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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

I have to be honest. I'm impartial to Thanksgiving. After 13 years in the U.S., even if I like the National holiday, it doesn't evoke in me any particular nostalgia, joy nor excitement. I do like the food (although...what's up with sweet potatoes with marshmallows??? as a side dish!!! Will never understand that one...), and I like the fact that it's a day in which people in the whole country get together with their families, not only to prove the Universal dysfunctionality of the institution, but to pause and reflect in the good things life has given them and feel thankful.
However, since I didn't grow up celebrating it, it doesn't stir me inside like some other times when I wished I had my family around and I hoped I could bring my childhood back. I guess that once a year, I get to just enjoy, without too much thinking, missing or feeling. And I'm thankful for that!
And while I'm thanking, I want to thank YOU, the people who read this blog. Some times, I don't even understand why you actually read it, and some others I feel a bit proud of this attempt at connecting personally with others through better food.
My friend D, who recently ditched me (and the sadomasochistic life in NYC) for the 'burbs, called this week. Her baby just started solids, and she wanted to share (orally, not in written) that the only food the 7-month-old accepts and likes is the white soup from this blog! Her call made my YEAR!!! Thank you baby E and thank you D!

Thank you to all of you who email and facebook me, talk to me in the elevator, at Fairway, at gatherings, or those of you who even dare to post comments on the blog!!! Thank you for the old loyal friendships and also for the new ones. Thank you for thinking of me, and again, for accompanying me through my writing, my recipes, my attempt at taking pictures and at getting my toes wet in the scary waters of cyberspace, and all my ridiculousness. I'm sure you have a zillion more important things to do, so THANK YOU for taking the time.

And...thanks to Jean-Georges Vongerichten (or perhaps pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini???) for the original molten chocolate cake recipe that I've adulterated in a zillion ways and that for some reason, it always comes out delicious (hot and chocolaty. I guess nothing can go wrong with that!).
This is the Reece's cups inspired version kissed with Thanksgiving squash.
Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

PB-CHOCOLATE MOLTEN CAKES

Ingredients
  • Contains peanuts, eggs and gluten
- For gluten free: substitute spelt flour for the same amount of gluten free oat flour or super fine rice flour

- For peanut free: Substitute peanut butter for the same amount of extra virgin olive oil

-For egg free click here

  • Free of dairy, soy, refined flour and refined sugar

Makes 12 individual cakes
  • 2/3 cup creamy all natural peanut butter (unsweetened)
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped *
  • 6 eggs, prefereably organic
  • 1/2 cup squash puree (unsweetened)
  • 1/3 cup evaporated cane juice (sucanat) or coconut sugar*
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
  • 4 teaspoons whole spelt flour*
* You can find those ingredients here
Method
  • Preheat oven to 450 F. Place 12 foil (or other self standing) cupcake liners on a sheet pan. Set aside.
  •  In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, heat the peanut butter and chocolate together until the chocolate is almost completely melted. While that’s heating, beat together the eggs, squash puree, and sucanat, salt and vanilla with a whisk or electric beater until light and thick.
  • Whisk together the melted chocolate and PB; it should be quite warm. Pour in the egg mixture, then quickly beat in the flour, just until combined.

  • Divide the batter among the molds. (At this point you can refrigerate the desserts until you are ready to eat, for up to a day; bring them back to room temperature before baking.)
  • Bake the molds on a tray for 6 to 7 minutes; the center will still be quite soft, even liquid, but the sides will be set.
  • Invert each mold onto a plate and let sit for about 10 seconds. Unmold by lifting up one corner of the mold; the cake will fall out onto the plate. Serve immediately.



