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Summer Wrap Up

So here we are, summer is fading slowly and autumn is on our doorstep.  I want to take a pause before the warm afternoons slip away and share a few pictures and recipes that remind me of the summer that passed by so quickly (don’t they all do that?).  Please excuse my laziness at not writing out recipes, most are posted here as links and if not, I will post in the future!

 

I had a lot of great adventures this summer.  There was all that much needed time at my family’s place in Maine.

 

There were several visits with Madeline Rose, my favorite new niece.

There was a celebration to honor the 2nd anniversary of our book club, The Fabulous Ladies.  We also marked members’ birthdays and tearfully say goodbye to some members leaving NYC.

There was my five year college reunion, where I enjoyed the company of great friends.

 

There was a second round of goodbyes to Heather, leaving this time for Uganda and the Peace Corps.

There were goodbyes to our dear Rochambeau community in order to say hello to our new place in BK.

 

And along the way, there was good food (of course).

I made chocolate chip zucchini cookies for a coworker and his wife who have a new baby.

 

I made a beautiful, refreshing bulgar wheat lentil salad with feta and delicious zucchini pancakes I made last summer, mmmm.

 

I made a really yummy zucchini dish I’ve made before, courtesy of 101cookbooks (zucchini, feta, onions, dill, nuts–so easy and good!).

I made this roasted heirloom tomato sauce.

How beautiful are these tomatoes?

I’ve said it before, but there is nothing that says summer to me like a gorgeous tomato, thick and full from the summer sun.  Make this recipe while you can still find local heirlooms, it is so so very much worth the time and effort.  Your kitchen will smell amazing and I guarantee you have never tasted anything quite like it.  Satisfaction guaranteed.

 

I also made iced tea with fresh mint and candied ginger.  You should try that–just stick whole stalks of mint right in there and you can find candied ginger with dried fruit.  It’s really tasty.

 

And finally, there was the galette I made for my mom’s birthday.  According to wikipedia, the term “galette” is used in French to refer to any kind of free flaky cake.   I’d made it last summer, but I was still nervous about the undertaking.  It’s not the most intricate dessert I’ve ever made, but it does involve a homemade crust.  I also wanted my mom to love it since it was one of her birthday gifts.  Luckily, it turned out wonderfully (and tasted quite good too).

It’s raspberries and peaches and nectarines.  It’s heavenly, I promise to post the recipe soon in case you want to experience it for yourself.

 

Well isn’t it fun to take a little trip back to the summer gone by?  Wrapping up here, I feel a twinge of sadness at the thought of the summer produce, the vacations, the hot sun on my face, the lightness of my being, of all of that slipping by.  But a something else that is just as lovely is here to fill summer’s void–autumn’s colors and crisp air and happy traditions.  I hope your summer was relaxing and filled you up with enough memories to keep you warm through the winter.

 

Fiery colors begin their yearly conquest of the hills, propelled by the autumn winds. 

Fall is the artist.

~Takayuki Ikkaku

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Hi there.  Deep breath.  Life moves quickly, sometimes too quickly to even think about sneaking away and sitting down to write.  But here I am, and boy do I have beautiful things to report.

The three things from the title of this post all happened and I want to tell you about them all, though not in that exact order.

The second big thing that happened as of late was that I had a birthday.  April 5. Sometimes it occurs to me that every single day is the birthday of some person, somewhere on this big old earth of ours.  How lovely is that?!  Think of how special and wonderful you feel on your big day–that is how someone is feeling right now.  Maybe I’m an eternal optimist, but if that thought doesn’t make the world seem a bit friendlier, then I don’t know what would.

It’s easy to bemoan the prospects of getting older, but as my mother always says, it sure beats the alternative.  After all, on the cusp of another birthday, we stand to be the recipients of the vastly simple joys of being in our bodies–the sight of springtime flowers, the pleasure of laughing deeply and loudly, the ability to fill our lungs with air and bellies with good food.  All of this if only we can bear the facts that the next year will undoubtedly bring us weeds in our gardens, some type of small or large heart break, a cold snow, a bad sun burn, and yes, the small pains of growing older.  It seems like a great deal to me, especially when it means another year to enjoy treats like these profiteroles.

