I was raised to be a science nerd (ah even the best-laid plans don’t always pan out). My dad taught high school chemistry and physics, so my childhood toys included chemistry sets, K’NEX, crystal growing kits, and a real set of test tubes from his school lab. I liked “experimenting” – whether that be melting crayons in the microwave (not advisable) or feeding my little sister glue just to see what would happen (also not advisable).
I suppose you could say that my love of baking stems from that science background. Mix X, Y, and Z ingredients and you can pretty reliably expect a certain result. But what I love most about baking is the “experimenting” factor. I know that if I follow a recipe exactly it will probably turn out well, but I always can’t help but wonder – what if I switch out this for that? Or add this? Or maybe try this?
Some of these experiments turn out poorly, because if you deviate too far from the baking science things can go horribly wrong. But sometimes kitchen magic happens and things turn out absolutely deliciously.
Case in point is this zucchini apricot olive oil cake with lemon glaze. It sounds like a weird combination of potentially too many things, but trust me, it is absolutely perfect.
The cake is moist thanks to the zucchini, the apricots add a nice sweet tang to contrast with the toasted walnuts, and the lemon glaze – oh the lemon glaze! Please just make this so you can eat it ASAP. It is by far the best cake I've baked in quite a while.
Zucchini Apricot Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Glaze
(Adapted from Sparrows and Spatulas)
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (sounds like a lot, but you want it all)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 large egg
3 tablespoons water
3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)
1 fresh apricot, diced
1/8 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour one 9-inch round cake pan (or a loaf pan).
Place the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them until they are golden brown and aromatic, 12-14 minutes. Cool completely and then finely chop them.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices into a medium bowl and set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a spoon!), beat the eggs, water, sugar, and olive oil together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then beat in the vanilla extract. Beat in the dry ingredients all at once on low speed until they are thoroughly combined, then switch to medium speed and mix for 30 seconds. Mix in the zucchini, apricot, and walnuts on low speed until they are completely incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes (40-45 if you’re using a loaf pan) or until a tester inserted in the cakes comes out clean and the cakes have begun to pull away from the sides of the pans.
While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and granulated sugar, then whisk in the confectioners’ sugar until the glaze is completely smooth.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a wire rack. Immediately spoon the glaze over the entire surface of the warm cake, using all of the glaze; it will adhere to the cake and set as the cake cools. Allow the cake to cool completely and the glaze to dry.
Related post on Eat Run Read: Zucchini Cupcakes
This post was written by Marion Boyd.
Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot. Dry. Hot. Right now in Chicago is a breezy, refreshing 98 degrees F. We are crawling around on the surface of the planet like miserable bugs.
As Terry has sometimes mentioned, I used to address weather like this by making cold cucumber soup. The trigger for this was the legendary cold cucumber bisque we would have at the former Balaban’s in St. Louis. My versions varied tremendously, and they were always interesting, but they were never like Balaban’s. That recipe was a closely guarded secret – one of those instances when everyone who worked there would get all coy and diffident if you asked about the ingredients. “Oh, I don’t know, some people think it has summer savory in it,” they would say in a demure tone. “I’ve heard it might have yogurt in it.” Sometimes they would turn it into a question: “Sour cream?”
Like most people, I prefer getting a straight answer, even if the answer is “I’m not allowed to tell you,” so the Balaban’s cucumber bisque experience also included a faint annoyance factor. But, mmmmmm, cold cucumber soup, so for years I kept trying and trying to duplicate it. In the process, I made a great variety of cucumber soups. Then I just kind of stopped making them at all.
But then came this summer. Farmer’s markets full of cukes, but the kitchen so miserable. For several weeks, I’ve been trying to make a no-cook cucumber soup. Some tasty things have come out of that, but not any that are souplike. They are more like refreshing savory smoothies. Delicious, but to my mind not a soup.
Over the weekend, Terry was out of town, and I embarked on a stubborn frenzy of experiments. To get that souplike consistency, I had to give up on no cooking. After a couple of misses, one near-hit involving mint and dill, and one really ghastly disaster, I got to this: A suave, mild chilly mix of cucumber and avocado, garnished with crisp little chunks of radish.
