Posts from the Food Category

This past weekend, a few of my coworkers and I decided to drive out to a farm a little ways out of town for an autumnal treat: apple picking. Sadly, it’s the very end of the season, so pickings were slim (or rather, split and attacked by birds), but it was still a lovely outing. We were treated to stunning views of the countryside in an area where the mountains start to roll a bit and the weather was sunny and yet crisp.

We arrived at the farm in the late morning to a bustling scene of fall fun. A few children and a few more dogs joined in as we gathered our peck bags and headed up the hill. The best apples were at the very top of the hill, so we were able to kill two birds with one stone and take in the views as well. After a little time scouring the trees for apples that were ripe but not overripe, we adjourned to the bins of harvested apples at the ends of the rows of trees to fill out our bags. As I knew most of my apples would be used for baking, I erred on the side of taking a few of the greener apples from the trees. And Fiancé had joined us as well, making it easier to get some of the higher-up apples.

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In addition to gathering apples, we also bonded socially, which is something I’ve lacked with my new coworkers, even after being almost a year into my new job. We carried our apples back down the hill and paid for them, along with some cider. After that, we took ourselves to a nearby town for a sandwich lunch and dessert at an adorable bakery. And then home again to consider our spoils.

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Back home, I found myself tired and busy, so I had limited time to bake this weekend. But I found myself awake on Sunday morning with a desire for something baked and no desire to go out. So I had Fiancé grate some apples and set to work baking a batch of Apple Pecan Muffins.

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Now, I always grate the apples in my apple muffins because I don’t like biting into big chunks of cooked apple and I find it gives them a nice apple flavor and a moist texture. You can feel free to dice them if you like, though you may need to add a bit more liquid to make up for the juices that won’t release.

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I added pecans to my muffins, as well as more spices than just cinnamon. I have a love-hate relationship with cinnamon. Fiancé likes to quote The Hangover and call me a tiger whenever the subject of cinnamon comes up, which is cute, sort of. But I find that the oft-neglected other fall spices add an almost savory-spice to the mixture. It’s a rather old-fashioned flavor and brings to mind spiced mixtures from the Middle Ages, at least to me.

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Finally, if you can find the If You Care muffin liners, try them. They are the only muffin liners I’ve found that the muffins truly release from, no spraying needed. They’re probably easier to find at a hippie natural foods store, which happens to be where I do most of my shopping, but they’re so worth it if you hate having a quarter of your muffin stick to the paper.

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Apple Pecan Muffins
(makes 12 muffins)

Ingredients:

The Dry:

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking steel-cut oats
1/2 cup or so of pecans, chopped
1/3 cup of dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. of baking powder
2 tsp. of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. of ground ginger
1/2 tsp. of ground allspice
A pinch of salt

The Wet:

1/2 stick of salted butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup of fresh sweet apple cider
1-2 apples, grated (I used one large and one small)

The Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C) and line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Spray the liners if you are not confident they will not stick. Or use my favorite liners.
  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients, making sure to break up any clumps of brown sugar.
  3. In a large measuring cup or a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, 1/2 a cup of the cider, and the eggs. Really whisk it together to form an emulsion between the cider and butter.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, along with the grated apple, and mix gently. If the batter is a little dry, add the rest of the cider until it’s a good consistency. Make sure you moisten all the little pockets of flour.
  5. Spoon into the muffin papers. Your cups will be rather full. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until quite brown and springy. Cool as long as you can bear it in the pan and then eat, slathered in butter, preferably alongside a cup of tea or a mug of hot cider.

I still have a backlog of photo-editing and post-writing to deal with since I’ve been busy and stressed, so here’s another quick, unplanned post. Spring has definitely sprung in the city! Trees are fluffy and pink and white and yellow and purple. There are hyacinths and daffodils out on my walk from the train station to my office. And it’s even getting a bit warmer. So I thought I’d share some of the things that I’ve been particularly enjoying the last couple of weeks as we move into spring.

