snacks

Life is a bowl of…

by Lisa

All of a sudden, it seems,  the stone fruit is in the market. We have peaches, plums, apricots–and big, sloping piles of bright red cherries.  The cherry season is short, and very sweet. And while we have a cherry pitter, and sometimes use it (ice cream, tarts, once in a red wine reduction for lamb), the cherries rarely last long enough to make it into something as complicated as a recipe.

I’m all about simple, these days, and letting my children experience food in its whole, pure state, so when the cherries come home on Sunday I pour them into a big glass bowl and set them in the middle of our home’s Command Central (aka the Kitchen Table) with a small bowl of water for rinsing and a smaller bowl for pits.  We have an open floor plan, so all day long the kids & their friends & Kory and I pick, dip, & eat.    On Memorial Day they were ravaged before, during, and after dinner as the kids carried the three bowls back and forth from appetizer to dinner to dessert table.

They’re  a snack, of course, but because we eat only what’s in season at our local market things like cherries feel like a rare treat.  This is one of the great things about eating locally and seasonally. On the one hand, things taste the way they should–& impeccably fresh–but it’s also exciting every time something new shows up.  And yes, they are expensive. At $5-7/lb they cost us. But I think it’s worth it to have such an excellent snack to binge on for a few days, and in the long run, that $7 is teaching the kids about many, many things besides how great cherries taste.  And it’s keeping them healthy.  With seasonal eating, we appreciate each crop all the more, we look forward to each new harvest, and we really do celebrate every mouthful.  Even Ella and Finn know that they’re getting something special.

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The cherries, on the other hand, are lucky if they see Tuesday morning.

Fava Beans

by Caroline

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In the last couple days, I’ve experienced one of those funny swirls of coincidence that crop up sometimes: we received fava beans in our mystery produce box; before I could cook them, we happened to eat some grilled at a local restaurant; the next day, my email update from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog offered a recipe for grilled fava beans.

The universe was telling me to grill fava beans.

However the grill, which turned out to be out of propane, was telling me to do something else with them.

Tony reminded me that roasting is a fine substitute for grilling, so that is what I did. You lose that nice smoky flavor that the grill imbues, but the beans are still incredibly tasty. Almost as important, this method of cooking the beans takes the effort of shucking and peeling the beans out of the kitchen (or wherever you prep your food) and onto the dining room table (or wherever you gather to eat). Prepping raw fava beans can be pretty labor intensive (shucking, blanching, peeling), and while it’s certainly something you can do with your kids, or delegate to them entirely, when my kids do it, they wind up eating all the beans raw and not leaving me any to cook. So this gets the cooking done fast, and then whatever’s left over of the roasted beans can be pureed into a delicious spread or thrown into a salad, a pasta or a risotto.

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Preheat the oven to 425. Rinse the fava beans and spread them out on a roasting pan with a generous splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and maybe some hot pepper flakes, to taste.

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Roast, stirring once, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are blistered and tender. Toss them into a bowl and eat. We found them so tender (and the roasted skins so salty and delicious) that we ate them pods and all, but you can also pop the beans out, of course, and just eat those.

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Strawberry Fruit Leather

by Caroline

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Fruit leather is a bit of a thing in our house. On the one hand, I just don’t see the point. To me, it’s perfectly good fruit to which sugar has been added and plastic has been wrapped around. Why not just eat an apple or a cup of berries? But on the other hand, of course, I truly do see the kid appeal: it’s packable; it doesn’t drip; it’s never unripe and never has funny spots; plus, it’s fun to rip and smoosh and play with.

Years ago, when Ben was a brand-new preschooler, he eyed the snacks the other kids brought in their bags and asked his teacher to write me a note. She wrote:

Mommy and Daddy, I want fruit leather in my lunch. Love, Ben.

But Ben read the note to us a bit differently; he said:

Dear Mommy and Daddy, I hate my lunch! Give me fruit leather in my lunch! Love, Ben.

I learned my lesson.

Now Eli is in fruit leather corner, as he would say (channeling his beloved Pooh), and he asks for one in his lunch box every day, and I provide it, cringing slightly at the plastic but knowing, too, that it’s certainly not the least-green or least unhealthy thing in our lives.

When I had the chance recently to get a deal on a flat of strawberries, and started thinking of all the fabulous strawberry things I could make — tart! shortcake! jam! smoothies! — fruit leather rose to the top of the list, and I found a recipe over on Epicurious. It takes a while, but for the most part it can do its thing while you’re off doing something else.

