Monday, August 24, 2009

Picnic Food

I come from a family of picnickers, so getting in the car for a day trip means "picnic" to me. Here's what we took to Volcanoes National Park on Saturday:
~ egg salad on whole wheat
~ a half-bottle of organic lemonade, plus some herbal iced tea (hence the odd color)
~ "Ginger-Os" sandwich cookies
~ tamari almonds (more a snack than lunch, our go-to emergency provisions for any excursion, along with the next item...)
~ dark chocolate (can't leave home, or stay home for that matter, without it)
~ carrot sticks (an homage to my Mom, but turns out we really did eat most of them)

Missing from the photo is a small tupperware container of fresh pineapple chunks and a couple of forks. Apples are my picnic fruit of choice, but we're out of those.

We had a lovely afternoon at the volcano, didn't hike as much as planned due to windy and drizzly conditions at the main crater (forecast was for clear skies and 20% chance of rain, clearly a joke), so we drove down Chain of Craters Road a bit to get out from under the clouds. Ate our picnic perched on a lava-stone wall around an old, small crater now grown up with trees. Not one of the more spectacular sites in the park, but a pleasant spot for an alfresco lunch. As usual, I forgot to take any photos. I did remember to at least bring the camera with us, though, so that's a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Too many bananas

We're on our second huge bunch of bananas in a month all ripening at the same time. When I say "bunch" BTW, I don't mean a "hand" of 6-8 bananas, like you might purchase at the grocery store. I mean a whole banana plant's bounty, many hands on a stem, in the neighborhood of probably 30 pounds or so of fruit, 60-80 bananas at a time.

There's only one thing to do: freeze 'em. I've been peeling and cutting up bananas onto parchment-paper lined cookie sheets for 3 days now.

Once the banana chunks are frozen I peel them off the paper and put them in large ziplock bags, back in the freezer. Freezing them on a sheet first, like this, may seem an unnecessary step, but it's not. If you just cut up your bananas and put a whole lot of them in a ziplock bag in the freezer, they'll freeze up in a one big lump. Good luck prying off a handful to put in the blender. Pre-freezing is easier in the long run. The chunks do still cohere a little bit, but not so much you can't retrieve however many you might want.

These will keep us in smoothies for a good long time. Fortunately, we consume a lot of smoothies around here. I add some frozen berries, a scoop of protein powder, and some plain yogurt (and water) to the bananas in mine. If I'm feeling a need to be ultra-healthy I add some ground flax seeds, too, but just as often I forget.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Felicia update

I'm pleased to report that we have enjoyed my favorite kind of weather: much ado about hardly anything. Felicia has faded to a depression and moved far enough to the northwest that Hilo is by now out of range of anything but the barest fringe of the edge of a rain band. I confess I enjoy all the drama of watching severe weather approach, but am greatly relieved when nothing comes of it.

Except a kitchen full of baked goods: I can now also report that Apples Felicia are delicious, and an easy alternative to pie. Some bits of the crust were a bit crunchier than necessary, but the flavor is excellent, it was not too dry, and leftovers for breakfast, with a hefty dollop of plain yogurt, are awesome, and worth eating two days in a row as I just have.

I now have an embarrassing supply of oatmeal cookies on hand as well, and am faced with deciding how many of them I dare leave accessible, and how many would be best put into the back of the freezer with hopes that I will forget they are there.

It's a good thing I have this workout on DVD, because I need to burn some extra calories today:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hurricane Cookies

Here in Hilo we've been keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Felicia* as she's approached from the east. Yesterday she was headed straight for my house:

* now Tropical Storm Felicia, I'm happy to report, and expected to weaken further before she arrives tomorrow.

Hurricane preparedness has been on my mind. And sure, stocking up on "non-perishables" is a fine idea if you think the power will be out for a week, but why not also bake up something that will keep at room temperature for several days? Like, say, oatmeal cookies.

