Butter UP!

Butter UP!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Easiest Cake You'll Ever Make

Here are four reasons some people don't bake cakes: They don't have time. They don't have the ingredients. They stink at baking. It's an assault on their diet.

Here's a cake that puts all of those excuses on ice. Some people call it the New York Times plum torte, because, for a long stretch, the paper published the recipe each and every September due to reader demand. My family calls it Cousin Sandy's Cake because, well, our cousin Sandy turned us onto it eons ago.

I call it the easiest cake you'll ever make because...it is. It has only a handful of simple ingredients, which just about anyone other than maybe a fraternity bro tends to have on hand. You can use frozen fruit if you have nothing suitable in the fridge. It doesn't require an electric mixer. Heck, there's even "one" of every batter ingredient, except for the 2 eggs. So you soon won't even need to look at the recipe when you make it.

None of this would mean much if this cake tasted like ass (I can't believe I just wrote that but it just fits somehow). The fact is, this cake most certainly doesn't. A crunchy cookie-like crust guards a moist, buttery interior studded with succulent fruit. What's not to love about that? With a tap of confectioner's sugar on top, it looks downright gawjus. A blob of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and you're practically Martha Stewart.

Now, just in case you're wondering why this cake won't assault your diet: It's nice and small and so utterly delicious, there won't' be a crumb left after you serve it. That means you won't spend the next week picking at it every time you walk into the kitchen. So go. Make this cake. Get happy. It's Spring!

The Easiest Cake You'll Ever Make

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspon baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
sugar
cinnamon

5 to 7 sliced plums, depending on size (sliced about 1/2-inch thick)
or
2 to 3 sliced, peeled apples (1/2-inch thick)
or my favorite….
a cup or so of fresh or frozen, rinsed blueberries (frozen cherries are good to mix in, too)

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease an 8-inch spring form cake pan. If you don't have one of those, grease an 8-inch cake pan and line bottom with a circle of parchment paper. You can use a bigger pan if you want, but the cake will be thinner and less cake-y.

Cream butter with the sugar. Add flour, baking powder, eggs, and vanilla. Dump into into pan and pat it out evenly with a damp hand.

Cover top decoratively with fruit of choice. You want enough on the cake so that the top is evenly covered with little areas of batter showing through. The fruit will sink in as cake bakes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar (if you have turbinado sugar, use it. It gives the top a nice crunch). 

Bake one hour or until batter around fruit is set and the cake is lightly browned and crisp. Remove from oven. Let cool for 15 minutes. Release side of spring pan. Or if using a regular pan, run a knife around edge of cake to release it from side of pan and then turn cake out and flip again so the top is showing. 

Sieve some confectioners sugar on top. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if you feel like it.

Note: Don't overdo it on the fruit or the cake will be goopy. If you keep a bag of frozen blueberries in your freezer, you will be able to make this any time, on a dime. I haven't experimented with other fruits, but feel free. I'd stay away from anything that's too watery, soft or acidic, such as strawberries and citrus.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year everyone!

I just looked back on my cookbook note from last year. In it, I mused about the fact that “at this time next year” my first-born would be in college and would be “just visiting” with us for the holidays.

Indeed, that has come to pass. Ben went off to school and has brought back with him passionate arguments about every possible aspect of what’s wrong with our economy, our government, our international conduct, our penal system, our drug laws, you name it.

He’s also brought back one whopping appetite. Apparently, there’s a lot wrong with the food at school, too. I must admit, I get a little trill of excitement from Ben’s gastronomic dissatisfaction. Not only because it makes me feel like he truly did appreciate my cooking during his 18 years under our roof. But because this is a hunger I can easily fix.

I know that when I feed Ben his favorite foods, I’m not just filling his gullet. Those familiar tastes and smells are filling his heart with the comfort and love of home. Likewise, the Crohn’s-friendly foods I make for Noah make him feel secure and cared for. I know that every meal I prepare for my husband Paul is, in essence, a love letter to him. I know I can send my mother-in-law Florence home with plastic containers of goodies and that she’ll feel and taste our love for her long after we drop her off in the City. And I know that when my mom joins us for dinner during the week and on many Sundays, I am helping fill, if even in a small way, the enormous void left by my dad when he passed a year ago November. Man...nothing marks change and loss more than sitting down to one-less place setting, I think.