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Magic Glove: Confessions of a Germophobe

Everyone who knows me, could attest organization is not my forte. I'm definitely not a neat freak, I function making last minute decisions, and with a weird abstract order in my head that shows up as brief moments of clarity once in a while. I'm sure that if I ever make a debut on T.V., it will be at the show hoarders where the hosts will rescue our family of four from a gigantic mountain of cookbooks, magazines, financial research printouts and imported (Chinese) crappy toys received as party favors. 
However, and despite all this lack of organization, I'm very into cleanliness and mostly, into avoiding microbes. My name is Alexandra, and I am a germophobe.
It all started as a child when my mother told me to never walk into a public shower barefoot (in my early twenties, I almost killed myself in a shower at a Newark motel where Continental Airlines had put my friend and I, when our flight to Montreal was canceled. I didn't have my suitcase with me, so I thought I would improvise water shoes by wrapping plastic bags around my feet. I slipped dangerously a couple of times, but I didn't touch the floor!). It continued developing when mom explained me why I shouldn't use my favorite swimming suit again after it had been stolen in camp and eventually returned. "Never share your hair brush with anyone," she lectured me. And as I've said before, I'm a very obedient person. When I got to university, matters only got worse when I took my first microbiology class, a food microbiology one and its lab followed, and then I chose to specialize in nutrition for food service, where I had to get certified in an international food safety program. I received a special honor for great performance on the test...the problem was, and is, that some times, the more you know, the crazier you get...
I screamed my lungs out when my friend A rinsed cooked pasta with water from the sink (we were in Mexico, where the water coming out of faucets and sinks is not potable). The friendship suffered due to my hysteria, although after he became a chef, eventually learned that of course, I was right all along!
Another dear childhood friend of mine confessed that, after everything I had taught her (I repeated my mom's advice and my classroom acquired knowledge to her any time I got a chance), she was purposely not bringing flip flops to her son's swimming class. Needless to say, the boy caught athlete's foot. She told me the story and cleared that she had done it intentionally, as she wanted to avoid her child turning out like me!!! She wanted him to learn that foot fungus could be treated and wasn't a big deal.
As my friend is raising a resilient child, I've turned my oldest one in a photocopy of me. She refuses to touch door knobs and handles because "they are full of germs." She's right, though. But as I told her, she can't live staring at closed doors and waiting for someone to open them for her. I do feel a sting of pathological pride when I realize how well she understands the transmission of germs, but I don't want her to turn out like myself either, as I get sick in my head instead of sick with a cold; so I gifted an antibacterial spray to keep in her school bag and I pretend it's not a big deal.
Needless to say, my germophobia gets pumped up whenever I visit restaurants or other kinds of food service. I hate when cooks and/or servers are wearing hats or nets, but all their hair is coming out of them. Where buffets are not properly cooled, or when a cook wears a mask right under his/her nose. But what drives me the craziest are plastic gloves. For some reason, many food handlers think that the gloves are magical: just because they are wearing them, they will avoid food borne disease despite using the exact same glove to prepare a sandwich or serve a hot dog and then, charging the customer for their food, giving them change and moving on to the next sandwich, then more money, still same pair of gloves. I've seen some servers leave the establishment with gloves on, go buy a missing ingredient at a store, come back and keep preparing food, all without ever taking off their latex hand protection, and thinking they are taking extreme hygienic measures. There's a strange believe that the glove offers immunity against all microbes. Well, they might offer their hands defense against all the invisible, minuscule disease-causing agents they touch, but not your food, so good to keep in mind that in reality, if you wash your hands well with soap, and cook right away, you'll be much safer.
All this spiel, to suggest you wash your hands and then proceed to make the following recipe right away. A perfect fall/winter (flu season!!!) salad that provides everything your body needs to defend itself from the next meal you eat at a place where the server cooks your food and exchanges bills and coins with the same pair of gloves...


