Friday, September 30, 2016

Batch of links - Food deliveries

This post has been in the works for a long time, mostly because whenever I think I’m basically done, I come across another relevant link! I wanted to round up links about food delivery, more specifically meal kits, ready-made meals and grocery delivery services. I’ve divided the links in sections below.

First, a short intro on meal kits, for those of you not familiar with them. Here is an article on The Kitchn titled How meal kits made my marriage better, essentially because one spouse was handling the bulk of the cooking while the other spouse, when it was his turn, had trouble planning and executing a recipe. Meal kits eliminate the need to plan and shop, and the pre-portioned ingredients make prep a breeze. Yet you still get a good home-cooked meal out of it! I admit this would be a draw for our family, because I find that meal planning takes a lot of mental energy.

The same was true for Bryan Walsh of Time magazine: like 1/3 of Americans, he didn’t cook, mainly because he was scared of the process, which seemed complex, confusing, and a little scary to him. His wife is a good cook, but he wanted to take more responsibility for housework, so he turned to meal kits to help him learn to cook. “According to the consultancy Technomic, the global meal-kit market topped $1 billion in 2015 and is projected to hit $10 billion by 2020,” so he’s clearly not the only one feeling that way. Even though instructions are clear and often illustrated, though, you still need to actually do the work: chop vegetables, cook chicken to at least 165 °F, etc., so it’s possible to mess up dinner (and at $8 to $12 per person per meal, it isn’t cheap, but it’s still less expensive than a restaurant). Over a year, however, he reports greatly improving his skills and broadening his palate. It even gave him “the confidence to try cooking without training wheels.”

Meal kits
These seem to be the most popular right now. You pick your meals on the website, and the ingredients are sent right to your door. There are too many services to list them all, but here are reviews of Home Chef, Blue Apron, Chef’d, Plated, Peach Dish, Terra’s Kitchen, and Hello Fresh, as well as a round-up of several options to help you choose (all on The Kitchn).

And to vary my sources a bit: a review of Blue Apron by a professional chef, a review of Plated, and a review of six meal kit services, with a clear winner.

Real Simple also did a face-off with 15 national services and distilled it down to six, based on your priority (fastest to prepare, most customizable, etc.); the results are here. For me personally, while just not having to come up with a meal idea and not having to shop for it would already be a weight off my shoulders, I’d certainly prefer to take it one step further and buy ingredients that come fully prepped – that would be Fresh Realm.

There’s also a very complete review of Blue Apron by a long-time user. I found it interesting, but I disagree with one point: he compares the cost of Blue Apron with that of dining out and therefore concludes that he’s saved money. To me, even though you obviously save time because you don’t have to bother with meal planning and grocery shopping, I’d still compare that service to cooking at home, so I’m not sure how cost-efficient a $10/serving meal is.

Some celebrities are getting in on the game, too: Jamie Oliver has teamed up with Hello Fresh, while Martha Stewart has a partnership with Marley Spoon.

In San Antonio, we have a service called Sue Sheff; they use local ingredients as much as possible, and the meals are dietician-approved. I haven’t tried them, but I’d consider it, especially since there’s no subscription fee! As one of the founders said in the July 2016 issue of San Antonio Magazine, “Our customers have turned out to be busy people who value the idea of home cooking using some local ingredients.”

Canadians can try Good Food, and I’m sure there will be more and more options as time goes on.

There are also vegan options, like Purple Carrot (with which Mark Bittman was affiliated) and Beyoncé’s vegan 22 Days Nutrition. Another service, Sun Basket, has vegan as well as paleo and gluten-free options.

There are many reasons why people chose meal kits, such as saving time, remedying lack of inspiration, or trying new foods without being stuck with most of a container in your pantry for the next several years (we’ve all been there). That is, of course, if you don’t mind all the packaging waste and added expense, although it may help curb food waste since you only get as much of any ingredient as you need for the recipe (this does depend a bit on how you shop/cook to begin with).

As for cost, here’s a dollar-to-dollar comparison with grocery shopping, although you should keep in mind that different services will have different fees, including in some cases membership fees.

