Meatballs and Chocolate to Tame the Wild Things

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Recently, I picked up soup and sandwiches from Rustic Bakery in Larkspur and delivered them to a friend in need. The soup I arrived with – spring minestrone with meatballs – wasn’t actually what I had ordered, but was unlike anything I’d had before. It tasted of spring and was nourishing, and full of flavor. I was inspired to make something similar at home.

Today, we had a break in the gorgeous weather and it actually felt like early spring with some light showers and slightly brisk temperatures — the perfect day for cooking with the kids.

Our trip to Monterey Market took its toll on me. Sadie and Caleb had been replaced by unruly wild things and it’s surprising we made it out alive with the ingredients for our meatball soup and triple chocolate cookies, not to mention good cheese, bread, and salad fixings.

By mid-afternoon, my children had returned on their boat from far across the world and in and out of a day. Caleb and I took on the triple chocolate cookie recipe together. He was so eager to help just had a great attitude with any task I threw at him. Could this have had anything to do with the fact that he was in close proximity to chocolate and plenty of utensils to lick? Most definitely.

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Later in the afternoon, I prepared the meatballs, then Sadie helped me to brown them in the pan. The soup came together rather quickly and before too long, we were sitting down to a gorgeous spring meal. The soup (which, of course, was still hot) was outstanding and we all fell quiet as we devoured it. The chocolate cookies were not too sweet, and were perfectly chewy and rich with flavor.

It felt good to be in the kitchen with my kiddos after a lengthy hiatus. We’ve just been too busy, and this was the perfect opportunity to slow our gears down a bit and bond over good things to eat.

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Spring Minestrone with Meatballs

ingredients

  • 6 ounces ground turkey (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, divided, plus more for garnish
  • 4 garlic cloves, 2 minced, 2 thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1 large egg, whisked to blend
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 5 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup Israel couscous
  • 1 cup peeled and small diced carrots
  • 1 cup (packed) baby spinach or other greens
  • Chopped fresh herbs
  • Fresh Parmesan

preparation

Mix ground turkey, breadcrumbs, 3 tablespoons Parmesan, 2 minced garlic cloves, chives, egg, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Form into 1/2″-diameter meatballs (makes about 28).

Heat oil in a small pot over medium heat. Cook meatballs until golden all over, about 3 minutes (they will finish cooking in soup). Transfer to a plate; set aside.

Add leek to pot and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves; cook for 1 minute. Add broth and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Stir in Israeli couscous and carrots; simmer until pasta is almost al dente, about 8 minutes. Add meatballs; simmer until pasta is al dente, carrots are tender, and meatballs are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add spinach, kale, or favorite green and remaining 3 tablespoons Parmesan; stir until greens are wilted and Parmesan is melted. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with herbs of choice and Parmesan.


Triple Chocolate Cookies

ingredients

  • 10 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips

preparation

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir chopped chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth; remove from over water. Cool melted chocolate 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in another medium bowl until crumbly. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until mixture is light, pale, and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add lukewarm melted chocolate and vanilla and beat just until blended. Fold in dry ingredients, then chocolate chips.

Drop chocolate cookie batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, 1 baking sheet at a time, until tops are evenly cracked but cookies are not yet firm to touch, about 12 minutes.

Girly Girl Gorgonzola Fig Tart

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Sadie and I are home having a girly girl weekend, while ‘the guys’ are on their annual pilgrimage in Monterey. Staring out at our prolific fig tree this morning, while sitting with Sadie at the table, I suddenly felt bitten with inspiration by a Dash and Bella recipe I had recently salivated over for a fig and blue cheese tart.

I tucked my thoughts away for a while as Sadie entertained me during breakfast. I was reminded of how fun and tender she is. At one point, she picked up a photo of the two of us to show me and said with confidence “this is love!” At that exact moment, my heart turned to mush over a bowl of cottage cheese. Sadie went on to explain that our hearts are glued together. Indeed they are.

After breakfast, we prepared an easy tart dough recipe. She was clearly in her comfort zone, spending special time with me in the kitchen; not having to take back-seat to her big brother’s occasional bossiness.

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After returning from a lovely walk to the local farmer’s market with our friends, we headed back into the kitchen. We rolled out our now chilled dough, and then spread out the figs I had picked this morning, onto the  onto the rolled out pastry. I then sprinkled crumbled gorgonzola, shreds of prosciutto, and a light drizzle of honey and balsamic vinegar. When the tart looked like an art-piece, it was time for the oven.

While it baked, Sadie further entertained me with a “birthday song” she had made up on the piano (for no one in particular’s birthday). She commanded me to dance around in circles while she performed. I complied. When she finished, she handed me an imaginary piece of birthday cake, which I quickly gobbled up. I asked her if it was chocolate and she responded “yes, but with a little poop in it!” It was delicious…who knew poop was the new it ingredient!?