So mom and I make dinner together pretty often these days. I spend a decent amount of time in the kitchen with my mom-in-law Florence, too. When we get to chopping and peeling, stirring and basting, conversation is easy and our goal for the moment is simple and happy. The ground between us warms up and we get to share some pretty special time together.

It’s so interesting to me how—through all that’s happened over the years, the good and the bad---I’m constantly drawn back to the kitchen. I’ve been happy in here. I’ve been frustrated and exhausted. I’ve felt wistful, as I’ve laid a table for three instead of four, with the knowledge that that number will continue to shrink as time marches on.

At this very moment, though, with my whole family here, work on the back burner, and my fridge brimming with foodstuffs, my heart is busting. I’m devouring the feast of this wondrous, if crazily imperfect, life. It’s been a good vacation, indeed.

I’ll take this opportunity to send good wishes to everyone out there who’s reading this note—with a special shout out to my dear sister-in-law and sister-in-life Lonnie, who is wrestling a hefty challenge at this time. With her peerless positivity and the love-drenched support of her husband Ken and the rest of us, there’s no question that she’ll emerge from this fight the kick-ass victor. And “at this time next year” we’ll all be feasting on life together with gusto.

I hope that 2014 was a good year for you. If it wasn’t, I wish you better things in 2015. And, if you’re getting this cookbook, I’ll just say, I feel lucky to know you! 

Want your copy? Just shoot me an email at pegSrosen@gmail.com and I'll get right back to you with an attachment and printing instructions.

P.S. The additions to this year’s cookbook are:
New England Express Cocktail
Present Perfect Pecans
Killer Shakshuka
Turn-the-Clock-Back Roasted Tomatoes
Caulimash
The Way to Cook Filet Mignon
Looks-Like-You-Fussed Pork Tenderloin with Apples
Hot Blondies
No-Grain Brownies
Good-as-Grain, No-Grain Banana Bread
Bake These Apples
Wondrous, Grain-Free Cashew Butter Waffles

Best to You....


Peg

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Power Stretch: A New Option For Tight, Achey Muscles


I warehouse all my stress in my muscles. That's why I exercise like a maniac---to release pent up tension so my head doesn't spin off my body.  But all the yoga, running, and spinning in the world still can't keep me from feeling achey and bitchy after sitting and fretting at a computer all day. 

Now I know what can help. And I know what might just be sweet salvation for many stiff, chilly, and stressed out souls this holiday and winter season. A nice…….long……gentle……assisted stretch. If you live anywhere near me, you can find it at Power Stretch Studios in Upper Montclair.

The Back Story:
I was feeling particularly stiff and sore last week, after laptopping on a hard wooden bench at Java Love for a few hours with my friend Pat. The day's headlines had only added to my seized-up state. As I hobbled across Bellevue Avenue, the awning for Power Stretch Studios caught my eye. 

In an almost trancelike state, I wandered in and chatted up the owner, Hakika DuBose. Apparently, this young and curly former dancer has been quietly stretching out stiff Montclairians for a few years now. Her growing client base--ranging from 8 year olds to 80 year olds--- has helped her move from various back office spaces to her new storefront across from the Bellevue Theater uptown. 

I wasn't asking too many questions, as Kika (which she calls herself) described her Kika Method. But whatever Kika was telling me about passive stretching and muscle release sounded pretty damned good. I arranged to return for a 6 PM session.

The Session
I showed up in comfortable work-out clothes, filled out a few forms, and sat down for a brief orientation. After Kika flipped through a decidedly low-tech presentation about the stretch method that she herself has devised, we entered a small white room with a soft rubber mat on the floor. (yes, I'm  getting closer and closer to a full-blown rubber room.)

Kika stood behind me and gently guided my neck and head from side to side and around in half arcs. She used some sturdy pressure to help me get the most out of some lateral stretches. Then she sat me down with my legs out in front, placed a long ruler vertically between my legs and asked me to stretch my arms as far as I could out on the floor in front of me. She put a gentle hand on my shoulder and  asked me to remember the number I reached: it was 18.

Over the next 50 or so minutes, Kika carefully used her arms and hands to guide and ease me through myriad standing and seated stretches. It was far more relaxing, nurturing, and enjoyable than a do-it-yourself stretch class. But there was still work involved. The best way I can describe the experience is that it's sort of a cross between a massage, yoga, and, I dunno, Rolfing? (though, to be honest, I've never been Rolfed.) Maybe a smidge of Feldenkrais in there, too?

