Snacks

Cashew Date Bars

I’m not a huge fan of eating on the go. I like to spend time with my food, which should be fairly obvious by the mere existence of this blog. All too often, however, I find myself grabbing and going, eating on the run or at best, shoving something down in front of the computer screen. Not one to comporomise on quality and taste – at least when I can help it – I’ve found some solid solutions to my eating-on-the-go habit. Sullivan Street Bakery makes a terrific zucchini and gruyere flatbread, and luckily we live in a city where a great slice of pizza is never more than a few blocks away, especially if you know where to look.

For a healthier option, fruit stands are a dime a dozen in this city, and make great use of the loose change in your purse or pocket. For a little more change, and a super-packed boost of vitamins, you can grab a freshly made fruit or vegetable juice. I’m also a big fan of bars – Luna, Kashi, Kind, you name it – but I know that the laundry list of ingredients in most energy bars makes them look an awful lot like candy bars and makes me wonder how processed is too processed.

So last week I tried making my own bars, for a healthy, on-the-go snack based on one of my favorite brands: Lara Bars. Whatever the flavor, Lara Bars all have very few ingredients – and all ones I can pronounce. One of my favorites is their Cashew Cookie, which is simply dates and cashews. It seems like I’m running with a trend here on my two ingredient recipes, and after making these bars, I can confidently say that two is not too few; it’s just right.

Making the bars was simple: I combined one cup of dates with one cup of cashews and a tablespoon of water in a food processor, and pulsed until the mixture was chunky. I had to give the mixture a little stir to get things going again, and when I did so, I decided to remove about 1/4 of the mix and set it aside. I then pulsed what was left until smooth, and combined the two parts with my hands, rolling everything into a ball. Next I flattened out the mixture into a long rectangle, smoothing it on the top and on the sides with a knife. I molded this into a loaf pan – although any square or rectangular pan will do here – and put it in the refrigerator to cool. After about 30 minutes, I cut the cashew-date mix into bars, and kept them in the fridge until I was ready to eat. They tasted great and made me feel much better about eating breakfast or a snack on the go all week!

Anise at All Hours: Anise Biscotti

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trials with anise- how my taste for that licorice flavor has developed over the years and how I’ve been experimenting with this distinct flavor in my baking and cooking. Biscotti is a hallmark in anise’s repertoire, and since I like nothing better than dunking a biscotti into my coffee or tea (or wine), I decided to try my hand at this traditional, Italian cookie.

I used a recipe from the king of American Italian cooking – Mario Batali – and it was much easier than I had anticipated. The key to making this biscotti is baking the dough twice: once for 20 minutes in a log shape, and then, after letting it cool for about 40 and slicing the dough into cookies, baking it again for another 20. The word “biscotti” actually comes from the Latin word “biscotus,” which means “twice-cooked/baked.”

The cookies should last about two weeks in an airtight container, but, if you’re like me and find pretty much any occasion the right one for a little biscotti dunk (as a quick breakfast, as an afternoon pick-me-up, or as a nightcap) these cookies may not last so long.

For Mario Batali’s biscotti recipe, see here.

Homemade Granola

Homemade granola is one of those things that takes very little time and effort, but yields very worthwhile results. Making granola can be as simple as combining ingredients in a bowl, and then baking them on a baking sheet. The fun part comes when you get creative – or in my household, precise – with the ingredients you choose: any combination of oats, nuts, fruits, seeds, oils and sweeteners.

I started making granola because I was finding it very difficult to please a certain somebody with the granola I was buying at the store. It was either too sweet, too fruity, or contained too many ingredients. After disappointing Goldilocks too many times, I decided to try my hand at my own granola. It needed to have nuts (but not too many), only have a hint of sweetness, it could maybe have some dried fruit (but preferably not raisins) and seeds were ok, so long as they weren’t too small. And if I used cinnamon, it would have to be subtle, not overwhelming.

I ended up with a very quick, but very rewarding granola, made of rolled oats, chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, a hint of cinnamon, a larger pinch of ginger, dried cranberries, all tied together with honey. All it took was mixing all of ingredients, except for the cranberries, in a bowl, spreading the mixture out on a baking sheet, and baking it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. I like trying various combinations, but this simple one seems to please every time.