  1. Magnolia Oolong tea from Simple Loose Leaf: I’ve talked about this before, but this really is a lovely tea. It’s the same Jade Oolong I reviewed a while ago, but with a very light magnolia floral scent and flavor added. I love it as a daily cup when the weather is warm, but not hot, and the sights and scents of spring are everywhere. It’s very seasonally-appropriate and helps remind me that the rich, warming black teas of winter are no longer needed.
  2. Hada Labo UV Perfect Gel: Sunscreen, guys! Since it is now fully light for both my morning and evening walks to and from work, it’s the perfect time to mention my new favorite sunscreen. It’s Japanese and unfragranced and sinks in beautifully. It does leave a bit of shine initially, but I give it 20-30 minutes before applying makeup and it settles right down. It’s a lovely gel texture and I think the hydrating ingredients offset the alcohol that gives it its lovely texture and ability to absorb weightlessly into skin.
  3. Pink and coral lip products: I love a red lip. But lately, I’ve been reach for spring-y lip colors, which means pinks and corals. Coral has been tricky for me, as I’m not generally a fan of orange, but I’ve found some products to help ease me into the look. I’ve also been loving sheerer lip colors for the spring, as it’s a much fresher look. Plus, my lip color matches the azalea bush that’s already started sprouting buds: Coral Bells.
  4. Pink clothing: I own a lot of black and dark-colored clothing. It’s rather a go-to color for me. But the warm weather has me feeling light and youthful, and to me, this means pink and pastels. I wore a pink chiffon dress from Mod Cloth the other day to work and got so many compliments, I wore it again a couple weeks later!
  5. Veggie noodles: One of our most unexpected holiday gifts was a Veggetti from Boyfriend’s parents. I’d looked at spiralizers before, but never decided to actually buy one. So when we got this, it seemed like a neat way to try spiralized veggies without shelling out for an expensive machine. But who wants to eat a lot of raw veggies in the dead of winter? Plus, a lot of the good veggies for spiralizing aren’t available until spring. Well, the zucchini and cucumbers are here and I’ve started spiralizing. We had a spiralized cucumber salad with sushi on Saturday and spiralized zucchini and carrots as a base for grilled chicken yesterday after a heavy Easter lunch called for a light dinner. It’s a lovely way to eat raw veggies, especially now that the warmer weather has me craving fresher food.

What is everyone else loving for spring?

Lately, I’ve tried to take the advice of Lady Hirons and trim sweet things from my diet. Because I found myself reaching for sweet treats more often than not, I’ve decided that a three week fast from sweets was necessary to somewhat reset my cravings and remind me that I can, indeed, live without sugar.

Sadly, this coincided with the beginning of a new rehearsal cycle with a director who likes to schedule Saturday morning rehearsals and loves to have breakfast treats to keep us motivated. I generally like to bake for my acting colleagues, so I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t bring a batch of soft, sweet cream scones with cream and jam. But then I thought, well treats don’t have to be sweet, and I could easily bake scones without sugar. But they might be rather bland. So I thought back to my old Nigella Lawson recipe for onion pie with cheese scone dough and decided to make a batch of cheese scones.

These are really a simple batch of scones, without even any egg to give them more structure. I recommend you use a nice, sharp cheese, as the sharper the cheese, the stronger the cheese flavor will be. I eat them without any accompaniment, though I imagine a tart jam might be nice.

Cheese Scones

2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 stick of cold butter, cubed
4 oz. shredded cheese
2 cups cold milk

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder, and then cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the cheese. Add the milk, a little at a time, until a soft dough forms. Pat the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/2″ thick, and then fold three times, like a letter, and again in half. Pat this out again and cut out your scones. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until quite brown. Makes about 8 scones.

And, no, it’s not alcoholic. While I’m no stranger to the shot of whisky that helps cure a cold, this is something far more restorative. As I mentioned before, I’ve just recently recovered from a somewhat grueling illness that started with a bit of a sore throat, looked like it was becoming a cold, and then turned into the worst sore throat I’ve had in years. It went from the early-cold dull ache to the ragged, razor-y feeling every time I even thought about swallowing. Sadly, the doctor could not find evidence of strep throat (which would have meant antibiotics and a relatively quick recovery), so I was left to my own devices.

