Monthly Archives: September 2009

many happy moments

I’ve been trying to write this post for days (days, I tell you!).  As you’ll see eventually, its about a plum cake.  The problem is, I don’t have much experience with plums.  Other than eating them raw at their peak of ripeness – the sweet-tart juice running down my arms to my elbows – plums and I haven’t made a close acquaintance.  We’ve flirted a bit in the past after a quick saute’ in a pan along with a dab of butter and some brown sugar, strengthening our relationship with the aid of a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  And, there was that lovely marriage of blackberries and plump black plums that produced a few jars of delicious jam this summer…  But when it comes down to memories – the kind of memories evoked by the first bite of a beloved (or even hated) food – plums and I are complete strangers.

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I’m fairly new to the world of writing, having only started forcing myself to practice regularly when I started this blog and discovered how much I enjoy it. I’ve learned in the six months since defining the direction of bella eats that writing about personal experience is much easier than writing about something I lack a connection with. Occasionally, I won’t even realize that I have something to write about until suddenly, the words start pouring out of my fingertips as memories flash through my head in a slideshow of my past – ranging in age from 2 days to 25 years. And so, these last couple of days I’ve sat behind my computer writing a sentence here and there, just waiting for those hidden plum-inspired memories to present themselves.

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This evening, as I was in the middle of my uninspired third draft, my Momma called for a chat. She had some bad news about an elderly relative, my grandfather’s sister. My Great Aunt isn’t doing very well, in fact hasn’t been for awhile, and Momma wanted to update me on her status. Our conversation eventually turned to more trivial subjects to lighten our mood, and my unsatisfying third draft came up. As I explained my writer’s block my Momma chuckled, and proceeded to share with me a few of her own childhood memories of plums, of which she has many.

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She told me about “plumjum”, my grandfather’s favorite spread for toast, and how his sister (yes, the very same as mentioned above) used to make him jars of it with plums from another sister’s trees. She laughed about how surprised she was when, at an older age, she learned that the coveted spread was in fact a simple plum jam. Those family trees that produced the fruit that formed the jam were a favorite playground for my Momma and her cousins, a treetop haven where they ate as many plums as they could stomach while spitting the pits at each other (she was a bit of a tomboy, my mother, having grown up with all male cousins). As we laughed about her memories, events she probably hasn’t thought about in years, I was reminded again of how powerful food is, and thankful that even though she hasn’t read it yet, this post evoked happy thoughts of her past during a time of sadness.

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As far as my future with plums goes – and based on my family history with the fruit – I feel pretty confident when I say that we’ve got many happy moments ahead of us. And you can bet (a plum cake, perhaps?) that a few jars of “plumjum” will be produced this weekend from the best possible specimens, packed up and shipped to Florida for my Momma and grandfather to enjoy. With love.

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In the last few weeks, I’ve seen plums pop up in magazines and on some of my favorite blogs, tempting me with their deep red-purple skin and sunset-hued flesh. I’d always thought of them as a summer fruit, but apparently this is the time of year when the European varieties hit their peak. I came across a container of Italian Plus last week and, unable to resist the petite, egg-shaped beauties, immediately started plotting their fate.

We decided to host a little brunch at our house last Saturday morning, and so the idea of a plum coffee cake was born. On Friday I consulted numerous recipes before deciding on an adaptation of one I’d had my eye on since August. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be a breakfast treat, but I think it served our purposes just fine. Better than fine, actually, as this cake was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Truly. The tartness of the fruit was nicely balanced by the not-too-sweet dough, the perfect compliment to a cup of black french-roast coffee.

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If you’d like this cake for breakfast, make it the night before and wrap it tightly in plastic, letting it sit on your counter until the morning. Then, about 15 minutes before you’re ready to eat it remove the plastic, pop it in the oven to re-heat for a few minutes before turning on the broiler to crisp the top and caramelize the edges.

