Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Candied Grapefruit Upside-Down Cake (i.e. My Birthday Cake!)

You say it's your birthday? Da da da da da daaaa da
It's my birthday too, yeah! Da da da da da daaaa da
You say it's your birthday? Da da da da da daaaa da
I'm gonna make a Candied Upside-Down Grapefruit Cake, yeah?

Thanks for humoring me on that! 

So you may have guessed that today is my birthday! I'll tell you, the last 34 years have been more amazing, heartbreaking and breathtaking than I could have ever imagined. I have learned so much and even though I've experienced a great deal of loss, I'm just sitting here this morning feeling so grateful for my hard won wisdom and my ever expanding heart (I know I'm giving myself a lot of credit here but I'm allowed to on my b-day, right?!;-).

At 34 big ones, though I still don't know exactly what my path will be, I can say that my credo is finally clear. I know what kind of person I want to be, how I wish to be remembered, and that my good fortune will be a direct result of hard-work and intentionalityEmily Dickinson said it best...

“Luck is not chance-
It’s Toil-
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned-”
– Emily Dickinson

That said, this cake is a tribute. It sums up the trials, tribulations and triumphs of 34 years of life; It's bitter, it's sweet, and it's delicious. 

The grapefruit is candied so the rind is made somewhat more mild though it still maintains it's bitter edge. If you like that bitter kind of sweetness, you'll love this recipe.

Candied Grapefruit

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 large red grapefruit, sliced into thin rounds

In a wide pot, bring the sugar and water to a simmer, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. When the liquid is clear and simmering steadily, add the grapefruit slices and simmer for about 40-50 minutes until the rinds are fairly translucent. While it's simmering coat a 9-by 2-inch round cake pan with vegetable oil and line the bottom with parchment, also coating that lightly with oil.

Once the slices are ready, use a slotted spoon or spatula to carefully transfer them to the prepared cake pan and arrange them in a decorative pattern.

Preheat your oven to 350°F with the rack in middle. 

Candied Grapefruit Upside-Down Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 stick salted butter, softened (or 1 stick unsalted butter and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt)
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
zest of one entire grapefruit
2 Tablespoons grapefruit juice
3/4 cup buttermilk (cultured or rehydrated from a packet)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar on high until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition to incorporate. Mix in the zest and grapefruit juice.

Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet in a few additions, alternating with the buttermilk, until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the cake pan being careful not to upset your design. Spread the batter out evenly.

Bake the cake for about 40 minutes it is until deep gold and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs (check at 30 minutes). 

Cool the cake in the pan for about 15 minutes, then place your serving platter on top of the cake pan and invert the whole shebang so the cake releases onto the platter. Serve right away, at room temperature, or chilled. It's great with a little fresh whipped cream to counter the bite of the citrus.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Glass Noodle Stir Fry

Sweet potato cellophane noodles (dangmyeon), also know as glass noodles, are a Korean staple. They're gluten free and have a satisfying springy texture and mild flavor. They are generally used in a traditional vegetable and beef stir-fry called chapchae. This, like all my recipes, is a variation on a theme so please feel free to add any vegetables you like (and have available). Substitute wakame (seaweed) and miso paste for the fish sauce if you prefer to make this vegan. Either way, it's delicious!

Glass Noodle Stir Fry
1 large bunch bok choy, washed and chopped
1 handful cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup or so sugar snap peas or snow peas, ends removed
1/2 lb button mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 green onions, sliced into thin rings (plus more for garnish)
1 cup lotus root, thinly sliced (optional)
3 carrots, thinly sliced
*1/2 lb sweet potato cellophane noodles, boil them for 4 minutes until al dente

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small green chile, minced
1 1/2 Tablespoons black sesame oil
4 Tablespoons soy sauce (plus more to taste)
2 Tablespoons gochujang (fermented red chili sauce) or other chili sauce for heat
1 Tablespoon fish sauce (or miso and wakame)
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce (optional)
1/4 cup cooking liquid from the noodles

Set the water for the noodles on the stovetop to boil. 

While it's heating, chop all the vegetables and set them aside. 

Prepare the sauce and set it aside. 

