrived from the kind people at Theo chocolate. There were many delightful things inside but it was the nibs that intrigued me the most.

Cocoa nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted and cracked. They’re bitter and nearly savory and yet you can recognize that it’s chocolate. They look as though their texture could break your teeth but as you bite into them it’s a gentle crunch that softens as the cocoa butter melts. In this coffee cake they are the perfect accessory for texture and flavor and one of the many reasons that makes this cake worthy of a holiday morning.

Happy Holidays to you all!

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Cocoa Nib Coffee Cake

 

This recipe appears a bit daunting by the sheer length of it. I know I would roll my eyes at all the steps but I assure you all those messy bowls are well worth the trouble. I am counting down the days until Christmas morning when I will enjoy this coffee cake once again.

2 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute half whole wheat if you prefer)

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) butter, soft

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)

Pre-heat your oven to 350*F. Butter a tube pan or a bundt pan.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugars together until creamy and light, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs one at a time while the mixer is on medium low. Add the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again then add the creme fraiche. With the mixer on low add the dry ingredients. Stop the mixer while streaks of flour remain. Finish mixing by hand to prevent over mixing.

Set aside ½ cup of the batter.

Cream Cheese Filling

4 oz cream cheese, soft

1 Tablespoon butter, soft

¼ teaspoon orange zest

2 Tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup coffee cake batter (reserved from above)

Beat in a mixer or medium bowl until smooth. Stir in ½ cup cake batter.

Topping

½ cup almonds

¼ cup brown sugar

2 Tablespoons butter, melted

½ teaspoon cinnamon

pinch nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

⅓ cup cocoa nibs (can be found at fine grocery stores, specialty food stores or ordered online)

Add ingredients, except the cocoa nibs, to the bowl of a food processor and processor until coarse crumb. Stir in the cocoa nibs.

Add half of the cocoa nib crumble to the bottom of the pan. On top of that add half of the batter. The batter is stiff and hard to spread around without disturbing the crumble so I find that spooning the batter into the pan works best. Add a layer of cream cheese filling around the ring than cover with the remaining batter.Try and make sure no cream cheese is left exposed so as not to burn that layer.

Top with the remaining crumbling topping.

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 45-50 minutes until an inserted knife comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for about an hour before running a knife around the edge of pan then inverted. Invert the cake one more time so it’s back to the original baking position. Served warm is best but it’s also great the day after baking (even the day after the day after).

 

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Maple Hot Cocoa

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The cookies, cakes, candies and chocolate barks are fine indeed. The crusted roasts still pink and tender inside cozied up to potatoes layered with cheese and bathed in cream satisfy deeply. I will never deny a leftover piece of gently spiced pie for breakfast – pumpkin is a vegetable after all, but the holidays offer so much more for our senses than just taste.

The faintest scent of cinnamon and clove instantly stirs in me memories of Christmas’ past. The ones in which I begged to sleep in front of the tree, guarding our dear parcels with as much fury as my little body could muster. The sharp, cooling burst of peppermint reminds me our first Christmas together. That year we went with Gabe’s parents to get our tree. Theirs was majestic and grand, ours was charming, only slightly more lush than Charlie Brown’s and yet perfect for us and our tiny first home.

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Of course there are more smells that exist beyond the edible ones; the pungent pine perfume from a newly acquired tree and the sharp contrast of a wood burning fireplace against the chilling breeze that hits the moment you step outside.

This is only the beginning. I have yet to mention the lights that cause an infectious joy in my children, the continuous hum of Christmas music that create the soundtrack of this season, and the touch of Winter’s first snow – a feeling we are still waiting for this year.

Each year I become joyfully overwhelmed with all the projects – cooking and otherwise – that make up my to-do list. Many of them exist for the purpose of building memories and traditions and trying to instill the same excitement that I remember from my childhood.

I wanted to share with you a few things we’ve been doing around our home to awaken our senses to the season.

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I get so excited when I come across a project that is both visually appealing and easy enough to get the kids involved. I saw these snowflakes on Pinterest and immediately broke out our popscicle sticks. With a bit of glue and spray paint our windows were suddenly festive.

In the middle of our popsicle flakes I created a photo wreath (again the idea came from Pinterest) using prints from our iPhone and polaroid. I may never take this wreath down. I never grow tired of seeing their smiling faces and sweet memories from the previous year.

To create the wreath I cut out a cardboard frame, attached a string then covered the frame with photos. I carried the same idea into our bedroom with a heart shape frame.

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One of my favorite parts of this season is coming home. We all rush inside trying to escape the cold and are welcomed with warmth and the lingering sweet smells of citrus and spices – and quite often butter. A lot of butter moves through the house this time of year.

More often than not you’ll find a simmering pot of citrus slices, cloves, and cinnamon sticks sitting on the stove. As if this wasn’t enough I decided to dry some orange slices as well.

1/4″ inch slices line a sheet tray then sit in an oven on its lowest setting. About 4-5 hours the slices are completely dry and ready to be strung as ornaments, laid in a bowl to sweeten a room, or packaged with cinnamon and cloves and given away.

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Our craft time turned into snack time as my little “helper” kept eating our project. It’s a good thing I work quickly and a good thing she’s so darn cute.

Then of course there’s hot chocolate. You know by now that this year is the year of hot chocolate for me. I’ve introduced you to my fresh mint version but now there is another.

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Maple hot cocoa. While I love the richness that comes from hot chocolate made from a base of ganache (chocolate and cream), there is just something about a cocoa mix that satisfies in a way that no other can.

This is a slightly elevated version of what I drank as a child. While there aren’t any dehydrated mini marshmallows in this mix, the subtle maple sweetness and the rich cocoa flavor make up for it.

I’ve been gifting this mix as well. I love the way the ingredients look layered in the jar especially with a vanilla bean tucked in there just slightly disrupting the perfect layers. With or without a side of marshmallows, this is a perfect holiday gift that can be made in minutes. Just be sure to assign a jar for yourself so you won’t feel guilty when you inevitably break into to one of the gift-destined jars.

I really do encourage you to seek out the maple sugar for this recipe. It’s an ingredient that I haven’t used much and am realizing that I have a lot of lost time to make up for.

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It smells of syrup, as it is the crystalized version, but in this application it provides enough sweetness without having to use a lot of sugar. Most hot chocolate mixes call for 1 part cocoa to 2 parts sugar. This is 2:1. The cocoa flavor prevails as you are drinking it but there is a depth that suddenly makes this mix seem more grown up.

