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Posts Tagged ‘simple’

Those Sugar Plums, the ones that dance in the head during the long winter slumber in the most familiar Christmas story that’s likely ever been written. How did I get to be this age, with a teenager and a husband, long gone away from treasured annual reads of that classic story each year, the retelling of Santa’s magical visit, and not have any clue what a real sugar plum entailed? I want to kick myself.

Because, I’ll tell you something, and this is no small truth. Had I known about these delightful, sweet and simple little treats prior to this past week, how easy they are to put together and how eager and surprised everyone looks when you pull out a container and say “These are Sugar Plums. Yes! THOSE Sugar Plums!” I’m telling you, it would be all I need and I’d have been cranking out these nutty fruit-filled, orange-scented orbs the moment the calendar page flipped over to the month of Christmas.


My hope now is that I don’t go so far into overkill that I never want to see a dried apricot again. The delight and flavor and simplicity of these might possibly have that effect on me. Good thing Christmas is just a few days away. It’s a bit embarrassing, really, to be so interested in food of all kinds, the history of it, the stories it can tell and not be aware of this confection. But that’s what we have friends for, isn’t it? To enlighten us? To share the wealth?

And little could be simpler than combining rough-chopped nuts and dried fruit in a food processor along with honey and orange juice and whirring it all into an utterly fragrant crush of flavor. Even the rolling of the mixture was contemplative, as the sun warmed my backside and Miles Davis kept me company with his sultry trumpet. A late afternoon of putting together a Christmas fiction and ballet classic that I know I will love for years to come left me feeling a lot more festive than I have been lately. With the addition of a fragrant tree, dragged through a snowy wood, and boxes filled with a lifetime of memories and nostalgia also added some much-needed holiday spirit to my life. If all I need to do that is a few packages of dried fruit and some bags of nuts, then holidays from now on could become much more simpler. One can only hope, anyway.

Sugar Plums

Recipe from Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu; Quirk Books, 2009    (and Susan)

2 cups almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
Unsweetened flaked coconut for rolling

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

2. Combine almonds, apricots, dates, cinnamon, and zest in a food processor and process into a finely ground mixture.

3. Add orange juice and honey, and combine until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.

4. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into 1-inch balls. Roll in coconut. Place on the baking sheet and chill for about 1 hour until firm.

KATE’S NOTES:
I used two cups equivalent of nuts, utilizing pistachios and pecans as well as almonds. It’s my holy trifecta of nutty favorites.  I might have used figs in place of dates, and on another go-round of this recipe, I probably will do just that along with dried cherries. The possibilities are endless for substitutions. Use raisins both black or gold, dried cranberries, currants, pineapple, mango. Other nuts like peanuts, walnuts, brazil nuts. Try it with lemon juice and zest for a different background of flavor.

I also added a teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the mix. Cinnamon and nutmeg are culinary best buds. They really get along so well together that it’s a shame to leave one out when the other is present.

I added a bit more honey and orange juice, as the amount in the recipe didn’t seem to be enough to make the mixture as sticky as it needed to hold together. Adjust it according to your taste preferences.

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{{{I’m doing my first guest post over at The LoveFeast Table today! Yeah!}}}

Apple Crisp is so Fall, so perfectly suited for the October-November loop, and so willing to apply anyone’s simple signature to it’s luscious ingredients that it has sort of gone beyond being a favorite dessert, becoming more like that old dear friend that never fails to bring sunshine to a dreary day.

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The smell of apples and cinnamon baking is a comfort that threads itself under your skin. It’s no surprise that the most popular of pies and scented candles are usually ‘Apple Pie’, long celebrated as All American and breathing remnants of home and Mom. Apple Crisp is simpler than pie, ready with a few turns of the peeler and knife, chunks of cold butter cut into crumbly flour and brown sugar to bake into a delicately scented crunch atop soft and juicy warm apples.

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The addition of crystallized ginger in this recipe is wonderful; a gentle hint of warmth and a touch of it’s sweetness made the crunchy topping extra flavorful. I’ve been making Apple Crisp since I was barely old enough to see over the top of our stove, and had to stand on a chair to be able to work the peeler, my Mom by my side watching to make sure I didn’t hack off a snippet of skin here and there. She showed me how to peel an apple whole, with a long dangling strip, and how to carefully carve out apple cores and slice them uniformly so they would bake evenly. Now I have a device that peels and cuts your apples all in the turn of a crank, making any kind of apple dish quick and easy. So when I was faced lately with a chilly night and an unidentifiable need in me to seek a little comfort, a good book and a warm plate of this crisp seemed to be in order. Just taking in the first thin whiffs of the aroma seeping from the oven took the edge off whatever empty spot had formed inside.  Apple Crisp was always a prominent item in our Fall kitchen, topped with cold ice cream releasing a thin river of creamy white over the still warm fruit. It’s a memory that tastes like home, if memories come with flavor which almost all of us know that they do. And maybe that night, I needed a memory to soothe me, the feeling of someone by my side watching over me. I know Mom would have loved this version as well.

