snacks

Wonderballs (because it’s a bit too early for holiday baking)

by Caroline

It’s an in-between time right now. We have some Christmas decorations up (paper-glitter snowflakes, a wreath on the door) but not all (no tree, no stockings). The boys are opening up windows on the Advent calendar and counting down the days till Christmas, while I am counting down the (fewer) days till I can start some Christmas baking. I have past lists of cookies and treats to guide me, and some new recipes to try, and I will report back after the new year.

In the meantime, it’s time to stir up another batch of Wonderballs, originally published as Powerballs in Wondertime magazine. These are easy (the kids can make them!), keep in the freezer, and are a pretty healthy little burst of energy snack:

Makes 40-48

Mix together 1 cup peanut butter and 1 cup honey until smooth. Gradually add in 3 cups old fashioned oats and 1/2 cup ground flaxseed. Add 1 cup chocolate chips (I rarely reduce the chocolate in a recipe, but I do cut this by half, just to make it easier to form the balls; also, if you have mini chocolate chips, use those) and 1 cup any combination of chopped nuts and soft dried fruit (try 1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanuts and 1/4 cup each of raisins and dried cranberries) and mix gently in your stand mixer or smush together by hand.

Roll into Ping-Pong-size balls and, for maximum presentation value, put in paper mini muffin cups. You can eat them right away, but they’ll be less sticky after a night in the fridge. They freeze well too, layered on wax paper in an airtight container.

Dessert, (urban) homestead style

by Lisa

Unlike Caroline, I don’t bake a lot. We were joking the other day about our families and how although we have many things in common, there are some major differences. The fact that we eat meat for one. The fact–as she joked–that I’m going “going urban homestead.”  I demurred, but she’s not entirely wrong.

This fall, as we do every year, we roasted and froze 40lbs of tomatoes, made and froze about 20 family-sized servings of pesto, froze 3 flats of raspberries, and picked over 300 apples. My freezer is a sophisticated and delicately balanced puzzle of epic organization.

I do this because it saves me time and money, it adds some variety to our winter diet, but I do this mostly because all this produce tastes better than the canned kind. Bring home mountains of fresh, organic produce, freeze it immediately, and you have a farmers market in your freezer all winter long.  Yes, it takes time in those weeks that you’re canning and freezing, but then when school starts and you need a quick dinner, just reach in your freezer and there it is: emergency pesto, tomatoes that cook to the richest, sweetest sauce you’ll ever make, a surprise dessert.

But now, with the weather not turning, the apples are not lasting as well as they should.  So this weekend, it was time to invest in an automatic apple peeler and make apple sauce.  The gadget worked like a dream, and while I roasted beets and peppers (because, okay, the hoarding & stockpiling instinct is still strong within me), Kory, Ella, and Finn went to town. In about ten seconds flat, a four year old can peel an apple.

And so can his sister:

Or they can peel, core, and slice into cute spirals in the same lightning speed:

They ate a lot of apples, and Ella chomped down the skin like it was a long string of candy.

I made the apple sauce by instinct after reading a few recipes online.  Honestly, I made it for the kids. I don’t think I’ve eaten applesauce for 30 years. But after tasting our homemade version, I’m guessing that Ella and Finn will be lucky to have two more bowls.

We ate it warm that night for dessert. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It tasted like fresh picked, intensely sweet apples. Dessert gets fancier, and more chocolate-y, but I’m not at all sure it gets any better.

Homemade Apple Sauce

20-30 small apples

1/4 cup organic white sugar

1/4 cup organic brown sugar

2-3 strips lemon zest (from an organic lemon)

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

1. Peel, core, and chop or slice the apples. (Alternately, try leaving the skin on for flavor).  Put them in a large pot with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer until apples are nearly dissolved.

2. REMOVE lemon zest and cinnamon stick.

3. Mash with a potato masher for a thicker, chunkier sauce. Or pass the mixture through a food mill.

Note: If you use fewer apples, just reduce the amount of sugar and zest accordingly, as long as you keep the brown & white sugars of equal proportion.  But you can also freeze this in individual or family-sized servings, just in case you’re compelled to start your own stockpile.

Peppers, The Prequel

By Lisa

The padrone-eating incident (now updated with pictures) was not without precedent.

