Monday, December 30, 2013

Farro with Sweet Potato and Black Garlic


As the holiday break neared, Anna and I commiserated (with good humor) about how busy we were. "Eh, it's going to be a Trader Joe's week, right?"

I knew exactly what she was talking about. I had already planned for a Trader Joe's week to make the busy season a little easier. My menu plan was based on whatever good stuff TJ's had to make meal time as easy as possible.

Here's one of the dishes I made, perfect for the post-holiday detox. This grain salad makes up for the stale holiday cookies we're all still nibbling. Delicious warm or cold, it's on the sweet side — a nice bridge as I retrain my taste buds to be happy with less sugary fare. It's filling and full of good-for-you ingredients. The photograph doesn't do it justice. I'm not sure it's possible to take a good photo of farro.

Everything in it can be found at Trader Joe's: fast-cooking farro, sweet potato, pomegranate vinegar, and — my favorite! — black garlic.


If you're unfamiliar with it, black garlic is simply fermented garlic. It's savory-sweet, garlicky without the bite. TJ's just recently started carrying black garlic, but it isn't always easy to find. I didn't see it the last time I was there and was worried they had already dropped it. The manager admitted "it's been sort of a dog for us," but they do still stock it. You can find it in specialty stores and online (including Amazon).

131217_CPE_farro salad_2

If you can't find it, no problem. Just sub some regular garlic. And if you don't have a Trader Joe's near you, of course you can find these ingredients elsewhere.

Farro with Sweet Potatoes and Black Garlic

If you can't find black garlic, you can leave it out or substitute a clove or two of minced garlic, sautéed in a bit of oil. A bit of cooked sausage also would be a tasty replacement. Farro is one of my favorite grains, but if it's out of your comfort zone swap brown rice.

1 package Trader Joe's 10-Minute Farro (or 1 1/2 cups raw farro)
1 sweet potato, diced
1/2 head of black garlic, chopped
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
olive oil

4 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons pomegranate vinegar (or other fruity vinegar)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Cook farro according to package directions (if you're using raw farro, cook it however you do that — I've only used TJ's!). Whisk dressing ingredients together in a bowl.

Warm a spoonful of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add diced sweet potato and cook until soft and slightly browned.

Combine farro, sweet potato, garlic, walnuts, and dressing in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If salad is too dry for your taste, add a splash of olive oil and stir.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mashed Potato Snowman

If you happen to live in a place where it doesn't snow,  like we do,  you might use this idea to make the kids have a little winter cheer with something else. It was the last hands on class I gave to second and third graders at school this year, after a series of edible craft sessions, which included sweet potatoes and green beans turkeys and a pea spread cemetery for Halloween.

The project to celebrate the end of the year was to make a snowman out of mashed potatoes and other foods, and the result was so much fun. We made those my son's classroom today with second and third graders. They were really thrilled to work on the project and eat it right away after finishing.

I baked the potatoes at home, and when I brought them to school, they were ready to be peeled with the tiny fingers and mashed easily with forks. Carrots became little noses, bell peppers for the mouths, but of course, some children's couldn't refrain to think outside the model and made...something completely different!

You will need: 

One medium organic baked russet potato per child
Enough mini carrots to make noses
Cooked black beans for buttons
Crimini  mushroom tops for hats
Red bell peppers for the lips
Cooked peas for eyes
Parmesan cheese to dust the snowman
Salt to taste

Invite the kids to peel and mash the potatoes, and use their imagination! You might be surprise that they might come up with something like this:

Or that:

The process is fun and can be a little messy, but they were so proud to see their artwork ready to eat with all their classmates when they finished:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Persimmon Cranberry Tea Bread (Vegan)


Persimmons and cranberries look like colorful jewels in these golden-colored little loaves. These make lovely gifts for neighbors, hosts, teachers and more during the holiday season. You can freeze them and thaw for gift-giving, or as a treat for your own holiday table.

Persimmons are one of my favorite California fruits and they’re plentiful and inexpensive. If you don’t have them near you, you can substitute apples or pears. I made one batch pairing persimmons with cranberries, with just a bit of candied orange peel, and a second batch with sweet potatoes instead of berries.


