Friday, November 30, 2012

French Apple Tart

Because I have an unhealthy obsession with Ina Garten and because I can't stop thinking about dessert, French Apple Tart.
All this rustic charm is even easier than pie, thanks to frozen puff pastry, so you can impress your friends very little effort.
First, peel, core, and slice your apples.
Don't skimp on the butter.
And voila!

French Apple Tart
adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

1 rectangular sheet frozen puff pastry
4 Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup orange marmalade*
1 tbsp dark rum, Calvados, or apple cider**

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Unfold and arrange the puff pastry on the parchment and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.
2. Peel the apples and slice them in half right through the stem. Use a paring knife and a melon baller, remove the cores and stems. Slice the apples cross-wise into even slices about 1/4-inch thick.
3. Pull the pastry out of the fridge and arrange the apple slices in diagonal rows starting at one corner of the pastry and overlapping the slices just slightly all the way to the opposite corner. Continue additional diagonal rows on either side of center until the pastry is covered and you are happy with your design.
4. Sprinkle with the sugar and dot with the diced butter.
5. Bake 45-55 minutes until the pastry is crusty and delicious and the apples are nicely browned. If you see or smell smoke, fear not. The pan juices will start to burn long before the tart itself is in any danger. When the tart is finished baking, use a spatula to loosen the it from the parchment.
6. Heat the marmalade and liquor (or apple cider) in a small sauce pan. Brush the mixture all over the apples and pastry and allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6
*Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics calls for apricot jelly or jam, put through a sieve. Given Roo's peach allergy, apricots are just a little too close for comfort so I prefer orange marmalade. I leave in all the gooey rind pieces because I like the chewiness they add in the tart but if you prefer a smoother glaze, feel free to strain your jam.

**I reduced the liquor by half to make the glaze more palatable for kids but be forewarned, a faint boozy aroma remains. I suggest keeping it a grown-up dessert or sub in the apple cider if you'll be serving to kids. Mine didn't appreciate the booze.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chocolate Truffles and New Traditions

I don't spend much time thinking about Roo's food allergies anymore. At the risk of sounding blasé, I kind of run on autopilot these days. We eat at home most of the time. I know what pastas have egg in them, where to get a safe pizza, which ice cream parlors will open a fresh carton and change gloves, and if all else fails, there's always a stash of Dum Dums in my bag. Restaurants and potlucks still present some challenges but for the most part we just come prepared with a lunchbox full of safe foods and an EpiPen Jr. pack and enjoy the party.

But it never fails. At this time of year I start to grow a little rock garden in my gut. The first pebbles appear at Halloween when Roo hands over his peanut butter cups, Snickers, Butterfinger, and M&M's in exchange for half a bag of Dum Dums. Fortunately he doesn't recognize the injustice in this yet but it's coming.
Thanksgiving brings a few larger stones as Roo munches an egg-free chocolate chip cookie while the rest of us choose between an array of cookies, egg-y pumpkin pie, cheesecake, or downright scandalous pecan pie. Plunk, plunk, plunk.
Then Christmas rolls around - the holiday at our house in which baking traditions are stronger than ever and the boulders start bearing down. Buckeyes become SunButter Buckeyes. Seven Layer Bars become Five Layer Bars. I'm still trying to devise a way to make a decent egg-free lemon square. Fortunately my pal, Stephie, over at Eat Your Heart Out has offered the brilliant suggestion of adding gelatin. We'll be putting that one to the test soon. Thanks, Stephie.

So, I've discovered and devised all kinds of ways to make holiday treats that don't include eggs or nuts, but the truth is no matter how good they are, our egg-free, nut-free versions are not the ones I grew up with. Roo will never get to experience them the way I did. I'm certain that the gravity of this situation weighs much more heavily on my stomach than his, but still.
So that got me thinking, maybe it's time for some new traditions. Not egg-free, nut-free versions of old favorites, but bona fide, tried and true, yummy treats that never included the dreaded contraband to begin with. Enter decadent chocolate truffles.
Chocolate Truffles
adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1 pound awesome, bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp. strong coffee (prepared, not grounds)
1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder, for dusting

1. Pour the chocolate chips into a heat-resistant mixing bowl.
2. Heat the cream in a small saucepan. Bring it just to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the cream sit for 20-30 seconds. Pour the cream through a mesh strainer over the chocolate chips. Stir the mixture slowly until the chocolate is completely melted. Stir in the coffee and vanilla.
3. Refrigerate the chocolate mixture until very firm (about 2 hours).
4. Pour cocoa powder into a shallow bowl. Using a melon-baller or your bare hands, roll the cold chocolate into 1-inch balls, then dip and roll in cocoa powder until fully coated.

You can store them in the fridge for a few weeks but let them come to room temperature before serving if you can wait that long. I usually can't. 

Makes about 60 truffles
If you don't mind a few chocolate-coated children and countertops, this is a perfect recipe to have the kiddos assist. Little hands are just right for rolling balls, just watch the errant tongues that can't seem to resist licking fingers here and there.