Plum Cake

adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson
P. 39 August 2009 Gourmet magazine

inspired by Whitney in Chicago

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, for pan
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • zest from one lemon
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups stone fruit, halved then sliced to about 1/4″ thick. [I used 18 Italian plums. You’d probably use 1/2 as many if you used a larger variety]
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1-2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, chopped a bit

Method

  1. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and lemon zest together in a bowl, set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment (or with a handheld electric mixer) cream the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and stir just until a smooth dough forms. Pull together in a ball and wrap with plastic wrap, flattening to a disk about 1-inch thick. Freeze for 30 minutes.
  4. While the dough rests, place your sliced plums in a bowl and drizzle with lemon juice and 1-2 tbsp sugar, depending on the sweetness of your fruit. Let sit until dough is ready.
  5. Preheat oven to 375*. Butter a 10″ spring-form pan. Remove dough from freezer and divide into two equal pieces. Pat one piece into the bottom of the buttered pan, making sure to cover the surface evenly. Spread your fruit over the dough, distributing evenly. Break the remaining dough into 1-inch globs and distribute over the surface of the fruit. Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar and the almonds.
  6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until bubbly and golden. [mine took closer to 40 minutes]

This cake keeps on the counter, wrapped tightly in plastic, for about 3 days. I think, in fact, that it is best on the second day.

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I followed the original recipe closely except for the following adaptations:

Because about 1/2 of my plums were still a little green on the inside and therefore quite tart, I chose to macerate the fruit for a bit before layering it with the dough. Even if I use very sweet fruit in the future, I won’t skip this step. The sugar helped the fruit to caramelize at the edges, producing a wonderful texture.

The addition of lemon zest to the dough and slivered almonds to the top of the cake are two tricks that I use quite often in fruit cakes and crumbles. I think that everything is better with a touch of lemon and a few almonds.

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rat-a-tat

rat-a-tat-toooooouuuuuille!

Ok, so the name is sometimes more fun than the dish itself. Ratatouille evokes all kinds of call-outs and tabletop drumming from me, in an effort to convince Brian of its viability as a recipe to remain in our files. It starts one Saturday morning at the farmer’s market, as we pass a table full of deep-purple eggplant and I turn to Brian to ask “how about ratatouille this week?”. He’ll snarl a little, let out an “eh” and shrug his shoulders. This happens for a few consecutive Saturdays, until finally I’ll say, “come on…rat-a-tat-toooooouuuuuille!” and he’ll grin and agree that this can be the week for our once-a-year ratatouille night.

Ratatouille

For me, it wouldn’t be the end of summer without the classic eggplant, zucchini and tomato-laden dish. It feels like a last-hurrah for the final produce of the season and the perfect start to autumn, when I start craving meals of its kind. It is homey and hearty, a melding of flavors served warm over pasta and topped with shaved parmesan cheese. I like to dunk a couple of thick slices of crusty french bread into the juices, and usually pair the meal with one of my first glasses of red wine of the season. Its tradition, and one that I cling to mightily despite a little resistance.

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For Brian, ratatouille is just a little “blah”. He doesn’t mind it so much, but would prefer that we skip straight from summer salads to creamy potato cheese soup and pans full of bubbly lasagna. Typically, after we’ve purchased our eggplant Saturday morning, it will sit on the countertop for a couple of days until finally, on the cusp of its transition from firm and fleshy to soft and dimpled, I’ll convince Brian that “tonight is rat-a-tat-touille night!” and it will be peeled, cubed, salted and tossed in a pan with a glug of olive oil, freshly diced zucchini and a generous pile of minced garlic.

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After some silly names, a few tabletop drumming performances and maybe a little ratatouille dance, it is the smell that will finally bring Brian around – his nose leads him to the kitchen and he’ll sheepishly tell me “it smells really good in here, honey”. The eggplant is set aside, and in its place onion and bell pepper start sizzling away. Tomatoes are added, and as their juice is released the eggplant is tossed back into the pan. All is covered and simmered until the eggplant is silky and the zucchini and peppers are just tender. Pasta is boiled, parmesan is shaved and bread is sliced. Dinner is served alongside glasses of red wine, in the golden light of the fading sun and suddenly, it is Fall.