I’m a nut for almonds – ha! pun intended- but there is little in terms of dessert items that I don’t think can be helped and favored by the addition of chopped almonds. For this recipe, I scattered chopped almonds over the apples in the pan before sprinkling on the topping, and also sifted the fine almond flour from the chopped pieces into the topping mixture to add even more flavor. To do so, just pour the chopped almonds into a wire sieve and shake it over whatever you wish.

Fabulous apple and almond flavor pours through every bite, whether topped with ice cream, whipped cream or yogurt……

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Or not……

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And yes, I did eat it for breakfast. Wouldn’t you?

Apple Crisp with Crystallized Ginger Topping
adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, via The Heavy Table

Kate’s Advice- Make the topping first. Your apples won’t turn brown that way.

Heat oven to 375°. Butter a 8″square baking dish, or equivalent and set aside.

For the topping:

3/4 c. AP flour
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. white sugar
2 T. crystallized ginger (I chopped mine fine- it would have been WAY chunky otherwise)
1/4 t. salt (omit if you use salted butter)
1/2 t. cinnamon
4 T. butter, cut into chunks

Mix all ingredients except butter in a bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it’s relatively chunky. Don’t mix it down to a fine sand. Chill until ready to use.

5 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 T. white sugar
1 T. AP flour

Toss apples with flour and sugar and place in baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the apples and bake for 30-40 minutes or until filling is bubbly and top is browned.

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For those with an Iron Chef mentality, the one that can open a fridge or pantry, see half a dozen different items and create a meal from them in a few blinks of an eye, giving them a workable name can often be a lesson in futility.

Take this amazing and delicious, light and airy breakfast I made for myself lately. It defied definability.

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You see, while it looks like scrambled eggs all fluffy and moist, it was comprised mostly of roasted acorn squash and baked potato, with eggs stirred into it to extend it’s nutritional value. Plus, the thought of just eating leftover spuds and squash for breakfast, without a protein or complimentary option, like crazy-delicious wild rice sausage, would have been unthinkable. I mean, yeah I’ve done it. It just hasn’t lasted me all that long, causing the ‘Second Breakfast’ syndrome to rear it’s ugly head.

But it has no name. It has defied all appointed options, like Scrambled Squash, or mundane offerings like Breakfast Scramble- this ain’t no Denny’s here- and yet ever since I made it, tasted it, loved it and then subsequently devoured it like I was starving, I have wanted more. Another shot at greatness to see if my one-time deal was more than some kind of fluke.

This is what I did. I had half a roasted acorn squash, all creamy moist and tender, and a baked potato in it’s wrinkly jacket and I placed them in a bowl and mashed them well with a fork. I stirred in two eggs that had also been blended well, then whisked the entire mass until it was smooth and fully homogenized. I poured it into a pan and crossed my fingers. Soon it was setting, thanks to the eggs, and I turned it gently. It started to act like a frittata, but with a loftier personality. It snubbed it’s nose at scrambled eggs, and ignored any attempt to be an omelet. It cooked up beautifully and smelled incredible, and when I finally scraped the finished product into a bowl with the cooked wild-rice sausage- have I mentioned how I LOVE this item? No? Oh my……L.O.V.E- and sprinkled a bit of salt and pepper over it, my first bite was rapturous and even a bit other worldly.

It tasted of potato, and it tasted of egg. It combined the best of both those ultra-favorite breakfast items into one big glorious dish, and yet as I sat enjoying it, savoring each bite and mentally patting myself on the back at my genius, I could not, for the life of me, decide what to christen it.

So fellow food lovers and bloggers, any ideas???

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The words ‘chili’ and ‘simple’ often aren’t used in the same sentence, and I’m sure chili purists would snort at a pot of smoky rich chili that’s ready in less than an hour, but while there can be a steadfast debate over what constitutes true chili- beans, no beans, the type of meat or none at all- chili is one of those subjective words that has as many meanings as there are cooks to pull it together.

