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Homemade Fudge Pops

25 Apr

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The weather this week has been marvelous. In fact, this entire spring has been marvelous so far. Not only did we get to experience the rare treat known as a sunny Easter weekend, but this week alone has boasted three gloriously warm and sunny days wherein we actually got to eat our dinner outside. Not wearing coats. I know, right? Due to the consistently gray and sorrowful weather we in the Pacific Northwest put up with most of the year, the early appearance of sunlight and warmth tends to excite us more than most people in other parts of the country are able to understand. As soon as we’re gifted a few spring days with no rain, we put away our winter boots. When the clouds part and the sun emerges, we ditch our coats. And when the temperature spikes above 70 degrees? Forget about it. It’s t-shirts, sundresses, picnics, and cold treats all day long.

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Naturally, due to our current spell of 70-plus degree days, it seemed like a good time to make some homemade popsicles. To up the ante, since it seems a little like cheating to claim that you’ve “made” homemade popsicles when, in reality, all you’ve done is pour a bit of juice into some popsicle molds and then waited for the freezer to work its magic, I set aside regular popsicle making in favor of something a bit more special: fudge popsicles.

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It’s actually rather puzzling to me that I initially chose to make fudge popsicles in lieu of fruit popsicles, since I don’t really care for fudge, but I can’t think of any scenario wherein I would turn down an invitation to eat some fruit. But, really, a fudge popsicle (or fudgesicle) is a closer relative to ice cream than proper fudge, and lord knows there is pretty much no situation during which I would turn down an offer to eat some ice cream. These fudge pops offer a nice in between, for those of you who are fans of both ice cream and simpler popsicles. While not as rich as chocolate ice cream, there is certainly more going on here than what one finds in a standard popsicle. Creamy and rich, yet also light and refreshing, I think I have found my new favorite warm weather treat.

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Last Year: Two of my favorites, Lemon, Almond, and Cornmeal Cake and How to Make Homemade Crunchy Herb and Chèvre Croutons

Homemade Fudge Pops (Fudgesicles)

Adapted from On a Stick, by Matt Armendariz

Using the best semi-sweet dark chocolate you can find definitely makes a difference (I used 54% Belgian chocolate with a nice smoky aftertaste).

2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) chopped semi-sweet dark chocolate

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups milk
(I used 1%, and I suspect that a heavier fat milk, or even a mix of milk and heavy cream, would be great here as well)

pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan set over very low heat, gently melt the chopped chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, milk and salt. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon or spatula (my mixture took about 5 minutes to thicken up nicely).

Remove from heat, add vanilla, and stir gently until combined.

Set aside to cool slightly (the mixture will thicken even more as it cools) then pour into popsicle molds of your choosing. Freeze for at least 8 hours, but preferably overnight in order to obtain the best texture.

Note: After a bit of trial and error, I have found that the best way to release these things from their molds is to run the popsicle molds under a bit of warm water, then gently wiggle the fudge pops free. Trying to pull them out without first warming the molds will result in you most likely just yanking the handles free from the fudge pops themselves, which is just sad.

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Easter Foods and a Vegetable Frittata

21 Mar

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My son recently told me that he likes Easter more than he likes Christmas. This was not entirely surprising to hear, since the kid, as I may have mentioned before, has a thing for rabbits. The thing about my son’s relationship to Easter is that, while he loves bunnies, he is not in any way interested in eating bunny-themed treats. Just as in the case of the aforementioned carrot muffins, things shaped like bunnies are, according to him, “too cute to eat.” Chocolate eggs are fine, but, as evidenced by the pile of animal-shaped chocolates we have had sitting on a kitchen shelf for two years now, chocolate bunnies are off limits.

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What is not off limits, thanks to the preponderance of egg-related art projects that come along with Easter, is food made with eggs. Lots and lots of eggs. Whether you are decorating hard-cooked eggs, making cascarones, or creating your very own Easter egg tree (no, seriously, click on that link and behold the glory of a tree decorated with 10,000 individually decorated Easter eggs, and then sit back and dream about the type of omelet that family could make with the insides of those 10,000 eggs that they blew out one at a time), you’re likely to find yourself with a few eggs sitting around this time of the year.

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Though you may not have to think up as many egg dishes as the Kraft family of Germany, chances are you’ll have a few eggs at your disposal this Easter. This is where I come in to help. For the next week or so, it’s going to be all eggs, all the time, or at least until Easter passes and we can all go back to focusing on what we normally focus on around here, which is to say: cake and salads, because that seems to be the theme as of late. (Not at all related, by the way.)

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We’ll start here, with the simplest of egg dishes. A frittata is like a delicious compost pile for all of your refrigerator leftovers. Throw in a bit of this, a bunch of that, stick it in the oven, and moments later you’ve got yourself one delightful meal. The frittata I feature here is comprised of half of a leftover baked potato, the last ribs of a sliced onion, and some day-old garlicky sautéed kale, all topped off with a nice lid of shredded Parmesan cheese. Suitable for any time of the day, it’s a two-part winner for your leftovers and your tummy. Everyone wins.

