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!

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!

Beware of Pine Nuts, All You Pesto Lovers!

Last Friday, while preparing a quick snack, I decided to break open a bag of Trader Joe’s Pine Nuts. I tossed a few into my palm and devoured them. Then a handful. Then another. They tasted great, I couldn’t get enough.

Fast forward two days to Sunday evening, when out of the blue, I developed a terribly bitter taste in my mouth, rendering all food unpalatable. Great for a dieting purposes I suppose, but food lover that I am, the situation was totally unacceptable. Not to mention entirely mysterious. Where could this have come from?

I waited a day or so before succumbing to a complete freak out. Fearing the worst after eating a lot of homemade jam over the weekend, I immediately suspected botulism. Luckily, “bitter taste in mouth” is NOT a symptom of that dreaded disease. But what I quickly discovered is that I do have a case of “pine mouth,” apparently a relatively new but increasingly common problem associated with the consumption of Asian pine nuts.

Pine Mouth is a huge bummer, though doesn’t seem to have a real health impact. It does cause that telltale bitter taste, especially when consuming sweeter foods. It takes a good 1-2 weeks to entirely disappear. And doesn’t make cooking much fun. I was ready to toss everything I made into the compost because I had no sense of how it really tasted.

The US Food and Drug Administration is researching the matter but in the meantime, the best way to avoid pine mouth is to steer clear of any pinenuts that come from China, Korea or Russia (as is typical for pine nuts sold at Trader Joe’s and Costco apparently). For reference, these tend to be more conical in shape, in contrast to the European pine nuts that are slender and elliptical – and most importantly, do not appear to be implicated in this problem.

For more information, see here:

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400911/Pine-Mouth-Syndrome-Leaving-a-Bitter-Taste.html

http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm247099.htm

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/pine-mouth-pine-nuts-leave-bitter-taste-lingers/story?id=11097222

Surviving Back to School Step 1: A Family Meal Calendar

While it has been great fun posting about my baking endeavors and lazy summer meals, reality struck with a vengeance right around last Monday! This happened to be the first day of third grade for Ava, as well as the last day of “lazy” camp mornings for us. Despite my best intentions for the opposite, I found myself totally unprepared, perhaps because I haven’t yet adjusted to having to function at full throttle in the middle of August. Which to most people outside of San Francisco is considered the height of summer.

By morning #3, it was apparent that our usual patterns we’re failing. The “what do you want for breakfast today?” under duress left us frantic (duress in this case equals having to be out the door by 7:40 at the latest to make it to school on time) . Lunch went great for a few days, then we became the recipients of the nearly full lunch bag and “hangry” late afternoon tantrums.

Given all of this, I came up with a new approach that will hopefully set us on the right track: a food calendar. In its simplest version, it looks like this:

The plan was to pick a consistent breakfast idea for every Monday, Tuesday, etc of each week, so that everyone was on board in terms of cooking and eating expectations.  And while we were busy planning breakfasts, why not plan lunches too? It also seemed like an excellent way to engage the kids in the food planning process so that when they complained (as they surely will) about having oatmeal on Tuesday, for example, we would be prepared to remind them – gently and with the utmost patience of course  –  that it was their choice in the first place. I expect that monthly revisions at the outset, but that will still be a great improvement over daily scrambling (and I don’t mean eggs).

Witness the completed plan. We are very proud.

A Perfect Package: Fish “En Papillote”

A dear friend made a blog request the other week for fish. Innocent enough, right? Yet I instantly felt paralyzed. For not one, but two reasons.

The first is easy: fish is definitely not my strong suit in the kitchen. I’ve been known to buy gorgeous fillets of salmon and halibut only to overcook/undercook/generally destroy said fish in myriad and creative ways. I did not have that magic touch, which turned out to be fine because the kids rarely clamored for a fish dinner. Until recently. But more on that in a minute.

