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Pumpkin Apple Pancakes

Now I know what to do with leftover pumpkin puree after my annual Thanksgiving baking sprees. This super quick, delicious and of course healthy pumpkin recipe was inspired by a post in Sunset Magazine. The initial results were good, but we couldn’t help but adapt the recipe to make it turn out as delicious as their photo.I happened to have cooked apples on hand the first time I made this, which was even more appealing.

This is a perfect post-Thanksgiving  breakfast option, and would work great on a weekday morning since it is a one-bowl process.

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Low-Sugar Apricot Jam: Taking PB+J To Another Level

I caught the canning bug a few years ago and have completely fallen in love with homemade jam. Sure, artisanal options abound these days, but they are quite pricey for such small jars. Its so worth making your own, if for no other reason than to have complete control over fruit, flavor, and sugar content (I am a big fan of low-sugar jams). Your kids will appreciate how especially delicious their peanut butter sandwiches will taste, and that morning toast ritual will be worth lingering over for a few extra minutes. Canning also gives you another great reason to go to the farmers’ market and get to know your local producers. Quality fruit is always more affordable in bulk, so buy a flat or two, save some for the fruit bowl and can the rest.

Stash those jam jars in the cupboard and you’ll have the pleasure of tasting a bit of summer in the dead of winter. Use jam in obvious ways but also explore. Who knew jam and blue cheese worked so well together? Of course, these also make great (holiday) gifts.

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Weekend Special: Lemony Ricotta Pancakes

As I may have mentioned in the past, I am not a huge fan of traditional American pancakes. Which means I’m always trying to play with different versions that please my palette and that of the kiddos, who do love a good pancake in their weekend breakfast routine. Since I often order the Marion’s Pancake at Chow (on those weekends when breakfast is best eaten out of the house), I decided to see about making a homemade version. What resulted is this recipe, which yields delicious, light, lemony, not too sweet pancakes that go perfectly with any fruit or maple syrup of course. If you have Meyer lemons on hand, they add an even more interesting flavor. But plain old Eurekas work great too.

You’ll appreciate how quick these are to whip up, despite the special step of beating egg whites (hint: get the kids to make them!). They are also chock full of protein which makes the morning meal more effective at keeping mid-morning hunger at bay. I like mine small and stacked but you could do like Chow, and go for the large full plate version too.

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Quick Tip of the Week: Sweet Potato Fries Discovery

I accidentally bought a couple of Japanese sweet potatoes last week, along with the usual garnet yams, with sweet potato fries in mind. You know the Japanese ones – they are light yellow on the inside, darker purple on the outside and most commonly found breaded with tempura alongside sushi.

Of course I threw them into the mix, assuming it couldn’t hurt. It didn’t. In fact, I discovered that Japanese sweet potatoes are perfect for this preparation. Because of their higher starch content, they hold up better than regular sweet potatoes/yams (this reminds me to again research the difference between the two) and have a stronger resemblance to thick-cut french fries. They are also a bit less sweet, which I prefer.

Give it a try! General directions for sweet potato fries are found here. Once they are tossed in olive/peanut/safflower/grapeseed oil, salt and pepper, a quick 15-20 roast minute roast in a 425° oven is all it takes. End result? Happy, goofy kids:

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Salted Caramels: Happy Valentine’s Day!

My crafty and creative older daughter started her class Valentine’s project early this year, knowing even without my prompting that burnout can set in quickly once the novelty of fancy paper, glitter and flashy pens wears off. In addition to the lovely cards, she also settled on the lofty goal of making homemade candy.

Salted caramels seemed easiest to tackle though I have to admit I was skeptical, given previous experience that resulted in a lovely sauce instead of a cute candy. Using a different recipe, she made her first attempt last week. Unfortunately, that turned into teeth-cracking toffee.

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Coconut Macaroons (Dipped in Chocolate)

I’ve gotten in a habit of keeping unsweetened coconut flakes around as a pantry staple. It’s perfect for elevating simple cut-up fruit to “dessert” status, for spiking banana bread batter, sprinkling on yogurt and granola, you get the point. But its most important use is as a main ingredient in these delectable macaroons. I promise that even without taking it all the way to chocolate-dipped (which we almost never do), you won’t be able to put these down. Even my non-coconut loving friends can attest to how awesome these are!