Begin boiling the noodles. While they're cooking, heat a large pan or wok over medium/high heat and add all of the sauce including about 1/4 cup of the hot water from the noodle pot. Once it bubbles, add all the vegetables and toss until everything is coated. Cover for a minute so the vegetables can soften and wilt. Remove the cover and pull all the vegetables to one side, tipping the pan so the sauce pools in one corner. 

Take tongues and pull the noodles out of the water placing them in the bubbling sauce pool (you can also just quickly drain the noodles and then toss them into the bubbling sauce). Saute them in the sauce for about minute so they can absorb the flavors. Toss the noodles in with the veggies and taste for seasoning. Serve hot!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

foodrefuge is out and about!

Hi there!

My little blog foodrefuge has been branching out lately! 

On Thursday, The Salt and Tea Exchange blog was kind enough to repost my Smokey Mocha Tart recipe featuring their Applewood Smoked Sea Salt, and today, Cricket Creek Farm shared my Tobasi recipe and raw milk primer post. 

What a week!

Thanks so much to all you food-lovers out there for visiting my blog and sharing it with your friends. I welcome your comments and greatly appreciate your support!

Warmest wishes,

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Smokey Mocha Tarts (Vegan and Gluten Free)

First of all, ta-daa!
...and boo-yeah!

...and yummilicious!

Now for the story...

I generally gravitate more toward the savory than the sweet, but lately I just can't get the thought of fluffy cakes and decadent tarts off my mind. Perhaps it's because my birthday is next week and I've got a serious case of cake on the brain (I’m pretty sure that’s an actual medical term). Or, perhaps it's because I haven't baked anything sweet in ages. Either way, I pulled out all the stops with these bad boys!

I'm fortunate because I'm not sensitive to gluten or dairy but I'm a cook down to my bones, so I have a need to feed others and this means that I want everyone to be able to enjoy my food, hence this vegan and gluten free creation!

The inspiration for this recipe came from two recent discoveries I made!

First, I came across this recipe for a Gluten Free Flour Blend on the lovely blog, Oh Ladycakes. It looked different from what I'd seen before, and all of her photos and recipes look amazing, so I figured it was worth a try. I am so pleased with the results. The crust I made with it came out amazingly light, crisp, flaky and tasty. 

Second, last fall I went to Portland Oregon (loved it!) and bought a bunch of specialty salts at a wonderful store called The Spice and Tea Exchange. One of them is an Applewood Smoked Sea Salt that I thought would taste great along with some dark chocolate. It did!

Note: If you haven't read it yet, check out the book Salt: A Wold History by Mark Kurlansky. It's incredibly interesting. For example, did you know that towns in England with the suffix -wich produced salt back in the day? Interesting stuff!

Anyhow, with no further ado, here are the recipes. There are a lot of components but everything is easy overall and you must try the coconut whipped cream (another Oh Ladycakes inspired recipe). Don't argue with me here. I swear, it's so good I may never make regular whipped cream again! 

Summary for Smokey Mocha Tarts 
Fill the cooled tart crusts with the room temperature/slightly firmed ganache and top with whipped coconut cream and a pinch of ground smoked sea salt. It's delicious eaten right away but I liked it even better after it had chilled for a few hours!

Note: I made some tiny tartlets the next day (the photos are at the very end of this post) and the dough was even flakier, sooooo, chill the dough overnight for best results.

All components/recipes listed below.

Gluten Free Flour Blend
Recipe from Oh Ladycakes
2 1/2 cups brown rice flour
2 1/2 cups white rice flour
2 cups sweet rice flour
2 cups arrowroot starch

Combine well with a whisk and store in a cool, dry place.

Note: When using the gf flour blend for recipes, add in 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum per every cup you use. Don't add the xanthan gum to the main batch of flour blend itself, however.

Smokey Sweet Tart Crust
1 heaping cup (about 5 oz.) gluten free flour blend
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
3 ounces of cold vegan butter
1 Tablespoon organic coconut oil
3 Tablespoons cold water
1 heaping Tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon smoked sea salt

Add everything to a food processor except for the water. Pulse until you get a crumbly mixture then add the water a tablespoon at a time, pulsing to combine. Turn the dough out, pat it together and chill it for 20 minutes or overnight for even flakier results.