Just over one week until Christmas and I have nearly every moment of each day planned with holiday activities. There are more lights to see, more cinnamon to simmer, and more carols to sing to my baby girl as she falls asleep in my arms. All the while making sure to leave plenty of time for hot cocoa drinking, of course.

 

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Supplies:

Weck Jars

Popsicle sticks baker’s twine Maple sugar Pernigotti Cocoa Vanilla Beans
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Maple Hot Cocoa

You can find maple sugar online or at many grocery stores. It’s worth the search, I assure you.

 

2 cups cocoa

1 cup maple sugar

3 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 vanilla bean (optional)

In a large jar layer the ingredients. Tuck the vanilla bean down the side.

Before preparing a cup of cocoa shake the ingredients together. Add 2 heaping tablespoons mix to 6 ounces hot milk – that is, if you like it good and rich, as I do.

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Roasted potatoes with minted spinach pesto

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Today is the kind of day where chocolate tastes sweeter, silence feels more poignant, and laughter makes me ache with even more joy. Today is the sort where the mess can wait, craft projects pile on top of one another, layered with empty cups of hot cocoa and sticky fingerprints. It’s the kind of day where the daily blips seem small and the silly stresses seem to pale in comparison to the overwhelming blessings. Today is a rare day where I sense a correct perspective and see this day for the gift it it (well, most of the day).

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A nudge of self-pity would try and creep it and I would sternly ask it to leave. A pang of insecurity and twinge of inadequacy longed to invade but the reminder of life’s fragility and the choice to focus on what I have here and now was stronger. Feelings of anxiety and fear didn’t have a chance to settle before I turned them into prayer and made their vain existence useful. It was a constant choice and a continual battle that I fought valiantly.

There will be days I lose, where the feelings of doubt win and my perspective is lost, but today I won.

Today is a gift.

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Roasted Potatoes with Minted Spinach Pesto

Serves 6-8 as a side

A stunning box of produce found its way to my door via the kind folks of GiltTaste. I opened the box and immediately pulled it out of the reach of a certain toddler’s less than delicate grip for fear the flawless micro greens and edible flowers would meet their demise before they had a chance to be enjoyed by me.

I couldn’t resist the spinach. Tight curly leaves in the most vibrant of greens, each bundled in a cluster with similarly beautiful leaves. Next I was hit with a sudden punch of fresh herbs, what lingered in my mind was the cooling scent of mint.

This pesto warms and satisfies as a Winter side dish should but without the heavy cheese or cream coat that accompanies so many. It’s confident enough to stand its own next to a holiday roast and plenty satisfying so you won’t hear the longing moans for gratin.

2 lbs new potatoes*, halved

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ tsp kosher salt

Pre-heat your oven to 400*F. Place potatoes on a parchment lined sheet tray. Drizzle olive oil and salt over top and sprinkle salt. Stir the potatoes to evenly coat.Roast for 20-30 minutes or until cooked through and deep golden in parts. Stir a couple times during the cooking process to ensure even cooking.

Pesto

2 garlic cloves*

½ cup toasted almonds

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

4 cups spinach leaves, packed*

½ cup mint leaves*

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons water

1 cup grated Parmesan

¼ – ½ teaspoon kosher salt

In the bowl of a food processor add the garlic, almonds and zest. Process until finely minced. Add to that the spinach, mint and lemon juice. Process until greens are chopped fine. While the machine is running add the olive oil and water, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Lastly, pulse in the Parmesan. Taste and add salt to your preference.

While the potatoes are still warm toss with pesto. You may have leftover pesto or you may decide to use it all, either way is fine with me. Garnish with more Parmesan and serve warm.

*produce from the Chef’s Garden Assorted produce found on GiltTaste.com

*Full Disclosure: GiltTaste.com provided me with this incredible produce and asked me to have fun with it. That’s just what I did.

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Fresh Mint Hot Chocolate

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Our days are filled this time of year. So much extra activity and traditions to cross off the list I’m finding myself more than ever longing for days that extend to 36 hours rather than 24. I’m not complaining one bit. When the activities include; Eating, Christmas tree acquiring, cookie decorating, eating, hot chocolate drinking, Christmas light seeing, party go-ing, eating, marshmallow making, etc., there really is nothing to complain about.

But in the back of my mind amid the chaos of the holiday planning I feel the mounting of a fresh start.

A friend recently said to me that her favorite holiday is New Years. I was shocked by this as I thought I wasn’t alone in the feelings of disdain for this holiday. My expectations of attending a fancy party and drinking champagne while ringing in the new year are often smashed with the reality of the near impossibility of finding a babysitter on December 31st, I’m no good at partying hard and late into the night, and I’m still tired from the previous week’s holidays to pay much attention to another party.

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But what made this holiday a favorite for my friend wasn’t the fancy dresses, champagne and late night, it was the chance to start fresh. A time to reflect on all that had happened the previous year and to anticipate what is yet to come. It is a day to start clean with high hopes, new beginnings, and more insight from another year lived.

Last year my husband and I made some very lofty visions for our family at the start of the year. We made specific goals and wrote out the steps needed to happen in order for those goals to be reached. Each day of this past year had more focus and more drive because of the time we spent at the start of it. I felt closer to him as we were working together to accomplish something big. And now as we begin to reflect on the past year we can look back over those goals made nearly 365 days ago and see how far we’ve come and how incredibly blessed we are.

I don’t want to rush through this season. I’m savoring every peppermint scented minute of it but I really am looking forward to spending some time alone and with my husband to focus on what we hope for in the coming year.

What are you hoping for in 2012? Do you make resolutions or goals at the start of the new year?

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Fresh Mint Hot Chocolate

I am on a mint kick these days. If it’s acceptable to add mint to it, I will. Even hot chocolate isn’t safe. What I love about this version is the mint is from fresh mint. It tastes clean and unlike the candy mint – which I also love – fresh mint gives a clean earthy punch that really suits the chocolate well.

If you have more will power than I, bottle up some of this mix and give it as a gift. It will be well received – I assure you.

1 cup cream

1/2 cup whole milk

5 sprigs fresh mint (more or less depending on desired mint flavor – this will give a pronounced flavor but not overpowering)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups (about 9 oz) chopped dark chocolate

Bring the cream and milk to a simmer. Add the mint, turn off the heat then let sit for 30 minutes. With the back of a wooden spoon carefully bruise the mint in the cream mixture to release some of the essential oils.

Add the chocolate to a medium bowl.

