Sunday, July 25, 2010

in the night kitchen

A few years ago, I was introduced to whoopie pie while dining at Seattle gastro pub, Quinn’s.  Our server explained it as two cake-like chocolate cookies filled with marshmallow cream, essentially, a cake sandwich.  Hmmm… A cake sandwich sounded oddly delicious.  The ‘pie’ arrived wrapped in foil, like a miniature flying saucer beamed from the kitchen to our table, and tasted every bit as good as something bad for you should. 

A handful of local cafes have since added the dessert to their baked goods cases.  Not a bad idea considering the recent New York Times article claiming whoopie pies are the next big thing.  The pies have roots in Pennsylvania Dutch Country and according to the article,  Amish women were the first to bake the treats.  They would tuck them into their husbands’ lunch pails and when discovered, the hard-working farmers would shout, "Whoopie!” 

Not long ago, while waiting for my daily cappuccino at Volunteer Park Cafe, I noticed a new poster near the espresso counter .  The distinctive watercolor artwork was at once recognizable as that of local illustrator, Jessie Oleson, of Cakespy.  Her cute and quirky illustrations are often based on animated cupcakes and pastries. 

The illustration depicted what appeared to be two whoopie pies, one with a dagger, the other with brass knuckles, preparing to duke it out.  Across the top, in loopy white letters, the poster read, ‘First Annual Whoopie Pie Bake-Off… Come. Eat. Vote for the best.’  The event would be held at Oddfellows Cafe, with prizes awarded for ‘Best Classic’, ‘Most Original', ‘Crowd Favorite’ and ‘Whoopie Pie Champion’.  Intrigued, I consulted my social calendar only to discover the bake-off would take place the very next morning. 

On a whim, I emailed the organizer, Tallulah Anderson, to inquire whether it was still possible to submit an entry.  The time was 10:30 pm.  Thirty minutes later came her reply, “You are certainly not too late!”  The absurdity of this response was not lost on me, it was right in line with my intention of entering a whoopie pie bake-off just 12 hours before it was to begin. 

Time was ticking.  The truth was, I had never before attempted or remotely considered baking whoopie pies.  Rather than mess with classic whoopie pie, I decided to opt for originality.  By tweaking an existing recipe, I would create pumpkin bourbon whoopie pies with maple creme filling.  What’s more original than pumpkin in July?  As a nod to the maple syrup in the filling, I preemptively dubbed my creation, ‘The Vermont’.
A quick online search revealed the necessity of marshmallow creme, a fluffy white concoction closely resembling spackle, loaded with chemicals and high fructose corn syrup.   My affable husband humored (enabled) my endeavor by driving to the nearest market for a jar of the stuff.  Upon his return, he kissed me good night and wished me good luck.  Unlike my whoopie pies, he managed to turn into a pumpkin before midnight.

The cakes were a snap to make.  Though a tad large, I managed to eke out the exact number needed for the contest.  My test cake was sweet, moist and fragrant.  The bourbon lent a butterscotchy flavor and by omitting the usual spices, I managed to tone down the autumnal quality.  The filling’s maple flavor was spot on but no amount of marshmallow creme or butter would thicken it.  Once assembled, the weight of the cakes pushed much of the maple creme back out again.  The end result was a delicious mess but would have to do.  What they lacked in appearance, they made up for in flavor and originality.  I tidied up and crawled into bed, with visions of whoopie pies dancing in my head.  
IMG_1591 IMG_1592IMG_1588 IMG_1586 
Never skip breakfast on the morning of a whoopie pie tasting.  Never.  I say this as the voice of experience. 

I arrived at Oddfellows Cafe and placed my entry amongst the others on the table.  Clearly, these people took their bake-offs seriously.  There were whoopie pies of all sizes, colors and flavors.  Some were simple, others adorned.  The prettiest were petite honey colored cakes with pink filling, garnished with fresh blackberries and rosemary.  Tres adorable.  The question was, would they taste as good as they looked?  The table continued to fill with more entries until, at last, the judging began.

