Post 7 – Secret Ingredients

I have this bad habit of experimenting with new recipes and testing them on unsuspecting people. I’m not saying I toss unsavory foods at these random victims (er um test subjects) and cackle evil-ly to myself. Sometimes I just don’t tell them things that they don’t need to know. Hey, it’s for their own good. Like one time I made a chocolate beet cake and took it to work and didn’t tell anyone there were beets in it until they ate it and loved it. Then I told a select few.

Let’s talk about a time where this tactic failed.

At the end of the semester for my Many Meanings of Meat class in my Gastronomy program (yes it was a class where we talked about meat all the time and yes I went to grad school and studied food), our class had a potluck to celebrate. We were each asked to bring in a dish that signified something we had learned that semester and explain it to everyone. After racking my brain for a recipe that would be delicious, impressive (I mean c’mon I’m cooking for a bunch of food-obsessed grad students), and significant, I decided to make a chocolate pie with silken tofu that I think is delicious. It is smooth, it is chocolate-y, it is rich, AND it has a graham cracker crust. It is a favorite in my family and something I thought would be well-loved by my fellow Gastronomy students. I explained my dish by saying something about how things weren’t always what they seemed in the meat industry (such as your awareness, or lack thereof, of the sanitation horror stories in slaughter houses). This delicious dessert is not what it seems. You can think of it like a chocolate cream pie, I said. Although there’s no cream in it.

Needless to say my attempt at mystery left the pie virtually untouched for the majority of the afternoon. A few people stealthily asked me what exactly was in that questionable pie, and by the end of the night only a few small slivers were missing. One guy who did taste it told me how much he liked it and expressed his surprise when he found out the main ingredient.

Sometimes it’s better just to not say anything and let people enjoy something. Ignorance is bliss.

So maybe you want to make something unusual for someone you like and not tell them what it contains, like this pudding recipe I recently tried. It is surprisingly delicious (like the chocolate tofu pie) and made with healthy fats! Hoorah! Huzzah! Now I can eat all the chocolate pudding I want and never get fat because it’s healthy fat so it doesn’t really count. Ok, that’s not exactly true, but you can still celebrate if you’re a) vegan b) trying to cut out unhealthy fats and c) if you just love chocolate a lot too much. A lot too much? Yep, that’s what I said. And maybe just don’t tell your friends what’s in it.

Here’s the recipe already:

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Pudding

Adapted from active.com’s recipe for Chocolate Mousse

1 ripe avocado

¼ tsp. vanilla

2 T. maple syrup

2 T. cocoa powder

pinch of cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a food processor (if you have one) and blend until smooth. If you don’t have a food processor or you’re lazy, mash the avocado well with a fork. Stir in other ingredients. Refrigerate until cold and thick. Enjoy with a friend. Or make a bigger batch.

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Post 6 – My Friend Pinterest

Ok Pinterest, I do like you. A lot. I’m kind of obsessed with you to be honest, considering I spend a good chunk of time every day scouring your pages for Pinspiration, admiring your giant collection of “best ever, ridiculously easy, and delicious” recipes for creamy chicken, chocolate cake, and cheesy chip dip. I have found some worthwhile recipes thanks to you, and home decorating tips, and dresses that I’ll never buy, but I have to say you’re kind of a bad friend. You spend half your time trying to convince me to make ooey-gooey Oreo peanut-butter brownie sundae cakes and the other half telling me the fifteen best ab workouts I need to do to get a flat belly because you know that I ate more of the peanut-butter Oreo cake than I was supposed to. You show me pictures of sports bra-clad athletes, tanned and toned, to inspire me to work harder at perfecting my body. You mix in some recipes for “skinny enchiladas” and “skinny mac n’ cheese” with photos of giant slabs of New York cheesecake and red velvet cupcakes. You show me outfits to “color me happy and skinny,” so I know that the two must go hand in hand. You caption every heavy, cheesy, beefy dish with “your husband won’t let you make anything else ever again.” Stop, please. I don’t cook only to please the man in my life.

I have to admit, Pinterest, you are letting me down. You’re leading me on with these attention-grabbing one-liners (are these written by the same people who write the ads on the side of websites, like, “5 foods to never eat for a flat belly”?) and you’re talking at me like I’m just another person in the crowd that will get swept up in the masses and believe whatever I’m told. I feel lost and consumed in the Internet jumble, losing hours of my day constantly scrolling down in search of the next snapshot of visual gratification, so that when I finally escape your hold, Pinterest, I feel hungry, fat, and confused. Should I go make that cake or do “15 best ab workouts without crunches”?

Alright, I’ve gone a little bit overboard I’ll admit, blaming you for my inability to separate the good from the ugly. I should have the strength to pry myself away when my eyes are glued to the screen and I should have the confidence to ignore those eat-yourself-skinny pins that wallpaper my homepage. I’m a grown up, most days. The only way I know to combat your manipulation is honesty. I will make that recipe and tell the Internet audience how absolutely delicious it wasn’t (if of course it actually wasn’t) and I will tell you that losing 7 pounds in 3 days is not physically healthy. I won’t abandon you yet, Pinterest, but I don’t know how much I can rely on you anymore.