Preheat your oven to 410 F. Grease and flour (with vegan butter and the gluten free flour blend) the tart pans. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge. 

Note: Chilling it in this case doesn't relax the gluten, because there is none, rather it allows the dough hydrate and firm up, which makes it both flakier and easier to work with.

If you are using small 4" tart pans like I did. Roll up a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball and flatten with your palm (to about 1/8 inch thickness) onto a piece of wax paper or whatever your wrapped the dough in to chill it. Tip the wax paper up and transfer the flattened dough to the tart pan, pressing it in evenly. Repeat until all your tarts pans are filled. This recipe makes enough for one 9" tart or about ten 4" tartlets.

Dock the dough with a fork and place the tartlets on a sheet pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Wait for them to cool before adding the ganache.

Smokey Bittersweet Ganache
7 oz. dark bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon vegan butter (optional)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon smoked sea salt 
1 cup strong hot coffee

Roughly chop the chocolate and toss it with the cornstarch, vanilla, vegan butter and smoked sea salt. Add one cup of the very hot, strong, freshly brewed coffee and stir until everything is melted and combined. Set aside to cool and firm up before adding to the cooled tart shells. Top with coconut whipped cream (recipe below) and smoked sea salt!

Whipped Coconut Cream
Adapted from Oh Ladycakes
1 can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight (I used Thai Garden Organic)
1 Tablespoon confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Scoop all of the thick, white coconut fat out of the can. Add about 1/4 cup of the remaining coconut liquid and store the rest to use later. Whip the coconut fat and liquid, powdered sugar and vanilla on high with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. If you don't use all of the whipped coconut cream right away, store it in the fridge (and try not to constantly steal spoonfuls). 

Note: If you whip up the entire contents of the can all at once, you'll get a lovely 'soft plop' cream that's just a smidgen sweet and maintains it's form fairly well in the refrigerator. Experiment with how much coconut water you add until you get the consistency you like best.

Next Day Mini Tartlets.....Flatten the dough with your palm and cut it into any shape you like with a cookie cutter. The dough is delicate, so a very intricate design may prove difficult. Bake in muffin tins at 410F. until golden. About 10 minutes. Fill as desired!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cricket Creek Farm Tobasi Gratin and the Raw Milk Debate

If you've never taken the 3 1/2 hour drive from New York City to Williamstown, MA, I hope this post gives you pause to consider it.

I was going through some old photos the other day when I came across this one, taken a few winters ago, of the view from our former back yard in Williamstown. 

Notice the bee hives! 

Look where we have them now...but more on that later!

And just for some perspective, here's the view from our current "back yard"!

Anywho, back in 2010-2012, Jon and I lived in Williamstown, MA in a bucolic valley buttressed by Mount Greylock and the Taconic Crest. Our closest neighbors were the cows that grazed in the field behind our house. Pretty cool.

During those two years, Jon taught Biology at Williams College and I worked at a certified humane dairy called Cricket Creek Farm. First, I worked in the bakery under the tutelage of Jamie Ott, expert baker and founding former owner of the region's famous, Clarksburg Bread Company. After assisting Jamie in the bakery for a year, I moved into the cheese room. There, I helped to make, brine, wash, cut, wash some more, and package a variety of custom cheeses under the guidance of Suzy Konecky, the creamery's indefatigable manager. 

The farm produces several signature cow's milk cheeses as well as additional seasonal offerings. Regular varieties include a pasteurized spreadable farmer's cheese in several flavors called Cricket Creek Fresh; a pasteurized bloomy-rind similar to Camembert called Berkshire Bloom; a raw, washed-rind, semi-soft cheese that's similar to a taleggio called Tobasia raw, semi-firm toma style cheese called Maggie's Round; and an older, sharper version of Maggie's Round called Maggie's Reserve. Coincidentally, Maggie's Round won first place in the American Cheese Society competition in 2011 (i.e. the most prestigious cheese competition in the US!). Cricket Creek also offers feta, gouda and freshly churned butter. 

My recipe for today is based on Tobasi. Here's Suzy holding up a fresh one that's about to be brined before aging for 3-4 months.

Photo courtesy of Cricket Creek Farm.

Another amazing product Cricket Creek Farm offers is raw milk!