After the panel of judges filled large oval dinner plates with samples of every whoopie pie, the crowd descended.  I grabbed a plate and wondered whether I should pick and choose or go for the gusto.  If I opted for the former, I might offend someone.  For the latter, I would need a bigger plate.  In consideration of my fellow bakers I circled the table mounding my pint size paper plate with each and every entry, 24 to be precise.  The result was miniature mountain, teetering precariously with every step I took.

Fortunately for me, my friends Conor and baby Hazel were more than willing to assist me in scaling Mt. Whoopie.  Conor used my insights as his sounding board, bypassing the samples I vetoed.  At the time, I was flattered.  In retrospect, it doesn’t seem entirely fair…

Word to the wise:  Consuming 24 bites of whoopie pie on an empty stomach, even if they are small bites… even if you cut them in half and give your friend the bigger half… is never a good course of action.  The first 1o bites were pleasurable.  The pretty one with the blackberry garnish tasted like sweet tarts and a few original pies really stood out.  The next five bites were hazy.  It was around that time when everything started to taste like mint.  The last nine bites required a considerable measure of willpower and endurance.  The racing of my heart and accompanying wooziness signaled that this cake loving lady had met her match.  A nice big juicy steak never sounded so good.
Heather Earnhardt of Volunteer Park Cafe  won the awards for ‘Most Original’ and ‘Whoopie Pie Champion’.  Her sophisticated interpretation resembled chocolate cake crossed with a brownie, balanced by silky cream filling laced with sweet, tart raspberries.  The award for ‘Best Classic’ went to seven-year-old, Eliza Dworkin, who teamed up with her neighbor, Robin Whel-Martin, to create the winning entry.  Audrey McManus took the prize for ‘Crowd Favorite’ with her Nana Cuoco’s authentic recipe.

Pumpkin is a hard sell in July.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

queen of tarts

the queen of hearts she made some tarts, all on a summer’s day

The tart, with its golden shell framing an endless array of fillings, is a blank canvas where good looks and deliciousness convene.  Its varied contents adapt with the seasons, highlighting berries, citrus and stone fruits in spring and summer; apples and pears come fall and winter.  Shallow crust effortlessly cradles unctuous ganache, creamy custard or any variety of nut fillings.  In lieu of dessert, savory tarts make for a satisfying lunch or light dinner, particularly when accompanied by a simple garden salad.

When I was eight years old, I received a copy of ‘The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook’, now sandwiched between a tome titled ‘Birthday Cakes’ and a paperback on Dutch cooking, compliments of my Dutch mother-in-law.  The first recipe I settled on was one for Tantalizing Raspberry Tarts.  Rather than the suggested frozen raspberries, I substituted, relying on the abundance of blueberries growing near my childhood home, in Sitka, Alaska

Unlike the bloated versions found throughout the ‘lower 48’, Alaskan blueberries are only slightly larger than peas.  What they lack in size, they make up for in flavor.  Their skin is thicker; their taste, at once wild and sweet, tart and tannic.  Inky blue juice stains tongues and fingers as equal numbers are deposited amongst mouths and pails.  As children, we rubbed the berries across our cheeks to fashion Indian war paint, in the same forests where Tlinget tribes battled Russian invaders

While mouthwatering Alaskan blueberries put the ‘tantalizing’  in my tart recipe, the crust was a different story.  In my naiveté, I reasoned that, because it was dough, I should knead it.  It was years before I learned that pastry should be handled minimally.  Butter must remain cold in order to create pockets of air during baking.  This is where the term flaky comes into play. 

Fast forward fifteen years.  Amidst wedding plans, I stumbled upon ‘The Naked Chef’, the first cookbook from culinary wonder, Jamie Oliver.  As I frequently explained, to raised brows, “The food is naked, not the chef”.  Now a household name, the chef has since shed his unclothed moniker while maintaining a staunch commitment to cooking simply with fresh, seasonal ingredients.  

