Foodie Tuesday: Let Me Call You Sweetheart

When you’re good enough, you don’t have to be trendy to have staying power. The classics never go away; a fabulous patisserie is forever in fashion, because well-crafted sweets have endless appeal. They may have waves of popularity over time, like the current euphoria over macarons that belies their long history or the delight of the general public on discovering in latter years that chocolate is not entirely a naughty indulgence. But what is truly tasty will never entirely fade from view, especially in the kitchens or patisseries where the expert practitioners of their making reside.
Digitally painted photo: The Cupcake Trend

My sweet tooth knows few bounds. I love fat in most of its terribly delicious forms. When those two attributes of sweetness and fat combine so fortuitously as they can in desserts and baked goods, in little snacks or large displays of ostentatious celebratory food, I am unlikely to resist, unless I’m having an unusual fit of good manners when there’s not quite enough to go around or my calorie-conscience is working overtime to knit me a hair shirt that squeezes my increasingly well-rounded form.
Digitally painted photo: Patisserie

As a visual artist and prettiness-addict, the moment when my resistance is most likely guaranteed to ebb and to fail is when I am standing, rapt, in front of a pastry case at the bakery. If I had any real moral strength in this regard, I would at least be inclined to pardon the beauties beckoning therein from my ravages for the sake of preserving their great visual appeal as long as possible. But I have none, so it’s more than likely I will excuse myself by reminding any fellow admirers that the visual attractions of food are limited by their shelf life, which is briefer indeed than my own. Even if I have eaten more darling pastries than is remotely good for me.

Farewell for now, sweet readers. If you should grow any sweeter, you might be in danger of being bit by me on a dessert rampage. For now, I’ll choose to take the precaution of stuffing my mouth full of marsipan bløtkake [a favorite, Norwegian marzipan-covered cream cake], if only for your safety.

Foodie Tuesday: Some Useful Rules for Desserts

Our recent trip in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic served as a fine reminder that Europeans have some special talents when it comes to taking advantage of the fun factor of making and enjoying desserts. A cafe many of us from the choir tour group found on our stop just before crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border had a menu loaded not only with bright, shiny pictures but dessert items guaranteed to put any dedicated diner into a happy but instantaneous snacking coma.

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You really have to admire any dessert that is not only as substantial as this but has booze or some effectively delicious substitute for it in the mix.

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Switch a few of the ingredients and keep the sugary deliciousness quotient (and possibly, the eaters) high, and the menu begins to expand. As do waistbands on both sides of the international border.

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Something with a typically European liquor flair keeps the menu distinctly local, perhaps. Even if your typography can’t keep up with your recipe tinkering, good taste will abound.

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Hot raspberry sauce = Heisse Liebe (Hot Love, a traditional romantic dish) when served over rich vanilla ice cream. A great dessert for honeymooners (I just happen to know), and another way to brighten up the sweetness of a giant sundae.

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No reason to limit the brightness of either color or flavor to raspberries and ice cream; why not add yogurt and kiwi fruit for some jazz?

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But really, if you’re going to get splashy with the colors and textures and flavors, why not get more elaborate yet?

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Or make some kid-crazy concoction that will invite the most stoic and stalwart child of any age to play with his food?

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Heck, why not just make the dessert as *big* as a kid. No point in being shy or subtle if you’re serious about making desserts that compel attention and ravenous attacks on the dish.

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Of course, if you’re planning to entice the larger, older variety of child to eat, you might consider making some semblance of slightly more grownup-sounding dishes. How about a nice spaghetti-style sundae?

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What, that wasn’t flashy enough for you? Try a Pizza sundae. Not surreal enough in the spaghetti imitation department? Make some rich, red strawberry sauce to pour over the ice cream spaghetti. Or for the more soigné palate, perhaps a Carbonara version.

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Still, I have to admit that perhaps my favorite from this elaborate collection was the skillet-with-eggs doppelgänger, which in its simple ingredients would likely be a very yummy, creamy dream of an apricot cooler for a hot afternoon and also take a good run at pretending to be much better for me than piles of whipped cream and sweetened fruit.

All of this enticement aside—and I did, however reluctantly, lay it all aside despite the strong temptations, having already eaten a pretty substantial and dairy-laden traditional European meal of ‘fried cheese’ (crisply crumb-coated slow-melt cheese served with a sweet tartar dipping sauce)—there are other dessert paths to my heart, even in the heart of dessert-magical Europe. So I waited a moderate amount of time for my digestion, stroll aided, to recover from lunch before I opted for a much smaller and less elaborate dessert. elsewhere. It was only a single scoop of Stracciatella gelato, but it was cold, creamy, rich and delectable all the same. I’m not made of stone, you know.

