Pumpkin Pie Spice and Everything Nice!

There are a lot of things I love about the fall. Football, colorful crunchy leaves, thick socks and most of all – the abundance of pumpkin EVERYTHING. As I was going through Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cook book, “Sweet”, I stumbled upon a delish spice cake recipe that uses pumpkin pie spice! So in the spirit of Halloween, I had to test it.

Growing up, my mom would make the most delicious spice cakes every year (she’s an amazing baker and constantly gets asked to make her famous rum cakes, spice cakes and chocolate rolls). So, as I try to channel my mom and Ottolenghi, here is what I came up with! Of course I had to give it a flare, so I added toasted hazelnuts, fresh sage and dates to the batter. And let me tell you, the kitchen smelled AMAZING.

Recipe

¾ cup butter, at room temperature

¾ packed cup dark brown sugar

¾ packed cup light brown sugar

finely grated zest of 1 large orange

3 large eggs

½ cup sour cream

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 heaping tsp pumpkin pie spice (YUM)

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp apple cider vin

 

Rian’s Mix In’s (add anything you like! )

2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

¼ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

½ cup sliced dates

1 tsp flour

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375 Degrees. Grease a standard 9×5 loaf pan and line with parchment paper, then set aside.
  2. Place the butter, sugars and orange zest in a bowl and beat until lightened and smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream and vanilla extract until smooth

4. In another separate bowl (lots of bowls!), sift the flour, pumpkin pie spice and salt together.

5. In alternate batches, slowly mix the egg mixture and flour mixture in with the butter and sugars. When almost combined, stir the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl until it fizzes and add to the mixture.

6. In my version of the recipe, I added in toasted hazelnuts, dates and chopped sage to the batter! Stir the additional ingredients with a pinch of flour. This will ensure that they won’t sink to the bottom of the cake. Mix to combine.

7. Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes.

8. Allow the cake to cool and serve with a glass of wine or a hot coffee (I prefer the wine). I smothered mine with homemade butternut squash and cream cheese icing, but the cake itself can stand alone. Enjoy! And have the happiest Halloween!!

xoxo,

Rian

 

 

Finding Inspiration for the Kitchen

A meal from LA’s Gjusta

Every week we come up with unique menus for our entire client roster. With two art studios and over ten families, each of which enjoy anywhere from two to five meals prepared by us weekly, that’s a lot of unique dishes to dream up.

So, we’re constantly on the lookout for inspiration. I thought I’d share a few favorite places to find it:

  • Travel
    • Like the rest of the What We Eat gals, I plan entire vacations around food. I’ve traveled to Copenhagen for Noma, Napa for French Laundry and (multiple times) to LA for Gjusta and Gjelina. I’m just as excited by less formal places where I get to see how locals more routinely dine. Finally, I drag my husband to every farmer’s market I can find to taste and learn about new ingredients. I take copious notes on my iphone “Notes” app about all of it.
A farmers market in Turin, Italy
Outside Copenhagen’s Noma
  • Eating out
    • Every opportunity to dine out is an opportunity for inspiration. I order as much as I and my dining partners can stomach, take notes on flavor combinations that excite me and take pictures for plating ideas. While I probably go a little overboard in this department, I suggest ordering something a little outside of your comfort zone. Try to discern the ingredients used and how they might have gone about making it. Obviously this is hard for something like pâté, but I’ve recreated many a restaurant salad, etc. with great success. And because you can tweak things to your preferences at home, you might just like your version even more. I’m also a big collector of restaurant menus. Even though they usually just have a few ingredients listed, if I take notes on them they’re like shorthand recipes.
Documenting a creative dish at Noma

Next time you feel like you’re in a rut, eat out, peruse the internet, or hey, take a vacation! Keep a little notebook handy to jot down dishes, ingredients and recipes that excite you so you have a standing list to refer back to later on.

Happy cooking!

With love, Laura

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What We Believe About Eating Well

“Healthy” food is having its day. It seems like there’s a new Sweetgreen, By Chloe or juice bar along those lines opening up each time you turn your head in New York City.  Bon Appetit has launched a new brand and site, Healthyish, to “cover wellness through the lens of food.” Eighteen of Amazon’s 20 top selling cookbooks have a health focus. The hashtag #cleaneating has over 29.5 million posts and counting on Instagram. People are connecting the dots between how they eat and how they feel.

On the one hand, this is awesome. Think about it, we literally are what we eat. Every strand of hair, follicle of skin and organ in our bodies is made up of the building blocks provided by what we eat. I don’t know whether that fact will ever stop fascinating me. The more people realize and celebrate this, the better.

On the other hand, some of what I see makes me uneasy. The more interest there is in healthy eating, the more commoditized it becomes. Many of those making a business around it, whether as an Instagram celebrity or as a food company, are not as informed as they purport. They claim that their way of eating, or their product offers the optimum diet. Conviction is easier to sell.

“It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.”