One of our family staples, especially when it’s high pepper season, is dish of roasted red peppers bathed in olive oil, with capers, garlic, and anchovies.

Before you stop reading at “anchovy,” please consider this: a mysterious alchemy occurs when the peppers meet anchovies and garlic in a bath of olive oil.   The peppers mellow and deepen in flavor, the anchovies sweeten and lose some of their bite.  You can choose not to eat the anchovies.  Or if you are still squeamish, you can, if you must, leave them out altogether, though you will be missing something.

I have served this dish many, many times at parties, to unsuspecting friends, and it disappears quickly. I have served it to children, at dinner parties–not just my own–who have devoured it.  I have served it to my father-in-law, who hates anchovies, but still loves the peppers.

Truly, this is a dish that is more than the sum of its parts.

Every Sunday, all summer long, I made a large dish of these peppers and stashed it away in the refrigerator to marinate. I am not exaggerating when I write that this dish came out nearly every night, as appetizer or side dish. Ella tucked into it with abandon, piling her bread high with peppers, sprinkling a caper or two, then soaking the whole thing in a spoon or two of the marinating oil.  By the end of the summer, even Finn, who is a more cautious eater, was fighting her for a pass at the olive oil, which is liquid gold in its own right.  At parties and barbecues, Ella’s self-appointed job was to make the plate of the pepper-crostini. They’re bright and pretty on the plate, and they go just as well with beer as with prosecco.  We never got tired of them.

In the winter time, or for big parties, I make the same dish from jarred roasted peppers. In summer, when peppers are in season, I bring home my weekly stash of red, yellow, chocolate peppers, and roast them on the grill. If I’m really pressed for time, I can throw the peppers in the convection oven, but they aren’t quite as good this way.  It will keep easily for a week, covered in the refrigerator.

The recipe comes from the pages of Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking,  one of my go-to books when I have a fresh, local, seasonal ingredient and want inspiration.

Below is the basic recipe, with my notes & variations. Once the peppers are roasted, there’s nothing simpler. Consider it insurance for those pre-dinner hunger attacks.

Roasted Peppers with Garlic, Capers, and Anchovies

Ingredients:

  • Roasted peppers
  • Whole smashed garlic cloves
  • Capers
  • Anchovies
  • Oregano
  • Olive oil
  1. Slice peppers. Smash garlic cloves with the flat edge of the knife, peel and discard skin.
  2. Layer peppers in a shallow, flat bottomed dish. On top, place a smashed garlic clove, 2-3 anchovies (or more or less to taste), a sprinkling of capers, a sprig or dash of dried oregano.  If you roast the peppers yourself, you might sprinkle a very little coarse salt on them. Do not do this if the peppers are jarred.
  3. Repeat the layering process until your peppers are gone.
  4. Bathe the entire dish in olive oil.
  5. Refrigerate overnight.
  6. Serve with sliced Italian bread

Ingredient notes:

Peppers:  Red are traditional and the sweetest, but try different varieties as accent colors and flavors if you’re so inclined.

Anchovies: Only buy anchovies packaged in glass (not tins). My experience has been that the more you pay, the better product you get. There is a vast difference in quality between cheaper and more expensive brands.

Oregano: Dried is just fine. Fresh sprigs are fine.  My favorite is to dry sprigs from my bush, and use these. They’re pretty and flavor is best.  If you use dried sprigs, you’ll likley need only 3 or so for a large dish.

Capers: If you use salt-packed, rinse them well.

Olive oil: Just a good, decent extra-virgin is fine. Nothing fancy. You need a lot of it, so I just pour from whatever big tin I’ve got on hand that week: Sagra, Whole Foods, etc.

In the case of this recipe, for me, omissions are very often accidents. I’ve forgotten to add: capers, oregano, salt. I’ve run out of anchovies before I started, then it was too late to get to the store. You can assemble it meticulously, so it looks like a beautiful strata of color, or you can throw it together in a haphazard flash.  The dish may be best with all of the ingredients, but it’s still delicious in whatever configuration you and your family prefer.  Just don’t leave out the garlic.


Snickerdoodle Muffins

posted by Caroline

If you settle Eli for a nap, he’ll want to read a book first.