By the time the session wound up, my breathing was in sync with our movements and I felt deeply relaxed and--yes---supple. The proof in the pudding? Kika had me stretch out on that ruler once more. This time, I reached 26--an increase of 8 whole inches. Pretty cool, I must say. Though I didn't need the ruler to tell me the stretching had done me good.

Caveats and Questions:
Being a health and fitness writer, I couldn't help but pepper Kika with questions before and after my session. Turns out that, besides having an MFA from Montclair State University and certification as a personal trainer, she has no formal accreditation in bodywork or physiotherapy. And yet she says she is treating everyone from athletes to paralysis patients. 

That's a bit of a red flag for me--to say the least. In other words, I don't think I'd risk sending my fragile and stiff mother-in-law or anyone else with serious orthopedic or health issues to her at this point. 

However, for those of us who are sturdy and in good health, but could use some sweet, nurturing release, Power Stretch seems like a safe and delicious bet. I'd go so far as to say that if Kika goes ahead and gets a degree in physiology or some other certification to give her some cred and some tread, she could be sitting on a gold mine. And a franchise concept, at that.

Cost: 
Kika has a few staffers who also do stretch sessions. They are trained by Kika. I personally would opt to work with Kika herself, at least for starters.

A 45-minute session costs $60; an hour is $70.  A 20-minute head and neck session is $20. Kika also hands out cards for free 15-minute intro sessions.

The Upshot:
Considering the cost,  I might be hard-pressed to fork over $70 for a stretch when I could be indulging in a massage for similar dinero. But after all is said and done, the feel-good glow of stretching might outlast what I take home from the massage table. And if someone wants to gift me a stretch, I'll be all over it! If you end up giving Power Stretch a try, please let me know what you think. And if you know of anyone else who's doing similar work, I'm all ears.



 I

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Turn-the-Clock-Back Roasted Tomatoes

Ho hum. The grey days of November are here. Summer's warm caress, milky nibs of sweet corn and  bawdy scarlet tomatoes have slipped away for another year. And, sniff, sniff, this biting cold Marathon Sunday will be cloaked in darkness faster than you can say "finish line," as we bid daylight savings time adieu.

I'm cheering myself up tonight with these super-cinchy roasted tomatoes from Ina Garten. No, they can't compare to their perky and juicy summer forbears. But I gotta tell you--they get those Proustian daydreams going.

A bracing whallop of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sugar and chopped garlic, followed by a stint in a 450 degree oven, acts like culinary CPR on even the most haggard plum tomatoes. They emerge looking glamorous and rich as an Italian countess. That dignified tomato-y taste comes back and the cottony pulp of off-season fruit becomes supple, worldly, and, well, sexy. These are, if you please, sultry tomato cougars to summer's blushing and buxom babes.

Sometimes I serve these as an extra side, topped with chopped basil or whatever herb I have around. Sometimes, I'll shower them with freshly grated Parm or chunks of gamey feta. On really lazy nights, I'll nestle these ruby red beauties next to a bed of scrambled eggs and call it dinner. They're also an excellent topper for crostini and can work magic on any sandwich.

So I've presented my argument. Curious? Run out now and grab 12 plum tomatoes from the nearest supermarket. No need to be picky. Follow this recipe and I promise, summer dreams will be yours to savor tonight. And all winter long.

12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, cores and seeds removed
4 Tbsps. good olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsps. balsamic vinegar (use a little more if you run out before you sprinkle all of the tomatoes)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tsps. sugar (you can use a little less if you must, but don't omit)
1 1/2 tsps. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil. (Don't skip this step unless you want to scrub the pan all night.) Arrange tomatoes on pan, cut side up, in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle the garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper over the tomatoes. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are concentrated and beginning to caramelize. DONT dry them out. They should be sort of flat and collapsed, but not wrinkly or tough like sun-dried tomatoes.

Serve warm or at room temp.





Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Uber Simple and Supremely Tasty Black Bean and Corn Salad

Too busy with back-to-school BS to cook anything interesting? This simple, healthy black bean and corn salad will change your game.

My girlfriend Bianca passed this recipe on to me when we first moved into Montclair. My son Ben soon adopted it as his hands-down favorite salad. I'm tempted to send him a vat of it, now that he's settling into his freshman year of college (and complaining about the food). But I'm not so sure how it will travel.