Now, lemon and honey and vinegar and echinacea have their places in my arsenal of illness fighters, and they all came into play. Cayenne, oddly, became my throat-soother of choice, as a spicy-sweet brew of raw honey, vinegar, and cayenne in water, gargled often, left my throat feeling much better.

But by far my favorite remedy was good old fashioned broth, or rather garlic broth. I found a company that makes traditionally-simmered bone broths and sells them vacuum packed in pouches in the freezer section at my store. I prefer the chicken broth. I defrost and simmer one cup of broth. While that simmers, I peel and finely grate one fat clove of garlic (or two smaller ones) into a mug. When the broth is hot, I pour it over the garlic. It’s not exactly raw garlic, but it still retains some of the heat and bite of raw garlic. I sip this and feel my throat feel almost instantly soothed. It’s also nourishing and restorative, particularly at a time when one finds oneself unable to eat much of anything solid. The broth contains protein and makes a welcome break from sweetened teas. And there is some evidence that chicken broth may actually have some true use against the common cold.

Whatever the science, I know this will become a go-to remedy, and even though I’ve started feeling better, I will probably continue my morning mug of broth throughout the winter.

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Although the weather has been cooling, I have still had a taste for ice cream. Lately, I’ve been having ice cream sodas. I remember when I was a girl, my mother bought me my first ice cream soda, made with soda water, syrup, and ice cream, at a local old-fashioned ice cream parlour. It was coffee flavored and delicious.

Since then, floats and sodas have been one of my favorite things to do with ice cream. The soda brings a lightness to the drink that makes it easier to drink than a heavy milkshake, and doesn’t hold the problem of ice cream against one’s teeth that arises when one eats an ice cream cone or a bowl of ice cream. Plus the ice cream just lasts so much longer. I’m seriously considering buying a soda siphon to be able to make ice cream sodas whenever I want.

To make a soda, you can simply add a scoop of ice cream to a flavored soda, as in a root beer float, but I like to mix flavored syrup into plain soda water and add a scoop of ice cream at the end. The stainless steel straw has the double benefit of serving as a stirring rod. I add chocolate syrup to the bottom of the glass, as though I were making a chocolate milk, and then add a splash of soda water to get the syrup thinned out a bit. I mix in the soda little by little so it doesn’t froth out of the glass, leaving about two inches of headroom so I don’t make a mess when I drop in the scoop of ice cream. Topping with whipped cream is optional, but pretty.

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Fall has officially fallen and the weather is starting to reflect it. While we’ve had our fair share of beautiful sunny days this week, the mornings have a chill to them and it cools off more quickly in the evenings. So it’s time for autumn dinners to come out. I perused the bounty of winter squash at the market recently and decided to choose two variegated, acorn-shaped darlings.

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Now, acorn squash, with its deep ridges, is a right pain to peel and dice like one might a butternut squash or a pumpkin. So I don’t generally bother. When I have an acorn-shaped squash in my life, I stuff it. Some chopped aromatics, something to bulk it up, maybe a bit of green veg and some mushrooms, and then a topping of lots of cheese. It’s totally versatile, using grains or no grains, meat or no meat. The cheese on top could be substituted with any nicely-melting vegan cheeze. If you use a grain to bulk it, you can use a bit of cooked quinoa to keep it gluten-free. Or eliminate the grain altogether and add some ground meat or chopped sausage, as I did here. You don’t need much. I found a lonely Andouille sausage in the fridge that needed to be used up, so I included it in my topping instead of using oats or quinoa.

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Anyway, I hope you enjoy this recipe and consider adding it to your autumn cooking rotation!

