Kids are like sponges, am I right? So they don’t stop absorbing their environment when they leave the classroom for the cafeteria. Unfortunately, the message that children must be sopping up in cafeterias across the U.S. is that time, convenience–and money–are more highly valued than health.

So, yet another obstacle in feeding kids healthy food: there are no kitchens in the schools. Over the last few decades, as parents gradually replaced hot meals at home with Hot Pockets, so did school systems. Check out Kim Severson’s piece in today’s NY Times Dining & Wine section:

Schools’ Toughest Test: Cooking

Apple Spice Cake_8Apple Spice Cake_3

September 22 marked the first day of Autumn and my sweet husband’s birthday. As far as birthday cakes go, Matthew will ask for carrot over chocolate or vanilla any day; so, I thought this Fuji Apple Spice from October’s Bon Appetit would mimic the carrot, right down to the cream cheese frosting. And if that wouldn’t win him over, the shot of Bourbon would.

(note: I halved the cake recipe below to make 1 cake, which I cut in half horizontally to frost).

Fuji Apple Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Bon Appetit Magazine

Cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 medium Fuji or Gala apples (13 to 14 ounces total), peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans (about 6 ounces)

Frosting

  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (measured, then sifted)
  • Coarsely chopped toasted pecans (for garnish)

Special equipment

  • 2 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides

Preparation

Cake

  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of each pan with parchment paper round. Whisk first 7 ingredients in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add both sugars and beat until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then bourbon, if desired (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture to egg mixture in 3 additions alternately with applesauce in 2 additions, beating until blended after each addition. Stir in apples and pecans. Divide batter between cake pans; smooth tops.
  • Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of each comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 15 minutes. Cut around pan sides to loosen cakes. Invert cakes onto racks; peel off parchment paper. Place another rack atop 1 cake and invert again so that cake is rounded side up. Repeat with second cake. Cool completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap each cake in plastic and store at room temperature.

Frosting

  • Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract and pinch of salt. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.
  • Using long serrated knife, trim off rounded tops of cakes to make level; brush off any loose crumbs. Transfer 1 cake to platter, trimmed side up. Drop half of frosting (about 1 1/2 cups) by spoonfuls atop cake. Spread frosting evenly to edges of cake. Top with second cake, trimmed side down. Drop remaining frosting by spoonfuls onto top of cake, leaving sides of cake plain. Spread frosting to top edges of cake, swirling and creating peaks, if desired. Sprinkle with pecans. Let cake stand at room temperature 1 hour to allow frosting to set slightly. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at room temperature at least 2 hours before serving. Makes 12 servings.
Cabbage dumpling with crispy onion

Potato-Mushroom Vareniki with Crispy Onion

Cabbage Dumplings

Cabbage Vareniki

Although the crispy fall air has already settled on Brooklyn, I’m honoring the final day of summer with photos from the last great beach weekend of ’09. Our small group met up in Brighton Beach, a seaside neighborhood in Brooklyn with a vibrant Russian community and boardwalk culture.

The first stop was Cafe Glechik (3159 Coney Island Avenue), a Ukranian restaurant we hit up for vareniki (dumplings), smoked and pickled noshes, borscht and a flaky Napoleon layered with a caramel custard.

Onward to the boardwalk and Cafe Volna (3145 Brighton 4th St) for beer–the Russian import Baltika. Surrounded by salty air, the native Russian tongue and men in track suits shooting vodkas, it was a poor-man’s vacation to the Black Sea.

Our final stroll was down Brighton Beach Ave to locate a little piece of history. My grandma Florence lived in Brighton Beach as a child where her parents ran the grocery store, George’s Dairy, on Brighton 3 Street. At that time the neighborhood was predominantly Jewish. My Great-Grandmother Efrosina, “Nanny,” ran the store and spoke fluent Yiddish along with her native Romanian and about three other Eastern European languages. So we journeyed to Brighton 3 Street for some photos, and left with some Russian vodka.

