Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Healthy Breakfast Fruit Bread

My latest breakfast phase is a riff off the Blue Sky Bakery muffin. I got hooked on their muffins when I lived in Williamsburg and could get them at Variety on my way to the subway. I now live closer to the source, since the bakery is on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. (Sidenote: I wish there was a list of all bakeries in NYC that serve their muffins. It's hard to find a good muffin, rather than the pervasive airy nothingness at most cafes.) Anyway, their bakery not on my way to work, and since I'm not a morning person and am always running late, there isn't time to go out of my way for breakfast. Amazingly, Smitten Kitchen found and shared the recipe.

They are great as muffins, but then I got the idea to bake it as bread. It is a lot easier to dump batter into one loaf pan than it is to spoon it into many muffin tins. Furthermore, I store the bread sliced and frozen, so I can bring one slice to work daily to toast for breakfast. This is a game changer when it comes to baked goods. No more overeating to finish a loaf while it sits out all week either drying out or getting overly moist. And the toasting ensures that it always satisfies that Blue Sky Bakery craving alongside my morning coffee - a hearty bread with a crisp exterior and steamy fruit. So far I've made it with blueberries, diced plums, and cranberries, and I've also sometimes added diced walnuts.

Some other changes: I don't usually have bran, but I do always have oats, so I grind oats into a rough flour in my food processor. I love the toothsome texture and flavor added by the oat flour. To increase the nutritional value: Honey in place of refined sugar; coconut oil instead of a more commonplace oil; and the addition of flax seeds. However, coconut oil and honey cannot be blended by hand, since both tend to clump when combined with cold milk, so I do have to get out my hand mixer, even though I generally prefer to mix batter with a fork or spoon to avoid extra cleaning.

The key is to bake it at a high temperature like 425. I don't know the science of it for sure, but I think this caramelizes the sugars in the bread and coaxes more flavor out of its low sugar content. When I baked it at 350, it tasted meh to me.

Breakfast Fruit Bread
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1 1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 1/2 cups ground oats
1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup diced fruit or berries

Preheat oven to 425 F. Grease and flour a loaf pan. Grind oats into a rough cornmeal-consistency flour in a food processor. Using a hand mixer, combine coconut oil, honey, milk and egg. Dump in oats, flower, baking powder, baking soda, flx and salt. Use the mixer to blend into a smooth batter. Stir in fruit with a spoon. Spread into loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes, until edges are browned. To freeze: Let cool, slice into 10-12 pieces and store in a ziploc bag in freezer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spanish Tapas at Home

We cook a lot, so for Valentine's Day, I tried to think of something to make that would feel more special than any old night at home. I thought Spanish tapas would be fun and mostly easy to prepare. We feasted on bacon-wrapped dates, gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), boquerones (marinated anchovies) on toast and tortilla espanol. We also sliced up some manchego and chorizo and served them alongside olives and extra sliced baguette. This was all accompanied by glasses of Castanon Sidra Natural, a typical Spanish cider with a cloudy pour and funky aroma.

Conveniently, I was able to get most of the ingredients affordably at the Park Slope Food Coop, except for the shrimp, which came from a fish market at the end of our block, and the baguette and boquerones from an Italian market nearby. Park Slope is so undeniably convenient. 

It all came together relatively quickly and simply and would be easy to scale up for a dinner party, except for peeling the shrimp. We had plenty of leftovers, which meant that for less than the cost of a restaurant meal, we were also able to treat our friends to brunch at our place the next day. As we stressed about preparing and plating everything before our food turned cold (because there are a lot of different plates to juggle in this meal), I did remember the advantage of going out to eat -- someone else worries about that and brings you the food when it's perfectly hot and ready ;-)

Bacon-wrapped dates
Plan on making enough for a few dates per person. Depending on the size of your dates, cut each length of bacon in half and wrap one piece of bacon around one or two dates. Bake at 400 for about 10 minutes. For such a small amount of food, consider using your toaster oven, which worked wonderfully for us. If you have extras, leftovers reheat well at a lower heat, like 300.

Boquerones (Marinated Anchovies) on Toast
Boquerones, or marinated white anchovies, are not the same thing as canned anchovies. They have a a light fresh fish flavor that is nothing like the salty, bitter overpowering flavor we associate with anchovies. If you want to make your own, you must start with fresh, raw anchovies for marinating, and cannot start with canned. It's a time consuming process that involves curing them in salt and then vinegar, ideally over a couple days, without ever actually cooking them. So it's easier to get ready-made boquerones. We lucked out and found marinated anchovies at the Italian market Russo's near our home in Park Slope, but you can reliably find them at the Spanish store Despana in Soho. They had already been marinated in vinegar and other flavorings, but we tossed them in oil, garlic and parsley when we got home. Evan served them on toast, but I actually prefer the fish on its own. Plan on about two toasts per person.

Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)
It's time consuming to peel the shrimp (unless you can find pre-peeled uncooked shrimp), but once that's done, they cook very quickly. A half pound of shrimp was the perfect amount for tapas for two.

Preheat a pan over medium high heat. Add a generous coating of olive oil, a sprinkling of crushed red pepper, a teaspoon of paprika, a tablespoon of minced parsley, and two cloves of minced garlic. After a couple minutes, add the shrimp and a squeeze of a quarter lemon. Sautee, stirring often, until the shrimp turn pink. It takes less than five minutes. Season with salt and pepper and another tablespoon of fresh parsley, and serve in its golden, spiced oil.

Tortilla Espanol
A Spanish tortilla is essentially a frittata with potato. The traditional method involves flipping the tortilla, but I haven't had luck with that in the past, so I chose to finish it in the broiler. Be watchful though, because we let ours overcook. You'll only want a to eat a wedge of tortilla each, but the leftovers keep well.

Preheat a cast iron pan over medium heat. Add a generous coating of olive oil and preheat another few minutes. Meanwhile, chop two large potatoes into 1/4" thin rounds and then chop the rounds in half. Sautee the potatoes over medium heat, covered but stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, mince one small onion and two cloves of garlic. When the potatoes are golden browned and softened, add onions, garlic, and a little more oil, and sautee until onions are translucent. Whisk eight eggs and pour into the pan. Cook for about 5-10 minutes until the eggs start to set on the sides. Transfer to the broiler and cook another 5 minutes. Slice into about eight wedges like a pizza pie.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

2014 In Review

photo by Jenna Salvagin
Getting married obviously marked my major life milestone of 2014. Since our engagement was only seven months long, the first half of 2014 was dominated by wedding planning. We were away or busy almost every spring weekend with things like catering tastings, my shower, our engagement photo shoot, bachelor and bachelorette parties for us and friends, and friends' weddings. Meanwhile, my weeknights were focused on wedding research and spreadsheets. The wedding magic came and went in June, and we took a simple honeymoon afterward - a short but sweet week at a lake house in the Berkshires. 

our private honeymoon dock

Enjoying the Everyday
Following the wedding, my intention was to enjoy a totally normal stretch of time. There was a lot of darkness in the past few years that I was still dealing with in the first half of 2014, so I felt ready to put it behind me and enjoy regular life without the stress of planning a wedding, or moving repeatedly, or terrible apartment mishaps. That's exactly what I've been doing. Weekends spent doing laundry, going on afternoon walks for coffee with my new husband, going to yoga, and getting drinks with friends. No big trips, just weekend getaways to see friends or family. We did go to Blue Hill at Stone Barns for Evan's birthday, which deserves its own post.

I intended to write about the wedding here on the blog afterward. Instead, I got caught up in the loveliness of doing nothing. I haven't played that much music or written the blog posts I planned or exercised as much as I should and definitely procrastinated on finishing post-wedding related tasks. Mostly, I spent the second half of the year luxuriating in the escapism of binge reading. In fact, I read 67 books in 2014 - twice as many as in 2013. Which reminds me that I should do a post on some of my recent favorite books. This year also marked a turning point in my feelings about New York City. For the first time, I felt like I might be ready to leave, not immediately, but sometime in the imaginable future.

ice skating in Prospect Park last winter

Other People's Weddings
Just as in 2013, we attended several weddings. In early spring, we celebrated the wedding of one of Evan's friends under magnolia blooms in Rhode Island. We were part of a twenty person wedding weekend involving a hike, a pregnant bride, a beautifully golden twilight Hudson riverfront, and dinner inside an antique book store. A week after my own wedding, I was given the honor of reading a poem at the ceremony of one of my oldest friends, Caitlin. In the fall, I cried when my friend sang her vows on a beach at a summer camp wedding in New Jersey complete with lawn games and a bonfire. And I relived my college 80s dancing nights at a wedding in Delaware.

three out of four hefs now married 
(photo by Photovisions)

Cold Spring friend hike

getting ready for a ceremony at golden hour

When I came back from a long vacation in fall 2013, I thought, I can't do this anymore. I was so burned out from several years of being a nonprofit fundraising minion. But I had a plan that involved sticking it out a bit longer until I hit a certain savings goal before exploring something new. Lo and behold, the power of sticking it out prevailed, because in spring 2014 a position opened up at work -- one that I had always regretted not applying for two years ago. Now in my new role managing the development database, instead of bearing the stressful orders to raise more money, I get to play with computers in support of the people raising the money. It's a pretty ideal job for me and it was a pretty ideal transition to get to continue working for an organization I believe in while expanding my skill sets into new territory.