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Basic Ratatouille

adapted from the joy of cooking

over pasta, this will serve 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tbsp
  • 2 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4-5 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 2 large bell peppers, red, yellow or orange, cut into 1-inch squares
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped and seeded fresh tomatoes (I used romas.  the recipe says to peel them, I did not.)
  • 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme (oregano is good as well)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt + pepper

Method:

  1. After peeling and chopping your eggplant, place it in a colander and sprinkle with course sea salt.  Let sit for 30 minutes to release some of the liquid, rinse well and pat dry.
  2. Heat the oil over high heat and add the eggplant and zucchini.  Saute’ for about 8 minutes, then add the garlic.  Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes until the veggies are golden and just tender. (This timing will depend on the freshness of your eggplant.  You don’t want it to get too soft, so watch closely.)
  3. Remove the vegetables from the pan and reduce the heat to medium-high.  Drizzle in the 2 tbsp of olive oil and add the onion and bell pepper.  Cook for 8-10 minutes until the veggies are just tender but not browned.  Season with salt and pepper to tasted.
  4. Add tomatoes, thyme and bay leaf.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the eggplant mixture and cook until everything is tender 10-20 minutes.  (Again, this depends on your veggies.  You want the eggplant to be silky but not falling apart, and the other veggies to be tender but not mushy.)  Taste and adjust your seasonings.

*  We decided after this go-round that the ratatouille could be improved with the addition of some red pepper flakes.  I’d add about a 1/4 tsp, depending on your tastes, when you add the onion and bell pepper to the pan.

*  Another possibility, if you’re not a fan of spicy food, is to add capers.  I had a bruschetta recently with eggplant, onion, tomato and capers that was absolutely delicious, so think they’d be lovely in the ratatouille as well.  I’d start with a tablespoon, added with the tomatoes, and add more if you feel it is necessary.

Ratatouille-5

NYC, and capture

I learned a little something about myself last weekend. When immersed in a city I adore, surrounded by bustling people, towering buildings, a cacophony of sounds and a myriad of smells both good and bad…I am not a very good photographer. Or, perhaps better stated, when distracted by new experiences I tend to forget that I am a photographer. Don’t be mistaken, Brian and I lugged camera equipment all over the West Village, Meat Packing District, Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO, gave ourselves sore necks and shoulders and stressed ourselves out on the subway thinking about the amount of money strapped to our bodies in the form of photo gear, but returned with an embarrassingly low amount of shots.

I seem to have a hard time peeling my eyes from the sky, the street, the architecture and the bakery windows to step behind the camera and look through the lens. And its not just New York City, the same can be said of Boston and New Orleans, both cities that Brian and I love but for which we have very little documentation of our visits. I’m trying to decide if this is such a bad thing, since a lack of photographs is typically the result of the two of us having a very good time. Whether it be good company, good food or good surroundings, if we’re in the middle of a good experience, I lack the ability to stop and capture the moment. Clearly, I need to learn how to multi-task.

The sparse amount of quality pictures in this post is quite the opposite of what I envisioned as we packed up our gear, debating which lenses to take and worrying about memory card space. Upon our return and my download of images, I seriously contemplated just forgetting about a Bella Eats: NYC segment, but it saddened me to not, in some way, acknowledge the amazing time we had, as short and busy as it was. Bella Eats, while providing a space from which to share recipes, photographs and stories with you all, my readers, has also become a bit of a journal for me – a place to document my adventures in the kitchen, to witness my growth as a photographer, to work on my voice as a writer and to record revelations I have about various aspects of my life. Such as the fact that my camera needs to become a part of my daily routine, and that I should be documenting more than just food.

And so, in an attempt to challenge myself as a photographer and to give myself yet another creative outlet (can you ever have too many?!?) I’ve started a little photo journal over at tumblr. My plan is to post at least one photo each day, with whatever camera is available to me, along with whatever it is that I am thinking as I take the shot. My hope is to raise my awareness of the moments that make up my life, both big and small, and to document as many of them as I can without taking away from the moment itself. Because I am never without my iPhone, most photos will be taken with it and perhaps doctored with an app like ShakeItPhoto, or BestCamera. This exercise is about developing my eye, not my skills, and so I prefer the low-tech (can you call the iPhone low-tech?) non-pressure of snapping a photo and immediately uploading it, rather than fussing with camera settings and editing software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

The journal is called capture, and you can check it out here if you’d like. It is not about food, although since food encompasses a large part of my life there will surely be some appearances by dishes and drinks that have an impact on me, both good and bad. It is a personal project, so the moments captured will likely only mean something to me and perhaps the person that I share them with, but may not appeal to a larger audience. However, because I was inspired by the lovely Becka of Studio222Photography to start this journal, I thought that it was only appropriate that I share mine with all of you, and hope that some of you may be inspired to start your own.

capture

And now, a few highlights from our trip to NYC.  Again, this is mostly for our own reference and to highlight some of the places we recommend others visiting the city to see.  It is not an exhibit of extraordinary photography skills.  🙂

View from our hotel room, straight down into Ground Zero.  Sobering to see, but fascinating to watch the construction from 33 stories above. This was a fantastic place to stay if you’re planning on concentrating your time in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, as we were.