This soup starts out hot, with a little cooking, on top of the stove, and then some cool-down time in the fridge, and then some zipping around in the food processor. Don’t omit the radish garnish – the cold crunchiness is an essential part of this recipe. The dusting of sumac, with its lemony freshness, is also indispensable.
If you have been canceling your barbecue get-togethers due to the weather, try this for company. It would be a nice little starter for four, followed by a simple fish and a leafy salad, or a good part of lunch for two, with a light sandwich.
Cold Cucumber Avocado Soup with Radish Garnish
Four starter servings (or two greedy ones)
1 cup chicken stock
10 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes
10 ounces cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into chunks (see Kitchen Notes)
Flesh of one ripe avocado
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (or use 1 cup of buttermilk or Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup radish cut into 1/2-inch rounds, then into quarters and halves
First, prepare the cucumber and radish, and put them in the refrigerator so they get nice and cold.
Peel the potato, rinse and dice it, and put it in a saucepan with the chicken stock. Cook until the potato is very soft. This will go faster if you cut the potato into small pieces. This ends the heating portion of your soup making.
Pour the potato and stock into a container and refrigerate until completely chilled.
To assemble, pour the potato and stock mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Add the lime juice, cucumber, avocado and the dairy products (give the buttermilk a good shake before measuring it). Add a dash of salt, then process until completely smooth, for at least 3 minutes.
If the soup seems too thick (too much like a dip, say), cautiously add a little icy water until the soup is the texture you prefer.
Ladle into chilled soup plates or bowls that complement the elegant pale green color. Then add the radish garnish and, finally, sprinkle a pinch of powdered sumac over each bowl and serve.
To peel or not to peel. If you use unwaxed cucumbers, you can leave about half the peel on, which will contribute to the pretty color.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Green Garlic Vichyssoise
Looking for something refreshing to cool off in this heat wave? We got exactly what you need. Shaped like a kiwi, but with a distinct deep purplish red hue and covered with pock marks where thorns used to reside, prickly pears or la tuna have always caught our eye as we cruised along the fruit section of the many multi-ethnic markets of Los Angeles.
For too long it was just a curious afterthought, that is, until we tasted our first prickly pear agua fresca, drink at a recent food event. "Agua fresca" is a refreshingly simple fruit drink popular throughout Mexico. You can find infinite varieties as there are fruit and even vegetables get into the act, too, such as a cool cucumber agua fresca.
We headed to our nearest Latin market to recreate this at home. You may find both red and green varieties. We noticed the red variety has a more floral fragrance, however both are delicious. Our favorite are the red ones. The taste is difficult to describe, sort of like pink bubble gum. Arising from the opuntia cactus, these fruit can be found growing wild throughout the southwest. They are often used in drinks, candies and jellies.
We’ve yet to experiment further with prickly pears because we use them all as drinks so quickly. If you’re not from the southwest, prickly pear syrups are available, albiet pricy. So if you’re living out in the West and have stopped and stared at these prickly pears in the Latin markets, stop staring and grab a pound or two and make this now!
Prickly Pear Agua Fresca
Prep 10 time: 10 minutes
2-3 prickly pears
6 cups water
1/4 cup of sugar
juice of 1 lime
Peel the prickly pears by slicing off about 1/4 from the top and bottom. Then cut a shallow slit through the rind and peel away. In a blender, add the prickly pear, water, sugar and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Strain seeds with a fine sieve. Adjust level of sweetness to taste or use any sugar alternatives as desired. Chill over ice and serve.
Related post on The Ravenous Couple:
While visiting my sister in Edmonton last week I had the pleasure of making a version of this salad. She is now the proud owner of one of my favorite cookbooks, "Whitewater Cooks At Home," by Shelley Adams. She wanted to try some recipes together and hadn’t had much of a chance to make anything out of it. This salad was a delightful surprise and one that will grace our table over and over. In fact we’re taking the leftovers with us for a healthy picnic on our way over to Tofino to go whale watching this weekend.
