We're all bunkered down here waiting to see what hurricane Sandy brings. Schools and offices are closed, the cupboard is stocked, and the firewood is piled high. The winds are whipping aroung outside and we're as prepared as we can be to get thorough the inevitable loss of electricity.
While the power is still on and others in the house are occupied reading and doing homework, I'm sneaking a few minutes to share this recipe with you. It's another in my effort to make healthier after-school snacks for the kids.
Because sweet potatoes are in abundance this time of year and are reputedly one of the healthiest foods available, they seemed like a logical base for a muffin. I also used oat flour for its whole grain goodness and earthiness and olive oil as a healthier alternative to butter or canola oil.
To flavor the muffins, I used my favorite complement of fall spices, those that traditionally jazz up apple or pumpkin pies. But this time, I increased the nutmeg to bring that spice, which so often takes a back seat to cinnamon, up to the forefront.
I made the first batch of muffins with only maple syrup and although the kids gave them a thumbs up, Gabe and I both thought they needed to be a bit sweeter. Interesting that we had more of a desire for that sweetness than the kids did, isn't it?
After about a day in the storage tin, something funny started to happen to the sweet potato in the muffins. It began to oxidize and those flecks of potato turned from a beautiful autumnal orange to blue and green. I don't know how to explain the science behind that change, but it was not at all appetizing.
When I made the muffins a second time, I tossed the sweet potato with a bit of lemon juice before adding it to the batter. That has done the trick and kept the sweet potato its original color even after cooking and a week of storage. I also added brown sugar to the second batch to make them a bit sweeter. We all did a blind taste test and agreed that the sweeter version was tastier.
If you're home bound, you oven still works, and you happen to have a sweet potato lying around, here's a lovely little snack that you can enjoy and still feel virtuous.
Makes about 18 muffins
approximately 20 minutes preparation time
25 minutes baking time
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups oat flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar, plus 3 tablespoons, divided
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups grated sweet potato (approximately 1 large sweet potato)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two muffin trays or line them with cupcake liners.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, oat flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda.
In a large measuring cup or small bowl, pour the lemon juice over the shredded sweet potato and stir to completely coat. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add the shredded sweet potato and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon just until the dry ingredients have been evenly incorporated.
Spoon into the muffin tins. Sprinkle the remaining brown sugar over the tops of the muffins.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cook for a couple of minutes in the pan, then turn onto a baking rack to cool.
Wolly mittens on a summer day.
Dental floss for a baby.
Eggplant can be a tough sell, too, especially for kids. Especially for Chloe.
We've been trying to convince Chloe for years that she likes eggplant. We had a bit of success masking it and even more success frying it. Granted, shoe leather would also be tasty fried, but I was hoping that after eating eggplant fried, she'd have enough of a positive association that she would be willing to try other eggplant dishes.
But apparently her memory of her eggplant tolerance is short.
She ate Bhagan Bharta a few weeks ago and liked it. But when we sat down to this risotto dish last night, one of our favorites, she announced "I don't like eggplant."
After we told her how good it was, oohing and aahing about the creamy smoked mozzarella, she eventually agreed to let us put a bit on her plate so long as it was just the rice without any of the eggplant. She nibbled at that and was willing to have a bit more.
The second round, her serving had eggplant in it but she pushed it to the side of her plate. At least she let it sit on her plate. Is that progress?
So she ate just a bit of rice and devoured the Swiss chard instead.
At least she did until one of her pieces of Swiss chard touched the eggplant piled on the edge of her plate. She refused to eat that bit of chard, quickly sneaking it onto my plate.
And so it goes, one small step at a time, in the eggplant battles.
As for the rest of us, there is not a scrap of this risotto left in the refrigerator today. Some of us had more than one serving, and what was left after dinner was carried off in lunch boxes today.
2009: Acorn Squash Stuffed with Curried Lentils
2010: Grilled Eggplant Baba Ganoush
2011: Soft Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes, Herbs, and Sour Cream
I have given up on the salting eggplant thing. If there is a difference in the taste, it is so minor that I don't think it's worth it. Also, after we had this the other night, Oscar commented that he thought the eggplant should be cut smaller "so that it melts into the risotto." I had left the pieced big so that Chloe could pick them out more easily, but I agree that the ideal size would have been a smaller dice for the eggplant, about 1/2-inch pieces.
Serves 6-8 as a main course
15 minutes preparation time
30 minutes cooking time
7 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 medium eggplants, peeled and diced
1 large tomato, diced
2 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 pound smoked mozzarella, diced
Heat the stock in a sauce pan over medium heat.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook it until it is a deep golden color. Remove it from the pan and discard (or if you love garlic like we do, spread it on a piece of bread for a little snack while you're cooking).