Stir the salt into the cream then bring back up to a simmer over medium-low heat. Remove the mint.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for one minute. Whisk the cream and the chocolate together. If some chocolate remains unmelted, simply place the bowl over a bain marie or gently microwave at 15-30 second intervals. Stirring after each heating.

Add the ganache (chocolate and cream mixture) to a container and refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep in the fridge for at least 2 weeks.

When ready for a cup of hot chocolate add a couple of spoonfuls of ganache to a cup of heated milk. The amount is really based on taste. I like mine nice and rich so I add roughly 2 tablespoons to 6 oz of milk.

Serve with a homemade marshmallow if you so desire.

(Recipe for marshmallows)

*Here’s another great idea – By simply adding a bit more milk and cream and having marshmallows and sugar cookies on hand you have the makings of a fine fondue. Check out Artazza.com for the recipe.

 

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Brussels sprouts with white beans and pecorino

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It’s really a shame that Brussels sprouts have had such a bad reputation. I regretfully admit that I myself have spent the majority of my life pulling up my nose in disgust at the mear mention of them.

I blame the steam bath my Brussels of the past received before ending up on my plate a soggy, flavorless, pile of bleh. Their little cabbage-like bodies rolled around the plate invading the territory of its more edible neighbors and I thought for sure they infected their sodden, yucky-ness onto whatever they had touched.

It wasn’t until Molly introduced me to cream braised Brussles sprouts that I could admit to myself that I did indeed liked Brussels sprouts. In fact because of that recipe I fell in love with them. Now I am kicking myself for those wasted years, making up for lost time and converting others to the Brussels sprouts-loving team.

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Which is where this recipe comes in. As much as I adore these little, leafy green orbs bathed in cream I wanted a lighter recipe that would win over the fans. A recipe that would highlight the lightly bitter and sweet flavors that emerge after time spent in a hot oven. One that would show off the magic that happens when their outer leaves are given the opportunity to produce a slight char while their insides retain a pleasant creaminess.

A humble-looking platter of these very Brussels sprouts landed on the table of our Thanksgiving this year. Sitting around the table staring apprehensively  in the direction of this dish were the perfect candidates for Team Brussles recruitment – unsure of this leafy green yet eager to try as they had heard me, on numerous occasions, sing its praises.

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The ending is a happy one. We now have a few more members to add to the team. If that’s not motivation enough to start pre-heating the oven then I leave you with the words of my 5 year old after his fourth helping of this very dish, “I love Brussels sprouts. They’re my favorite.” No truer words my boy, no truer words.

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Brussels Sprouts with White Beans and Pecorino
1 lb Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon chili flakes (more or less depending on desired heat)
½ cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 can cannellini beans
1 cup Pecorino, finely grated
Pre-heat oven to 400*F. Add the Brussels sprouts to a sheet tray and add the olive and salt. Stir them a round a bit to evenly coat.
Roast for 20-30 minutes until crispy and parts are deep golden in color. Remove from the oven and set aside.
In a large saute pan add the butter and saute the garlic over medium heat until lightly golden around the edges, 2-3 minutes. Add the chili flakes and stock. Stir in the beans and roasted Brussels sprouts and simmer until the stock has reduced to a glaze, about 5-7 minutes. Avoid stirring too much so as not to smash the beans and disrupt the sprouts.
Remove to a serving dish and liberally sprinkle with grated Pecorino.

 

Brussels Sprouts with White Beans and Pecorino

adapted from November 2005 issue of Bon Appetit

This makes enough to serve four as a side. Or if you are like me, add a crusty loaf of bread to the mix and perhaps a glass of red wine and you have dinner. Feel free to add more salt if you feel it needs it, my Pecorino was delightfully salty and did the job splendidly. Also, it should be said that I go crazy with the cheese here, you may want less.

This dish comes together quickly, creates very little stress and packs a punch of flavor without being overly heavy. For these reasons and many more I think it is the perfect side dish for any holiday table.

1 lb Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

¼ teaspoon chili flakes (more or less depending on desired heat)

½ cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 can cannellini beans

1 cup Pecorino, finely grated (or less if you feel so inclined)

Pre-heat oven to 400*F. Add the Brussels sprouts to a sheet tray and add the olive and salt. Stir them a round a bit to evenly coat.

Roast for 20-30 minutes until crispy and parts are deep golden in color. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a large saute pan add the butter and saute the garlic over medium heat until lightly golden around the edges, 2-3 minutes. Add the chili flakes and stock. Stir in the beans and roasted Brussels sprouts and simmer until the stock has reduced to a glaze, about 5-7 minutes. Avoid stirring too much so as not to smash the beans and disrupt the sprouts.

Remove to a serving dish and liberally sprinkle with grated Pecorino.

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Dinner in Fifteen

6442755137_6aace6887d_b I can’t stop thinking about the article, The Life Reports II, that I recently read in the NY Times. (Thanks, Kasey for pointing me there). It really has nothing to do with this sandwich but we’ll get there. In the article the author asked people over the age of 70 to write on the things in their lives they have done poorly and what they’ve done well. Right there, he had me. I hang on the words of those who are lived decades longer than I. I find their perspectives and wisdom to be refreshing and incredibly insightful. Their lessons learned through years of experience save me a lot of wasted time and energy making some of the same mistakes – if I would just listen. There is one idea brought up in the article that I can’t shake. The paragraph begins with two words, Beware Rumination. David Brooks, the author of the article, says that those who excelled in the area of self-examination tend to lead lives that were often unhappy and not as fulfilling as others. He wisely suggests that their insistence on obsessing over a certain event in their lives only reinforced the very emotions and feelings they were trying to avoid. 6442756147_ed9027fbb0_b In contrast those who were able to strategically deceive themselves lived impressively, according to Brooks. When something bad happened or harsh words were spoken to them they simply forgot it, moved on, assumed the offender was having a bad day, or (and this is what amazes me the most) they were grateful for it. Thankful for the opportunity to grow, learn, and become a better person. Because at this point we all know that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. For someone who tends to ruminate as much as a cow I was struck with this idea. It seems so counter intuitive. I’ve spent years analyzing myself and situations I’m in for the purpose of learning from them so I could grow and move on. But what I often do is fail to move on. I realize now that so much of my own introspection only reiterates my own personal fears and puts more validity into my negative emotions. Having read the article it reminded me of where I’ve seen this in my own life. When Gabe and I were first married I was much more aware of the little things that I feared where eating away at our marriage. I was constantly nitpicking and trying to change so much of him and of us. Since having children I don’t have time to nitpick, as much. Something happens then I think, “we really need to work on that.” Suddenly a child starts screaming, milk spills everywhere, and a funny stench arises that demands my immediate attention. Thirty seconds later I’ve completely forgotten what I deemed a dire situation that needed to be addressed. This doesn’t mean that we no longer address issues in our marriage but if I managed to forget about what it was that I thought important after 30 seconds, I think it’s safe to say that it wasn’t so important after all. 6442757913_9ba271fce9_b So I’m heeding the wisdom of those lives that have lived longer than mine. I’m intentionally trying to train myself not to fanatically self-assess but rather to introduce more self-deception in my life. And more importantly use the time I normally would have used to over analyze myself I can not think more of others and focus on their needs rather than my own. More clearly I will be able to see those around me and love them better than I have before, which ultimately brings me the most happiness. As a way of thanking you for taking the time to read this I have your dinner plans arranged. You’re probably thinking, “Dinner? I don’t have time to make dinner, now.” Yes, you do. Fifteen minutes and dinner will be ready. And not just any dinner, one that will make your family happy and full. No deception needed there. 6442760435_f1e39b9fca_b