For more information, here’s a cursory behind-the-scenes look at the businesses, with a more interesting article about Blue Apron specifically.

There’s also Foodstirs that I thought looked interesting, perhaps mostly for people who are intimidated by baking or who want to buy a kit to make cupcakes with their kids and decorate them in a Pinterest-worthy way without too much trouble. The baking mixes don’t contain the “bad” ingredients of most commercial mixes. Personally, though, I wouldn’t spend $25 on a dozen cupcakes that I make myself, even if the toppers are included.

Ready-made meals
There are businesses that deliver ready-made meals: some are essentially restaurants without a store-front, but create meals designed to still look and taste good after a 20-to-30-minute trip in a box; others ship frozen meals to your doorstep.

If you live in Manhattan, David Chang has a food delivery service called Maple this “restaurant” focuses exclusively on delivery, so prices are lower. If you live in San Francisco, Seatlle, New York or Los Angeles, there’s Munchery, which delivers chilled meals to your door. Spoonrocket went under, but Sprig is still operating. A little Googling even led me to vegan meal deliveries in San Antonio.

In addition to these, there are also services that will pick up your favorite dishes from local restaurants and deliver them to your home. For example, Favor lets you order from any restaurant and have food delivered within an hour; this is available in San Antonio, but only in the more central areas of town, not outside the second beltway. Those of you with a mobile device can also try UberEATS, which is basically an Uber driver delivering your food.

In Montreal, try Avec plaisirs, which delivers bento boxes for at least five people – this is great for office workers at lunch time, though perhaps less so for families who lack time to make dinner. Plus, Hungry Box will even deliver an equivalent meal (sandwich and salad) to someone in need – this is also more of a work lunch option.

Four Canadian provinces can also get frozen meals delivered from MamaLuv. This used to be my go-to gift to new parents, but since the company isn’t really allergen-friendly or kosher, I had to come up with other ideas in recent years. I’m not sure there is an American equivalent, at least not one framed specifically as “gifts” for new parents, people going through a rough patch health-wise, etc. Then again, there are so many ready-made meal companies out there that it hardly matters (as long as one can get deliveries without a subscription).

If you have to eat gluten-free, you won’t be left out, thanks to Freshly; the meals are delivered frozen to your door.

For people who like to snack, Graze looks absolutely awesome! There are over a hundred different snacks, and each $11.99 box contains 8 snacks. If I weren’t afraid of getting fat, I’d totally sign up for this. The food looks fantastic! The downside is that you can only enter preferences and someone on their staff chooses snacks for you, and then you can give feedback. If you want to choose your snacks from the start, then Nature Box would be a better match. Click here for more snack delivery companies. Another option is Love with Food, which has a plan curated to be gluten-free

I also like the idea of Try the World, which sends curated boxes of food items from a different country every other month. In Canada, try Food Trip To…, which is basically the same concept, with a bonus playlist (although you can order boxes only when you feel like it, without a subscription).

Grocery deliveries
If you want to get groceries delivered, there are services like Instacart. It’s obviously a little more expensive than going to the store yourself, but it saves you time and can even save you extra expenses: you can get stuff delivered from Costco without being a member! Delivery is actually not that expensive, about $3.99, and the prices are supposed to be the same as what’s in store. The link has a very good pros and cons chart. Plus, some people say having groceries delivered actually saves them money. Another service is Shipt, though you have to pay for an annual membership. (This, to me, makes it less attractive because I only see myself using such a service temporarily, say if I have a newborn or am recovering from an illness. Or on the rare occasion when I run out of something and need it urgently, but my child is napping. That being said, it could make it more attractive to someone with a chronic illness or disability, or perhaps the elderly.) This is assuming that your grocery store doesn’t let you order online already (ours does, though we’ve never used the service).

There are other services like Good Eggs, Foxtrot or Peapod, but you always need to be in certain major cities to have access to those services, so they’re certainly not convenient for everyone.