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Magnolia Bakery in the West Village. A quaint little space crowded with baked goods on every available surface and so many people – behind the counter, in front of the counter, on the sidewalk outside and filling the park across the street – that you get flustered and order the first thing you can focus your eyes on. As you stand in line, wondering what it is that you just ordered, you are comforted by the fact that every single sweet they make is delicious, so whatever it is you’ve just requested will be great no matter what…

NYC merge 2

A visit to Chelsea Market in the Meat Packing District, so that we could try and spot some Food Network stars (filmed upstairs) and get a sticky bun from Amy’s Bread.  We drooled over olive oils, dried pastas and cured meats at Buon Italia, and wished we lived in the Village so that we could take home some milk, yogurt or cheese from Ronnybrook Milk Bar.

NYC merge

The wedding Saturday was at the Brooklyn Historic Society, a lovely setting that fit the bride (one of my most creative girlfriends from high school) and groom perfectly.  After the beautiful ceremony, we all ate, drank and danced the night away.  I was lucky enough to reconnect with two other girlfriends from high school, which means that, surrounded by good company, we have very few photos to share of the evening.

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The desserts were catered by Baked in Brooklyn, a bakery I’ve been following from a distance for a few years.  Sadly, we didn’t make it there to visit, but the wedding desserts were absolutely amazing and I highly recommend a visit to the bakery to try them for yourself.

A bakery in Brooklyn that we did visit was Almondine.  Oh my.  Rated by NY Magazine as New York City’s Best Bakery, the tiny shop on Water Street did not disappoint.  We were there when it opened, standing on the front steps with a handful of locals waiting anxiously for the doors to be unlocked.  Our first round through the line (yes, we went through twice) yielded the best croissant of my life (almond) and a raisin croissant for Brian.  With round two, Brian brought a chocolate croissant (pictured below) and a slice of mushroom, broccoli tomato quiche to the table.  The croissants were as light as air and the quiche was creamy and rich.  My only recommendation?  Buy extras, and fly them home with you.  I promise you’ll be wanting seconds the next day.

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And don’t miss Jacques Torres across the street.

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Also, while in Brooklyn, I rekindled my love for bridges…

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…and the Flea Markets that happen underneath them.  Again, I was surrounded by shiny (and not-so-shiny) objects, so other than this shot, and the fabulous necklace I bought from artist Jessica DeCarlo, I have no evidence of the Brooklyn Flea.  But if you’re ever in DUMBO on a Sunday morning, take my advice and wander over to the underside of the Brooklyn Bridge.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Thank you all for your NYC recommendations!  I only wish we’d had more time to spend, and look forward to our next trip.  That’s the beauty of having a blog, I’ll have your recommendations and this post to reference for our next visit!

I’ll be back in a couple of days with a meal perfect for the summer-to-fall transition.  In the meantime, you can follow me on twitter or capture.

bella terra: stuffed

Hello hello! Goodness, there were a few days there that I felt like I was never going to get back to Bella Eats. Life has been busy, my friends, but in a very good way. The kind of way that makes you feel really good about what you’re doing, and very thankful for the support of your understanding husband who winds up single-handedly taking on the domestic tasks of keeping us both fed and in clean clothes, while simultaneously helping me make invitation design decisions and proofreading documents for presentations.

He’s a keeper, that one, as are all of you for your very sweet comments on my last post. I apologize for not being as present in comment response as I should be, but wanted you all to know how much each and every one means to me. If you asked a question, and I think there were only a couple, I answered it in the last day or so at the bottom of the comments. And please, if you ever have a question for me that requires a timely response, feel free to send me an email – I’m usually better with those.

