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 Sadie and Caleb had been replaced by unruly wild things and it’s surprising we made it out alive with the ingredients for our meatball soup and triple chocolate cookies, not to mention good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.

More than Ice Cream Sandwiches

The thing about parenting is that you’re always in a position of teaching, learning, and growing. You could say the same thing about life in general. I was really reminded of my important role as a teacher and student when I was in the process of cooking with Caleb on Saturday morning. He had this great idea to make ice cream sandwiches (for dessert later), which I ran with.

We embarked on the cooking project by making a classic chocolate chip cookie recipe, but we made them larger so they could hold a fair amount of ice cream between two. As the baking cookies filled our house with delightful fragrance, we got started on our homemade chocolate ice cream. Using our fabulous ice cream maker, we whipped up a batch of bittersweet chocolate ice cream in no time.

Here’s where my lesson comes in. I had never made ice cream sandwiches before, but had mastered coq au van, so how hard could they be!? The cookies had cooled off (mostly) and the ice cream was close to normal texture. With Caleb’s help, I started to spread the ice cream quickly onto one cookie, and then placed the second cookie on top. As we completed a few of these, I started to notice the ice cream begin to melt and the cookies started to slip and slide around the tray.

My breath began to shorten, my shoulders became tense, and I started to lose my cool. Mateo came into the kitchen with reassurances that we could fix the problem of the messy, melting, slippery, ice cream cookies, but I was too immersed in flogging myself aloud for the cooking project gone wrong. I then thought about all the times I say to Caleb, “sweetie, please be easier on yourself”, when he’s in the middle of berating his attempt at homework or an art project he’s working on. He doesn’t do this all the time, but often enough to cause us concern. I clearly see how our struggle (Mateo and I both) to be easier on ourselves has played out in our children’s development.

As much as I can possibly help it, I want both Sadie and Caleb to be free of the ‘Samsonite’ that we have carried around for so many years, and have worked hard to lighten ourselves of. It’s disheartening when I see Caleb not taking a lighter approach to the things he is just learning for the first time; projects that should be fun and engaging.

So, in the middle of the kitchen, I started to inhale and exhale. It felt good to take an “oh well!” approach to my first attempt at a project that seemed so simple in theory. The truth is, I had never made ice cream sandwiches, and I deserved some room for trial and error! In that moment, I made the decision to be lighter; to act the way I wanted to feel (happier and open to the adventure – after all, I was spending precious time with my kid doing what we love most); and to not take this first attempt at ice cream cookies so seriously. We cleaned the messy cookies up, scraped off the ice cream, and let it all freeze a little while longer. About an hour later, the assembly process was seamless, and we quickly produced a batch of delicious treats to be enjoyed at dessert.

Lesson learned: our children are always watching us and the way we treat ourselves, is the way they’re going to learn to be in the world. The easier I am on myself; the easier my kiddos will be. If I learn to laugh at what I perceive to be a screw-up, the more likely they are to adopt a similar approach when things get challenging.

The long and short of it? The ice cream sandwiches were excellent. They were fun to eat after a delicious home-cooked meal. We enjoyed them with a sense of lightness and really felt proud of our accomplishment. I felt good about myself for turning my hard time around, and for modeling being easier on myself. After all, two sets of beautiful and impressionable eyes are watching me at all times. This is important work.

On Days Like This

On dreary days like this when the sun is struggling to assert itself and the family is off on one of those ‘let mom rest’ outings, I am left alone with my feelings and the growing desire to cook something.

As I was sitting on the couch this morning, when it was drizzling outside and the kids were running around the house in their pajamas, I turned to one of my cookbooks (ad hoc at home by Thomas Keller), to a page with a gorgeous photo of bread pudding with bananas. Yes! I would make this today. Perfect.

My mom has been very much on my mind as of late. I can tell this by my need to make comfort food. I equate my mom with comfort food, and find I need it that much more when the loss of her is sitting heavy on my heart.

My mother was one of those souls who made this planet a better place to live. She was a true mensch. So revered by her friends was my mom, that my siblings and I sometimes wondered who they were talking about when she was described in such saintly terms. We were familiar with the many angles of her spectrum of light. What I’m left remembering though is the woman who loved me the most in the world (loving each of her kids ‘the most’, as mothers should); the woman who welcomed everyone at her table; the woman who told me that she wanted to be more like me if she had her life to live over (imagine that); the woman who would march for all right causes and fought all of the good fights.