For my latest batch, I used extra ginger powder and molasses instead of honey, for a somewhat winter-seasonal granola. I also added a handful of pecans and extra sunflower seeds, which I roasted separately, coated in more ginger, so that those clusters would be particularly zingy, but so that the whole granola wouldn’t be overwhelmed with ginger. It’s going fast!

For the recipe and other granola variations
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Anise at All Hours: Fig Bars With Red Wine and Anise Seeds

As soon as I read this recipe in Food & Wine, I knew I had to try it. I love grown-up versions of childhood staples, and as I wrote in my last Anise post, I’ve recently discovered that my taste buds have grown up to like a little licorice flavor. So this adult fig newton recipe called my name.

I tried it one Saturday afternoon and was really pleased with the outcome. The boiled-down red wine and figs made a sweet and sophisticated syrup which, when processed, resulted in that familiar, fig-newton filling. The wine and the anise seeds brought new layers of flavor to the fig filling, initiating it into adulthood; it was, quite literally, bittersweet.

I’m definitely going to make these fig bars again. And onward with my adventures with anise! Stay tuned for another sweet treat (anise biscotti) and an anise-flavored cocktail.

For this fig bar recipe, see here.

Anise at All Hours: Blackberry Jam With Anise & Cloves

Do taste buds change as we get older? I can’t speak with any scientific authority, but from personal experience I can say that my taste for certain flavors has developed over the years, and my taste for other things have curbed. Whatever may be going on biologically, I imagine that isolating the biological forces from the societal ones (I’m sure I love coffee so much because I need to in order to function) would be tricky. In any case, over the years I’ve discovered a liking for things that I used to scrunch up my nose to. I discovered a love for olives, walnuts, plain yogurt and most recently, anise.

Anise is an herb with aromatic seed-like fruit, aniseseed, which tastes like licorice. It’s similar in flavor, but different than star anise. I was first introduced to anise when I went to India. I’d seen it in Indian restaurants – sitting in a dish to take on your way out after you had finished your meal – but I had never given it much thought, let alone tried it. When I was India, I was told it was good for digestion (something I heard a lot and came to love). I began taking a little bit, here and there, and the licorice flavor that I had always hated started to grow on me.

Years passed, and I never really sought out the flavor on my own. But last year, one of my friends got really into, and really good at, making jams, and she invited me over to make jam with her one afternoon. She had everything set up: we were making blackberry jam with star anise (yes, the star one, but still that licorice flavor), cloves and cinnamon. Jam really is the gift that keeps on giving. Granted, I’ve intentionally been savoring this delicious, homemade spread, but I still have some in my fridge after all this time. The anise flavor is subtle, and pairs really nicely with the tangy blackberries, the sugar and the spicy cloves and cinnamon. I love spreading it on lightly buttered toast. It makes breakfast taste special. And it inspired me to try anise at other times of the day. Stay tuned for an anise-flavored midday treat.

For the recipe and what to cook next
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A Pretty Pound Cake (Makes a Perfect Present)

The holidays are upon us, and with them, endless opportunities to make and share holiday goodies. One of my favorite holiday gifts is pound cake. Everybody makes cookies (and no wonder! They’re delicious and can be made in all shapes, sizes and varieties, and they travel well). Pound cake makes an equally transportable and tasty treat, and it’s so easy to make that you can make multiple batches with minimal stress.

Traditional pound cakes are made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs. I love a classic lemon pound cake, from a lemon-yogurt to lemon-buttermilk. Citrus flavoring of any kind – lemon, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, or all of the above – perks up what could otherwise be a somewhat dull dessert. And with citrus in season, the holidays are a perfect time to make a citrusy pound cake. Last year this Lemon-Glazed Citrus-Yogurt Pound Cake from Food and Wine was my go-to holiday gift.

Yesterday I tried a new variation, using oil instead of butter, for a different citrus-scented pound cake: Orange Cardamom Yogurt Cake from Five & Spice, a lovely food blog. This cake was no exception to the easy-to-make/hard-to-screw-up rule of pound cakes, which, again, makes them ideal holiday presents or cakes for entertaining. The distinct, cardamom flavor — unlike anything else — heightens the zesty orange essence of the cake for an unmistakably unique, seasonal treat (and have I mentioned enough how easy it is to make?). See here for this effortless but entirely rewarding recipe.