 

 

 

Foodie Tuesday: The Great Truffle Kerfuffle

When the Sweet Tooth Siren calls, pay attention. A person could fade away and starve if candy isn’t handy when it’s required. So when I got that urge today, I knew that even though I wouldn’t get home until late-ish from the concert tonight, I had better think of some way to make some sweet happen. Fast.

I was thinking something truffle-like, because: chocolate. Also, because it’d be pretty easy if I didn’t get too complicated with it. So I jumped right on in.

What I did was this: I mixed about equal amounts of powdered cocoa and powdered peanuts and coconut oil (room temperature, solid) together into a thick paste. Then I added in a splash of almond extract, a dash of crunchy Maldon sea salt, and some dark maple syrup to taste, and this made a dense enough ‘dough’ to form into 1/2″ spheres. I rolled these heavily in flaked, toasted coconut. Most of this truffle mix went into the fridge for tomorrow and/or other, future candy emergencies. Some of it went pretty much straight into my mouth, conveniently enough.

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Trifling with truffles…

Because it was easy, and it tasted pretty darned good—not that it wouldn’t be equally tasty if I substituted the coconut with, say, sesame seeds or finely chopped nuts or minced preserved ginger, dried apricots or candied peel, or some additional chocolate, in dainty little chips. But no matter. What is essential is that I got my sugary fix in an appropriate hurry, and it pleased me.

And that, after all, is what was on order for the day.

Foodie Tuesday: Drink & Shrink

photoWould that I could tell you that today’s post title implies I’ve discovered a miracle diet that allows me to become slinky and svelte by doing nothing but sipping cocktails, yet alas, this most sadly is not so. In fact, it’s a very safe bet that numerous cocktails are, like certain bras, nothing more than alluring cups full of doom, being bad for both health and sanity if sampled in inappropriate quantities and circumstances. But to steer closer to my actual point, I must confess that despite my many food-and-drink-related loves and obsessions, I do get quite hungry and thirsty for a healthier change on occasion.

Like now. I seem to have been on a bender lately, eating too often, too much, and too badly in general, and my body is complaining. It’s not that I have grown morbidly obese, thanks more to good genes and good luck than good behavior, but I have grown a whole lot closer to outgrowing my attire and decidedly closer, as well, to just not feeling so great. It makes me squirm when I think of how unfit I will be in short shrift if I don’t just stop being such a spoiled child around food. And I have it on good authority that being horribly unfit is not the way to insure a longer, healthier life.

Drat.

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At least I know that I can still have delicious food, but even if it’s better for me, eating too many helpings of ‘Waldorf’ slaw (sweet cabbage-yogurt salad with chopped apples) is just as dangerous to my eating habits as too many helpings of pretty much anything.

I must throw a bracing dash of cold water on my enthusiasm for overindulgence and get myself closer to optimal comfort. I don’t care if that makes me model-thin or gives me fab abs or any of that superficially pleasing stuff or not; what I want is to feel my best and have a good shot at the whole ‘live long and prosper’ proposition. I know from experience that among other benefits of returning to a more thoughtful eating agenda, my appreciation of all that I do eat and drink increases greatly, to the point where a simple slice of citrus and a glass of pure, clean water is a pleasing sensory experience as well as thirst-quenching, and a complete meal becomes a feast. So much more satisfying in the long run.

And I do want a good long run of it, after all.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Breakfast should be Brilliant

photoDespite my avowed resistance to the charms of morning [see yesterday’s post], I am far from immune to the delights of breakfast, no matter what time of day it is served and enjoyed. O brave (if perhaps gluten-free) toast soldiers, stand up and be counted! Your being bathed in butter before pan-browning is a gift that I would not willingly snub even when I’d rather sleep in and I’m trying to reduce my carbohydrate footprint anyway.

Of course, eating proper stuff to start the day is smart. I’ve heard that. I’ve even experienced the truth of it. If I get a fair dose of protein, a nice gloss of good fat and a dash of sweetness in my breakfast I tend to have a better day following it than when I’m under-fueled.

Also, I like yummy food.

So it’s pretty simple, then. Put together a tasty and reasonably balanced breakfast, gnash it all up happily to get the day underway, and be glad. Maybe even productive.

