Sep 29, 2009

Usually Apricot Banana Oat Bread

i love oats. i mean i really love oats. so much so that eating oats makes me deliriously happy. if i make a baked good, you would do well to bet there is some oat flour in there somewhere, or a really good reason why it isn't. perhaps somewhere down the line i am part scottish. i know i am part german/hungarian/welsh/english but maybe there is a bit of scottish in there somewhere, not so far off. but where was i? ah yes, the oat bread. i made up this recipe to incorporate some of my favorite ingredients (apricots/buttermilk/oats) and to warm us up on cool weekend mornings. i've been tinkering with the recipe for about 4 years, getting the proportions just right to make it moist and rich, yet healthful/oaty/fruity. only 15 minutes to put together and little under an hour to bake. great with tea. 

apricot banana oat bread
dry ingredients
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

wet ingredients
3/4 cup of brown sugar (could use agave nectar here)
1 stick of butter, softened (have substituted half olive oil for this, works perfectly well but somehow i know the butter is missing)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large organic eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large or 3 small mashed overripe bananas
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots snipped into quarters or seeded chopped medjool dates or chopped apples

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl with a spoon or wide whisk. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla extract and bananas together in another bowl with an electric mixer until thoroughly mixed, a couple of minutes. Add dry ingredients, stir only until incorporated. Next, stir in dried apricots (dates or apples). Pour mixture into oiled loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes or so, until cake tester comes out clean.

* note: this last time, i didn't use dried apricots, i used organic medjool dates, lending a richer fudgier taste, whereas the apricots are tart and bright tasting, both good. i have been known to use chopped apples once or twice as well, oh and yes some pecans would make a nice addition with any of the aforementioned fruits. versatile truly versatile.

vinegar and longing

on my counter are some of my vinegar friends. my love of vinegar is well-documented for all kinds of household uses see here. but i haven't really begun to mine the depths of culinary usage. they are crucial for salads of course, but also for some asian soups, or cabbage, or japanese vinegared dishes or chinese marinades and sauces, german and russian entrees. they, like lemon juice, can be a cook's best friend. adding that certain je ne sais quoi (zing) to favored dishes. 

according to traditional chinese medicine, vinegar is medicinal as well, warding off flu and viruses and as a tonic for everything from the kidneys and liver to easing pain and headaches see here and here. right now i am trying to think of how to use that lovely figue vinegar. i so love figs this time of year. when i am at the grocery store looking at the puny slightly wrinkled figs they have here in new england is when i miss california the most, the gorgeous gigantic luscious purple figs, so ripe and squishy and juicy. when r and i lived in LA briefly in the early 90s, we lived down the block from the Fig Man. at least that is what his little handmade cardboard sign said next to his fold up chair and card table. he sold the figs from his backyard trees in a somewhat suburban section of west LA/santa monica, at random intervals. his figs were unbeliveable. he would hand them to you wrapped in a nice brown paper bag and sort of shove them gingerly into your hand with whispered, urgent, imperative instructions for storage, "they must be kept refrigerated," he would impart, as though he hated to give any of them up at all. 

so i am left dreaming of a fig salad i could compose with the fig vinegar. but the grocery store figs are not cooperating and soon it will be persimmon season. where are you fig man or purveyor of fine fresh figs? the search continues.

Sep 25, 2009

plum tarts

the queen of hearts she made some tarts all on a summer's day.... i love a good fruit tart. i love fruit. i love how pretty they look with so little effort. everyone always exclaims when a pie or tart is baked. i suppose it seems difficult and old fashioned, even quaint. but really they are simple. dough in a food processer. (fool proof this way for those of us who struggle with dough). fruit washed and sliced. a bit of sugar. an egg. bake. i believe that if you can make a pizza you can make a tart. i baked this for a back to school treat for the kids for surviving the first few weeks of school and working so hard. i highly recommend these ceramic tart pans. so easy. so nicely they bake. the removable bottom ones are nice as well in metal. and make the release of the tart from the pan when serving a bit easier. but i don't mind a slice or two crumbling upon removal, the cook gets to eat the spoils after all.

