Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Way the Kiwi Crumbles

One morning about a month ago, my otherwise-perfectly-pleasant breakfast was sabotaged by this devastating little video:

David played it for me – because he just loves me that much – and I immediately burst into tears. I continued crying for about ten minutes, my sobs interrupted only by unintelligible words along the lines of, “He just wanted to fly!”; “He put in all that work!”; and just, “Why? Why Kiwi?!”.

Since then, David has delighted in exacerbating any slight dip in my mood by Kiwi!-bombing me. He can use his phone to control what appears on the TV in our living room, so more than once I’ve been innocently reading a book on the couch, only to have my peaceful evening shattered by Kiwi! suddenly appearing on the TV.

It was becoming ridiculous. I needed to fix my negative word-association of “kiwi,” but I didn’t know how. Amazingly, an answer was delivered to my door on Tuesday.

In my Plow to Porch box this week, I got not just one kiwi, not just two kiwis, but a full pound and a half of kiwis. That’s freaking twelve kiwis. They’re from Mallard Lake Ranch in Nipomo, CA (distance from me: 70 miles), operated by Don and Jane Criswell, their son, Bob, his wife, and their two children. They bought the ranch in 1988 and use only sustainable farming practices.

Kiwis have always seemed kind of random to me, but as it turns out, they pack a ton of potassium, fiber, and double the vitamin C of oranges. The only thing to be done with a fruit this healthful, in my opinion, is to negate any nutritional value by adding butter and sugar. Duh.

Kiwi-Apple Crumble

The Fruit Mixture
2 fuji apples, skinned and chopped (from Cuyama Orchards in Cuyama Valley, distance from me: 60 miles)
4 kiwi, skinned and chopped (from Mallard Lake Ranch in Nipomo, CA, distance from me: 70 miles) 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

The Crumble
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 handfuls crumbled walnuts

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and began skinning and chopping up the apples and kiwis. I put the fruit in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat and added the brown sugar and cinnamon, slowly stirring it around until the apples were kind of soft. Then I added the vanilla extract and removed the pan from the heat.

While the fruit mixture was heating up, I made the crumble in a separate bowl by just mashing everything together with a fork until it stuck together in little clumps and was, well, crumbly.

Then I poured the crumbly mixture on top of the fruit mixture in a ceramic dish and popped the whole thing in the oven, easy peasy. After 20 minutes, I opened the oven to take a peek and it looked like this:

Erm… not crumbling the way I had hoped it would. So I reached in with a wooden spoon and kind of tooled around in there, 1950s-lobotomy-style, until it looked a bit more mixed up and a bit less dry. After another 10 minutes (30 minutes total), it looked like this:
Much better! I have to say, I crumbled the heck out of this crumble. Next time, I’ll use a bit less flour so it turns out a little more moist. I just wish I had some vanilla ice cream to put on top of it!

At least now when David decides to prank me by surprising me with the Kiwi! video, I can comfort myself by binge eating this delicious kiwi dessert. And the kiwi apple crumble isn’t going to throw itself off a cliff just to experience flying… for once in its life… because it only has those adorable stumpy wings… and it put in all that hard work to nail those trees to the side of the cliff… oh, Kiwi! Why?!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Butterface Butternut Squash Pie

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I have mixed childhood memories. I remember carefully making little place cards for every family member’s spot at the table, singing songs about the many things I was thankful for, and having terrifying nightmares for weeks about the electric saw my dad used to slice the turkey.

I was always under the impression that I was super helpful to my mom in the kitchen, but I now suspect that I invented those memories. That’s because I actually have no idea how to prepare any Thanksgiving dish. So if I was in the kitchen at all in years past, I must have been just standing there zoning out or something.

My utter lack of Thanksgiving-preparation knowledge started to worry me when it was decided that David and I would be in charge of pies and wine this year. Wine, no problem. Pies… problem.

My first thought was to just purchase the pies from Simply Pies here in Santa Barbara. Apparently, that was everyone else’s first thought, too, and they had their first thoughts first. Other than making a mental note to have more first thoughts first, there was nothing I could do.

Simply Pies uses only locally produced fruits and vegetables in their pies, and they purchase all their other ingredients (like eggs, milk, and flour) from local co-ops. Lucky for me, one of those local co-ops, the Isla Vista Food Co-op, sells Simply Pies vegan pie crusts. Starting out with a pre-made pie crust made the whole task considerably less daunting.