I made a double batch, following the "Wholesome Oatmeal Raisin Cookies" recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics fairly closely* without any additions, then split it in two and added generous amounts of raisins and walnuts to one bowl, and heaps of macadamia nuts, unsweetened shredded coconut, and white chocolate chips to the other.

* I used half whole wheat pastry flour, cut the sugar down slightly, and only used a teeny bit of cinnamon.

A double recipe plus the good stuff made about 4 dozen 3" cookies. They turned out great. These are the raisin-walnuts ones:
And these are the white chocolate-coconut-macadamia nut ones:

Both are delicious, chewy in the middle, crisp around the edges, lacy and chunky at the same time. I may have to pretend there's serious weather brewing around here more often.

TIP: these are FRAGILE when they first come out of the oven, although they firm up a bit as they cool. Bake on parchment paper so you can slide the paper off the pan and onto a cooling rack, rather than trying to remove the cookies individually from the pan.

Apples Felicia

I've had an apple dessert in mind all week. With hurricane baking already going on, today seemed like a good time to make one.

After some cookbook browsing, I decided to make something like the apple variation suggested for "Lauren's Peach Crumb Cake" from A Piece of Cake. I'm calling it "Apples Felicia" in honor of this week's weather obsession.

This is basically a shortbread crust and crumb topping with sweetened fruit in between. If you ask me, it's a lot closer to a pie than a cake. I'm making mine in an 8" square pyrex dish, 'cause I didn't feel like messing with the recommended springform pan, and my deep dish pie plate is in the dishwasher (I baked a round bread loaf in it, not a pie, or I wouldn't be making this dessert today).

I made my usual tweaks to the recipe, using 1/3 whole wheat pastry flour instead of all AP, and cutting way back on the cinnamon. Really, it's such an aggressive spice, a TEENY bit adds a nice edge to the flavor without overwhelming all the other ingredients. To make the base, mix up flour and sugar and then cut in butter until sandy, which I did by pulsing it all in the Cuisinart. Remove 3/4 cup to a small bowl and stir in your preferred quantity of cinnamon, and reserve that bit for the topping. The rest gets pressed into your (lavishly buttered) baking dish.

Fill with sweetened fruit and some small tapioca pearls for gel factor. I used three Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced into 1" pieces (almost 5 cups total), 1/3 cup light brown sugar, 2 T lemon juice and 2 T of water, and 4 T of tapioca flour (which is what I have, no pearls in the pantry today).

Sprinkle the crumb topping on top of the fruit. I was going to do so when my inner health nut spoke up and suggested adding rolled oats. So I put the reserved topping back in the food processor, added 1/2 C oats, and pulsed a few more times. One of the benefits of not being a "clean up as you go" cook is that the Cuisinart bowl was right at hand, rather than in the sink and full of soapy water. I'm glad I added the oats, because I'm not convinced the original topping amount would have been ample for the size of my pan.

Bake low in the oven at 400 until done. I think this took about 45 minutes:

We're having this after dinner tonight, so I can't tell you yet if it's any good, but it sure smelled amazing coming out of the oven.

It never did get more than slightly bubbly, though, and the apples didn't cook down as much as expected, but I didn't want to leave it in the oven any longer because the edges were getting too brown. I suspect the bottom crust absorbed a lot of the moisture, and -- judging by the quantity of steam that came out of the oven when I opened the door -- the crumb topping isn't doing as much as a regular pie crust would to keep moisture in where the fruit is.

Even if it's a little dry, though, I'm sure Apples Felicia will be delicious: it's a shortbread-y base, with sugary baked apples and a sweet crumb topping, what's not to like? A good dollop of yogurt on top will add any necessary additional moisture (so would vanilla ice cream, but plain old yogurt is what's in my fridge).

This was so much easier to throw together than a traditional pie that unless it's truly awful (and how could it be?), I am already thinking of making it again. When I do, I'm going to add a cup or two of frozen blueberries or raspberries, which I think will produce a better, blubblier, center.