I’m baking vegan, nut-free loaves to minimize any awkward gift-giving issues. Don’t let the V-word scare you! These treats are perfectly tasty, though I admit they’re a little more crumbly than they would be with egg. You can substitute butter and egg for the vegan alternatives in the recipe if you prefer.

This is riffing off Mark Bittman’s master recipe for quick bread made with almost any fruit or vegetable. It’s a terrifically versatile recipe, much like buttermilk quick bread. You can tinker with fruit, veggies, and mix-ins as you like, and bake a full-size loaf, mini loaves, or muffins to brighten a wintry morning. If cranberries aren't your thing, try the sweet potato variation.


Persimmon Cranberry Tea Bread

Based on Mark Bittman’s Fruit-and-Nut or Vegetable-and-Nut Bread. To make the flaxseed egg replacer, blend 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal with 3 tablespoons water, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes until gelled. 

4 tablespoons Earth Balance spread, or butter, chilled
1 cup white whole wheat flour, or all-purpose flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom or cinnamon
3/4 cup apple or orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange or lemon zest
flaxseed egg replacer equivalent to 1 egg (see note), or 1 egg
1/2 cup persimmon, peeled and diced
1/2 cup cranberries, chopped
optional extras: ½ cup chopped nuts, raisins, or other dried fruit (crystallized ginger would be tasty too)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease three mini loaf pans or a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Combine dry ingredients — flour through spices — in a bowl, then cut in Earth Balance until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (I do this in a food processor, pulsing it a few times. Or you can rub the spread in with your fingers until no large lumps remain.)

In another bowl, blend the juice, zest, and flaxseed egg replacer. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened — don’t overmix. Fold in the fruit and any extras.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake about 40 minutes for mini loaves or an hour for a full-size loaf, until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool before removing from the pan.

Persimmon and Sweet Potato Tea Bread: Substitute ½ cup grated, raw, peeled sweet potato for the cranberries, and ½ teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon for the cardamom.

Muffins: Bake at 400°F for 20 to 30 minutes.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Grandma's pumpkin bread

Grandma's Pumpkin Bread

Going to lunch at Grandma's was often a mixed bag. She served foods way outside my comfort zone — I recall a lot of gravy and canned green beans — but there was a chance she'd make pumpkin bread. Moist and sweet, it was the best thing on earth. It's long been a star at my family's Thanksgiving dinner, and it's my go-to baked gift for the holidays. It's also one of the recipes I'm asked to share the most.

I've given up on tinkering with this basic recipe. Attempts to swap in white whole wheat flour or applesauce have just made a mess of a good thing. Sometimes I scale back the staggering amount of sugar, but only by a mere half cup. I don't fully understand why there's both baking soda and baking powder, but I've never dared experiment to find out if that's truly necessary. I don't question this recipe, I just bake it. A lot.

It is what it is, and it's delicious.

This makes two beautiful loaves. The bread freezes well, so you can bake ahead of Thanksgiving or gift-giving season. I usually slice one as soon as it cools, because it's irresistible, and stash the second loaf in the freezer before we inhale both loaves.

Last week I recruited my sons to help bake pumpkin bread to share. It's so simple, they're ready to begin committing this recipe to memory.

Thanks, Grandma.

Grandma's Pumpkin Bread

Grandma's Pumpkin Bread

You can substitute fresh pumpkin purée for canned — I stick with canned because of fairly consistent moisture content and reliable flavor. You also could stir in chopped nuts or chocolate chips, but be careful with added chocolate, as this is already very sweet.

3 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
3 eggs
2 cups pumpkin purée
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend oil and sugar in a large bowl, then whip in eggs. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. Stir pumpkin into the creamed mix, then stir in the dry ingredients. Pour batter into two greased loaf pans and bake one hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a loaf comes out clean.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pumpkin sourdough monster rolls

We had so much fun making these monstrous dinner rolls with friends! This is a choose-your-own adventure project: You can just set out store-bought dough with a handful of raisins for embellishment, or bread bakers could add pumpkin purée to homemade dough, or those of you with sourdough starter on hand could go all in and make pumpkin sourdough dinner rolls.