Stuffed

There has been a lot of stuffing happening around our house these last few weeks, and I don’t just mean boxes full of wedding invitations for a friend or images into a presentation for a big board meeting. I mean stuffed peppers. And squash. It all started with a dinner party thrown by our dear friend Amy, who hosts fabulous gatherings at which everybody cooks a dish based on a theme for the evening. Sometimes the theme is a specific ingredient such as almonds or chocolate, and other times it is based on a method of cooking or assembly. A month or so ago the theme was “stuffed!”, and we enjoyed the food so much that Brian and I have been replicating recipes ever since.

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The timing worked out perfectly, as we had just traded extra bell peppers from our garden for a friend’s over-abundance of homegrown pattypan squash. If you’ve ever grown squash, you know that two people can’t possibly consume all of the bounty from one little squash plant. Its unreal. We planted summer squash two years ago and were so over it by the end of the season that we haven’t planted any since. The same goes for eggplant. Next year we’re planning to coordinate with our friends and plan more regular produce swaps, to take advantage of the space we each have and be sure that nothing will go to waste. Our own mini version of a CSA.

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Peppers are a different story. I never get tired of them, and the only reason for sharing is when I know that we can’t possibly finish them before they start to get soft. I haven’t always felt that way as growing up, I only knew of one type of bell pepper – green. They made appearances in the stir fries, fajitas and supreme pizzas of my childhood, their distinct earthy flavor permeating whatever dish they graced. I wouldn’t have called myself a fan, but I didn’t mind them either. Like milk with breakfast and  brushing my teeth before bed, the emerald bells were just an ever-present part of my life that I didn’t bother to question.

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Sometime in college I discovered that bell peppers came in colors other than green, and the rainbow beauties started making their way into my cart each week at the market. I found the sunset-hued varieties to be much more versatile than the green, and added them to my usual pepper-laden dishes as well as pastas, quiches and salads. They aren’t inexpensive, so when I found out we could grow them in Virginia I was quite excited.

Our garden has seen them all. The first summer we were a little over-zealous with our pepper patch, planting green, purple, red, yellow and orange bells, along with one lone (although incredibly productive) banana pepper plant. Our kitchen saw much pepper experimentation that season, as we learned that we really weren’t fans of green bells anymore, that the beautiful eggplant color fades from the purple bells when they are cooked (leaving you, essentially, with a green bell) and that we couldn’t possibly keep up with the harvest from one banana pepper plant (although, now that we know how to pickle, I think we’ll try again next year).

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As summer winds down we are cherishing the last red and yellow bell peppers coming out of the garden.  Smaller than those we were getting a couple of weeks ago, but every bit as tasty, they’ve added a mild sweetness and lovely color to frittatas, stir fry, fajitas, homemade pizzas and summer salads. Our favorite use lately has been to sauté thinly sliced red peppers with strips of onion, minced garlic and fresh kale, then to pile the whole mixture on top of grilled spicy Italian sausage drizzled with dijon mustard and encased in a crusty bun. So delicious, so summer.

And then, of course, there is the Stuffed! pepper option.  Always a winner in my book, I finally convinced Brian of their merit a few years ago when I made them using red and yellow bells instead of green.  We tried the same stuffing recipe with pattypan squash, with much success.  Pattypan has such a mild flavor that it lends itself well to a full-flavored filling.

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I came up with this recipe on a whim, adding ingredients to the stuffing until it looked and tasted the way I thought it should.  The result was quite tasty but I encourage you to tweak to suit your own tastes.

Stuffed Peppers or Squash

serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 bell peppers (preferably red or yellow), 4 medium patty pan squash
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup raw red onion
  • 1/2 cup diced bell pepper (from the tops that you’ll cut off)
  • 3 roma tomatoes, seeds removed, diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ancho chile pepper, OR 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus 2 tbsp to sprinkle on top

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400*.
  2. For Peppers:  Cut the tops off of the peppers.  Cut out the interior ribs and remove all seeds.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and drop the peppers in so that they fill with water.  Boil for 1-2 minutes, until the peppers are starting to soften and turn a brighter shade of yellow/red/green.  Remove from water, drain and set aside.
  3. For Squash:  Cut tops off of squash as you would a pumpkin.  Scrape out interior seeds and strings, discard.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and drop the squash in.  Boil for 5-8 minutes, until the squash is fork-tender.  Remove and drain, set aside.
  4. In a medium-size bowl, mix together the cooked rice, corn, red onion, diced bell pepper, and roma tomatoes.  Drain the beans and press or squish with your palms before adding to the rice mixture (some beans will remain whole, but most should be squished).  Add cumin, chile pepper, salt and pepper, mix well.  Add 1/2 cup cheese and set aside.
  5. Line a baking dish with foil and set peppers or squash in dish.  Fill with rice mixture until full, and sprinkle top with cheddar cheese.
  6. Bake at 400* for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.  Turn on broiler for last minute or two if you want to brown the cheese a bit.  Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving on a bed of rice.