I love a pot of chili that develops over time on my stove. The extra deep flavors, the rich tender chunks of beef and the warm smoky aroma that fills my house are one of the things I begin to crave as the daylight grows shorter each Fall. Be that as it may, I also love having something hearty, healthy and quick to pull together and offer to a gnawing stomach. Or a broken soul.

I found this quick chili recipe last year from an Eating Well magazine and it was an instant hit. It comes together so quickly that you might barely have time to bake a pan of cornbread before you are ready to indulge. You need canned beans and enough know-how to chop an onion; most anyone can manage that and yet it just begs for improvisation, for peppers or perhaps corn and some late season zucchini to add heft and health to an already stellar pot.

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Soup. Chili. Stew. Chowder. These words have been ringing in my head this past month as we’ve waved off summer and started our reacquaintance with Autumn. Last year I was happily enmeshed in soup-making and found all sorts of good ideas for a steaming pot. This one is a good -and quick-  option for soup season.

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Quick and Easy Three Bean Chili
Adapted by Kate

1 medium red pepper, cored and diced
1 medium poblano pepper, cored and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, cored and diced (for more heat, use serrano)
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz can great northern beans
1 15-oz can black beans
1 15-oz can pinto beans
2 15-oz or 1 28-oz can fire roasted tomatoes
3 T. chili powder
1 T. ground cumin
1-2 T. chipotle chili in adobo, if desired

Drain and rinse all canned beans, set aside. In a medium stockpot, cook onion and all the peppers in oil until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add in chili powder, cumin and garlic and cook about a minute, stirring continually. Add in tomato and all beans, and two quarts of water. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Simmer to develop flavors, about 15 minutes. Add in chipotle for more flavor and heat if you wish. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed.

Can be topped with diced avocado, cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime. Additional ingredients to add if desired: diced zucchini or frozen corn.

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Are you a one-track mind kind of person when it comes to your salad? Does it have to be green, with cukes, tomato, a hard crouton or two and some type of dressing or it can’t possibly be a salad?

If that’s the case, then you might want to skip this post.

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While I certainly have enjoyed my share of salads this summer, resplendent with leafy field greens, dark spinach leaves and all manner of vegetable toppings and extras, I serendipitously came across the be-all to end-all of salad options recently that has thoroughly taken my mind off the standard greens and placed it smack in the middle of Salad Experimentation Land just as the peak of summer produce has me reeling with endless possibilities.

Each of these salads took about 10 minutes to put together, if even that. And every one of them simply shouted with flavor.

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Lemony Garlic White Beans

1 15-oz can great northern or cannelini beans, rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, thin sliced
2 t. fresh thyme leaves
1 t. crushed red pepper
2-3 T. fresh basil leaves, chopped
Juice of one lemon, zest of half the lemon
1/2 c. grape tomato, halved (more if desired)
Olive oil, salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, combine beans, tomato, lemon zest and basil leaves. In a small skillet, warm olive oil slowly with thyme leaves and crushed pepper. When hot and leaves are sizzling slightly, add garlic slices and cook gently until lightly browned. Stir in lemon juice, then pour over beans and stir carefully to combine. Mash some of the beans slightly and season with salt and pepper. Add more oil if too dry. Chill for an hour or two, then stir before serving. Can be eaten alone, a topping for toasted bread or a filling for an omelet.

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Lime Infused Carrots
3-4 medium carrots, scrubbed, peeled and thinly sliced (or grated if you want)
juice and zest of one lime
3-4 T. olive oil
1/2 c. crushed pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Combine carrots, juice, zest and oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and stir in pepitas. Allow to chill before serving.

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Chipotle Corn and Pinto Beans
1 15-oz can pinto beans, rinsed well
3 ears of fresh sweet corn kernels
1 T. chipotle pepper with adobo (more if you like the heat)
1/2 sweet pepper, any color- minced
1 small shallot, minced
Zest and juice of one lime
1/2 c. cilantro, rough chopped
Olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and chill for about an hour. Taste before serving and adjust seasonings if needed.

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This is just a sampling of the 101 salad options I found. The best part of it all is that the suggestions are just baselines for your imagination. That carrot recipe was an off-shoot of the original listed, and the Chipotle Corn salad didn’t have either shallot or sweet pepper in it, but I had them on hand and knew they’d be excellent. The bottom line is simple; the recipes are perfect just the way they are. They’re so easy that cooking skills aren’t even seriously required, but if you’ve got the wherewithal to spark some alternatives, add something with extra pizazz or just take it in a whole new direction, then you could spend now until the coming of winter playing with this list. What are you waiting for? It’s already August!!