The second reason for my hesitation is more challenging to explain. As a passionate environmentalist and public health advocate, I am acutely aware of the slow but steady destruction of our oceans, evidenced by the continuing decline of fish stocks among other factors. Couple this with the fact that many fish we eat, while so healthy and delicious, also happen to be seriously contaminated with industrial pollutants like mercury, led me to stop eating fish altogether in recent years. Lucky for us, several incredible environmental organizations have created handy guides that provide recommendations on how to make fish choices that are best for the oceans AND best for our health.

With the explanations out of the way, we’ll come back to kids clamoring for fish. Recently, Ava asked about a dinner I made years ago, one that she summarily rejected if memory serves me. It was halibut “en papillote,” and her excitement caused me to set my hesitation aside and give fish another try. We discovered in the process that everything IS better gift wrapped. These lovely little packages of perfectly steamed fish are now a favorite family meal. You can use any white, flaky fish you like (ideally, from a sustainable source). Add any combo of aromatics and vegetables you prefer and/or have on hand. Right now, we are into a caper-olive version with sliced onion and lemon. I can’t wait to try an Asian-inspired combo with sliced ginger/lemongrass/scallions/soy sauce/sesame oil.

Preparation

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Total time: 25-30 minutes

Serves 4

Preheat oven to 425°. Gently cut 1-1.5 pounds of fish fillets into four equal pieces. Tear off 4 sheets of parchment paper – about 12-14 inches long depending on size of fish. Arrange your toppings, which could include salt and pepper; oil (olive oil, sesame oil, walnut oil, whatever works for the flavor profile you are choosing); soy sauce; chili flakes; chopped herbs; lemon slices; onion/scallion/shallot slices; olives; capers; roasted red peppers; the list goes on and on!

Place fish in the center of parchment paper, in line with the shorter direction of the paper. Generously sprinkle fish with salt (or soy sauce) and pepper, and drizzle with oil of your choice. Add toppings to the fish – this is a great time to include your kids into the cooking experience. After all, when’s the last time they got to decorate dinner?

Bring parchment paper ends edge to edge, with the fish and toppings in the middle. Work your way down in small folds until the fish is snug underneath the paper. The outer edges will still be open at this point so fold each down into a triangle like you would wrapping paper, then work your way in toward the center. Those edges probably won’t stay folded perfectly but it will work. (As an aside, there are other, probably prettier ways to create the folded packet – I urge you to share them if you try any out!).

Folder packet, ready to bake

Transfer packets onto a baking sheet and place in the 425° oven for 15-20 minutes, depending on thickness. Serve alongside a whole grain, roasted potatoes and vegetables, a salad, anything works. Do be careful opening the packets – they are filled with steam so this part is NOT for little hands.

Baked and ready to serve

The final photo, ready to eat!

Quick and Easy Whole Grain Yogurt Pancakes

My husband and I are in a food preparation sharing rhythm these days that leaves me in charge of dinner most nights while he covers breakfast. Breakfast is not usually a fancy affair in our house, but we do favor doing a hot meal in the mornings, and tend to make something different each day of the week. Don’t ask me how we got into this “what do you want for breakfast today” mess because I often find myself envying friends who make the same dishes every morning and avoid the paralysis of choice, 4 and 8-year old style.But we are where we are.

The other detail to this fine tale is that my husband travels quite a bit, which means I am not home free in the breakfast department by any stretch. Yet in recent months, he’s been away less than usual. So when I found myself up at 7AM on a recent Monday morning facing two hungry kids, very little time to spare, and totally out of my routine, I knew something had to be done.

That something involved figuring out a simple pancake recipe that both girls would eat. You see, Talia is essentially on a self-imposed Atkins diet but doesn’t like eggs, so breakfast is generally a bit of a nightmare for us/her. And I’m not a huge fan of doughy pancakes, from a texture standpoint and because Ava generally has a better day with a protein-packed breakfast. All of this context, coupled with the general realization that we never have buttermilk in the house on a regular basis, inspired this recipe.Whole grains, yogurt, eggs, it’s a lovely combo in one lacey, golden package. Most importantly for busy families, you can set up the batter in no time the night before, and use it straight from the fridge to make super quick and delicious pancakes even on a weekday morning.

Try it out. Tell me what you think. And most of all, enjoy!