Butternut Squash Pie

1 medium butternut squash from Jose Alcantar Garcia in Oxnard (distance from me: 37 miles)
Vegan pie crust from Simply Pies
1 cup light brown sugar
3 brown eggs from Chino Valley Ranchers in Arcadia (distance from me: 106 miles)
¾ cup evaporated milk
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons non-bleached flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Anyone who knows me knows that I am terrified of butternut squash. The last time I tried to chop up a butternut squash, I ended up with squash and seeds all over the kitchen and Band-aids on at least two fingers.

So I did some research before attacking the squash this time, and it turns out that if you stick the squash in the oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes and then let it cool completely, the skin peels right off and it’s very easy to cut up:
The naked butternut squash
After roasting in the oven, the squash was really squashy (!). I put it in a mixing bowl with the brown sugar and beat it together by hand. All the recipes I found online suggested using a power mixer but I don’t own one. So I came to terms with the idea of having slightly chunky pie and went medieval on that squash with a fork.

So what if the pie wouldn’t look pretty? It would just be like one of those unfortunate girls with beautiful bodies but unattractive faces, whom immature guys sometimes call "Butterfaces" ("She's got a great body, but her face..."). To those guys, I always say that it's better to be a butterface than a jerkface. And this pie was certainly not a jerkface.

Having come to terms with the aesthetic shortcomings of my pie, I blended in all the other ingredients, like so:

I poured the lumpy mixture into the Simply Pies crust and popped it in the oven. I had some batter left over, so I decided to make mini, crust-less pies in a muffin tin:

I did retain one thing from helping my mom with pies as a little girl: after about a half hour, you need to pull out the pie and wrap the crust in a loose layer of aluminum foil, so it doesn’t burn. I managed to complete this task without burning myself, which I count as a small victory.

After another ten minutes (45 minutes total), I pulled the pie out of the oven to cool. I haven’t eaten the pie itself yet, of course, but the mini, crust-less pie-muffin things are totally gone. They were wonderful.

It ended up not mattering that the batter was slightly lumpy – the lumps went away in the oven, and the end result has a smooth, creamy texture and that delicious, autumnal butternut squash taste.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Meghan Apple Seed: Muffins

In my everyday life, I experience metaphorical seeds quite often. For instance, the reelection of the president on Tuesday --> sowed the seeds of hope in my heart. Sometimes I go around --> planting seeds of doubt in other people’s minds just to stir things up. But I rarely interact with literal seeds.

That changed when I discovered, a company that believes in the benefits of adding seeds to your diet. You can order seeds a la carte from their website, or join their Super Seed of the Month Club to have a new type of seed delivered to your door every month. Unfortunately, eat seed is based in North Carolina, thousands of miles away from me. So these seeds aren’t local, but they do offer a healthy supplement to local ingredients.

I ordered the Six Seed Super Blend, which includes pumpkin, sunflower, chia, sesame, hemp, and flax seeds. So many seeds. And so many health benefits! Just to name a few:

Pumpkin seeds can help fight depression, since they’re rich in tryptophan, which can increase serotonin levels. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E, which reduces the risk of heart disease, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Chia seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and calcium. Sesame seeds are also high in calcium: half a cup of sesame seeds contains three times the calcium of half a cup of milk, so sesame seeds are great for your bones and teeth. Hemp seeds can reduce cholesterol levels and improve your skin. And, of course, flax seeds (or linseeds) keep you regular. Not “regular” in terms of your personality (that’s a lost cause), “regular” in terms of your poop. Brilliant.

Eat seed features a blog with recipe ideas, but I wanted to come up with one of my own. I started with the obvious: sprinkling the seeds on my oatmeal. It made breakfast look a little fancier, but whole seeds can be hard to digest.

I knew that to get the real benefits of the seeds, I’d have to grind them up and bake. That made me nervous, as baking always does: you have to follow the directions exactly or risk blowing up your oven. The stakes are so high!

I decided to use locally grown apples in the recipe to add sweetness and texture. And also because I really wanted to adopt the moniker Meghan Apple Seed, if only for the hour or so it took me to bake these muffins.