Sausage, Kale, and Mushroom Stuffed Winter Squash

Ingredients:

1 large or two small acorn squash or acorn-shaped squash

1/2 a medium onion, diced

1 Andouille sausage (about 3 oz.) diced

8-10 crimini mushrooms, chopped

2-3 leaves of kale, chopped

salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste

oil, butter, or bacon grease, for cooking

about 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar or jack cheese

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment. Prepare your squash by either chopping in half along the equator and trimming the bottom of each half to sit flat, or by chopping the top 1/2-1″ off two smaller squashes and trimming their bottoms to sit flat. Scoop out the seeds. Turn them cavity-side-down and roast for about a half an hour, or until tender when poked with a fork.

Chop the squash scraps and saute them with the onion over medium heat in a bit of oil or fat until they are tender and the onions start to go translucent. Add the diced sausage and allow to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook everything together until the mushrooms are cooked. Then, add the kale and turn off the heat, allowing the kale to wilt in the hot pan. Stir everything together.

Remove the squash from the oven and turn cavity-side-up. Fill each squash cavity with the sausage mixture, patting it into the cavity and mounding it up a bit. Top with shredded cheese. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and slightly browned. You can turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown them, if you like. Makes two servings.

This is not perhaps a summery post. This is perhaps a recipe I will revisit when the weather chills a bit and a drizzle of rain greys the sky, rather than the sudden, violent storms of late spring and summer. But for now, it served well as a light supper on a day with a late, hearty lunch. I based it on a cleansing recipe from the blog Deliciously Ella, but made it my own with some simple tweaks.
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Rather than focusing on detox or cleansing, I focused on the vibrant flavors in the fresh veggies. I added a leek to enrich the flavor, as I love the taste of leeks, and I augmented the water with some rich beef broth, despite the fact that this would no longer be considered vegetarian. But you are certainly welcome to keep this soup vegetarian. I imagine it would be delicious if you used the rich leftover liquid from soaking dried wild mushrooms.
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Green Leek Soup
(adapted from here)

1 bunch of broccoli, washed and broken into florets
1 leek, sliced and washed
1/2 bunch of kale, washed and torn
1 can of canellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 handful of parsley, washed
2-1/2 cups of liquid (water, broth, etc.)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for sauteing
2-3 tsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Heat some olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the leek and saute until it starts to soften, add the broccoli and a splash of water. Cover and steam for a few minutes, until the broccoli turns bright green and begins to become tender. Add the kale and wilt. Turn off the heat. In a blender, puree the beans, parsley, and 1/3 of the broth. Pour out into a large pot. Then, puree, half the vegetables with 1/3 of the liquid and add to the pot. Finally, puree the remaining vegetables with the remaining liquid, plus the garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add to the pot. Bring to a simmer, taste and adjust seasoning. Turn off the heat and add lemon juice to brighten the flavor. Serves three, with crackers or bread for dipping.

I used to be that kid who ate anything and everything and never gained an ounce. Then, in college and grad school, I discovered long-distance running. So I’ve always been skinny. But since turning 30 and moving away from as much running and spending more time sitting at work, I’ve found that I’m starting to round out a bit. So lately, I’ve been trying to eat a bit healthier to lose some weight.

I discovered William Banting’s “Letter on Corpulence” through a low-carb blog I used to read. I have since determined that low-carb is not the diet for me, but actually reading Banting’s writing, I realized that his diet is not really low-carb, as it is lower-carb. He doesn’t eliminate carbohydrate-rich foods from his diet, but instead tries to de-emphasize them and eat more protein and vegetables. And eat less sugar. That’s something I can get behind.

So I’ve been “banting” the last couple of weeks, focusing on lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, some fruit, and some whole grains. Then, this weekend, for Memorial Day, I visited a friend of mine whose lost a truly stunning amount of weight recently, through exercise, calorie-counting, and just general commitment to healthier eating. We had a most un-traditional meal of fresh vegetable salads and a couple white wine spritzers, followed by a vigorous 45-minute walk outside in the sunshine. We returned to a lovely dessert of vanilla ice cream, strawberry compote made with strawberries from her garden, and a little crumbled up cookie on top. It was a fantastic and light meal that left me feeling good.

