Spiced Nut Snack Mix

October 3, 2011 § 1 Comment

Below my feet, the yellowed leaves crunch, and the air is crisp, fresh, reminding me of that scent one gets standing on top of a tall mountain. The heavy last summer heat has slowly melded into fall. I was writing a short story the other day for my fiction writing course this term, the first work of fiction I have started in a very long time, when I realized just how much timing and setting changes a series of events. I was piecing together a character out of bits and pieces of interactions I had had with various people in the past year; it felt more natural to pull from memory. There was something terrifying about the thought of people reading my fictional story, even though I lay a lot of things out to complete strangers on this blog weekly. There is still a knot in my stomach when I think about going over the story in workshop tomorrow afternoon, in a room high up on the 6th floor with glass walls, allowing you to look out over the entire campus when you’re supposed to be paying attention in class. The mind wanders — perhaps that is expected in a creative writing class.

We’ve been talking a lot about loneliness in class, how it is easier to feel sympathy for a schoolteacher in Russia, taking a trip through the mud in a cart and longing for her superior to notice her, than it is to feel sympathy for the 30something divorcee who muddles about at home, unknowingly in love with her best friend who is busy chasing after young actresses. We’ve also been talking a lot about vapidity, superficiality and, on the flip side of things, interiority. It kind of makes me wonder if people are as generally unhappy as they are made out to be in novels. And then I think about the very little things that make me happy and I think that it cannot be possible that everyone is drying up out of loneliness inside, maybe just the writers of the world.

Note: As it turns out, I needn’t have worried so much about the story. We made black tea and the professor brought in a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts from the train station. And then we sat around and talked writing styles and the necessity of placing yourself firmly in time, all the while looking out of the window, feeling on top of the world.

Spiced Nut Snack Mix
Adapted from David Lebovitz
This recipe is infinitely adaptable. I tried this version with pistachios and broken pieces of waffle cone, but you can literally throw almost anything in the bowl and it will come out delicious. I served the mix as a topping for homemade chocolate and hazelnut ice cream.

2 cups mixed raw nuts (I used a combination of cashews, almonds and pistachios)
1 tablespoon (15 g) butter, salted or unsalted, browned
3 tablespoons (45 g) dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
2 cups (100 g) small pretzel twists (for a saltier mix) or butter cookies, broken into small pieces (for a richer mix)

Spread out the nuts on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, flipping once. In a mixing bowl, stir together the browned, melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, chili pepper and maple syrup. Once the nuts are toasted, add them to the liquid sugar mixture and stir until they are completely coated. Stir in the salt. Then mix in the cookie pieces or pretzels. Spread the nut mixture back on the baking sheet and roast for 12-18 minutes, flipping or shaking every couple of minutes to ensure even toasting and that the sugar is not clumping. Remove the tray from the oven and let cool completely.

Breakfast in bed on a rainy day

August 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

A handful of almonds
and two handfuls of oats

with a little maple syrup…
and a dusting of nutmeg

Unbaked bread

May 27, 2010 § 1 Comment

I really suspect you’re tired of hearing about whole grain flours by now. Rye, corn, barley, it all starts to sound the same after awhile. Your eyes start to a glaze over and you start to think, oh no we’re descending into San Francisco hippie territory again. Next thing you know, I’ll be telling you to cook everything by sunlight on the roof. But I swear that day hasn’t some yet. And I swear this really isn’t my fault. In fact, these multigrain flatbreads were actually my brother’s idea. His 13-year-old, just barely teenage boy and still clinging to his picky-eater notions, idea.

We started making these on a weekend afternoon, right as my mother decided she was making whole wheat bread. We set up two simultaneous stations in the kitchen for the baking, the two doughs came together at the same time, and then I was given the task of kneading them. Whenever the opportunity arises, I love working dough with my hands. Like shortbread? I mix the butter in with my hands. But working with yeast gives a whole new level of fun to playing with dough. The dough almost rises in your hands, giving gentle resistance to every push into the countertop. It slowly absorbs the heavy dusting of flour you put down to prevent sticking, becoming more and more sticky until you throw down more flour. Finally, when the dough almost seems to be bursting and can take no more flour, it develops a glossy texture. A quick dusting of olive oil and you leave it to rise. It’s like abandoning a child in a playground. Except when you finally come back, it’s big and puffy without a trace of tears. And then you throw it in a pan and fry it.