Preparation

Serves 4 (it doubles beautifully for more servings)

Heat 12″/large skillet or griddle on medium high heat. Preheat oven to 200° if you need to keep the finished pancakes warm.

In the meantime, gently combine in a bowl the following ingredients:

  1. 1/3 cup whole wheat flour (this is a good time to use a coarser whole wheat flour if you have any on hand)
  2. 1/3 cup fine cornmeal
  3. 1/4 tsp, kosher salt
  4. 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  5. 1 tsp. baking powder
  6. 2 tsp. sugar
  7. 1 cup plain yogurt (preferably full fat) or vanilla, maple, etc.
  8. 1 beaten egg
  9. 2 tbsp. melted butter
  10. orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla as desired, or not

Melt a bit of butter into pan (enough to cover the bottom but not so much that it pools). Ladle 1/4 cup or just less of batter per pancake. A 12″ pan should hold 4.

Flip when you see bubbles forming on top, when the edges are set and when the bottom is golden and lacy (you’ll need to peek to figure that out). These are fairly delicate pancakes on account of the low flour content so be gentle when you flip. I found using a slotted spatula to be an excellent tool for the task, if you happen to have one around. (Frankly, I could throw out all other spatulas and just use this one for all tasks, it’s that good).

Serve alongside an egg and/or with your favorite toppings. Our favorite these days is with yogurt and maple syrup on top.

Summer Squash Linguine with Cheese

We returned from a wonderful vacation a few days ago, and I’m finding myself very happy to be home and cooking again! Not that we didn’t have an amazing time exploring the various treasures of British Columbia but after a long stretch of restaurant meals, I crave the simplicity of home-cooked food. This post was set up the week, assuming there would be time to finalize it and share while away but as with so many things, you live and learn. Everything about my daily life – even this blog – felt very distant as we explored gorgeous Salt Spring Island and dabbled in city travel with two little ones (the former is far easier).

And now, onto important matters, like: zucchini candy. Yes, zucchini candy. This phrase was coined by yours truly last summer after years of frustration trying to get the girls to willingly eat summer squash. After all, it is a quintessential summer vegetable.  It not just withstands, but thrives, in the harsh conditions of our little backyard plot. It is surprisingly versatile. And it happens to show up in droves in the CSA box, which means I am often on point to come up with creative strategies for preparing it.

Of course zucchini muffins go down easy, but not so the savory options. I tried the soup approach (which is incredibly delicious and simple – will post on this later). No love. I tried the simple saute with mushrooms. Lukewarm. Then, I hit the magic bullet: we grew our own. Suddenly, there was real pride involved in harvesting, which then leads to a greater willingness to eat the spoils. The outcome of  a quick saute on high heat with garlic and olive oil became “zucchini candy”. We struck gold. As long as it was served as a side dish, it disappeared alongside smiling faces.

So this summer’s test was to see whether I could incorporate it into a main course with any success. Since I’ve been personally obsessed with linguine for the past few weeks (on account of a transcendent version with anchovies and spicy peppers I had at Locanda recently), I decided to give a simple summer pasta dish a try. To my total surprise, they went for it hook, line and sinker. It seems as though a new quick, simple and delicious dinner (or lunch) is born!

Preparation

Total time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4-6 or more  (easily scaled to the number of people you are serving)

