Monday, August 29, 2011

As soon as I got my assignment for this month's Secret Recipe Club, I knew I was in trouble. You see, Keep it Sweet is a blog full of sweet things. (Never would have guessed that, right?)

Not just any sweet things, though. Fantastic looking ones, like Chocolate Covered Pretzel Bars, Banana Corn Muffins, and Cinnamon Roll Cookies.

I perused. I drooled. I deliberated. But when I saw this recipe, it was love at first sight. Blueberries? Salted Pretzels? Fine chocolate? Count. Me. In.

These things were delicious. And unusual. The combination of salty and sweet was, of course, fantastic. But what puts these over the top is the sweet cold burst of blueberry in the center. As Lauren puts it, "It is heaven biting into the creamy dark chocolate and then having a huge blueberry burst in your mouth." Couldn't have said it better myself!

Blueberry Pretzel Clusters (adapted from Keep it Sweet)

5 ounces high-quality dark chocolate
1/2 cup salted pretzel pieces
1/2 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Gently melt the chocolate in the microwave.

Once the chocolate is completely melted, add the blueberries and then the pretzel pieces. Stir until completely coated

Use a tablespoon to drop large clusters of the mix onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Chill the chocolate in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour or until the candy is completely firm. Serve (cold) within a few days.

Linking this up to Melt in Your Mouth Monday and Happy Post.

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2011 by Rivki Locker


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Summer is over as far as I'm concerned. Sure, the kids are still in camp and the weather's still hot and balmy. The lawn still requires weekly mowing, and my children are all tanned and healthy-looking.

But as far as I'm concerned, summer's over and done with. I had my little bit of vacation time (no complaints; it was lovely), spent loads of time with the kids, and caught up on my cookbook reading.

Now I'm back at work. Sitting at my desk for what seems like 24 hours a day (it isn't). Spending endless hours in meetings and conferences.

The only thing that feels like summer is the produce. The lovely tomatoes. The fresh herbs on my patio. The abundance of zucchini. And the peaches. Oh, my, the peaches.

As long as there are peaches, there's still a bit of summer left for me. Here's a simple way to enjoy them.

Roasted Peaches

5 small peaches
1 tablespoon butter
1-2 tablespoons sugar (use white, brown, or turbinado)
cinnamon, if desired

Preheat the oven to 425* and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Peel the peaches. My hands-down favorite way to do this is using the Kuhn Rikon Piranha Y Peeler. It requires ZERO fuss, ZERO water boiling, and ZERO patience. You just peel the peaches like you would any other fruit. Ingenious.

Cut the peaches in half and remove the stones. Lay them out on your baking sheet - hollow sides UP.

Put a nice large dot of butter into each peach half, and then sprinkle some sugar over the butter dots. (Use as much sugar as you like, depending how sweet you like 'em and how sweet they started.)

Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon, if you like.

Roast for about 25 minutes, till the butter is bubbling and the fruit seems to be getting a bit soft. Eat hot or warm, with yogurt, ice cream, or unadorned. (Refrigerate leftovers and rewarm before serving.)

Linking this up to Mingle Monday, Weekend Bloggy Reading, Seasonal PotluckReal Food Wednesday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, and Fit and Fabulous Fridays.

Posted on Sunday, August 21, 2011 by Rivki Locker


Sunday, August 14, 2011

I recently cut my hours at work. My husband's starting a full time Physician Assistant training program which means he'll be away from home lots and lots and lots. And lots. So I went from being a full time working mother of four with lots of help from my husband, to being an almost full time working mother of four with almost no help from my husband. Somehow I thought that working six hours less a week, cramming the same amount of work into less hours, would feel relaxed. Slow paced.

I envisioned walks in the park with my sweet babies. Hours of play-doh and nursery rhymes. I was wrong (and not only because my kids would throw eggs at me if I tried singing nursery rhymes. Do you even sing them?).

So where does an almost full time working mother of four find time to make polenta cakes? Well, I'm somewhat schizophrenic in the kitchen. Most days I prepare basic, simple recipes that feature less than five ingredients and take two pots or less. But every once in a while I tell myself that I have to prove something to someone. That making complex dishes that require shaping and stewing and dirtying 16 pots proves that I'm a good mother. So I do. And then I collapse in bed - sink full of dishes and table barely cleared - and promise that I won't do it again. I will not make buttery tarts for dessert on weeknights. I will not roast beets for salad and stain both my hands and all my counters.

Interestingly, this dish, fancy as it sounds, was not all that difficult. Yes, it takes a bit of advance prep. But it doesn't use all that many pots, and the ingredient list isn't all that long. And it's good. Really, really good. Prove that you're a good mother / father / husband / wife. Make some today.