Sweet Farmer's Cheese Vareniki with sour cream

Sweet Farmer's Cheese Vareniki with sour cream

Pickled Herring

Pickled Herring

Pickled Watermelon
Baltika

Baltika

Brighton 3rd

Brighton 3 Street

Ukranian Borscht

Ukrainian Borscht

Brighton Beach Boardwalk

Brighton Beach Boardwalk

Sausage

Sausage

Bird waiting for take-out

Bird-toting customer at Cafe Glechik

Boardwalk Love

Boardwalk Love

Alive and Cookin’

September 12, 2009

Eggplant parm

Eggplant Parm

Eggplant parm in pan3

"One-pan Parm"

tomato watermelon salad

Heirloom Tomato, Watermelon and Feta

veggie_quinoa3

Quinoa Salad

Sometimes it’s cook OR blog, not cook AND blog. That being said, a game of blog catch up is in order. Here are a few of the meals from the last week(s).

The Eggplant Parm really needs a new name since nary a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano made it into the dish. Just lots of fresh mozzarella layered between pretty lavender farm-share eggplant, farm peppers, tomato sauce and basil.

The “Parm” was a one-panner– baked in the same pan used to saute the eggplant and veggies (see photo).

My favorite part of the tomato-watermelon-arugula salad is the contrast of light and dark greens and pops of pink. My theory that cheese brings all salads together hasn’t failed me yet. Here the addition of feta reminds me of the tradition (Southern?) of sprinkling salt on your watermelon that I learned from a kid in some backyard in Oklahoma. I wouldn’t be too shocked to see foodie offspring begin to sprinkle feta on their watermelon wedges. Just like Mommy.

The quinoa salad comes from the Modern Vegetarian Kitchen cookbook by Peter Berley. It is loaded with vegetables, dressed in an apple cider vinaigrette, and studded with toasted sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds. You can substitute whatever is in season for the vegetables and herbs. My adaptation follows:

Quinoa Salad

For the Salad:

  • 1/3 cup hulled sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup hulled sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • Kernels from 2 ears sweet corn
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 bunch red radishes (8 to 10), trimmed and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 large carrot, grated

For the Marinade:

  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems chopped
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly milled black pepper
  1. In a medium saute pan, stirring over medium heat, toast the seeds until golden brown. Pour them into a bowl and set aside to cool.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring 6 cups of water and a large pinch of salt to a boil. Add the quinoa and simmer 14 minutes or until done. Drain in a mesh colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside to drain.
  3. In a pot fitted with a steamer, combine the corn kernels with the red onion. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove to a colander and rinse under cold water; drain.
  4. To make the marinade, in a large mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, cilantro, scallions, jalapeno pepper, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper to taste; whisk.
  5. Add the toasted seeds, quinoa, steamed vegetables, red pepper, radishes and carrot to the marinade. Mix well and refrigerate for 20 minutes to marry the flavors. Taste for seasoning, add more salt and black pepper, if desired.

Yield: 4 – 6 servings

Michael Pollan’s response to Obama’s health care speech–snippets from his NY Times op-ed:

“A patient with Type 2 diabetes incurs additional health care costs of more than $6,600 a year; over a lifetime, that can come to more than $400,000. Insurers will quickly figure out that every case of Type 2 diabetes they can prevent adds $400,000 to their bottom line. Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.”

“AGRIBUSINESS dominates the agriculture committees of Congress, and has swatted away most efforts at reform. But what happens when the health insurance industry realizes that our system of farm subsidies makes junk food cheap, and fresh produce dear, and thus contributes to obesity and Type 2 diabetes? It will promptly get involved in the fight over the farm bill — which is to say, the industry will begin buying seats on those agriculture committees and demanding that the next bill be written with the interests of the public health more firmly in mind.”

Check out the full article below:

Big Food vs. Big Insurance

Jordan's Lobster Bar, Island Park, NY

Jordan's Lobster Bar, Island Park, NY

Maine lobster roll

Maine lobster roll

Wasn’t going to let summer pass without a fix of shellfish on a hot dog bun. That is the beauty of the lobster roll, lobster and mayonnaise and not much else to screw it up.

Compared with the meticulous composition of a Manhattan lobster roll, Jordan Lobster Bar’s heaps of perfectly-cooked claw and knuckle meat were worth the soggy bun and bag of Lays. There was no doubt 1/2 lb of lobster on my paper tray. I picked up a fork and went about my business, and saved my chips for the train ride home.