I love cardamom so much that I would probably have added one more teaspoon of the spice to the wet batter, before mixing it in with the dry ingredients.  Whether you keep the cardamom subtle or go for a heavily seasoned loaf, this recipe will definitely be a one-of-kind crowd pleaser for all holiday parties and gifts. For my next pound cake, I’ll probably use my bundt pan, which makes cakes look beautiful on a holiday table, and sliced up on a plate. A cinnamon swirl pound cakes sounds pretty holiday-versatile and tempting, but I may also go for a full-on eggnog cake. I may stop short, however, before trying the Mountain Dew variety (I am nonetheless intrigued!). Whatever I make next, it will ceratinly be hard to top this sweet and earthy, Orange Cardamom Yogurt Cake.

A Hurricane’s Caramel Corn

With Hurricane Sandy raging outside our windows last night and the Internet recently down, I, like many, thought it would be a good occasion to try out some recipes. I’ve never made caramel popcorn, and it turns out it’s really easy (which may or may not be a good thing, since I’ll now be tempted to make it at the drop of a hat). Crunchy, salty, caramel goodness to keep us company as we hunkered.

The destruction is massive, the “region crippled,” and it’s not over yet. It’s no time for making light of the situation. But when life gives you popcorn (with nowhere to go, and a long list of movies you’ve been meaning to watch), make caramel corn. I hope everyone is as safe and sound as they can be!

For the recipe and what to cook next
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Not Quite Christmas, But Close: Red & Green Peppers

If you ask for Christmas in New Mexico, nobody wil will think you’re asking for eggnog and presents. Everyone knows that “Christmas” means red and green chiles, together. Chiles and Pinto beans are New Mexico’s state vegetables, and green chiles – served roasted in the iconic green chile stew or in salsa, for example – are the real hallmark of the state. When your order Christmas, you’re asking for both green and red chiles, and once you’ve gone Christmas and realized you don’t have to choose between the smokey, hotter green chile or the more mild, pungent red, you will never go back to either-or.

The green and red peppers we got in our CSA last week aren’t quite chilis – these were mild, long green and red peppers – but I always think of year-round Christmas in New Mexico when I think about green and red peppers. I decided to fry the green peppers and serve them alongside a mustard aioli, and I roasted the red peppers for a roasted red pepper spread.

I coated the green peppers in salt before throwing them in a fry pan of hot oil. After frying them until slightly blackened, I removed them from the heat and sprinkled more salt on top. Once cool enough to eat, I dipped them in a lemony, mustard aioli. This appetizer also works well with Serrano Peppers.

For the roasted red pepper spread, I roasted the red peppers in the oven. You can char peppers over an open flame, but these peppers were so thin that I thought high heat (400 degrees) in the oven was the best route. After they had blacked, I carefully removed the skins and seeds, and threw them in a food processor. Mixed with a garlic glove, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and pine nuts, these roasted red peppers turned into a sweet and tangy spread that livened up sandwiches for a week and went really well with goat cheese and crackers. Merry-almost-Christmas.

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Farro Salad with Squash, Kale and Goat Cheese

Farro, a soft and nutty grain, is my new favorite fall ingredient. Somewhat high maintenance at first, farro can be difficult to find and requires a four to five hour bath before it’s to ready warm up. But once it’s soaked and simmered, farro is effortlessly appealing and has “comforting” written all over it. The subtly chewy, hearty texture is somewhere between wheat berries and pearled barley. It’s great on its own but also makes fabulous, substantial salads.

I’ve made this farro salad with squash, kale and goat cheese a few times already this fall, and each time I’m delighted with the outcome and pleasantly surprised at how well it keeps for left-overs. I’ve actually brought this dish to three, separate potlucks, and each time it’s been a real crowd-pleaser. It can be served warm or at room temperature, and goes well with a range of flavors, making it a perfect potluck offering.

After soaking and draining the grains, I cover the farro with about two to three inches of water, and let the water simmer on very low heat for about 60-75 minutes. Meanwhile, I’ll peel the squash and cube (or if I’m in a time-crunch, use pre-cut squash), and dice a medium onion. I mix the squash and onion together in a bowl with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, salt and pepper and throw on a baking sheet. The squash and onion cooks at 400 in the oven for about 30 minutes, and I make sure to push it around on the baking sheet every so often.