Thumbing through the pages of my new cookbook, a luscious chocolate tart seemingly jumped off the page, beckoning me to put an end to my tart baking hiatus.  In order to proceed, I needed the proper pan.  At Sur la Table, I invested in a basic 9” steel tart pan with trademark fluted edges and removable bottom. 

True to form, Jamie Oliver’s recipe was simple and straightforward.  A foolproof sweet pastry crust housed rich, silky filling made from best-quality bittersweet chocolate, cream and butter.  My husband-to-be was visibly moved as he sunk his teeth into the first bite.  More than dessert, the tart represented a foundation for good things to come:  marriage, a baby, a house, and of course, no shortage of baked goods.IMG_1263
Buoyed by my initial success, I baked a  lemon lime cream tart, from the same cookbook, with equally stellar results.  Countless variations have graced my tart pans in the wake of the simple chocolate tart that laid the foundation.  I came up with the following recipe for my dad’s birthday, knowing he would prefer a tart over cake, any day of the week.  It is really three recipes rolled into one.  The idea for the berries came from the June issue of Bon Appetit, the crust is based on a recipe from my beloved ‘Tartine’ cookbook and for the filling, I used the same lemon lime cream recipe, borrowed from the good old ‘Naked Chef’. 

lemon lime cream tart with blackberries and blueberries

yields 8 – 10 servings


sweet tart dough
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 large egg, room temperature

egg wash
1 large egg
pinch salt

3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
zest of 3 limes

1 pint blackberries
1 pint blackberries 
2 tablespoons black or red currant jelly




Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar and salt, mixing on medium speed until smooth.  Add egg and mix until smooth.  Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add flour, all at once, and mix on low just until incorporated.  Shape dough into two equal balls, and shape each ball into 1/2” thick disks.  Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill two hours or overnight.

To line a 9” tart pan, place chilled dough disk on a lightly floured surface (i.e. a silicone mat) and roll to 1/8” thick, rolling from center toward edges, in all directions.  Lift and rotate dough a quarter turn after every few strokes, dusting underneath with flour, as necessary, to discourage sticking.  Work quickly to prevent dough from becoming warm.  If dough has warmed, transfer to the refrigerator to firm up for a few minutes. 

Gently transfer dough to the tart pan, easing it into the bottom and sides and pressing carefully into place.  Do not stretch dough or side will shrink during baking.  Patch tears with extra dough, pressing firmly to adhere.  Trim dough to level with top of the pan using a sharp knife.  Place tart shell in freezer for about 15 minutes or until firm.  Freeze any scraps and the extra disk for future use.  Frozen dough keeps for up to three weeks.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Once the shell is firm, use a fork or the tip of a knife to dock (make small holes in) the bottom of the tart shell, 2” apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly colored, dry and opaque.  Check during baking and rotate pans as needed, for even color.  Beat egg with salt in a small bowl and lightly brush the bottom and sides of the shell with egg glaze, about two minutes before desired color is reached.  Return shells to oven and bake until lightly colored and egg glaze has set.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk together sugar and eggs in a bowl.  When well mixed, slowly stir in cream, juices and zest.  Place the cooked tart shell on a rimmed baking sheet.  To reduce spillage, position the pan on the oven rack before pouring filling into the shell.  Bake 35-40 minutes or until the filling is set but still semi-wobbly in the center.  After cooling for one hour, the filling will set to a perfect consistency, soft and smooth.  Make sure to cool before cutting to avoid a gooey mess. 

Once tart has cooled, remove sides from tart pan, using a small, sharp knife to loosen, if needed.  Place crust on a plate.  Carefully rinse blueberries and blackberries and gently pat dry with paper towels.  Arrange blackberries in two concentric circles, about 1” from inside edge of crust.   Mound blueberries in center of tart.  If there are extra blueberries, add another circle (see photo, above) around blackberries. 