She passed away four years ago, surrounded by loving family members singing folk songs, songs of protest, reading poetry, saying loving words through drenching tears, holding hands, embracing, holding each other up.

At first, it felt like I had lost my compass. I hadn’t realized just how much my mom anchored me to my life. It took time, but eventually I became my own compass, my own anchor. I have stepped up and become some of the mom that she was, as well as the mom that I would naturally become, given my unique take on the world. As my mom did with me, I cook with my children, I get impatient with them, and I tell them often that I love them. I laugh much more with Caleb and Sadie, and consciously infuse silliness, play, and physical affection into my parenting approach, much more than my mom did. It wasn’t so much her style.

From the moment I saw that photo of the bread pudding, I obsessed about making some with my kiddos. It would lift my spirits and give me an excuse to enjoy some time in the kitchen with them, while it filled up with sweet smells of melting chocolate and custard soaked bread. I was – as I usually am – intimidated by Keller’s recipes (needless to say, he’s not a full-time working mom with two young children), but I figured I could put my spin on it and add some dark chocolate chunks, which were missing from his version. I would also caramelize the bananas in butter and brown sugar, a departure from Keller’s instructions. How could I not?

While the family was out, I took a lone walk to the store and shopped for the bread pudding ingredients. Back at home, I prepared the custard, toasted the challah, and then combined the bread and custard so they could start soaking. A smile came to my face as I danced around my quiet kitchen doing my thing. I was already feeling better. Once Caleb and Sadie returned, we completed the recipe together. Caleb carefully sliced bananas with a sharp knife (while I breathed deeply and watched carefully as he followed the ‘tuck your fingers in like claws’ technique that I taught him).

The bread pudding was calling to us from the oven and we couldn’t wait for it to be ready for eating. This was a therapeutic recipe for me and I could feel my heart lightening and my smile growing as the pudding came out of the oven looking golden, bubbly, and gorgeous.

What better way to honor the woman who taught me how to cook and to love food as much as I do, than to make something she would have enjoyed immensely. The bread pudding was divine, and the addition of caramelized bananas and melted chocolate was off-the-hook good. I would make this again and again, when in need of comfort.

I love you Ma. ‘Wish you would pick up the phone when I call.

Bread Pudding with Caramelized Bananas and Chocolate Chunks

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Farm to Table

Proudly showing off fresh eggs from the hen house

Caleb and Sadie both had Martin Luther King Jr. Day off from school, so I took a vacation day from work and we headed off to Sonoma to visit my sisters, Niki and Jody.

Jody lives near the center of town in Sonoma, but Niki (my oldest sister) and her husband Michael recently moved from San Francisco and bought a house with some land down a country road, just outside of town. Located in a bucolic setting, their new country home is surrounded by open space, and is located directly across from a vineyard…just beautiful.

My ‘city mouse’ sister has finally heeded her ‘country mouse’ calling. Not only does she grow her own veggies now, but she has a chicken coop and a gang of egg-laying hens to boot.

After lunch, we walked to the hen house, located toward the back of the property. With flashlight and small egg-gathering baskets in hand, we stepped into the dark coop. While the hens were out wandering around the property, Caleb and Sadie each took turns gathering freshly laid eggs. They placed their eggs so carefully in the little baskets and walked them very gingerly back to the house. These kids are accustomed to buying their eggs at Trader Joe’s, so to see them gather freshly laid eggs and put them gently in a basket to take back to the kitchen, was a particularly awesome experience.

Visiting with Auntie Jody (left) and Auntie Niki (center)

The fine ladies roaming the property

Every farm needs a good pony ride!

Niki washed the eggs and put them in a recycled egg carton for us to transport back to El Cerrito. We kissed, hugged, then said our goodbyes. In the car, Caleb and I discussed what we would cook with our farm fresh eggs. I suggested an old-fashioned rice pudding recipe from the Joy of Cooking cookbook and I’m sure I had him at “rice” or was it “pudding?”