So now the third thing that happened was that our family had a baby shower for my sister.  Take everything I said about the loveliness of a birthday and multiply it by one thousand.  That is the joy we already feel for this little one we have yet to meet.  My contribution to the party was facilitating a onesie decorating table.  This way my sister and her husband will see sweet messages when they are changing the baby.  Check ’em out, we have some talented loved ones!

And now the first thing that happened.  I made banana oatmeal chocolate chip muffins.  Boom!  Just like that, I was sitting at work and I started thinking about them.  Sometimes, I read a recipe and it stays with me in the back of my brain, slowly nudging at me trying to get my attention, like a hungry kitten paws at your leg.  But other times, it hits me like a ton of bricks, a food that I’m not sure how to make yet, a recipe I’ve never read but am sure exists somewhere out there, in the great expanse of cookbook land.

And so it was with these muffins.  I knew I had bananas at home–if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I’ve been loving baking with bananas lately–and I was in serious need of a muffin.  But I wanted one that was more wholesome than sickly sweet dessert.  I combined a few recipes I had, tweaking and tasting until, I got this….


dry ingredients:

2 c flour- 1 ¼  cup whole wheat pastry flour ¾ white flour
½ c oats  (old fashioned)
½ c sugar
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
½ c dark choc chips
wet ingredients:

6 tbsp butter, melted
3 mashed bananas
1 whole egg, 1 egg white
½ cup yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Note:  I think that 1/2 cup sugar was actually too much for my taste buds (although this amount is considerably less than your typical muffin) so if you want to reduce it, please do!  I think the chocolate chips add a lot of sweetness anyhow.  Also, by all means play around with the flour, I am trying to do less and less white but everyone’s taste buds are different.

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter muffin cups or use papers.  This yields about 18 muffins of a good size.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in large mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients and add to dry, stir until incorporated but don’t overmix.

Once everything is mixed up, fill muffin cups about 3/4 of the way full.  Bake about 25 minutes or until they are firm in the middle.  Cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy!

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Life is sort of weird right now.  I’ve been serving on a jury since last week.  My new routine is wake up, take the D train to the Yankee Stadium stop and report to the Bronx Supreme Court.  On Sunday, I’m running a half marathon.  My dreams have been filled with the worst case senarios.  I show up without my bib or without running shoes or worst of all with no idea why I am there.  My life could use a little normalcy right now, before I start thinking of “juror” as my new job title.  It’s times like these that baking therapy helps.

Recently, I stumbled across A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg’s memoir-cookbook that is just incredibly lovely.  Remember when I made some pancakes from it?  Mmmm I have to make those again soon.  Anyhow, the banana bread recipe in that book had been in my recipe queue for ages and was beginning to sulk and fret and beg that I make it.  This is the post on Molly’s Orangette blog that the recipe originally appears in.  I love Molly’s description of the bread, it is probably close to the description in her book but the recipe in the book is slightly different.

Well I am here to tell you, if you ever happen to find yourself let out of jury duty early on a rainy March day during which you were vexed by race anxiety daydreams, this bread will do the trick.  This bread was a miracle worker for my mood.  Ok, so it’s not bread.  It’s cake.  Let’s just lay that out there right now.  If you eat it for breakfast, as I definitely did, don’t try to kid yourself–you are eating cake for breakfast.  But I’ve made my peace with that, and so should you.

Here is Molly’s recipe, my substitutions are noted:

6 tbs unsalted butter, melted

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour ( I used 1 cup whole wheat plus 1 cup white flour)

3/4 cup granulated sugar (I used 1/2 cup sugar)

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips)

1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3 large bananas)

1/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt (all I had in the house was raspberry yogurt from my CSA, it worked great!)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with butter or cooking spray, and set aside.  Make sure to melt butter first (in the microwave) and then set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Add chocolate chips and crystallized ginger, mix to combine.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly then add the banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla.  Mix well.  Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and stir.  Molly stresses not to overmix….although the batter will be lumpy, you don’t want chunks of flour.  Pour batter into the pan you prepared and pop it in the oven.

