Apple Cheddar Quinoa Cakes

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Turns out starting a new job isn’t easy. I mean first of all, you have to figure out how to do that thing you’ve been hired to do. In this case for me that includes getting to know 20 different artists on our Outreach play and workshop roster, our 4 main booking contacts throughout the various NYC library systems, and learn everyone’s unique way of working. It also means visiting as many of New York City’s libraries as I can, as how are you supposed to figure out what programs you want to book if you haven’t met who’s in your audience? (Also in this case it includes learning how to run a summer camp, but that’s June-Ilanna’s problem. And if you happen to be any of my camper’s parents… just kidding… your children are in adept and capable hands and I’ll stop writing now.)

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And there’s all that other stuff too, like interpersonal stuff (Is Coworker X laughing at me or with me? How much should I acknowledge Colleague Y’s rambly, rhetorical-but-not-really questions?), or who do you ask about business cards (Turns out no one — I have to design, order them, and get reimbursed (not normal, right?)), or what to do when the person before you made a mistake that it’s up to you to fix (Don’t worry, if you need any magicians in NYC I have compiled a whole list of them after a stressful and last-minute booking mix-up last week). Every day poses its own series of challenges.

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Today I went to go see my recently obtained magician do his show at a small library branch in Staten Island. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go — it’s far, you have to take the ferry, it was a beautiful Saturday, I had to take three modes of transportation, etc, etc. I could’ve come up with any number of excuses but I just did it and ya know? It wasn’t actually that far, the ferry was delightful on this sunny day, and the library was easy to find. The branch was welcoming, colorful, and packed with kids. The magician was wonderfully entertaining, bringing a huge smile to my face as I watched both him and his eager fans. The shock and awe on their faces as he made a quarter fly or made a bottle of ketchup disappear was the highlight of my week. I think this job is going to be okay.

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Oh god, and here I am again with no transition to be found. This snack or brunch has nothing to do with magicians, or a new job, or being happily surprised by a ferry ride. It’s just good.  Apple and cheddar are a favorite combination around here, if by “around here” we mean with me, because everyone else I surround myself with seems turned off by this underappreciated pairing. Don’t be like them. Fry yourself up some of these simple sweet&savory bites, eat them on the plate you brought back from Japan which makes you happy, and don’t listen to the naysayers. (At work OR at home. Boom. A tidy, relevant wrap-up.)

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one year ago(ish): Kung Pao Brussel sprouts and tofu 
two years ago: roasted pepper and eggplant soup with orzo

Apple Cheddar Quinoa Cakes

a Swanky original
(makes 9ish small cakes, good for two for brunch with salad)

It’s best to use the mixture the day you make it. I put some in the fridge and fried the cakes a day or two later — still tasted delicious but they didn’t hold together as well. Also a note on sauce — I tried them with a quick chipotle mayo but it was too overpowering, and I wouldn’t recommend the hot sauce route. A drizzle of honey was nice, as was a dollop of honey mustard. Maybe Greek yogurt would be a nice touch? Let me know if you try it.

½ a red apple (I use Fuji)
1 cup cooked quinoa
⅓ cup cheddar, shredded
⅓ cup panko
1 egg
1 scallion, minced
s&p to taste
Olive oil
Honey to serve (or see note, above)

First, grate your apple. Skin-on is fine. Use the biggest holes on your box grater. Lots of liquid will be pressed out — get rid of this excess liquid but no need to squeeze apple strands; some liquid is okay. Combine apples and all other ingredients except olive oil in a big bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon to combine.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add a healthy drizzle of olive oil — enough to coat the bottom of the pan but no extra (we’re not making latkes here). Spread oil around with a flexible spatula to ensure it covers the whole surface.

Using your hands, scoop up quinoa-apple mixture. I like a big cookie-sized amount — about 1/4 cup. Press quinoa mixture into a fat disk, and carefully put into the pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until browned, on each side. Quinoa will become crunchy, cheese pockets will ooze, and apple will intermingle.

Serve with a side salad and a drizzle of honey for a peeerfect brunch.