Raw milk is not pasteurized or homogenized, only filtered and cooled, so it develops a cream line and makes excellent cheese. Proponents of raw milk argue that it's more easily processed by our bodies because the nutrients and enzymes are raw and unfettered, and therefore, more readily absorbed by our systems. It's said to cure allergies and skin problems as well. People swear by it's healing properties. When I was drinking it I felt great and all the interns that came through the farm credited the milk for their increased vigor as well.

There's a tremendous amount of debate about regulating the production and sale of raw milk. Currently, in MA and NY you can only purchase it on land contiguous to where it's produced. In New Jersey it's completely illegal. These restrictions make it extremely difficult for small-scale dairy farmers to turn the profit they need to maintain their operations, create and sustain jobs, and compete with massive factory farms. Unlike raw milk, raw milk cheeses are simply required to be aged for a minimum of 60 days at a temperature no lower than 35 degrees F (i.e. above freezing). After 60 days, raw milk cheeses can be shipped and sold anywhere (yay!).

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is an organization that supports sustainable farming and promotes access to local foods including raw milk. Their website offers a wealth of raw milk related information including a map listing raw milk statutes state-by-state (see what the deal is in your area!). In addition, here’s a great article from NPR that introduces many of the main points of the raw milk debate. Regardless of your take on raw milk, however, you can still enjoy the bounty of the Berkshires and the wonderful creations produced at Cricket Creek Farm. 

So if you need a break from city life, or just want to see what rural MA has going for it (which is a lot), consider a long weekend out in that neck of the woods! If you do decide to go, be sure to swing by Cricket Creek Farm to meet the farmers, see the animals, and buy cheeses, lovingly pasture-raised meats, fresh eggs, sweet and savory baked goods, and a variety of other local goodies. You can also take cheese-making classes there and try some delicious raw milk for yourself!

This recipe works wonderfully with Tobasi and results in a sharp, creamy, rich and gooey gratin with hints of grassiness and just the right amount of deliciously earthy, "stinky" cheese flavor!

Cricket Creek Farm Tobasi Gratin 
2 cups milk (available at Cricket Creek Farm)
2 Tablespoons butter (also available at Cricket Creek Farm)
2 cups Cricket Creek Farm Tobasi, diced
1 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 lbs red potatoes, sliced thinly

Scrub and thinly slice the potatoes. Set them aside in a bath of cold water. 

Preheat your oven to 375 F. 

Cut the Tobasi into small cubes and set aside. 

Combine the milk and butter in a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom. Slowly heat over a low/medium flame, stirring frequently, until the butter melts. Be careful not to scald the milk by allowing it to boil. 

Add the Tobasi cubes to the sauce about ½ cup at a time, stirring frequently until all the cheese has melted. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. If the cheese sauce seizes up, just reduce the heat and add a little more milk while stirring.

Drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom of a 9x12 inch casserole dish. Arrange the thinly sliced potatoes in one layer, overlapping the edges like shingles. Pour a small amount of the cheese sauce over the first potato layer and repeat until you’ve made as many layers as possible and still have about a scant cup of sauce to drizzle over the top. 

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes until bubbling. Remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the top is bubbly and browned.

You can also make "mac and cheese" with this sauce and add it to...
1lb penne or other bite sized noodle, cooked al dente
1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces and blanched until just tender
half and half of both pasta and cauliflower
*You'll just want to toss the pasta and/or cauliflower with the sauce and bake for 20 minutes covered and then 10 uncovered so it can bubble and brown!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Curried Lentils Ginger Raita and Fenugreek Scented Carrots

I was inspired to make Curried Lentils with Fenugreek Scented Carrots and Ginger Raita after seeing this gorgeous carrot and yogurt post on one of my favorite blog's, Merci Mama

For the lentils, I used the personal curry recipe of Madhur Jeffrey, Indian cuisine extraordinaire and author of the inspiring tome, World Vegetarian. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves cooking with spices or just wants to become more comfortable with them. All of her recipes work perfectly, which is a claim not all cookbooks can make, and it's also very easy to follow. If you don't have all the spices needed for the curry, don't fret, just go ahead and use any curry powder you have on hand.

