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Posts from the ‘snacks’ Category

fruit and nut scones

There’s nothing like handing out Halloween candy to kids in your old neighborhood to make you feel like a grown-up. Home alone with a giant bowl of Kit Kats and a half-buffered stream of my favorite sitcom, it seemed I’d skipped my twenties and landed squarely in old age. So I threw in the towel and made scones.

And, to be honest, indulged in a little food philosophizing. I mentioned the idea of “good food” in my last post, and it turns out that’s a bit of a topic at the moment (at least if you are, as I am, a shameless slave to New York Times op-eds). But while food can taste good, it can’t be good. Food isn’t moral in that way, because then we’d be expecting it to fill hungers it can’t.

The truth is, you can’t grow a great tomato in a hothouse. The truth is also that genetically modified crops feed farmers and their families who would otherwise starve when ordinary seeds wither in droughts that worsen every year. But when we talk about what food can give us beyond mere nutrition (which is important – we’d die without it) we’re really talking about ritual. Yes, I love walking into my parent’s garden and eating warm figs straight off the tree every morning in summer. But I also loved Thursday nights at JJ’s Place and their suspiciously frothy fro-yo. I loved bottles of Lagunitas IPA on the farm, and driving with my college boyfriend’s mom to Chick-fil-A. I love my family’s flaming Christmas pudding every year on Christmas Eve, and a pot of Five Roses every three hours with my dad when we’re both working from home. It pains me to say it, but I might even be looking forward to gingerbread lattes.

It’s the ritual that gives meaning to the food, not the food that somehow gives us meaning. That’s why we eat those awful frosted, lettered cakes at birthdays and graduations, and that’s why we take communion.  Food tastes wonderful and keeps us alive, but whether you’re a maize farmer in Tanzania or a silly food philosophizer like me, it’s the ritual associated with food that truly makes it meaningful.

Fruit and Nut Scones

I adapted the recipe for these scones and always encourage substitutions – I love almonds and dried apricots in everything from sweets to curries, but feel free to use whatever trail mix mix-ins your pantry offers.

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup oat flour (or all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

pinch salt

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/4 cups rolled oats

1 stick of butter

3/4 cups roasted almonds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/3 cup Greek yogurt

1/3 cup milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place raisins and apricots in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 5-10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brown sugar and oats. Cut butter into small pieces and rub into dry ingredients with your fingers (trust me – this step is key for that delicious flakiness). Stir in dried fruit, almonds and sunflower seeds, then add yogurt. Add the milk a little bit at a time (using more if necessary) until you have a dough that just holds together.

Place dough on a floured surface and shape into a square that’s one inch thick. Cut the dough into squares and then triangles (you can make them smaller if you’d like), then place scones on cookie sheets and bake for 25-30 minutes.

tahini cauliflower with lemon and smoked paprika

After over a year of blogging, I’ve hit a snag: I can’t seem to remember to photograph my food.

The situation has gotten desperate. I’ll identify a recipe, test it a few times, write the post, then plan the photo shoot. Unfortunately, plan the photo shoot roughly translates to “grab a smudge-free bowl and make sure the camera’s in the vicinity.” At dinnertime my artistic attempts are derailed by the fading light, and at lunch I’m just too hungry. I need to shoot this, I’ll think, regarding my plate with twitching fingers. In the battle of the wills, hunger beats out creative vision almost every time.

My family, while supportive in theory, is no help at all. Arranging roasted cauliflower florets in a bowl is the work of a minute, and I manage to snap a few photos before returning to the kitchen to rummage for props. When I return the bowl is empty, resting on the arm of my mother’s deck chair. I try to be upset about the missed photo opportunity, but am far more saddened that she polished off the dish before I could.

Which brings me to the one advantage of being a lazy food photographer: it makes the recipes better. I’ve been making this cauliflower for months (since early June, to be precise), each time growing more anxious to photograph it and each time devouring it warm from the bowl. Granted, it’s a simple dish. But when I made it for the sixth time I realized a longer roasting time was preferable, and somewhere around the eleventh version I stumbled on the “South African Smoke” seasoning my parents picked up at Trader Joe’s. I can now post the recipe with confidence and something close to addiction, albeit after a significant delay. I blame it on the photos.

Tahini Cauliflower with Lemon and Smoked Paprika

If you can find “South African Smoke” seasoning at TJ’s I highly recommend it, but any smoky pepper flakes will do nicely.