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Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookie Update

I must have made an accidental error the first time I made these cookies (I suspect a reduction in the amount of flour) because I’ve never been able to replicate in later attempts the chewy, gooey cookies with delicate crispy edges from that day. Instead, the original recipe left us with something akin to tasty biscuits. Passable, certainly, but delicious? Not in my book.

When I saw Ava and Jonah pulling out the mixer today in preparation for another cookie-making session, I decided it was time to tinker. I created a new recipe making fewer cookies (the earlier version created on overwhelming amount of batter but you can of course double this one) and resulting in the crispy/chewy combo we love.

You can find the amended recipe on the original post.

Let me know what you think!

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Balsamic-Roasted Figs with Fresh Goat Cheese

Fruit is simply stunning this time of year, and in Northern California we are particularly blessed in this regard. But the fleeting and dramatic appearance of figs always captures my attention. This year, it was Talia who happened to spot the baskets of of dark purple mission figs at the market and requested a sample. One bite and she was sold. An unexpected and quite pleasant surprise.

On the way home, I had the brilliant idea of resurrecting our old dinner party favorite that lost its status around the time we became parents and stopped throwing adult dinner parties. Fast forward eight years, and it turns out that balsamic vinegar and goat cheese are still beloved in our house. I thought the girls would enjoy trying both on top of roasted figs, which make for an excellent appetizer, compliment to meat, or dessert.

Turns out, the challenge with figs is that like most fruit, their texture transforms upon baking. The softer, melty version was not appealing. The girls preferred raw. Oh, well. In my infinite maturity, I say is was worth a try – plus, that leaves more for me!

Preparation

One basket of figs serves about 3-4. Extras are always appreciated since they disappear quickly.

Preheat oven (or toaster oven if an option) to 425°.

Wash and dry a basket or two of mission figs. Remove stems and slice the fruit in half, lengthwise. Line fog halves on a  baking sheet. Place teaspoon-sized dollops of fresh goat cheese (chevre) on top of fig halves, then generously drizzle with balsamic vinegar.


Bake for about 15 minutes, or until balsamic becomes syrup. Transfer to plates and serve. Or perhaps you’ll eat them right off the pan!

We'll miss you, Dan and Matt!

Almond cake, where have you been all my life?

Several months ago, while at the grocery store buying cupcake sprinkles for Talia’s birthday, I spied the Odense almond paste in the baking section. For no particular reason, the pull was strong. We can home with a package of course, and promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward a couple of months, and let me present you with my latest baking discovery: almond cake! Moist and flavorful, pleasing for adults AND kids alike, it makes for the perfect dessert, not to mention morning coffee routine accomplice. My favorite part, aside from flavor of course? How very easy it is to make. There is virtually no prep involved, aside from making sure you remember to leave eggs and butter out on the counter to bring them to room temperature (quick fix: place cold eggs in hot water for a few minutes). This is also an excellent baking project to do with kids. The batter is fairly failproof, and older children could easily pull it off without adult supervision provided they are comfortable following basic directions and cracking eggs.

So pull out your food processors if you have them and bake one for your next summer BBQ. Or “winter” feast, if you live in San Francisco. And don’t forget to let me know what you think.

Preparation

Adapted from davidlebovitz.com

Prep time: 10 minutes;

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Ingredients

  1. 7 oz almond paste, cut into pieces
  2. 1 1/3 cup sugar
  3. ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  4. 8-10 oz butter*, at room temperature, cubed
  5. ¾ cup white flour
  6. 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  7. ¾ teaspoon salt
  8. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  9. 1 teaspoon almond extract
  10. 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  11. zest of one orange

* You can vary the butter content depending on your texture preference. Less butter makes for a slightly denser cake, more butter creates a richer version. Either works beautifully.

Preheat oven to 325º. Prepare a 9-10 inch in diameter, 2 inch deep cake pan** or springform pan by generously coating the interior with butter, dusting it with flour (excess flour should be shaken out) and lining the bottom with parchment paper (trim to the proper size). Yes, this seems like a bit of a pain, but you’ll thank me when you realize how much easier it is to remove the cake from the pan.

