Saturday, March 15, 2014

Leprechaun Shelter Salad... and Green Pea Dip


Photo by J. Balbi
Maybe they say they don't like greens. But when it comes to building a hiding place for a leprechaun... perhaps the little ones will change their mind.

While looking for ideas of something healthy to make with the kids at school I finally put the project together while browsing the aisles of my favorite grocery store. Lately I've been working a more with food presentation with older children, but thought that the idea of building a hut, a bed or even a boat made of vegetables would be enticing enough to make kindergartners and first graders enticed.  After building,  we were working with the notion that the best place to "hide" the secret leprechaun hideout would be their tummy, not the trash can.

I was lucky enough to have J. working with me at school that day, who was fortunate enough to have a mini figurine of a leprechaun in her bag, and a good eye for taking the photos which are in this post.
Photo by J. Balbi
A big bag of romaine hearts, some micro-greens to imitate little shamrocks, pea stick and lots of imagination made the whole experience a great activity. They all helped to blend the green dip, excited with the mouse from the hand blender. The green pea dip, inspired on this dip recipe by Darienne, was the foundation. For some children, it was a unique chance of eating salad, disguised as something they had built for the little man.

Happy St. Paddy's Day!
Photo by J. Balbi

Leprechaun Shelter Salad with Green Dip
You can always play with the greens around the project, but it's good to have something to make the structure possible, like a big leaf for the shelter, and some cucumber sticks to be the support. 

For the salad

Romaine Heart Leafs as needed
Cucumber, cut in sticks in same length
Green pitted olives
Green pea baked snacks (such as Inner Peas by Trader Joe's
Baby Spinach
Curley Parsley

For the dip

1 bag frozen organic green peas
4 oz whipped cream cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons oregano
Kosher salt to taste


Cook peas as directed by package. Drain and blend with all other ingredients in a food processor or hand blender up to when it reaches a creamy texture. Serve on the side of salad or on the bottom of the late to serve as the foundation for the hut. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fortune cookies made easy


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Making fortune cookies has been on my list for years. Every time I started to poke around recipes online, I balked because of the reviews. For every person who said such-and-such recipe was easy and perfect, there was another who said it was an utter disaster. I wanted better odds of success before wading into that territory.

But this year, I forgot to get a new bag of fortune cookies on our annual Lunar New Year shopping trip to Chinatown. We usually swing by Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Co. to see the treats being made and bring a bag home. This year we filled up on dim sum, boba tea, and egg tarts, but rushed home without our cookies.

This was it: The Year of the Horse would be the year I tried fortune cookies.

And they were a success! They tasted delicious and the kids loved them. And they weren't too difficult. We'll happily make them again soon. Probably within a few days.

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One of these is not like the others... the one on the left is smoother and has more defined edges because we used parchment paper to help shape it.

Anna solved the trickiest challenge: getting each cookie thin and flat. These cookies need to be ridiculously thin — almost translucent. Most recipes say to use a spatula or spoon to spread the dough in a circle on a greased sheet or silicon mat. We did that for most of ours, and they came out OK but were uneven, a little bumpy, and with crumbly edges.

Our trick: Anna spread them on floured parchment paper, then used another sheet of floured parchment paper to press them flat. We popped them in the oven, covered in parchment paper, and they came out beautifully. (That's a little pastry technique she picked up in Paris. Never miss a chance to give credit to things from Paris.) You can see the difference in the photo above: The cookie at the bottom left is from the parchment paper batch. Perfect!

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Before you try them, you need to know a few hard truths:
  • Your fortunes will have grease spots. You could try making the cookies without butter, but reviewers of butter-free versions often say the cookies needed butter, for taste and to avoid sticking to the pan. (With Anna's parchment paper technique, butter-free might work. I hope to try it soon and report back.)
  • There will be losses. It takes some practice to get the hang of it, and even then there will be casualties.
  • Making fortune cookies is time-consuming. Relax and make an afternoon of it.
  • Crispiness is a high goal. A few of ours crisped evenly and nicely, but most had slightly chewy centers. Practice will help, and some advise returning the shaped cookies to a 250 degree oven for a few minutes to crisp. We ate all ours, and so didn't try it.
This is a fun one to do with kids. Spreading the batter and shaping the cookies may be difficult for young ones, but kids who can write or draw of course can prepare the fortunes. (Ours, not surprisingly, turned out to be focused on the boys' current obsession: "Your mom will let you play Minecraft" and the like.)