In a small saucepan, warm jelly until melted.  Whisk, adding water if too thick.  Use a pastry brush to brush jelly over berries, careful to avoid dripping jelly on the filling.

Tart can be served at room temperature or chilled, according to preference.  Serve unaccompanied or with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Lemon lime cream filling adapted from ‘The Naked Chef’, by Jamie Oliver.  Sweet crust adapted from the ‘Tartine’ cookbook, by Elizabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

lovely to look at, lovely to eat


Before migrating to urban sprawl, I spent several years living in downtown Seattle, three blocks from the Pike Place Market.  Canvas tote in hand, I would shop the French way, daily gathering ingredients for dinner.  When inspiration proved elusive,  I relied on the advice of Frank Genzale Jr., my produce man and owner of Frank’s Quality Produce

Visits to the market are less frequent than they used to be; more of a weekly affair than a daily one.  “What’s for dinner?” Frank will invariably ask as I hand over my list.  He systematically gathers items, keeping a mental tally as he goes.  With his consummate knowledge of the weight of every rutabaga, blackberry and fava bean, the man rarely relies on the scale yet consistently offers competitive prices.

A born salesman, Frank never misses the opportunity to push seasonal, local produce.  “I’ve got baby cauliflower, today,” he’ll say. 
“But I haven’t a clue what I would do with them,” I balk.
“Just toss ‘em in a hot pan with a little garlic, sea salt and olive oil… delicious.” 
With no intention of veering off my list, I politely smile and counter, “Maybe tomorrow?”

It was Frank who introduced me to fresh figs.  At the time, figs conjured up unpleasant memories of brown gooey paste encased in a soft cake-like shell, masquerading as a cookie.  Fig bars are the unclassified specimens of the cookie world; not quite dessert yet not exactly good for you.  They were the only thing resembling a cookie that regularly made it into my lunchbox.  Fresh figs sounded exotic in comparison.  Intrigued but skeptical, I waivered as Frank touted their delicate sweetness and versatility.  Still doubtful, I employed my usual stall tactics but Frank went in for the kill.  “Last of the season,” he said, warning they would be gone tomorrow.  I caved.

On the way home, I cast a sideways glance at my impulse purchase.  Nestled in their green carton, the fragile figs’ juicy flesh pressed against dark skin, like tiny purple water balloons.  Frank suggested pairing them with good quality prosciutto.  He claimed the salty cured meat would bring out their sweetness.  In the same breath, he added that his luscious, honey-sweet Tuscan melons were equally stellar with aforementioned ham. 

The three block walk felt much farther while toting a four-pound melon in my canvas bag.  Sidled up next to the melon was a flat white package containing paper thin slices of prosciutto di Parma, purchased from DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine. 

At home, I gently lifted the figs from their box, cradling each one as if it were a robin’s precious egg.   Cleopatra’s last meal came to mind I as cut into that first fig, marveling at its rosy pink flesh, speckled with white seeds in Rorschach-like patterns.  Ribbons of prosciutto added a dimension of texture, the salty meat coaxing out the subtly sweet fragrance of the fruit.

Over the years, I have come to revere fresh figs as a much anticipated seasonal treat.  The following recipe, if you can call it that, is simple to prepare yet visually stunning.

fresh figs with chevre, mint and prosciutto

yields 12 pieces


1 pint (about 12)  fresh mission figs (skin should be bulging but not broken and slightly softer than a ripe peach)
1 – 4 oz. plain chevre at room temperature (i.e. Laura Chenel)
4 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma
1 small bunch fresh mint
Maldon sea salt or fleur de sel


Gently rinse figs and pat dry.  Set aside.  Open goat cheese package and have a small spoon at the ready.  Slice or tear prosciutto into 12 one inch wide ribbons.  Wash and pat dry mint.  Pluck 12 mint leaves for garnish.  

With a paring knife, remove the figs’ tough tips.  Take a thin slice off the bottom, giving the figs a flat surface as stability for serving.  Cut figs crosswise, about halfway down, creating four points and a cavity in the center for the cheese.  

