Saturday September 12, 2015
Baking with Less Sugar: Recipes for Desserts Using Natural Sweeteners and Little-to-No White Sugar
The ingenuity and expertise of Joanne Chang, owner and pastry chef at Flour Bakery + Café, gets put on display in her third cookbook, Baking with Less Sugar. In America, we’ve come to depend upon sugar to bring flavor to our sweetened creations, but this reliance has only resulted in deadened taste buds and the masking of other ingredients. Chang sees this need to alter our cravings and has created a collection of recipes which challenge our palates to search for flavor elsewhere.
Chang starts her book by addressing the obvious disputes to this baking philosophy, saying that 1) “Life is sweet” and 2) “I sell sugar”. It’s true that owning a bakery, distributing innumerable confections daily, leaves Chang somewhat guilty for contributing to our sugar craze. However, she confronts this issue by explaining her own epiphany that baked goods can be sweet, and made more interesting, by substituting other ingredients for sugar - whether it be honey, maple syrup, or fruit purées. She believes that we negate the potential flavor of a cookie if we focus solely on making it sweet - it can be nutty, smoky, salty, anything on the spectrum of flavor. This introduction to her succeeding recipes has the reader excited for all of the new discoveries to be made outside of sugar’s constraints.
It’s hard to imagine a fruit pie without loads of sugar to make its filling sickeningly-sweet. Chang, however, is a strong believer in allowing the natural flavors of ingredients take center stage. She uses the built-in sweetness of the fruit in her Blueberry Nectarine Pie to make only 4 tablespoons of sugar all that is necessary for the jammy and luscious pastry. She pairs this with her Double-Crust Pie Dough, allowing the juicy berries to mix beautifully with its flaky texture.
Chocolate is certainly not without its own dose of sweetness, but by depending only on the sugar content of bittersweet chocolate in her Double Chocolate Whoopie Pies, she is able to significantly reduce the added amount from its traditional equivalent. Crème fraîche contributes a certain tangy bite, drawing the pies away from potential chocolate overload.
I love Chang’s use of maple syrup as a sugar substitute in her Sticky Toffee Pudding, a vegan alternative to honey. She outlines the traditional version she makes with “loads of brown sugar”, a comforting option during the colder months. However, she says that in this adaptation, the maple syrup complements the dates’ deep flavor instead of obscuring them in mountains of sugar as too many recipes often do. The dessert is a great example of how using natural sweeteners results in a greater complexity of flavor.
Baking with Less Sugar is not another cookbook focused only on making desserts with fewer calories. Joanne Chang seeks out alternatives for sugar so that she can experiment with other ingredients and develop recipes that taste how we expect them to, while still retaining an element of mystery in their subtle nuances of flavor. The result is healthy, delicious, and nonetheless sweet.
Saturday September 05, 2015
French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes, & Pleasure
Warning: for those of you looking for a quick-fix for your weight-management woes, French Women for All Seasons by Mireille Guiliano is not the book for you. Its pages replace this short-lived attempt at weight loss with a lifestyle that is sustainable, allowing readers to practice the French mentality of treating themselves to small indulgences in moderation.
She founds her ideology on a style of living based on incorporating healthy, feasible habits into everyday practice. Nothing about her plan is extreme, instead, she emphasizes the small, everyday treats we allow ourselves to enjoy, attributing success to the inclusion of small amounts of bread, Champagne, and chocolate in our daily diets. She provides helpful weekly menus for each season so that your meals stay consistent with the produce that is at its freshest and most delicious. Don’t feel constrained by these guidelines though, because they are just that, general directions for how to create a healthy relationship with food. Guiliano suggests that you learn what you like and build from there, because the real key to eating like a French woman is acknowledging that maintaining a healthy weight comes from the continual development of our joie de vivre, and appreciating the balance between restraint and pleasure that brings more joy to every moment and to every taste.
For those of us who have tested and tried all forms of yo-yo diets only to lose six pounds one week and gain it all back in the days immediately following, allow Guiliano to start by making food suggestions for you. What diet book would provide a recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake, whose list of ingredients begins with equal amounts dark chocolate and unsalted butter (not to mention a cup of sugar to follow)? This is an example of Guiliano’s philosophy, where allowing ourselves to luxuriate in a small portion of a decadent dessert prevents us from giving into the temptation of a box of cookies later on.
