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Friday
Sep232011

BAKED SWEET POTATOES WITH CHILI BEANS



I had a late night chat in the driveway with a friend a few nights ago that got me thinking about the things we do that make us feel "healthy." OK, first off, I love the driveway chat - you know, you're getting ready to head back home and then you kind of unload the stirrings of your heart in those last moments of conversation? "Yes, things are great, lovely to see you. But oh, hey, I feel like I may be going nuts!"- that's the good stuff. Anyway, we we're talking about how when life gets busy the first sacrifice is the "leisure" of doing the things that make you feel healthy inside. Hugh needs to read sometime during the day, the more the better, but always in the morning with his particularly perfect cup of coffee. Even when he has a list of things to do, he does this, and it has been a great example for me. Mine is a bit more literal in the way of feeling healthy, as I need to get out and move. Be it pilates, yoga, a long walk with a friend. Somewhere along the way, I picked up this impression that working hard meant not getting to do the things that make you happy/healthy, and in turn, me feeling guilty for going to pilates at 10:30 when I should be trying to come up with more recipes. There is actually a great article in this month's Whole Living about time, pretty interesting.

The thing is, especially during the current point in my life, where some days I am forcing out creativity, you've got to do the stuff that feeds your insides. Maybe those of you who actually do creative work, already know this, but if the hours of obligations and responsibilities aren't giving way to the things you NEED... find a way. The tai chi, brushing up on Spanish, volunteer work, hip hop class, vegetable garden etc... it fits in somewhere.

My sister chose a few meals to be delivered from me as her birthday present. The woman is picky about vegetables, textures and most things green. I mentioned her a while back. I made this for her so she had something easy to warm up while also being nutritious and filling. If you need to bring a meal to a friend who isn't feeling well, just had a baby, a new neighbor, or the like, it's easily portable and keeps for a few days. Serve it with a little side salad and ta-da! less time on dinner, more time at hip hop class, and such as :)

BAKED SWEET POTATOES WITH CHILI BEANS // Serves 4
The recipe includes cooking the beans from scratch, which is slightly time consuming (all be it, hands-off time). You could use well rinsed, canned beans to speed things up. I'd go one can pinto, one can black beans.

4 Small Yams/Sweet Potatoes
Heaping 1/2 lb. Pinto-type Beans, I used Rancho Gordo beans, soaked in water overnight.
2 tsp. Olive Oil
1 Yellow Onion
2 CLoves Garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. Chili Powder
1 tsp. Cumin
1/2 tsp. Paprika
1 tsp. Smoked Salt
28 oz. Can San Marzano Tomatoes

Cilantro
Chopped Red Onion
Avocado
Sour Cream or Whole Milk Greek Yogurt

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Pierce holes in the sweet potatoes/yams, lightly wrap them in foil, and bake on the middle rack for about 45-55 minutes.
2. Put the beans in a pot and completely cover with water, plus 2 extra inches. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 45-60 minutes until the beans are cooked through.
3. While the beans cook, thinly slice the onion. Over medium heat, warm the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot and cook the onions and garlic until softened. Add the spices and the jar of San Marzano tomatoes. If the tomatoes are crushed, great, if they are whole, just smush them to a puree. Bring to a simmer and reduce for about 20 minutes while the beans finish cooking.
When the beans are cooked, drain and add them to the tomato mix, cook another 10 minutes for all the flavors to marry. Taste for salt and spices, add more if desired.
4. Split open the baked sweet potato/yams and create a little cavern down the middle. Fill the cavern with the chili beans and add toppings as desired. I like a bit of avocado, sour cream and cilantro. You could go with a bit of shredded cheese and minced red onion... something tells me you've had chili before and know the drill.

Wednesday
Sep072011

PLUM TART WITH MASCARPONE CREAM



There was a piece in Sunset magazine from writer Anne Lamott awhile back, and I was redirected to it recently from Orangette. Anne Lamott is a great writer, I have read a couple of her books, and appreciate how she makes points with both humility and humor. The line that struck me the most was "Time is not free - that's why it is so precious and worth fighting for". I make plans with my sister-in-law months in advance, or start discussing a date for a dinner with friends weeks before it's a reality, but isn't that how time goes? We fill it up in trying to get the most out of it, and then end up a bit drained. I just think you should read the article, it will mean something.