plum tarts

pastry for 2 tart shells
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 TBSP sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold, cut into slices
1 large egg yolk
5 TBSP cold water, give or take, as needed

place flours, salt, sugar, butter in food processor. pulse briefly until combined and has that coarse meal texture. drop in the egg yolk and 3TBSP cold water. pulse until dough just comes together. add a bit more water if needed. the less you mix the dough, the lighter the crust will be. form the dough into two flat discs. refrigerate for half an hour. after 30 minutes. roll out dough and place in 2 9 to 10 inch tart pans.

now with a fruit as juicy as plums, the question becomes: how to contain the juice so it does not spoil the pastry crust? in alsace, they often use a bread crumb mixture. like a crumble topping. i like that very much. alice waters or chez panisse uses cream and sugar. also nice. this recipe is simpler and uses egg, sugar, lemon juice and maybe some chopped nuts.

preheat oven to 350 degrees  
16 large plums, cut in half, pits removed (you may require more or less, depending of course, on the size of your tart pans and your plums)
filling mixture
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 TBSP lemon juice
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, almonds or pistachios (optional)

slice up your plumbs and place attractively in the pastry lined tart pans. mix up your filling mixture with a whisk until combined. pour over tarts. bake for 45 to 50 minutes until crust is lightly browned and filling is set. let cool for a minimum of 20 minutes. 45 would be better. enjoy.

Sep 21, 2009

mushroom risotto

here we are firmly in autumn this week. time for a satisfying, earthy fall dish, mushroom risotto.

i like to use cremini mushrooms for this. mainly because i hate paying top dollar for chanterelles or morels or something precious but delicious like that ($20 or more per pound!). cremini are baby portobello mushrooms and so have a lot of flavor, color and texture despite their smaller size ($3 per pound). and of late i do stir in an open risotto type pan continuously as pictured above. but let me tell you a secret, if life is crazy and you need to let it simmer covered in a higher rimmed pot for 20 minutes with only an occasional stir, that's okay too, the risotto simply tastes slightly more steamed, the sauce a little more starchy but it is still flavorful and delicious, really delicious. also you'll need a little less stock this way.

mushroom risotto
serves 4 
with some leftovers  
6-8 ounces mushrooms
2 TBSP olive oil (organic extra virgin if you've got it)
2 TBSP chopped flat leaf parsley
or 1/4 cup chopped spinach or tatsoy
1 medium to large onion, finely diced
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice 
6 cups good quality chicken stock 
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 TBSP heavy cream  (completely optional)

prepare your cremini mushrooms, brushed or wiped clean, stem ends trimmed off, thickly sliced. and chop the onion.
salt the mushrooms slightly before cooking. heat your pan to medium high heat add 2  TBSP olive oil in your chosen risotto pan and add mushrooms, let them sear a bit, keep the heat up nice and high and stir stir stir. as they start to cook down and release some moisture add a bit more salt and maybe some pepper. just as they are done add in some greens 1/4 cup chopped spinach or tatsoy or 2 TBSP chopped parsley. stir around a bit, sample to make sure they are nicely seasoned. remove from pan and set aside in a bowl next to the stove. i think it works best to cook the mushrooms in the same pan because they enrich the flavor rather nicely this way, not overlooking the fact that you'll have one less pan to wash as well.

same pan, still hot from mushrooms. add 2 to 3 more TBSP olive oil and 1 medium onion finely diced. cook onion over medium heat, stirring frequently for 4 to 5 minutes, do not let them brown, just turn nice and creamily translucent. add in the 2 cups rice at this point. have they heat fairly high and stir the rice to coat it evenly with the olive oil and onions. each grain should be nicely coated. time to add in the stock. about a cup at a time. stir until mostly absorbed and add another cup. and so on until the rice is tender and the sauce is creamy but not too soupy and not too dry (the perfect spot in between). this takes around 20 minutes, give or take. add the parmesan cheese and the reserved mushroom mixture. add in some cream at this point if so desired. there you go. some crusty organic country bread, a nice garden salad, some still wonderful local corn on the cob or maybe some green beans. fall equinox dinner, check. 