Cake pan, lined, dusted and ready to go!

Using a food processor (ideally) or a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, add the sugar, almond paste and the 1/4 cup of whole flour. Grind until the almond paste is completely broken up and the mix reaches a sandy texture.

Almond paste

Add the butter pieces to the almond-sugar mix, along with the vanilla and almond extracts. Process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy.

In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients: the remaining 3/4 cup flour, baking powder and salt.

Add eggs, one at a time, to the batter. Process each egg until it is just incorporated into the batter. After the last egg is added, zest one orange into the batter.

Finally, add the dry ingredients to the batter, processing half way through. The goal is to just incorporate the dry ingredients, but not overmix. Pour batter into pan and bake for 60-65 minutes, making sure it is brown on top when done.

Using a knife, loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and cool in the pan. Turn upside and tap to release it from the pan. Don’t forget to remove the parchment paper before serving!

We'll miss you, Dan and Matt!

** This recipe is calibrated for a 9 or 10-inch pan that is at least 2 inches deep. Do measure – I had four cake pans in my house, all which apparently meant for layer cakes and therefore 1.5 inches deep. The smaller pan means you run the risk of the batter running over. I now own a new cake pan – did I mention I love this cake?

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Birthday Request: Spaghetti and Meatballs

It all seemed very reasonable. Spaghetti and meatballs for a Tuesday night birthday dinner.  One hour is all it takes to whip up the tastiest version of this dish and yet this hour was not to be had on May 31st when Talia turned 4. Facing a choice between a birthday meltdown over the cancellation of expected plans, or alternatively, serving dinner an hour late to a “hangry” preschooler, I opted for the latter. The risk was well worth it! Meatballs couldn’t be served fast enough. Spaghetti was slithering all over the table, the floor, the shirt, on its way to the mouth. But the entire affair was sufficiently celebratory despite the inauspicious start to the afternoon.

Preparation

Adapted from Chez Panisse Café Cookbook

Serves 6

Cooking time: 1 hour

(The sauce with cooked meatballs freezes nicely – double the recipe and have some on hand for a quick evening meal).

1. Take 1/4 cup of milk and add 1/4 cup of soft bread crumbs (I used half a slice of whole wheat bread and run it quickly through a small food processor) and mix gently. Soak until bread has softened, the drain through fine sieve, squeezing out most of the milk.

2. Sauteé 1 finely diced small yellow onion in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes, in large pan (which you will also use to cook meatballs). Season with a bit of salt and set aside to cool.

3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine: 1 pound of fresh ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese,1 beaten egg, 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley, 1 tsp finely chopped thyme, 1/8 tsp cayenne (the mild heat from the cayenne won’t be an issue for kids but adds great flavor), black pepper to taste, and 1 tsp salt (use a bit more if working with kosher salt).

4. Sauteé 1 thinly sliced red onion in large pan until soft, about 5 minutes.

5. Boil water for spaghetti. Don’t forget to add a generous helping of salt to water once it comes to a boil.

4. Mix ingredients gently but thoroughly until beef reaches an even consistency. Shape mixture into walnut sized balls with wet hands – this is a great kid task! If cooking meatballs immediately, add to pan with onions over medium heat. The uncooked meatballs can also be placed on a plate or baking sheet and refrigerated for a few hours before cooking.

5. Add spaghetti to boiling, salted water. It is should cook in 8-10 minutes, about the time it takes for the meatballs to finish cooking.

6. Cook meatballs with the red onion, over medium heat, shaking the pan to prevent sticking. Gently turn and toss the onions and meatballs so they brown slightly. Add 2-3 cloves chopped garlic and cook for a few seconds, making sure it doesn’t burn.

7. Add 2 cups simple tomato sauce (look for one in a glass jar with few ingredients – tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, basil perhaps), 1/2 tsp fresh (1 tsp dried) chopped oregano, 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley to sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

8. Simmer gently, uncovered, occasionally stirring the meatballs to coat them with sauce. Check for doneness in about 8-10 minutes.

Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and hot chili flakes if desired (and don’t forget the birthday cake!).