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Dinner in 15

 makes 4 sandwiches

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 Tbl butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 Tbl balsamic vinegar

8 slices bread

1/2 lb roast beef, sliced

1/4 lb blue cheese (more or less depending on how much you like)

2 Tbl olive oil

 

Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the onion and salt and cook on medium until tender and golden in places, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the balsamic. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes to allow the balsamic to reduce. Drizzle one side of each bread slice with the olive oil and on the un-oiled side add a few slices of roast beef and a good amount of blue cheese, top with a bit of the onions. Cover with another piece of bread then cook on a grill pan or a hot skillet until golden on each side. Serve with a simple salad on the side.

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Preserved lemons: to give or keep

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Chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives prepared at a cooking class at the Atlas Kasbah near Agadir.


It always seems to catch me by surprise. Before I realize it we have managed to find ourselves in the midst of the holiday season with tasks of getting a Christmas tree, wrapping presents and baking cookies taking up what ever spare time we can find.

I love it. Everything about this season fills me with joy. The generosity that abounds, the daily question of “how many days until Christmas?” from my very eager children, and the excitement of seeking that perfect gift.

This year we’ve decided to go homemade. I’m thrilled and overwhelmed with possibilities. My mission is to create a gift that is not only homemade but also very appreciated and will be used.

I’m pretty excited about this homemade gift from the kitchen. It’s unique, it’s incredibly delicious, easy to make and beautiful to receive. For me it carries with it memories of my time in Morocco. It took a visit to the country for me to fully embrace this ingredient but now that I’ve jumped on board I’m making up for lost time.

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Preserved lemon is one of those flavors that is hard to distinguish but you’re glad it’s there. Both tart and sour but not overly so, floral without a soapy or perfumed aftertaste, a truly unique flavor that any one who loves food would be delighted to add to their pantry.

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After only a few minutes of work sitting before you is a beautiful jar filled with vibrant lemons. The lemons themselves won’t be ready for thirty days but the recipient can spend that time pouring over recipes looking for ideas on how to use them. Myself? I like them on almost anything. Even Delancey has been known to throw them on pizzas. I added them to my prune and sausage stuffing for Thanksgiving and everyone seemed quite pleased. Tomorrow I’m planning a fennel salad, with green olives and preserved lemons. No special occasion, just my lunch and I’m pretty excited about it.

Here’s to hoping these lemons actually end up as gifts for someone other than myself.

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Preserved Lemons

 

adapted from Paula WolfertThe Food of Morocco

5 lemons

1/4 cup salt, more if desired

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

5 coriander seeds

2 bay leaves

Have ready a sterile 1-pint canning jar.

Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the interior of the lemon, then reshape the fruit.

Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and the optional spices between layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice — Leave some air space before sealing the jar.

Let the lemons ripen in a warm place, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice. Let ripen for 30 days. To use, rinse the lemons, as needed, under running water, removing and discarding the pulp, if desired — and there is no need to refrigerate after opening. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and the pickling juice can be used two or three times over the course of a year.

Gently shake the jar each day to distribute the salt.

* I adore these WECK jars for canning. Use the lemons and the recipient is still left with a great gift.

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Day 3 and thanks

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The coastal town of Essaouira. Famous for kite and wind surfing. One of my favorite stops on the trip with rich history, stunning beaches, vivid culture and friendly camels.

I’m thankful for the experience of a new culture. For the reminder to maintain simplicity in order for life to be most fully lived.

I’m thankful for preserved lemons. Floral and tart, fragrant and salty. For a new flavor being welcomed into many of my current cooking adventures.

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top: the remnants of chicken tagine with french fries

middle and bottom: moroccan mint tea served multiple times throughout the day

I’m thankful for a family that lets me go explore then welcomes me home with love and excitement.

I’m thankful to be home.

I’m thankful for color. Currently, I’m most thankful for this blue.

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rooftop pool at L’Heure Bleue

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I’m thankful for a camera and its ability to capture a glimpse of the beauty I experienced.

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a master woodworker placing indigenous wood into this intricately designed table top

I’m thankful for rest. For renewed inspiration, creativity and the hope of what’s to come.

I’m thankful for the ride from a camel and the chance to view his lashes from on top.

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I’m thankful for our differences and how a better understanding of them makes us all better people.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to share with all of you. Your presence here is a joy that my meager words always fail to express. Thank you for being a part of this place.

Happy Thanksgiving.

*I was graciously sent to Morocco by the Moroccan tourism board. All photos and words are my own.

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Dating My Husband: How To

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An in home date is not equal to that of one usually including fancy shoes (or shoes at all) and red lipstick. There is something about leaving the house and all the responsibilities tied to it that frees you up to talk about the things in life that extend a bit deeper than normal dinner time conversation when three children under the age of 5 are present.

What an in home date is good for is providing opportunities for connection (and great food) when leaving the house isn’t an option. It allows for more dates without making a huge dent in the family budget and if you have children it’s great for them to see you making an effort to continue to build the relationship with your spouse.

Gabe and I have several in home dates under our belts and there are a few things I’ve learned that help distinguish a date evening from one in which flying food and fart jokes are present (not welcomed, but they’re there).

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First of all I like to start the meal off with a cocktail. An ordinary dinner in our house does not begin this way instantly reminding us that this meal is different. Also, I find that cooking becomes more of a gift and less of an obligation when a cocktail is in hand. The lingering voices of children fighting sleep seem somehow muted when sipping on a fine beverage.

