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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Throwback Thursday

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I posted this blog and recipe for Halloween Bark.  Actually, it was 2010, but time sure flies when you're having fun.  I had forgotten about it until Deborah reminded me of this recipe and implored me to post it again.

So, in honor of Halloween and Throwback Thursday (how convenient), here goes...

Ready for Its Close Up

Food, like women, benefits from having a stylist.  As we all know, Jennifer Aniston doesn't wake up looking red carpet ready.  (Okay, so maybe the body is red carpet ready, but I'm sure she has puffy eyes first thing in the morning.  After all, she is over 40.)  Anyway, food, like Ms. Aniston, sometimes needs a little help to look its best.

Enter the stylist.  The food stylist can make burnt toast look sexy.

It is not often that I make something that is photo ready.  As hard as I try to "style" the food on the plate, it usually falls short.  So it was just amazing to me that the Halloween Peanut Butter and Toffee Candy Bark featured in this month's Bon Appetit came out ready for its close up.

First of all, it was so easy to make.  Melted chocolate and chopped candy.  All the good stuff.  Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Heath Bars,  Butterfingers, Reese's Pieces, Peanut M & M's.  Need I say more?  (It's a good thing I made this at 8:00 in the morning.  It just didn't seem right to have a Reese's for breakfast, though I considered it.)  Melt, spread, sprinkle, press.  Done.  So easy.

And, the end result was as stunning as this year's Dior over the knee boots.  (Mind you, I do not have over the knee boots legs but my friend Deborah does.   She bought them and they're traffic stopping.)   This bark is that good.  In fact, that picture at the top. It's my bark.  It came out so great that Kate is breaking with the tradition of bringing Frank (see my post dated October 12, 2010) some of her Halloween candy after the holiday and bringing him this instead.  High praise from my daughter.  Hopefully Frank will admire the beauty of the bark and then the beauty of her forehand.

You can make this bark with any candy you like.  Maybe wait until Sunday (if you can wait that long) and see what the kids bring home from trick or treating!

Halloween Peanut Butter and Toffee Candy Bark
(Bon Appetit, October, 2010)


1 pound bittersweet chocolate
3 2.1-ounce Butterfinger candy bars, cut into irregular 1-inch pieces
3 1.4-ounce Skor or Heath toffee candy bars, cut into irregular 3/4 inch pieces
8 peanut butter cups, each cut into 8 wedges
1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts
3 ounces high quality white chocolate
Reese's Pieces and/or yellow and orange peanut M & M's

Line a baking sheet with foil.  Melt bittersweet chocolate in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and warm (not hot) to touch.  Pour chocolate onto foil: spread to 1/4 inch thickness (about 12x10 inch rectangle).  Sprinkle with Butterfinger candy, toffee, peanut butter cups, and nuts, making sure all pieces touch the melted chocolate.

Put white chocolate in heavy small saucepan.  Stir constantly over very low heat until chocolate is melted and warm (not hot) to touch.  Remove from heat.  Dip spoon into chocolate: wave from side to side over bark, creating zigzag lines.  Scatter Reese's Pieces and M&M's over, making sure candy touches melted chocolate.

Chill bark until firm, 30 minutes.  Slide foil with candy onto work surface: peel off foil.  Cut bark into irregular pieces.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Scare House

Some people love Christmas, and some people love Thanksgiving.  Ted loves Halloween.

Every year, Ted goes all out in decorating our house for Halloween.  He's spent the last 10 years collecting some of the most ghoulish decorations you've ever seen.  There's the rat eating the packaged brains.  And there's the life-size skeleton which hangs out of the window on the third floor of our house - swaying in the fall breeze.  Yup, we're the scary house on our block.

We've become kind of famous on our block.  Every year after our decorations go up, I can look out my front window to see a mommy out there with her little preschooler in a super hero costume inspecting all the scary decorations in broad daylight.  I guess mommy figures that if she can show her kid that it's all make believe, then he'll have the courage to come trick or treating at our house when it's dark.  It's actually pretty cute.