– Dr. David Katz, Founding Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

The truth is, there is not one way to eat well. Envision eating on a spectrum. On one end are total junk food diets. Think Doritos for breakfast, burger/fries for lunch and pizza for dinner. On the other end are more whole foods-based diets. Think tons of produce, lean proteins, whole grains and legumes, etc. There are endless ways to eat poorly and endless ways to eat well. If you are operating at the healthy end of the spectrum, there should be no anxiety around doing things “right” or “wrong”.

As a company, we strive to help our clients eat better no matter their choice of diet. We have clients who are vegan and animal-protein obsessed, gluten-free and grain-loving, dairy-averse and cheese-loving…you get the point. None are innately healthier than the other. It comes down to personal choice.

As a team, we enjoy all foods. Most of the time you’ll catch us crushing veggies but we never turn our noses up to a plate of the best fries or a good dessert. The former isn’t #cleaneating because it implies the latter is somehow dirty. It’s not! Its balanced. This isn’t “healthyish”. It’s healthy.

As this movement continues to boom, take heart in knowing that you’re probably already doing most things right. The devil is not in the details. And remember that while food is certainly a vehicle for health, it’s also about pleasure, culture and community. Enjoy it for all it has to offer!

With love always, xo Laura

Homemade Syrian Bread

I didn’t know much about Syrian cuisine until about a month ago when we decided to host our #CookForSyria dinner. And I definitely didn’t realize how cooking and sharing their food would give me such an innate sense of community.

While the rest of the crew was rolling falafels balls, mandolining thousands of root vegetables for a slaw and grilling dozens of red peppers for muhammara, I was tasked with making one of the most important components of the menu: the pita. It was also perhaps the least exotic or hard-to-pronounce item on the menu (still trying to figure out how to pronounce mejadra), second only to hummus. Indeed, pita has become a household staple in the U.S. and you don’t need to have any knowledge of what’s happening in the Middle East to get your hands on some. It’s stocked at every grocery store and bodega nationwide.

In Syria, pita is even more common but it’s not something you just add to your grocery list. It’s most often kneaded by hand from fermented dough and baked over a fire-pit in the backyard. In our attempt at authenticity, we insisted that ours be homemade too. Even with a commercial grade oven and food processor, turning out 100+ pitas was far from easy.


With tables set and guests buzzing, I was still zipping across the kitchen with dough and flour on every surface, including myself. The perfect assembly line I’d envisioned was well out the window. Lucky for me, our guests were distracted with drinks and nibbles so this controlled chaos wasn’t on full display. It wasn’t until I finally sat down (and took a much needed breath) that I realized how extraordinary the pita I worked so hard to make really was.

My plate resembled a painting of dolloped dips and spoonfuls of slaw. My pita was the brush stroke that drew it all together. I was literally sitting, staring at my plate thinking, Wow, this dish is the ultimate symbol of chaos, harmony and humility all wrapped up in a pita. My humble pita was nothing more than a vehicle to bring flavors together, however it feels like there’s an overarching metaphor at play here too. For most of us, including those that attended our #CookForSyria dinner, it’s hard to imagine a life wrought by distress, violence and injustice, but that’s the reality that Syrian refugees and displaced citizens face almost every day. Bringing people together was not only meant to raise money and try Syrian cuisine, it was about creating a space for cultures to collide and appreciation and compassion to ruminate. When the dinner was all said and done, that was the most magic element I felt in the room and on the plate.

With Love,

Charlotte

Syrian Pita Bread Recipe (from Food & Wine with my own added instructions):

Makes about 16 pitas

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 envelopes (3 3/8 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 6 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the bowl

Method:

Set a pizza stone (or an upside-down sheet tray) on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees or as high as it will go.

In a bowl, combine the warm water and yeast and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, pulse flour and salt until combined.

With the machine on, pour in the yeast mixture and then the warm milk and process until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times. Form the dough into a ball.

Pour about ¼ tsp. oil into a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl and turn to coat. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. You can also do this step ahead of time and allow the dough to rise halfway and then move it to the refrigerator to slow the rising process down up to 12 hours or overnight! An hour before it’s time to bake, take the dough out to come to room temperature and continue to rise completely.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Punch down the dough and cut it in half. Cut each half into 8 pieces and roll them into balls, then flatten into 6-inch rounds. Arrange the rounds on the work surface. Let rise until puffy, 25 minutes.

Using a lightly floured pizza peel, slide 4 of the rounds onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet at a time and bake for about 5 minutes, until the pitas puff up. Each oven is different so times may vary. (With the oven we used, it only took a minute or two.) Keep an eye on the pitas and take them out the moment they puff up and barely begin to brown. Serve hot or wrap in foil to keep warm.