Eggs are very often on this kind of menu for me. Scrambled, poached, fried, baked. Plain or in a complicated dish. Hot or cold. I’m reasonably catholic in my tastes, yet contented and thrilled enough when presented with easily predictable but well-prepared classic combinations of breakfast-related goodness.

The Full English, as I’ve said here before, is never amiss, in my estimation; would I dream of saying no to a heap of eggs, streaky bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans and toast? Certainly not. A glorious Bauernpfanne loaded with sausages and potatoes and their friends, yes, that too is heavenly. I am dangerously fond of baked goods and quick breads, so I find waffles or pancakes or pain perdu or my particular favorite, crepes, a dream worth suffering for, but ultimately if left to choose, I’ll opt for something a little heavier on the protein side of the balance. The day finds me less lethargic and more useful on that diet. My aging body responds much more kindly to a cake-and-cookie-deficit than to shortchanging it of protein and fat.photoSo I enjoyed concocting this plateful on that particular plan. Bacon’s a fun place to start. Or end, or eat all the way through the meal. So there’s that. But for egg pleasure, here’s a quick way to get a little variant pizzazz into the cheese omelet kind of treat: fill one side of a small nonstick frying pan with shredded Gouda and cook it over medium-high heat until it’s beginning to crisp up and turn golden, drop a touch of butter, a few fresh sage leaves and then two whole eggs into the other half of the pan, let them fry up until the eggs are nearly set, and fold the crisped cheese side over onto that other layer to finish it all up. Slide it onto a plate with the crispy bacon and serve a nice sweet-and-juicy helping of fruit (a little Satsuma is a fine complement) alongside, and I am ready for a big day of Doing Things. If I don’t happen to get around to anything very significant in the way of accomplishment, at least I’ll have had a very enjoyable start to my latest day of Not Doing Things, and I won’t complain. If breakfast is brilliant enough, why should I need to be?

Foodie Tuesday: Master the Tricks & Enjoy the Treats

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Life is crazy busy these days for the average Jane and Joe. Makes it all the more important to take care of ourselves and even, when we can, enjoy a little something special. When the holidays hit, not least of all that treat-centric spectacle we call Halloween, it’s good to fortify ourselves for every day of intense living with something that makes us happy to be in the midst of it. Here, a simple day-starter of a glass of sunshiny smoothie (juice-preserved apricots blended with whole milk yogurt, coconut water, honey and a dash of cardamom) and some roasted, salted almonds.

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An uncomplicated roasted chicken will suffice to get some tasty protein and warmth into the belly and the day. I roasted this beauty simply with salt, pepper and butter and a quartered lemon stuffed inside, but if you don’t have time to roast your own, you can always do as I happily do in those circumstances and grab a ready roasted bird at the grocery store. Anything that makes the day easier while keeping us well fueled through it is a good help.

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Any Halloween without plenty of orange is no Halloween at all. But pumpkins are far from the only orange wonders we can enjoy on the occasion, so I am happy to get my Vitamin H (for happiness) from other sources, too, and on this of all days, why not *sweet* orange-ness? Here, I made the carrots from my broth cookery into a not-just-for-babies mash just by adding ginger juice and maple syrup–another great autumnal invocation to the spirit of good taste.

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Put that roasted chicken and carrot mash together with some green vegetables and broth-cooked rice, and you have a filling, cheering meal that will keep you fit and friendly even through the longest Halloween wanderings of the neighborhood in search of chocolate.

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Unless you’re feeding a large number of people, you’ll have enough chicken left over for another meal, perhaps–as here–a sweet-and-spicy curry made of the cubed meat, ghee-sauteed vegetables, coconut milk and masala and served over fragrant Basmati rice cooked with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves and garnished with toasted coconut flakes, pistachios and cashews and diced dried apricots or mangoes. Quick, economical and just as flavorful as the chicken was the first time around.

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My old standby of peach fluff for dessert can keep you from craving too much of that pan-handled candy at the end of a Halloween outing. It’s easy to make, using either soft ripe peaches or juice-canned ones pureed and blended with something nice and creamy and vanilla-tinged and sprinkled with cinnamon. Want it fat and sweet? Mix it with whipped cream (no, do *not* puree ME and mix me in!), or pour the puree over vanilla ice cream. A little sprightlier? Use yogurt or ricotta or mascarpone. Or skip the fluff and just revel in the juiciness of peaches. They’re orange, they’re fabulous, and they’re probably a tiny bit better for you than a two-pound bag of Kandy Korn poured straight down the gullet, though candy *is* dandy!