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Chiles Rellenos

serves 4

This recipe is nearly identical to the one above.  But, there are a couple of ingredient changes and the method for preparing the peppers is a little different.

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 medium-size poblano peppers
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup raw yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup diced bell pepper
  • 3 roma tomatoes, seeds removed, diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus 2 tbsp to sprinkle on top

Method:

  1. Move rack to top of oven.  Turn broiler on hi.
  2. Place peppers in a baking dish.  Place under broiler and broil until all sides are charred, turning accordingly, for 3-5 minutes.  (See photo on left below for peppers just after charring).  Remove and turn off oven.
  3. Put hot peppers in a gallon-size ziplock and seal.  Let “sweat” for 30 minutes in bag.
  4. After 30 minutes, remove peppers from bag.  Skin should be easy to peel from peppers – remove it all.  Cut a slice in one side of each pepper and remove all ribs and seeds from interior.  IMPORTANT – If you are sensitive to heat, make sure to remove ALL of the ribs as this is where the heat lies.  Also WASH YOUR HANDS many many many times with soap and water before touching your eyes, nose, mouth etc.
  5. In a medium-size bowl, mix together the cooked rice, corn, onion, diced bell pepper, and roma tomatoes.  Drain the beans and press or squish with your palms before adding to the rice mixture (some beans will remain whole, but most should be squished).  Add cumin, salt and pepper, mix well.  Add 1/2 cup cheese and set aside.
  6. Line a baking dish with foil and set peppers or squash in dish.  Fill with rice mixture until full, and sprinkle top with cheddar cheese.
  7. Bake at 400* for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.  Turn on broiler for last minute or two if you want to brown the cheese a bit.  Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving on a bed of rice.

Stuffed Merge 2

This weekend, Brian and I are off to Brooklyn for a childhood friend’s (mine) wedding.  We are so excited, even though we’ll only be in the city for about 48 hours.  As with all of our vacations, we are planning this one entirely around food (except for the wedding of course, but the lovely bride has Baked! catering the desserts!!!).  If you have any suggestions for your favorite foodie havens in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn…send them on!  And expect a full photographic review of our trip next week…!

one year closer to…?

I sit at our dining table in the morning, a heaping spoonful of almond butter resting on top of my oatmeal, a dollop of jam alongside it. The windows are open to let the cool morning breeze whisper past my skin, and through them I hear kids squealing as they make their way to the school bus stop on the corner by our house. I find myself lost in thought, reminiscing about the past and contemplating the future, each almond butter + jam-laced bite taking me further into my own head.

PBJ-merge

I’ve been eating a lot of PB+J lately. Actually, to be more accurate, AB+HJ – almond butter and homemade jam. I just can’t seem to get enough of it. I’m slathering almond butter and jam on my Kashi waffles and toast, mounding it on top of oatmeal or sandwiching it between two slices of whole wheat bread for a quick and satisfying lunch. I partly blame the incredible amount of jam we have in our refrigerator right now – a few ounces of each flavor we made that wasn’t quite enough to process in a canning jar, plus a delightful fig jam made by some dear friends after a reconnaissance fig-gathering mission to some public trees down the street. But even more than the excess, I blame the fast-approaching end of Summer.

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As we transition into Autumn, I find myself in a very nostalgic frame of mind. This time of year seemed to have so much more significance in my youth, always marking the start of a new chapter in my young life. Going back to school, with its new clothes and fancy backpack filled with blank notebooks and freshly-sharpened pencils signified another year of progress. I’d eagerly seek out friends I hadn’t seen in 3 months to discuss our summer vacations, who’s dating who, class schedules and the fact that we were one year closer to graduation, college and “real” life.