I've been envisioning this tart for awhile now, after seeing the posts from the two ladies mentioned below. Hugh shakes his head when we do a post over something I haven't ever made before (which is actually pretty frequent). It is time consuming, especially at the moment while both of us have pretty full plates, but I took a chance. The crust is great, with a nice crunch of cornmeal, and not so much butter than you feel a bit of guilt with each bite. The plums are sweet, barely tart, with some nice texture from not being cooked much at all. Then there's the filling, which may have turned out a bit gooey on first run (I made changes below, don't fret!), but it tastes quite nice. We started this blog as a creative outlet - a place for both of us to collaborate on things we enjoy, food and pictures. The moment it becomes solely about perfect food and a perfect story and mass traffic, I'll have lost sight of why we started doing this in the first place. I love sharing this space, am grateful for relationships I've started and opportunities that have come from it, but every now and then, the tart turns out a little gooey, alright? We ate it anyway, cause time is precious, and if you're waiting for everything to be perfect... you're going to be doing a lot of waiting. Cheers.

PLUM TART WITH MASCARPONE CREAM
With influence from Not Without Salt and Beyond The Plate

As mentioned, the first time around I used honey and cream to thin out the mascarpone, which was unnecessary once it went back in the oven. Even if you want to play around with the sweetener, just make sure it is a dry one, as things melt during its second trip to the oven.

1/2 Cup Cornmeal
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1 Tbsp. Natural Cane Sugar
1/2 tsp. Sea Salt
4 Tbsp. Cold Butter or Coconut Oil
2-3 Tbsp. Ice Cold Water

4 Ripe Plums
1 Tbsp. Tequila
Bit of Orange Zest

1/2 Cup Mascarpone, room temperature
2 Tbsp. Muscavado or Brown Sugar

1/4 Cup Walnuts
2 Tbsp. Turbinado Sugar

1. The crust can be done in a processor, or by hand with a pastry cutter. For the processor, put all the dry ingredients in the bowl and give them a quick pulse to combine. Cut the cold butter into cubes, add it to the processor and give it a few more pulses so there are little pea size flecks of butter. Add the cold water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, until the crust just begins to hold together (Alternatively, you can cut the butter into the flour mix with a pastry cutter, and add the water 1 Tbsp. at a time as well). Press the dough in an even layer, into a 11x5 rectangular tart pan and put it in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 400'. Bake the crust on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes until golden on the edges, remove to cool.
3. While the crust cools, cut the plum into thin slices and gently toss it in the tequila. In another bowl, mix the mascarpone with the honey. Chop up the walnuts pretty fine (you can use the processor, but I hate washing that thing), mix them in a bowl with the turbinado.
4. Set the oven to 475'. On the cool crust, spread the mascarpone cream, drain the plums if needed then layer them nicely on top of the mascarpone. Lastly, sprinkle the walnut turbinado mix across the top. With a rack in the upper third, bake it another 5 minutes just to toast the top. Put it back in the fridge to cool and set the cream. Eat it!

Tuesday
Aug302011

SWEET CORN CEVICHE



There is all this chatter about 'back to school' and I feel like I just got in the summer mood! Not that other people going back to school means that much to me, but I know what is coming. It is just around the corner when people will start talking pumpkin and apples and the holiday Starbucks cup. I still need to go for another swim in the ocean, have a beach picnic and make popsicles! Let's just enjoy the corn and tomatoes and peaches a bit longer. I can see those of you in other parts of the country, the ones enduring some crazy weather patterns, shaking your head.

As simple this recipe is, it needs some defense in case you are thinking it looks too basic. First off, I used the corn I got in my CSA basket this week from the organic farm down the road and OH MY goodness, it was unbelievable. It's the end of August, and if there is ever a time to find sweet, creamy corn from a farmstand or farmers market, it is now. I've watched enough documentaries on the food system to make the effort for organic corn, and besides the ethics of it, the flavor and texture is completely different. The raw corn kernels marinate and soften up a bit, absorbing all the flavor (hence 'ceviche'). You could very well eat this as a side salad, in a quesadilla, mix it with a bit of queso fresco and use it as a condiment for whatever you're bbq-ing. The finely chopped serrano brings the perfect amount of heat, enough to warm up your mouth but not send you searching for a drink. I know I already said this about the tomato soup, but I mean it, this recipe is only as good as the ingredients you use. It is raw corn after all.