I’ve now made it two more times (in less than 10 days!), but I made some changes both times. Don’t get me wrong, the original recipe was delicious, but the salad dressing has a lot of oil and makes almost 2 cups of dressing! We used just over a 1/4 cup leaving us with a lot leftover. I decreased the oil and substituted this for that, and came up with a recipe that makes just enough dressing for the salad with none left over. I also added the veggies since it was basically just noodles.
I've got to have my veggies!
I love the crush of summer veggies all mixed in with the soba noodles. So satisfying. But who the heck cares if the food we eat is good for the body if it doesn’t taste very good?
You can try to force yourself to eat something you don’t enjoy for awhile but inevitably its not a long lasting solution.
Of course I would not be sharing it with you if I didn’t think it was delicious, so I hope you’ll give it a try. It makes a huge salad which is perfect for any summer barbeque or potluck.
Asian Soba Noodle Salad
Serves 4-6 people as a meal
1 package of buckwheat soba noodles (apprx. 320 grams)
2 green onions
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 inch segment of cucumber
4 cups chopped purple cabbage or cabbage of choice
2 cups grated carrot
1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts (cashews or almonds would be nice too)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Make the noodles according to the package directions. Rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside to drain completely. Finely slice the green onions and cilantro. Cut the cucumber in half and, using a spoon, remove the seeds and discard. Dice the seeded cucumber. In a large bowl add the noodles, onions, cilantro, cucumber, cabbage and carrots. Add the salad dressing and toss until the ingredients and dressing are well incorporated. Garnish with peanuts and sesame seeds.
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons Tamari sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 tablespoon honey
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated or finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon chili sauce or more to taste
Whisk the ingredients together until miso and honey have dissolved. Add to the Soba Noodle Salad.
Related post on Beyond The Peel: Asian Purple Cabbage Salad
This one of my summer favorites – a quick, colorful pasta that makes a great lunch or light supper. The only thing you cook is the pasta, so the kitchen doesn’t get too hot. It’s also another great example of just how versatile pasta can be once you think beyond red sauce.
In Italy, a no-cook pasta sauce like this is called a salsa cruda. The room temperature sauce slightly cools the cooked pasta, and the pasta slightly warms the sauce, making for a meal that feels less heavy than many pasta dishes. The shells catch bits of tuna and the other ingredients, delivering big taste with each bite.
There are so many wonderful flavors at play in this dish too – garlic, lemon, parsley, tuna, artichoke hearts … and my favorite, the briny tang of the capers. They combine for a fresh, bright meal that just tastes like summer. In fact, I’ve been known to make it as a winter lunch for that very reason.
A note about the tuna. For this dish, bring out the good stuff – quality tuna packed in olive oil. The olive oil becomes part of the sauce. I use a brand imported from Italy. As you can see in the photo, the quality of the flesh is far superior to the ground-up mush you often find in canned tuna. Spain also produces excellent olive oil-packed tuna, so whichever you can find locally will work.
Pasta Shells with Italian Tuna and Artichokes
For the salsa cruda:
2 6-ounce [168 g] cans imported Italian tuna in olive oil
1 6-ounce [168 g] jar artichoke hearts, drained, bigger pieces sliced in half lengthwise
1/4 cup [60 ml] capers, drained
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup [120 ml] chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves [see Kitchen Notes]
freshly ground black pepper to taste
12 ounces [340 kg] medium pasta shells [see Kitchen Notes]
Bring a large pot of water to boil to cook pasta. While water is coming to a boil, mix the salsa cruda ingredients in a large bowl, big enough to hold the pasta as well, once it’s cooked. Do not drain the tuna – add the olive oil it’s packed in to the bowl. Break up larger chunks of tuna into bite-sized pieces.
When water comes to boil, salt it generously, then cook pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta, add to salsa cruda and toss. As the hot pasta mixes with the salsa, the fragrances you’d been noticing as you worked with the ingredients will explode. Divide into four pasta bowls or plates and serve.
Parsley. This under-appreciated herb provides a perfect foil for some of the bigger tastes in this dish. Particularly the garlic, since parsley has long been touted as a natural breath freshener. But with summer gardens in full swing, feel free to substitute or add other herbs. Basil also works very well with this recipe.