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It’s National Vichyssoise Day;  a chilly November day and we will be honoring cold soup.

Something just isn’t right about this picture. Like Ice Cream Sundae Day, it should be during one of those scorching months of summer where appreciating a cold food is actually a fun prospect, not one to make you shiver.

Vichyssoise- say Vee shee swaz, or Veesh eee swaz– sounds like one of those incredibly complicated dishes that require time and focus, but in truth, it’s a simple potato leek soup that is pureed smooth and served chilled. There is nothing hard about it, nor time consuming. And it’s delicious in either form- hot and chunky (which food snobs would argue that it’s NOT Vichyssoise in that regard but I couldn’t care less about that) or smooth, silky and ice cold.  Julia Child’s recipe was so simple that it didn’t even include chicken stock- it was just potato and leek simmered in water and seasoned with salt and pepper. You can’t get much simpler than that.

The origin of the soup is questionable in whether it’s genuinely French or an American creation. Both countries claim to be the first to produce the dish, but the credit is generally given to Louis Diat, a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City. He produced the soup based on a memory of his childhood where his mother and grandmother would make a potato leek soup and his older brother often poured milk into his bowl to cool it off. Diat thought the soup tasted wonderful and in the summer of 1917 he recreated it for the hotel patrons. Diat was French and his hometown in France was Montmarault, not far from the town of Vichy which became the moniker for his creation. The original menu at the Ritz was French, and the soup was named Creme Vichyssoise Glacee, then changed to Cream Vichyssoise Glacee. Other culinarian historians debate that the soup was first made by French chef Jules Gouffe and published in a French cookbook in 1859. Regardless of who can be credited with the invention, Vichyssoise has a reputation for high class finesse despite being little more than peasant food. Anthony Bourdain lists Vichyssoise as a catalyst for his lifelong passion with food; having been served the soup on a trans-atlantic voyage at the age of 9, he recalls falling in love with the “delightfully cool, tasty liquid.”

I really love potato leek soup, and the simplicity of the preparation. For added flavor, you can roast the potato and the leek until golden brown, then add them to simmering chicken stock. I love using Yukon Gold potato for this soup as it gives it such a gorgeous yellow tone, and eaten as a chunky version or blended smooth, it’s a perfect and soothing soup for a cold day as well as a delicious and light chilled soup in the midst of steaming July. The usual garnish is chives or parsley, and a tiny pat of butter in a hot bowl gives it a nice rich decadence. The milk or cream is entirely optional too; the soup is divine just plain. It’s one of those items where more is definitely not better.

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Mexican Quinoa with Pepitas and Cilantro
from The New Whole Grains Cookbook by Robin Asbell

1 1/2 c. water
1 c. quinoa
1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1 c. washed cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno chile
1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cumin
2 T. olive oil
1 t. lime juice
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 scallions, chopped

Bring water to a boil in 2-qt saucepan with tight fitting lid. In medium bowl, wash quinoa well, rinsing with warm water. Pour off most of the water and drain in a fine-mesh strainer. When the water boils, add the quinoa, bring to a boil and the reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. The water should be absorbed and small holes will have formed on the top. Let stand, covered for 5 minutes.

In a large skillet, dry-toast pumpkin seeds, shaking pan until they begin to pop. Remove from heat and place in food processor or blender. Add cilantro, garlic, jalapeno, salt, and cumin and process, scraping sides occasionally, until all ingredients are well minced. Gradually add in oil and lime juice and process until smooth. Stir into cilantro, mixing well. Can be served warm, or chilled.

KATE’S NOTES: I followed the recipe faithfully. The only thing I did different was to use roasted and salted pepitas (the seeds) as the store I went to did not carry raw ones. The flavor, at least in my opinion, was highly enhanced by the roasted seeds, which I toasted as per the recipe. You would need to cut back a little on the salt if using a salted seed. I also added lime zest to the sauce. You just can’t lose with that addition.

Roasted Vegetable Wrap
Cut one sweet potato/yam, one red pepper and two small zucchini into 2-inch strips. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and place on baking sheet. Roast in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes; stir and roast until tender.

Stir one cup of drained and rinsed black beans into Mexican Quinoa. Layer quinoa/beans and vegetables on a whole wheat or multi grain wrap and fold over. Cheese is optional, enjoyment is paramount.

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