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Snack Mix for Your Party

November 5, 2012

Sweet and Salty Snack Mix

Tomorrow, finally, election day! I made some calls for my candidate this year at a local phone bank and got the typical mix of responses: people who were gung ho and had already voted, people who told me they were “tired of these damn calls” and hung up on me, people who aggressively stated there was no way they were going to vote for my candidate and of course, a handful of sweet old ladies who just wanted to chat.

I understand all of these responses, even the rude ones, but the people I had a real problem with were the few who said they had no intention of voting of all. One man stated quite proudly that he hadn’t voted once in his entire life and had no intention of starting now. Really? How can you live in a country and enjoy all the opportunities and freedoms it generously offers and then think that voting doesn’t matter? You only have to take a quick peek at the headlines all over the world to understand that the right to vote and have your voice heard without fear of retaliation should never be taken for granted.

So whichever party you’re voting for, get out there and vote (unless you’re a republican in Wisconsin or Iowa….) and then while you’re nervously awaiting the results keep yourself occupied with some mindless snacking. This sweet and salty trail mix is the type of party food that makes people yell, “take this bowl away from me!” It’s is a snack mix that will see you through all the upcoming holiday parties and can even be put in a cute jar as a gift for friends. My favorite part about homemade snack mix is that you can leave out the fillers you don’t like (you’ll never find a peanut in my snack mix) and add more of what you love (lots of pecans, please!).

The inspiration came from two very experienced hosts who know their way around party food, David Lebovitz and Martha Stewart. I combined David Lebovitz’s Holiday Snack Mix recipe with Martha’s Chesapeake Bay Snack Mix. The result is a totally addictive bowl of crunchy nuts and pretzels with a sweet and salty coating that is neither too sweet or too salty.

Total Time in the Kitchen: 30 minutes
Servings: A big old bowl of party mix, for a party of 8 to 12 people

Ingredients:

5 to 6 cups of raw, unsalted nuts (I used 3 cups of cashews, 1 cup of pecans and 1 cup of almonds)
3 large handfuls of mini pretzels or pretzel sticks

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
3/4 teaspoon sea salt

Instructions:

Spread the nuts out in a baking pan and roast in an 350 F oven for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. When the nuts are done take them out, but leave the oven on.

Melt together the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup and Old Bay seasoning.

Pour half the nuts and half the butter in a large bowl and mix well, then add the rest of the nuts and butter and mix until evenly coated.  Next, add the pretzels and sprinkle in the salt while mixing well.

Spread the mixture back in the baking pan and bake for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice while cooking. Remove from the oven and cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Eat within a week.

Note that the nuts will be a little soft when still hot, but once they cool completely they will have a crunchy, roasted texture.

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Veggie Burgers for Kids (and everyone else)

October 30, 2012

We’ve been eating a lot of veggie burgers around here lately. We’ve also been talking a lot about the moon.

The moon at sunrise this morning out our window

Luckily, our conversations about the moon have not yet gone beyond my limited knowledge of our solar system. They mostly consist of me telling O over and over again, “While the moon is out, we sleep. We don’t wake up until the sun does.” (Except for owls, who keep showing up in kids’ books talking about how they like to play at night. It’s no surprise that O is very fond of owls).

Our conversations about the moon even include visual learning tools, like the moon/sun nightlight set on a timer in O’s room, or me pointing out the window at the moon around 5:45 am. Thankfully, we’re no longer getting up in the middle of the night talking about the moon, but man, after almost 2 year of getting up before dawn we’re mighty anxious for this kid to start sleeping past 6am once or twice a week. The worst part is that when she does miraculously sleep in, Sorin and I wake up around 5:30am anyway.

Which brings us to veggie burgers. Getting up so early every morning has sort of killed my appetite for breakfast. These days, coffee is the only thing that sounds good. After decades of eating cereal or oatmeal, I no longer want it. Eggs are even less appealing. My solution has been to jump directly to lunch….at about 8am. By then, I’ve been up a few hours and I’m ready for some real food. Cold pizza sounds good. Bowls of quinoa and sweet potato sound good. Leftover pasta sounds good. And lately, so have veggie burgers.

Getting ready to chop kale for a batch of veggie burgers

Homemade veggie burgers warmed up in the microwave are a healthy, quick breakfast and a good way to get some veggies into your kid. The recipe here uses bulgur as a base, with a sneaky helping of kale, plus some red pepper and carrots thrown in. I’ve also been making quinoa burgers. Once you figure out your favorite base (like bulgur+eggs+panko or quinoa+beans) you can try endless combinations of flavors. My veggie burgers hold together, but they aren’t sturdy enough to be thrown on a grill. But come on, people. These aren’t real burgers. They’re veggie burgers.

