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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer

I’d like to say something poetic about Manhattan’s summer. Describe the shining sun, the clear sky, and children running barefoot in the playground making it all sound like a postcard or the beginning of a movie, but that would be total hypocrisy, not poetry. It’s so desperately hot in here that the streets look like a communal wet T-shirt contest.
It doesn’t smell like summer breeze, but like decomposing trash, and if my kids dared to run barefoot in the playground, they know I would suffer an immediate heart attack.

Nevertheless, the sticky season doesn’t stop me from loving the masochist life of a New Yorker. I guess it comes with the territory, and my adoration for this town doesn’t even dissolve in the gallons of sweat that my glands have produced this past month--although I wouldn’t mind a well air conditioned summer house.

In all fairness, one good thing about summer is camp. For example, just last week, while my kids were swimming, beading, painting flower pots, cheering and having the time of their lives, my dear friend T and I traveled downtown to the Union Square Farmers’ Market. I hadn’t been there in a whole year. I used to work a couple of blocks away and walked to buy produce, but once I started baking Uptown, those shopping trips became more like tourist expeditions.





It was nice to come out of the steaming subway station and be greeted by the scent of strawberries at the pick of their season. I completely felt like a tourist discovering a new site. Maybe there’s something about seeing produce under the natural light of Manhattan’s shiny sun and clear sky, or feeling a bit rural in the middle of the most urban of places…With the fascination, i started acting like a stereotypical traveler. I observed, touched, tasted, smelled, photographed and spent all the cash I had. I bought corn, nectarines, peaches, berries, plums, zucchini, basil, string beans, tomatoes, red currants, curious-looking baby garlic. I felt like a collector instead of a housewife. Everything was fragrant and bright colored and those very simple things made me incredibly happy.




On our taxi ride back home (yes, we splurged, as we learned from a previous experience that the wait at for the 6 train in July at the
Union Square stop is like making a human consomm√© in your own juices) some of my fruit got bruised and a bit too soft with the heat. I decided then to continue its baking (in my oven this time) and turned it into a crisp. That easy, forgiving and always delicious dessert was exactly what my fruit needed. And I loved savouring the echoes of my visit to the green market every time the nectarines and the blueberries melted slowly in my mouth.

FRUIT CRISP
This is my master recipe and it’s very flexible. In the fall and winter, I use apples, pears and dried fruit (substituting by weight) instead stone fruits and berries. I rarely peel the fruit, why waste the fiber and the time? Sometimes I add ¼-1/2 teaspoon of spices like cardamom, ginger, nutmeg and/or reduce oats to ½ cup in the topping and add ½ cup chopped seeds, nuts and/or oat bran. If the fruit is amazingly sweet, I forgo the sugar almost completely. In general I’m not a big fan of shortening, even if it’s trans-fat free and I substitute it for oil, however, for this crisps, the shortening makes the topping softer and nicer.

Super Ingredients: Seasonal fruit!!! Full of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, rolled oats, whole grain flour and spices, seeds and nuts (if used)

INGREDIENTS
Filling 
1 1/2 pounds organic* stone fruit (nectarines, plums, peaches, etc) cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 cups (10 oz) organic* berries
1/3 cup (2 oz) coconut sugar (depending on sweetness of fruit)
juice of half lemon (fresh!)
2 tablespoons tapioca starch

Topping
1 cup (31/2 oz) rolled oats
1/4 cup (1 oz) whole oat or spelt flour
1/3 cup (2 oz) coconut sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (2 oz) Spectrum (trans fat free) shortening (or grape seed, sunflower seed or olive oil)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

METHOD
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Toss together all filling ingredients in a 2-quart baking dish.
Blend together all topping ingredients in a medium bowl with your fingertips until shortening is evenly distributed and mix is crumbly.
Sprinkle oat toping over filling and bake until oat mixture is golden and fruit is bubbling, about 30 minutes.
Serve warm, if possible.  
Enjoy!

*Peaches, nectarines, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, celery, apples, bell peppers, spinach, kale, potatoes and grapes (known as “the dirty dozen”) are the produce with the heaviest load of pesticides, so try to buy organic when you purchase any of these.

Monday, July 25, 2011

McQueen and Me...


A couple of weeks ago I gave myself the luxury of visiting the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit at The Met, while the kids were in school (if you’re planning to go, get there as the museum opens so you don’t find never-ending lines).
It was incredible to see this designer's work and his artistry in fashion. From how he tailored to how every piece was conceived to represent what he was thinking, feeling or experiencing. Each coat, dress, blouse and shoe has a vision and a purpose behind it, even his shows, which were more like artistic performances. Every season he used the runway as a platform to express himself and interpret history, culture, fear, vanity, status, nature, society and the human psyche. Beautiful, spectacular, creative, personal and even spooky. The clothes he designed were just a glimpse into his own self, and all the emotions that eventually led him to end his own life.
McQueen definitely caused an impression not only in fashion but in a different medium of art.