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In that state of mind, here’s a recipe I found on Pinterest for no-sugar, vegan, can be made gluten free “cookies.” After I made them, I was informed by the man in my life that they aren’t cookies, but I didn’t make them to please him and I didn’t make them to “eat myself skinny” just because they’re gluten free and so therefore they must be healthy (calm down, Erin. Deep breaths). I made them out of my own curiosity and interest so there. Make them if you want, or don’t.

Banana-Oatmeal Raisin Bites

Adapted from katinthekitch.wordpress.com

3 ripe bananas, well mashed (about 1.5 cups)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

¼ cup canola oil, olive oil, or coconut oil (liquid)

2 cups rolled oats

2/3 cup almond meal

1/3 cup desiccated unsweetened coconut

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. Kosher salt

1 tsp. baking powder

½ cup dried fruit – raisins or Cherries

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl combine bananas, oil, and vanilla. In another small bowl combine all dry ingredients. Add to banana mixture and stir in. Add dried fruit. The dough won’t hold together super well, but don’t worry about it. Drop the dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets an inch apart (they don’t spread at all) and bake for about 15 minutes until lightly browned on the bottoms and somewhat firmer. My batch made about 2 dozen, but it just depends how big you make them.

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Post 5 – Valentine’s Day

Thursday it was Valentine’s Day and I woke up one of those cynical people (though I am happily engaged) who thinks the day is overrated and cliché and Hallmark-ified and everyone expects chocolate and roses, blah blah blah. I was tired and cranky because my cat woke me up at 4 in the morning to cuddle and when I finally get up and go into the kitchen to get the day started, my wonderful fiance surprises me with a box of dark chocolate!

Now I know what I would be thinking if I were you. Everyone gets chocolate. Big stinkin’ deal. Weren’t you just saying how cliché that is? Yes, everyone gets chocolate or roses or candy or whatever, but when a genuine guy who genuinely loves you (ok when this genuine guy who genuinely loves me) surprises you with a box of chocolates when you’re feeling cynical, somehow that changes all of that and you feel pretty damn lucky. MAJOR points to him for turning my mood around.

So naturally when he does something nice for me, I want to do something nice for him. I mean relationships are about give and take, though of course not everything has to be evenly reciprocated. Instead of making a sickeningly sweet chocolate dessert, since baking is my specialty, instead I made something sweet, but not overly sweet, beautiful and fun for me to make – apple pie roses. They look fancy and you might think they’d be too much work to make but really they’re not any harder than apple pie. You make (or buy) a small batch of pie crust, slice some apples thinly and simmer them until they’re soft and then you just make cinnamon rolls out of them and bake! Ta-da! Impressive, romantic, and delicious. When I was making them I showed them to him and asked him, “So what do they look like?” Poor guy, being honest, clueless, and thinking in the Valentine’s Day spirit says “Hearts?” Oh well, he was impressed nonetheless.

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I guess my biggest problem with Valentine’s Day, like others, is that it is an assigned day of love. Can’t I just be more spontaneous with my affection?

Reminder to my future self: If someone who loves you wants to treat you well on a nationally recognized day of love, don’t scorn them because of your own contempt. Let love in and reciprocate the best way you know how. Baking is one way.

Apple Pie Roses

Adapted from excellent-eats.com

2 small pink lady apples or other firm RED apple, washed and UNpeeled

½ of a pie crust (see recipe below, which makes ½ of a pie crust)

Crust: (Double this if using for a single crust pie)

5/8 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp. sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

2 T. COLD unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2 T. COLD vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces

2-4 T. ice COLD water

Start by making the pie crust – mixing the flour, sugar, and salt thoroughly in a bowl or food processor and add the butter and shortening, stirring to coat the pieces in flour. Cut fat in with a pastry blender, in a food processor by pulsing, or with two knives (the old fashioned way) until the mixture is crumbly and somewhat uniform. Start by slowly drizzling 2 T. of the cold water while mixing gently with a fork. Add more water as needed so it comes together in a ball. You don’t want it to be too sticky so add the water slowly. Shape into a rough square, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours at least.

When dough is cold, slice apples very thinly, leaving peels on, and place in a saucepan. Cover with cold water to cover all of them (about 3-4 cups) and add a few tablespoons of sugar if desired and cinnamon (I only added cinnamon). Bring to a low boil and simmer for 10-15 or until apples are pliable. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and set aside.

Remove pie crust from the refrigerator and roll out on floured surface into a long thin rectangle so that the dough is about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into strips (length wise) about the width of the apple slices. I got about 5 strips out of mine.