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Hey, look! Another fortune about Minecraft!

Fortune Cookies

This recipe makes 18-20 cookies. Adapted from Allrecipes and Fifteen Spatulas

2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
scant 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
scant 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons water
2/3 cup flour

Write your fortunes before you bake the cookies. Cut paper into strips, about 1/2 inch wide and 2 1/2 inches long, and write fortunes. (This is a great job for the kids. We used ballpoint pen, to make sure the ink didn't bleed onto the cookies.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (trace 3" circles onto the paper as a guide, if you wish) and dust lightly with flour. Lightly dust a second sheet of parchment paper with flour and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and sugar until they're frothy. Whisk in the melted butter, extracts, and water, then mix in the flour just until it's blended in — don't over-mix. The mixture should be like a light pancake batter, not a doughy cookie batter.

Scoop a generous 1/2 tablespoon of batter onto the prepared baking sheet. Use the measuring spoon to spread it into a very thin circle, about 3 inches across. Do no more than 3 or 4 cookies at a time (and for your first try, I recommend doing only two). Lay the second piece of parchment over the batter, floured side down, and press down to ensure evenly flat, thin cookies. Leave the paper in place.

Bake cookies on the middle rack of the oven for 6 to 7 minutes. They're done when they're just golden around the edges. They need to be soft and pliable for folding.

Be ready to work quickly: Peel off the parchment paper, flip each cookie over, and lay the fortune across the middle. With a spatula or your fingers (gloves might help), fold each cookie in half — don't crease it flat, just pinch the open edges together. Then set the cookie on the edge of a cup, with the folded edge on the rim and the open side on top, and pushing the corners down while you hold the pinched edges together. Tuck each folded cookie into a muffin pan so it will hold its shape as it cools and hardens. (Check out these videos for helping shaping cookies.)

Repeat with the remaining batter.

Monday, January 6, 2014

So bring me a Figgy Cake... And a Happy New Year!!!




It's my first post of the year and yet it's something I baked last year... . But this is not your average end of the year celebration cake! It was so good that I had to stop all my fourth day of the new year activities to post it. Maybe you will want to bake sometime to celebrate something other than Christmas. If you are a grown-up who drinks, it's a perfect pairing for a bubbly. But a warning: it's so delicious that I had to make an effort to freeze a slice to be able to replicate it later, once it was a very improvised recipe.

The project was to bake a original British style figgy pudding so to go with the song, as my sons are always repeating "So bring me a figgy pudding"asking me when I was going to bake one. The problem was that I was crazy busy as most of you guys, and had to improvise the steaming for something like "wet" baking. I will explain myself: Once I came across this recipe that recommended to bake normally adding a water filled pan to pretend it is also steaming. And it worked. Happy 2014!!!

Almond Figgy Cake
This recipe is vaguely based on Simon Rimmer's Figgy Pudding, published in Something for the weekend, and online at BBC.

2 cups chopped california dried figs
1/3 cup cognac ( I used Remi Martin)
3/4 cup hot water
1 cup flour
1.5 cups almond meal (ground almond)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup concord grape raisins soaked overnight in1 cup of your favorite wine
1 orange, zest and juice
2 eggs




Preheat oven to 350 F, with a large baking pan filled with water on the lower rack of oven. Start soaking figs in cognac and hot water for about 15 minutes, or overnight, if you have time. Mix flour, almond meal, baking powder and nutmeg in a bow and set aside. In another bowl mix brown sugar, eggs, olive oil and whisk up to when you get a creamy texture. Slowly add cognac and water mix from the figs. Add figs and raisins to flours and mix up to when they get fully coated. Add liquid mix to flour mix stirring with a wooden spoon. Let it rest for 5 minutes, mix again and pour batter on a flutted tube pan.  Bake in the oven from 45 to 55 minutes (still with the water filled pan in there, refill if necessary), or up to when crust is golden and core dry. Serve it hot with vanilla ice cream, or cold for brunch with a latte. 

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