Which brings me to the McQueen I actually know. The one that I see day and night, every single minute of my life. In my son's bed, bike, skooter, p.j.'s, drawers, shirts, shorts, socks, toy chest, hands, underwear, shoes, art work, you name it. The red car with sparkly blue eyes and perfect smile, who speaks just like Owen Wilson (at least in the English version of both Cars movies). In short, my 4-year-old is crazy about this character, and to celebrate his birthday, try guessing the theme he chose…
We had a little party at the playground with the few friends who were still in the City. It seemed more like an altar to this Disney/Pixar animation and an ode to licensing than a birthday celebration, but my little boy was in Cars' heaven.
Planning the cake wasn’t that easy, because as much as he loves McQueen, he hates eating. And for a reason I will never be able to understand, he doesn't like cake (in general, not only the ones I bake, which makes me feel better).
So, I decided that instead of a cake, I would make him a racetrack-shaped huge blondie. I covered it with non-dairy chocolate ganache, ground pistachios and oat cookie crumbs, all which are included in his list of edible things (along with yogurt, finger nails, toys, his Lightning McQueen bath towel, and the occasional bugger).
As I explored decoration possibilities, I settled for paper cutouts. This was the result.


It took me the whole morning to put it together. But he LOVED it. His eyes lit up when he saw it and he showed it proudly to everyone.
The blondie came out delicious, almost everyone asked for seconds, including my celiac friend, who couldn't believe it himself, as he's rarely able to eat birthday cakes.
However, after blowing off the candles, the birthday boy left the table before I even had a chance to serve him the first slice. He was in a hurry to go play and didn't even try it.
Isn’t this why I called this blog "the irony of baking"?


BLONDIES
This recipe is easy, super fast, delicious, wholesome and if you use a scale, you'll only get a bowl, a baking pan and a whisk or spatula dirty. It freezes well if double wrapped, and... do I need to keep convincing you to bake it?????

Super ingredients: Whole oat flour, flax and if you want, you can add 1 cup nuts. almonds or your favorite seeds

  • Vegan 
  • gluten, nut, soy, wheat free 
  • pareve
INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup (4 1/2 oz) coconut sugar
1 Tablespoon ( 0.3 oz) flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons (1.4 oz) water 
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 oz) olive or expeller-pressed grape seed oil plus more to oil the pan
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) whole oat flour (gluten free if needed)1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon sea salt 
1/3 cup (2 1/2 oz) ounces semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
(gluten, dairy, soy and nut free if needed)

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Oil an 8-inch square baking pan and line bottom and two sides with parchment paper leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.. In a large bowl, mix with a spatula the coconut sugar and flax-water mix until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and oil and beat to mix well. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, beating until just incorporated, and making sure no clumps are lef. Do not overmix. Stir in the chocolate chips (and seeds and nuts, if using).


Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use the spatula to smooth the top.

Bake the blondies for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is dry and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached (not wet, but not perfectly dry). Remove the pan from the oven and let cool.

Unmold by lifting the 2 sides of parchment overhanging. Cut the blondies into squares. The blondies can be stored, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months (thaw before serving).

To make racetrack blondie cake, double the recipe and bake it into 2 (9-inch) round pans. When cooled,  cut a sliver of both circles and connect them together. Double-wrap them in plastic and freeze for at least 4 hours. Then cover them with ganache. For some reason, these blondies bake naturally with a raised edge, which comes in handy when it's covered with ganache, as the chocolate keeps contained.

DAIRY-FREE CHOCOLATE GANACHE

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup (6.75 oz) unsweetened rice milk
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons (8 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon sea salt

METHOD
In a medium saucepan, bring rice milk to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat immediately and pour into a large bowl with the chocolate chips. Whisk vigorously, until chocolate is completely melted and well incorporated. Add salt and vanilla. Whisk. Let cool. Pour onto frozen blondies, so ganache sets or cover and refrigerate or freeze.









Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lemons...

     Yeyyy! Another food blog by a mom who wants kids to eat wholesome foods…just what the world needed! How original you may say!

     However, in my defense, I do have my own shtick! My recipes are the product of lots of reading, many trips to trade shows, the scouring of every single health food store in Manhattan and several years of training. I bake using “super ingredients” and my recipes are the result of plenty of inedible batches of cookies, cakes, icings made with exotic whole grain flours, and strange named seeds; and a socialist mentality (aka low self-esteem) to bake for everyone, despite gender, age and dietary regimes and food allergies or sensitivities

     I studied nutrition, food studies and pastry arts, and I deserve double points because I’m writing in English, being that Spanish is my first language!

     My philosophy is to rethink plant-based ingredients to bring new and different flavors to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth (garbanzo beans in your icing, anyone?). The recipes are never too sweet, as I use a very light hand with unrefined sweeteners, or none at all, as I like taking advantage of the natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables. I only use whole grain flours of different kinds. After a couple of years, I’ve come up with some surprising recipes. Most sold through my company, Three Tablespoons, taught in my demos and proudly, eaten by my kids (which trust me, is saying a lot.)

