Thursday, August 16, 2012

You're At That Age...

Late next week marks the 2-month anniversary of being out of The Day Job.  I mentioned it previously here. I am still among the ranks of the unemployed.  I spend a lot of time indoors, on the computer.  With the weather being what it's's not necessarily bad, but I'm finding myself going a little stir crazy, sometimes a little down.

I've also noticed that I've put on a few pounds.  You'd think with all this free time, I'd keep a regular gym schedule.  You'd think.  I've gone here and there.  Three days one week, once another week, a couple of weeks not at all.  Then I noticed something.  [Men, cover your ears if you don't want to hear 'women's talk.']  I noticed where the weight was going.  Right to my stomach.  That's right...belly fat.  What you hear about on television commercials.  Ugh.  The jeans are getting a little snug.  I went to lunch with my ex-manager last week and was lamenting about the weight gain and where it was settling in.  She smiled and said, 'You're at that age...'  It wasn't meant to be mean.  She's been there, seen that, and accepted it.  I'm not ready to accept it.  Five years ago I stepped on the scale and was shocked at the number I saw.  [No, I'm not telling!]  I was incredibly uncomfortable in my body and seeing the number cemented the change I was going to make.  It's been a journey.  More successful than not.  I've lost 4 pant sizes.  Five on a good day.  I know I'm getting older, the metabolism changes, it takes more effort to lose weight and keep it off.  And, it's no secret...I love food.

The blog is indicative of how much I love food.  I have weaknesses.  You may know them.  Their names are Cheese, Potato Chips, and Bacon.  I hate the word 'diet'.  I haven't thought of myself as being on one for at least 20 years.  I believe in changing how you look at food, finding a balance, not denying yourself and if you go overboard one day, you rein yourself in the next.  I've been thinking about the hows, whats, whens, and whys of my eating habits over the past few days.  I'm wondering if I'm eating too much fruit and not enough vegetables (to balance out the sugar), not enough protein, too many carbs (I'm Italian, life must include bread and pasta!), or just too much late at night.  And let's not forget the vino.  I have a rule when I'm working, no drinking if I work the next day.  Well...that rule has been thrown out the window.  Not that I'm a tipsy baker or anything, but I've had more wine than usual (for me) over the past couple of months.

Where is this all headed?  I guess what I'm trying to say is...a tiny little light bulb when off above my head.  No screaming 150 watt bulb, but a mellow 25 watt.  A gentle reminder.  To take care of myself.  To get back on track.  To be more conscious of what I put in my mouth.  Do I regret making whole milk ricotta the other day?  No...especially when I paired it with figs and honey!  Will I limit myself to a realistic serving of potato chips?  Yes...those kettle chips are evil!  And I'm going to stop making excuses to skip the gym.  I can happily say that after I go this Saturday, I will have made it to the gym five days this week.  It's been a long time since I've done that.  I also have to push myself to do more...kick it up a notch...or six.  Take advantage of this time I have.  I still have a goal weight in mind.  And I'll be damned if I don't reach it.

Don't worry...the baking won't stop.  I have way too much fun with that.  I have way too much fun in the kitchen, period.  I'm still working on Semplice Gourmet, so experiment after experiment will be happening.  I just have to balance myself.  Again.

I've been thinking about coleslaw for a couple of weeks.  I bought a head of red cabbage last week and finally got around to bringing it to fruition today.  There is sweet, sour, vegetables, protein, and a few carbs here.  Keyword?  That's right...balance!  And it was so good.

Red Cabbage Slaw
(Makes a lot)

1 small head red cabbage, shredded
1 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup red onion, minced
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 large red bell pepper, minced

Honey Dijon Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon apricot jam
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon pepper
pinch salt

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots, red onion, garbanzo beans, and bell pepper.  Stir to mix well.    In another bowl or a jar with a lid, add the honey, jam, vinegar, garlic, mustard, olive oil, pepper, and salt.  It's easy in a jar.  Secure the top and shake, shake, shake.  If you're making it in a bowl, whisk well until all the ingredients come together.  Feel free to adjust to your taste, whether more honey, mustard, or pepper.  Add to the bowl of vegetables and mix, mix, mix.  Let it sit for a few minutes before you eat or serve it so the flavors can mingle.  

Wheat tortilla, shredded grilled chicken, and slaw.  A sprinkle of sesame seeds.  Call it dinner.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Midnight Baking Session No. 746

Truthfully, it was closer to 10:00 p.m. and baking was probably the last thing I should have been doing since I've no one to really share baked goods with these days and I certainly don't need to be eating a whole batch  of anything myself.  Thankfully, I have a neighbor upstairs that has stepped up and has very happily been playing the role of taste tester, so all is not lost.

It was nothing fancy that came out of the oven last night.  Just a pan of brownies.  Though these brownies did  have a few ingredients tweaked, because if I don't tweak every now and again, I wouldn't be me.  I opened the Italian Pantry the other day and almost had the bag of chestnut flour fall on my head.  Yes, the Italian Pantry is living up to its name, still well-stocked.  I took the falling bag of flour as a sign that I should do something with it.  While I think about making Castagnaccio, last night I wanted to make something not too far out of the ordinary.  I'm warming up to brownies.  They're kind of comforting in their chewy, chocolatey richness.