You, however, can whip it up in a flash. And once it's done, you’ll want to slurp this stuff right out of the bowl. Serve it as a side one night, sneak some for a snack the next day, and spoon it over grilled fish or pan-seared chicken breast for dinner that night. Try to cut the bell pepper, onion and tomato into pieces about the same size as the black beans. Of course, that’s not a must, but it refines the dish.

Ben and Bianca's Black Bean and Corn Salad

2  12-ounce cans black beans (no need to use dried)

One 12-ounce can (or a bit more) yellow corn (nice if you can use fresh sweet
corn cut off the cob, but not a deal breaker. I use canned all of the time.
I like yellow corn for this salad. Looks brighter; white sort of washes out.)

1 large green bell pepper
1-2 jalapeno peppers, diced very fine (adjust amount depending upon taste and hotness of the chile)
1 small onion
1 large tomato (or more if you’d like)
¼ cup chopped cilantro (or to taste)
Juice of two limes (or to taste)
¼ extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
A few dashes of Tabasco (to taste)

1.     Rinse and drain beans and corn.
2.     Combine in bowl with bell pepper, jalapeno, tomato, cilantro, and onion.

3.     Add lime juice and olive oil. Taste, adjust dressing acidity. Add salt and pepper to taste. Before going crazy with the jalapeno, let the salad sit for a while—the hotness take a bit of time to come out fully. Now you’re ready to add those dashes of Tabasco. Enjoy. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Kick-Butt Cauli Mashed Potatoes

I SWEAR to you that this is not turning into a low carb, gluten-free, vegan, Paleo, SCD blog. I also swear that I won't post another cauliflower recipe for a while. It's just that I have become a bit obsessed with this amazingly versatile veggie of late. And I can't help myself from sharing this crazy good "I can't believe it's not potatoes" cauliflower mashed potato recipe.

In case you're late to the game, my cooking has taken an interesting turn in the last year, due to the fact that a member of our family was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. He's following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is grain-free and has proven to be near miraculous for his health.  And since I'm his cook, I've discovered some incredibly inventive and healthful recipes that have kept him and the whole family happy over the past several months.

Last blog, I wrote about cauli rice. This time around, I'm talking potatoes. Just like cauli rice, caulipotatoes fill that "carb" spot on the plate that can often feel sad and lonely on a grain-free diet. Like cauli rice, cauli potatoes soak up gravies and pan drippings admirably. Like cauli rice, cauli potatoes are low carb. Here's the main difference: While  no one will think cauli rice actually IS rice, cauli mashed potatoes can really truly be mistaken for the real deal. They're super creamy. Rich and delicious. And with the help of a little sauce or gravy, you really could miss any hint of the fact that there's a cruciferous vegetable in the mix. My husband and I actually prefer these to real mashed potatoes. They taste cleaner and just a tad more elegant. My Crohny adores them, too. And these "potatoes" can do what other potatoes do: Just the other night, I sautéed up some ground beef with onions and garlic, threw in some peas and tossed the mix into a casserole dish. I slathered the cauli potatoes on top, baked the dish up for about 25 minutes and I had shepherd's pie. Miraculous.

Without further ado, I give you the recipe for magic. It's from Danielle Walker's dynamite cookbook, Against All Grain. Dare to try these and let me know what you think.

5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 head cauliflower, trimmed into florets
1/4 almond milk, warmed (I use a scant 1/4 cup of full fat plain yogurt at room temp)
3 tablespoons melted butter (or ghee--I use butter)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
Dash cracked black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
2. Place garlic cloves in a small, heatproof dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, put the cauliflower in a saucepan with a 1/2-inch of water. Cover and steam for 10 minutes. Drain the water completely and place the cauliflower in a food processor.
4. Squeeze the papery garlic skins to release the cloves. Add the garlic to the food processor, along with the almond milk (or yogurt), melted butter (or ghee), salt, and pepper. Process until smooth and fluffy. (I let the machine run for a good long while--may 3 to 5 minutes-- so the potatoes are absolutely smooth. You don't want any cauliflower texture in there if you're planning on fooling fellow diners.)

Eat well!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy New Year - The 2013 Free Cookbook Is Out!

Your free cookbook, busting with healthy cooking ideas, grain-free and gluten-free recipes, easy chicken dishes, best cookie recipes ever, family cooking strategies, and my usual banter is ready to jump through the ether into your computer. Want your free PDF? Shoot me an email: pegsrosen@gmail.com

P.S. My New Year's Resolution is to obsess over keywords. How am I doing?