Easy on the pasta. When you add the cooked pasta to the salsa cruda, start with about 2/3 of it and stir it in. Then judiciously add the rest, a little at a time. I generally end up adding almost all of the 12 ounces, but you don’t want the pasta to overwhelm the other ingredients. Pasta is cheap. When you mix looks about right, throw out any extra cooked pasta you have left.
Also, feel free to substitute pastas. I like the shells because they scoop up bits of the salsa ingredients. But farfalle or any other short pasta would do too. I wouldn’t use long pasta, though. This isn’t the kind of sauce that clings to noodles.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Six Cool Recipes for Summer
A few years back there was an explosion in the popularity of semi-wild springtime comestibles like morels, wild garlic, nettles and fiddlehead ferns, as if they had never existed before – and if you weren’t blogging about how amazing this annual foragable bounty was then you were either terribly gauche or just plain old-fashioned. To our credit, we did do our best to surf this trend and did at least one post featuring morels, even going so far as to dig up a clump of wild garlic we found growing in our local NYC park and transplant it in a pot on our balcony, but it never really caught on with us.
In truth this is probably because we live in Brooklyn where the closest things to wild are the noises coming out of the adjacent tenement building on a warm summer night, so that all these wild spring greens are only available from the farmer’s market, which somehow defeats the object.
Unknowingly, last fall, just like the previous year we planted regular garlic from the grocery store in our small weedy plot out back and thought nothing more of it. With the mild weather, it grew throughout the winter, maturing much earlier than we had expected, so that during early May we witnessed a peculiar phenomenon. Out of each of our plants sprouted a thin, fibrous tendril, like an elongated stick insect or a witches’ finger, that shot skyward for about a foot, seemingly overnight. Realizing that we no longer needed to choose between getting fleeced by gentlemen farmers from the Hudson Valley for a pound of chewy scapes or buying groceries for the week, we harvested and sauteed them as an accompaniment to a pan-fried fillet of sea bass and some creamy polenta.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of a garlic scape yet, they are (almost) worth the hype. They are like a garlicky green bean, with all the crunch of the whole bean and a delightfully mild yet pungent aroma of garlic. Most recipes call for making them into a pesto, which sounds perfectly good, too, but favors aroma over texture. Our recipe has both.
We have since harvested our fully grown garlic bulbs and only learned now that they are probably larger because we harvested the scapes which would otherwise have stolen vital plumpness and invested it into producing reproductive flowers. Happily, garlic is a peculiar, self-cloning creature that requires no pollination to reproduce, so all we need to do is save the largest of this year’s crop for planting in the fall and we should get even larger bulbs and more scapes next year.
Pan-Fried Sea Bass Fillet with Garlic Scapes and Sauce Gribiche
1 lb. sea bass, filleted, skin on
1 tablespoon flour or cornstarch
1/2 lb. garlic scapes, chopped into 4-6 inch lengths
2 tablespoons neutral oil for frying
For the sauce gribiche:
3 ounces cornichons, chopped finely
1 tablespoon capers, chopped finely
1/2 cup regular full-fat mayonnaise
2-3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped finely
2 smallish or 1 large hardboiled eggs, chopped finely
1/2 tablespoon of chives, chervil, and/or tarragon
a couple of squeezes of lemon juice or splashes of red wine vinegar to taste
1/2 shallot, finely minced
2 teaspoons smooth Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle sea bass fillet with salt and pepper and flour lightly (or cornstarch).
Heat oiled pan to medium high and cook fillets skin side down for 3 minutes, or until crispy and golden, flip gently and cook for another minute or so, until just cooked through.
Reserve fillets in a barely warm oven, and seasoning the garlic scapes with salt and pepper, saute in same pan/oil on a slightly lower heat, medium-ish, until wilted but still nice and crunchy.
Remove from pan and serve with sea bass and sauce gribiche (preparation below).
For the sauce gribiche:
Combine mustard, mayonnaise, olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice with a whisk.
Add to this chopped egg, parsley, shallot, fine herbs, capers and cornichons, and stir well.