One last thing: Is buying an espresso machine a really bad idea, or a really, really good idea? Comments welcome. When we first had a baby we decided it was a bad idea because we were likely to a.) overdose on caffeine and b.) never leave the house, since going to coffee shops is a favorite outing. But now, two years and many early  mornings later, a macchiato in the morning is sounding pretty dang good.

Yummy veggie burgers for breakfast, lunch or dinner

 

Veggie Burgers

Time in the Kitchen: Approx 45 minutes
Servings: About 8 burgers

1 bunch of kale, lower stems chopped off. Or, half a bag of pre-chopped kale (about 5 ounces)
1 cup of water, plus more to boil bulgur
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup bulgur (look for “quick-cooking” or “medium grind”) on the label
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 cup grated carrot
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs, whisked (you can get by with just using one if you like)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Instructions:

In a food processor, blend the kale and cup of water until the kale is very finely chopped. Pour the kale water into a deep pot and add the bulgur and salt. You’ll also need to add more water, according to whatever your package of bulgur says. Bulgur from Bob’s Red Mill calls for a total of 2 cups water per 1 cup of uncooked bulgur. Arrowhead Mills bulgur calls for a total of 3 cups of water per 1 cup of uncooked bulgur. Bob’s bulgur is bigger and heartier, Arrowhead Mills is smaller and less chewy.

Bring the kale, appropriate amount of water and bulgur to a boil. Turn the heat down so the water is at a simmer. Cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes, until the water is completely absorbed. The bulgar will be soft but chewy.

While the bulgur is cooking, saute the red pepper, carrot and onion in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion is soft, about 8 minutes.

In a large bowl combine the cooked bulgur with the veggies. Add salt to taste. At this point you could also add some chopped fresh herbs or a teaspoon or two of spices. You can also add 1 cup of crumbled feta cheese or grated cheddar.

Mix in the egg and panko.

Cover a cookie sheet or baking pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 375 F

Form burgers  with about 1/3 cup of the bulgur. Use your hands to shape the bulgur into a patty that’s about 2 to 3 inches wide.

Place a large skillet over medium high heat. Coat the bottom of the skillet with a thin layer of canola or sunflower oil.

Add the burgers in batches, browning each side for about three minutes. Use a wide spatula to gently flip the burgers. You can also press down on them while they cook, making the patties slightly thinner and more likely to hold together.

Place the cooked burgers on the baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes.

The burgers can be served hot or cold. You can also freeze them, then defrost in the microwave for about 2 minutes before eating. If warmed up in the microwave, they tend to crumble just a little bit.

More of my veggie burger recipes you might want to try:

Quinoa Garbanzo Burgers with Cheddar
Bulgur Burgers with Kale and Sweet Potato
Bulgur Burgers with Kale and Feta

Carrot Top Pesto

October 7, 2012

Carrot Top Pesto

Yesterday, I was supposed to be working. Instead, I made carrot top pesto and played in a cardboard fort. Not what I use to do on the rare day that I played hooky from work, but a good time was had by all.

We’ve been under the weather over here, so it was nice to see the little one full of energy again. So much energy, that I had to come up with some new ways to wear her out.

Fun in a Cardboard Box

Remember how much fun an empty cardboard box use to be? You can read in it, arrange your stuffed animals, lay down with a pillow and kick the sides while singing the alphabet song. At least that’s what was happening in O’s room while I made a batch of carrot top pesto.

Baby Carrots. These weren’t actually setting on the floor. My ugly kitchen countertops just look like a cheap wood floor. 

You can eat the green tops of carrots. Who knew? It seems so obvious now and so sad that I’ve always lopped the green off and thrown it away. Turns out that it makes killer pesto. The pesto has a little bite to it and the same subtle earthiness that carrots have. I loved it, Sorin liked it, and O said after eating an entire bowl of noodles and carrot pesto, “Not too bad” (she’s a tough critic).

The recipe is from Diane Morgan’s new cookbook, “Roots.” You can find the recipe for carrot top pesto on the Culinate website.  This recipe is exactly why I love cookbooks.  Just when you’re feeling bored with the whole food scene,  a single recipe can inspire so many new ideas.

Recipe note: Whip up a double batch, as the recipe doesn’t make a huge amount. I didn’t have pine nuts so instead I used sliced almonds that I toasted for a few minutes in a pan.

Homemade Crackers

September 5, 2012

Homemade Wheat Thins

Before you think I’m some kind of super-mom who has never bought a box of crackers, you should know that the reason I made several batches of  crackers recently was because I was getting paid to do it. Of course I want my kid to eat natural, wholesome homemade food, but there was no way I was going to find time for homemade crackers until a paycheck was involved.