 

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Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

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Popcorn, patiently popped on the stove with a bit more salt than you intended, is Perfection. It does not require creativity or innovation or newfangled spice combinations because its light savory saltiness is the ultimate dinner substitute. It’s vegan, gluten-free, healthy (barring that salt situation), easy, cheap, and delicious. It’s my go-to around dinner time if I had a big lunch or if that salad didn’t fill me up quite all the way.

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My dad has received lots of flack from us lovely children over the years for his ability to eat a bowl of popcorn at literally any moment. Went out for a huge graduation dinner at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet? Eh, there’s always room for some popcorn. You want someone to go see The Notebook with you? If he has nothing else to do and the movie theater sells popcorn, chances are Dad will volunteer. My main memory of doing homework in high school was next to Dad on the couch, a sportsball game on mute, him reading the paper, us both absent-mindedly eating popcorn and washing it down with cold seltzer.

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Now Daniel is the popcorn-maker of our household. Having taught him my mystical popcorn ways, he has taken it on as “his” kitchen task, which I’m totally okay with. I love that he developed his own routine with it, and look forward to our predictable nagging about appropriate saltiness. We never have leftovers.

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This is all a long way to reiterate that popcorn doesn’t need anything besides salt (and maybe a little love) to be Awesome. HOWEVER, during recent holidays when Daniel was in Texas with his family and my parents were frolicking in the New Hampshire snow, I was holding down the fort in Brooklyn all by my lonesome and made nontraditional popcorn after salivating at a Bon Appetit recipe, and IT’S REALLY GOOD. A couple more steps than a typical evening dose would require, but so worth it for a party or gift situation. Or, ya know, a “suffering thru the holidays alone because I have to work” situation. I did manage to save a couple pieces for Daniel to sample, and looks like this may be inserting itself into a more regular rotation. It’s goooood.

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one year ago: Mayan quichon de verduras (traditional Guatemalan veggie stew — I still want to experiment with this!)
two years ago: mushroom olive and farro stuffed acorn squash and roasted broccoli hot honey pizza

Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

from an old issue of Bon Appetit

Cooking spray
6-8 cups popped popcorn (I used ⅓ cup kernels)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
¼ cup Frank’s hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

First, find two small rimmed baking sheets (or one large one) and a very large bowl. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; spray papered baking sheets and the bowl lightly with cooking spray. Put popcorn in the bowl and set all this aside.

In a heavy-bottom medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Turn to medium heat and give a quick stir to combine. (I would avoid a wooden spoon for this task.) As mixture heats up, put the spoon aside and just swirl the pan as necessary. Bring mixture to a boil, then continue boiling for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture is a toasty dark amber. Mine took 11 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and add in hot sauce and butter. This will sizzle and sputter and bubble, don’t be alarmed! Quickly stir in with your spoon and return to the heat. Return to a boil (this took no time), and cook for another 3 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and stir in salt, baking soda, and cayenne. Stir quickly, then pour over popcorn. Toss and stir quickly to evenly coat the popcorn, then pour out into a single layer (or close enough) on your baking sheets. Bake for 12-20 minutes, tossing once, until dry. Let cool. Break up clumps (or don’t and keep it more like popcorn brittle!). If you don’t eat it immediately, congrats, you have great self-control, also you can store it in an airtight container for five days or so.

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Pomegranate Molasses & Za’atar Granola

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I went to Jordan and all I got was this lousy granola idea. Which, in truth, is the FARthest thing from lousy. (And, also, I got some iron camel hooks that were confiscated at security and which forced us to check an extra bag, for only the camel hooks. Truly silly. (Or not? I could’ve inflicted some pretty brutal terror on the kicking screaming kids behind me with those hooks if I wanted. ….aaand with that, I’ve been forever placed on the no-fly list. Sorry children. I joke.))