Once we settled in back at home, I opened up my well-worn copy of Joy of Cooking and we began to cook. As a child, rice pudding was a very special occasion whenever my mom had leftover rice in the refrigerator. I loved it slightly warmed, just after dinner, with a little cold milk drizzled over my portion.

This old-fashioned recipe felt like the perfect vehicle for our eggs fresh from the farm. It was also a great way to wrap up a sweet day in the country. Just after dinner, we thoroughly enjoyed our rice pudding. We talked about how the eggs that Sadie and Caleb had gathered earlier in the day, made it possible for us to enjoy our delicious dessert.

This was an invaluable culinary lesson for my nearly-city-kids to learn at such a young age. Thanks to Auntie Niki and Auntie Jody (and Uncle Mike!) for a memorable day spent in the country, and for making such an unforgettable farm-to-table experience possible for us.

Rice pudding just out of the oven

Baked Rice Pudding

Adapted from Joy of Cooking. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Ingredients:

2 cups short- or medium-grain boiled rice (leftovers work well)

1 ½ cup milk

1/8 tsp salt

4 to 6 TB of sugar or ½ cup brown sugar

1 TB soft butter

1tsp vanilla

2-4 eggs

Add:

½ tsp grated lemon rind

1 tsp lemon juice

Dash of cinnamon

1/3 cup of raisins

Method:

Combine these ingredients lightly with a fork. Grease a baking dish. Pour the pudding into the dish and bake until set – about 50 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

This is a very kid-friendly recipe. Not too sweet and hard not to love.

A Feast to be Remembered

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We’re on the “recovery” end of Thanksgiving now and I’m still basking in the warmth and glow of delicious time spent with my family.

On the morning of, Caleb, Mateo, and I set out to make two pies and a cake – our contribution to the family feast hosted by my sister Niki and brother-in-law Michael in Sonoma. Together, we made a classic pumpkin pie, a walnut-chocolate pie, and an apple spice cake with warm fleur de sel caramel sauce topping.

All morning, we milled around the kitchen amidst the warm, spicy baking fragrances of our desserts in the oven. Caleb helped both Mateo and I with the assembly of both pies and the cake, and we enjoyed our cozy time with him in the kitchen. Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, there were a few arguments, outbursts, and moments where patience was lost, but why should we be different from any other family!? We still had a great time together.

We arrived at the “country house” in Sonoma around 3pm with pies and a cake, two kids, and some overnight bags in tow. Soon after, my family was fully assembled and once the turkey had its post-oven-composure-time, we sat down to a truly amazing meal. Every contribution was delicious and I think we were all feeling real gratitude for the colorful, healthy, and flavorful spread in front of us, the love of family, and the longing for those who couldn’t join us around the table.

Come dessert time, we all miraculously found room for the birthday cake, pies, and spice cake, and many “mmmssss” and “ahhhhss” were heard around the house.

I was filled up with much food, but also with heaping amounts of gratitude for having such a beautiful family made up of colorful and creative, outspoken and opinionated, unconventional and righteous, loving and caring souls, and I couldn’t be a luckier person. I am especially grateful that Caleb and Sadie are being raised in a family filled with such crazy, loving, goodness.

Happy belated Thanksgiving to all friends and family. Chanukah is up next!

Our recipes:

Apple Spice Cake (we warmed TJ’s caramel sauce in place of the eggnog sauce)

Chocolate-Walnut Pie

Pumpkin Pie

Making Stew with Caleb

Soul-satisfying beef stew

Autumn has arrived. In honor of the season, Caleb and I made a soul-satisfying batch of beef stew today. Fall is just a very stewy and get cozy time of year and what better way to welcome it, then to make a hearty stew to keep us warm as it starts to get chillier outside. We also made the stew in honor of my dad, or “Zadie” as he’s known to Caleb & Sadie, because we’re missing him a little, and because he LOVES beef stew. He’s visiting family in Denmark right now, then off to Scotland and Holland with his lady-friend, Charlotte.

But, more than an homage to autumn or anything else, today was really about taking time out of my way too busy life (as of late) to spend some much-needed one-on-one time with my Caleb. I wanted to make some memories with him today…to carve out some time to be together and to make each other laugh. So, we cooked, we got silly, and we produced a tasty and very hearty beef stew for dinner and several meals to come.