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And if your holiday happiness can use the enhancement of a bit of adult-beverage encouragement, there are plenty of wonderful cocktails out there full of orange-y joy. Me, I might choose a more *thematically* suited drink, like perhaps the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, which has a faintly orange tint too but even better, has the ability to refresh even the undead on a late, late Halloween night. Treat your boys and ghouls so kindly and they may even refrain from eating your brain.

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I’d like to squash you in a big holiday hug with some great traditional Halloween recipes, but really, who needs that when you can easily make treats of any sort with zombie-like gusto and not be sorry. So I hope we can all embrace whatever best satisfies our inner monsters without too much effort or expense, and spend more of our time and energies on just being happy little hobgoblins all!

Foodie Tuesday: More Sugary Bits

Sweets needn’t be hard to prepare. They’re so easy to eat, it’s only fair that they should also be easy to fix or you’ll undoubtedly end up feeling a little desperate between times. Why risk it?

Especially nice if the treats can require no baking or be super-simple to mix and prep before popping into the oven–like these two:photoChocolate Handy Candy

Combine an assortment of the following ingredients into a dense dough, roll into golf ball shapes or squeeze into similar sized blobs, and chill. Before serving, coat in powdered sugar or cocoa powder; mix in some ground spice if you like.

Melted chocolate (I like to use dark chocolate that I buy in bars)

Coconut oil and/or butter, melted

Pinch of salt (crunchy is usually my favorite)

Flavorings (try ginger with black pepper, mint and dried apple pieces, toasted coconut and rosewater, or toasted sesame seeds and almond bits and a pinch of cloves)

Chopped candied peel or crushed freeze-dried fruit

Crushed potato chips or pretzels or chopped nuts (toasted and salted or spiced/candied)

Once you’ve formed these, refrigerate them, and serve them cold. Easy to make and just as easy to like.

And not long ago I came across another ridiculously simple sweet fix. Nutella cookies. If you don’t already know what Nutella is, you need more help than just an easy recipe to make with the stuff. Possibly a term of Nutella Therapy hospitalization. Ooh, can I have that? I have, thankfully, found some pretty good no-name generic copycat versions of it, so if the real stuff isn’t available in an emergency I needn’t panic. But really, it’d be hard to go wrong with the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnuts.

The recipe in question is so uncomplicated as to be hard to classify as a recipe at all, but I proved it does require a tad of technical specificity, so it’s not quite the throw-and-go ease of the first item here. Still, easy. And oh so sweet. And once again, tweak-worthy. The general gist of this combination is popular, if not prevalent, online, to the degree that it’d be a serious magic trick to track down the original author. If any of you know who developed this I’d be delighted to know!photoImpossibly Possible Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

1 cup flour (I used gluten-free flour mix) + 1 cup Nutella (or substitute) + 1 egg = dough. Makes a dense dough that’s not hard to mix quickly with your bare hands. Form the dough into a log (about 2″ or 5 cm in diameter) with flattened ends and slice it into 24 pieces. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F (177ºC) for approximately 6 minutes. My usual issue of owning an overactive oven made my first attempt bake too quickly, scorching them slightly.

That, however, gave me the excuse to play with spice and start thinking of a number of other ways I might happily vary the treat. Version 2 was also easy; all I did was make the cookies as prescribed (while lowering the oven temp significantly, thankyouverymuch) and as I placed the slices on the baking sheet, I sprinkled over them a mixture of copper-colored edible glitter for visual interest and sweet-hot curry powder for additional flavor. Went over nicely with guests, and I found it quite enjoyable.photoFor future versions, I’m thinking of a number of possible enhancements to this delightfully easy cookie dream. I know that it’s also possible to substitute peanut butter and sugar for the Nutella and flour, and I assume one could just as easily use other nut butters. But there are a zillion ways I might play with the existing combination too. Roll the log of dough in finely chopped toasted hazelnuts before slicing into cookies. Add a splash of rum or rum flavoring. Add the finely grated zest of a large orange or a couple of small mandarins; add minced candied peel or ginger to the zested dough. Ice the cookies with a glaze made of pure cherry juice and powdered sugar. Skip the flour and egg and stick the big spoon loaded with Nutella directly in your mouth. Okay, that last one’s not exactly a recipe either, unless you want to call it a recipe for disastrous health, but it’s still probably worth a try. Because it’s sweet, and it’s simple. And when I have a crazy hankering for a bit of dessert in a big hurry, that’s a very fine thing.