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In college, the return to another semester was bittersweet. I was studying architecture, and while I was eager to tackle the challenges that a new design studio – with its new city, site and building program – offered, I was also wary of letting go of a care-free summer job in exchange for the stress of all-night charrettes and design reviews in front of a panel of my peers and professors. But still, there was the seeking out of missed friends to discuss summer internships, who’s engaged to who, how we had finagled our schedules to allow for one or two(!!!) days without class and the fact that we were one year closer to graduation and finding our “dream” jobs.

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And now, here I am. Post undergraduate and graduate degrees, working in my field for a firm I respect designing projects I enjoy, one year closer to…what? For the first time in my life, I am settled into a place with no “end” in sight. I am happily married, living in a city I adore, with a job I enjoy waking up for. There’s no impending school, or graduation, or job search in my future. Its a comfortable feeling, but is at the same time a little bit unnerving. And when I’m feeling a little bit unnerved I seek additional comfort in food. Of late, that food has been the AB+HJ combination.

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It was only a matter of time before my latest obsession made it into a baked good. And then, this recipe showed up in my reader to push me right over the edge. I made the cookies, which have a classic butter cookie texture laced with the flavor of high-quality natural peanut butter, and was initially disappointed with the pre-jam outcome. I was looking for a softer specimen, and was worried that when sandwiched on either side of a dollop of jam this cookie would, well, crumble. So I quickly searched for a new option, found a recipe that boasted a softer outcome and incorporated oats(!!!) and decided to try a thumbprint version. I loved the chewiness that the oats added to the cookie, and the fact that the jam-to-cookie ratio was more equal than the sandwich version. But, after all that worry, the sandwich cookie turned out to be really fantastic as well, with or without the addition of a little blackberry peach jam.

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Each of these cookies is really wonderful on their own. I recommend filling and sandwiching only the amount of cookies you and yours can eat in a day, as they will get soft when stored in an airtight container with jam. On their own, in a ziplock bag, the cookies maintain their texture for a full 5 days.

I think that each of these recipes would be wonderful with almond butter in place of the peanut butter.  When I made the suggestion to Brian, who is very traditional in his dessert choices and hates to see a good thing tampered with, he vetoed it.  That was ok, the tried and true PB+J combo was a success both in taste and nostalgia-induced comfort.

PB+J Sandwich Cookies

recipe from the new york times

makes about 18 sandwich cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound [2 sticks] unsalted butter, softened, plus more to grease cookie sheets
  • 3/4 cup natural peanut butter [I used creamy]
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, more for work surface
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp milk, or as needed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup high-quality fruit jam [I used this one]

Method:

  1. Cream butter, sugar and peanut butter together with an electric mixer.  Add egg, and beat until well blended.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet, adding milk as necessary to make dough just soft enough to handle.  Stir in vanilla.
  3. Shape dough into a log about 1-1/2 inches in diameter.  [I suggest making two logs…the amount of dough makes one very long log that is difficult to transfer to the fridge].  Wrap dough log[s] in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.  Can be frozen if wrapped well.
  4. Heat oven to 400*.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove dough from refrigerator and cut slices between 1/8″ and 1/4″ thick from log.  Try to make the slices as even in thickness as possible.  Place on baking sheets and sprinkle with sugar.
  5. Bake until edges are lightly browned and centers are set, about 10 minutes.  Cool for about 2 minutes on sheets before using a spatula to transfer cookies to a rack to finish cooling.
  6. Sandwich flat sides of two cookies together with a heaping teaspoonful of jam.

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PB+J Thumbprint Cookies

recipe for cookie from foodnetwork.com

makes about 3 dozen thumbprint cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2-cup creamy, natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup quick oats (I used rolled, and they were fine)
  • 1/2 cup high-quality fruit jam (I used this one)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350* and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Cream the butter and peanut butter together in an electric mixer on high speed.  Add the sugar, brown sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy.  Add the egg and beat until combined.
  3. Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and oats together in a separate bowl and add to the wet mixture.  Mix until well combined.
  4. Roll dough into 1-inch diameter balls and place on baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie.  Using your pinkie finger, make a deep indentation in the top of each dough ball, being careful not to press all the way down to the baking sheet.
  5. Bake in the top half of the oven until cookies are golden, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and re-shape indentations while cookies are still pliable, if needed.  Let cool completely.
  6. Once the cookies are cool, place on countertop and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Spoon a teaspoonful of jam into each cookie.

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