Baked apple crisp

Last week was a glorious week.  I turned in the written portion of those tests I’ve been moaning about, and then one of my best friends and my sister ended up in town for work.  We went on an eating bender, of course, because that’s what I do whenever there’s out-of-towners to take the blame.  Among the highlights: black pepper broth and tofu skins at cramped, hipster-filled Mission Chinese (oh, and we ran into Martha Stewart on our way out the door, which felt like a very misplaced celebrity siting — her aura of handcrafted holiday wreaths clashed with the gritty Mission), a winter squash and parsnip soup at Outerlands, vegan charcuterie at Gather, and a tea leaf salad at Burma Superstar (I need to learn how to cook Burmese food…I am so in love…).

You might think that would be the end of it, but my sister and I decided that there should also be dessert.  Of course!  So, on Monday night, after the restaurant tour was winding down, we made a baked apple with a crisp topping.  Warm, sweet apples almost make me glad it’s getting cold out.

Teel and I tried out a bunch of different apples after being inspired by a recent Saveur test on baked apples.  We used a Macintosh, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and a Braeburn.  Like Saveur, we found that the Macintosh (not pictured) and Granny Smith apples split open/exploded.  The Braeburn looked the best, but it wasn’t juicy enough.  The Golden Delicious turned out to be our favorite, which was surprising since neither of us love them raw.

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Trail mix cookies (oatmeal, dark chocolate and GORP)

These cookies are really doing it for me.  They’re moist, nutty and chunky.  When they’re warm, they overflow with dark chocolate.  As soon as I claim I’ve had enough, I find myself reaching in for another…

I started thinking about trail mix a couple weeks back when Alex and I threw work aside, haphazardly packed the car with whatever gear we could find, and headed off to Mt. Shasta.

Mt. Shasta is a big ole volcano that stands high above its surrounding mountains.  It’s a dramatic mountain.  For those of you who care about these things, the summit rises to 14,162 ft.  The base is at around 7,000 ft.  We planned to hike up in a single day, leaving at 3 am and getting back whenever we did.  Sound exhausting?  It was.  In all the mountains I’ve climbed, I’ve never ascended 7,000 ft vertical in a day.  Let alone after coming from sea level the day before.

It was incredible!  Gorgeous!  But the altitude was beating us up.  As we switchbacked up the hill, kicking steps into the snow with our crampons, I snorted down trail mix and chile-rubbed dried mango (thank you Trader Joe’s).  I hoped that the calories would turn into magical wings and fly me up the hill.  Eventually I gave up hope on the wings and started dreaming about trail mix cookies. Continue reading

Apricot cobbler (for breakfast!)

OK, fine, you can eat this cobbler for dessert (and you’ll love it), but breakfast cobbler!  It’s easy to prepare, can be made ahead of time, has lots of fresh fruit, little sugar, whole grains, almonds and yogurt.  And let’s not forget that it tastes awesome.

I threw together this not-so-sweet cobbler after reading Good to the Grain, one of my new cookbooks.  The author, Kim Boyce, talks about using whole grain flours in baking not explicitly for health reasons (though, they do provide more nutrients, protein and fiber), but because of the complex and wonderful flavors they often impart.  I was sufficiently inspired that, as I thought about how I wanted a nutty topping for my cobbler, I added in some whole wheat flour.  I don’t usually use whole wheat flours in desserts, but I wasn’t trying to be virtuous.  I just wanted its nutty flavor.

Then, as I rifled down some cobbler for breakfast the next morning (tell me I’m not alone in eating leftover dessert for breakfast), I realized that my breakfast was actually pretty healthy.  In fact, it had less sugar and bad fats than most pancake and muffin recipes, let alone those devilish things at the bakery down the street.  It also had good stuff like fruit, whole grains, almonds and yogurt.

Thus was the dawn of Breakfast Cobbler.  Possibly the greatest I-feel-like-I’m-being-bad-but-I’m-not breakfast ever.  So, really!  Bake this cobbler.  In the morning, put a big spoonful in a bowl, heat it up, top it with a dollop of yogurt and feel almost as virtuous as you would if you were eating a bowl of oatmeal and fruit.  Or maybe eat it directly from the pan with a fork (who would ever do a thing like that…?). Continue reading

Pluot sorbet

I’ll be spending most of the rest of the summer reading.  I’m taking my qualifying exams for my PhD in the fall and there’s lots of prep work to do.  Conveniently, we have a little patch of grass in our backyard, so I can sit out in the sun and surround myself with library books, post-its and notepads (things could definitely be worse).  The only downside is that once I’m out in the sun I quickly forget about my books and start thinking about sorbet.