Pumpkin sourdough is delicious, but the real treat here is making the rolls together. It's a terrific after-school or rainy day activity. Enjoy some giggly, creative time together in the kitchen, fill your home with the smell of freshly baked bread, and savor your not-so-hard work with dinner.

I'll break this down according to degree of ambition: First, how to make rolls, then how to add pumpkin to homemade dough, and finally how to make your own pumpkin sourdough rolls from scratch.

Shaping monster rolls

Use whatever dough you'd like: store-bought, homemade, the sourdough below. Just tear off hunks of dough and make whatever you wish. I set out some past-their-prime spices for decorations — star anise, cinnamon sticks, whole allspice, and cloves — along with raisins, nuts and seeds, and rosemary sprigs. Dust hands and dough with flour to make it easier to handle, and work right on the baking sheet.

The shaped rolls need to rise a second time before going into the oven. They'll double in size, and as they puff up they'll push out whatever raisins or nuts you've poked into the dough. So push them way in there: The raisins, for example, were almost buried in the dough but came out perfect. Dip a finger in a bowl of water and "paint" the dough to help stick down things like rosemary leaves.

Kids can also use scissors to shape the dough — they're a great tool to makes scales or spikes, for example. But wait until after the second rise, right before the rolls go into the oven. That's how I did the bat: I shaped long triangular wings, and just before baking I snipped the bottom of the wings and stretched the pieces apart.

Bake the rolls according to your recipe or the package instructions.

Adding pumpkin to bread dough

You can pumpkin-ify homemade bread dough easily: Just add a cup or so of pumpkin purée to your favorite recipe. You'll probably need to add flour to compensate for the extra moisture. Fresh or canned pumpkin work equally well, though you're likely to get more color out of canned (be sure to used plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie purée!).

To make fresh pumpkin purée, cut a sugar pie pumpkin in half, scoop out the strings and seeds, and pierce the shell a few times with a fork. Set the pumpkin halves cut side down on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 90 minutes, until the center is easily pierced with a fork. Let cool, then purée flesh in a food processor or blender. If it's really wet, line a strainer with a kitchen towel or cheesecloth and strain the pumpkin before using it.

Pumpkin sourdough rolls

Weight measurements are provided in parentheses, in case you prefer to weigh ingredients. You might need more or less flour, depending on how wet your pumpkin purée is. You can substitute wheat flour for some of the AP flour — I used equal portions of white flour, white whole wheat, and whole wheat. (Note that wheat flour weighs less: 4 ounces per cup, versus 4 1/4 ounces per cup of white flour.) This yields a sticky dough, so have plenty of flour on hand for shaping the rolls.

1 cup (8 ounces) "fed" sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) lukewarm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup (9 1/2 ounces) pumpkin purée
5 to 6 cups (21 1/4 to 25 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
melted butter, optional

Combine all the ingredients except butter. Knead by hand or in a mixer with the dough attachment until smooth. Let rise in an oiled, covered bowl until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

Shape rolls on baking trays lined with parchment paper or silicone mats. Cover with a towel and let rise again until doubled, about half and hour.

Bake rolls for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees, checking frequently after 15 minutes. Brush the tops with melted butter, if you'd like, for softness and rich color.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fresh Pumpkin Muffins

One of my favorite things about the arrival of fall is pumpkin season. With the falling golden leaves and cold weather comes the inspiration: Halloween is almost here and all the parties that surround it invite me to bake.

This recipe is a good old-fashioned one that calls for freshly puréed pumpkin. Yes, no cans here, please. It might be good not just Halloween but also for Thanksgiving. My children, who are mostly averse to pumpkin pies, loved them. I can't wait to have another excuse to bake another dozen of these delicate-flavored muffins.

Fresh Pumpkin Muffins

I used a medium-size sugar pie pumpkin, cooking it in chunks with a bit of water for 30 minutes in the pressure cooker. If you're not familiar with a pressure cooker, just bake the pumpkin in the oven at 350 degrees for about one hour or until it is tender. 

1 cup sugar pumpkin, cooked and puréed
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup oat bran
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts 

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a big bowl mix pumpkin, sugar, eggs, and oil. Let the mix rest for about 15 minutes and then whisk again.