Using a teaspoon, fill center of each fig with chevre, 1-3 teaspoons depending on size of fig.  Sprinkle a pinch of Maldon or other coarse salt over chevre.  Place prosciutto in the center or each fig.  Garnish with mint leaf.

For best flavor, serve at room temperature or slightly cooler, not straight from the refrigerator. 

Recipe adapted from ‘The French Market’ by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde

Monday, July 12, 2010

crispy prosciutto wrapped bleu cheese dates with balsamic reduction

My grandparents made it a yearly tradition to send our family a box of dates at Christmas.  None too keen on dried fruit, mom would muster a gracious smile and set them aside.  A few months later, someone would inevitably happen across that box, lifting its lid to discover petrified dates within, their brown skins curled and flesh turned whitish as the sugars crystallized.  Mom would deem them inedible and chuck the box into the waste bin.    

Year after year, those dates never failed to arrive, all gussied up in festive holiday wrapping, deceptively resembling a box of chocolates or candies.  One glance at the return label and we knew better.  Dates they were.  Sometimes pitted, occasionally stuffed or perhaps wrapped in bright red and green foil; but always dates.

Each year, I remained hopeful as I bit into one of the oblong brown fruits, willing it to transform into a tasty morsel worthy of its fancy packaging.   Without fail, the waxy skin would catch in my throat like a popcorn hull, its sticky texture and overwhelming sweetness, gag inducing.  Duped yet again, I cursed those enticing shiny foil wrappers. 

It’s a wonder I can eat a date today.  Those early memories made a rather convincing case against further consumption.  In fact, dates never crossed my mind until I discovered them on a menu in San Francisco.  My husband and I were enjoying a long weekend, sans child, when we dined at Bar Tartine, run by the talented husband and wife team who also operate the immensely popular Tartine bakery, just down the street.  

There they were at the top of  the menu: bleu cheese stuffed dates.  Though initially deterred, I was swayed by local Pt. Reyes bleu cheese and decided to give them a chance.  These were not my Grandmother’s dates.  The tangy bleu cut the sweetness of the plump, moist dates.  With their slightly exotic flavor and a texture that bore little resemblance to the shriveled specimens of my youth, I actually liked them.

On the same getaway, we wandered into Gitane, a quirky little Iberian restaurant, tucked away on a tiny San Francisco street.  Famished from exploring the city on foot, we hoped to share a few small plates, washed down with Spanish wine.  First to catch my eye were ‘bacon bonbons’, essentially bacon wrapped prunes stuffed with chevre,  in a port glaze.  The bonbons arrived sizzling hot, slightly burning the tip of my tongue as I impatiently popped one into my mouth.  When melded with musky port, the sugars in the fruit caramelized, contrasted by smoky bacon and the bright tang of chevre.  I visibly swooned.

Back home, I got to work recreating the dates subsituting French bleu cheese and prosciutto for the chevre and bacon.  The result was delicious.  On another occasion, I seared the prosciutto, allowing time for the bleu cheese to melt and become a bit gooey.  Even better.  The final touch- a balsamic reduction, added to the pan after searing and drizzled over the dates before serving- Perfection.

crispy prosciutto wrapped bleu cheese dates with balsamic reduction

yields 4 – 6 appetizer portions


12 Medjool dates
4-6 oz thinly sliced good quality prosciutto di parma
4 oz creamy French bleu cheese, such as Bleu d’Auvergne, Fourme d’Ambert or Bleu de Basque
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs, for garnish


Make a lengthwise incision in each date and remove the pits, leaving a 3/4” opening for cheese.  Generously fill each date with bleu cheese, pressing date around cheese to close.  Cut prosciutto slices into 12 – 1” strips.  These will vary in length, based on the size of the slices.  Wrap one strip around each date.  Place dates on a plate and set aside.

In a small pan, heat balsamic vinegar on medium-low, simmering until it thickens and about half the liquid is reduced, 5-10 minutes.