Once out of the oven, I wanted to throw myself at our fig tart – it looked and smelled divine. I eagerly sliced myself a corner and devoured it, appreciating the perfect marriage of sweet, salty, and savory. I love how the figs caramelized under the melted gorgonzola, and how good they tasted with salty prosciutto. What a great use of our figs, as well as our time together. Don’t tell Sadie, but it was a cut above chocolate cake with poop.

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Tutti a Tavola…a Mangiare!

I woke up in a cantankerous mood on Sunday—uncharacteristically crabby and something needed to be done about it pronto. Mateo agreed to take the kids out for a bit in the afternoon and I rolled up my sleeves and immediately got to cooking. Ah, food therapy does the trick every time.

We had pluots (plum/apricot hybrid) from that morning’s farmer’s market stroll and I had leftover homemade tart dough in the fridge, so I assembled an easy pluot galette with a recipe I adapted from the Zuni Café Cookbook.

Once that galette came out of the oven, I could feel the tension ease and my shoulders drop. It was gorgeous and its fruity aroma permeated the house. Next, I channeled my inner-Lidia Bastianich and drummed up a gourmet pizza recipe using ingredients we had in our house, including fresh dough from Trader Joe’s.

Caleb throwing dough in the air

After the family returned, I employed Caleb and Sadie, and together we made a sumptuous, summer-themed pizza, topped with mozzarella, gorgonzola, sliced farmer’s market perfectly ripe peaches, salty prosciutto, and parsley.

We sat down for a dinner of golden, bubbly, just-out-of-the-oven gourmet pizza with a simple arugula salad on the side. For dessert, we enjoyed the pluot galette. Honestly, sometimes you really have to toot our own horn—TOOT TOOT—this meal was frickin’ delicious!

My pleasant mood had returned and I sat there at the family table feeling calm again, not to mention extremely grateful for the seasonal ingredients, the delicious food we had just devoured at record speed, and the company of my loving familia.DSC_0001

A Midsummer Night’s Buckle

Occasionally, with a sudden surplus of extra energy which magically appears out of the ether, I’ve been known to whip up a mid-week home baked dessert with Caleb and Sadie. On Monday night, after taking the day for myself, I had some of that hard-to-come-by reserve and with it we made blueberry and nectarine buckle.

This dessert is quintessentially summertime. Served warm out of the oven with vanilla bean ice cream à la mode, it’s that old-fashioned, this is what your grandma used to bake anecdote to the mid-week rut we all get stuck in. The buckle was also easy to assemble as most of the ingredients were already in my pantry.

The results are summery and sublime, warm and nurturing, and extremely gratifying. Caleb and Sadie literally licked their bowls clean and we had enough leftovers to supply us with warm dessert for three more evenings. If my assistant pastry chefs could help me get this in the oven just as we were starting our dinner preparations, then you can do it too.

DSC_0017Blueberry & Nectarine Buckle

Gourmet Cookbook

For the topping:

  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the batter:

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups blueberries, picked over and rinsed (we added raspberries)
  • 2 nectarines, pitted and cut into 1-inch wedges (you can substitute peaches)
  • whipped cream or ice cream as an accompaniment

Preparation

Make the topping: In a small bowl blend together the butter, the sugar, the flour, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg until the mixture resembles coarse meal and chill the topping while making the batter.

Make the batter: In a small bowl with an electric mixer cream together the butter and the sugar and beat in the vanilla. In a small bowl stir together the baking powder, the flour, and the salt, beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture alternately with the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and fold in the blueberries and the nectarines.

Spread the batter in a well-buttered 10-by 2-inch round cake pan or 2-quart baking pan, sprinkle the topping evenly over it and bake the buckle in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean and the topping is crisp and golden. Serve the buckle with whipped cream.

The Muffins That Sadie Baked

Zesting a lemon

Going into the oven

Cooking with my kids anchors me in the present moment, reminding me of what’s most important in life – spending quality time with family, especially when making good quality food that can soon be enjoyed around the family table.

Lately, I’ve been writing more about my personal adventures in food, namely cheese. A recent cheese experiment—attempting my first batch of homemade aged goat cheese—resulted in two gallons of very expensive goat’s milk going down the drain. Literally.

After a tiring week and an expensive cheese mishap, I was in need of an easy, happy experience in the kitchen. On Sunday morning, Sadie woke up before everyone else. While I attempted to scrape myself off the mattress, Sadie quietly entertained herself with toys in the living room. In appreciation of her sensitivity, and because Caleb was still asleep (Mateo is camping this weekend), I invited her to join me in the kitchen for a blueberry muffin baking session.