Our date night food is different. Most days my meal planning begins around 4:45 when my kids are ready for dinner at 5:00. Our everyday food is simple, quick, healthful, and easy. When date nights are approaching you’ll find me amid a pile of cookbooks eagerly anticipating a dish, ingredient or flavor that will suddenly inspire our meal. Creating the menu is the first step in distinguishing this evening apart from others. I choose dishes that comfort while still giving us the sense that this is special. The meal is usually three courses (four if you include the cocktail as a substantial course).

With the menu planned and cocktail in hand I begin to cook. I’m not rushed or dealing with crying children tugging at my apron strings. I enjoy the process. My husband sits nearby ready to help but also keeps his distance knowing that I tend to be a bit controlling in the kitchen and often prefer to do it alone. He appreciates his drink and watching his wife in her element. I toast the spices, stir the sauce, and plate the salad pulling him into the process by tasting the flavors that excite me almost to tears.

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(more…)

Applejack Spritzer // Pear and Walnut Salad // Pork Tenderloin with Gorgonzola Polenta

Applejack Spritzer

adapted from Gourmet 1985

Makes 1

This is a simple cocktail, light and faintly fizzy. Perfect for when you want something with cool weather flavors while still being pleasantly refreshing.

2 shots apple juice

1 shot applejack

1 tbl lemon juice

splash soda water

ice

In an highball mix the juice, apple jack and lemon juice. Add ice then soda water to top. Garnish with a slice of lemon if you wish.

Pear with Fennel, Walnuts, Parmesan and Balsamic

adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Serves 2

With little more information than the name of this recipe you can make this salad. What’s magical is in the unique combination of flavors. It seems as if there might be too much happening on one plate but I assure you that each ingredient needs the other in order to make this salad sing.

1 bosc pear

1/2 fennel bulb

Parmesan

aged balsamic

toasted walnuts

Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife slice the pear and fennel very thin. Arrange on two plates then finish with shaved Parmesan, a drizzle of balsamic and a few toasted walnut halves.

 

Pork Tenderloin with Fennel

adapted from Molly Stevens’,All About Roasting

Serves 3-4

1 lb pork tenderloin

2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted

3 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

2 Tbl olive oil

2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup white wine

2 Tbl fennel fronds, chopped

1 Tbl butter, room temperature

Combine the fennel, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pat the pork dry then rub on seasoning mixture. This can be done 4-24 hours in advance if covered and refrigerated. Remove the pork 30 minutes prior to roasting to allow it to come to room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 350*F. In a large oven-proof pan or skillet, heat the oil and the pan until very hot. Carefully add the pork making sure you hear plenty of sizzle as it hits the hot pan. Do not touch for two minutes so that a nice deep crust forms. Sear all sides of the tenderloin, a total of 6-8 minutes. Transfer the pork to a plate.

On medium heat, add the fennel to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and saute until brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute briefly. It will appear dry. Add the wine then cover and lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the fennel is crisp-tender, about 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the pork back to the pan. Smear the butter over the tenderloin then return to the oven to roast until the internal temperature in the thickest part is 140-145*F, about 18 minutes. Allow the meat to rest for 5-8 minutes then slice ½ to 1 inch thick slices. Taste the fennel for seasoning.  Serve the pork over the Gorgonzola polenta then top with roasted fennel and fresh fennel fronds. Drizzle with any remaining juices.

Gorganzola Polenta

method adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Serves 4, generously

Judy Rogers, the author of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, writes with such authority that I can’t help but want to do everything just as she says. And her implicit instructions on cooking polenta was no exception. The resulting dish came out perfectly creamy and with no whisper of a lump. Judy recommends letting the polenta rest in a bain marie for 30 minutes prior to eating. I would have done that but when it comes to dirtying more dishes – that’s where I draw the line. I let mine rest for 15-20 minutes and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

As for the Gorgonzola – just do it. Tomorrow can be a healthy eating day.

5 cups water

1 cup polenta

½ tsp salt

2 tbl butter

4 oz gorgonzola

Bring the water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the polenta then continue to stir until the water returns to a simmer. Reduce the heat until the polenta only bubbles occasionally. Cook uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring as needed. The polenta will be thick but still fluid, if too thick add a bit of water. Add salt, butter, and Gorgonzola. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest at least 15 minutes.

Roasted Grapes

adapted from Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting

It’s as if the grapes magically create their own jam when you roast them. I recommend serving these over caramel ice cream or vanilla with caramel sauce. If you manage to save a few for breakfast I’m sure your oatmeal would thank you.

1 lb red, seedless grapes

1 ½ Tbl olive oil

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

On a parchment lined sheet tray add the grapes and rosemary. Drizzle the oil on and stir to coat.Roast in a 300*F oven for 1-2 hours depending on desired roastedness.

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Argan Oil

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A herd of goats eager to climb the branches of the argan tree

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The room opens to reveal a half dozen women sitting around its edges using colorful carpets and blankets to soften the blue and white check floor on which they sit. Their ragged hands move in a way that informs that they have made these motions countless times. With each set of dark eyes closely examining us they immediately begin to chatter in Arabic in a way that even if you don’t speak the language you know they are prattling on about their latest visitors.

Using stones as their tools these women work relentlessly to crack open the hard seeds of the argan tree in order to produce a rich oil used for both cooking and cosmetics.

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The argan tree is indigenous to the coast of Morocco between Essouira and Agadir. Recently the argan tree has been protected by both Slow Food and UNESCO as it’s livelihood has been threatened. The interwoven trunk and low lying branches make it possible for goats to climb up and settle in to enjoy the fruit. The seeds are left behind to be collected and gathered in the room in which I now stand admiring the work of the women in this cooperative.

The production of Argan oil is managed by the women of Morocco. Cooperatives line the roads along the coast and each is responsible for the production of this highly sought after oil. The money they make by the sale of the oil goes directly back into the cooperative and supports the surrounding community.

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Argan oil that is intended for cooking has a robust nutty flavor due to the roasting of the argan nut that resembles sliced almonds. In this particular cooperative each step of the process is still done by hand including the grinding of the nuts that are crushed between two stones. In the kitchen the oil is used similar to that of a fine olive oil – as a dip for bread, to boost the flavor of couscous and as a salad dressing. Because of the expense, argan oil is used sparingly. It’s flavor is rich and intense so a little is all that is needed.