In another skillet, on medium heat, sear the prosciutto wrapped dates, turning to brown evenly.  Once browned, pour in the balsamic reduction and stir to coat.  Remove from heat and place dates on a serving dish.  Use a spoon to drizzle with remaining balsamic vinegar, in pan.  Garnish with herbs.  Rosemary sprigs may be used as rustic hors d’oeuvres toothpicks, if desired.

Serve at once.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

nutritious and delicious

“No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks… school’s out for summer” –Alice Cooper  

On an evening run, I breathe in the fragrance of freshly cut grass mingled with the heady perfume of watercolor blossoms dripping from every branch.  Warmed by the sun, stately old homes release the aroma of their aged wood.  The hum of insects fills sleepy air, heavy with warm sunshine and the intoxicating scent of summertime.   
For my daughter, summer represents the luxury of basking in a three-month sojourn from the structure of the school year.  Like most children, she is grateful for a few months to put her studies aside.  I am thankful just to be relieved of  the dreaded chore of packing lunches.  This banal task is surely met with universal disdain.  Creativity gets you nowhere.  That PBJ on whole wheat, cut out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter and packed in an ec0-friendly reusable container can never compete with orange cheesy puffs, ‘real’ fruit snacks or creme filled chocolate cookies.  Faced with this lose-lose scenario, one can either succumb to the lure of convenient pre-packaged foods or stick to their guns and risk being labeled the ‘health-nut parent who packs bo-ring lunches’.  I have long since resigned to the latter. 
Back when I was in school, my mom prepared similarly wholesome lunches.  One year, during an awards ceremony, the teachers came up with a handful of tongue-in-cheek categories meant for laughs.  Mom was none too amused when I won the award for ‘student most likely to give their lunch away’.  She felt she was being penalized for her efforts to properly nourish her child.  The parents of the kids who swapped their lunches with me, on the other hand, were off the hook.

When my daughter began eating solids, our household consumed about 25% organic produce and dairy.  Initially, buying organic stemmed from a desire to avoid pesticides.   Over time, our vernacular has shifted to include local and seasonal produce,  free-range and grass-fed meats and fish that is wild, not farmed.  We now seek out minimally processed foods, avoiding hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, and foods with a high sodium or sugar content.  As a result, we cook a greater percentage of our food rather than eating take out or instant meals.  This not only saves money but also increases awareness about what actually goes into our bodies.  By omitting additives, we are noticeably healthier and more energetic.  Food is so much better when you feel as good after you eat it as you felt while you were eating it.  

As vital as it is to eat mindfully, there should be plenty of room for exceptions.  Dessert must remain just that.  Whole wheat flour is delicious in muffins, dinner rolls and pizza dough, but far less appetizing in delicate pastries, cakes and cookies, which all demand refined flour.  Brunch is not complete without salty slices of crisp bacon and holiday sugar cookies’ allure is their brightly hued frosting.  Guidelines are just that.  They are not concrete principles.  The key is moderation.  Dining out or at the homes of others offers the opportunity to sit back and enjoy a change of pace.
Nutritious food is obviously good for you; but it should taste good too.  I wanted to put this belief into action when my turn came to provide snacks for my daughter’s kindergarten class.  My hope was to awaken their petite palates with innovative yet accessible options. 

The class consumes two snacks each day: protein and fruits or veggies in the morning and carbohydrates in the afternoon.  In the course of one week, I would provide  280 snacks for twenty hungry kindergarteners.  It was the last month of the school year and with eight months of preceding snacks, questionable as to whether originality was viable…   
Photo0018My intentions were threefold:  please the majority, provide one homemade snack each day and keep it wholesome.  I just may have succeeded:  In the words of my daughter, “Mom, your snacks were a big hit!”

The following three recipes resulted…

organic whole wheat banana muffins

When my daughter, Annabelle, was in preschool, I hosted play dates in which her friends and their mothers would jointly attend.  On one such occasion, our guests brought a dainty loaf of partially thawed whole wheat banana bread, hastily extracted from the freezer on their way out the door.   