In their August issue, San Antonio Magazine had a great comparative chart of local grocery delivery services. I can’t find it on their website, but I took the liberty of scanning it and posting it below. The services are broken down according to various criteria, so you can really make an informed decision based on your shopping habits and what you want from such a service. Some of these are available nationally as well.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cherry Poppy Seed Loaf Cake

This isn’t exactly seasonal, because I didn’t use fresh cherries. I could have, at the tail end of the season, but then I thought of how much easier it would be to use frozen cherries instead of having to pit all those cherries myself, and laziness won out. This means I had to increase the baking time, however, but I knew that going in. The Engineer and I both really enjoyed it, but the Little Prince has somehow decided that the only thing that can replace his peanut butter toast in the morning is pancakes, so no dice with him. The recipe is from David Lebovitz’s blog.

For the streusel topping
¼ cup (35 g.) flour
2 Tbsp. old-fashioned (rolled) oats
2 Tbsp. light or dark brown sugar
2 tsp. poppy seeds
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon or cardamom
1 pinch of salt
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, salted or unsalted, at room temperature

For the cake
1 ½ cups (210 g.) flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup (150 g.) granulated sugar
grated zest of 2 large lemons
½ cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola or grapeseed
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup (225 g.) plain lactose-free whole milk yogurt
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ cups (210 g.) pitted cherries, sweet or sour (fresh or frozen)

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan, dust with flour, and tap out any excess.

Make the streusel by mixing the ¼ cup flour, oats, brown sugar, poppy seeds, cinnamon or cardamom and salt in a small bowl. Add the butter and use your fingers to break the butter into small pieces, until the streusel is in small bits. Set aside.

To make the cake, whisk the flour, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt together in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together very well with your fingers, encouraging the lemon oil to saturate the sugar. Whisk in the oil, eggs, yogurt and lemon juice. Add the flour mixture all at once, stirring with a rubber spatula until it’s almost completely incorporated. Fold in half of the cherries and scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Dot the remaining cherries over the top and sprinkle with streusel. Bake the cake until golden brown on top and it feels set in the center, about 45 to 50 minutes. (Since I used frozen cherries, mine took closer to 75 minutes. Just insert a toothpick in the center to check for doneness.)

Let the cake cool on a wire rack. When cool, run a knife along the outside of the cake to help it release from the pan and tip the cake out of the pan.

Rosemary Chicken, Bacon and Avocado Salad

This salad is unbelievably flavorful! The chicken is cooked in bacon grease, which obviously helps a lot, but the rosemary is also a wonderful addition, not to mention the dressing. This was a big hit in our house (even the Little Prince, who did not care for all the elements of the salad, found enough in there to keep him happy). I found the recipe on How Sweet It Is. The proportions below have been doubled from the original recipe, because I wanted leftovers; as always, I only sliced the avocado when I was ready to serve it.

For the salad
8 slices thick-cut bacon
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 Tbsp. finely minced fresh rosemary
6-8 cups spring greens and/or butter lettuce
1 bunch watercress
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 large avocados, thinly sliced

For the rosemary vinaigrette (quantities can be doubled if you want a lot of vinaigrette)
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the bacon. Cook until it's crispy and the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon and place it on a paper towel to drain any excess grease.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Cover with the rosemary. In the same skillet used in the previous step, over medium-high heat, add the chicken and cook until golden and crisp on both sides, about 5 to 6 minutes per side (make sure it is cooked through). Remove the chicken and let sit for a moment while you assemble the salad, then slice it.

Toss the greens with the watercress and the tomatoes. Top with the sliced chicken, the bacon and the avocado.

Whisk together all the ingredients for vinaigrette (I like to shake everything together in a small jar).

Drizzle the salad with the rosemary vinaigrette!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Summer fruit tart, two ways

I had been meaning to try this raspberry custard tart from Tea & Cookies for years, but I never did because the Engineer doesn’t like raspberries. However, as I was looking at it, I realized that the red and golden raspberries, albeit beautiful, are just a suggestion. Tara Austen Weaver actually suggests rhubarb in the spring, maybe caramelized apples or pears in the fall, or other berries in the summer. So I decided to enjoy the peaches, which are fantastic this time of the year here. The crust of this tart contains quinoa flour, which gave it a great flavor (though note that it also contains wheat flour, so it isn’t gluten-free). It should be noted, however, that it won’t keep very long: I made it on a Saturday, and it was great then and still good the next day, but by Monday it was definitely past its prime.