With the squash and onion mixture in the oven and the farro still on the stove, I’ll remove the stems from a bunch of kale, chop up the leaves, wash them and then blanch them for about one minute – just until the leaves turn bright green, so they’re tender but still retain some crunch. I’ve also been known to saute the kale with garlic in olive oil – and both methods turn out great. When the farro is soft but not too chewy, it’s as simple as mixing all the components together with roughly 3 tablespoons of walnut oil, more salt and pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons of fresh thyme. Adding chopped walnuts is optional (as is the walnut oil if allergies are a a concern). The final touch is crumbling a generous amount of goat cheese on top of the salad, and I never skimp on this, because it’s everyone’s favorite part. And there it is: an easy but unique, loveable fall salad.

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Hanging Onto Summer

Labor Day has come and gone. It is now September and summer is undeniably over. If you’re like me and you’re not ready to let go of long days, sandals and outdoor grilling; if you find yourself prematurely flipping through your summer photos and resisting putting your white pants away; and if you’re already nostalgic for salt, sand and sunshine, then you might find these summer recipes worth giving one last try, and you might like their variations, which will allow you to hang onto summer well into the winter.

Some Simple Summer Recipes
Corn Soup

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic; 1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons salt; 2 teaspoons cumin,
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup carrots, thinly sliced; 1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced (or jalapeno chiles)
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 1/2 cup water
8 ears shucked corn
1 roasted red pepper, peeled seeded and finely chopped
2 – 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

- cut corn kernels off ears of corn and set aside
- cut corn cubs in 3 pieces
- heat oil in heavy pot over moderately low heat and add garlic, stirring for a few minutes
- add onion, poblano chilies and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 4 minutes
- add cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes
- increase to moderate heat and add carrots and celery, and cook for about 5 minutes
- add 3/12 cups of stock, water and corn cobbs and bring to boil
- reduce heat and simmer, uncooked for about 15 minutes
- add all corn kernels EXCEPT 1 cup, which should be reserved for later
- allow soup to simmer, covered, until corn kernels are tender, about 15 minutes
- remove corn cobs and allow soup to cool
- when soup has cooled, puree the soup in batches in a blender until very smooth
- cook the 1 cup of reserved corn in a small saucepan of boiling water until tender – about 3 minutes
- drain and rins under cold water to stop from cooking further
- stir corn kernels into the soup
- add the chopped red pepper, cilantro and chipotle chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste
- can serve at room temperature or heat slightly if desired

 

Wheat Berry Salad

1 1/2 cups wheat berries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/4 cup red onion
1/4 cup scallion
3 tablespoons olive oil

- place wheat berries in a pot and submerge them in enough water to cover them by about 2 inches
- bring water to boil and let wheat berries cook until soft, for about 1 hour in uncovered pot
- drain and toss with dry ingredients, then oil and lemon juice

 
For more simple, summer recipes and winter substitutions
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Zucchini Bread

The first thing I learned to bake was zucchini bread. My mother has been making it since I can remember, and growing up, my sister and I would try to help when we could (mostly to lick the bowl, but sometimes to do some mixing too). The first time I made it on my own I was very careful to follow the recipe exactly, leveling each measuring cup and not straying a pinch from the instructions. It was probably the last time I was so precise!

Today, I have trouble following recipes closely, mostly because I like to improvise. My zucchini bread has definitely fallen suit, having seen some great – and not so great – variation over the years. I’ve finally landed a variation of the original that I like best. See below for the original Spiegel recipe with my simple, optional modifications for this semi-sweet, all-purpose bread that makes a great breakfast, side or dessert.

A few key ingredients in this bread make it what it is. The zucchini, of course, is the defining ingredient. Shredded, it brings moisture and a binding property to the flour, sugar and eggs. The less expected crushed pineapple is the magic ingredient, however, packing the already moist bread with bursts of sweet, juicy, chunks of fruit. I like to use some of the pineapple juice in place of some sugar and oil, and I compensate for the lost heft of those two ingredients by adding some non-fat plain yogurt. I also like to use two thirds whole wheat flour and one third white flour, for added texture. However this zucchini bread is made, the combination of zucchini, crushed pineapple, and spices – nutmeg and cinnamon to be specific –  is the heart of this comforting, summer recipe.

I’ve impressed a lot of friends over the years with my zucchini bread, and have even made friends over it, having tricked all of them into believing that I’m a half-way decent baker. This bread is almost fail-safe, however, and with the years of practice I’ve had baking it, I should hope it tastes as good as it does!