MASSAGED KALE SALAD WITH DELICATA SQUASH AND POMEGRANATE

Kale loves to be pampered. When you massage (gloves or no gloves, up to you) the dressing into the leaves, you are rewarded with a soft, flavorful, slightly spicy and still crispy and leathery green. Especially when you do it ahead of time, so it's nice that for once, you can (and should) dress a salad ahead of time. The colorful result of this salad only shows the presence of a huge variety of phytonutrients. With this salad, the "rainbow-a-day" is met. Full of fiber, carotenoids, flavonols, vitamins K, A, B, C and lots of minerals, this should be a keeper!
This recipe uses delicata squash, which is a variety that doesn't need to be peeled, saving a nice amount of effort. However, feel free to use your favorite kind if you prefer, just peel before roasting it.

Note on seeding pomegranates: Of course you can buy the arils already extracted, but seeding a whole pomegranate is not as intimidating as it seems. Either one of the following methods works beautifully, it's fun, and kids love helping out:

1. Underwater: With a serrated knife, quarter the pomegranate, and working with a quarter at a time, submerge pomegranate in a large bowl 2/3 full of water. Seed with your hands keeping the fruit under water. The seeds will go to the bottom while the white, inedible membrane will float. Discard white skin, drain water and voila: you have all the seeds left and no messy spots or splatters anywhere.
2. Pinata style: This is Yotam Ottolenghi's method from Plenty- Cut the pomegranate into two horizontally (at the equator). Hold one half over a large bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds are coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.


Ingredients
  • Vegan, free of: gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs
  • Contains nuts, but could walnut oil can be substituted for extra virgin olive oil and pistachios can be substituted with roasted squash seeds (or pumpkin)

1 Delicata squash, halved, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil*, divided

5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided

2 tablespoons toasted walnut oil*

1 tablespoon hot water

1 small clove garlic, peeled

1 1/2 teaspoons raw honey*

1 teaspoon coarse Dijon mustard*

1 bunch of kale (any variety), washed, patted dry, tough stems discarded and leaves sliced into bite size portions

1 pomegranate, seeded (see methods above)

2/3 cup roasted pistachios*, shelled and coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste




Method

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Place squash pieces on prepared sheet and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Mix with a spatula or your hands to coat evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 20-25 minutes, until it browns outside and softens inside; tossing every 10 minutes.

While squash roasts, place remaining olive oil, and balsamic together with walnut oil, hot water, garlic, honey, mustard, a bit of salt and pepper in the bowl of a blender or a deep cup,  (if using an immersion blender) and mix until the dressing is well emulsified. Adjust seasoning. 

In a large salad bowl, place kale and add 1/4 cup of dressing. Massage the dressing onto the leaves until they are all covered. Add more dressing, if desired, or cover the rest and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

When the squash is ready, let it cool while you seed the pomegranate.

Add pomegranate seeds to kale, then roasted squash and top with chopped pistachios.

Mix well and add more dressing, if desired.


Variations:

-Add 1 cubed avocado
-Instead of pistachios, roast the squash seeds and top the salad with them
-Add peeled and sliced Fuyu persimmons (instead of squash, or along with it)
-Some goat or feta cheese goes really well in this salad






Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pajama days

I've spent this week revamping the blog. I hope you find it cleaner and easier to follow. Also, if you look at the right side column, you'll find the link to my new aStore. I've picked in amazon.com the non-perishable ingredients that I often use--but are some times not available in regular grocery stores--and I've put them all in this aStore. So you can click on it, select the ingredients, purchase them (with the online security that amazon offers) and get them shipped directly to you. No time or gas wasted searching for them! Yes, I do get a small commission, but it will not cost you anything extra. Amazon is the one splitting it with me! Please let me know if you find it helpful and if you have any comments or suggestions. I'd love to learn what you think.  

In a way, I'm glad I've been mostly working from home these days, as there's been no happy weather. After everyone was slowly trying to get life back to "normal," in recovery from the hurricane, here came a nasty snow storm. Wind breaking and turning inside out everyone's cheap umbrellas (yes, there's is actually a quality and endurance difference, but I'm still buying the $8.00 ones, which end up being more expensive, but the Burberry's one will have to wait), slushy sidewalks, red noses, wet everythings and dark skies...