For the crust
6 ½ Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing tart pan
½ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
½ cup quinoa flour
¾ cup unbleached white flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 °F.

Mix butter and sugar until light and add egg. Mix until fully combined. Add flour, quinoa, and baking powder and mix. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.

Butter a 10-inch tart pan (I used a 9-inch tart pan and it turned out fine) with removable bottom. Remove tart dough and press evenly into greased tart pan. Place in fridge again, briefly, to chill.

Using greased tin foil (so that it doesn’t stick to the dough) and pie weights, blind-bake for 20-30 minutes, until the center is beginning to brown. Keep an eye on the edges to make sure they don’t get too brown. Place some extra tinfoil around the edge if they get too dark.

For the custard
1 ½ cups lactose-free whole milk
4 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ cup flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
large pinch of salt

Heat milk in a small pot or saucepan over medium heat until just warm. Set aside.

In a medium bowl add the egg yolks and sugar and whisk until thoroughly combined. Take half a cup of the milk and begin to drizzle into the sugar and egg mixture while you continue to stir. Once the egg mixture has loosened, pour slowly into the remaining milk. Add the flour, cornstarch, and salt, whisk to mix, and heat slowly on medium flame stirring constantly. The mixture may begin to bubble around the edges a bit. Keep the heat low until the pastry cream thickens and continue cooking three minutes. (At this point, you can pour or spoon the pastry cream though a wire mesh strainer set over a clean bowl to remove any lumps, but I didn’t bother.) Allow to cool completely and cover with a piece of clean saran wrap or plastic bag pressed against the pastry cream so there is no air in contact with the surface. Refrigerate until ready to use, at least 30 minutes.

For assembly
5 cups fruit (see note above)
optional: powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

Spread the pastry cream in the fully cooled tart shell. Top with berries. (Raspberries and blackberries will bleed into the pastry cream, so if possible, leave them off until just before serving.)

The other recipe I tried is a raw vegan peach Melba tart with “mascarpone”. So, obviously there are raspberries in this, but only a few per piece, so they are easy to push away for people who don’t want them. The crust didn’t hold together very well, perhaps because it was only refrigerated instead of frozen, but it was still very good! Note that the recipe suggests using sliced pears along with figs or cranberries in the fall.

For the crust
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw walnuts
1/3 cup medjool dates, pitted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt

In a food processor, pulse the nuts into a fine meal. Add the dates, vanilla extract and salt. Pulse until the dates are well incorporated and the mixture begins to clump together. Press into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and refrigerate until needed.

For the mascarpone
1 cup cashews, soaked 2-4 hours or overnight and drained
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp. agave syrup (I used maple syrup)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. lemon extract (turns out I didn’t have any, so I omitted it)
½ tsp. nutritional yeast
½ tsp. white miso

Blend all of the ingredients together until a very smooth, thick texture is achieved (you’ll need a strong blender, such as a Vitamix).

For assembly
5 small peaches
1 cup raspberries

Peel the peaches. (The original recipe recommends the usual spiel of scoring the bottom with an “x” and blanching them in boiling water before peeling them, but I don’t bother. I can’t be the only one who doesn’t have trouble peeling peaches with a regular vegetable peeler, right?) Thinly slice and set aside.

Pour the mascarpone into the prepared tart crust. Add a circle of the peach slices around the edge, slightly overlapping each slice on its neighbor. Fill the center of the tart with fresh raspberries and serve.

Mac & No Cheese

I still try to be flexitarian, meaning that each week, I want some recipes that are either vegan or vegetarian. I no longer rely on a store-bought protein to which I add a side, as I did in the first several weeks, but I still find it harder to come up with vegetarian meal ideas than meat-based dishes. I try to make recipes I have bookmarked, though sometimes I’ll resort to something I’ve already made before (and then I always feel guilty for not keeping better track of my best recipes). One week, I made Caesar white bean burgers, doubling the recipe, and they were fine, but somewhat unremarkable in my memory. I continued to be uninspired and decided to just try a new recipe for vegan mac & cheese, from Serious Eats; it calls for potatoes and cashews to achieve creaminess, as well as miso, garlic and paprika for flavoring.