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And then there is Amlou, a staple of Moroccan breakfasts. Made with toasted ground almonds, honey and argan oil, Amlou in similar to peanut butter if peanut butter was a perfectly sweet, deeply flavored, runny spread perfect for Moroccan fried bread. Nearly every morning it was the promise of Amlou that had me bouncing out of bed, eager for breakfast. My plate would be filled with bright citrus, stewed dried fruits like apricots or prunes and Amlou drizzled generously over it all. I could think of little else that makes a better start to a day.

 

Amlou

from Paula Wolfert’s, The Food of Morocco

I realize that seeking out argan oil may seem a bit much of me to ask but it will be worth it, I assure you. Beware of imitation oils. Paula Wolfert recommends ordering argan oil from either chefshop.commustaphas.com or zamourispices.com

Amlou makes a perfect accompaniment for toast, pancakes, waffles or just about anything.

8 ounces almonds, blanched, peeled and toasted until golden brown

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

½ cup argan oil

¼ cup (or to taste) light honey, such as orange blossom

If you have a mortar and pestle grind the almonds in it with the salt. Once a smooth paste has formed slowly add the argan oil as if you were making mayonnaise. When the oil has been added and the mixture is smooth and creamy, add the honey a spoonful at a time. You can also make the amlou in a food processor, it just won’t have quite the same consistency. Store amlou in a cool place, but not in the refrigerator. It will keep for about one month.

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Morocco, Day 2

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Mazagan Beach Resort

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When I first came to Morocco I expected this to be an incredible opportunity for me to be able to say that I came. I didn’t have plans to return and didn’t expect to make any. By day three I was plotting my next visit – where to take the kids and what would I show my husband first. Having just finished day five I am considering sending a plane for my family so I never would have to leave.

Over the coming weeks and months I anticipate this blog will be heavily influenced by this trip. Just the food alone is enough to leave me inspired for years. In these posts there will be more details from the trips and I will attempt to share some of the culinary magic that happens in this country.

For now I have some more photos to share from the second day of our trip.

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From our time Oualidia, home to first class oyster beds. We enjoyed a paella made brilliantly yellow with Moroccan saffron and loaded with local seafood. Above there is a salad (possibly my new favorite) of tuna, tomato and avocado which is then finished with a balsamic dressing.

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From the town of Safi which is home to the oldest pottery kilns in Morocco.

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Afternoon and evening in Essaouira. The end of day 2.

*I was graciously sent here by the Moroccan tourism board. All photos and words are my own.

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Morocco, day 1

The door on my balcony sits wide open allowing the cool, unfamiliar breeze to come in and out of my hotel room as it pleases. Outside I hear the large waves crashing and lapping on the shore and that same breeze rustling the leaves of the palm trees that line the paths. Next to me sits a plate of cookies coated in almonds, honey and flavors I’m not yet familiar with.

This isn’t some kind of dream in which I get rudely woken from by three excited children, I am actually in Morocco. I haven’t even been here a full day and already I’m eager to share some photos with you. I’m not quite certain I’ll be able to update daily but you can be certain that there will be plenty of photos and many more cookies.

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The mosque in Casablanca

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Breakfast tagine of eggs and lamb.

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Moroccan mint tea, perfectly sweet and floral

*I was graciously sent here by the Moroccan tourism board. All photos and words are my own.

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White bean burger with rosemary and sun-dried tomatoes

1 egg
In a large bowl or a food processor add the beans. Mash them up a bit while still maintaining some bits of bean. Add to this the remaining ingredients except for the egg. Taste for seasoning then add the egg. Let this sit for 15 minutes or so. During this time the bread crumbs will soak up a bit of the moisture. The mixture will be wet but still able to form a patty, similar to ground meat actually.Line a sheet pan with parchment and a bit of oil or pan spray.Form four patties and place in a 375*F pre-heated oven. Bake 10-15 minutes on each side.Serve on crusty bread or a hamburger bun with spicy mustard, pickles, and greens (I like arugula).
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It has been decided, in my mind, that burgers should have an extended season. I admit there is little better than a burger with the faint taste of a charcoal grill, slathered with mayonnaise and cheese, pickles and onions. Said burger is enjoyed while your feet are dipped in a child’s pool to cool from the hot summer sun, but I want a burger extension.

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I want to eat them while the wind unravels the leaves in jewel tones, off their tender branches. I’d love to eat a burger sitting next to a flickering fireplace while watching the snow gracefully fall outside. I would even eat one when the first tip of asparagus pops through the nearly frozen earth.

The principle remains the same – bread, patty and a few carefully selected accessories to pull it all together. But the recipes are a sign of the season.

This time of year our burger is a far cry from our frequent Summer variety. In place of the meat we blend a mixture of white beans with sweet and acidic sun-dried tomatoes as well as fresh rosemary whose sturdy branches are holding firm against the new set-in chill. A soft bun or hearty bread create the foundation. To that we add stone ground mustard, arugula and pickles. I’m sure a bit of cheese, perhaps feta or creamy goat, would be a welcomed addition. Either way it is a burger that Summer would be proud of.

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White Bean Burgers with Rosemary and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

makes 4, large or 6-8 small burgers

2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

¾ cup panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes

1 tbl fresh rosemary, chopped

¾ tsp kosher salt

¼ tsp pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

pinch chili flake

2 eggs

Pre-heat your oven to 375*F

In a large bowl or a food processor add the beans. Mash them up a bit while still maintaining some bits of bean. Add to this the remaining ingredients except for the eggs. Taste for seasoning then add the eggs. Let this sit for 15 minutes or so. During this time the bread crumbs will soak up a bit of the moisture. The mixture will be wet but still able to form a patty, similar to ground meat actually. If the mixture feels dry at all add a bit of olive oil to moisten. If too wet add a bit more panko.

Line a sheet pan with parchment and a bit of oil or pan spray. Form four patties and place in a 375*F pre-heated oven. Bake 10-15 minutes on each side. Serve on crusty bread or a hamburger bun with spicy mustard, pickles, and greens (I like arugula).

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Nutmeg pot de creme

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In so many ways I’m like a child. The very things that cause me to raise my voice or think less-than-pleasant thoughts toward them, I myself do. Sleeping in past 7:00 am, using a fork, sitting still for longer than thirty seconds, managing to keep a straight face while saying the word “underwear” – these things I can handle, but that’s how we differ. Throwing fits with legs pounding and arms flailing and having to re-learn the same lessons again and again? In these matters I’m pretty much a toddler.