Plus, can you imagine the stares you’d get from other mom’s at the playground if you pulled out homemade Wheat Thins? They’d be the kind of stares and plastic smiles that are meant to convey “You’re so amazing!” but really mean, “You’re so annoying! And when you leave the playground, the rest of us are all going to talk about you!”

Homemade Wheat Thins

Homemade Cheese Nips

Homemade Olive Oil & Sea Salt Crackers

So keep your homemade crackers to yourself at the playground. But do try them, because they really are so much better than those that come in a box. They taste better, cost less and don’t have any weird ingredients. They’re also really easy to make. I baked  the homemade Wheat Thins while watching an episode of Downton Abbey and doing laundry.

In some ways homemade crackers are more for adults than kids, who might not appreciate the super-flakey texture and natural flavor. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s okay if you and your husband eat the entire batch right out of the oven while your child sleeps. The next day, when she asks for crackers just give her the little package of Cheese Nips you find in the back of the pantry from a flight you took on Southwest Airlines a few weeks ago.

The problem is that now that I’ve made homemade crackers, I really want to try making graham crackers and animal crackers, too. And no one’s paying me for that kind of craziness. Someone, please, talk me out of it. Unless, of course, you have an amazing recipe for graham crackers…

Citrus Basil Marinade

August 3, 2012
Citrus Basil Marinade

Citrus Basil Marinade

I’ve finally done it. After almost a decade of denial and procrastination I’ve put together an emergency earthquake kit. Having a kid makes you worry about these sort of things. Granted, it took almost two years after her birth for me to be worried enough to actually buy a flashlight and some water and a first aid kit, but don’t worry honey! We’re safe now.

Although…the week after I proudly packed the kit into our closet and crossed it off my mental to-do list we drank the entire case of what I call “earthquake water” because our water filter broke and LA water from the tap is like slurping out of a really chlorinated swimming pool. Then, a few days later Ophelia got knocked over at the park by a little kid on a scooter and we broke into the first aid kit for some Neosporin. And as Sorin likes to point out, this is Los Angeles. If there’s an earthquake we’re more likely to be in our car than in our house so a closet full of earthquake preparedness does nothing for us. So now I need to make a kit for the car.

Great.

Cute, right?

Cute, right?

But I am excited about the solar-charged radio I bought that also charges our cell phones and I think does a dozen other really handy emergency-type things. I’m kind of relying on this little radio to get us through the whole natural disaster, should it strike. Although I like to think of myself as a person who remains calm in emergency situations, I am not a survivalist. When we blow a fuse every other night during the winter because two space heaters are running at once, I can barely find the fuse box. I’m still not entirely sure how to turn our main water valve off (is it that knob thingy in the front of the house?) and if I get lost in the woods the only thing I know is that finding my way out has something to do with which side of the tree the moss is growing on.

I come from a family filled with people who I think would be very helpful should all hell break loose. They are handy, resourceful, hardy folk.  Once, at a family reunion when the people outnumbered the seats at the table, my Dad built a picnic table. Right before dinner. Like it was no big deal.

Unfortunately, not one member of my immediate or extended family even lives in the same state as I do. It’s not like I don’t have any skills at all, but I’m pretty sure that after the earthquake hits the Red Cross is not going to knock on doors asking if anyone can pair a 4-course meal with wine. And although I love food, if our pantry runs dry I’m not into foraging. Not after watching that terrifying scene at the end of “Into the Wild“.

But I can make a mean marinade.  And that counts for something, right?

Basil Citrus Marinade

I have marinated both beef and chicken in this, with delicious results. It’s our marinade of choice this summer.

Ingredients:
2 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons coconut oil, olive oil, or vegetable oil

Blend ingredients together in a blender until somewhat smooth. Pour over 1 pound of raw meat and marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature or 1-2 hours in the refrigerator.

You can also play around with the same ingredients to make a salad dressing. Such as:

Grilled Corn Salad with Citrus Basil Dressing

Grilled Corn Salad with Citrus Basil Dressing

2 big handfuls of fresh basil leaves
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup or more of olive oil

As with the marinade, blend ingredients together in a blender until smooth.

I especially like the dressing over a salad made from grilled vegetables like red onion, bell peppers and corn.

Chocolate to Soothe the Soul

July 7, 2012
Homemade Chocolate Sauce

Homemade Chocolate Sauce

This post has to be about chocolate. I originally had in mind a fresh and lively summer salad made from grilled corn and an amazing basil-lime dressing, but today just isn’t the day for that salad. I will share it with you, soon. But for now, indulging in a dessert that soothes in only the way that chocolate can is what I need, so it’s what you’re getting too.