Roo is a dark chocolate kind of guy and while the cocoa powder proved a little bitter for the girls (we'll roll some in confectioner's sugar next time), he loved these! So did his mother and father. They're so easy and deep and rich and chocolatey that we'll be trying out several more variations in the coming weeks. So, while these were not a part of our Christmases past, they will definitely be part of our Christmases future. Here's to new traditions!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Carrot, Orange, and Ginger Soup

When multiple 4-year-olds beg to be put to work in the kitchen, there is no better gig than peeling carrots. Don't drift off here, this tidbit might prove particularly useful on Thanksgiving morning, especially if your day goes anything like mine. You'll be dodging a kitchen floor Lego tower, boiling potatoes, simmering cranberries in Zinfandel, separating Brussels Sprouts into individual leaves, rolling out pie crust, and searching for the AWOL box of Panko to a constant warble of "I wanna help."
Hand over a bag of carrots and a peeler and you're free and clear for a half hour, forty minutes if you're lucky. For the record, 4-year-olds are also adept and unhurried at squeezing water out of thawed frozen spinach. File it away.
What to do with those 13 freshly peeled carrots? How about a vat of hearty, bright, gut-warming gingery carrot and orange soup? It works for me.
You just can't beat a good soup this time of year. Here the carrots and orange marry for a humble but optimistic base while the ginger nips at your tongue ever so slightly with each and every sip. It would make a perfect Thanksgiving first course, or save some turkey stock after the big day and whip this up as a healthful recovery lunch.
Carrot, Orange, and Ginger Soup
adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups yellow onion, chopped
2 pounds carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
6 cups turkey stock (or chicken or vegetable stock) - divided
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
salt and pepper to taste
orange slices and zest for garnish

1. Melt the butter over low heat in a large, heavy pot with a lid. Add the onions, cover and cook until soft and lightly golden, about 25 minutes.
2. Add the carrots, ginger, and 4 cups of stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes until the carrots are very tender. Use an immersion blender to puree soup to desired consistency, adding more of the reserved stock as needed. Alternatively, transfer the hot soup in batches to a blender and puree, adding more stock as needed, until you have your desired consistency.
3. Return soup to pot (if you used the blender method) and stir in the orange juice. Season with salt and pepper. Warm over low heat until heated through. Top each serving with an orange slice and a sprinkle of freshly grated orange zest.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Whole Wheat Blackberry and Meyer Lemon Ricotta Scones

Blackberry. Ricotta. Meyer lemons. Uh-huh.
I've been on the prowl for a superstar egg-free scone recipe for some time. Leave it to Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen food blogger extraordinaire and author of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook to have my back. She has a luscious recipe for whole wheat raspberry ricotta scones (no eggs!) that has been calling my name since I stumbled upon it months ago.
Sadly, winter raspberries in Chicago always look like they've been pre-chewed by the time I get to them. And while still far from the plump farmers market jewels we get in August, November grocery store blackberries seem to hold up better to the wear and tear of stock boys and throngs of Thanksgiving shoppers. And the Meyer lemons? They were winking at me across the aisle, glinting their sunny skins right into my eyes, refusing to be ignored.

Whole Wheat Blackberry and Meyer Lemon Ricotta Scones
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar*
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp cold, unsalted butter
1 cup fresh blackberries, lightly chopped into halves and quarters
1 Meyer lemon (or regular lemon), zest and juice
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/3 cup heavy cream

*The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup of sugar, but since I wasn't sprinkling any coarse sugar on top of these babies and I wanted to make sure the kiddos would love them, I upped it ever so slightly. 

1. Preheat the over to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 forks, cut the cold butter into the flour mixture until the biggest chunks are no larger than a small pea. This might take a few minutes. Be patient.
2. Add the chopped blackberries and lemon zest to the flour-butter mixture. Stir to combine.
3. Add the juice from the lemon, ricotta, and heavy cream all at once. Stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Knead the dough a few times with your hands. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat it into a circular mound.
4. Use a sharp knife and a steady hand to cut eight wedges and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
5. Bake about 15 minutes until golden brown and crisp at the edges. Allow scones to cool on the pan for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack. These are best the day they are baked, but can be frozen and reheated in the oven in a pinch.
Ridiculous, right? These are so freakin' good. Looly polished one off before she took her coat off after school. I would have scolded her but the truth is that mine never even made it onto the cooling rack.
 I'm thinking cranberry-blood orange scones for Christmas morning. What do you think?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crunch a Color. The Healthy Eating Game

A few weeks ago my pal, Cortney, gave us this game as a gift and it's been the focal point of our kitchen table ever since. If you have anyone in your house that is under the age of 12, a remotely selective eater, and/or you'd love to see more good fruits and vegetables go into your kids, you need to check out Crunch a Color. Now.
The premise is simple: earn points by eating a rainbow of healthy foods. The execution is brilliant. You can earn more points for eating more nutrient rich fruits and vegetables as well as those that are generally less accessible for kids. Think 5 points for carrots, 10 for cauliflower, 15 for raddicchio. Kids can rack up bonus points for setting and clearing the table, making polite dinner conversation, and our personal favorite - double points for trying a new food.