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And anyways, it’s not true. I experienced a truly beautiful and memorable week discovering Jordan’s ancient wonders. Thankful to little bro for being worldly and brave enough to live in the Middle East for a semester (when I chose Tuscany). Thankful to my parents for their inclusive vacation-style and impeccable taste. Thankful to tourist buffets for the extra jiggle in my thighs. And while we’re at it, thankful for making this granola stretch a whole two weeks so I can continue eating it while writing about it. If you have any inclination to visit Jordan, I wholeheartedly suggest you leap. Highlights include Amman rambling, the high-walled canyon Wadi Mujib water hike thru rapids and up waterfalls, the glory of Petra at night and from above, Wadi Rum’s Mars-like splendor, the huge and well-preserved Jerash ruins, and a million tiny corner falafel shops. I only have good things to say.

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This granola is tangy from the pomegranate molasses and almost savory from the za’atar (a green Middle Eastern spice blend). These two ingredients are coincidentally my favorite hummus toppings and are valuable in so many contexts. (Also see: pomegranate molasses in my baked bean recipe and za’atar atop this butternut and tahini mash.) You can find both in any Middle Eastern-style grocery store and perhaps the international aisle of a regular well-stocked store. Due to my nut allergy, I pack my granola full of seeds, but please substitute or add whatever little nuts you think go.

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one year ago: ginger coconut rice 

Pomegranate Molasses & Za’atar Granola

a swanky original

2 cups old-fashioned oats
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon chia seeds
¼ cup dried dates, cut into small pieces
¼ cup za’atar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
¼ cup honey
¼ cup vegetable oil
Juice from half an orange

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a big bowl, mix together the oats, three types of seeds, and dates. Add za’atar and salt.

In a big glass measuring cup, combine pomegranate molasses, honey, oil, and orange juice. Mix until combined. Pour into dry ingredients and mix well with wooden spoon.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet (or two if half-sized) so mixture covers pan in a thin layer. Bake for 50-60 minutes, stirring once or twice, until oats are toasted and everything sticks together.

Remove from oven and let cool all the way. Break into clumps. Serve on top of yogurt, or eat plain by the handful. Store in a ziplock bag.

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Tomatillo and Peach Salsa (& a wedding cake!)

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The past two weeks have been filled with a whole lotta love. I had the joyous fortune to witness the marriages of two sets of friends over the past two weeks, and am full to the brim with good feelings and joie de vivre. Not only am I overjoyed at the unions of all these lovely people who I am lucky to have in my life, I am refreshed and renewed by people of all kinds. So often, I go through my day with a stern countenance, wary of strangers, stingy with my smiles. In the past two weeks, I have had my mind expanded and my life momentarily affected by new no-longer strangers from around the world. My friends have the best friends.

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I love that I was able to rehearse and perform a Bollywood dance at Nandita and Alex’s wedding with 20 other recruited newbie dancers. (Also, turns out Daniel has some mad Bollywood skillz…) I can say pretty confidently we Rocked that dance, and the brides beamed and I felt instantaneous camaraderie with my “Zor Ka Jhatka” team. And then, when the reception was over, we held a little after party at our apartment with the 85 beers gifted to us by the caterers and three cabs-full of new friends.

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And then this weekend, after months of planning and taste tests and one bad dream involving emergency outsourced avocado curd (ew), my friend Leah and I made a wedding cake!!!! It was a giant labor of love, and by giant I mean pretty freaking giant — I think the whole thing used at least 40 sticks of butter, multiple bags of sugar, 75 eggs, and two big bags of lemons. The final monster was a vanilla cake from Rose’s The Cake Bible, with Ina’s lemon curd, Martha’s raspberry curd, Sweetapolita’s vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream, and hand-holding from Deb. (It takes a village…) The thing itself was transported in many boxes with the help of a kind boyfriend and amused cab driver, and then hastily stacked and decorated amidst ladders and lanterns being hung up, and caterers running around, and someone forgetting their pants and needing to run home half an hour before the wedding started. And yet, it came together beautifully and tastily too. So many strangers wanted to talk about the cake — to say how lovely it was (oh shucks), or about their own baking experiences, or to chat about my (nonexistent) professional baking career.

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Weddings are fun. I love being surrounded by people who have traveled far and wide to share in love. To celebrate togetherness. I like that these weddings happened with the change of the season — a gentle farewell to what was and an excited eye cast towards the future.