There’s few things I like better on a summer day than sorbet.  Particularly one that’s not too sweet.  I think this pluot sorbet is just perfect.  So perfect, in fact, that I pretty much ate the whole batch as I hunched over a book yesterday. Continue reading

Rhubarb ice cream

I went to the farmer’s market yesterday morning hell-bent on finding some rhubarb.  At the grocery store I’ve only seen pitiful little green stems from Oregon and Washington (where they’re apparently grown in a hot house), but it’s Spring and it’s rhubarb time!  Right?  I thought so, until I tore around the farmer’s market and couldn’t find any.  I finally gave up my rhubarb jam aspirations for the week and went about buying some other fruits and veggies (including a full flat of strawberries!).  Then, lo and behold, behind some chard I spied two beaten up, squat little stalks of pink rhubarb.  It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for (I was picturing bushels of long and perky stalks), but it was my very first rhubarb of the season.  Yay!

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Sunday baking and attempts at naturally dyed frosting

I spent several days working on a big King’s Cake cupcake post…only to flop the frosting (yes, frosting is a bit of a departure from the normal King’s Cake) at the last minute and run out of the ingredients/time to re-do things.  So, here’s what I learned: it is really, really hard to make vibrant frosting colors naturally.  I tried to the make purple frosting with crushed blueberries and green frosting with spirulina powder.  Both came out very Easter-pastel instead of Mardi Gras-bold.  In addition, the green frosting tasted terrible.  I love spirulina in my smoothies, but I don’t think it belongs in cream cheese frosting.

I frosted two cupcakes and gave up.  Until next year!  (Thankfully, this year we still have Hurricanes.)

Now to devour the remaining cupcakes frosting-free…

Homemade Ricotta: who knew making cheese could be easy?

I started getting interested in making cheese last summer, but I was totally intimidated by the process.  I assumed it required ingredients and equipment I don’t have, plus time and new skills.  Then I discovered ricotta.  The ingredients are things I normally buy.  The only equipment needed is a pot, spoon, colander and cheesecloth (which is available at any large grocery store).  It’s as quick and easy as it gets.

If that’s not convincing enough, I should also mention that the final result is spectacular.  It barely resembles store bought ricotta.  I want to eat it with everything (which is a totally new emotion for me…I was never a huge fan of ricotta before).  I’m spreading it on crackers and toast, topping it with honey and jam, putting it in homemade calzones.  I’ve even started to dream of cannolis (which I swear I’ve never craved before in my life).  Fresh ricotta is so, so good.

Ricotta with plum jam and a strawberry

Ricotta takes 10 minutes of prep time + 1 hour of sitting.  This recipe makes just shy of two cups.

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Homemade Oreos. Yes, please!

After a computer-related rescue from the IT guys at school, I wanted to bake them a thank you gift.  I think these homemade Oreos might be the secret to staying in their good graces in the future…they are goooooood.

Before we get to the cooking part, though, I want to publicly praise my new and already beloved Flour Bakery cookbook.  Even though it’s missing my most favorite Flour recipe (the Twice-Baked Almond Brioche…sigh…), it’s near perfect.  Great pictures, great combination of recipes and instruction, and a convenient hard cover without one of those dumb dust jackets that will inevitably tear.  It deserves a big OMG.

I go to Flour as often as I possibly can, which isn’t very often.  I live in California and it’s in Boston.  To help me through Flour-withdrawl (an official condition, I think) my family in Boston sent me my wonderful Flour cookbook (thank you, thank you, thank you!).  In the cookbook I found this recipe for Homemade Oreos and squealed with glee.  Oh happy day!  Homemade Oreos?!  Picture from amazon.com

Conveniently, the recipe is also posted online.  Should you be shopping around for a recipe, look no further.  These are for certain the best Oreos going, including the real, Nabisco Oreos (hard to imagine, right?).

The picture from the cookbook is slightly deceiving.  Before making them I thought the cookie might be a little soft (even though the recipes says to bake until firm).  I pictured a whoopie pie (I know…these are Oreos, not whoopie pies).  Rest assured, the cookie is not like a soft, cakey whoopie pie.  It’s the best dense, short chocolate cookie you’ve ever had.  In fact, on the occasions that you’re feeling too grown-up for an Oreo, the cookies would be perfect to serve with coffee, petite syrah or port.

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