New Year’s Practice is the New Resolution: Homemade Hummus

Mediterranean Hummus with roasted pine nuts

We made it through the holidays and toasted to the New Year, now it’s time to get to work on our resolutions. Although a resolution implies that we want to make positive changes in our lives, I think oftentimes we get caught up in more negative connotations. It’s like we’re saying that the 2016 version of ourselves wasn’t enough and we need to be smarter, richer, thinner, you name it, this year.

Hummus with pine nuts and parsley

So, in 2017, instead of a resolution, I’m setting a “practice”. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “an ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” In order to make lasting changes in your life you need to practice and practice makes perfect right? My practice is food related, but instead of eliminating bad foods from my diet, which would bring us down the negative resolution path, I’m choosing to view my goals as a learning experience. So here it is: In 2017, I will savor anything my heart desires as long as it’s homemade. And I don’t have to be perfect.

Mediterranean Hummus

More than anything, this will allow me to learn. With each passing day I spend as a chef, I discover more about how much there is to learn. For me, that mean’s doing. I could read every word of every cookbook on my shelf (33 of them, but who’s counting?), but to retain the information and knowledge of my cooking heroes, I need to make stuff and practice what my teachers preach. So, with my practice, I’ll kill two birds with one stone: I’ll respect my every day cravings (brioche buns, cappuccinos…) and teach myself how to make the things I eat that aren’t homemade. It may seem like a tall order but ultimately I’m hoping to make it a part of my routine, second nature, like riding a bike.

Pine nuts for Mediterranean Hummus

The first step to forming a new routine is setting boundaries and guidelines. Here are mine…

  • This is not a cleanse, but a clean-out! I’m ridding my pantry of all processed foods and filling it with the bare necessities. In an excerpt from Laura’s post about habits, Strengthening Willpower Starts at Home, she writes, “Don’t buy it. Clearly the easiest way to resist temptation foods in your home is to not allow them entry in the first place.”
  • If I’m craving it, make it! It’s my hope that by taking the time to make something like ice cream from scratch, I’ll actually wind up enjoying it more. Not to mention, there’s probably an added benefit of wanting to make homemade things last longer because savoring food means you’re eating less.
  • Make it in bulk and freeze your heart out! Many menu-planning-star-students have mastered this craft already and for this practice it’s absolutely necessary in a household with full workweeks. This means hardening off a few hours of my Sundays to making bulk snacks, freezer-friendly meals and prepped menu goodies. This would include things like our Olive Oil Salty-Sweet Granola, freshly blended hummus, homemade pita, frozen smoothie mixes, meatballs and soups, as well as portioned salad ingredients like toasted nuts and mandolined veggies (the way we do for our clients). This makes the task of piecing it all together after a long day a piece of cake.
  • Ask for help and help others! Sometimes it feels like it takes a village to put dinner on the table so it’s helpful to know how to delegate. I live with my boyfriend, a notoriously reluctant cook, who has really stepped up to the plate (pun-intended) in recent months and has even come up with a few of his own individual home-cooking goals. Teaching is another great tactic for retaining kitchen knowledge so entertaining is also permitted!
  • Let dining out be motivating, not shameful! Most of my inspiration and passion for cooking comes from experiencing new cuisines and keeping up with trending dishes. I live in NYC for goodness sake! When it’s all said and done by limiting my food-exposure, I’m undermining my curiosity as a chef and isn’t that the whole point of my new practice?

Mediterranean lunch

So here’s to 2017! I’m wishing you all a delicious, homemade food-filled year ahead. First task? Getting rid of that awful store-bought tub of hummus and giving mine a go.

Charlotte’s Homemade Mediterranean Hummus

  • 1 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2/3 cup tahini paste
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 3 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 tbs. good olive oil (approximately)
  • 2 tbs. fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Pinch crushed red pepper, or to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tbs. pine nuts, toasted

Method:

  1. In a medium sauce-pan over medium heat mix chickpeas and baking soda, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes until the baking soda has dissolved.
  2. Add enough water to cover the chickpeas and bring to a boil. Simmer until the chickpeas become really soft, but not mushy. Strain off the shells that float to the surface.
  3. Strain and transfer to a blender or food processer and process until the mixture resembles a paste. It’s okay if it’s lumpy.
  4. With the blade spinning add in lemon juice and ½ the zest, tahini paste, salt and gradually pour in the ice water (with ice cubes) until the mixture becomes smooth and silky. You may need more or less water depending on the power of your blender so watch carefully.
  5. Meanwhile heat a small skillet with the olive oil until hot. Add the crushed garlic cloves allow them to sizzle and brown on both sides pushing them down with the back of your spatula, about 5 minutes.
  6. Reserve the excess oil in a small mixing bowl to cool and drop the sautéed garlic into the food processor and blend until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  7. Once the oil has cooled add parsley, crushed red pepper, lemon zest, pepper and a pinch of salt. Stir until combined. Add extra oil to loosen if necessary.
  8. Spoon hummus into a serving dish and pour the parsley-oil over. Finish with a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts and enjoy!

With love, Charlotte