Turn the heat up to medium high and add the eggplant and a few shakes of salt. Cook for a few minutes until the eggplant begins to soften. Add the tomato and oregano and stir.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the rice and the white wine. Cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed into the rice. Add a couple of ladels of stock and stir a few times, until the rice is absorbed into the rice.
Each time the stock is absorbed into the rice add more, and stir periodically. You don't need to stir continuously, just enough to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When most of the stock is gone, taste the rice for doneness. Is should be tender without any crunch but not mushy.
When the rice is done, stir in the smoked mozzarella and stir to incorporate it fully. Serve immediately.
Friday night was the coldest night we've had this autumn, dipping below feezing. We tucked in early. In the morning, everything was covered with frost, even the chairs that we had left around the camp fire. During the day the sun warmed us up and we had a gorgeous fall day for running around, visiting the animals, playing kickball and soccer, and even doing a bit of lounging.
I snapped a photo of one of those brown wooly caterpillars but can't remember, does lots of brown on a wooly caterpillar means a mild winter or a cold one?
Sarah and Ed are also in the process of expanding their winery and, as they did with the tasting room, they are building with strawbales and cob. The straw bales were all in and now they are in the process of adding the layers of mud to form the walls. Olivia and I joined them for a while, digging into that beautiful mud and slathering it on.
By evening we were ready for hot soup and s'mores. I watched those s'mores live up to their name as the kids snuck back for seconds.
The best part, though, was being with friends that we don't see nearly enough and having time to sit and visit. Even so, after we headed home, I thought of more things we never got to talk about. I take that to mean that we have to go back next year.
One day your older daughter asks you to buy cabbage because she wants to make dumplings for dinner. Actually, she asks your husband because he is the errand runner in the house. The next thing you know, she is in the kitchen, mixing flour and water to make dough.
Before you can stop yourself, you say "Are you making your own dough?!?!" And you tell her that it would be much easier if she used wonton wrappers instead. But she tells you, "It's just flour and water" and asks, "What are wontons, anyway?" And she continues to mix, and knead, and roll, singing to herself.
You peek in and don't want to break the spell but can't help standing in the doorway staring. You grab your camera and take picture after picture. Even after the eye rolling, you snap away, wanting to watch, and hoping that they'll forget about you if you hide behind the camera.
You are struck by how much she is like you, researching dumpling recipes and coming up with her own spin because she loves dumplings and has been reading a book in which the characters eat lots of dumplings and now she wants to make her own.
But she is also not you. Because you love dumplings, too, but have never made your own and definitely would have taken a short cut for your first try by using wonton wrappers.
And also because she has her own way, of developing the recipe, of creating, of cooking. Of being.
There she is, completely undaunted, forging on. And you are in awe. You cannot believe that this girl began life in your womb and that you leaned over her making silly faces at her tiny one to make her smile. That she was once a toddler who cried every day when you left for work in a way that broke just a tiny piece of your heart off each time. You stand there rooted to the ground as the memories flood over you and you snap away on your camera.
You realize that this will not be the last time that you are overwhelmed by her, that as time rolls forward there will be other times like this where she will surprise and impress you with the person that she has become. And although you are nostalgic for the days that have passed, you are also excited to see what comes next.
For the dough:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
For the dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
To make the filling, heat a tablespoon or so of canola oil in a large sauté pan and sauté the onions and ginger. Add the cabbage and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Remove the mixture from the heat and add the sesame oil and cilantro. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like. Set aside.
To make the dough, mix the boiling water with the flour until a soft dough forms. Knead the dough until it is smooth, about 5 minutes. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a roll approximately 12 inches long. Cut each roll across into half-inch slices. Flatten each slice on a well-floured surface and roll it into a circle approximately 3 inches in diameter. Continue with the remaining pieces of dough.
Put one tablespoon of the filling mixture in the center of each circle. Fold the circle in half and pinch the dough along the seam to seal it. Place about a tablespoon of canola oil in a non-stick skilled over high heat. Add as many dumplings to the pan as you can, leaving just a bit of space between them. Cook the dumplings, turning them once or twice, until they are golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
To make the dipping sauce, mix the soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. Serve with the dumplings.
Gabe and I had Monday off for Columbus Day and, even though the kids had school, we made our own long weekend. We schlepped up to our cabin in the Adirondacks with friends. It took forever to get there but, as usual, once we were there, it was a true escape.
Autumn had already arrived there. The air was brisk and the leaves had begun to change. We roasted marshmallows, carved pumpkins, strolled through the woods, and watched the dogs frolic. Some brave souls even swam in the icy lake.