1 large head of cauliflower

olive oil, salt and pepper

1/3 cup tahini

juice of 1/2 lemon

smoky pepper flakes or smoked parika

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and toss with a generous amount of olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, or until florets are nicely-browned on the edges.
Meanwhile, whisk together the tahini and lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the cauliflower straight from the oven and toss to coat, adding a tiny bit of water or more juice if the dressing is too thick. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and finish with the smoked paprika.

mayan spiced dark chocolate ice cream

You know it’s been a good 10 days when you’ve made five consecutive batches of ice cream and the freezer is empty.

It began with a friend in training for a half-marathon and a recipe for gorgonzola dolce ice cream with candied walnuts. Ready to indulge after our run we took to the kitchen with milk, cream, sugar, and a small but very expensive slice of cheese, only to have the base boil over during a moment of enthusiastic negligence. I should mention here that Lauren and I are optimists by trade, the kind who declare that burnt walnuts are “masked by the gorgonzola,” and ice cream that refuses to thicken “just needs another hour in the freezer.” After two hours it was still sweet, delicious sludge, but we slurped every last drop from the Tupperware in five minutes flat.

I’ve learned a few things about “optimistic cooking.” It frequently involves substitutions, additions and overhauls. It renders recipes suggestive rather than imperative (“this was supposed to be made yesterday and sit overnight? I can put it in the fridge for an hour…”) and it infuriates the precise cooks among us (“you mean you only have one tablespoon of cream cheese? This calls for three!”). The outcomes generally waver between mediocre and transcendent. In my own optimistic way I’ve come to see it as a metaphor: even when you follow a recipe to the Nth degree, sometimes it still turns out wrong. In food as in life we have no ultimate control, and that can be annoying, terrifying or the source of all our best discoveries.

So it was that I began making chocolate ice cream (“The Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream in the World,” if you must know) only to realize I didn’t have nearly enough cocoa. What I did have was a packet of Mayan cocoa, a blend of the original with chilies and cinnamon. With a small (mental) shrug I made the switch, and when I tasted the results I made a rather earth-shattering discovery—I am no longer a vanilla person. Chocolate ice cream this good necessitated a second batch, then a third. It was consumed alone (guiltily from the Tupperware) and with Lauren (from the Tupperware, but not as guiltily—oh the joys of friendship!). And it led to a small epiphany—ice cream can get you far (say, re-tweeted by your favorite celebrity) but optimism can get you farther.

Mayan Spiced Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

My favorite cookbook of last year? Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home (yes, this is probably the fourth time I’ve mentioned it). I adapted her recipe for “The Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream in the World” using Mayan spiced cocoa, but you can use good quality unsweetened cocoa with cinnamon and cayenne or ground Mexican chiles. And in case you’re wondering where that beautiful slab of chocolate comes from… Trufflehound’s in Ventura is my new favorite spot!

For the chocolate syrup:

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup Mayan cocoa powder (unsweetened cocoa plus a teaspoon of cinnamon and cayenne or chile powder to taste)

1/2 cup brewed coffee

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 ounces dark chocolate (I like 70-85%)

3 Tbsp. cream cheese. softened

For the ice cream base:

1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch

2 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

pinch of salt

1/3 cup brown sugar

To make the chocolate syrup, combine the regular cocoa powder, Mayan cocoa powder,  brewed coffee and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 30 seconds, stirring frequently until thick. Turn off heat and break the chocolate into the sauce, letting the pieces sit for a minute or so until they melt. Whisk the sauce until smooth. Pour into a large bowl and add the cream cheese, stirring until completely combined.

To make the ice cream base, dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of milk in a small bowl. Combine the milk, cream, salt and brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. When the mixture begins to bubble, set a timing for four minutes and simmer while stirring to prevent the base from boiling over. After four minutes turn off the heat and add the cornstarch, then return to a boil for one minute more. Pour the hot milk mixture into the bowl with the chocolate syrup and whisk to combine.

Chill the ice cream base until completely cold, then freeze in your ice cream maker. Store in the freezer, and beware of cracking the bottom of the Tupperware as you dig for the last few bites.

sautéed zucchini with cinnamon and currants

Eating seasonally is a fraught issue. Even as someone who lives within spitting distance of California’s fields and worked on a farm in one of the biggest agricultural communities in the US, I still find myself standing in a supermarket aisle realizing seasonal eating can easily fall in the “it-sounds-so-nice-but-what-does-it-mean” category.

But the last two weeks brought fresh insights, most of them born from the sweat of my mother and grandparents’ brows and my own tendency towards frugality. It’s not that I don’t love grocery shopping—one of life’s true joys–but with the rest of my family out of town (and an accidental purchase of a $17 bag of cherries from Whole Foods) I decided I was going to embark on several weeks of eating close to home.