When I served this, I apologized for serving mac & cheese again, since it seemed so repetitive to me. But then the Engineer actually thought I rarely served it. Yet, looking through previous posts, I must have almost ten recipes for it already, almost half of which are vegan, so I guess it’s all relative… This one was different from the rest, though, and it’s really good! The Engineer actually said that he preferred all these flavors to cheddar mac & cheese, and he had seconds. Since I wanted to have leftovers, I doubled the recipe below and I think I could have added a bit more liquid as well; as is written, the yield is about 4 servings.

6 Tbsp. vegetable shortening or palm oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 ½ tsp. ground paprika
1 tsp. granulated garlic powder
2 tsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. spicy brown or yellow mustard
4 oz. russet potato (about ½ medium), peeled and thinly sliced
4 oz. roasted cashews (about 1 cup)
½ cup water
2 tsp. miso paste
½ cup almond, soy, or rice milk
2 tsp. hot sauce (optional)
kosher salt to taste
1 box (8 oz.) dry elbow macaroni

Melt shortening in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until completely softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add paprika, garlic powder, and tomato paste, and mustard. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and mixture starts to sizzle, about 1 minute.

Add potatoes and cashews and cook, stirring, until cashews are lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Add water, miso paste, and milk. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, until potatoes are fully tender, about 10 minutes.

Transfer mixture to the jar of a high-powered blender (such as a Vitamix or Blendtec). Add hot sauce and a pinch of salt. Start on low speed and slowly increase speed to high. Blend on high speed until completely smooth, about 2 minutes, adding water a few drops at a time as necessary to thin to desired consistency. Season to taste with more salt.

In a large pot, cover macaroni with cold water by 2 inches. Season heavily with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring, and cook, stirring occasionally, until macaroni is just tender (timing will vary by brand). Drain macaroni, reserving half cup of cooking liquid. Return macaroni to pot. Add sauce, set over high heat, and cook, stirring, until macaroni is evenly coated with sauce, about 1 minute, adding extra cooking liquid as necessary to achieve a creamy consistency. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Banana Bread with Honey

When I checked my freezer to see if I had any blueberries left in there, I found instead what seemed like a tree’s worth of bananas. I decided I had to use them up, fast! I made 4-ingredient cookies with bananas, shredded coconut, oats and mini chocolate chips, but though they were decent enough, no one here really liked them. For the Engineer’s birthday, I made a banana-chocolate chip cake with peanut butter frosting, and while that was delicious, I just don’t have good pictures of it (I must have been in another state of mind when I took them, because they are either off-centered or out of focus).

The recipe I will share, though, is banana bread. Yes, another banana bread recipe! This one doesn’t contain refined sugar, only honey. That being said, I actually thought it was too sweet, and I’d use less honey next time. Maybe ½ cup instead of ¾ cup? I didn’t think I’d have this problem, since I am known for my sweet tooth, but there you go. This banana bread was moist and had a great color as well as a pleasant crumb.

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup sugar free applesauce
¾ cup honey (see note above)
2 eggs, beaten
3 mashed overripe bananas

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Lightly grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix together applesauce and honey. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

[Update, 15 April 2021: I just made this with ½ cup honey. While the level of sweetness was fine, the bread itself was darker and less pleasant. I’m not sure what else could have affected the result, as I’ve been mostly brand-loyal on other products. So… not sure I recommend using less honey after all. Maybe it’s just that the taste of the honey is very strong?]