Now, I don't have a deal with the Crunch a Color folks. Nobody asked me to try this product and I'm definitely not getting any kickbacks for a positive review here. But after years of feeding therapy for Roo, dealing with food allergies, oral delays, food aversion and picky eaters day in and day out I've tried all sorts of incentives, tricks, and games to encourage healthy eating. Crunch a Color is one of the best tools I've found. It works particularly well in a group setting (peer pressure, anyone?) and is just right for my 6 and 4-year-olds.

So far it's inspired the following:
  • An impeccably set dinner table most nights
  • 6 new fruits and vegetables sampled by all, eagerly, I might add.
  • A newly discovered love of arugula (Looly)
  • The wise assertion that jicama is a lot like if a raw potato and an apple had a baby (how true, right?)
  • Far less dissent when protein appears on a plate
  • 1 heated discussion about what constitutes a healthy grain
  • A better understanding of what constitutes a serving size for different bodies
  • 1 request for a third helping of Brussels Sprouts

I must be getting a little obsessive about it because at a party recently I was recounting the ways in which Crunch a Color has changed our family's dinner dynamic. Who wouldn't want to hang out with me at a party, right? Anyway, the guy I was talking to, father of 2 young kids, picked up his phone in the middle of the conversation and ordered the game on the spot. You should too. 

So, Looly has embraced leafy greens. Bean, who's always been a relatively good eater, but generally dislikes meat (except steak), is finishing a small serving of protein at most meals. Roo's eating focus has improved which means far fewer reminders to have another bite. And most fun for me, the troops are clamoring to try new stuff at every opportunity. Jicama, turnips, sweet potatoes, and rutabaga are no longer met with looks of disgust. Instead I'm hearing a whole lot of "How many points is that?"

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Easy Baked Cinnamon Apple Chips

My chip fixation continues.

I know what a process it can be to make exciting, tasty, remotely nutritious party food for one kid with food allergies, but with an entire classroom of allergies to contend with, it can be next to impossible. Just try to come up with a safe, healthful "treat" that a bunch of 6-year-olds with candy and costumes on the brain will actually want to eat. I don't want to pull a muscle patting myself on the back but I contend these baked apple chips do the trick.
I made these for Looly's first grade class Halloween party a couple of weeks ago. The kids took them down and came back for more, which considering we were less than 3 hours away from official trick-or-treating time, was freaking amazing.

Better yet these are so easy to make they're really more of a non-recipe. In fact, it didn't even occur to me to post them here until a few adults at Looly's party were stunned that I had made them, automatically assuming that I must have used a food dehydrator or some other obscure gadget. No, friends. Assuming you have an apple, a mandoline, and an oven at your disposal, the process is embarrassingly simple. 
Baked Cinnamon Apple Chips

4 apples, sliced thin on a mandoline, or if your knife skills are that good, have at it that way.*
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the apple slices in a single layer on the parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and sugar.
2. Bake for about 2 hours, turning apples over after the first hour. After 2 hours, turn the oven off but leave the apples to continue to crisp up until the oven is cool.

*Leave the skin and core intact. It's just prettier that way. Choose any apple variety you like just keep in mind that the juicier the apple the longer it will take to dry out. For reference, I used Granny Smiths and Honey Crisps.
There you have it - allergy-friendly, kid-approved, healthful, seasonally appropriate baked cinnamon apple chips. They'll keep for several days in an airtight container, but my advice is make them on the day of your shindig. Your house will smell amazing and everyone will assume you're a domestic goddess. Save your leftovers for lunchboxes!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Allergy-Friendly Apple Marmalade Cake

Can you smell that cinnamon wafting through your screen? The crust crackles under your teeth and just wait until those warm, gooey apples start melting on your tongue. Grab a cup of tea and a fork. Fall gets no cozier. Trust me on this.
Cupcakes and cake pops are great but when the occasion calls for something slightly more elegant yet still unfussy, this apple marmalade cake is the way to go. It's incredibly allergy-friendly with no nuts, no eggs, no dairy, and no soy but don't worry. You'll never miss them.
I've given this cake as a gift, made it for birthday parties, potlucks, brunches, dessert, Thanksgiving, and yes, we've eaten it for breakfast. Versatility is key. 

To date I've not met a cynic who after trying a single bite, hasn't bought in to my personal philosophy that nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free, whatever-free can't be incredibly, decadently, soul-achingly delicious.
Allergy-Friendly Apple Marmalade Cake
adapted from The Divvies Bakery Cookbook

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 & 1/2 cups canola oil
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup pear puree or applesauce (jarred baby food works)
1/3 cup orange marmalade
5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced small
1 tbsp powdered sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a bundt pan with cooking spray.
2. Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
3. In a separate large mixing bowl, beat the oil and sugar, starting at low speed and slowly increasing to high speed for a total time of about 3 minutes. Add the applesauce and marmalade. Beat one minute more.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until well combined. You'll notice the batter start to clump together, almost like dough. Fold in the diced apples.
5. Pour batter into the sprayed bundt pan and bake for 60-75 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cake to sit for 5-10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack. When cool, dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Serves 12. Or 3 if I'm invited.