I love a quiet house on a weekend morning. I especially enjoy filling it up with the aroma of warm, sweet baked delights. Sadie and I carefully followed each step of the blueberry muffin recipe, until we had blueberry-laden batter ready to spoon into the muffin tins. Our time together was relaxed, not rushed, and I felt unusually patient in Sadie’s presence as she paid close attention to my instructions and did a wonderful job as assistant pastry chef. Caleb has always enjoyed helping me in the kitchen, but Sadie is especially patient and curious, and is clearly soaking up every lesson. I look forward to seeing what they both do with this kitchen training.

As the muffins were going into the oven, I could hear the heavier patter of footsteps coming down the stairs, followed by a sleepy “good morning.” With Caleb now awake and the scent of baking blueberry muffins dancing in the air, it was time to get the breakfast show on the road.

Once the gobbling commenced, happy sounds filled the air. The meal ended with Caleb’s butt poised up in the air on his chair as he examined the contents on the dining room floor, as Sadie sang a happy song which she had just made up. I just sat there admiring my treasures.

My children are happy, healthy, whimsical, curious, and creative. I am anchored in a loving relationship and surrounded by the best quality human beings for friends and family. I live in a beautiful and bountiful part of the world, surrounded by good food, nature, mixed cultures, and countless activities and opportunities.

All combined, it makes an unsuccessful first attempt at cheese making much easier to put into perspective.

 

Blueberry Muffins

From a Baker’s Kitchen by Gail Sher

Ingredients

1C fresh blueberries

1tb all-purpose flour

2C all-purpose flour

1tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ C sugar

1 C yogurt

1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp grated lemon rind

Wash the fresh berries, drain them on a towel, and place them in a strainer. Holding the strainer over a plate, sprinkle the berries with flour and tap the strainer so that the excess flour falls through. This will help suspend the berries in the batter and prevent them from bleeding.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. In a separate smaller bowl, mix the yogurt, egg, melted butter, and lemon rind. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, stirring only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Gently stir in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into well-buttered or paper-lined muffin cups and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

This American Pie

Life has been moving at lightning speed, leaving me feeling overwhelmed and breathless at times. What was my burrito-sized newborn, swaddled in flannel, is now my sprouting seven year-old with two missing front teeth, a sharp increase in emotional-intelligence (Me: “Caleb, I’m feeling frustrated with you right now.” Caleb: “I’m listening to your feelings, Momma.”), and large quantities of energy I wish I could harness and sell for profit.

Caleb’s play dates, which used to involve little sweet, energetic, runny-nosed boys named Jordan and Miles, are morphing into dates with bright, attractive, and opinionated girls named Judith and Eva.

Judith (envision tall, blonde, supermodel / Ph.D. candidate in the making), Caleb’s desk mate in first grade, came over today for their inaugural play date. With an abundance of fall fruit rolling around the breakfast table and an ice cream maker suffering from abandonment issues, I declared this a pie and ice cream play-date! A perfect activity for a crisp, sunny day in early November.

This morning, when Caleb popped out of bed before the sun, we cuddled on the couch and discussed the upcoming activity. He asked if I knew how to make a “checkerboard pie,” which I understood to mean pie with a lattice crust. I was inclined to say no as I didn’t know how much attention span I would be working with that afternoon, but instead, I said yes. What the heck…we’d give it a shot.

With several of the ingredients prepped in advance, my little pastry chefs quickly fell into step following my instructions and no recipe in particular. With the sun streaming through the kitchen window and music playing in the background, we filled the room with laughter and plenty of goofball energy. Before too long, a simple vanilla ice cream recipe was prepared and congealing in the freezer and an honorable attempt at a lattice-top apple pie was made.

While Caleb, Judith, and Sadie played throughout the house, the aroma of baked apples and cinnamon followed them from room to room. Once out of the oven, we could not stop ourselves from hovering, taking in big inhalations of sweet, spiced apple pie, redolent of this season.

Before their play date came to a close, the kiddos sat around our dining table with generous portions of warm apple pie à la mode. They were practically bouncing off the walls with wild energy. I think we were all feeling proud, accomplished, and ravenous. Looking up, we saw it was pie o’ clock - and we began eating! We next fell into an apple pie induced happy trance. Caleb clearly loved the apple pie but was not as enamored with the ice cream. Judith’s experience was the opposite. Sadie enjoyed it all.

For someone who grew up in a family proud of being unconventional, I am inexplicably drawn to the All-American apple pie experience. I find it grounding – truly gratifying. It is also a practical use for our extra apples.

Baking in an 80′s Timewarp

Alone at home today, enjoying a solitary baking session. My time traveling machine (Pandora) has transported me back to the mid-eighties, except I don’t have short, shaved hair, dyed primary colors this go-around.