I have to admit, that in the light of day, the decorations aren't all that scary.  In fact, to me they look a little, shall we say, plastic.   But add a little dusk, and the house does look spooky, especially with that damn skeleton swaying back and forth.  It's all about the ambiance.

Kate hates Ted's Halloween decorations.  She thinks they're embarrassing.  "Honestly, dad. It's not like we have little kids living here..."  Maybe not, but Ted is is not one to let a little detail like that slow him down.

I love Halloween, but for a completely different reasons.  I love Halloween because of the candy.  I still remember the excitement of getting that haul of candy, and the thrill of finding a full size candy bar in my plastic jack-o-lantern.  It was the highlight of every Halloween.  I always said that when I grew up, I was going to be that house that gave out the big candy bars.  No fun size for me.  It's for this reason that we give out full size candy bars every year.  I wanted to pay it forward.

So, while we may be known in the neighborhood for having the scary house,  I'm happy to be known for something else too.  I'm happy to be the house that, years from now, kids remember because we gave out the full size candy bars.

Have a ghoulish Halloween.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Autumn Leaves

The best part about moving east is that now I have four seasons.  Back in California, we all got excited if the temperature dipped below 60.  Out came the turtlenecks and the boots.  After all, we had to stay warm.

It's funny how your perspective changes.  Now that I've lived in a cold climate for ten plus years, it takes far more than a 60 degree day for the boots to come out.  In fact, I often surprise my California friends by reporting that even on cold winter days (and by cold, I mean days around freezing), I don't wear anything more than a heavy sweater if I'm not going to be outside for long.  Cold isn't quite as cold as it used to be.

My absolute favorite time of the year is fall.  I love watching the trees change and feeling the crunch of the fallen leaves under my shoes.  I love those first few crisp days, when the sky is still blue but the air has a decidedly cooler feel.

I like how the food tastes like fall too.  I love the crispness of the apples and the smell of cinnamon.  The pumpkins and apples mimic the fall foliage and everything has a comforting rustic taste to it.  I find myself making loaf after loaf of pumpkin bread, along with apple everything: apple sauce, apple cake, apple pie, and baked apples.

So, when I come across a recipe that combines apples and pumpkin I feel obligated to try it.  And that's obligated in a good way.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite baking books: Kathleen King's Baking for Friends.  Not only do the recipes all work (which is not always a given...), they are all delicious.  In fact, there's not a recipe I've made from Baking for Friends that hasn't been really yummy.  I should also note that Ina Garten is one of the friends for whom Kathleen King bakes.  And if you're baking for Ina, it better be good.

Whip this cake up, pour yourself a nice cup of tea and settle in.  You'll taste autumn in every bite.

Recipe:  Pumpkin Apple Cake
Kathleen King, Baking for Friends


Softened butter and all-purpose flour for the pan
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup solid-pack pumpkin
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Confectioners' sugar for dusting


Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter and flour a 9 inch fluted or plain tube pan and tap out the excess flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer set on high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually beat in the granulated and brown sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs, followed by the vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined. Add the apples and walnuts. With the mixer set on low speed, min in the flour mixture in thirds, scraping down the bowl as needed. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake until the cake is golden brown and a long bamboo skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pan on a wire cooling rack for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto the wire rack and unmold. Turn right side up and cool completely.

To serve, sift confectioners' sugar over the top and cut into wedges

Monday, October 28, 2013

Date Night

I took this picture of dates when we were at the Woodrow Wilson Market in Paris.
I'm making an effort to at least look as though I'm into this cooking for two thing.  Back when it was just two of us, before kids, before private school, carpools, sports, and enrichment classes, I never cooked.  We went out or we just made it work.  Mostly I think we went out.  I never really cooked for just the two of us.  We were young.  We were energetic.  We had a ton of disposable income.

It wasn't until I was retired from my paying career that I actually learned to cook.  There was no cooking honeymoon period.  I went from zero to a family of four and no nanny in the time it took me to say "I quit" to my bosses at Wells Fargo Bank.