I started out 2014 by releasing a new solo album. This sounds like the beginning of a new musical chapter, but it actually represented a closing. The songs I had written during a particularly creative period between 2010 and 2011 -- and then spent a year recording with Evan -- were finally recorded for posterity and out there in the world. This technically freed me up to figure out my next musical project, but I'm in a creative lull and it's been hard to motivate on that. I did at least write a new song in 2014 and learn some covers for the fun of it.

album art by Leanne Bazzetta

Bike Commuting
I've continued bike commuting fairly regularly since 2011, with a few exceptions. Last winter was colder than previous winters, so I ended up taking off the whole season. This year, I actually stopped riding from October onward. First, my landlord annoyingly stopped allowing me to lock my bike to the front gate, requiring me to either carry my heavy bike upstairs or lock it on the sidewalk. Second, I twisted both of my ankles that month -- one a week after the other -- and spent a few weeks either limping or elevating my feet. Third, by the time I recovered, daylight savings had changed my ride home from daylight to the cold, dark night. Granted, having to carry my bike upstairs and ride in the dark cold has not stopped me before, but something about this confluence of events broke me out of the habit.

On the plus side, I recently got an indoor exercise bike stand from a friend who moved away from NYC. It's genius. I'm planning to exercise all winter without paying for a gym membership by riding my own bike while watching TV in the comfort of my apartment.

a rainbow at the end of my ride over the Brooklyn Bridge

Which brings me to my 2015 plans, which mainly involve riding my exercise bike, writing more, and making conscious choices to be more healthy.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Champagne Punch for a New Year

For New Year's Eve, we had about twenty friends over for a party that included dinner. Evan wasn't as keen on making dinner, because it's a lot of work (see below), but we do both like to entertain and cook. I want us to have the kind of home that feels open and where we're able to feed the people we love. We haven't had that many gatherings in our current home, and I don't want to look back and regret that going forward. So in order to live according to our intentions, we just have to take the opportunities rather than letting them pass by.

To avoid any last minute rushing for big dinners like this one and Thanksgiving, I make a plan by working out the recipes and then creating a prep timeline for both food and set up. So even though we were preparing nonstop most of the day, I felt relatively zen about it. Granted, part of why it took all day is because preparing for parties in NYC apartments also tends to involve rearranging furniture. I dream about having a home with an already-entertaining-friendly open layout.

I fell on some of my group dinner standbys that can be made cheaply and in crock pots: my two bean quinoa vegetarian chili and shredded barbecue beef (just like pulled pork). I made the beef in the crock pot the night before the party and then the chili during the day. It's good to make the beef ahead, to allow for time to cool, shred, remove the fat and bones, mix with barbecue sauce, and reheat just before serving. I was able to fit 7 lb of chuck roast in my crock pot, which is exactly the kind of occasion for which I included my new, larger crock pot on my wedding registry. I always forget how long it takes to shred several pounds of meat, though. It kind of detracts from what is supposed to be a simple, non-time consuming recipe. My memories suggest that pulled pork is easier to shred. We're still working our way through the cow shares we bought a year ago and accompanying frozen beef avalanche.

For sides, I made mustard-balsamic braised kale and cornbread (this recipe multiplied by 1.5, baked in a 9x12 quarter sheet pan). As a bonus for certain guests, it was easy to make this meal completely gluten free by using all cornmeal and no flour in the cornbread.

We also wanted a special cocktail to celebrate the new year. After poking around several punch recipes, we created the raspberry lemon champagne gin punch below. We swapped raspberry syrup for strawberry syrup and eliminated the muddling step for ease. (We tend to have raspberries in our freezer from summer pickings of wild raspberries at the farm). We taste tested until we settled on a ratio that's not too sweet or too tart, but goes down easy and is a lovely blush color. Luckily, we also received a fancy new carafe from our wedding registry that is large enough to hold this many servings of alcohol.

With the party and my subsequent hangover behind us, we focused the rest of our long weekend on home organizing and hanging up artwork. After having to leave what was a nearly ideal apartment a couple summers ago, we felt kind of down about our current apartment for the first year or so. Its awkward layout has made it a challenge to configure. More recently, we've been trying to appreciate it as home. We didn't do any holiday decorations last year, so putting up a tree and making a wreath this year felt like a step in the right direction. Slowly, but surely we are decluttering, organizing and making it more homey.

Raspberry Lemon Gin Champagne Punch
Makes nearly 12 half-cup servings

8 oz gin (1 cup)
8 oz water (1 cup)
25 oz champagne (1 bottle)
4 oz lemon juice (juice of 4 lemons)
1 1/3 oz raspberry syrup
1 1/3 oz triple sec
1 orange

Peel one lemon into several peels. Juice four lemons. Slice one orange into wheels. Combine ingredients in a large pitcher or punch bowl and stir thoroughly. Add lemon peels and orange wheels for garnish. Keep chilled in the refrigerator. Serve in half cup portions over ice.

To make cocktails for two:
1.5 oz gin
1.5 water
4.5 oz champagne
1 oz lemon juice
1/3 oz raspberry syrup
1/3 oz triple sec