SWEET CORN CEVICHE // Makes 2 Cups
Inspired by a picture in Food&Wine
I paid attention to chop the ingredients pretty small, as I wanted the corn to be the star, and the rest to merely compliment - I really think this made a difference.

2 Farmstand Corn Cobs
Zest and Juice of one Lime
1 Generous Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (use the good stuff)
1 Green Onion, finely chopped
1 Serrano Chile, seeded and minced
1/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro*
1/4 tsp. Sea Salt


1. Shuck the corn and use a sharp knife to cut off the corn kernels from all sides. Put them in a mixing bowl.
2. Add the zest and juice of the lime, good olive oil, green onion, serrano and stir to coat. Add the cilantro and sea salt and give it another stir. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes before eating for the flavors to blend. Taste for salt. Keep in a covered container in the fridge, it gets slightly more spicy with age.

* I know there are people who despise cilantro, but don't let that deter you from making this. You could substitute 2 Tbsp. finely chopped, fresh oregano leaves. It won't be quite as 'mexican' tasting, but it does need a fresh herb, and this is the second best option.

Wednesday
Aug242011

SEATTLE.



There is something that stirs in me as soon as I get off of a plane. It is a relief.

Weeks pass and the weight of everyday life builds up - the deadlines, cleaning, relationships, creative pressure, social planning and what not. I mull around in my own angst, which makes the world seem small. I lay awake at night worried that I am fresh out of ideas for the book - what vegetable have I not exhausted in my recipe writing yet? I needed this trip to get out of my own head. I needed to leave and to be reminded that this world is actually huge, that there is SO much out there, so many stories and things to try. I sat on the lightrail of Seattle en route to our hotel, just staring at all the people waiting to go somewhere and I wondered what they were worried about. We're all going to be alright... is it weird that I wanted to yell that out the window? For them and for me. Despite the amount of cheese and sugar I consumed in the past four days, my mind feels healthier.

I was thrilled to finally meet some friends I had, so far, only admired from my corner of the internet. We've exchanged emails and blog comments, but I got the chance to look at them in the face. It's strange how you feel like you know someone from behind a web address or twitter avatar, isn't it? Truth is, if they do it well and honestly, you pretty much do. Genuine people are easy to spot and a pleasure to know.

We spent our days with eating, walking, drinking coffee, and seeing friends on repeat. I just wanted to pop in here with a few words and a couple photos (Hugh didn't take many, he was busy eating), and assure you that after weeks of being burnt out of cooking in general, I feel more excited about being back in the kitchen. I'll bring you food next week, but 'til then, I think you should start planning a trip. Somewhere.

Anywhere.

Thursday
Aug112011

A SUMMER CHEESE PLATE.


Ahhh, it feels kind of nice to write a recipe without instructions. This is just to get you thinking beyond the usual, or maybe this is your usual with a few little additions. There is always a reason for a cheese plate, and I think one with a little extra thought goes a long way. We're going camping by the beach this weekend with family, and that's as good a place as any for a cheese plate, if you ask me.

I've catered a handful of dinner parties, and the selections below are some choices I've come to find popular by extremely close survey. We each have our favorites, and you should by all means include yours, but this combination is what makes sense to me for the end of summer. I like to keep the cheeses on the lighter side for warm weather, saving the cheddars, bries and bleus for the cooler months, this being an exception.


PARMIGIANO REGGIANO // RAW COW'S MILK
chisle off a few pieces, drizzle raw honey

CHEVRE // SOFT GOAT'S MILK CHEESE
rolled in finely chopped lemon thyme, chives, pinch of rosemary and ground pepper

MANCHEGO // AGED SHEEP'S MILK
with a bit of apricot jam

BABY MOZZARELLA // FRESH COW'S MILK
with slow roasted yellow tomatoes, basil and balsamic reduction

Here is a recipe for Heidi's tomatoes, mine were so juicy, I used half the oil suggested.
To make your own balsamic reduction, just simmer balsamic vinegar until it reduces to 1/3 of its original volume. Remember it will thicken even more as it cools. I suggest transferring it to some sort of glass vessel before it cools, as it is quite sticky.

Marcona Almonds
Fresh Grapes or Figs
Crostinis
Seeded Crackers
Let the cheese sit out a bit, don't serve it straight from the fridge.
And drink wine with it, because life's short and cheese and wine make all sorts of sense.
(update for those asking) Cheese forks are from Napa Style.