Okay, so maybe my fits are a bit more mature but repeating the same mistakes and having to remind myself of previous lesson learned, in that there is no exaggeration. Currently I am re-learning the freedom in acceptance. In particular with accepting who I am and who I am not.

The longer I live the more I realize I have tendencies towards control and perfectionism. My perfectionist’s personality manifests itself in ways that are not at all closely related to keeping a perfectly manicured house (or fingernails for that matter). I tend to expect a lot of myself and seem to think that I can do it all. Apparently I am on the quest to earn my superhero cape. In my mind this caped woman does it all with grace and ease. She fights stains without creating pink socks, she cooks a well-planned meal and serves it on matching dishes, she serves all day then asks, “what’s next?” before she sits down, she doesn’t raise her voice to her children (as I JUST did) she is fulfilled and fulfills with joy. She doesn’t exist. Or maybe she does exist, but that’s not me.

There was a recent spell where I fought against who it was that I was created to be. I pushed through my days with some expectations put on myself, then was frustrated when the day ended and I was left feeling dissatisfied. It went on like this for weeks until arriving at a place of darkness and deep sadness.

After much thought and some changes I felt myself returning. It was then that I made the switch to choose acceptance. When a tinge of guilt enters into the thought process I simply redirect it and say, “this is who I am and this is who I am to be.” No longer is there a place to feel guilty for the things I am not, instead the reflection is on appreciating who it is that I am.

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Now it is to be said that in any relationship be it friendship, marriage or parenting, there are sacrifices that must be made. That is, after all a real reflection of true love – one can not either be loved or love without the presence of sacrifice. But there comes a point when the sacrifice becomes too great and those relationships suffer as a result.

My family isn’t asking for me to sacrifice as much as I ask it of myself. In fact, they’ve already given me my cape and love me regardless of the pink socks and mismatched dishes. They love me for who I am and now it’s my turn to do the same.

While other things were more pressing than for me to turn to the stove I did it anyway. It may have been this or perhaps it was that, either way my mind was on nutmeg and I could not shake that thought.

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In the process of simmering cream with vanilla beans so plump it’s as if at any moment they were going to burst spraying fragrant seeds and nutmeg that reeks of fallen leaves and cold evenings, I thought to appreciate the uncommon joy I feel during such a simple action. When the yolk released the white and landed in the bowl revealing it’s nearly neon color I paused to admire its tone as if I had never seen such a thing before – I have, many times. When finally dipping the spoon into a cool cream so impossibly smooth it caused a pleased grin to cover my face I re-learned that the delight in this process is part of who I am. A part I really enjoy.

The clothes still need folding and the toys must get picked up (at some point) but the fight is against the guilt that plagues when the call of perfection rings. Setting that guilt aside makes room for more joy, more life, more love, and more pot de creme. In this there is no guilt just delight.

One thing I know for sure, I will have to re-learn this at some point, and most likely at another point beyond that. I hope that each time the lesson becomes more poignant and that it is in the presence of Nutmeg Pot de Creme.

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Nutmeg Pot de Creme

This softly spiced custard is reminiscent of egg nog and is destined to become a new holiday tradition. It is lightly sweet, cool and creamy and can easily be transformed into Nutmeg Creme Brulee with the addition of a torched sugar crust.

2 cups heavy cream

1 vanilla bean (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)

1 ½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground

6 yolks

½ cup dark brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

Pre-heat your oven to 320*F

In a medium sauce pan add the cream, vanilla seeds and bean, and the nutmeg. Bring to a simmer then turn off the heat and let sit for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl add the yolks, salt, and sugar. Whisk until lightened and well combined.

Bring the cream back up to a simmer. Turn off the heat and slowly add hot cream to the yolk mixture, stirring while pouring.

Strain this mixture with a fine mesh sieve to remove vanilla bean and unwanted egg bits.

Pour this into four oven-safe ramekins. Place these in a larger baking dish (I use a cake pan). Place this into the pre-heated oven then pour water into the baking dish holding the ramekins.

If you don’t want a bit of a skin on top of the pot de creme then place a sheet of foil over the ramekins. I leave the foil off as I prefer the slight textural difference you get when you bake it without a cover.

Bake for 30-45 minutes until the center of the custards still jiggle slightly when gently shaken. Start checking at 30 minutes then check every 5 minutes or so, until done. The custards will continue to set once out of the oven.

Let cool slightly then place them in the fridge to set – about 2 hours.

Just before serving sprinkle with a bit more freshly ground nutmeg.

These can also benefit from a sprinkling of sugar and a broiler or torch turning them into Nutmeg Creme Brulee – perfect for the holidays.

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Random Acts of Cookies – revisited

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It’s happened several times since that day I decided to bake my way out of self-pity. Things happen, or they don’t, and suddenly I’m swimming in thoughts of doubt and self-loathing. Such a completely unnecessary and useless place to be. Rather than take residence in that spot I reach for the butter. The process is for me – the creaming of sugars, stirring in of eggs and flour, and the folding in of chocolate – but the cookies are not.

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Somewhere in that process of taking raw ingredients and combining them in a way that after they meet a hot oven they come out smelling sweetly intoxicating, I forget what got me here in the first place and I am content to have created. I am eager to share and better for the smiles that result from that sharing.

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I’ve called it Random Acts of Cookies. I wrote about it before and the response from all of you was so encouraging that I wanted to keep the sweet movement going. And today, along with the help of some very dear friends, I’ve come bringing some tools to entice you to bake with us and share with others.

Sally J Shim of Shim + Sons and her partner Joke Vande Gaer of Tokketok have created stunning gift tags and recipe cards for us. Also, if you head over to their collaborative site, SHIMTOKK you’ll find more fun downloads and ideas on how to package your cookies to give. Pretty great, right?! I couldn’t be more honored and happy to have these ladies a part of our movement.

Crazy big thanks to Sally and Joke for their incredible talents and for their willingness to work with me on this. Also, to you for encouraging me to continue with the movement. Thank you.

Now, let’s bake and share.

 

6252442013_4e34ef2693_bI may have added more chocolate to this batch. I’m okay with it if you are.

Click on the links below to download for yourself. The first is the recipe card and the other are tags you can use to package your cookies. Also, I’d LOVE for you to share your Random Acts of Cookies stories. Join me on Facebook and tell us all!