Bake until the bread is golden and firm in the center.  This takes about 1 hour.  Cool the bread in the pan 5 minutes and on a wire rack until completely cooled off.  I ate it all before I had any to freeze, but Molly says it freezes very nicely as long as you cool it completely first.

Enjoy!

Oh, and a little jury duty humor to brighten your day, you’re welcome!

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How was your Thanksgiving?  Mine was great.  I saw a lot of family and I hung out and read and relaxed.  Oh and of course I cooked and baked (and ate, and ate).

 

 

What I love best about holidays  (and cooking, and life in general) are the quiet, simple moments that surround the chaos, the chatter, the movement.  I love the small things that frame the main event.  These are the times when I can look around, inhale, exhale, and savor.  I find that these small things we might overlook end up being the very memories we depend on later in times of trouble and stress.

Here is what I was grateful for throughout the holiday weekend (and continue to cherish everyday).

 

Cutting garlic into thin slices to brown up for green beans.

 

The moment right before my apple crostata went into the oven.  Acknowledging the hours and hours that stretched before me, charged with anticipation of the first taste.

 

 

 

 

Nothing is more beautiful than cooking in my mother’s kitchen, the kitchen that nourished me body and soul as I grew, the kitchen in which I learned to love food and lovely act of making it.

 

 

P.S. Are you interested in the apple crostata?  A Martha Stewart recipe of course!  Not as difficult as it may look, the crust has cheddar cheese in it which creates a divine contrast to the sweet apples.  Check it out, let me know what you think.

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Ok, so I know what you’re thinking—can cookies really be both “yummy” and “healthy”?  Yes!!  I’ve finally found the intersection of yum and health, a veritable venn diagram of baking if you will.

A few weeks ago we had a girls night and I wanted to make something that everyone could eat so I was searching for a gluten free recipe.  Oftentimes gluten free baking requires all sorts of special flours and somewhat hard to find (and typically expensive) ingredients.  Because gluten is a binding agent, when you go gluten free, you have to use all sorts of other things to get the baked good to stay intact. Sometimes homemade cookies and cakes that are gfree can fall apart and don’t have the familiar consistency one thinks of when dreaming about a baked good. 

But I am here to tell you that I’ve found a recipe that bucks this trend!  Of course these tasty treats come from 101cookbooks.com, my go to source for all things healthy and tasty.  I added a few of my own touches to Heidi’s recipe.  If you’d like to spice things up as I did, go ahead and add some mashed up apples (I had some overripe little guys on hand and they were begging to be used).  Also, I added in some nutmeg.  The recipe calls for coconut oil with a possible substitution of olive oil but I used the olive oil and it came out splendidly, so don’t worry about going out to get the coconut if you don’t have that. Also, I made my own almond meal by throwing some almonds in a chopper, it’s super easy.  As Heidi notes, the consistency of the raw cookies will be quite different than you are used to, but no worries, this is to be expected.  Just keep an eye on them and go for the smell test (if they smell done, they probably are!).  Here is Heidi’s recipe and my photos follow:

(Heidi’s) Nikki’s Healthy Cookies
You can use unsweetened carob, or grain sweetened chocolate chips, or do what I did and chop up 2/3 of a bar of Scharffen berger 70%. I sort-of shaved half the bar with a knife and then cut the rest into bigger chip-sized chunks. You can make your own almond meal by pulsing almonds in a food processor until it is the texture of sand – don’t go too far or you’ll end up with almond butter. And lastly, the coconut oil works beautifully here, just be sure to warm it a bit – enough that it is no longer solid, which makes it easier to incorporate into the bananas. If you have gluten allergies, seek out GF oats.

    3 large, ripe bananas, well mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 cup coconut oil, barely warm – so it isn’t solid (or alternately, olive oil)
    2 cups rolled oats
    2/3 cup almond meal
    1/3 cup coconut, finely shredded & unsweetened
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    6 – 7 ounces chocolate chips or dark chocolate bar chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, racks in the top third.