Friday, September 23, 2016

Orange Olive Oil Muffins

I found this recipe on David Lebovitz’s blog, where they were called simply olive oil muffins – that being said, the orange was prominent enough that I’ve decided to name it in the title. The yield was supposed to be 8 muffins, but he used non-standard muffin molds, so that may have thrown things off a bit… I used a standard muffin pan and got 14 muffins (I could have made just 12, but I didn’t want to fill the molds any more than I already had, and it seemed a shame to waste batter). As a result, I baked mine for less time, which worked out perfectly, and the instructions I’m giving you below are what worked for me. These muffins were fantastic! When they were fresh, the top was crisp, the crumb was moist, and the Engineer and I both thought they were the best thing ever. On subsequent days, the tops weren’t as crisp, but the crumb was still moist and possibly more flavorful. I managed to stash 3 in the freezer out of principle, but you may not get around to that! (For the record, the Grand Marnier here does play an important role in the flavor, but I would not say that these were “boozy” in any way. You might want to try another citrus-flavored alcohol like Triple Sec if that’s what you have on hand, or as the original recipe suggests, go in a different direction and add orange marmalade instead. But personally, I would make them exactly that way again next time.)

1 1/3 cups (185 g.) flour
1 cup (200 g.) sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¾ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup whole or low-fat lactose-free milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. freshly grated orange zest
1/3 cup mixed: half fresh orange juice, half Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line a standard muffin pan with paper liners (see note above).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, milk, eggs, orange zest, and orange juice/Grand Marnier mixture.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the olive oil mixture. Stir the ingredients together with a flexible spatula until they are just combined but do not overmix. There may be some minor lumps in the batter, which are fine.

Fill the muffin molds 2/3 to 3/4 full of batter and bake until they just feel set in the center and the tops are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool a bit before serving.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon and Plums

I have been trying a lot of recipes with stone fruit lately, since it’s the season and all. They don’t all pan out, though (a rustic plum tart didn’t work for me, and peach and spice tea muffins, while pretty, were underwhelming). Some were good, but hard to photograph (like cherry basil soda). But then there’s Nigel Slater’s pudding cake of honey, cinnamon and plums, which I found on Orangette. I had actually tried it last year, and had a bit of a disastrous result because I didn’t weigh my plums and cut them into pieces that were too big; my batter overflowed and underbaked. That being said, it was still good enough that I wanted to try it again, especially considering that I had bought golden syrup specifically for it – but then plum season abruptly stopped, so I had to wait until this year. Spoiler: it was worth it! It was an absolute success the second time around.

This cake is a heavy, dark, moist cake that calls for three kinds of sweetener. This may seem like a lot at first glance, but the tastes are very balanced and I’d urge you not to change anything here. (The exception would be if you run out of honey or golden syrup, then you can substitute one for the other, or even use corn syrup as it has the same consistency – though try not to use corn syrup instead of one of these, since it is less flavorful; just use it to make up the difference IF needed). I made this cake in an 8-inch square pan, and although that works well, it makes for somewhat awkward slices (the slice I showed here was much thinner, but prettier, than the thicker slices I actually served). It might look better in a round pan. I’ve fixed below the vocabulary that had misled me in my first attempt, and I do urge you to weigh your plums instead of just counting them (I went slightly under the weight to avoid any spillage). I also leave you with the following note, from Orangette’s Molly Wizenberg: “This cake keeps beautifully at room temperature, and because it’s so incredibly moist, it’s actually best not to cover it too tightly, or else it can get gummy. So long as you eat it within 2 or 3 days, a piece of wax paper pressed against the [surface] is all you really need.”

2 cups (250 g.) all-purpose flour
1 (slightly heaping) tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 (slightly heaping) tsp. ground cinnamon
2 pinches salt
2/3 cup (200 g.) golden syrup
2 Tbsp. honey
9 Tbsp. (125 g.) unsalted butter or margarine
¾ cup (125 g.) lightly packed brown sugar or light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup lactose-free milk
5 (350 g.) ripe plums, pitted and sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish, and line it with parchment paper, leaving a bit of overhang to lift out the cake later. There’s no need to grease the parchment.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk well.

In a saucepan, warm the golden syrup, honey, and butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When the butter is melted, stir in the brown or muscovado sugar. Remove the pan from the heat, and set aside to cool for a minute or two.

Break the eggs into a medium bowl, add the milk, and whisk to mix.