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Last Year: Chocolate Swirled Bread–another great entry in the cake-as-bread category

Vegetable Frittata

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¼ cup thinly sliced onion

½ cup diced, cooked potato

1 cup leftover cooked greens (chard, spinach, greens, what have you)

4 large eggs

salt and pepper to taste

dash of good hot sauce (Tapatio, Tamazula, and Cholula are all good candidates)

¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven’s broiler. Arrange an oven shelf in the highest position.

In an ovenproof skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onions, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, stir to combine and heat through, then add cooked greens. Stir to combine, the reduce heat to low.

In a small bowl, combine eggs, salt and pepper, and a dash of hot sauce. Whisk with a fork until eggs are combined. Add Parmesan cheese, and stir to combine.

Pour eggs over vegetables in skillet. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, coax any egg run-off back towards the vegetables. Allow to cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the bottom of the eggs seem somewhat set, and the edges of the eggs appear be just beginning to dry. Place skillet on top shelf of oven, directly beneath the broiler. Broil frittata for 2 to 4 minutes, until the middle is set, the top is puffed, and the color is just tinted golden.

Remove from oven, loosen frittata with spatula, and serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 3 to 4 people.

Homemade Energy Bars

24 Jan

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When my son was in kindergarten, the head of his school sent a very polite note to all the parents asking that they please not pack energy bars in their children’s lunches. Energy bars, she explained, are little more than candy bars packaged as a healthy food, and they’re not the type of thing that five year-olds need to have powering them during school. When I read this note, I was sort of flabbergasted. Not because the head of my son’s school was asking that kids not eat energy bars while at school, but because, up until that point, I realized that I had no idea what an energy bar actually was. I thought it was, like, a granola bar with more nuts in it, or maybe a tightly packed rectangle of muesli. Energy bars have added sugar in them? They contain chocolate? Who knew?

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Well, as it turns out, everybody in the entire world, aside from me, knew that. Not to keep feeding the myth of my own Luddite tendencies, but, look, I have never actually eaten an energy bar, nor have I ever seen one out of its package. If you’ve never been in close proximity of an energy bar, one would logically think that, hey, if this food is supposed to keep people energized while doing physical activity, it must be packed with lots of protein, a good dose of fruit, and maybe some grains. In reality, energy bars are basically cookies. Sure, they can be organic, cane juice (read: sugar) sweetened, oatmeal cookies, but they are still cookies. Sometimes they’re even just straight-up brownies. Now, it should be obvious to everyone here that I have absolutely no problem with cookies and other sweets, but I tend to think that if you’re going to make something that is labeled as being healthy or good for a kid, that thing should actually live up to its name.

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This is all a long-winded way to tell you all that, look, I, the person who has never actually seen an energy bar, have made you some energy bars. Actually, what I have made is not so much an energy bar, as it is what I think an energy bar should be. It is packed with protein, filled with fruit, and it contains no gluten or grains (not because I don’t eat gluten or grains, but because I thought people might like having the option of an energy bar without those things in it). It is just about as friendly and harmless a snack as anyone could ever wish for, only these suckers are also super delicious. Like, almost dangerously so. I’ve taken to eating one just about every other waking hour, which means that I am going to have to start preparing for some hiking or power-biking pretty soon, lest I waste the virtues of these energy bars on my current low energy activities of sitting, typing, and reading. Although, sometimes I do get up and stretch in between prolonged bursts of frantic typing, which means that, hmmmm, maybe I might need another energy bar to help my body power up for more stretching. You wait here while I go get one. I’ll lead some stretches when I get back.

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Last Year: Yard Long Beans with Chile Oil and Garlic Bits and Ponzu-Marinated Flank Steak

Homemade Energy Bars

These little bars are basically little more than a collection of fruits and nuts all ground together and then baked a bit to keep their shape. The recipe below was based on whatever seeds, nuts and dried fruits I had sitting around in the house, but I’d encourage you to use whatever combination of flavors you think would be good. I think dried, unsweetened coconut would be great in here, as would dried apricots, dried apples, or dried, unsweetened cherries.

¼ unfiltered apple cider

½ cup whole Medjool dates, cut into quarters, seeds removed

½ cup dried mangoes

½ cup dried pears

1 cup whole raw almonds

¼ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

¼ cup raw sunflower seeds

¼ teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine apple cider, dates, dried mangoes, and dried pears. Toss to combine, then allow to sit and soak for a bit while you gather the remaining ingredients.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine soaked dried fruits (along with any apple cider remaining in the bowl) and almonds. Pulse 5 or 6 times to coarsely chop everything. Add the pepitas, sunflower seeds, and salt, then pulse half a dozen more times until the mixture sticks together and begins to clump up. There should still be big chunks of seeds and nuts visible.

Turn mixture out on to a large sheet of wax paper. Wet your hands with water (to prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands too much), then shape the mixture into a 12” by 6” rectangle. Cut the rectangle into 8 bars that are roughly 6” by 1.5” a piece. Using a flexible spatula, transfer bars to parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in center of oven for 10 minutes, then carefully turn each bar over and continue to bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. The bars should be slightly golden, but the nuts should not be singed or burned.

Remove from oven, and allow bars to cool on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container for 3 days at room temperature, or in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or just eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and never find it necessary to store them anywhere for any prolonged period of time.

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