For the recipe and what to cook next
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Watermelon Salad

Watermelon salads are all the rage these days. The watermelon-tomato-feta combo became increasingly popular over the last few summers, and this summer it seems to be dawning every food magazine and menu around. And why not? Watermelon is uniquely refreshing and makes a great side to everything from hot dogs and burgers to grilled chicken or fish. With its distinct flavor, watermelon tastes unlike anything else and its juicy composition and light, subtly grainy texture is equally singular.

While I enjoy the popularized tomato and watermelon combination, it’s not my first choice. I appreciate the acidic quality of a tomato to balance out the sweetness of the watermelon, but if the tomato is too sweet it loses the effect. I prefer the crunch of a cucumber instead of the commonly used tomato.

Last night I made a Watermelon, Cucumber and Mint salad with a Yogurt-Feta dressing. I added a touch of diced red onion and was liberal with the mint leaves- they really enhance both the watermelon and the feta topping, and round out the overall refreshing essence of the dish. The yogurt-feta dressing provides a welcome tang with the sweet watermelon, heightened with a squeeze of lemon juice. See below for this quick easy and healthy recipe.

For the recipe and what to cook next…

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Artichoke Bruschetta

Eating out and ordering in are facts of life in New York City. The restaurants are too many and the hours between work and sleep and work again are too few to cook. And perhaps most importantly, our kitchens are just too small. Those of us who can’t give up cooking must cope with inches of counter space, miniature fridges, and cupboards that hold little more than a lone frying pan. We must become masters of improvisation and substitution: a pot makes a great mixing bowl, and a stepping stool an excellent cooling rack.

One of my favorite recipes that requires just one pan and a cutting board is Artichoke Bruschetta. Using only one receptacle and one surface, it’s doable in even the tiniest of kitchens, and all of the ingredients are available at almost any bodega in the city (let’s not get into the ordeal of grocery shopping in New York. Suffice it to say that your corner, or the next corner’s, bodega should carry everything you need for this recipe).

For the recipe and what to cook next…

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Mad Men Party: Deviled Eggs & Onion Dip

In honor of the two-hour premier of Mad Men tonight, some friends and I are doing what everyone else is doing: gathering for a Mad Men party, with cocktails and era-appropriate snacks. It’s just too much fun to pass up. I couldn’t resist this perfect opportunity to make one of my favorite appetizers: deviled eggs. I also made a caramelized onion dip, which I’ll serve with whole-wheat pita chips.

I’m excited to get to the party and see what else is in store; and mostly I’m excited to see what Don, Peggy, Joan, Pete, Betty, Roger and Sally are up to! If you need a Mad Men-inspired snack for tonight’s premier, these two appetizers are simple to make and totally retro-fabulous.

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Chickpeas

Happy New Year!

‘Tis now the season to eat healthily. It’s January 1, and tomorrow is Monday, January 2, so naturally I should start my annual resolution to eat healthier (mine and everyone else’s) tomorrow. This makes sense, I swear.


In preparation for Week 1 of healthy eating, I made a few healthy snacks to keep me satiated for the next few days at work and at home.

I used one of my favorite foods – Chickpeas – as my central ingredient. I love chickpeas. I eat them raw in salads, stir-fried with zucchini and feta, and I could eat hummus for three meals a day.

For a crunchy, spicy snack, I found a great recipe for Roasted Spiced Chickpeas from one of my new favorite magazines, Whole Living. For my favorite staple, I made a traditional Hummus to eat with Celery and Carrot Sticks.

Twenty minutes of prep for a week’s safety net, which will keep me from reaching for that bag of chips or bar of chocolate, on the first week of a “year of healthy eating…”

Happy 2012!

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Pumpkin Muffins

If I had to sum up Fall in a food, it would be a Pumpkin Muffin. For as long as I can remember, my family has been baking this easy and delicious treat every time the air starts to cool and the leaves start to turn.

It usually takes us a few months to get our fill, so we’re still making them around the holidays. By New Years, we’ve had just about enough of these muffins, so we tuck away the recipe until next fall (and replace it, of course, with a pile of other baked goods like the Famous Spiegel Orange Cake or the one and only Spiegel Zucchini Bread. Stay tuned for next season).

Slightly sweet, my family’s Pumpkin Muffins make a great breakfast, and go well at the beginning or end of hearty dinner.

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