Taste and correct seasoning. Serve with sea bass and garlic scapes, or as is common for this classic French sauce with asparagus, another springtime favorite.
Related post on We Are Never Full: Black Cod with Morels and Minty Pea Puree
I just got back from a mini vacation – I went to the 2012 World Pastry Championship in Las Vegas, N.V. It's been on my bucket list for over 10 years to watch the competition in person and I finally, finally was able to go. It's held every other year and when it's not the World Pastry Championship, it's the National Pastry Championship for the US teams.
But this year was the world competition and the teams competing were from Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Netherlands, China, and USA. This is the Olympics of the pastry world. And there certainly were some Olympian chefs there.
Check out the link so you can see what the competition is about – each team has 13 hours, spread over 2 days, to come up with a set of plated desserts to be judged on Day 1 then a sugar showpiece, a chocolate showpiece and petits gateaux for Day 2. And trust me, this is no easy feat. These chefs are amazing, every single one of them. I am no expert but during culinary school, I did enough sugar work and chocolate work to know how hard it is and the kind of skill you have to have to even make it to this competition. It takes years of experience and practice. Some teams practiced for the 13-hour competition with as many as 30 or more 13-hour practice runs of their own for a year and a half. Imagine that kind of dedication in addition to doing your day job.
Day 1 was mostly a lot of prep for Day 2 although they did complete the plated desserts in time for judging. It was fascinating to watch the chefs in action. No movements were wasted, it wasn't the flurry and drama you sometimes see on Food Network (ahem, "Chopped," "Cupcake Wars," etc); instead everything was streamlined efficiency. As soon as one task was done, they began another. They were also judged on how they worked and it was impressive to see sponge cakes being made (often the base for the plated desserts) swiftly, wrapped up, station cleaned, then pastry cream – make, wrap, put away, clean – then mousses and fillings. Each member of the team had their own jobs to do and they were focused.
There are various teams of judges and various elements of the competition being judged. Not just the finished products in terms of taste and appearance but also the way they did their work. The taste judging is done "blind" with each team getting assigned a number. The judges don't know which team's products they're judging and their backs are to the team kitchens when they sample the desserts.
Each team must produce:
- 1 sugar showpiece
- 1 chocolate showpiece
- 1 sugar/chocolate amenity presentation piece for displaying bonbons on buffet table
- 14 identical plated desserts
- 3 different types of chocolate bonbons
- 3 identical entremets
- 3 identical entremets glace
- 3 different types of petits gateaux
The highlight of the competition is always the showpieces at the end. Each team has to create one showpiece made of sugar and one of chocolate. This year's theme was astrology and it was interesting to see how each team interpreted that for their showpieces. There are very strict rules in terms of the type of shapes they can use and what equipment is permissible or not. They also must transport their showpieces from their stations to the display table. Many a heart has been broken when a showpiece shatters.
My pictures do not do these showpieces any justice. They're much more impressive in person. The lighting was poor in some places and it was difficult to get a clean shot of the displays with so many people around. You can't exactly ask a judge blocking the display table to step aside during their judging so you could take a good picture. Bear in mind, each showpiece is made out of entirely chocolate or entirely sugar, nothing else, rendering them even more incredible.
South Korea was heartbreaking because in transporting their chocolate showpiece, half of it fell off. They could only put the other half out for judging. Then shortly after the judging began, the sugar showpiece toppled.
As a spectator, I could only get close enough to the teams on the ends to really see what they were working on. Team Japan was on one end but they had a large contingent of supporters so it was hard to get really close. Team USA had the most supporters because of the competition's home-country location so it was also hard to squeeze in on that end but I got lucky a couple of times and managed to get up close.
I saw their sugar rooster "come to life" before my eyes and it was nothing short of amazing. On Day 1, I could see all the elements being put together but since I didn't know what they were building, it was hard to picture it. But once it did all come together, literally before my eyes, it was beyond mind-boggling that what you see above is all made out of sugar. Sugar, water and some food coloring. Astonishing. Hats off to all the chefs in the competition.
I didn't stay for the awards dinner and I'm still waiting for the website to be updated but I believe I heard Team USA won! Based on showpieces alone, I would've gone with either Team Japan or Team USA so I'm glad one of my top 2 favorites took the championship.