The recipes are simple and straightforward, giving you plenty of options for weeknight cooking as well alternatives for more formal occasions. She provides a manageable Buttersquash Soup, with no more than six ingredients, but which she suggests dressing up with fresh parsley, grated nutmeg, and a dollop of crème fraîche if you’re expecting company.
French Women for All Seasons reads sometimes like an anthropological study of the differences between the French and American approaches to food, where the latter inhales entire meals in 10 minutes while the former has established the meal as a time for simultaneous reflection and celebration. Guiliano suggests that the difference arises not just in a focus on how our alimentation affects our culture, but the opposite. She extends her theories beyond food, noting that it takes recognizing pleasure in every aspect of our lives, in romance, our family, friends, and even the mysterious bloom of cherry blossoms in spring, to feel completely engaged each moment and entirely satisfied with every meal.
Saturday August 29, 2015
A Suitcase and a Spatula: Recipes and Stories from Around the World
Though we can’t all pack our bags and head off to Paris when a hankering for French culture arises, it is within our ability to be transported by a single bite of a flaky and light, buttery croissant. Or how about Raspberry Croissant Pudding? This is exactly what food and travel writer Tori Haschka wants to give her readers in A Suitcase and a Spatula. Her recipes make even the most far-off travel destinations accessible, all through the sense of taste.
Haschka believes, just as I do, that our palates have a direct connection to our memories and imaginations. Highlighting the ingredients and flavors exclusive to the destination, Haschka uses her recipes to carve out and put on display the region’s cultural landscape. Peppers spiced with the heat of a red chili in Baked Moroccan Eggs evokes the warmth of the coast of Agadir, while the distinctive bitterness of the liqueur in her recipe for Sardines with Campari, Peach and Fennel raises images of enjoying a Spritz or Bellini in a Venetian Bar. The dish itself is pictured plated simply atop a white dish, allowing its brightness of color and flavor to take focus among vintage china plates stacked to the side.
I love cookbooks that go beyond simply giving measurements and proportions, ones that surpass a list of ingredients and instructions by including light but thoughtful prose. Doing so intertwines food and experience, showing the former’s deep profundity and effect upon our lives. Haschka applies this in her reflection of Menton in the south of France, where she describes the outpour of beauty in its abundance of flowers and the restorative effects of mussels and rosé, a food and drink combination that became the cure to her flu when she visited. Her headnote for her Mussels, Fennel, and Chickpeas in Pink Wine serves as a precursor for the joy that is to come, stating that “No matter how you were feeling when you started, healthy contentedness comes from this.”
A Suitcase and a Spatula lets you take a vacation from your kitchen, allowing you to experience the food and world beyond your stovetop. Tori Haschka provides you with two invaluable gifts: a life well-traveled and a body well-fed.
Wednesday August 26, 2015
I will never take an onion for granted again. Although they seem like a commodity – always available in the grocery store, a staple in my kitchen, and with the exception of a few seasonal varietals like Vidalias, they are never out of season. The care and skill needed to provide continuous onion production requires experience of the sort that is only earned from very hard work.
Dale Gillis, owner of Gillis Farms in Arrey, New Mexico schooled me in onion farming. On his 4000 acres farm he grows onions and chili peppers (referred to as chilis). Only 1000 acres are dedicated to onions as Gillis Farm practices traditional crop rotation. One of the common onion diseases from overplanting is called pink root. To avoid pink root, Dale rotates his onion crop with corn, sudan grass, and alfalfa which all clean the soil, replenish nutrients and keeps his onions disease-free.
For the most part onion farming is labor intensive. Dale’s fields are hand-weeded and harvested. During harvest, Dale employs up to 500 people. The only insecticide used is to combat onion thrips, which is the major insect pest of the onion. Weeds are solely managed by hand.
Gillis Farm is in the high desert of New Mexico where winters are mild and summer temperatures average around 100 degrees. While this sounds harsh, it is ideal climate for onions. Dale claims that wet, damp conditions produce root rot. In fact, at harvest time, Dale likes it hot and dry.
Dale plants 40-48 different varieties of onions, mostly yellow with some whites and reds as well. The varieties are selected to spread the harvest over as long a period as possible to insure continuous production. Dale begins harvesting on May 20th and continues until late August. Onions planted on September 15th, for instance are harvested mid-June. Dales’ 1000 acres produces 1.2 million 50 pound bags of onions. That’s 60 million pounds!!! Dales’ onions are sold directly to the supermarket chains including Walmart.