Pour the golden syrup mixture into the flour mixture, and stir with a sturdy spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick at this point. Pour in the egg mixture, and continue to stir – it will resist incorporation and look weird at first – until you have a loose, almost sloppy batter without any traces of flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and then arrange the plums on top. (They will sink.) Bake for 35 minutes; then place a piece of foil loosely over the top of the cake, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more. The cake should look mostly set at this point, but it might still look the slightest bit soft in the center. That’s okay. Remove the piece of foil, turn off the oven, and leave the cake in there for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack. Cool for 20 minutes, then loosen the cake from the pan and lift it out onto the rack. Cool completely before slicing.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Summer outings 2016

I often start writing posts and then let them languish on my hard drive without publishing them, and I think that’s what happened here. I was hoping to have another outing to add to the list, but we seem to have skipped August and might skip September as well, so there’s no point in holding off any longer.

Our June outing was a visit to Philadelphia on our way north. The road trip itself yielded a few surprises: on the first day, I tasted python (made into jerky – tastes like turkey) as well as alligator nuggets (tastes like chicken, but a bit fishier and chewier). We also had a dinner at Logan’s Roadhouse, where it turns out they have a surprisingly good house salad (I had it with grilled chicken and balsamic vinaigrette). My favorite chain, though, was still Panera Bread, where this time I tried a half strawberry poppy seed salad (with grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, blueberries and pineapple) with a half turkey avocado BLT (pictured below). Divine! We also fell for the charm of small-town Virginia: Woodstock had the best playground ever, while Radford had an unexpectedly great restaurant called River City Grill. I had the pesto primavera with chicken, and it exceeded all my expectations.

We only had a day in Philadelphia, and we got caught in the rain for part of it, so we didn’t see everything there is to see (can one ever achieve such a thing, though?). The first thing we noticed is that it takes some balls to drive in Philadelphia – traffic patterns and parking spots are insane! What I most wanted to see was the Liberty Bell, so that’s what we did first. This had been a long time coming for me, because of a failed class trip over 20 years ago (the point of which had been to see the Liberty Bell, and we ended up running out of time because a classmate whose name I’ll keep to myself forgot her jacket at a McDonald’s and we had to go back for it). We also had a cursory visit of Independence National Historical Park, across the street from the Liberty Bell. The park includes Old City Hall, Independence Hall, Congress Hall, Library Hall and Philosophical Hall. As it turns out, tickets to go into Independence Hall must be obtained at the visitor center a block away, which we only found out after having gone through security and visiting the exterior of the buildings – at that point, we didn’t want to go through all that again. We did go into Congress Hall, and we saw one of the (26 known remaining) originals of the Declaration of Independence.

We had lunch at Rouge, which is known for its burgers. The place was slightly fancier than we would have wished (seeing as how we came in with a toddler and a stroller, all of us wet from the downpour), but the staff was very welcoming and accommodating. The burger was great, too, with caramelized onions and gruyere and very good fries (Perhaps I would make the patty flatter, but that’s another story). We also had cupcakes at Sweet Freedom Bakery, which is vegan, gluten-free and allergy-friendly. We actually tried four different cupcakes: berry, vanilla, chocolate and faux-stess. I really liked the flavor of the berry, but the chocolate was my favorite (although I only had one bite, because the Little Prince didn’t want to share it). The Engineer preferred vanilla. What is interesting is that the frostings are all different – one might be coconut cream, another might be coconut-free. From the perspective of a lactose-free cook, I find frostings to be the most challenging, so I’m pleasantly surprised that a bakery would go beyond creating one frosting recipe and adapting it. That being said, the frosting on the berry cupcakes was a bit pasty for my taste, but the others were great.

We topped it off with a quick look at the Rocky statue and the Rocky steps, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A good time was had by all.

As an outing in Quebec, in July, my mother and I took the Little Prince to Miler Zoo, which is near my grandmother’s house. Basically, picture something like the Austin Zoo or Montreal’s Ecomuseum, albeit on a smaller scale. They are open from late May until (Canadian) Thanksgiving, and by appointment during the winter (though since all the wheelchair- and stroller-friendly paths are really dirt trails, they do close in case of heavy rain). All the animals there have been rescued: there are farm animals (with a pig, goats and chickens roaming free), including exotics like ostriches and llamas, as well as a zebra-donkey hybrid; there are also local wildlife specimens like deer, raccoons, lynxes, bears, and wolves, in addition to monkeys, lions, a tigress and kangaroos. I wouldn’t recommend driving all the way out there from Montreal, but if you’re in the general Quebec City area, it’s worth a day-trip!