These friends explained that baking this bread was their weekly tradition.  They insisted it was equally irresistible straight from the freezer, usually devoured before it had time to thaw.  I cut thick pieces and sunk my teeth into a slightly frozen slice. With the allure of an ice cream sandwich, its gooey caramelized exterior gave way to a frosty banana laced center.  Nothing about the bread screamed whole grain or healthy, yet it was surprisingly so.   

Lucky enough to secure the recipe, I proceeded to make several versions before settling on the following recipe.  It is foolproof and makes equally good bread or muffins by simply adjusting the cooking time.  It freezes well, travels well, and is in high demand when friends come to play, preferably eaten straight from the freezer.

For that je ne sais quoi, I occasionally add chopped dark chocolate covered candied ginger instead of the usual dark chocolate chips.

When my turn came to provide weekly snack for Annabelle’s kindergarten class, this recipe was a no-brainer.  I omitted the chocolate with the teacher’s sanity in mind and unearthed my miniature muffin tins, compliments of mom.

The result was approximately 72 bitty banana gems.  Thanks to their freezer friendliness, I knocked out three morning snacks in one fell swoop.

organic whole wheat banana bread

yields 5-6 dozen miniature muffins or 6 petite loaves 


7 organic ripe bananas, mashed with a potato masher or fork
3/4 C melted organic butter
3 organic eggs, beaten with fork
1 1/2 C dark brown sugar
generous splash of good vanilla
3 C organic whole wheat pastry flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 C organic unbleached wheat flour (Gold Medal)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 – 12 oz. bag chocolate chips (mini, dark, etc…), optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the first 5 ingredients.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients.  Combine the wet and dry ingredients until incorporated but do not over mix.  Add one bag of mini or regular chocolate chips, if desired. 

For miniature muffins*, fill paper lined tins 3/4 full and bake  for 15-20 minutes.  For regular muffins, fill lined tins 2/3 full and bake for 25-30 minutes.  For mini loaves, grease and flour six miniature loaf pans and fill each about 2/3 full.  Bake for 30-40 minutes.  Place pans on a rimmed baking sheet for easier transport in and out of the oven.  The loaves freeze well, wrapped in waxed paper and foil.  Bread is as good when still slightly frozen. 

*An easy way to fill the muffin tins:  spoon batter into a clear plastic sandwich bag, seal and snip off one corner. 

whole wheat ham and cheddar pockets

IMG_0806 The marriage of ham and cheddar is a longstanding union- always predictable, always delicious- they are made for each other.  Their compatibility reaches new heights, though, when the salty smoked meat and tangy cheese are housed in whole wheat homemade  pizza crust* and baked to golden perfection.

While racking my brain to conjure up creative snack ideas for my daughter Annabelle’s kindergarten class, this recipe emerged.  It was a simple deduction:  kids love pizza, they typically like melted cheese and tend to prefer ham over other lunch meats.  More so, kids love the concept of food inside food, like a present you can eat.  And really, who doesn’t like a present you can eat?  The pockets boast three of the five food groups.  A side of fruit tacks on a fourth.  Parental seal of approval granted.

While the pockets baked I wondered, would the class like them or would they balk at the whole wheat crust and scrunch up their noses when they detected not one but two cheeses inside?According to Annabelle, all the children gobbled them up.  Twenty kindergarteners can’t be wrong, this one’s a keeper.

Side note: Assembling twenty miniature ham and cheddar pockets is not recommended at it is extremely labor intensive.  Only truly nutty nuts would attempt such a thing.  The recipe below makes 10 miniature or five large pockets.

whole wheat ham and cheddar pockets

yields 10 petite pockets or 5 meal-sized portions


whole wheat pizza dough*

1 cup wrist-temperature water
1 package active dry yeast (such as Fleischmann's)
1 T honey
1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 cups organic whole wheat pastry flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 – 1 cup organic unbleached flour (Gold Medal) 


20 slices nitrite-free ham
1 1/2 cups shredded medium cheddar
1 cup cup shredded romano or parmesan cheese
olive oil for basting


for crust

Combine yeast with water, olive oil, honey and salt.  Stir until dissolved.  Let the mixture sit for five minutes to proof.