Kim Boyce’s flatbread is left to rise twice. The first time for two hours, the second time covered in a towel for 1 ½ hours. Once fully risen, you divide the dough into 8 equal parts and roll them out to about a 9-10 inch diameter. Lightly paint on some olive oil and sprinkle with the spices (fresh or ground) of your choice before throwing in the pan, oil side down. Repeat this process on the other side while the dough circle bubbles.

The original recipe uses amaranth flour. But both the brother, who shies away from strange new foods, and the mother, who has bought far too many new flours for me in the past week, weighed in and we decided to go with a mixture of white, whole wheat and corn flours. We used Stonehouse California Extra Garlic Oil, one of those oils you can pick up at the wonderful bread and olive oil tasting station in the Ferry Building, some variations of chili and curry powders and paprika alongside fresh rosemary and a quick pinch of sea salt.

Eat them plain straight off the skillet or later with something like hummus. Or these would make a great accompaniment to a salad — green or quinoa, you decide how much of a hippie you are.

This one takes the cake: Pear upsidedown gingerbread

April 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

This is the best cake I have ever made. Do not take that lightly. A dense, spicy gingerbread cake topped with thin slices of apples in ooey, gooey, caramelized sugar. This is the type of cake you can make equally as the grand finale to a fancy dinner party or as the cake that sits on the kitchen counter and gets slowly devoured, one sliver or bite at a time. This is the cake I will make over and over again every winter. This is the cake I will forgive for stealing the spotlight from my first ever pumpkin pie. And of course, this is a gingerbread cake deserving of a post well into spring, when all things molasses and pear seem to have gone out of season.

It’s equally good made with apples. Both apples and pears are a good recovery food for athletes. So allow the lightweight athlete in me make the claim that this cake is excellent recovery food. It’s also wonderful served with a dollop of maple whipped cream.

The recipe comes from Seattle’s Macrina Bakery. It can be found here.

Ginger Pear Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery & Café Cookbook

For the topping:
3 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
4-5 medium to large ripe pears, peeled, cored, and quartered lengthwise

For the batter:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 Tbs peeled, grated ginger
3 large eggs
2/3 cup molasses
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil a 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with a 10-inch circle of parchment paper.

To make the topping, combine 3 Tbs butter, ½ cup brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Melt the butter over medium heat for about 1 minute; then pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan, completely coating the parchment paper. Place the quartered pears on top of the butter-sugar mixture, lining the pieces up tightly in a decorative circle so that none of the bottom shows through.

To make the batter, cut 2 sticks of butter into 1-inch pieces, and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add ¾ cup brown sugar, and cream the mixture on medium speed for 3-5 minutes, until it is smooth and a pale tan color. Add the grated ginger, and beat 1 minute more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on low speed and making sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding another. When all the eggs have been added, slowly pour in the molasses and beat to fully mix. The mixture will look as though it is “breaking” or curdling, but don’t worry—it will come together when the dry ingredients are added.

In a separate medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to fully combine.

Alternately add small amounts of flour and buttermilk to the batter, stirring and folding with a rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are just absorbed. Do not overmix the batter. Pour and scrape the batter into the pear-lined pan, smoothing the top with a rubber surface. The pan will be nearly full.

Carefully transfer the pan to the center rack of the oven, and bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the cake’s center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Cover the pan with an upside-down serving plate; then carefully invert them together. Release the sides of the pan, and lift it away. Gently lift the pan’s base off the cake, and peel away the parchment paper. Allow the cake to cool for a half hour or so, and serve warm, with whipped cream.

Just a note, this cake does not work equally well as cupcakes. The sugar topping becomes unequally distributed and overpowers the smaller amount of fruit on each cake.

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