Listening to Yaz on my 80’s station…Alison Moyet is belting out Situation. Just completed baking pineapple upside-down cake, which is cooling off on the stove-top. My house is filled with the fragrance of freshly baked cake…vanilla, spices, pineapple, brown sugar. I can barely hold back my excitement. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when I flip it over.

Now, the chocolate macadamia nut pie is baking and the scent of chocolate is filling the air. Thompson Twins are singing Lies, Lies, Lies and I’m feeling very content and fully in my comfort zone. Tears for Fears’ comes on, Head Over Heels plays, and the chocolate scent is intoxicating.

The time to flip the upside-down cake onto the serving dish has arrived, and I almost gasp as the finished product presents itself. Caramelized pineapple perfectly arranged. Melted brown sugar dripping down the sides of the golden brown cake. Morrisey is whining in the background, depressed as ever.

Talk Talk singing their eponymous song now and I am completely transported back in time. I pull the pie out of the oven and behold its dark hued beauty. I can’t wait to taste the combination of some of my favorite flavors…chocolate, salt, and roasted nuts. “Talk talk talk talk, all you do to me is talk talk!”

My family is bringing these baked goodies to a foodie potluck tomorrow in San Francisco. The theme is ‘luau’ and I thought to take full advantage of two of Hawaii’s most exported ingredients, pineapple and macadamia nuts. I can’t wait to see what the others bring. I’ll report more on that soon. New Order beats now; my body moves along to the Casio drumbeat.

Alas, it’s time to program my time-machine to transport me back to my present day, forty-something body. A much-enjoyed sojourn back to a decade that left an indelible mark on me. Now, back to work…lunch break is over.

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Note: I added about 4oz of melted semi-sweet chocolate to the pie recipe and omitted a little sugar.

Where There’s Love, There’s Apple Strudel

Meant to be pronounced with your best Austrian accent…don’t forget to don a fake handle-bar mustache and a funny chef’s toque for dramatic affect…apple strudel (”apple stroooodel”) is a traditional Viennese pastry, which gained in popularity throughout Eastern Europe in the 18th century.

Quite popular in our home, I’ve been threatening to treat Caleb and Sadie to home-baked apple and raisin studded strudel for a week now and had a handful of crisp farmer’s market apples on stand-by. Having made it before, I knew how easy this perfect weekend morning baking activity would be, and the heavenly results it would yield.

As Caleb and I were preparing the strudel and browning walnuts in the toaster oven, I hear “Dude, the walnuts are burning!” They weren’t actually burning, but more than anything else, I was taken aback by the fact that my little baby, my first-born child is now calling me “dude!” Knowing how often I call him “dude”, this day was bound to arrive. Mateo and I just looked at each other and laughed.

Sadie-bug assisted by standing up on the chair, sautéing the apples. Before long the strudel was prepared, cut into slices and placed onto a cookie sheet. Once in the oven, we could smell heavenly apple and pastry perfume filling the air. Our house smelled like love lives here. Caleb pulled the cookie sheet out and volunteered “yummmmmm!”

Once the strudel cooled down enough, I treated both kiddos to an after breakfast slice. Such happy sounds came out of their mouths, and I stepped back and watched as they stuffed their faces full of strudel, then sweetly fed each other the last crumbs of pastry from their plates. It was clear to me that our easy apple strudel recipe was a hit. Mateo and I each took a bite and emitted happy sounds as well. Love most definitely lives here…you can smell it, you can taste it, and you can see it.

Easy Apple Strudel

This is our original recipe. Follow it exactly, or use your good instincts to make it your own. We hope you enjoy the delicious results as much as we did. Very easy to follow and yields about 20 apple strudel slices. Bon appétit!

Ingredients
1 box (2 sheets) puffed pastry, defrosted to room temperature
6 apples (any type), peeled and sliced thin – Cuisinart can be used
4 TB unsalted butter
1 C raisins
1 pinch salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp vanilla
3 TB brown sugar
¾ cup of finely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted in oven
1 egg, whisk in ramekin w/ fork for egg wash

Method
Preheat oven to 375F, with rack in middle of oven. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large sauté pan, melt butter, then add thinly sliced apple. Sauté for about 3 minutes, then add raisins, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and brown sugar. Cook for about 2 more minutes until just softened, then remove from heat.

Unfold thawed pastry onto a working mat and spoon about half of the slightly cooled apple mixture over ¾ of the pastry, leaving an empty lip at the far end. Sprinkle a handful of the toasted walnuts over the mixture. Lightly brush egg wash onto the lip of pastry, then roll until sealed. Repeat with 2nd pastry sheet, and then brush both with egg wash. With a sharp knife, cut about 20, ½ inch slices of strudel and lay on baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush tops w/ egg wash. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, and then remove from oven. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or on its own with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.