I really really like chestnut flour.  There's a smokey sweetness to it that I can't compare to anything else I've tasted.  It lends itself fabulously to the dark chocolate I used here.  I didn't use baking chocolate.  You know those huge 1lb+ bars they sell at Trader Joe's?  No?  Well, that's what went in these brownies.  It's a total bargain if you have a massive sweet tooth, are a chocoholic, or just want to make sure you've got chocolate around when it's late at night and you want to bake brownies.   I'm also thinking of the Chestnut Cherry cookies I made last Christmas and bet that cherries in those brownies would take it just that right step beyond.  Next time.

Chocolate Chestnut Brownies
(Adapted from a recipe in Martha Stewart's Cookies)
Makes 16 brownies

6 tbsp unsalted butter
6 ounces dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup chestnut flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp coarse sea salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8x8 inch baking dish with parchment and grease parchment with a small amount of butter.  In a small bowl, add the butter, chopped chocolate, and cocoa powder.  Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Stir frequently to melt the chocolate and butter.  When everything has melted, remove from heat and let it cool slightly.  In a another bowl, add the sugar, vanilla, and eggs.  Whisk until light and fluffy either by hand or with an electric mixer.  Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a third bowl.  Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs and sugar, mixing well until combined.  Slowly add the flour, making sure to mix all the ingredients well.  

Pour batter into baking pan, spreading out to corners.  Bake until  cake tester inserted in center comes out fairly clean, about 30-35 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 15 minutes before removing from pan and letting brownies finish cooling on rack.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Not Too Sweet

In deciding what to put in the Etsy shop (which can be found here if you'd like to check it out), I really wanted a mix of sweet and savoury items.  I want it to encompass more than just baked goods.  I made Pan de Higo a few days ago, it's 'curing' as I write and should be ready in a day or two.  Hmmm...I should go out and get some cheese so I can taste test.  Oh, the lengths I go to!

Let's talk savoury.  I'm talking beyond crackers...this is about biscotti.  Being Italian, I think it's part of my genetic make-up that I love the twice-baked cookie in all its many wondrous variations.  There is nothing wrong in having a couple with an after dinner espresso or vin santo.  In fact, I encourage such behavior.  But there is also nothing wrong with having savory biscotti as part of your antipasto platter or cheese plate.

Keeping with (recent) tradition, living on antipasti for days on end, I wanted something a little more substantial than pita chips or crostini.  A biscotti recipe is a very forgiving thing.  I've said it many times, I love a recipe that can be adapted to more than just its original incarnation.  It is the test of a great basic recipe if you can make changes by adding or subtracting and have a winner more times than not.  Think of it this way, thousands of Italian nonne can't be wrong.  I slice them thinner than sweet biscotti, making them more user-friendly when you have it topped with a white bean garlic dip or my current favorite, Sweet Tomato Marmalade (compote, jam, what-have-you).

The two current winners are Parmesan-Fennel and Sundried Tomato-Cracked Pepper.  I'm going to give a Gorgonzola biscotti a try and perhaps basil or oregano.  If they pass muster with the secret taste-testers, they'll go in the 'Win' column.

Sundried Tomato-Cracked Pepper Biscotti
(Adapted from a recipe on Epicurious)
Makes one loaf--about 24-30 biscotti

2 cups flour
2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2 eggs
6 tbsp butter, cold, cubed
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped roughly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine flour, pepper, baking powder, garlic powder, and salt in a bowl.  Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or two butter knives until mixture resembles large crumbs.  In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs.  Add slowly to dry mixture, incorporating liquid into dry.  Gradually add sundried tomatoes and mix until well combined.

Turn dough out onto a floured board and form into a log shape, about 4 inches wide and 12-14 inches long. Place on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.  When initial baking time is up, remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes.  Turn heat down to 300 degrees.  Transfer log to cutting board and cut into slices, about 1/2 inch wide.  Lay biscotti back onto baking sheet and bake again for 40-45 minutes, until crispy.  Turn biscotti over half-way through second baking time.  Cool on rack when finished.

Sweet Tomato Marmalade
(Makes roughly one cup)

1 1/2 dry pints of cherry or grape tomatoes
4  cloves garlic, minced (optional)
1/4 cup brown sugar, dark or light
1/3 cup honey
1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Wash, dry, and halve tomatoes.  In a deep skillet, over medium heat, warm olive oil.  Add tomatoes and garlic.  Lower heat and saute for 8-10 until tomatoes start to break down.  Add honey, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Keep heat low and let tomatoes reduce.  Stir frequently.  Let cook for about 20 minutes, until juices are syrupy.

If this lasts longer than an hour or two (there's a good chance it won't), store in refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before eating. 

At the start

A jar full of goodness

Parmesan-Fennel Biscotti with Sweet Tomato Marmalade

Sundried Tomato-Cracked Pepper Biscotti