Dale proudly holds the mantel of his farming roots. His great grandparents arrived in New Mexico from Germany in 1918 and began the farm, which has been passed down to his grandparents, his parents and now he, and his brother and sister, with the 5th generation coming on strong. His son and 2 nephews are beginning to work on the farm and absolutely love it. In fact, Dales’ son is getting a degree in Ag Business.
When I asked Dale what this new generation can bring to the farm, he said “a knowledge of computers and technology.” Dale also emphatically stated that you cannot learn onion farming in college. He said, “Only experience teaches you to grow.” That experience is what provides the knowledge to see a field of onions that needs zinc or iron, or has thrips. Experience provides that critical wisdom necessary to successfully grow onions on the scale that he does. Dale’s best advice to future farmers is to do the work. “Without a work ethic, it’s worth nothing. Put your head down and run with the ball.”
When I asked Dale if he ate onions, he chuckled and actually said, “ Not many! Because at harvest time everything smells like an onion – my truck, my bed, my body.” He does, however, eat a fair amount of chilis. His favorite meal is steak with green chilis. He shared that growing up and even now, meals were simple – grilled meat, grilled onions and chilis, with peach cobbler for dessert. Another favorite was called Green Chili Stew, which was a stew of steak pieces, chilis, potatoes and onions. His mom served it with a flour tortilla.
Here is a great recipe for grilled burgers and onions from the National Onion Association.
A bit about Dale’s Chilis
New Mexicans are very particular about their chilis. You are either a red or a green chili person. Dale is a green chili person!
One curious fact about the chilis Dale grows is that 20% of them are grown for color. Who knew? The chilis grown for color have no heat index. The red is extracted as a powder and is found in cosmetics and even cheese.
The other 80% of the chilis are all dehydrated and sold in small packages. They range on the heat scale from mild to extra hot.
The chili growing offers excellent crop diversification for Gillis Farm. As one might imagine, weather is either a farmer’s friend or foe. Having more than one crop is a hedge against the potential ravages of weather.
I would be remiss if I didn't share a New Mexican Chile recipe. Click this link for Green Chile Stew from the Santa Fe School of Cooking.
When I finished my interview with Dale, I just sat for a few moments. I knew I had spoken to a hard-working, salt-of-the-earth gentleman – of few words, yet quite communicative. His years of hard work, generational knowledge and love of farming produce the onions I have so cavalierly stored in my onion basket. Now when I hold that sphere, I honor it as it exists in all its perfect splendor because of people like Dale Gillis. Thank you Dale!
Enjoy Dale on Heirloom Meals Radio too!
Disclosure: I was compensated by the National Onion Association for this post. All opinions are my own.
Monday August 24, 2015
I know I have been a bit silent over these last few months.
If I told you I have experienced the gamut of emotions, would you believe me? Well, of course you believe me. Why would I pose the question?
So here’s how I have been rolling….
Happy and Grateful
I spent the first 2 weeks of May at a writers residency program on Martha’s Vineyard. I decided to write a food memoir. Yes. All about ME! It is quite a journey going back in time and recalling scenes of your life. It is very healing and very powerful. I cannot wait to share it with you. Of course it’s a memoir with recipes!!
Anxious and Sad
Hanging over me and our family during the spring and early summer was the knowledge that my dear sweet sister-out-law had stage 4 breast cancer. While I prayed my heart out, held onto OPTIMISM like it was the last ticket out of town, I knew it wasn’t good. We hosted a magical family reunion late May for Madeline. She was radiant, happy, and beautiful. I thought I was witnessing a miracle – that she had turned the corner. The truth of the matter is I was witnessing a miracle. It’s called living every moment. Or bringing the people you love together to share our love for each other. Or providing the space for lasting memories.
Five weeks later. Madeline passed away. I carried her pain in my body. I sobbed. I walked around like a zombie. I tried to comfort Jim. And then mustered up the energy to have another family reunion. An old-fashioned Irish wake with the casket right here in our home. It was an honor to offer Madeline one last night at Boulderwood. Her send off was beautiful. It was pure, unadulterated love. Love that emanated from Jim’s heart, my heart and all who loved Madeline. The priest’s eulogy was powerful. He said God is in all of us. I believe that. We meet people that give us what we need at the moment we need it. This is how God works. This is how the universe works.