For the raita, I used a very thick Greek yogurt that thinned to a nice consistency as the cucumbers released their liquid. If you use a thinner yogurt you may want to toss the diced cucumbers with a pinch of salt and let them drain in a colander for 20 minutes before combining them with the yogurt. If you like a thin raita, or don't care either way, go ahead an follow this as is. Just taste it and adjust the seasoning if needed before serving! 

Ginger Raita
1 cup plain yogurt
1 large cucumber (about a cup)
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1 Tablespoon red onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 Tablespoon green chile, minced finely
1 Tablespoon ground dried mint (or 2 Tablespoons fresh mint, minced)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Set in the refrigerator to chill and allow the flavors to develop. Make this first so there's plenty of time for the spices to infuse the yogurt.

Curry Powder 
Adapted from from Madhur Jeffrey's, World Vegetarian
2 Tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon whole cumin seeds
2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons whole brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
2 dried red chilies (about an 1 1/2 inches long each), crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

Place everything but the turmeric in saute pan or cast iron skillet and toast over low heat until aromatic. Add the turmeric and toast for a few seconds longer. Transfer to a plate to cool and then grind to a fine powder with a spice grinder, mortar and pestle, or molcajete.

Note: Madhur's original recipe calls for 5-6 garlic cloves as well, but I omitted them in lieu of the garlic I used in the lentil recipe.

Curried Lentils
1 cup dried brown lentils, looked over for stones and rinsed
4 cups water
1 small white onion, minced finely or sliced into thin rings
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons curry powder (see below)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice to finish (optional)

Combine everything except for the lemon juice in a medium saucepan and simmer over low/medium heat for 30 minutes or so until the lentils are softened to just beyond al dente. Squeeze lemon juice over the lentils and fluff before plating.

Fenugreek Scented Carrots
6 carrots, peeled but left whole
2 cups water (approx.)
1 Tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon salt 

In a saute pan large enough to fit the carrots without crowding, add the water, fenugreek seeds and salt and bring to a boil for about two minutes, stirring occasionally. The water should taste nice and salty and be well perfumed with fenugreek. Add the carrots and cover for about four minutes, until they are bright orange and tender. Remove and serve over the lentils and raita immediately. Garnish with chives, coriander or dill.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bitter Greens Frittata

After making Pretty in Pink Pickled Radishes the other day, I decided to follow my mother's credo ~waste not, want not~ and make a frittata with the leftover radish greensRadish greens can be pretty gritty, so be sure to clean them well by submerging in a cold water, swishing them around and then draining them about three times. You can make this recipe with any mildly bitter greens and make it more or less rich (with milk and cheese) depending on your preference and what you have on hand. 

I cook all my frittatas by starting them on the stove-top then transferring them to the oven to cook through, fluff up and caramelize. So for this recipe, you'll need an oven-safe 8 to 10 inch frying pan. Once you take the pan out of the oven it's easy to forget that the handle is HOT, so be sure to leave the oven mitt on it as a reminder.

Bitter Greens Frittata
two bunches radish leaves, washed well and roughly chopped
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
4 button mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (plus a pinch thrown in while you're cooking the veggies)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
5-6 eggs, whipped 
1/2 cup milk or cream (any fat content you have is fine)
1/2 cup grated cheese (any kind you like)

Preheat your oven to 450F. 

Whisk the eggs, milk, salt and pepper well and set aside. 

Prep all the vegetables and saute them over medium/high heat starting with the onions, then the mushrooms, then the garlic, cooking each until softened and slightly browned. Add the chopped radish greens, it's ok if they're still a little moist from washing, and saute until they've wilted and become somewhat dryer. 

Cut off the heat and pour in the whisked eggs moving the veggies around with your spatula so they're evenly distributed. Top with grated cheese and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the eggs have fluffed up and the cheese is bubbly and browned.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pretty in Pink Pickled Radishes

These quick refrigerator-pickled radishes are so lovely and delicious. Tart, gingery and garlicky, they definitely look the part for Valentine's Day but you may want to save them for an occasion when fresh breath is less imperative! These are really quick to make and last a few weeks in the fridge. This recipe makes about three pints.