Garbanzos with Polenta Cakes
Serves 4-6

Polenta Cakes: 
3 cups water
1 cup polenta / corn grits (here are the ones I like)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil for frying

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced in rings
4 cloves garlic
a generous handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1-2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1 can of garbanzo beans, drained
salt and pepper

First, start the polenta cakes. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the polenta and salt and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Stir often to prevent scorching, and cook for about 1/2 hour until the mixture is very thick and doesn't pour. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Spoon the polenta into a large flat baking dish and smooth it out. Set aside to cool for at least an hour. (Longer is fine.)

Next, start the garbanzos. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and then saute the onion till translucent. Add the garlic, tomatoes, and oregano. Cook for about 5 minutes longer. Add the beans and cook till heated through, about 15 minutes. Season and set aside.

Now, shape and fry the polenta cakes. Use a round glass to cut the polenta - which should be hardened by now - into even circles. (I use a 3-or-so-inch round.)  Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the polenta cakes for about 5 minutes per side. They should take on a nice golden color.

Serve the garbanzo beans next to the polenta cakes, garnished with yogurt or guacamole if desired.

Linking this up to Weekend Bloggy Reading.

Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 by Rivki Locker


Thursday, August 11, 2011

This is my last resort. I tried Godiva chocolate. I tried homemade bread dipped in super fine olive oil. I even tried a fresh hot sugar cookie followed by two Advils.

My last hope for getting my mind off of my aches and pains is to sit down and write this here post. See, I had a root canal - my fifth one (!) - last week and am going through some serious after effects right about now.

We're talking a throbbing jaw. Aching gums. A completely mauled tongue. Not pretty. Not fun. 

Nothing seems to be cheering me up right now, and sadly, writing this post doesn't seem to be helping either. Thinking back to the day I made these Zucchini Pancakes, just over a week ago, before I had lost a piece of my tongue to the dentist's drill (ok, slight exaggeration there), makes me sad. Nostalgic. And maybe just a little hopeful that I might feel better sometime soon. 

Maybe, just maybe, my mouth will heal and I might one day enjoy a dinner of something other than fruit smoothies, cottage cheese, and soft bread. I'm not sure that day will ever come, but it's nice to dream. 

Lemon Mint Zucchini Pancakes, adapted from Love and Olive Oil
makes 8 large pancakes 

My adaptation of this recipe calls for 1/4 cup of fresh herbs. I used a combination of lemon verbena, mint, and chives. The result was lemony and minty - just perfect with the zucchini. Other herbs would work well (oregano or dill). But if you don't have lemon verbena, try adding some lemon zest instead. The original recipe calls for that, and I think it would do a lot to brighten the flavors in the absence of lemon verbena. 

4 small zucchini (try to get the bright orange/yellow variety)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs (I used a combination of lemon balm, chives, and mint)
salt to taste
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1/8 cup olive oil
Optional: Greek yogurt or sour cream, for serving

If you're using yellow or bright orange zucchini, just wash the zucchini and then grate them coarsely. If you're using green, you may want to peel it before grating. The green color of the peel can turn a little 'muddy.'

In a large bowl, combine the grated zucchini, garlic, shallot, ricotta, eggs, herbs, salt and bread crumbs. Stir well.

In a large, preferably cast iron, skillet, heat the olive oil. When it's nice and hot, add the zucchini batter in about 8 mounds. Each pancake should be 4-5 inches in diameter. Fry over medium heat, turning once, until browned and crisp. This will take about 10 minutes per side. Serve the pancakes right away, with yogurt or sour cream if desired.

Linking this up to Weekend Bloggy Reading and Ultimate Recipe Swap

Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011 by Rivki Locker


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Am I the only one around here who reads cookbooks at the beach? At the poolside? In bed at night? Please tell me there are others out there like me. Perhaps another eccentric soul who owns nearly 100 cookbooks (at the last count). Who reads cookbooks like novels.

Maybe we can form a support group or something.

What's ironic is that with all the cookbooks I own, I rarely cook from cookbooks. I like to make up my own - mostly pretty simple - recipes. Sure, they're very much inspired by all the cookbooks I've read. And I certainly reference my cookbooks for ideas. But I almost always just 'wing it.'

This recipe is the simplest potato dish ever. Use the best ingredients you can find. Local freshly harvested potatoes if possible. Herbs from your garden or a local farm. And the finest olive oil you can afford.

Simple Roasted Potatoes
serves 6

8 medium red potatoes, scrubbed clean and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 10 sprigs of thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon paprika, optional
Sour cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 425*. Chop the potatoes evenly into 1-inch pieces.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes with the olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt and paprika. Mix well.

Spread the potatoes evenly in a large heavy non-disposable baking sheet. Make sure the potatoes are spread in ONE layer. If you need to, use two baking sheets so the potatoes are not in the least bit crowded. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, more of less, stirring occasionally to be sure the potatoes are browning evenly.