Madeline handled her illness with such grace. In her last group email, she said it best: “I continue to enjoy life, but will admit it is difficult to think in terms of no timeline. Although it is not real for any of us, I think we all live with the expectation of another day and old age. To plan even a few months ahead not knowing what will happen is different to say the least. Probably a good reminder for all of us to enjoy the days we have and focus on the important stuff. As you can see, for me the important stuff is family and friends.”
RIP sweet Madeline.
I am alive. Ergo I live. In the midst of the sadness, I launched another dream – The Heirloom Meals Recipe Project – an 8 week online class where I coach the participants to write their family food narrative, collect and or write all their recipes, collect old photos and take new ones and end up with their own hardcover, color heirloom family cookbook. The pilot class was extraordinary. Here’s one of the testimonials:
It has been said that because so much of our lives today are documented in technology that we chance to loose our history and stories in these devices. Carole Murko has offered a gift of leading us through the writing of our families’ food history and memories so that they are not lost and can be passed down for generations to come. She takes you on a beautiful, emotional, supportive and loved filled journey that is a gift unto itself. With her warm and creative guidance you create together a memoir that you never realized was inside of you waiting to be shared with those you love. This is a gift to give to yourself, to a friend, to family. Everyone should experience this journey with Carole Murko.
Debby Edwards, Chicago, IL
Thank you Debby for that! Your words went right to my heart. Please check out the class. I would love to have you among us!
Over the Moon with Happiness
When I talk about Jim, I have referred to him as my husband. Well, because he is my spiritual soul-mate and common-law husband. But truth be told, we are not married. On August 4th, my birthday, he asked me to marry him. I. AM. ENGAGED. WAHOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I am like a little girl. Giddy. Elated. Thrilled. I have always wanted to be married. It was part of my little girl and twenty-something dream. Jim’s commitment to me has validated and honored me. I felt an energy shift in my body – at the cellular level. And in perfect heirloom meals style, he gave me his mother’s engagement ring. I will treasure it forever. It is so much more meaningful than some huge showy diamond. I always said that when I found the right man, a Cracker Jack box ring would do.
For whatever reason, this is the time and place in my life I am meant to be married. I get to plan a wedding my way! My parents get to see me marry the love of my life. It is perfect timing.
I will be sharing the wedding journey from designing my own dress to figuring out how to do all the food and be a relaxed and rested bride!! EXCITING!!!
I am blessed. To have a life so full.
Thank you all for being part of it!!
PS No post is complete without a recipe. I am hanging onto summer with dear life. Here’s my signature summer salad recipe!
Saturday August 22, 2015
Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe's Most Loved Sweets & Savories
We all have that favorite spot -- the breakfast place around the corner, the coffee shop up the street, the bakery with the awe-inspiring case of baked goods staring back at you. Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery + Café in Boston is all of these, but it has established itself beyond sweets and breakfast confections alone. Flour, Too is Chang’s second cookbook, following the success of her first, Flour. Though recipes categorized under “Sweets” and “Desserts” dominate its pages, the cookbook spreads its focus to the savory as well. With recipes like the Classic Split Green Pea with Smoked Ham soup or the Mushroom and Leek Lasagna with Creamy Béchamel, you quickly gain the sense that Chang isn’t trying to overwhelm your sweet tooth, but rather provide you with the comfort and nourishment of food.
You can mimic the most loyal of Flour’s customers and use the book to follow the daily experience of the bakery. Start with a stack of CJ’s Spiced Banana Pancakes, which are perfectly moist and not overly-sweet from the natural flavorings of the fruit and are matched with the underlying smokiness of allspice and black pepper. A drizzle of maple syrup as the accompanying image suggests is all you need to make resisting these fluffy delicacies impossible. You can take the savory route for lunch with an updated American classic -- the Applewood Smoked BLT. Chang complements the salty-sweet bacon with the added pepperiness of the arugula. Dinner can become a more complex affair, beginning with the colorful Heirloom Tomato Salad, stepped up with feta, watermelon, and a delicious Red Wine Vinaigrette. The main dish options include a Slow-Baked Atlantic Salmon with Tabouli, whose inventive cooking method gives the fish, as Chang puts it, “a delicate, buttery texture and flavor.” End the evening just as you began, with a small, two-bite French Macaron. Crisp and light, satisfyingly sweet.
Flour, Too invites us to sample a sugar-specked brioche and instills a desire to test the elasticity of Chang’s focaccia dough. Every page is a representation of the ease and contentment enjoyed in passing the time at one of the Flour locations. Use the book to bring to your kitchen the iconic smells and tastes of the bakery -- a place many people already consider home.
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