We also had a very interesting conversation. As it turns out, my “future vegetarian” is not so much a vegetarian! Almost a year since writing “We Don’t Eat Farm Animals, Momma!”, Caleb is now very aware of not only where meat comes from, but that he loves to eat it. I saw this in how he quietly devoured his meal, truly enjoying every bite…that was one nurturing pot of beefy stewy goodness! My apologies to the vegetarian nation! I thought I had a new recruit for you, but I was mistaken.

Mateo’s remark after eating the stew tonight was “Caleb, I love what you and Momma made so much, I’m going to finish it all up!”

Did I mention that we also made blueberry cornmeal muffins and oatmeal raisin cookies today? Later in the day, I told Caleb that I had such a great time baking cookies with him. Caleb responded enthusiastically, “I had a great time eating them!” It’s just been a cooking and baking, and being together kind of day…perfect activities for a “lazy” Sunday in autumn.

So, welcome to fall and we miss you Zadie. Good thing beef stew freezes so well!

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Recipe

Hearty Beef Stew

Adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe

Ingredients

3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes, or about 4 1/2 pounds beef shank, meat removed from bone and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

salt

ground black pepper

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium-large onions, chopped (2 cups)

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup full-bodied red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Côtes du Rhône, Zinfandel, Shiraz or Barolo)

2 cups beef broth (I use “Better than Bullion”)

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

4 large carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick

1/2 pound of small potatoes cut in half

1/2 pound of butter nut squash cut in large chunks

1 cup (6 ounces) frozen peas, thawed

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Preparation

Place meat in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper; toss to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in a medium-size Dutch oven; add meat to pan in two batches. Brown meat on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch, adding an additional 1 tablespoon oil if necessary. Transfer meat to a platter.

Add onions to pot; sauté until almost softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic; continue to sauté for about 30 seconds longer. Stir in flour and cook until lightly colored, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits that may have stuck to pan. Add broth, bay leaves and thyme; bring to simmer. Add meat, carrots, potatoes, and squash to pot and once boiling, cover and lower heat. Cook on low for one to two hours. I like to serve the stew over buttered egg noodles. Yum!

Enjoy!

Treasured Recipes

My mom always kept a binder or journal of hand written, Xeroxed, or clipped magazine recipes in her kitchen while I was growing up. Perhaps your mom did too. Lola’s treasured and food-stained recipe collection included my grandmother’s honey cake for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), her aunt’s meatloaf, her sister’s Danish pork, delicious baked rice pudding (my favorite as a kid), and a host of other recipes worth holding on to. A treasured and tasty food tapestry, collected over a lifetime.

I love the stories, memories, emotions, flavors that get passed along through recipe collections like my mom’s, and I have been pulling together my own collection of beloved recipes for many years into a time worn and food spattered recipe journal that I keep in my cookbook closet. My collection includes my favorite chocolate cake recipe that my sister gave to me two decades ago (see Caleb’s White Trash Chocolate Cake in recipe box), a delicious frittata recipe that I also got from Niki, Mateo’s dad’s pancake recipe that he grew up with, and other carefully clipped recipes that I’ve collected over the past few decades. Every time I pull the journal out of the closet, a recipe or two tumbles out and floats down to the floor. I suppose I could do a better job of securing them, but I love the way my collection is brimming over with recipes that are so eager to be used, they fall at our feet…recipes that I will one day gift to my children.

I’m writing about treasured recipes because Caleb and I were recently gifted with a collection of child-friendly recipes that Sadie’s Montessori teacher, Elizabeth has held on to over the years. She knows how much Caleb and I (and soon Sadie) enjoy cooking together, and wanted us to have her collection. I was so moved by this gift, that I chose to dedicate this post to the subject of beloved, treasured recipes, like the one’s Elizabeth passed along to us.

My next post will include some experimenting from Elizabeth’s collection, which has now been added to my home recipe binder. So convenient that they were already three-hole-punched and food-stained…they’ll fit right in! I look forward to testing some of these recipes with Caleb and Sadie at my side. I think we’ll start out with the persimmon cookie recipe – perfect for this time of year!