Pretty in Pink Pickled Radishes

Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine's, Gingery Pickled Radishes (September 2010)
2 bunches radishes (three if using a small variety)
3 cups water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup organic evaporated cane juice (or white sugar)
2 Tablespoons sea salt
3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
2 fresh or dried bird chiles (or to taste)
1 inch chunk fresh peeled ginger, sliced thinly (cut into hearts here!)

Note: Waste not want not. Save the radish greens for a simple frittata. I'll post that recipe later!

In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil and then cut off the heat. Add the garlic, ginger and chiles and let everything cool off a bit while you prep the radishes. 

I soaked my radishes in ice water beforehand to perk them up.

Cut the radishes to any size/shape you like, I quartered mine, and place them in clean mason jars. Top with brine so everything is covered but there's still a little headspace and allow to cool before refrigerating. Brine them at least overnight before tasting.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


These raw energy balls/bars are delicious and rejuvenating, hence the name. They're packed with antioxidants, protein and whole grains and are perfect for a pre/post-workout snack...they even look a little bit like they're lined up for an exercise class in this photo! Show offs. Conversely, you can simply gorge on them like we did! It's up to you;-).

When I ate my first one I started bopping around the apartment involuntarily singing "yum, yum, yummy, yummy, yum!" My husband was standing next to me eating them up faster than I could make them, so I don't have an accurate count on the total quantity this recipe makes, but I estimated below anyhow. 

2 cups raw rolled oats
1 cup raw millet
1 cup coconut ribbons
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 almond slivers
1/2 cup pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup goji berries
2 Tablespoons cocoa nibs
1 Tablespoon ground flax seeds
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all the dry ingredients well and then in a separate bowl combine...

1 cup chunky or smooth organic peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup raw honey
*You may need to heat the wet ingredients slightly to combine them. 

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and mix together until crumbly. Using wet hands can help to speed up the mixing. 

Shape into truffle sized balls, flatten into a foil lined pan, or do both like I did. If making bars, be sure to press the mixture very firmly into the foil lined pan, further tamping it down with the flat side of a measuring cup so it will stick together and "bar-up" if you will. If you want to make only bars, press all of the mixture into a 10x12 or 9x12 inch lined pan. If you want to make half balls/half bars, press 4 cups of the mixture into and 8x8 pan and roll up the rest.

Refrigerate for at least two hours before slicing so everything can hydrate and become cohesive. Refrigerate the balls/bars after shaping/slicing so they stay moist and firm. 

Estimated Yield: 
Half & Half - Approximately 14 1x4 inch bars and 20 balls
Balls Only - 60-ish 
Bars Only - 20-ish 

Note: You can use any nut butter, nuts, seeds etc. that you like in this recipe, just keep the basic wet to dry ratio!

Thursday, February 7, 2013 carrots and the hygiene hypothesis?

*Image found at

This thing cracks me up. It also makes me think a lot about baby carrots ...aaaand other stuff.

Baby carrots have been hotly debated, shrouded in intrigue, and debunked many times. And yet, despite being the would-be food aficionado that I am, I've never investigated them. I'd always assumed they were just cut up and tumbled larger carrots, or something like that. It turns out I was right but there's more to the story. The chlorine debate! (click here for totally worth it funny shock/suspense sound effect)

There have long been allegations that baby carrots are soaked in enough chlorine to make them toxic. According to this informative post on 100 Days of Real Food, at least the organic variety produced by Grimmway is not. Rather, they are "treated" by being sprayed or briefly dipped in a mild sanitizing solution, which is actually the produce industry norm. In an effort to kill pathogenic strains of bacteria (Salmonella, Listeria, etc...), most produce is washed or sprayed with an EPA approved germicidal solution (good band name?) composed of water and chlorine in such a small concentration (we're talking parts per million here) that it's considered by most to be harmless or at least the better of two evils.

In addition to practices like this, food producers and purveyors in most states are required to dip or rinse all dishes and utensils in a sanitizer bath and to clean all surfaces with sanitizer solution throughout the entire food production process. Cool fact; in milk production even teats are dipped in sanitizer solutions! The fact that chlorine, and in some places fluoride, is mixed in with our drinking water, means we're consuming a bit of the stuff practically all the time. In very low quantities, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like chlorine in drinking agua haven't yet been conclusively proven to cause us harm (I'm going to use my Britta anyhow) but we need to be really concerned with the sterilization of our world because bacteria also helps us to stay healthy.