Sep 16, 2009

back from the dream

time to come back to the present, back from the dream that was casually walking around belgium and france, where even the pavement is gorgeous. back to school, carpools, buses, sports, orchestra auditions, baseball training, field hockey games, parent meetings, magazine drives, curriculum nights, homework, and eating on the fly. as i dip my toes back into the tepid reality of school year living, we are still eating well. surprise! it certainly isn't effortless, when everyone is exhausted from too many activities. but we are having breakfasts (on good days) like above, figs, apricots, yogurt, honey, toasted oats. also dinners with homemade plum tarts, lasagna, grilled fish, etc. fast, healthy, early fall recipes coming up next. xo, g

Sep 15, 2009


walking around brussels, we came upon a magical place. Flamant home interiors shop. Flamant is an amazing place, the most gorgeous examples of Belgium's elegant interior design style. i want to live in there. those gorgeous wooden pots are for sale inside, wish i could have carried about a dozen of them home with me. love them. also, they do restaurant interiors and had a great italian restaurant, il gusto, within. which we couldn't help but sample. merveilleux. you can learn more about flamant here

Sep 14, 2009

Belgian Food

I am dreaming of Belgian food. Like potatoes. You probably know Belgium is famous for chocolate and waffles and wonderful beers but did you know it is also famous for biscuits and lobster and potatoes? And not just their delicious frites and moules frites. I was suprised to learn some of the finer points of Belgian cuisine this visit. We ate really well. At one wonderful traditional restaurant, bleu de toi, I ate a lobster in a potato. The restaurant specializes in lobsters and potatoes. Now would you order a potato dish or a lobster dish? Of course it is a trick question and the answer, at least for me, is both. As I am fond of saying, embrace the and. It was truly sweet, delicious, lobster and the potato was definitely the best ever, so dense, rich and creamy at once. I would never think to put a lobster in a potato, but then I am not as clever as the Belgians. It was the dreamiest thing I have ever eaten.

For me, food and travel are inextricably intertwined. I just love to see how other people eat. It is so completely exciting to me, how they solve that riddle with what's on hand. I can't even begin to tell you how delicious the waffles are. So crispy and light, with gorgeous homemade ice cream and melted chocolate from somewhere like a dream. Everything was like that. I swear. I declare Belgium entirely delicious. Maybe I should become a food anthropologist.

Sep 11, 2009

let's catch a train, gare du nord

now we are heading back to belgium. we will catch the thalys train at gare du nord. yes, the red one. lovely way to travel, eminently civilized. love the mathematically placed trees in the french countryside, and also the naturally planted ones. even the trees are civilized.

Sep 8, 2009

the life of trees in les tuileries

i love to stroll through the grand gardens of paris. who doesn't? the tuileries are particularly grand. the history of this place is fantastic. part of the royal palace design commissioned by catherine de medici in the 1500's, they have been home to queens, kings and emperors, they have been occupied, looted, burned to the ground, designed, redesigned and restored more than once.

today the gardens are restored to a plan set out in the 1600s by the great andre le notre, perhaps france's best known landscape architect. there is talk in france of rebuilding the palais des tuileries to give the louvre more room to display it's vast collections. the garden would of course shrink as the museum expands. tough choice, art vs. gardens.

already the  trees are having a tough time of it. they are among the most visited in the world. this is part of the problem, the visitors, pollution, the climate, even the pale sand kicked up by millions of admiring feet are dehydrating and depleting the trees. they are still remarkably beautiful, but are clearly stressed. losing their leaves early, showing more signs of disease. however lovely in their decline.