     Please join me in my attempt to marry my contradictory background of nutrition and pastry arts (and I’m a kosher convert too.), and in the meantime, get some original recipes for free! 

     Stick with me as I strive to find balance between sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy, nutritious and delicious, fun and work, whole food recipes and junk food cravings, wanting to bake and not wanting to wash dishes, and in baking and in life itself.

     Why the “irony of baking”? Because, just as life, baking surprises you with its sarcasm and tests your patience. Because everything about cakes and pastries seems sweet, fun and cute, but there can be very sour moments. Is my mission to de-glorify pastries? No, not really. I just want to share that cakes collapse, confusion between baking powder and baking soda, and a child screaming for help as the cookies burn in the oven are normal and there’s always a lesson to be learned.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade…..or lemon bars”

LEMON BARS WITH THYME AND LAVENDER

This recipe uses agar as a gelling agent instead of bovine, fish gelatin or eggs. Also known as Kanten, agar is a vegetable gelatin made of a variety of sea vegetables with strong thickening properties. The seaweeds are boiled to a gel, pressed, dried, and crushed into flavorless flakes. These flakes dissolve in hot liquids and thicken them they cool.
I learned the technique in Fran Costigan’s More Great Good Dairy-free Desserts Naturally, which is a great resource for vegan baking.
***Please click in the blue items if you are interested in purchasing them at amazon.com directly from this blog. Yes! I do get a cut if you buy them from here, but I would never recommend anything I don't purchase myself from them. They are one of the best resources for hard to find ingredients, utensils and cookbooks. Why waste your time, if I've already got the finds? 

Now, back to the recipe...
These lemon bars are intensely citrusy, barely sweet and the thyme and lavender give them slight aromas of Provence.

Super ingredients: Sunflower and pumpkin seeds, whole oat flour, orange juice, lemon juice (which is not cooked, so it retains its vitamin C), thyme, lavender and turmeric

  • Vegan 
  • gluten, nut, soy, wheat free 
  • pareve


INGREDIENTS

CRUST
½ cup (2.5 oz) hauled raw sunflower seeds
½ cup (2.5 oz) raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
½ cup (2 oz) whole oat flour (gluten free if needed)
1 (0.2 oz) tablespoons tapioca starch
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons (0.75 oz) expeller-pressed grape seed oil
1 tablespoon (0.75 oz) agave nectar or pure maple syrup or honey (use honey if not vegan)
1 tablespoon (0.4 oz) pure vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon (shaved with microplane)
¾ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

FILLING
1 cup (8 oz) FRESH orange juice (about 2 oranges)
1/3 cup (2.6 oz) water
3 tablespoons agar flakes
½ teaspoon dried lavender
½ cup (6 oz) agave nectar or pure maple syrup or honey (use honey if not vegan)
½ cup (4 oz) PLUS 2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsweetened rice milk
¼ teaspoon sea salt
pinch ground turmeric
4 teaspoons tapioca starch
½ cup (4 oz) FRESH lemon juice (about 2 ½ lemons)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 -1/2 teaspoons lemon extract

METHOD

CRUST
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line the bottom and 2 sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
In a food processor, grind the sunflower and pumpkin seeds, oat and tapioca flours and salt until coarsely ground, but no big pieces are left (about 30 seconds).

Add oil, agave, vanilla, lemon zest and thyme and process for about 3 quick pulses, until the ingredients are mixed and look like wet sand. Do not over-process, you want some texture to the crust so it contrasts with the smoothness of the filling. 



Transfer crust mix onto prepared baking pan and spread it pressing with your fingers until the bottom of the pan is covered evenly with the crust.

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until slightly golden. Juice the oranges and zest and juice lemons while crust bakes. Once crust is baked, set aside to cool while you make filling.

FILLING

Place agar into a medium pot. Pour in orange juice, water and lavender and set aside for 15 minutes, to allow agar to soften (to not heat or stir).

Once agar has softened, cover pot, and over medium heat, bring liquid to a boil. Uncover, reduce heat to low and stir with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula, incorporating any agar that may have stuck to the bottom of the pot. Cover again and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring often.

Uncover and make sure there are no agar flakes left. If there are some, continue simmering until agar has completely dissolved. Add agave, ½ cup rice milk, salt and turmeric to the pot and simmer for 2 to 3 more minutes.

In the meanwhile, whisk in tapioca starch with remaining 2 tablespoons rice milk in a small bowl until dissolved. Add this slurry into the pot with the orange juice mix, whisking constantly.  Bring to a boil and immediately remove pot from heat.

Stir in lemon juice, zest, vanilla and lemon extract. Pour into a bowl and let cool at room temperature.

Once filling has cooled, pour it onto the crust (which is still in the pan). Refrigerate for about ½ hour, until set.
To un-mold, carefully lift up the ends of the parchment liner, and transfer to a cutting board and cut into 12 or 16 bars.
Enjoy at room temperature!



NOTE: Keeps well double-wrapped refrigerated for about 5 days.