It's tea drinking mood, sweats (OK, pajamas), thick socks, fluffy sleepers, soups, crockpot-cooked meals and porridges time. Yes, smooth, warm, creamy, slightly spiced, sweet and comforting porridges. Warmth sliding down the throat, smoothly, delicately, comfortably... Needless to say, lots of oatmeal. But today I was in the mood for something different.
I had some left over coconut milk in the fridge and I decided to give millet a try for breakfast.
Most of us have at some point heard the word millet, but few people keep it in their cupboard. Well, here we go, then: millet is a main ingredient in birdseed and just as it happens with quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat, it is not technically a grain, but a seed that behaves like a grain.
The term millet, actually refers to a variety of grains from the same grass family, not a specific one, and that's why it can be white, red, yellow or grayish.
A tiny round ancient seed, that resists draughts well, millet originated in Ethiopia, and it's a common ingredient in African, Indian and Asian cuisines. Before the discovery of the New World, it was a popular food in Europe, that eventually was replaced by potatoes and corn, and reserved mostly for animal feed.
However, with the current revival of ancient grains, the increasing incidence of celiac disease and gluten intolerance (millet is gluten free), and the recognition of whole, unprocessed grains as health-promoting and maintaining foods, these little guys are making a comeback.
They are mild in flavor, easy to digest, inexpensive and high in heart-protective magnesium and contains a good amount of protein. Millet is also a good source of phosphorus, which is necessary for cellular and genetic structure, bone formation, and energy production; manganese (an essential enzyme activator), powerful antioxidants and fiber.

For best tasting results, it's good to toast millet before cooking it. Millet should be placed in a hot, dry skillet over medium high heat, and moved around constantly with a heat-proof spatula for about 5 minutes. Until a toasty smell and mild browning are perceived. Then, it can be cooked in cold liquid (3 parts liquid to 1 part millet, for a rice-like texture, or a bit more for a loser, creamier one) for about 25 minutes. Then it should stand in the pan, covered with heat turned off for 5-8 minutes.

PEAR AND COCONUT MILK MILLET PORRIDGE

You can substitute coconut milk for almond, hemp, hazelnut, rice, whole dairy milk, or even water. Although I did love the richness and the slight sweetness of the coconut milk in this recipe.
It doesn't require the addition of sweetener, as the pear melts into the millet, and the spices just enhance it a bit more.

INGREDIENTS

  • Vegan
  • Free of: dairy, nuts, eggs, sugar, soy, wheat and gluten
  • Super ingredients: millet, pear, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon


1/4 cup millet
1 soft pear, seeded and cubed
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground (freshly, if possible) nutmeg
1 cup canned coconut milk
Cinnamon, to taste

METHOD
Heat a small sauce pan for a couple of minutes, until very hot. Lower flame to medium high and add in millet.

Cook the grain, mixing constantly with a heat-proof spatula until it smells toasty and browns a bit. Do not burn!

Add in the cubed pear, ginger and nutmeg, mix to distribute and pour in the coconut milk.

Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium, cover and let cook 25 minutes.
Turn heat off and let porridge rest, still covered for 5 minutes.

Serve on a bowl and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Serves 1 (generously), but recipe can be doubled, tripled or made to feed as many breakfast eaters as you want.