Special thanks to Elizabeth for the gift of her treasured recipes. I welcome any stories about family recipes collected throughout the years. Please feel free to send some beloved recipes our way. We may even use them as a future Cooking with Caleb project!

Happy (Jewish) New Year and welcome to the fall season.

Cha Cha Cha Siu Bao!

Freshly steamed pork buns

If I ever put the ‘What three foods would you want on a desert island?’ question to Caleb, his answer would simply be “three steamed pork buns!” Caleb is smitten with these Chinese barbecue pork buns (Cha Siu Bao). He inevitably orders them whenever our family ventures out for dim sum, much like I did when I was his age.

I recently promised Caleb that I would teach him how to make steamed pork buns. Not that I’ve ever made them myself, but I figured we’d take on a recipe together and see what happens. Hmmm…what was I thinking? I was daunted by this ambitious undertaking at first, but once I glanced at a recipe or two, I felt hopeful that we could create something that, at the very least, would slightly resemble (and hopefully taste) like what we so enjoy eating in dim sum restaurants.

Our family is enjoying a stay-cation this week; a restful (hah!) week off to do whatever we like in our own backyard. I woke up this morning with the inspiration to take Caleb on a shopping adventure to our local Ranch 99, a large supermarket stocked with everything ‘Asian’ under one roof. We had a ton of fun running around the store snapping photos of fish and crabs swimming around in tanks, of all of the Asian sauces you can imagine on one shelf, of dim sum prepared for takeout, etc. We also bumped into three local restaurateurs that we know in this small world of ours. They were so happy to see us and were tickled when we told them that we were shopping for ingredients to make pork buns.

I was proud of Caleb when he walked up to the butcher’s counter and ordered one pound of char siu (barbecue pork). The butcher smiled and chopped up the dark, hoisin glazed pork, which Caleb proudly walked away with. Once we had gathered up the remaining ingredients, we sat down on a bench outside the market, where Caleb devoured a warm baked pork bun that we had just purchased for a snack. We’ll just write today off as “Pork Bun Appreciation Day!”

Once home, Caleb and I prepared the dough, then put it aside to rise. After I chopped up the pork, we made the filling, which was easier than I thought, then added the meat. I tasted the filling and was surprised by how similar it was to classic pork bun filling. This filled me with hope that we might be in store for a delicious outcome.

After a few hours, we took our dough and had fun kneading it together. We rolled it into a log and cut it into 16 pieces, for larger buns. Caleb helped me spoon the filling into the center of our dough, and we each took turns twisting the filled dough into a bun. I placed the parchment squares on the bottom of each bun and we put them on a cookie sheet to await steaming.

I took the classic bamboo steaming baskets that we just purchased at Ranch 99, filled them with our handmade buns, and then placed them on top of a pot of boiling water. Once the steam was steadily moving through the baskets, I timed them and we waited.

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When we sat down for dinner and put the freshly steamed buns on the table, I couldn’t wait to eat one. Caleb was eager too. I honestly couldn’t believe how good they were. The dough was perfectly steamed and tasted much like the pork bun dough that I’m used to. The filling was full of flavor and although it didn’t have that almost-bright-red tint that the restaurant buns do, ours tasted better than most I have had. Truly. Caleb loved his pork bun and I think that he’s the best judge. I was very proud of our amazing homemade pork buns.

This was a fun (and successful) experiment with Caleb. I would call this recipe ‘doable’ with a five-year-old. Most definitely labor intensive, but all of the steps were pretty simple, resulting in warm and steamy barbecue pork bun goodness. Most importantly, I enjoyed our time together in the kitchen and how excited we both were to replicate one of our favorite dim sum treats.

I feel very fortunate that we live in a corner of the world where we can expose our children to almost every ethnic cuisine out there and can so readily purchase all the ingredients to make pork buns, or whatever else we like. I am also appreciative that we have so many wonderful ethnic restaurants within close proximity. How very convenient that the next time we’re in the mood for cha siu bao, we can just run out to our local dim-summery and enjoy delicious pork buns…prepared for us by someone else!

Off to take a nap now!

Recipe: Cha Siu Bao

Note: We skipped the step of preparing the roast pork and used real, already prepared char siu purchased at the market.