A perfect beginning to fall.
And even though we had a long drive home, we carried some of that peace back with us.
Something wonderful happened, you see, and now I have a new favorite, fool-proof way of making soft-boiled eggs.
One of you, kind readers, left me a comment, explaining your mother's way of making soft-boiled eggs. It is super simple and it works every time. And, best of all, it doesn't require much attention at all. Just plunk those eggs in a pot full of water, turn a timer and that's it. I just had to share.
So, thank you, Livy, for reading and for sharing this tip. And thanks to your mom, too!
Perfectly Soft-Boiled Eggs, Take 2
In Livy's comments, she notes that gas stoves seem to cook more quickly than electric and she removes the egg 30 seconds sooner when cooking with gas. I have gas and 10 minutes has worked on my stove. The edge of the yolk is firm but the center is still soft. Given the variety in stoves and personal preferences, though, it may take a bit of fiddling with the exact timing to get the perfect egg.
Fill a pot with cold water.
Add the egg(s)s and place the pot, uncovered, on a burner over high heat. Start a timer for 10 minutes.
When the timer goes off, remove the pot from the heat, drain the water, and fill the pot again with cold water. Let the eggs sit for 30 seconds or so until they are cool enough to handle. Put in the egg in an egg cup and serve.
I pulled my scrapbook of recipies off the shelf the other day, the one that I filled over the years with recipes from friends, newspapers, magazines. I don't clip recipes any more, now that I can find almost anything on line in seconds. But I have quite a collection from back in the day.
Flipping through those pages took me on a journey. I saw recipes that we used to make regularly that we haven't made in ages -- our favorite cheesecake recipe! -- and many that we have never made. Even seeing those unmade recipes there, with their tantalizing possibilities, was a treat.
My favorite part of flipping through those pages, though, was finding recipes from friends.
Seeing those recipes, written in our friends' own hands pulled me back. Back to Anita's dinner party where I tasted that apple crisp and knew I had to have the recipe. Back to the cheesy potato casserole that Michelle's sister brought to a pot luck. Back to the Spring Mill Cafe outside of Philadelphia, the French restaurant where I worked during college, and the recipe for creamy salad dressing that makes enough to feed an army.
Back to our wedding shower, to the anticipation of collecting the recipe cards friends had brought to share.
Back to that time before we had children when friends were our family, that circle that held us, supported us, entertained us, consoled us.
Flipping the pages in that recipe book pulled me gently back there, with visions of more recent events flashing thorough my mind as I traveled there. Children's milestones, vacations, dinners, gatherings, funerals, weddings, all passed me by as if glimpsed out the window of a moving train.
Those images flashed by and overwhelmed me as I thought of all that we have shared and built and lost.
I pulled out a recipe that I had not made in years, our friend Neha's mother's Bhagan Bharta recipe. I made it and it was excellent. I served it for dnner, wondering whether the children would eat it.
Bhagan Bharta is an excellent way to use some of those beautiful eggplants and end-of-season tomatoes that are at the farmers' markets now.
Although I have used Mrs. Misra's recipe, I have adapted it liberally and any inauthenticity is my own. The original recipe calls for cooking the eggplants in the microwave. I used the grill because I like that grilled flavor, but if you want a quicker recipe, use the microwave technique (described below). This version is gingery and fresh with just a hint of smokiness from the grilled eggplant and minimal heat.
15 minutes preparation time
1 hour cooking time
2 large eggplants (or 3 medium-sized ones)
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 medium onions, chopped
2 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, peeled and chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 handful cilantro, chopped
Rice, naan, or pita, for serving
Preheat the grill to high.
Cut a cross into the end of each eggplant and half of the garlic into each. Grill the eggplants until they are well-charred on the outside, turning them once or twice. Depending on how black you want them, this could take from half an hour to an hour. Remove from the grill and let cool.
Alternatively, if you want a quicker way to cook the eggplants, stuff them with the garlic and microwave them on high for about 15 minutes, until they are very soft.
When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, slit them length-wise and open them up. Scoop out the flesh and chop it coarsely. If you come across any of the garlic cloves that you stuffed into the eggplants, chop them, too. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, ginger, and chile and cook until the onions have softened, about 8 minutes. Add the eggplant and about a cup of water, along with the ground coriander and salt. Cook until the water has reduced and the mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomato and cilantro and cook until everything has heated through, about 2 minutes.
Serve hot with rice, naan, or pita.
*There are many variations of the spelling of the name of this recipe, including Baingan or Baigan and Bhurtha and Bhurta.