Now, after years of cooking for a family and assorted dinner guests, I find myself in unfamiliar territory: cooking for two without ending up with a freezer full of leftover that most likely we'll never eat.  As Ted has become fond of saying, "It's just you and me, babe".

I'm back to the drawing board.  I don't want to end up with vats of coq au vin, but I also don't want to succumb to the two little chicken breasts mentality.

The really nice thing about pork tenderloin is that they are small.  One small  tenderloin is just the right size for a meal, with just a couple of slices left over for lunch.  The date and cilantro relish in this recipe really dresses up a very simple roasted tenderloin and makes it feel more gourmet than it is.

After all, it's just the two of us, babe.

Recipe:  Pork Tenderloin with Date and Cilantro Relish
Bon Appétit Magazine, November, 2013


3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pork tenderloin (about 1½ lb.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
⅔ cup Medjool dates (about 4 oz.), cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro plus leaves for serving


Preheat oven to 425°.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Season pork with salt and pepper and cook, turning, until browned on all sides, 6–8 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and cook pork until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part registers 140°, 10–15 minutes. Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing; set aside pan drippings.

Toss dates, orange juice, reserved pan drippings, 3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro, and remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Spoon relish over pork and top with cilantro leaves.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thai One On

My Thai Beef with Basil... Picture Perfect
I'm not usually much for Asian food.  My friend Lisa is always making stir fry dishes but I never do.  In fact, I only recently added sriracha to my pantry.  Both Ted and Charlie think my lack of interest in Asian cooking is my greatest failing.  I figure that if that's my greatest failing, I'm in pretty good shape.

Here's the thing about Asian cooking.  The recipes call for about a zillion ingredients, most of which I don't possess.   I mean, I have soy sauce, and fish sauce, and chili sauce.  And now I have sriracha which, by the way, is delicious.  But it seems like every recipe I come across calls for every sauce imaginable.  It's just too much measuring, mixing, and stirring for me.

But I'm a pragmatic kind of gal and I have to cook dinner every night.  Sometimes I just have to reach into the deep recesses of my pantry and go Asian.

Last night was one such night.  I had been looking through (actually I was searching desperately through) my new Bon Appétit magazine for something... anything... to make for dinner.  And there it was: Thai Beef with Basil.  Quick and easy, at least according to the 25  minute time estimation, and I was sold.  The fact that I also possessed all the ingredients without having to google for substitutions, made me jump with joy.  (Okay, I didn't actually jump, but I was happy).

 Bon Appétit knows their stuff.  The recipe took about 25 minutes start to finish, and came out looking an awful lot like the picture in the magazine.  Score one for me!

Not only was the Thai Beef with Basil pretty, it was delicious.  Quick, easy, delicious.  What more could I ask for, other than a shorter ingredient list?

Recipe:  Thai Beef with Basil
Bon Appétit Magazine, November, 2013


2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 red chiles, thinly sliced, seeded for less heat if desired, divided
1 pound ground beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups fresh basil leaves, divided
2 medium carrots, julienned or coarsely grated
2 scallions, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 teaspoon sugar
Steamed rice and lime wedges (for serving)


Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add garlic and 1 chile and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook, breaking up with a spoon and pressing down firmly to help brown, until cooked through and nicely crisped in spots, 8–10 minutes. Add broth and 2 cups basil and cook, stirring, until basil is wilted, about 2 minutes.
Toss carrots, scallions, 1 Tbsp. lime juice, and remaining chile, 1 cup basil leaves, and 1 Tbsp. oil in a small bowl.

Mix soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and remaining 3 Tbsp. lime juice in another small bowl until sugar dissolves.

Top rice with beef and slaw and drizzle with soy dressing. Serve lime wedges alongside for squeezing over.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Tale of Two Banana Breads

I know you've probably had enough of the banana breads.  I understand, but I love banana bread.  I am forever in search of the perfect banana bread recipe.  It's a sickness.  I know.

A couple of weeks ago I made Smitten Kitchen's Jacked Up Banana Bread.  I brought it to Charlie when we went to see him in New York.  Of course he loved it, because aside from Kate, Charlie is my best customer.  And besides, it had booze in it and what 22 year old guy doesn't like a little alcohol with his banana bread?