  1. Working with a ratio of about 1-1 1/2 pounds of summer squash per 4 servings, cut squash in half, then slice into thin half circles. Thinly slice 4-5 garlic cloves. Chop a few handfuls of fresh sage if you have on hand (or parsley, oregano, tarragon, whatever you favor).
  2. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil for the linguine (or other pasta, per your preference) and cook according to package instructions or until al dente, remembering to generously salt the water before adding pasta. Be sure to reserve about a cup of cooked pasta water before draining the noodles.
  3. Warm a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and saute the squash over high heat, stirring often so it doesn’t stick or burn, about 10 minutes. It should be caramelized (brown) and soft, a darker in color and sweet to taste when ready. When you think the squash is almost ready, add the garlic slices and cook for a minute or so, until fragrant but not brown.  This would be a great time to add a dash or two of chile flakes (adding them later, upon serving works too).
  4. If you are using fresh herbs – besides sage – add them to the squash-garlic mixture in the last 5 minutes of cooking. If you are using sage, fry them in warm olive oil in a separate small pan and reserve as a garnish. This is totally optional.
  5. If your pan is large enough to hold the zucchini mix and all of the pasta, add the drained pasta and a bit of the cooking water to the pan. Toss to distribute the vegetables throughout the pasta. If you – like me – don’t have room to mix everything in one pan, create a saucier vegetable mix by adding about 1/2 cup (or more if dry) pasta water to the squash mix and cooking for a minute or two, making sure to scrape the delicious caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan.
  6. Drizzle lemon juice, to taste, on the pasta and serve with grated Parmesan cheese  (Asiago, Gruyere or another hard cheese would work great too) and a salad on the side. Don’t forget to sprinkle the fried sage on top if you made some.

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?

The Perfect Egg

Is everyone else struggling to get back into work mode after the long holiday weekend? Productivity is not in the cards for me this week, and this includes the kitchen.

It started on Friday. I envisioned having ample time to prepare various delicious and fresh meals throughout this weekend but this lovely intention turned into a reality of leftovers and simple grilled offerings at BBQs. Though I did have time to make a summery version of my whole grain vegetable salad,with wheatberries. snap peas, carrots and feta (its time to put up some more preserved lemons!).

This is all to say that this week seems like a perfect one to focus on basics. A primer on eggs came to mind immediately, on account of their being a beloved culinary staple in most households and their versatility in meals throughout the day. And because most kids love them (sadly, though, not mine).

I recall having several “A HA!” moments when I came across a simple how-to guide in Saveur Magazine years ago providing specific instructions on how to make the perfect egg in every way possible. Hard-boiled eggs have never been better at our house, and I’m proud to say that after dozens of failed attempts, I can now poach an egg in a pan the old-fashioned way (no special device needed).

So you can imagine how happy I was to discover that all of this great technique to comes to us in the form of video. Enjoy! And don’t forget to check out the Sustainable Ingredients page to learn more about how to decipher all of those confusing labels found on egg cartons these days.

Essential Egg Techniques (Saveur.com)

How to cook soft boiled eggs »

How to make fluffier omelets »

How to cook the perfect sunny-side up egg »

How to create delicious scrambled eggs »

A helpful trick for peeling hard boiled eggs »

The very best way to crack eggs »

Warmed Fresh Corn with Cilantro

I’m staring out my window at the pouring late June rain (an entirely bizarre weather pattern for San Francisco) and can’t believe that just two days ago I was enjoying this very summery side dish.

The girls and I had arrived home from warm and sunny Southern California on Sunday evening. The plane landed early, with what felt like plenty of time to whip up a quick dinner (due in large part to the well-stocked fridge my awesome husband left behind). We decided on cheese and mushroom pizza as the main course. One look at the bursting crisper drawers made me want to scrap veggies altogether, until the two beautiful ears of corn caught my eye.

Rather than boil or grill (no time for either), I decided to make a pared down version of a classic summer combo in our house, chopped zucchini, corn, onions and herbs. It was a lovely way to welcome our first summer 2011 corn.

As an aside, I heard an NPR interview over the weekend with star London chef Yotam Ottolenghi, speaking about his new vegetable-oriented cookbook “Plenty.” He totally won me over with his simple yet sophisticated approach to vegetables (not to mention his sexy voice!). Apparently, his secret to home cooking is the liberal use of herbs, which have the magic ability to make even the most humble foods shine. The cookbook is in the mail!

Preparation

Serves 4

With a sharp knife, cut kernels from two corn cobs. This is best done over a bowl since the corn tends to fly in every direction.

Finely chop several handfuls of cilantro (or another fresh herb of choice). You want to end up with 2-3 tablespoons of herbs.

Melt butter (to taste) over medium heat in a pan. Add corn, chopped cilantro, several pinches of salt and a few dashes of pepper to the mixture. Sauté for about 5 minutes, depending on how crunchy or soft you prefer the corn.