Meghan Apple Seed Muffins

Here’s what I used:
1 cup ground Six Seed Super blend
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 apple, chopped into small bits (from Fair Hills Farm in Topanga Canyon, distance from me: 74 miles)
½ cup raisins
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. Then I ground up the Six Seed Super Blend in my spice grinder until it became a powder, like this:

I mixed the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, apples, and raisins in with the ground seeds:
 Then I added the wet ingredients and mixed it all up, like so:
I plopped the mixture into a baking tin and popped it into the oven for about 18 minutes, until I could stick a fork into one of the muffins and it would come out dry. Ta-da!
The muffins were absolutely delicious. David and I snacked on them late-night style, then had them again for breakfast in the morning… and for lunch that day. They didn’t taste gross like some good-for-you muffins – instead, the apples, raisins, and brown sugar added sweetness to the healthful goodness of the Six Seed Super Blend.

This successful endeavor planted some seeds of change (!) regarding my fear of baking. But I’m just planting seeds left and right now, since I’m Meghan Apple Seed now.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Roasted American "Feet" (Fennel+Beets)

On Tuesday, I skipped down my front walk to collect my Plow to Porch delivery box. Feeling a bit like a politically correct kid on ChristmaKwanzukkah, I peeled open the top of the cardboard… and was immediately hit in the face by a plume of fluffy, strongly scented greens.

Fennel! Yay…? I think I am not alone in my ambiguous feelings toward fennel. It’s hard not to be excited by something with such a distinctive flavor, but I’m not entirely sure I like that flavor. It’s the flavor of anise, also used in black licorice. I certainly don’t like black licorice, and I’ve only eaten anise as an antidote for bad gas for no reason at all.

Despite its questionable taste, fennel has texture going for it. Its texture is like celery. In fact, I’m going to go out on a crunchy, porous limb and say that fennel is like celery’s flamboyant cousin who causes general confusion at family dinners.

Just as much as a flamboyant cousin, every family dinner needs a terrifying albino neighbor. Lucky for me, my Plow to Porch box also included white beets. At first I wasn’t sure what these white beets even were, but then I received an email from Plow to Porch explaining that they hadn’t received their expected shipment of red beets, so they had delivered these creepy white beets instead.

I’m giving the white beets a hard time, but they are actually quite special. I found some websites that describe them as “novelty” beets – so, apparently, they’d be a perfect gift to bring to your next Yankee Swap – and they have the same nutritional value as regular beets but a milder flavor.

Since it is no longer October, I am no longer bound by my pledge to eat only locally produced foods. So for this recipe, I used apple cider vinegar that was pressed by Trader Joe’s somewhere far, far away and Dijon mustard, whose very name betrays its un-American origins.

To make up for the Dijon mustard’s anti-American background, I decided to add apples – everyone’s favorite American snack – to this recipe. In honor of the impending election, I give you Roasted American (because of the apples) Feet (because fennel + beet = feet).

Roasted American Feet

3 white “novelty” beets, skinned and cubed (from Rancho Cortez in Santa Maria, distance from me: 63.4 miles)
2 heads of fennel, sliced thickly (from The Garden Of… in Los Olivos, distance from me: 33.6 miles)
3 Fuji apples, cored, skinned, and chopped into cubes (from Fair Hills Farm in Topanga Canyon, distance from me: 74 miles)

The Feet Sauce
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp honey (from San Marcos Farms in Santa Ynez, distance from me: 30 miles)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
First, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. Then I had to skin the apples and beets and chop them up into cubes. This was kind of an excruciating task, but I put on the latest episode of The Walking Dead to watch while I did it. This kept me entertained and reminded me that the pain in the butt of skinning and chopping up vegetables is better than the pain of having your butt eaten by zombies.

The fennel heads were easier to deal with: I just sliced them into thick strips. I arranged the apples, beets, and fennel in baking dishes pretty haphazardly:
Then I mixed up the apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, honey, and mustard in a bowl and drizzled it on top. I put the baking dishes in the oven for 50 minutes, until the fennel was almost clear and the beets were tender.

While the dishes were in the oven, I grilled up the white beet greens, which were no more pallid than the greens of normal beets, in olive oil. Beet greens are full of vitamins K, A, and C and taste a lot like spinach when they’re grilled.

The finished product tasted yummy in a very autumnal way. The sweetness of apple balanced out the anise flavor of the “feet,” and the combination of textures worked well, too. It seems to me American zombies everywhere could learn a thing or two from this slightly sophisticated preparation of feet.