But rotten bananas wait for no one, and I once again found myself with a bunch of specked fruit.  Yes, I could have waited and made banana pancakes over the weekend, but those bananas were so ugly that I needed to take action stat.

I had been thinking about trying another recipe from Smitten Kitchen that was a healthier version of a classic banana bread.  (Disclaimer: I believe anything that calls for whole wheat flour and some kind of grain classifies it as "healthy" whether it is or not.)  This particular loaf included millet, which I like because of its crunch.  And, instead of cooking or olive oil, the fat called for was coconut oil, which I absolutely love.

After returning from the gym this morning, I set to work making the banana bread.  I always figure that if I've gone to the gym I deserve a little something special, just to replace all those calories I worked so hard to burn.  God forbid I ever end the day net ahead.  Oh well.

The good news is that this "healthier" banana bread was just as delicious as the boozy one, albeit probably not as appealing to my son.  Not to worry.  It won't go to waste.  I cut myself a nice little piece for breakfast while it was still warm.

Recipe:  Crackly Banana Bread
Smitten Kitchen


3 large ripe-to-over-ripe bananas
1 large egg
1/3 cup (80 ml) virgin coconut oil, warmed until it liquefies, or olive oil
1/3 cup (65 grams) light brown sugar
1/4 to 1/3 cup (60 to 80 ml) maple syrup (less for less sweetness, of course)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) uncooked millet


Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In the bottom of a large bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon until virtually smooth but a few tiny lumps remain. Whisk in egg, then oil, brown sugar, syrup and vanilla extract. Sprinkle baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves over mixture and stir until combined. Stir in flour until just combined, then millet.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool loaf in pan on rack.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Mother Mode

Every once in a great while, I wake up in the morning and there's no niggling feeling of anxiety left over from the day before.  Everything is in its place and everyone is in a good place.  Such is the case in our family at the moment.

Charlie, living in New York and working at his first real job, is not only doing well but has returned to being the wonderful young man I thought I was raising.  (Let's just say that the college years were not necessarily a good thing for our overall relationship.)  Kate is happily finding her way at college.  She's making friends, managing the work, and even winning tennis matches.  Ted and I are both chugging along, which after my summer of radiation, is welcome news.

Yup, life is good.  I almost hate to jinx it by saying anything.

Even the Pirates have had their best season in more than 20 years.  I'm not a big baseball fan, but Ted and the kids are diehard Pirates fans.  In fact, they are somewhat resentful of all the band wagon fans that have recently been claiming their devotion to the Bucs.  Kate has been live streaming games on her computer up at school, Ted has season tickets, and Charlie even made it home over the weekend to see the Pirates beat the Cardinals in game 3 of the series.

All is well, despite the fact that the Pirates lost game 4 and it's do or die for them today.

But I digress.  Charlie was here over the weekend and that allowed me to kick into full mothering mode.  And what, I ask you, is more mothering that a good apple cake?  According to my friend Mona, every mother has an apple cake -- at least every mother we know.

I've made almost as many Jewish apple cakes as I have pound cakes.  They're all basically the same. -- batter, apples, batter, apples.  And they're all good.  But even taking that into account, I am still making new and different apple cakes just to challenge myself.

This time I decided to give Smitten Kitchen's Mom's Apple Cake a whirl.  Quick, easy, and of course delicious.  Really delicious.  What made this one so much better than apple cakes of the past?

The apples.  Plain and simple.  It was the apples.

Recently I have been receiving these really ugly, pockmarked little apples in my CSA basket.  These apples may be ugly, but they are the most delicious apples I've had in a long time. They taste like... apples.  Not red fruit, but apples the way they're supposed to taste.

So, Charlie was home and I made him an apple cake.  Try this one or try your favorite recipe, but look for the best ugly little apples you can find.  I promise you something special.

Recipe:  Mom’s Apple Cake
Smitten Kitchen


6 apples
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar

2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube pan. Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with cinnamon and sugar and set aside.

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely before running knife between cake and pan, and unmolding onto a platter.