Whisk in flour until it is too thick to whisk.  Use one hand to knead the dough in the bowl for about five minutes.  Add flour until it is no longer sticky.

Drizzle a little olive oil in the bowl and turn the dough once to coat.  Cover the bowl and place in a warm, draft-free place for about one hour or until dough has doubled in bulk.


Once dough has risen, cut in half and divide each half into five equal portions.  Roll each portion into round discs, about 6 inches across.  

Divide 3/4 cup shredded cheddar amongst the discs, leaving a 1/2” border around the edge and reserving half of the dough for folding over the filling.  Next, add one slice ham, folded or torn to fit.  Divide and sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup cheddar over ham.  Finish with the shredded romano or parmesan.IMG_0798
Gently stretch 1/2 of the dough over the filling, sealing the edges by folding over and crimping.  If dough begins to dry, lightly brush edges with lukewarm water before sealing.  Brush pockets with olive oil.  Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet at 500 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and lightly golden on top. 
Serve hot or at room temperature.

*The pizza dough is quite versatile and works well for pizzas and calzones with any variation of toppings or filling.

chewy chocolate chip granola bars


Hi.  My name is Sarah and I am a granola bar addict. 

Actually, I’m not.  But there was a time when I was pretty much addicted to chewy chocolate chip granola bars.  Convinced of their nutritional prowess, I regularly inhaled them in ignorant bliss.  Years later, savvy label reading revealed that those bars were about as healthy as an oatmeal cookie merged with a rice crispy treat.  Also known as dessert.   

Recently, I got to thinking about granola bars, wondering whether it was possible to create a version that would taste as good without the added corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and additives.  And after a little trial and error, I am pleased to report that the resulting bar is remarkably similar.  Granted, it is still a cookie in granola’s clothing.  But the clincher is this:  The leading brand of chewy chocolate chip granola bars has close to 40 ingredients.  That’s right.  Four-zero.  Yikes.

I’m here to tell you that this new and improved version has a mere nine ingredients and is just as addictive, which basically means I’m back where I started.

chewy chocolate chip granola bars

yields approximately 36 bars


2 cups organic brown rice syrup
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
4 cups organic old fashioned rolled oats (not thick*)
4 cups crispy brown rice cereal(Erewhon or Barbara’s)
1/2 cup ground flaxseed 
1 tablespoon good quality vanilla
2/3 cup + 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
nonstick cooking spray



Spray a 12 X 17 rimmed baking sheet with non stick spray and set aside.  Combine the brown sugar and rice syrup in a medium bowl.  Microwave on high for 2 – 1/2 minutes.  Stir.  Microwave for 2 – 1/2 minutes longer.  Add the vanilla and stir until blended. 

In a large bowl, mix together the coconut, oats, rice cereal and flaxseed.  Add the rice syrup mixture to the dry ingredients.  Stir until combined.  Add 2/3 cup mini chocolate chips.  Stir to incorporate. 


Transfer the granola mixture to the prepared baking sheet.  Place a piece of waxed paper over the top and press the mixture firmly and evenly into the baking sheet.  For best results, use a rolling pin, right over the waxed paper.  Works like a charm.


Evenly sprinkle 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips over mixture, pressing to adhere the chips to the bars.   Let firm for about one hour.  Cut into 1-1/4” x 3” bars.  Wrap bars individually in waxed paper.  Or just make one giant granola bar and call it a day. 

These bars keep for about two weeks, wrapped well and stored in  an airtight container.


*Thick oats do not work in this recipe.  I once used them by mistake and learned the hard way. The thick oats do not absorb enough moisture, resulting in granola bars with a chalky, raw oat texture.