Foodie Tuesday: Sweets from the Sweet

photoI knew we’d hit the neighbor jackpot yet again. We have a history chock-full of fine neighbors between us, my husband and I, of that sort who are not only great to chat with at the mailbox but offer help and led tools when they see projects underway, share their mystical gardening secrets, and advise on who’s the best resource for automotive care, where there’s still an independent pharmacy in town, or what the local ordinances are on right-of-way maintenance.

But we all know that the best neighbors of all have not only generosity in their hearts but also food in their hands when they show up at the door. Rhonda was known to trade her fresh-picked raspberries for our over-abundant plums. David–actually the manager at our then apartments–went door to door delivering home-grown green beans, tomatoes and zucchini that he and his wife grew in the ‘bonus’ plot on the complex’s property. Peter rang the doorbell at our place in Tyee bearing bending boards of fantastic barbecued meats and salmon and vegetables.

Add to this that we had not only other great neighbors but also heroic postal carriers, pest treatment and HVAC specialists, and remodeling contractors who have become admired friends, and you know that our standard for being spoiled is very high.

So when we moved to our current home, perhaps it was only par for the course that our new next door neighbors would arrive with welcoming smiles–and food. But what food! We didn’t have to lift a finger for anything other than unpacking and furniture-dragging for at least three days after arriving in this house because we were handed an enormous platter laden with an assortment of deliciously varied homemade salads, another piled with home-baked breads and rolls and biscuits, a plate of tender, moist cream cake, and a gallon pitcher of sweet tea. If it hadn’t been love at first sight, it would surely have to have been at first bite.

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I'm a lucky chick, having such sweet neighbors!

The flow of gustatory glories has continued unabated (and ably washed down with Mr. Neighbor’s lovely wine-selecting and punch-making skills as well as his fine Scotch collection) from that day forward. You will have no trouble believing and understanding when I say that we are devastated that these neighbors have retired and have the temerity to plan to move back to home territory in another state. Who will phone us in Canada when our sprinkler system fails during a hot spell, to tell us that they’ve already hired the company that installed it to do repairs before we come home? Who will deliver our entire stash of newspapers they collected over our out-of-town trip, updating us on the rest of the neighborhood or sharing delightful stories of their own adventures? And who will show up at random, numerous and very welcome times bearing, say, cake or cookies or pie, or a handmade bread cornucopia with a massive vegetable-and-floral display in it at Thanksgiving, a gorgeously crafted Bûche de Noël at Christmas, a sprightly spring assortment of cookies and cupcakes and jellies at Eastertime?photo

The answer, as you well know, is that it is our turn to become those neighbors, to show up unannounced with that very special something-extra whenever we can, to lend tools and perhaps the hand to use them, and to spread the joy of hospitality whenever and wherever we can. The torch–or the torchon de cuisine–has been passed. I hope I’m up to the task!photoI’ll probably start with something supremely simple like the nut-and-seed crackers that have no real recipe and change every time I make them. They make a handy vehicle for dips, salsas and salads when I want a quick bite of lunch or a not too terribly naughty snack. This time they were thus:

Nut and Seed Crackers (and Tuna Salad)

8 cups of finely chopped mixed nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamias, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds) tossed together with about a cup of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese plus coarsely ground salt and black pepper and good chile powder to taste, all mixed with just enough water to clump together into ‘dough’ and rolled or patted onto a non-stick cookie sheet (I use a silicone lining sheet in the pan so I can be extra lazy on the cleanup), and then baked at 325-350 degrees F (depending on your oven) until golden brown. I let these ones cool in one big slab and then just broke them into uneven pieces about the size for carrying, say, some bacon and cheddar cheese dip or guacamole or seasoned labne or some tuna salad. Tuna Salad, around here, is nothing more than a good quality tinned tuna (one of the brands that cooks its filet directly in the can and adds nothing other than a little salt; I like High Seas and Tuna Guys and can order it online from both, but there are other excellent sustainable-fisheries purveyors as well) seasoned with ground pepper, dried or fresh dill, smoked paprika, yellow ‘ballpark’ style mustard and sometimes chopped capers, and bound with good mayonnaise until slightly creamier than just glued together (spreads better that way).

This combination may not exactly constitute sweets for neighborly delivery, but then we know that the sweetness derives just as much from not needing to fix any food oneself, if only for a brief moment. Or for days on end, if you happen to get one of our neighbor’s fabled deliveries!

Foodie Tuesday: She’s Completely Nutbar, but isn’t She Sweet?

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Won't You be My Baby, Oh, Honeycomb . . .

There’s little that can’t be improved by the addition of a sticky slick of raw local honey. I’ll concede that there might be something, but it doesn’t come to mind immediately. I could contentedly eat spoonfuls until comatose if it weren’t for the smidgen of good manners and even smaller atom of good sense preventing it.