In another bowl mix bran, flours, baking powder, baking soda, and spices and mix well with a whisk. Gradually add the dry mix to the wet mix with the help of a spoon just until you get an even batter. Slowly add walnuts and chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into baking cups, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake about 25 minutes until the top of the muffins are golden. Enjoy for breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Easy roasted tomatoes for instant meal upgrades

Easy oven-roasted tomatoes to fix any meal

I have fallen head over heels for roasted tomatoes. Roasting tomatoes slowly in the oven is an easy, hands-off technique to coax the deepest flavor from even out-of-season tomatoes. And having a stash on hand means you can upgrade almost any meal at a moment's notice.

A jar of roasted tomatoes keeps for nearly a week and is amazingly versatile. They're the magic elixir for fixing bland dishes. These are just a few of the ways I've used them:

    Easy oven-roasted tomatoes to fix any meal
  • omelets and frittatas
  • spooned over simply baked salmon, chicken, and steak
  • bean salad
  • pasta
  • salsa
  • cold and warm soups
  • grains
  • mixed with other roasted vegetables
  • plain, just as they are!
Sometimes I spoon just the juicy good stuff from the tomato jar. My boys don't care much for tomatoes, but they don't notice when I use the tomato juice to boost the flavor of their plain pasta or a vinaigrette.

We're enjoying the late tomato season here, but as fall settles in I'll rely heavily on roasted plum and cherry tomatoes to see me through to next summer. Those wintertime tomatoes are just ... sad. Roasting gives them such a boost.

Roasted peak-season tomatoes, however, are divine. If you're blessed with an abundance of late-season tomatoes — cherry tomatoes never want to quit! — try roasting and freezing some.

Easy oven-roasted tomatoes to fix any meal

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

This takes time, but not much work. If time is short, crank up the temperature by 25 or 50 degrees and shorten the roasting time.

garlic cloves (optional)
fresh herb sprigs, such as oregano, thyme, rosemary (optional)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Easy oven-roasted tomatoes to fix any mealHeat oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking tray with foil or a silicone mat. Core and slice large tomatoes and set on pan. Remove stems from cherry tomatoes and slice in half, and set on pan with cut-side down. Add garlic cloves and herbs, if using. Drizzle or mist with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Bake tomatoes for two and a half to three hours. The skins will be shriveled and darkened. Taste as you go and take them out when you love them. They'll get drier the longer they're in the oven.

Enjoy immediately, store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Soda experiments, part 2: Ginger ale

Soda remains a rare treat for my kids. My husband and I kicked a vicious Coke Zero addiction not too long ago, and we try to avoid having soda in the house. But on special occasions, my sons delight in a simple Shirley Temple cocktail: ginger ale, a bit of grenadine, and a sickly sweet maraschino cherry.

Given their love of ginger ale and the success of our home-brewed root beer (three years ago — how can it have been that long ago?!), I thought we should give ginger ale a try. I did a bit of research and decided to try two different approaches.

1. The fancy brew

First we tried a truly home-brewed soda, requiring a bit of yeast for carbonation. We used this recipe, subbing dry ale yeast for the champagne yeast (and you can use regular bread yeast, to keep things simple). Other than the yeast, the ingredients were straightforward: fresh ginger, water, salt, lemon juice, and only half a cup of sugar per 2-liter. Nice!

The boys took turns grating ginger and squeezing lemons. We made a double batch to fill two recycled bottles, then let the kids shake things up.

The original recipe recommends keeping the bottle out at room temperature for 12 to 48 hours, until the bottle is firm to the touch — the important sign that your soda is carbonated and should be refrigerated before it explodes. Our bottle took longer, about 60 hours.

We chilled it for a day, then cautiously cracked it open ... but there was almost no fizz. Disappointing. We poured out three glasses, straining out bits of ginger, and eagerly took a sip.

This is ginger beer, probably best for grownups. Even with a dash of grenadine, my sons agreed it had way too much bite for their tastes. (I'll work it into some adult cocktails with pleasure, however.)

UPDATE: We cracked this open after another five days in the refrigerator — it was much mellower and fizzier. This is the winner!