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In that light, perhaps you want to make salsa? With roasted tomatillos and the last of summer peaches? This salsa is a great picnic accompaniment and really, much easier than a wedding cake. But it’ll go fast and make people in awe of you anyway because most people just don’t understand how easy it is to make your own dang salsa.

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Daniel’s spicy spicy red pepper salsa recipe to come some day… we’ll wait for me to build my heat tolerance just a bit more.

one year ago: roasted radish, blistered pepper, and olive pizza

Tomatillo and Peach Salsa

This is a more straightforward vessel for chips than my previously-posted mango black bean “salad-alsa”. Might be harder to eat this with a spoon, but don’t let me stop you from trying. Adapted from macheesmo.com. 

1 lb tomatillos
2  big peaches
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper
1 big clove garlic, minced
½ c cilantro, chopped
1-2 T onion, finely chopped
1 lime
s&p

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove husks from tomatillos and cut in half. Place on a baking tray, cut-side up. Roast for 20 minutes.

Set a small pan on medium-high heat. Add serrano pepper, turning every minute or so until lightly charred on all sides. Set aside.

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. With a small sharp knife, score the bottom of each peach with a small “x”. Boil peaches for one minute. Drain and let cool. Peel peaches with your fingers, starting from the “x”. You will get juicy and messy! Lick your fingers (and then wash your hands). Cut peaches into small bite-sized pieces and place into a medium-sized bowl. Discard (or eat) skins.

In a food processor, combine tomatillos and the serrano pepper. Pulse until there are no pieces remaining, and mixture is homogeneous and slightly syrupy. Add tomatillos to peach bowl, along with the garlic, cilantro, onion, and juice of a lime. Season to taste with s&p.

So Proud!!

So Proud!!

Mostly-Rhubarb, Really Easy, Cake

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When your college best friend moves to Chicago and becomes part of a traveling puppet company, the least you can do is make the whole lot of them dinner when they and their giant van come rolling through Brooklyn. The play, which was a beautiful, shadow-puppet-filled ode to eccentric friendships, impossible ambitions, and unexpected loneliness, filled me with admiration for this roving band of puppeteers and their realized vision. They had ravenous appetites, but I guess hours in a van with bell pepper and beef jerky sandwiches *ew* can do that you. We had a delicious and quickly cobbled together meal of pasta, homemade sauce, CSA salad, focaccia, and beer.

This recipe is not at all related to that meal.

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Except for, too-long after the fact, I discovered a forgotten bowl of strawberries in the nether region of the fridge that had been intended for dessert that night. It was discovered when I had already embarked upon a late-night rhubarb cake endeavor, to find I was half-a-cup short on fruit. And then, lo and behold, somehow Fridge God came through with these miraculously still-intact berries, who were begging me to hang out with their edgier counterparts. And obviously I acquiesced, since the smell of buttery rhubarb and strawberries having a juice cleanse in a sauna at midnight thirty is the stuff of which dreams are made.

…as are, apparently, giant spiders in a forgotten mansion haunting the prince of England, who is courting my sister…

….or, if you’re Daniel, an amputated hand of a salsa dancing acquaintance…

Dreams. Weird.

rhubarbcake ingredients

Mostly Rhubarb Cake
barely adapted from The Seaside Baker

1 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tbsp for top of rhubarb
3 eggs
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp buttermilk, but I used Mexican sour cream because that’s what was in the fridge, and it totally worked!
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups diced rhubarb and strawberries, mostly rhubarb
zest from 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together diced rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon zest. Let sit.

Mix eggs and 2/3 cup of sugar with a fork until frothy. Add melted butter, vanilla, and buttermilk. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt and mix to combine.

Cut out a parchment paper circle to fit either a 8 or 9 inch cake pan (use whatever you have!). Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle fruit over the top. Then sprinkle 2 tbsp sugar evenly atop the fruit. Don’t scrimp on or skip this step! The sugar helps the fruit becomes all jammy and delicious during baking.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Eat warm and swoon.

cooked rhubarb cake

I baked this cake on a Monday night. Came back Wednesday morning and found an empty pan in the drain board and this in the fridge:

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Awww how sweet, the roommates saved me the last piece!