Today’s supper was one of the times I restrained my sugar-rush inclinations, since I was making R’s favorite coleslaw and, with him persevering toward complete blood sugar control without the aid of medications, who am I to stand in the way of such valor? So I made the slaw with a natural non-sugar sweetener. But I still slipped just a hint of sugar into the mix, because the salad wouldn’t be entirely his favorite without his favorite add-in. It’s about the easiest ‘dish’ to throw together, if you can actually call something so ridiculously simple a dish. I’m no purist, so if you have strong Feelings about everything being homemade, organic, locally sourced, and so forth, you’ll probably want to squint a little during the next section to avoid unnecessary annoyance and then revise as needed to meet your needs.

Stupid-Easy Sweet Cole Slaw

Throw together everything ‘to taste’: Shredded cabbage (yeah, I’m often wonderfully lazy and use the pre-shredded slaw mix with red and green cabbage and carrots); lime juice, sweetener (honey is, of course, wonderful–or dark agave syrup, or sugar of any kind, whatever floats your cabbage-eating boat); a spoonful of mayonnaise (I’m still fond of good ol’ Hellman’s classic artery-hardener); add-ins.

So: cabbage, lime juice, sweetness, mayo and Fun Stuff.

The add-in of choice in this house is minced pickled sushi ginger.

Other goodies sometimes join the party: sesame seeds, toasted sliced almonds, chopped apple . . . whatever fun yummy junk is on hand, pretty much. It’s the ginger that I think of as the personality of the House Slaw, and anything that complements that is welcome along for the ride. But most of the time, it’s just the basic ingredients chez nous.

It was the other day that I got my honey fix. The day I went Nutbar. When the man of the house is away at any of his various work-related salt mines, I indulge in both foods that Mr Supertaster can’t or won’t eat and also in a bit of sugary madness. I made some chewy granola-style bars that work pretty nicely as a breakfast or brunch munch, especially with a nice spoonful of thick Greek yogurt drizzled with the aforementioned lovely honey and a toss of crispy carrot chips.

You’re going to sense a trend here: I’m all about the lazy approach. I love to eat what tastes delicious to me, but I have to really be in a certain rare mood to get into the groove of fixing super elaborate and labor intensive foods. More often I’m pleased to spend a day or two of heavy lifting in the kitchen in order to ‘put up’ a big, divisible, freeze-able batch of something that we can dig into at will over the next however-long. A slow cooker loaded with broth fixings is a common enough happening, mainly because I can use the resulting broth so many different ways, and also because it takes so little effort in total to throw a batch of prepared bones, roughly chopped mirepoix, herbs and spices and the like into the cooker and let it go for a long, slow simmer. I’ve got the straining thing down to a science, having learned to line a big pasta-strainer pot with a clean flour sack dish towel, spoon the skeletal remains out of the broth with a big sturdy spider, and dump the rest of the crock into the lined pot. Then all I have to do is hoist the pasta strainer high enough to lift out the dish towel by its corners, give that a quick squeeze to get the rest of the soupy goodness to flow through, empty the grisly remains in the trash, and pour up my broth for cooling. Lots of mileage off of a very humble process and the unfussiest of ingredients.

About those Nutbars. Again, easy-peasy. Simple contents, very simply prepared, not difficult to store, and quick-as-a-bunny to grab and nibble.

nutbars, yogurt & honey, carrot chips

. . . and you thought I was referring to my sanity when I said "Nutbar".

Going Nutbar

Ingredients: nuts, seeds, dried fruits, butter, spices, whey protein powder and gelatin, sweetening and salt.

I filled my trusty Tupperware 8-cup measuring pitcher with about 6 cups of mixed almonds (whole, raw), roasted/lightly salted macadamia nuts, dried dates and figs and apricots, and a handful of candied ginger, and filled in the gaps between all of them with about 3 good scoops of vanilla whey protein powder, a handful of raw sesame seeds, and a healthy dose of cinnamon with hints of cardamom, mace and cloves. I pulsed all of that mix in the blender in batches until it was all pretty well reduced to a chunky flour. Then I just mixed in as though for a very dense dough: 3 big tablespoons of gelatin melted in water (you can just leave this out or use agar agar if you’re vegetarian, but I like the chew and the added nutrients available in either of the add-ins), a little sweetener (I used a splash of sugar-free hazelnut syrup that I have around, just for the flavor), about 3 tablespoons of melted butter, and a bit of Maldon sea salt. All almost quicker to do than to record here.

The rest is finishing: line a cake pan (I used my ca. 10×14 Pyrex baking dish) with wax paper or plastic wrap, press the “dough” into it evenly, cover with more of the wrap, and (if you’re a little shaggy on the pat-in like I am) give a quick flattening treatment with a jar or can as your pan-sized rolling pin. Stick the pan in the refrigerator overnight and slice the bars up for storage next day. I cut them in granola bar configuration since that’s what they resemble a little. The bit of butter means they don’t stick together very badly, so I laid the bars on edge right next to each other with wax paper between layers. Some are lying in wait in the freezer, and the rest are being gradually eaten out of the fridge, with or without yogurt, honey, carrots . . . .

Did I mention honey? Guess I’m just a sucker for sweet things. Must be why I love you so.