Serve hot, with sour cream if desired.

Posted on Sunday, August 07, 2011 by Rivki Locker


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I'm on a guilty cooking spree. Last week, it was apple tart. This week, these sugar cookies.

I think it's summer that does it to me. I feel like I should be vacationing with my kids. Taking them to the beach. Flying them out to Disney World or something.

Instead, I'm working my tail off. Barely scraping together dinner. And feeling lots of guilt.

So I discovered a simple equation. Butter + sugar = happy children. Happy children = less guilty Mommy. And that is how this recipe came to be.

Chewy Sugar Cookies, adapted from America's Test Kitchen
The only change I made to the original recipe was to use colored sugar for one batch and raw turbinado sugar for the other. 

2¼ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups sugar
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons butter, melted and still warm
⅓ cup oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅓ cup sugar - colored or raw turbinado sugar are nice options, but you can also use white
Preheat the oven to 350*. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Put the 1½ cups of sugar and the cream cheese into a large bowl of an electric mixer. Pour the butter in and combine. Add in the oil and mix for a minute or so. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla. Mix for another minute or so. Add the flour mixture and mix for another minute or two until a soft dough forms.

Spread the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a separate shallow bowl. 

Pinch off even pieces of dough, about 2 tablespoons each. (The original recipe suggests that you separate 24 pieces first to be sure they are all the same size.)  Use your hands to roll the dough into balls. Roll each ball in the sugar to coat it. Space the balls evenly on the baking sheet, 12 per sheet. Use the bottom of a cup to flatten the dough balls slightly. Sprinkle the tops evenly with a bit more sugar.

Bake until the edges are set and just beginning to brown, 11 to 13 minutes. Cool the cookies for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack and allowing to cool completely.

Linking this up to Weekend Bloggy Reading

Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2011 by Rivki Locker


Monday, August 1, 2011

Mothers (especially Jewish ones) live with guilt. A lot of guilt.

Was I too tough on my son last night when he threw a fit at bath time? I mean, who says you need to shower EVERY day?

Was it unreasonable to refuse to let my almost-twelve-year-old stay up past midnight to play Boggle with our guests?

So us mothers welcome the opportunity to cleanse ourselves of some of the guilt. By giving in and making our kids happy, we feel less guilty. Pardoned. Absolved.

And that's really how this tart came to be. I was feeling guilty for working late. Serving the kids mac-and-cheese one night too many. Being too tired to take my girls to the mall.

When my daughter asked for an apple tart, I jumped at the opportunity.

And I'm glad I did.

Apple Tart, adapted from The Art of Simple Food (If you don't own this cookbook, buy it NOW)This recipe makes enough dough for two tarts. I always make a double batch of dough. I find it easier to work with and it's always a welcome surprise to find a buttery dough in my freezer. You can use the other half for another apple tart, later, or for a more savory preparation like this Onion Tart. Oh, and if you're wondering if you can make this with margarine or coconut oil, please don't. The pure buttery taste is part of its magic.

The Dough
2 cups white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ice cold water
1 1/2 sticks cold butter

The Topping
3 apples (I used two Granny Smith and one Gala)
3 tablespoons melted butter
5 tablespoons raw Turbinado sugar, divided

First, make the dough. Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the cold butter into small (1/4 inch or so) cubes. Work the butter into the flour with your fingertips. When it's worked in and coarsely crumbly, slowly add about 3/4 of the ice water. Mix it in with a fork and then switch to mixing with your fingers. You'll want the dough to hold together. Add more water if you need to but you should not need more than 1/2 cup. Divide the dough in half, bring each dough together in a ball, and wrap each ball in an individual piece of saran wrap. Once wrapped, flatten each ball to make a disk. Refrigerate for at least an hour or as long as two days. Or, freeze for up to three months. (Return the fridge a few hours before you're ready to use it.)

Next, make the filling. Peel the apples and slice them into 1/4 inch thick slices. 

Preheat the oven to 350*. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Flour a work surface and roll out ONE of your dough disks into a 14-inch round. To move it from your work surface to your baking sheet, fold the round in half and then in quarters. This is a wonderful technique I learned from Alice Waters which has taken all the frustration out of rolling out pies.

Once the dough is on the baking sheet, lay the apple slices in a pretty pattern, leaving a 1-inch border. Fold the dough border over the apples and then brush the butter all over the border. Pat the remaining butter onto the apples. 

Sprinkle the entire tart - crust and filling - with the raw sugar. 

Bake for 50-60 minutes until the crust is beginning to brown and the apples look soft. Cool for at least a few minutes before serving. (Note that this tart is also wonderful at room temperature or even from the fridge the next day, if you have any leftover.)

Linking this up to Gooseberry Patch Recipe Round-Up

Posted on Monday, August 01, 2011 by Rivki Locker