Carefully lay out the apple slices with the round skin side of the apple slice sticking out ever so slightly over the edge of the dough, slightly overlapping the pieces. Carefully start from one side and roll up the dough like a cinnamon roll, careful to keep the apple pieces in. Seal the dough at the end of the roll underneath the rose or on the side. Set on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or silicon. Repeat with remaining dough and apples. This Pinterest recipe has better visuals than I can describe.

Bake at 425 for 20 minutes and then reduce temperature to 350 to keep apple peels from darkening. Bake until center of rose is no longer doughy. Let cool and enjoy!

Post 4 – Hibernation Food

Hibernation. It’s winter. Duh. (It’s especially winter today in Boston. If you haven’t been paying attention for the past few days, turn on your internet, TV, radio, or whatever and see the crazy amount of snow that landed on the East Coast.) I am not a bear nor do I know any bears (I guess other animals probably hibernate, but for some reason the word hibernate makes me think of bears…hmm), BUT this is definitely the time to hibernate – i.e. stay inside, eat lots of heavy food, and fatten up (like a bear? Is that the connection?) Am I right? Yep. Because everyone and their brother in Boston has posted on facebook about all of the delicious food they made or are making during all of this blizzard-y goodness.

blizzard street

So naturally I want to bake and cook too. A few days ago, admittedly before the storm, I made delicious ginger sugar cookies with browned-butter frosting and candied ginger. In my mind I’d like to think it’s a recipe I invented, inspired by a certain ginger scone I used to enjoy from a Dayton bakery. Now before you picture a darkened gingerbread or gingersnap type cookie, let me explain. The goal was a purely ginger, ginger cookie, unadulterated by the rich darkness of molasses that is often paired with ginger. I began with my favorite sugar cookie recipe and added a touch of brown sugar (yeah yeah it does have molasses in it), ground ginger, and candied ginger. I baked them up soft and round and buttery with little bites of candied ginger cleverly encased and frosted them with a browned butter frosting, in which the butter had only just barely started to emit a nutty aroma, but before the color really changed drastically. This way I maintained the pure white and lemon-yellow ginger-sugar-cookie look I was going for. Let me just say MAJOR WIN. These cookies were exactly what I had dreamed of, and 10 cookies (a half batch) disappeared very quickly between the two of us.

Don't you want to make them right now???

Don’t you want to make them right now???

In other news yesterday I made failed baked apple donuts. Here’s the quick run down: yeasted apple-studded dough, plopped into unattractive mounds and baked. They rose slightly, but maintained their pasty yellow dough complexion on the top and reminded me too much of sweetened bread, rather than a donut. Note to self – don’t bake yeast donuts. They probably fry much better. Well you win some, you lose some. Now go bake something tasty!

Also don’t make excuses that you can’t do anything other than laze around and watch Downton Abbey.

Be productive.

You’re an adult.

Gah, I’m just trying to tell this to myself.

Post 3 – When I prove myself wrong

Stop being a food snob. STOP.

Well, sometimes it’s okay, but right now let’s not define sometimes.

Case in point: sometimes you are wrong.

Over winter break, I went back to Ohio to see my family and while there it snowed fairly heavily the day after Christmas. We decided to venture out into the world to get some lunch. After looking at two different menus online we decided on Café Bella since it looked like they had more options. When we got there, and it was closed we went with plan B, the Wildflower Café, which seemed to have fewer options and therefore we were less interested. Boy, were we wrong!

wildflower

The Wildflower Café is a restaurant gem of Mason, Ohio. They use local food (from Ohio) where possible, they have a crazy good beer selection, and they do it all out of an old yellow house! Downstairs they have a map with pinpoints of all the different farms and local businesses that provide them with goodies to make their menu.

We started out with truffled mushroom fonduta – a melted cheese and mushroom combination with a hint of truffle oil paired with unique fennel and sesame seed-encrusted bread from Blue Oven bakery. Crusty bread and melty, gooey cheese were all it took to seduce us. Next Caitlin and I shared their house salad of spring greens, shredded carrots, delicious croutons (made from same said bread above), blue cheese, nuts, and dried cranberries. Equally memorable and delicious. (Yes it was just lunch but we decided to have appetizers and salads. My sister and I shared our entrée). For our main course, we ordered the day’s pasta special: butternut squash ravioli with roasted apples, some sort of tasty sauce, and goat cheese. We listened to the dessert listings, but opted to go home and make our own, though we did share a few sips of a bittersweet Crème Brulee beer.

ravioli

Photo credit: Wildflower Cafe

Moral of the story: I thought good restaurants seeking local food only existed in big cities like Boston or NYC. Mason, Ohio did not strike me as the type of place to attempt this kind of culinary feat. But who am I kidding? It is outside the cities where most food is grown and who is likely to cook that food, but the people who grow it or live near it. I confess that I know very little about growing food (despite my various attempts at feigning interest) and that I overlooked the fact that people who grow food were probably the first to be creative in cooking it. So I was wrong to be a food snob about Ohio. Need to work on keeping on open mind.