NOTE: Recipe can be prepared in a slow cooker overnight, and then you'll wake up to a warm breakfast ready to go (just remember to toast milled before placing it on the crockpot)


  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy was here

No. I'm not going to repeat or describe what the storm brought. First of all, I'm incredibly thankful that it was mostly an annoyance for many of us, but my heart goes to all those who lost someone and/or something. 
Then, after plenty of time to hang out with the family, shred accumulated old mailing and trying to get creative, I was free to philosophize, and I decided to put the following out there:
I think that whoever names hurricanes should stop using normal people's names. I happen to know a couple of extremely nice women and men named Sandy. Why ruin it for them? I suggest that from now on, hurricanes should be named after famous movie villains.
Wouldn't it be way more effective to evacuate people by telling them that Freddy Krueger was approaching, instead of Sandy? Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, Cruella Deville, all those would really do it! People would run seeking shelter immediately. And... if they ever ran out of choices (which they won't), there are always options in Mexican soap operas, although Mayor Bloomberg may have a hard time pronouncing them (sorry, I love the man, but I'd happily volunteer to stand next to the woman translating his speech for the hearing impaired, and clearly summarize his points for the Spanish speaking population).
Besides all these deep intellectual thinking, I also used my hurricaition (I heard it, didn't come up with it, I'd never be that clever!) to keep my kids entertained and from hanging themselves from the Austrian chandelier that my ancestors brought from Russia to Mexico and then my grandmother somehow managed to bring to NYC. We made super healthy sushi (they hated it, but I thought I was a genius), we played board games, legos, soccer, wii, watched T.V., fought and made up, lots of crafting, just in time for my daughter's upcoming 8th birthday party, and we baked cookies.

I saw the original recipe in The Kitchn and thought it would make awesome cookies. However, ever since I opened Three Tablespoons, and started switching from conventional super processed ingredients to wholesome ones, I haven't been able to follow a single recipe as it's written. Even people often ask me if I could make them a decorated cake like in the good old days when I was making Dora The Explorers, flowers, trains and Curious Georges out of brightly (and artificially) colored fondant. It's hard to go back, although I have to be honest, when I do make them once in a very while, I enjoy it very much (but the guilt is heavy). All this to say that I changed the recipe of the cookies completely, but still, they were delicious and perfect for a home-bound afternoon.

(Not) Nutella Cookies



The original recipe calls for everyone's sinful favorite (unless they are allergic to nuts)​: Nutella. However, although it's understand​able why everyone loves it, I've found that Justin's chocolate-​hazelnut spread has way less sugar than the Italian brand (Nutella has 21g., while Justin's 7g.) and it's also amazingly delicious and has no artificial ingredient​s. It does contain palm oil, which I'm not the biggest fan of, but overall, it beats Nutella in nutrition, and since I don't personally like milk chocolate, Justin has won my palate, as it's dairy free. Another option would be making your own chocolate hazelnut spread. There are hundreds of recipes online. I've tried a couple, but my kids haven't become big fans, as they don't like the mildly coarse texture that results from home food-processors. Note that good quality nut spreads (and nuts) are expensive, but I see that as a pro, so you only bake these for special occasions. For people suffering nut allergies, feel free to use chocolate soy nut butter. It will work fine.

If I had had any raw hazelnuts during Sandy's stay, 1/2 cup of them, coarsely chopped, would have been a great addition to the recipe at the end of the mixing process... Hopefully for next time!

Ingredients

  • Vegan
  • Free of: eggs, dairy, soy, wheat. Use gluten free oat flour if gluten free is needed
  • Contains nuts

4 ounces (1/2 cup) virgin coconut oil, melted but not hot
3/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
2 teaspoons chia seeds, ground
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup whole oat flour (gf if needed)
1/4 cup amaranth flour *
1/2 cup cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

*although a great addition, if you don't have/find amaranth flour, just substitute for another 1/4 cup oat flour.

Method

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream with the paddle attachment the coconut oil, chocolate-hazelnut spread and coconut sugar.

Once mixed, add in ground chia, water and vanilla extract until incorporated.

Add at once oat and amaranth flours, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
Mix until the dough comes together.

Drop 1 tablespoon scoops onto the prepared pan, leaving 1 inch in between each cookie.

Bake for about 10 minutes. Let cool for 2 minutes and enjoy!

Cookies can be stored in an air tight container for up to 4 days.
They are soft, delicate, crumbly and slightly creamy with an intense chocolate flavor.