I don’t think a summer picnic would be the same without deviled (stuffed) eggs. At least, not in my family. Or any summer gathering for that matter. Stuffed eggs are a family tradition, and one of my mother’s favorites. But I imagine everyone has a favorite version – I personally can’t abide the typical version made with pickle relish. So I come up with variations that appeal to me, and hopefully everyone else.
This version combines two picnic favorites, stuffed eggs and pimento cheese. The creamy, rich yolks blended with cheese and pimentos bring both concepts to a new level. And to prove what a family favorite these have become, I’ll tell you a story.
I served these at a family birthday gathering, and my nephew walked in the house, spotted the eggs, made a beeline past all his family in the room, and immediately stuffed an egg in his mouth. He quickly realized this breech in etiquette and committed another by saying, mouth full, “Hi, Aunt P.C., can I have a stuffed egg?” In the end, he had several, and the eggs were judged by at least two present as the best stuffed eggs ever.
That’s what I call a good egg.
Pimento Cheese Stuffed Eggs
Makes 24 stuffed eggs
1 dozen eggs
2 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 (2-ounce) jar diced pimentos
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon paprika (plus more for decoration)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the eggs in a single layer in a large pot and cover with cold water by one inch. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. When the water is boiling, cook the eggs for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with water and ice. When the 8 minutes are up, use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to the ice water. Leave the eggs for at least 20 minutes, but up to 30.
As the eggs are cooling, grate the cheese on the fine holes of a box grater and leave to come to room temperature. Rinse and drain the pimentos and pat dry on paper towels.
When the eggs have cooled, roll them on the counter to crack the shells all over. Peel the eggs and rinse under cool water to remove any shell bits. Pat the eggs dry, then cut in halves and gently remove the yolks to a bowl. Set the whites on a tray to be stuffed.
Break the eggs up with a fork, then add the grated cheese and mayonnaise (save a little cheese to sprinkle over the tops). Mash together with the fork, then add the paprika, garlic powder and generous amounts of salt and black pepper to taste. Continue to mash the filling with the fork until smooth. Add the pimentos and stir to distribute them evenly throughout the filling.
Fill the egg white halves with the pimento cheese filling, distributing it evenly among the whites. Refrigerate the eggs for at least an hour, but up to 4, to firm the filling. You may cover them loosely with plastic wrap. Sprinkle with the reserved cheese and paprika.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Stuffed Eggs Béarnaise
I yearn for the simple life, a life with minimal clutter and limited complications. Just an uncluttered life focused on family, friends, and enjoying this beautiful world. But sometimes it seems practically impossible to achieve this state of uncomplicated living. We seem to accumulate stuff at twice the rate I can use it, gift it, donate it, or trash it.
Kids amass stuff no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Puzzles and action figures and 5 million tiny legos. And little plastic toys from happy meals and musical instruments and samurai castles. And cars and books and stuffed toys and train sets. And a toy kitchen, a toy workbench, and something called bonkazonks. And coloring books, sticker collections, broken crayons, and cowboy hats.
I’m also to blame for our accumulation of stuff. Because I need matching dishes and glasses. And I needed a sombrero for my Mexican fiesta (which will now live in the basement just in case I want to throw another fiesta). And we couldn’t possibly have had a lemonade stand without a proper lemonade dispenser. And my life wouldn’t be complete without those little metal nest candleholders and turquoise birdie candles. It all seemed so important at the time, but now it achieves nothing besides making me feel claustrophobic in my own home.
Our well-intentioned culture has a tendency to overcomplicate life to the point of chaos. I want to simplify. Let go of clutter. Live in an environment of minimalistic zen. Focus on what’s important. And so this is the summer of the purge! I’m moving from room to room and closet to closet to eliminate the clutter. We’ll hold a garage sale to sell what we can, then donate the rest. Goodbye handheld carpet cleaner I’ve never used. Goodbye racks and racks of DVDs we will probably never watch. Goodbye duplicate copies #2, #3, and #4 of "The Giving Tree." I love you, but we only need one of you. Goodbye all three "50 Shades of Grey" books. You weren’t worth the time it took to read you. May you live happily in someone else’s home.