Interestingly, some of the bugs we're so afraid of, E. coli and the like, also have strains that offer major benefits to our immune systems and are often naturally occurring in our GI tracts. These and other bacteria make up what some scientists are now calling our "second brain". This brain, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) or intrinsic nervous system, communicates with our other brain, our "first brain" as it were, and choreographs a microbial ballet within our bodies that regulates our immune responses. Did you know that on average the human body contains between 2-6 pounds of bacteria at any given time? It's amazing and powerful stuff and with all the hand sanitizer and antibiotics going around, we are in serious risk of doing more harm to ourselves than good.

The hygiene hypothesis says that when humans are introduced to a wide variety of bacteria, especially early on, and even in utero, that this exposure teaches our bodies to respond more appropriately to incoming microbe-derived signals from our environments (i.e. germs, pathogens and such) and therefore develop fewer allergies and stronger immune systems overall.

Probiotics, the healthy "bugs" we try to foster, maintain, and reintroduce to out bodies are all the rage now and they should be. Comedian Tig Notaro's recent life-threatening Clostridium Difficile (C. diff) infection poignantly makes the case for the importance of microbial balance in our systems (click to listen to the episode about it on her amazing podcast, Professor Blastoff). In fact, scientists are so concerned with maintaining microbial harmony in the gut that they've developed (insert adjective of your choice here) procedures like fecal transplants and hook worm introduction to restore intestinal health.

Long story short, we desperately need germs and gut bacteria to be healthy and thrive. There are all sorts of cool projects going on to address this, including several interesting ones in Africa that used yogurt to help people with HIV/AIDS improve their immune function. Very cool!

Whoa! I wonder is the clever person who made the silly photo above would have ever predicted that I'd get from baby carrots to all this? I could go on and on, and I do plan to post more on bacterially mediated fermentation in food production later (and about my husband's obsession with all foods fermented to the extent that he even notices when his favorite TV characters eat yogurt and points it out to me. He's pretty darn cute!), but right now I'm going to eat some yogurt myself!

Thai Brussels Sprouts and Marinated Eggplant

These are the recipes I came up with for dinner last night. We try to eat a lot of vegetarian meals, for health and environmental reasons (and because we just like veggies), so this kind of spread is pretty typical for us. The Chinese eggplant has a wonderful texture and rich buttery flavor, so it's a particularly good meat substitute. If I'd had some, I would have also made a grilled tofu steak to bulk up the protein level of the meal. To that effect, I have a nice Nori Sesame Crusted Tofu recipe that I'll post sometime down the road. 

These measurements are basically what I used, but I usually cook things like this to taste, so feel free to add more or less of any of the ingredients to play up the flavors you like most!

Thai Brussels Sprouts 
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, leaves removed or finely chopped
One handful mint, chopped
One handful cilantro, chopped
juice of one lime
4 garlic cloves, minced finely
1 Tablespoon ginger, minced finely
½ small onion, sliced thinly
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
mild oil for frying

Prepare the Brussels sprouts by trimming and removing the leaves or slicing thinly. Place all the other ingredients in the bowl with the Brussels Sprouts and toss to combine.

Set a large wok or frying pan over high heat. When it's nice and hot, add a few teaspoons of oil and spread it around. Add the Brussels sprouts, tossing until they've wilted and begun to caramelize. 

Simple Marinated Chinese Eggplant 
3 long Chinese eggplants, sliced ½ inch thick on the diagonal 
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Sriracha or chili sauce, to taste
additional oil for sautéing

Toss the eggplant slices with the other ingredients. It's nice to then refrigerate them for at least a half hour before cooking but not necessary. When you are ready to cook, add a little sesame oil to a frying pan over medium/high heat and lay each slice flat so it can sear, about two minutes per side. Remove and serve hot.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Connie's Granola (w/ Raw Honey, Coconut, Vanilla and Almonds)

As I write this, a melliferous scent is wafting around me. I'm intoxicated and it's all because I'm making "MaMa's Granola" also known as "Connie's Granola" because that's MaMa's name.