In a large bowl combine the bananas, vanilla extract, and coconut oil. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the oats, almond meal, shredded coconut, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks/chips.The dough is a bit looser than a standard cookie dough, don’t worry about it. Drop dollops of the dough, each about 2 teaspoons in size, an inch apart, onto a parchment (or Silpat) lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes. I baked these as long as possible without burning the bottoms and they were perfect – just shy of 15 minutes seems to be about right in my oven.

Makes about 3 dozen bite-sized cookies.

I hope you enjoy these yummy and tasty treats–as the holidays approach it’s nice to find sweets that don’t pack too much of a fatty punch.  Mmmmm healthy and tasty, who knew?!

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 “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” Dorothy Day

I may have mentioned in past posts that my friend and roommate Heather has been preparing to leave NYC for the Peace Corps in Latin America (with a stop in her hometown of San Francisco).   A week ago, she left the city, a place where she has lived for the last 8 years and the environment in which (in her own words) she has grown from a girl to a woman.  I feel so blessed to have had Heather as a roommate over the past two plus years.  She sure is a whirlwind of energy—a force of nature, as I like to say.  You know those people who are full of big dreams and wishes and idealism but never really seem to know how to set out to accomplish them?  Well my dear friend is definitely not one of them!  I’m excited for her to begin this new chapter and I can’t wait to see the adventures and excitement that await her.
My other roommate Danielle and I threw Heather a going away party for friends, but to say goodbye to our little Bronx community, we did something that felt special but not out of the ordinary.  A few days before she left, we hosted Heather’s last community dinner.  As we try to do almost every week, friends from our building and neighborhood gathered together to eat, drink, and talk.  We shared stories from work, commented on politics and issues in the neighborhood, talked about spouses and children and the babies we are waiting to meet (there is a bit of a baby boom in the building).  In short, we were present to each other for a few blissful hours.  A few things we did were a little bit out of the ordinary for community dinner though—we toasted Heather and she toasted us.  
It was very moving and I can’t think of a better way to formally close out Heather’s time at Rochambeau.
For the farewell dinner, we decided to make pizza.  Heather cannot eat gluten and she had some gluten free pizza mix lying around just begging to be made.  For those who can eat gluten, I made the with-gluten dough.  Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I have to say that this was the best dough recipe I’ve ever made!   I’m not the one who stretched it our baked it—we delegated tasks and I was assigned to putting the dough together.  So I can only take credit for finding the recipe and mixing up the ingredients, but this one is a winner that I will use over and over!
I found this recipe on 101cookbooks.com, my old standby site, but I was pleased to read that this is actually based off a recipe in The Breadbaker’s Apprentice, a book my mom got me almost a year ago!  So it comes from my favorite recipe website and a beloved book, all rolled into one!
The recipe via 101cookbooks (from Peter Reinhart’s book):

White Whole Wheat Pizza Dough Recipe

This is a very adapted version of Peter Reinhart’s dough using white whole wheat flour. There are a few corners that I’m in the habit of cutting with this dough, all reflected in the following recipe instructions.

4 1/2 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
a few tablespoons chopped herbs (optional)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. By hand stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed. Add the herbs. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl (to me it looks like a tornado). Add a touch of water or flour to reach the desired effect. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky.
Transfer the dough to a floured countertop. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces and mold each into a ball. Rub each ball with olive oil and slip into plastic sandwich bags. Refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to make pizza (anytime in the next few days), remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before making the pizza. Keep them covered so they don’t dry out.
At the same time place a baking stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (you can go hotter, but I like the results I get at 450). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.
Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and get ready to shape your pizza dough. Uncover or unwrap the dough balls and dust them with flour. Working one at a time, gently press a dough round into a disk wide enough that you can bring it up onto your knuckles to thin out – you should be able to pull each round out to 12-inches or so. If the dough is being fussy and keeps springing back, let it rest for another 15-20 minutes. Place the pulled-out dough on the prepared sheet pan, and jerk the pan to make sure the dough will move around on the cornmeal ball-bearings (you don’t want it to stick to the pan).
Add your toppings (less is more!) and slide the topped pizza onto the baking stone. Bake until the crust is crisp and nicely colored. Remove from the oven. I always finish with more freshly grate parmesan and a small drizzle of good quality extra-virgin olive oil.
Makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts.
And some pictures!