So this week, I’m re-invigorating my efforts to focus my diet on healthy foods, whole grains, enough protein, and plenty of vegetables and fresh-raw fruits. It’s certainly the season for it, with impulse-bought produce. Not to say that I’ve been perfect. Like Banting, I have a certain weakness for bread and butter, but I’ve only indulged once or twice. And I’ve tried to add some more activity to my day, mostly walking. I’m already starting to notice a difference in how I feel.

I’m now on my fourth day off as we nestle in among the snow. Our Valentine’s Day was pleasant, if somewhat uneventful. Most of the weekend was spent keeping warm, which is generally fun when you have someone else and a whole lot of blankets.

I had the presence of mind to put together a batch of frozen scones on Friday evening so I popped two of those out in the morning and baked them. I brought them up with some coffee for Boyfriend and a pot of rose Earl Grey for me. It seemed appropriate to the occasion. Thoroughly fed, we considered the day. I gave Boyfriend his gift, a new board game, and he told me mine would be on the way. And we decided to go out for a brunch a bit later.

We decided to go to our favorite brunch spot, which serves chicken and waffles in a quaint, European-cafe-style atmosphere. I had a lavender soda and we shared some appetizers before getting two plates of chicken and waffles. It was way too much food, but we boxed it up, along with an order of macarons. That left me a nice snack for tea time and us some leftovers for dinner. From there, we settled in for a cold, snowy evening together.

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Sunday was a day of high winds. We decided not to venture out, beyond a quick trip for groceries, so I made a roast chicken for dinner. I seasoned it with a blend of salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and paprika, and surrounded it with a bed of root vegetables, which roasted and soaked up all the delicious juices. Served with a bit of steamed kale, it was a perfect healthy dinner on a cold, windy night.

IMG_0193Monday was to be another holiday, so I enjoyed my relaxation and looked forward to my long weekend. Little did I know how long it might be!

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, which means roses, lots of roses. While I love the look and scent of roses, I’ve never been one to insist on a bouquet for any occasion. In fact, the impact on the Earth from the conventional growing of flowers has always mildly horrified me, so I’m content to have rose-scented beauty and rose-printed fabrics, and even rose-shaped earrings, but I don’t generally get a Valentine’s bouquet. We shall see if Boyfriend makes me a liar tomorrow.

But because I love roses, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a rose-themed post today. At the store last weekend, I eyed a bottle of elderflower-rose sparkling lemonade. It was lightly pink, with an elegant handmade label, and a decadent price tag, for a non-alcoholic beverage. It was just so lovely and tempting and I almost bought it. Until I thought better and decided there was no reason to buy rose soda when I had sugar and rosewater and lemon juice at home. I needed only a bottle of sparkling water, which was much more reasonably priced.

I chilled my bottle of sparkling water and then set about making my soda syrup. I decided on lime and rosewater. I mixed sugar and water to make a rich simple syrup, and then added rosewater and lime juice to taste. Be cautious, however, as tasting hot sugar syrup is a tricky and dangerous business! When I was finished, I had just over a half a cup of delicately scented syrup that I drizzled into a tall glass of iced sparkling water. While it lacked the rose hue, it was fragrant, sweet, and the perfect end to my day. And it would be a perfect accompaniment to a romantic brunch or picnic, should your weather be nicer than mine promises to be.

I can forsee this syrup having future iterations. I would like to make it again without the lime juice in order to sweeten lemonade, perhaps made with syrup, lemon juice, and sparkling water. And a sprig of lavender or thyme would go nicely with all the other flavors.

Rose-Lime Syrup

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2-4 Tbsp. rose water (food-grade, please!)
2 Tbsp. lime juice

Mix the sugar and water and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the rosewater, starting with 2 tablespoons and continuing to your taste, and add the lime juice. Stir. Add by the tablespoon to a tall glass of sparkling water to your desired sweetness. Makes 4-6 fluid ounces of syrup. Store in a jar or bottle in the refrigerator for a couple weeks.