There are times in life when something big comes to you – a promotion, an opportunity, a relationship – and you feel like you deserve it because you have worked hard or waited so long for that moment to happen. There are also times in life when you feel like  the universe is being unbelievably generous by just dropping something wonderful right at your feet. Maybe there were choices you made that led you to this place where you were open to everything the universe had to offer, or maybe for a split second in life, you got really lucky.

This split second for me was in the last few months of 2002 when I had just graduated from culinary school, was living in New York, and had lucked into a restaurant internship where my job consisted of  pairing wine and cheese (I still can’t believe that’s really a job). Luckier still, it was because of this internship that I met a woman who inspired me in a way that no one I’d worked with had inspired me before. This was partly because she was such a strong female presence in an industry that still felt so unfairly dominated by men, but mostly because she was lovely in every possible way. Smart, funny, fearless, outspoken, and at all times completely herself. There didn’t seem to be a work version of her and a personal version; she was who she was all of the time. I wanted to live my life like she lived hers. Honestly, happily and boldly.

Last week, she died, very unexpectedly for me but also for those who knew her much, much better than I did and had just a few short months to digest her diagnosis of cancer. It’s been ten years since the brief time when she inspired me and left such a lasting impression and yet her death really feels like losing a friend. Her influence was wide in the world of food and especially meaningful for those of us obsessed with cheese. I know there are many, many other people who hardly knew her and yet were profoundly influenced by her enthusiasm, knowledge and generosity. Even after her death I find myself still learning from and being inspired by her words, that her husband shared last week : “I have lived a full and rich life, full of love.  I have made my own decisions and I created the life I wanted to live.  I owned my life”.

And so, today, chocolate. Not only because chocolate is what I turn to when I need to be soothed, but also because it reminds me of Daphne, a woman who frequently convinced me to sneak out of the restaurant with her during our shift and run out to buy chocolate at the little bodega down the street. You can read more about her life and influence in a New York Times obituary. And in the spirit of Daphne, you can take a moment today to indulge in something chocolatey and wonderful, just because.

Homemade Chocolate Sauce, to be poured on anything you desire

This recipe is very similar to one that my mom use to make when I was a kid. We always had a jar of chocolate sauce in the refrigerator that was often poured over a bowl of vanilla ice cream before bedtime. It keeps pretty much forever and has fewer questionable ingredients than store-bought chocolate sauce does.As it turns out, it is also very similar to one used by David Lebovitz who shares amazing recipes and very helpful cooking tips on his website, Living the Sweet Life in Paris.

Ingredients:
Total Cooking Time: 15 minutes or so, plus the sauce needs a few hours to cool completely

1 cup of water
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey (or white corn syrup)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 of a 3.5 ounce dark chocolate bar, cut into small pieces

Instructions:

Over medium heat, whisk together the water, sugar, honey and cocoa powder. Bring to a gentle boil, then turn off the heat and slowly add the chopped chocolate, whisking to make sure it melts completely. Let the sauce cool for several hours then transfer to an airtight container in the refrigerator.

What You Eat When You’re Exhausted After a Vacation

June 29, 2012

The problem with going on vacation once you have kids is that the two days after vacation are so unbelievably exhausting you almost regret going in the first place. The piles of laundry. The toilet that broke while you were gone (and you only have 1 toilet in the house). The realization that the work deadline you put out of your mind while away is rapidly approaching… these things have a way of zapping all my energy.

Plus, O has suddenly turned into a random eater. I wouldn’t go as far as saying she’s picky because she still eats a wide variety of foods, but what exactly she’s in the mood for is anyone’s guess. Salmon with mashed potatoes and peas and carrots on the side? No thanks, Mom! I’d rather dump that plate on the floor and eat a bowl filled with almond butter and raspberry jam. Chicken and rice (once a sure thing)..Nah. How ’bout I sprinkle that around my highchair and have some feta cheese and a frozen waffle instead?

Tonight I’m not even going to attempt to cook a real meal for her. I’m guessing she’ll end up eating something like scrambled eggs dipped in ketchup (why did I ever introduce her to ketchup?)

Raw Kale Salad

Raw Kale Salad

As for Sorin and I, we’ll be eating this raw kale salad that I just posted a recipe for on About.com. It’s yummier than it sounds and might just become your favorite summer salad. Plus, you can gloat all evening about healthy you are. Have some meat or fish or a little pasta on the side and you’ll be completely satisfied. Check it out the kale salad on About.com and I’ll be back with a new recipe as soon as I’ve recovered from my vacation.

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