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Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars

I requested chocolate chip cookies often as a child and often my mom would respond to such a request with perfectly crisp and toffee-like cookies. On occasion she would skip the scoops and dump the dough straight into a pan and opt for bars in place of cookies. I didn’t mind one bit. I took this idea and tweaked it slightly – more brown sugar for even more toffee flavor, cream cheese for a subtle tang, and espresso powder to make that chocolate really pop.

1 stick (4 oz) butter, soft

½ cup (4 oz) cream cheese

1/2 cup white sugar (4 oz )

1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed (12 oz )

2  eggs

2 tsp vanilla (1/4 oz)

3 1/2 cup All Purpose flour (1 lb. )

1 1/2 tsp Baking soda

1 tsp kosher salt

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

12 oz chocolate, chopped or 1 bag chocolate chips (bittersweet, if you can find them).

Spray a 10” square cake pan with pan spray. Line the bottom with parchment then spray again.

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F

Cream the butter, cream cheese, and the sugars until very light and fluffy, about 5-7 minutes on medium high. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Continue mixing while adding the eggs one at time. Make sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Combine the flour, soda, powder, and salt in another bowl. With a whisk to combine. With the machine on low, slowly add the flour. Mix until just combined, taking care not to over mix. When the flour is just about combined add the chocolate. Turn off the machine and finish mixing by hand to prevent over-mixing.

Bake at 350* for 35-40 minutes, until the center is just set and the edges are deep golden.

Let cool in the pan.

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Dinner in 15

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If you’re like me, chances are it’s 15 minutes until dinner and you are scouring the Internet hoping to find inspiration. And like me, your probably getting distracted with things like Pinterest, Twitter, and three little children who are on the verge of a complete and total breakdown caused by hanger (pronounced: hane-ger – It’s what happens when you mix hunger with anger and it’s a common occurrence around here, although not just relegated to the children).

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Stop your surfing and cook with me, dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes.

First things first. You’ll need spaghetti, peanut butter (or sesame paste – Tahini – if you have it), soy sauce, rice wine (or a dry white will do), rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, and shallot if you have it.

Put a large pot of water over the stove and crank up the heat. Make the water taste of the sea. Seriously, taste it.

While the water is working on a boil add 4 cloves of garlic and a bit of shallot to a food processor. Pulse until well chopped. To this add 3 tbl peanut butter (or Tahini), ⅓ cup soy sauce, 2 tbl rice wine, 1 ½ tbl rice wine vinegar, and 1 ½ tbl sesame oil. Blend this all together.

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As soon as your water is boiling add enough spaghetti to feed four.

Cook the pasta to al dente. Drain then stir in the sauce.

Dinner is ready.

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If you have carrots, use a vegetable peeler to create fancy carrot ribbons. I tossed my ribbons with a splash or rice wine vinegar and toasted sesame seeds. I also happened to have a few sad looking scallions so I added those as well. Bean sprouts would also be a nice addition as would steamed or roasted broccoli or napa cabbage perhaps. So many choices.

Fifteen minutes and we’ve created a dinner that is sweet, salty with a bit of a bright bite. Serve the kids first then top your portion with a touch of Sriracha(or your favorite hot sauce).

While there is little I love more than to spend hours on one meal, taking care to plan through every detail. Setting the table to a multi-coursed meal that concludes with something sweet and most likely chocolatey. The truth is more often than not dinner goes from in my head to on the table in under thirty minutes. But that doesn’t mean our dinners have to suffer from my lack of planning. We eat well, if just happens quickly.

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Quick Garlicky Pasta

inspired by Nigel Slater, Real Fast Food

3 Tbl peanut butter (or Tahini)

⅓ cup soy sauce

2 Tbl rice wine (or dry white wine)

1 Tbl rice wine vinegar

1 ½ Tbl Sesame oil

4 garlic cloves

1 Tbl chopped shallot

Combine the garlic and shallot in the bowl of a food processor. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then stir in the remaining ingredients. Process until well blended.

Toss this sauce with enough pasta for four.

Top with sesame seeds, carrot, bean sprouts, or whatever strikes your fancy.

 

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Roasted apples

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The first taste of apple when its season hits is almost as paramount as a first kiss. There is a longing that builds throughout the Spring and Summer months and, in my opinion, there is no better taste than that first one. It’s a ritual that merits the suspension of time.

This year it was a Gravenstein for me. With great fervor I peeled the chartruese skin away to reveal a flesh as flawless as a newborn. Removing a portion with my knife, I slipped it directly onto my eager tongue, still cool from the already crisp Fall air. The bright bite rang loudly through my head before releasing its tart juice. The gleeful look that already covered my face became more pronounced as I continued to peel and anticipate the first pie of the season.

Since that bite there has been many more pies. Three within a week span, to be perfectly honest. Following those pies we made our traditional trip to our favorite apple orchard, Bellewood Acres. The one in which golf carts are provided for our touring pleasure, and where horses and cows greet us on either side of the property.

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We walked away from the orchard with several bags of both Gravensteins and Honeycrisps, caramel apples, cider, and peanut butter made right on the farm. Before we pulled out of the parking lot we broke into the peanut butter and used a camping knife to carve into the large, perfectly tart-sweet Honeycrisp.

There is little to be done to improve upon a well-grown apple. Our load didn’t last much longer than the car ride home and we’ve since made multiple trips to our local produce stand to replenish our cravings. The baker in me almost feels a sense of obligation to stir them into pies and cakes but lately we’ve let them be simply what they are – incredible apples.

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Those that have existed beyond the mid-day snack have made there way through our juicer. Most recently they’ve been combined with a few of their closest friends – butter, vanilla, brown sugar, and cinnamon. This party then meets in a hot oven so as to preserve a slight bite while their crisp edges caramelize.

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Roasted apples meet the nostalgic requirements of apple sauce while appearing somehow fancy. Maybe it’s the little vanilla bean specs coating each slice or the floral cinnamon scent that escapes the oven each time you open it in anticipation. Whatever it is it’s no matter just as long as you make them. And while warm, please do me a favor, eat them over vanilla ice cream.

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Roasted Apples

Whatever doesn’t end up on ice cream makes a wonderful addition to oatmeal, yogurt or eaten on their own.

4 large apples (2 lbs), peeled and cut in 1” chunks

1 3” cinnamon stick

½ vanilla bean

1-2 Tbl dark brown sugar

2 Tbl butter

Pre-heat your 450*.

Combine all the ingredients in a roasting pan. Dot the apples with small pieces of the butter. Roast 50-60 minutes, stirring every 15-20 minutes until apples are cooked through and golden around the edges.

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