Once in Montreal, we made the time to have lunch with our friends at the reopened Zero 8 restaurant (which is now also mustard-free, so it could be called Zero 9, really). Everything was just as good as I remembered, and the place also seemed more child-friendly than I remembered (I don’t know if this was due to the new location, to eating lunch instead of dinner or to the fact that I now eat with a child). The Journal de Montréal published an article about them last month, and when they discuss crowd-funding (point 7), there’s a picture of my “brick” on the wall. :)

We also made a sort of pilgrimage to Copoli, which has relocated. This place is known for its BIG burgers (the Engineer ate one by himself, but I split one with the Little Prince, who was overjoyed with the size of things). In all seriousness, it’s not the best burgers in town, but probably some of the most impressive (I would say the same about Chris Madrid’s in San Antonio.)

For our anniversary, the Engineer and I went to Toqué!, where we had a fantastic meal. Even for a special occasion, it’s a bit more than we like to spend, so we went for lunch instead of dinner (bonus: it’s easier to get a reservation then, too). I started with the duck tartare and then had the beef, and both were fantastic. There was no lactose-free dessert that day, so I had something with chocolate. That was one of our best meals ever, I think. We also went to Garde Manger and, although it was quite a nice meal, we felt a bit let down. I think we had preferred Beaver Hall the previous year.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Apple Galette with Maple Whipped Cream

I’ve got one last recipe to share from what I made over the summer with lactose-free cream. It’s Bon Appétit’s salted-butter apple galette with maple whipped cream. I didn’t have salted butter, so I used some butter and added fleur de sel; that being said, you could also use vegan margarine instead of butter and skip the browning step, though it wouldn’t be as good. I used 1 ½ cups of cream instead of 2 cups and still had more than I needed, so I recommend adjusting those quantities to taste. Also, I made the dough as directed, but the amount was insufficient: I couldn’t have rolled it out any thinner than I did, but it was smaller than stated and I couldn’t fit all my apples in it (There are 2 apples in that picture instead of the 3 it would have taken to make up the full pound). Therefore, I suggest doubling the amounts (since it was delicious), and that’s what I’m writing below. Also, I should have taken that out of the oven 5 minutes sooner, so I’m adjusting the baking times accordingly. This was absolutely delicious!

For the dough
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
12 Tbsp. (1 ½ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large eggs, beaten to blend

Whisk sugar, salt, and 2 cups flour in a medium bowl. Add butter and rub in with your fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces remaining. Drizzle egg over butter mixture and mix gently with a fork until dough just comes together. (I did all this in the food processor.)

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth (a few dry spots are okay). Form dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.

For the tart
¼ cup (½ stick) salted butter (see note above)
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
all-purpose flour (for dusting)
1 lb. baking apples (such as Pink Lady; about 2 large), scrubbed, sliced ⅛” thick
3 Tbsp. dark muscovado or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar (I used raw sugar)
2 cups lactose-free cream (see note above)
2 Tbsp. maple syrup

Place a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 375 °F. Place butter in a small saucepan and scrape in vanilla seeds; add pod. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns (be careful not to burn), 5–8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and remove pod.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a rough 14x10” rectangle about ⅛” thick (alternatively, roll out into a 12” round). Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Arrange apples on top, overlapping and leaving a 1½” border. Brush apples with brown butter and sprinkle with muscovado sugar. Lift edges of dough over apples, tucking and overlapping as needed to keep rectangular shape.

Beat egg with 1 tsp. water in a small bowl and brush crust with egg wash. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake, rotating once, until apples are soft and juicy and crust is golden brown, 35–50 minutes. Let cool slightly on baking sheet before slicing.

Beat cream in a medium bowl to medium-soft peaks. Fold in maple syrup and serve alongside galette.