After my post on Salty and Sweet Exotic Spiced Granola, where I made note of the long-time family tradition (i.e. addiction) to MaMa's granola, I called my mother-in-law, the lovely and exuberant Catherine Snow, and asked her to write a guest post about her mother's most famous family recipe. She provided the recipe and the italicized text below, which also includes information about her stunning and stylish guest house, Mulberry House, in Nashville Tennessee.

(Brief side note here, I have to admit that I briefly considered renaming this recipe "100 Stairs 6 Times Granola" because I live in a fifth floor walk-up in Harlem and kept forgetting ingredients and having to go out and buy them on separate trips. I console myself with the knowledge that I have, most certainly, earned a deep bowl of toasty goodness by now, plus, it's just worth it. It's that good.)

Here are Catherine's wonderful words about growing up with a fun and food loving mother and instilling the same values (and love for granola) in her son, my superb husband Jonathan. The recipe is below and Connie's jello molds are featured in the photo below!

My mother's hospitality was legendary. Informed by a “food is love” philosophy and a degree in nutrition, she embraced the health-food movement of the 1960's as a lifelong friend, having already practiced its principles for years. In contrast to the fat-laden, pork-based Southern cuisine of the day, our family enjoyed a diet heavy on fresh fruit,” undercooked” green vegetables, nuts, fish, chicken and whole wheat.  My school lunches made me stand out in school as much as did being a preacher’s kid and the only child without a T.V. in a classroom full of mill-town kids. No one ever tried to trade their Cheetos, Slim Jims or bologna on white bread for my whole-wheat sandwiches, carrot sticks, green grapes, and oatmeal cookies.

Still everyone loved to come to our house, where my unconventional minister’s-wife mother, “Miss Connie,” served up laughter, fun and food as a staple. More importantly, she could be counted on to concoct parties galore—birthday parties, Easter egg hunts, and Halloween parties, spend-the-night parties, holiday parties, come-as-you-are parties, skating parties, caroling parties, hay rides, each accompanied by just the right fare served in style.

From an early age, my friends and I eagerly joined her in a messy, kid-friendly kitchen to prepare the goodies, which since they were for parties were not required to be healthy at all—cupcakes, cookies, cake, surprise meringues, mints, brownies and banana bread; savories like cheeseballs, cheese straws, cheese puffs, dips with carrot curls and other tortured veggies—and eventually that favorite 60's party fare, fondue.

When I became a mother, my son was willingly pressed into kitchen duty no doubt because his grandmother, still a whirlwind of energy, made the kitchen the place to be when she visited and kept us busy in her own kitchen when we were at her house. Missing her, we continued the tradition of cooking, eating, and entertaining in Nashville, becoming a sort of party-central in our own way.  Of course, he was destined to grow up and marry a culinary wizard ensuring that the torch has been safely passed to our daughter-in-law, Rachel.

Mama’s legacy of hospitality as well as her beloved granola recipe live on at our B&B, Mulberry House.   Made with local honey, love and a dash of joy, "Connie's Granola" is imbued with memories of a happy, chaotic, fun-filled Alabama parsonage kitchen.

While we would love to have you visit Mulberry House so you can enjoy all our amenities, I know nothing would please my mother more than knowing that her story and her recipes continue to be shared.  Enjoy!
Connie's Granola
Courtesy of Mulberry House Proprietress and loving daughter, Catherine Snow
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups coconut ribbons (for texture)
1/2 cup wheat germ (optional)
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw honey (from our very own honeybees, more on that later!)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup almonds, slivered
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup dried fruit (optional)

Preheat oven to 225F / Total bake time is 2 hours

Measure the dry ingredients out into a large bowl.

Toss them well.

Pour the honey and oil over the dry mixture stirring to combine. Sprinkle the vanilla over and toss. Add the water, a little bit at a time, until the granola becomes crumbly.

Pour the granola onto a large heavy baking sheet, or two smaller ones if need be. Spread it so it's (basically) in one layer. Bake in the middle of the oven for 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes.

After 1 1/2 hours has passed, add the almonds and bake for 1/2 hour longer.

Once it's done baking, remove from the oven and allow to cool fully before adding the dried fruit. I added dried cranberries as is Catherine's preference. Make sure the granola is fully cooled before storing so it won't get soggy. YUM!!!!