2. The simple syrup

On to the next version: a gingery simple syrup to mix with sparkling water. We chopped the rest of our ginger and combined one part ginger with one part sugar and three parts water, used an immersion blender to whirl everything together, then brought it to a boil on the stove. We let it simmer for 45 minutes or so until it was reduced by half, then took it off the heat to steep for another half-hour. Finally, we poured it through a fine-mesh strainer and chilled it in the fridge.

For our taste test, we poured a bit of ginger syrup into each glass and added sparkling water. This was the reaction:

I preferred this version, but it still has quite a bite. Strong, tasty stuff for ginger lovers like me, but it looks like I'm the only one who'll be drinking it. My sons preferred the fancy brew with yeast (and less sugar!). (UPDATE: And after a few days, it was very drinkable and much tastier.)

We have a few more soda experiments planned — I'll share them here if they're more successful than this adventure!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Super Omega Cookies

 This is the kind of fully packed snack that is perfect for a fast bite at school break. It's MKA (my kids approved) although they usually don't care so much for raisins, flax seed or oats. But in this case  they are all inside a wonderful crunchy and chocolate-chip cookie, and so,  it is another story...

When I bake a batch, the smell of wonderful cinnamon embraces the whole house and that's enough for them to ask for the super cookies. On the next morning, cookies travel to school in the lunch boxes  as a sweet reminder that delicious can meet nutritious. And then I feel good. Mission accomplished and appreciated.

Super Omega Cookies
Omega-3 is one of those wonders of nature that might help on the kids brain development, and that's why I love it. In this recipe it comes form many sources, but animal sources. Canola oil, flax seed, oat meal, walnuts. I prefer to use all organic ingredients and the organic Saigon cinnamon is something special that I've found to boost the flavor of the cookie with a special zest. Oh, and by the way decrease the amount of sugar to a half if you want. It won't interfere on the texture.

1/2 cup canola or another vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely ground flax seed mixed with 1/2 cup water (or two Omega-3 eggs)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1/2 cup oat bran
2 cups quick oats
1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk oil, flax seed mix (or eggs), sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in a big bowl. Add flour, baking soda oat bran and whisk again the surface. With a spatula, mix all the ingredients and let it rest for 5 minutes. Then add all the other ingredients and mix well to guarantee that the chocolate chip will go to all cookies. With the help of two spoons, or an ice cream scooper, distribute dots on baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes on the middle rack of the oven. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cucumber and Avocado Sushi Roll

 It was a midsummer dream: thanks to two Japanese arts, origami and sushi making, a whole afternoon taking care of four boys went fast paced and relatively peaceful. Maybe the secret was to keep their hands busy...

First they were all folding magazine pages to make paper boats. And after testing them on the water table, they were rolling roasted seaweed to make avocado and cucumber sushi.
The original idea was to prepare California rolls, but they were not enthusiastic about real crab. The result was simple and elegant: just rolls filled with cucumber and avocado, or just avocado.

After folding paper to make boats, it sounded as easy as it could be. Tiny hands are delicate enough to use the wood rolling mat and the wood paddle. To make the whole process fast and relaxing  I asked them to spread the rice on the roasted seaweed, as if they were painting a canvas. Then they chose what ingredients they would like to put inside the roll, and after I sealed the ends of the seaweed they helped me to roll. I put a parchment paper layer in between the mat and seaweed to make sure we wouldn't get sticky rice all over the place. It worked.

Simple Maki (Cucumber and Avocado Sushi Roll)

You could use one of Darienne's egg thin omelette inside, or just have a few ingredients available so to play with them as the children (or grownups) want. I used the Yamamotoyama brand of the roasted seaweed, easily found in grocery stores.

6 cups cal rose rice, cooked as directed or with this recipe for sushi rice
cucumber sticks
Haas avocado, sliced
soy sauce
wasabi (optional)

Most packages of roasted seaweed have instructions on how to roll a sushi roll. Stretch the cooked rice over the seaweed paper, draw a line with the fillings, moisten the seams with water using your fingertips, and roll it and slice. Once you do it right, you will do it right forever. Like folding paper or riding a bike. Enjoy!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...