1 1/2 lb strawberries, halved (4 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup sugar (depending on your berries, you can cut the sugar a bit; remember that the sweetness will concentrate as the fruit is cooked)

Purée strawberries with sugar in a blender until smooth:

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Then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large heavy saucepan:

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This is the most tedious part of the process, so I highly recommend enlisting your kids to do the job; just let them run the wooden spoon around inside the strainer to push the puree through and into the pot.

Bring purée to a boil, then simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally (more frequently toward end), until thick enough to mound slightly and reduced to 1 to 11/4 cups, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 200°F with rack in middle. Line a large baking sheet with nonstick liner.

Pour hot purée onto liner and spread thinly (as evenly as possible) into a 15- by 10-inch rectangle using an off-set spatula.

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Dry purée in oven until it feels drier (it shouldn’t stick to your fingers) but is still slightly tacky, 2 to 3 hours.

Cool on liner on a rack until completely dry, at least 3 hours and up to 24.

Place a sheet of parchment paper over leather, then peel leather off liner and roll up in parchment.

It will keep in a sealed bag at room temperature for a month, but it’s not likely to last that long.

Banana Bread Today (or, Another Field Trip, Another Batch of Muffins)

by Caroline

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As I have written elsewhere, there’s always room in my repertoire for one more banana bread recipe; this one I found originally in The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook and have been tinkering with it (reducing the fat and sugar, upping the protein) ever since. You can make these as a quick bread (bake for about an hour) or muffins (bake for about 25 minutes); either way, they are banana-y, buttery and delicious.

Note: you can certainly make this with 1-1/4 c all purpose flour (omitting the whole wheat flour and wheat germ) and with 8 T (one stick) of butter (omitting the flax seed), and it’ll be delicious, just not so virtuous.

2-3 ripe bananas (about 1 cup, mashed)
3/4 c all purpose flour
1/4 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c wheat germ
9 T ground flax seed
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 c brown sugar
5 T butter
2 eggs
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan or a 12-cup muffin tin.

Mash the bananas in a medium bowl until pretty smooth.

Whisk the flours, wheat germ, flax seed, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.

Using the flat whisk in a stand mixer, mix the sugar and butter well to make a stiff paste (you can also do this by hand, of course). Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the mashed banana. Stir in the walnuts, if using (don’t worry if the batter looks curdled). Now add the flour mixture and stir until just blended (don’t overmix or worry about a few lumps). Put the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake until a skewer comes out clean, about 45 minutes to an hour for bread, 25 minutes for muffins. Cool on racks in the baking pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely.

Muffins For the Road (Vegan Banana Wheat Germ)

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by Caroline

I have lost count of the number of field trips Ben’s first grade class has taken this spring, and we’re not done yet, and I seem to be driving them all. I’m not complaining; I’m not a committee mom — you won’t find me organizing this fund-raising gala or that anniversary celebration– I like to do the things that involve the kids most directly. I volunteer in the lunch room (more on that in a later post), I help out with messy art projects, and I drive field trips. And when I do, I bring muffins, because it seems no matter how short the drive might be (a recent trip to the symphony clocked in at about 7 minutes) it seems that as soon as the car doors are closed and the buckles are buckled, somebody’s hungry. A good muffin can satisfy hunger pangs and raise morale on a longer drive. Plus, although I have no particular guilt about offering my kids sweeter baked treats (I’m not as organized about it as Lisa, but I, too, let them eat cake), I haven’t found anyone yet who objects to a muffin. These are what I brought along on our farm field trip the other day, and they gave the car a nice banana scent, too.

1 c plain soy milk
1 t apple cider vinegar
2 very ripe bananas
1/3 c canola oil (I scanted the vegetable oil slightly and added a splash of walnut oil)
1/3 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/4 c flour (I used a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat flours)
3/4 c wheat germ
1 T cinnamon
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt

Preheat the oven to 375 and line a 12-cup muffin tin with muffin papers, or lightly grease the cups.

Combine the soy milk and vinegar and set aside for a minute or two to curdle.

Meanwhile, mash the bananas in a large mixing bowl, then add the soy milk mixture along with the oil, sugar, and vanilla. Mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, wheat germ, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Add this to the banana mixture and mix until just combined. Spoon batter into the muffin cups and bake for 22 minutes. Let the muffins cool in the pan for a couple minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. My first batch didn’t last that long…