My minimalistic impulses carry over into my feelings about food. I like simple fresh flavors, short ingredient lists, and uncomplicated preparation methods. I’m totally intrigued by the whole arena of molecular gastronomy … gelification, spherification, foamification and whatnot(ification). I want to eat that food and marvel over the cleverness of the chef. But my personal approach to food is much simpler. No fancy tools, no futuristic techniques … just a sharp knife, a few simple tools, and a good set of pots and pans. It’s really all you need.
A few nights ago, my husband and the boys pitched a tent in the backyard for a summer campout. They built a fire and we roasted marshmallows, which we layered with chocolate and graham crackers for a classic s’mores treat. The boys entertained us with campfire songs and spooky stories involving Mommy and Daddy getting eaten by a sasquatch. And then they snuggled up in the tent and slept the night away. It was an idealistic evening. It’s the simple things in life, isn’t it?
But a few days earlier in the week, the boys had a craving for s’mores. So I came up with these little individual s’mores pudding cups … for those nights when you don’t have a marshmallow roastin’ fire roaring in the backyard. Rich, homemade chocolate pudding gets layered with mini marshmallows and crumbled graham crackers. Nothing fancy, but what a crowd-pleaser! Simple pleasures.
Simple S’mores Pudding Cups
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini marshmallows
3 graham cracker sheets, crushed
Sprinkle about half of the graham cracker crumbs and half of the marshmallows onto the bottom of six individual serving bowls or glasses. Reserve the remaining crumbs and marshmallows.
In a saucepan, mix together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, and salt. Whisk in the milk, stirring until combined. Continue whisking over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes. Whisking constantly, continue cooking for another minute or two. Be careful to whisk into the corners and along the sides of the pan.
Remove from heat. Whisk in the chocolate chips and vanilla, stirring until fully melted. Carefully pour the hot pudding over the marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs. While the pudding is still hot, scatter the remaining marshmallows over the top and sprinkle with the remaining graham cracker crumbs.
Refrigerate until chilled.
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While visiting a friend in Colorado some weeks ago, I discovered that she has also been on a kale kick. She served this raw kale salad explaining that it was her latest obsession. Her husband reminded her not to overserve it to the point that she got too tired of it and abandon it forever. I am guilty of the same habit. I find myself over enthusiastic about certain flavors and I overdose on them.
After returning from Colorado a number of weeks ago, I consciously worked to limit my consumption of this salad to avoid the love-overconsume-overdose cycle. Now and then, I harvest all the fresh leaves from our kale garden and mix it with apple, almond and Pecorino cheese before drizzling it with lemon vinaigrette.
One of the admirable traits of a kale salad is its ability to last a day and not wilt. Be sure to massage the dressing into the leaves and let it sit for 15 minutes or more before eating. I’ve found that tenderizes the leaves. And, don’t be bashful about making a double recipe and eating the leftovers for lunch the next day.
Kale, Apple, Almond and Pecorino Salad
1 bunch curly kale
1/3 cup toasted, slivered or chopped almonds
1/2 cup Pecorino cheese cut in 1/4 inch squares
1 apple, sliced thin – pink lady, gala, or fuji
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 3 Tbsp)
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
Wash and dry kale leaves. Fold them in half and pull stem out removing it all the way up, even through the bottom part of the leaves where it is thick. Tear the leaves into bite sized pieces or chop the leaves crosswise in 1/2 inch ribbons. Place them in a bowl.
Toast almonds in a skillet over medium heat until light brown. Remove from heat and cool.
Cut cheese into 1/4 inch dice. Cut apple right before tossing in the dressing to avoid browning.
To make the dressing, whisk lemon with olive oil until combined. I like to shake them together in a jar. Add a pinch of salt and black ground pepper. Drizzle dressing on kale little by little, massaging into the the leaves with your hands. You may have more dressing than desired, depending on how much kale you have. When it is all coated, add the cheese, almonds and apples and toss together.
Let sit about 15 minutes before serving. It lasts in the refrigerator one day.
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