I admit—I held off on this post for a while because the things I was eating just seemed so simple. I should get more creative, I thought, come up with something special tonight. My resolve held firm through the morning, but come 11:30 a.m. I’d be standing at the stove sautéing the same slices of zucchini, and by dinnertime I’d be wandering beer-in-hand through the garden snapping off leaves of kale to make my favorite kale slaw with our ripe avocados.

My conclusion? Eating seasonally, healthfully and startlingly cheaply really just requires three things: a bulk supply of a bountiful fruit or vegetable from your garden or nearby market, a great simple recipe (think six ingredients or less), and the willingness to enjoy (many) variations on the same meal. It may sound silly, but the prospect of dozens of zucchinis per week for the duration of the summer actually excites me to no end—I love crispy slices of spiced sautéed zucchini hot from the pan, and I’ll eat them daily much in the same way that I ate roasted cauliflower with lemon and tahini in the spring, or will eat grilled cherry tomatoes tossed with grains and salads next month. And yes, when I desperately crave cherries I won’t berate myself for indulging in a bag from the store. I’ll just check the per pound price first.

Sautéed Zucchini with Cinnamon and Currants

This recipe is endlessly adaptable – once you’ve sauteed the zucchini with the cinnamon and currants, feel free to get creative with your favorite grain. If you have good cheese like ricotta salata on hand add that in as well for a tasty lunch or summery side.

2 medium zucchinis

olive oil

cinnamon

handful currants

1 cup cooked Israeli couscous

Heat your pan over medium heat and add a good glug of olive oil. Slice the zucchini into thin ribbons and add to the hot pan, doing your best to arrange the strips so they don’t overlap. Sprinkle with salt and cinnamon.

When the first side is browned flip the zucchini piece by piece (or, if you’re lazy, just give the pan a big shake) and sprinkle with a bit more cinnamon. Cook until the other side is done, then add the currants and cooked Israeli couscous and stir fry with the zucchini for a few more minutes. Enjoy hot from the pan or cooled to room temperature.

coconut granola cookies with toasted nuts

I’ve always liked the phrase creature of habit. Something about it conjures an image akin to a Beatrix Potter sketch, with a pleasantly chubby rabbit or beaver (dressed in an apron, of course) boiling a kettle in some snug underground kitchen.  I experienced the same pang of fellow feeling with hobbits when I read J. R. R. Tolkien—I too enjoy “elevensies” between breakfast and lunch, I too nestle close to home and cast a beady, suspicious eye on those who spurn routine. I guard my habits with fierceness and delight; the warm and soft-furred can have sharp little teeth.

I’ve been thinking about food habits lately because I suspect they are one of my long-term sources of happiness. Boyfriends come and go, I’ve lived on 12 square feet and 24 acres, but I always have mint chip ice cream at the harbor, Bolognese at the local trattoria, artichokes on my pizza. I stick with the same breakfast cereal for months, sometimes years. I can eat a giant pot of mole for days on end. For several months I religiously ate raw purple cabbage, relishing the spicy sweetness and the fact that no one stole it from the fridge.

Of course habits can have a nasty side when–God forbid–there’s no milk in the fridge at 6:30 a.m. A particularly low point came when I found myself sobbing into my cell phone next to an uncooperative ATM, 15 minutes late for class and unable to buy the jasmine honey bubble tea I looked forward to every Tuesday night. “Can you please bring me some cash right now?” I choked between tears, eyeing the bills someone was stuffing into their wallet next to me. I have only myself to blame that the bubble tea habit outlasted that relationship.

In the end, habits are like food—they’re meant to be savored, not idealized. There’s substantial, everyday pleasure to be had in a favorite dish, a Saturday morning café au lait, a daily “elevensies,” even if it’s just almonds. I feel a reliable surge of happiness just thinking about my morning bowl of cereal. Maybe, I think, this afternoon I’ll bake something new. Or maybe I’ll just make another batch of these.

Coconut Granola Cookies with Toasted Nuts

These cookies were inspired by my all-time favorite granola, a childhood treat from the Zinc Cafe in Laguna Beach.

1/3 cup shredded coconut

1/3 cup slivered almonds

1/3 cup pecan halves

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. orange zest

1 1/2 cups oats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the shredded coconut, slivered almonds and pecan halves on a baking tray and toast until brown, a couple of minutes for the coconut and several more for the nuts. Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, beat together the coconut oil and brown sugar, then add the egg and vanilla. Mix the flour with the baking soda and salt and stir into wet mixture. Add the oats and orange zest, then gently mix in the toasted coconut and nuts.

Place balls of mix on a cookie sheet and flatten slightly, then bake at 350 degrees until cookies are golden but still chewy, about 10 minutes. Cool and enjoy!

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