So you’ll bring out one of his best-loved books.

When you’re finished reading the book, he’ll want another.

And another.

When you say they’re all gone, he’ll ask you for a sip of water before sleeping.

So you refill his water bottle and he has a long drink.

Having a long drink makes him realize he needs to pee, so you walk him to the bathroom.

When he’s in the bathroom, he’ll see his bathtub Titanic, which will remind him of the lake he dug in the sandbox at preschool this morning.

So you talk all about preschool, where his friend made sand-cinnamon muffins. “Speaking of muffins,” he says, “I want to make muffins!”

So you offer to make some, but only after he naps.

So he settles into bed thinking about muffins, and wakes up ninety minutes later saying “Muffins! Let’s make some!”

So you get out the ingredients, and your muffin tins, and less than an hour later you eat muffins topped with your friend’s homemade strawberry jam. Yum.

Snickerdoodle Muffins

Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 400; line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups (this is an excellent job for a preschool helper)

Whisk together in a large bowl (the larger the bowl, the less chance your helper will scatter flour on your floor):
2 c all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
½ t salt
1 t cinnamon
6 T flax seed meal

Whisk together in another large bowl (again, the larger the bowl the better for your  young helper):
2 large eggs
1 c milk
2/3 c brown sugar
6 T melted butter or vegetable oil
1 t vanilla

Add to the flour mixture and stir together lightly, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Perhaps take the spoon out of your helper’s hand now so that the batter doesn’t get overmixed. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of one or two muffins comes out clean, 12-15 minutes.

Take the muffins out of the pan and place them on a wire rack to cool. While they’re cooling a bit, put 1 T of butter in a heatproof dish, and let it melt in your cooling oven. By the time the butter’s melted, the muffins will be cool enough for your helper to brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Eat with jam, or not.

Berries

posted by Caroline

At home, I am a miser with berries. I haven’t quite gotten over the sticker shock when I pick up a basket of organic berries. But I fork over the money, thinking of the farmers who will use the income to pay their employees a decent wage, feed their children, buy health insurance.

Still, I can’t help but want to dole out the fruit in small doses, save it for special occasions, offer an inexpensive apple instead. Much as I adore summer fruit, much as I hate to see the glorious variety of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries,  ollallaberries, nectarines, apricots, peaches, plums, pluots, aprium, and plumcots give way to four straight months of apples and pears, much as I regret all the torn-out magazine recipes that I didn’t get a chance to try, the frugal New Englander in me is honestly a tiny little bit relieved when the summer bounty is past and we’re back to apples and pears. Pears and apples.

Which is why every summer I make a point of bringing the boys to visit my parents’ home in the Connecticut woods, where they can eat all the berries they like. This year we arrived in late August, between the two raspberry crops, but there were a couple quarts in the freezer which the boys ate, thawed, on their breakfast cereal. Ben picked both blueberries, paraphrasing Blueberries for Sal (“Kerplink! Kerplank! Kerplunk!”) as he did, and blackberries, toughing out the sharp thorns longer than I would have expected, and then proudly showed off his harvest to everyone in the house.




Both boys ate little peaches, some no more than two or three bites, the speckled skin hiding a perfect sweet-tart balance.




And my dad peeled and cut up about forty of them for me to bake into a peach and blackberry crisp:




The boys gathered windfall apples and admired the last small green pears of the season. They tried gooseberries (not a hit), and if we’d stayed one more day, I would have thawed some of July’s strawberries and rhubarb for a pie.

Of course, the price of these fruits is harder to figure. First there is time. My dad planted the orchard before there was a house on this property; I was a kid when I helped him line up the trees, unable to share his vision of an orchard through the tangled brush, but happy enough to play along. The berries have been planted more recently, but some only this year matured enough to produce a decent harvest. And then there is care. The blueberries (transplants from a patch near my late grandfather’s house) need to be netted from the birds, the trees pruned and fenced to protect them from deer, the more delicate plants mulched for winter. And then there is the harvesting, and the processing — freezing some whole, some hulled, others peeled and pitted.

There is no way to pay for all this bounty, except to say thank you, and eat, and say thank you again.

And so when the boys crowded into the kitchen asking for a snack, I’d say, “How about some berries?” and fill their bowls.