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From Sharon’s Kitchen

Hello!!  Summer is in full swing here in the Bronx and boy is it hot hot hot!  I was lucky enough to be traveling for work during the heat wave last week.  I spent some time in Chicago and since I was staying at a hotel, I got to enjoy the luxury of air conditioning!  I’m back in New York and it is slightly cooler than last week, but not by much.  When I was in O’Hare airport catching up with my Mom, she was telling me about some pesto bread she had made that weekend.  We both decided it would be great to have the recipe on the blog, so here she is–my first guest blogger!  Straight from Sharon’s kitchen:
A Taste of Summer
 
Nothing speaks “Summer”to me like the scent of basil.  Whether it’s pinching a leaf as I weed my herb garden and enjoying its strong scent lingering on my hands, or chopping cups of basil leaves with garlic cloves and olive oil to make homemade pesto, basil “fumes” wafting through my kitchen means summer truly has arrived.
 
Each year  a few basil plants find a home in the garden, but last year I realized you can never have too much basil!  Pesto takes A LOT of basil; and if you want some leaves to dry as well at the end of the growing season, it’s a good idea to plant at least a row.   I planted two rows this spring, and voila! I am happily overrun with basil.
 
What to do with all of this abundance?  I made pesto and froze it (after enjoying it on whole-grain crackers with thin slices of sharp cheddar).  Then I happened to rediscover a book on herbs my husband gave me for my 39th birthday (eeek – that was 20 years ago!), and found a recipe for pesto bread.
 
From start to finish, this baking project was a joy.  I love baking bread anyway, and combining the pleasure of kneading the yeasty dough with spreading the heady scented pesto, then shaping the loaves knowing there was a hidden surprise inside and smelling them as they baked was a lot of fun – just what summer is supposed to be!  And of course, slicing that first warm piece fresh from the oven – well, if you’re a bread baker you know what I mean… Here’s the recipe I followed for both pesto and bread.  Enjoy!  And I wish all of you a wonderful summer!
 
Pesto 
 
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
 
Puree the basil, parsley, oil, garlic and salt in a blender or processor.  Stir in the cheese.
 
Pesto Bread (2 loaves)
 
1 and 1/2 packages active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour
cornmeal for the baking sheet
 
 
 
Dissolve yeast in the warm water in a large bowl and add the salt and sugar.  Stir (I use a whisk).  Set aside for a few minutes until foamy.  Using a wooden spoon, beat in the flour one cup at a time (I found 6 cups to be plenty), until a smooth dough forms.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured board or counter and let it rest for a few minutes.  Knead until the dough is elastic.  Place in a lightly oiled bowl (I just scrape out the large bowl I already used and oil it), cover it with a towel and set in a warm place until doubled (about 1 and 1/2 hours).
 
Now turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, punch it down (that’s one of the fun parts!), and knead it again.  Divide the dough in half.  Pat out 2 rectangles, each about 10 by 12 inches, and spread a thin layer of PESTO over each, leaving about a 1-inch border all around.  Starting with the long side, slowly, roll each rectangle into a cylinder and shape into a loaf.  Let the loaves sit on the board to rise for another 5 minutes.
 
 
 
Sprinkle a baking sheet (I use a large pizza stone, which yields nice hollow loaves) with cornmeal and place the loaves on it.  Brush each loaf with cold water and place in a COLD oven.  Place a pan of boiling water (a cake pan will do) in the bottom of the oven and turn the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the loaves are browned and sound hollow when rapped on the bottom (my oven runs hot and the loaves were done in under 30 minutes, so be sure to check them before 35 minutes is up).  Place the bread on a rack to cool slightly, serve warm for the most intense flavor.  Try to have just one piece!
 
 
 
 
What do you think of my guest blogger?  I can’t wait to try this recipe…I guess I better get to my garden soon and pick some basil!
 

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