Monthly Archives: September 2016

Almond Butter and Apricot Bars

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I got a call from my dad last Tuesday saying my grandma had become unresponsive. The nurse told my dad and his siblings that she would most likely pass in the coming days.  I asked my dad to call me as soon as she passed away. I waited for the call. It was excruciating. By the end of the day Thursday there was still no change. By then, I had become extremely anxious and wasn’t sleeping well. I needed to numb the pain and not deal with my feelings. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I started to eat and didn’t stop until Saturday night.  I ate potato chips, ice cream, pizza, chocolate and cookies. I couldn’t shove the food in fast enough to fill the hole.  I hadn’t eaten like that in years. I actually went to bed Saturday night feeling sick. My dad called Sunday morning to tell me that my grandma passed away Saturday night with several of her kids by her bedside. And just like that, the bingeing was over. Now that my grandma was gone, I could let myself feel the pain of losing her. I wanted to go for a run and process my grief while listening to music. It was the most nurturing thing I could think of to do for myself. I blared Beyonce in my earbuds and started to run, all the while thinking about my grandma’s life. It wasn’t an easy one, but I hope that she had true moments of joy and contentment.
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This recipe is an Ina Garten one that I tweaked simply because I had apricot jam in my refrigerator that I wanted to use. I love the combination of almond and apricot, especially when almond extract is involved. Of course, you can easily swap out the almond butter for peanut butter and use strawberry jam in lieu of the apricot jam if you want a straight-up classic combination. But it’s fun to try new flavors, and if you haven’t experienced the almond/apricot pairing, I encourage you to try this. Even if you’re not a seasoned baker, it’s a very approachable recipe.  It also feels a bit autumnal, which is absolutely perfect for this week.

Almond Butter and Apricot Bars
Adapted from Ina Garten

Yield:  24 bars

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups creamy almond butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups apricot jam
2/3 cups almond slivers

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x13x2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes.
3. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla and almond extract, eggs, and almond butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.
4. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the almond butter mixture. Mix just until combined.
5. Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don’t worry if all the jam isn’t covered; it will spread in the oven.
6. Sprinkle with almond slivers and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely, and cut into squares.

 

Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Chorizo and Pomegranate

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I went back to Minnesota in August to visit my family. It was a really great trip overall. I had really nice moments with family, and had some quiet moments to myself that allowed me to reflect on how far I’ve come in my relationships with my family members. We’ve all done our share of personal growth, and it’s been manifested in the way we interact with each other. Of course, we still have our moments, but we can work through them much faster than we did in the past.

I visited my 88-year old grandma while there. She has had dementia for a while now, but she has been holding on fairly well. I know that people with dementia can deteriorate pretty quickly, but I was still not prepared for what I saw. She has whittled down to almost nothing, and she was barely lucid during the two short visits I had with her. My grandma has not had an easy life. Her husband was not a good man – he was mean, was never around, and had several affairs. She raised 8 kids largely on her own. I’ve often wondered what her life would have been like if she hadn’t met my grandpa. I think she always yearned for a bigger life. She wanted to contribute something to the world other than being a mother and a housewife. She is a very smart woman who liked to stay informed of politics and social justice issues. I remember her once telling me she was so happy that I had moved away from my small town. I think the little joy she got out of life she obtained through other people who were living happier and more fulfilling lives.

It was heartbreaking to see her now in this condition. However, my dad truly impressed me with the way he interacted with her during our visit. He was very loving and tender – making sure she had enough water, asking her if she was too warm. It almost brought me to tears. Because my dad was not a very warm and nurturing person while I was growing up, his kindness today can often times stop me in my tracks. It’s such a beautiful thing to see how people can evolve and become better human beings. My dad was never close to my grandma, and, in fact, I think they had a bit of a contentious relationship when he was growing up. Knowing this makes his caretaking of her now that much more touching.

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I lurrrrrve sweet potatoes. However, I think I am unusual in my disliking of them in a sweet preparation. That will NEVER happen in my kitchen. People, they are already sweet to begin with! And they pair so nicely with bitter, savory, and umami flavors. One of my favorite ways to eat sweet potatoes is to turn them into french fries, covered in rosemary, garlic and sea salt. It beats McDonalds fries any day of the week. Ok, maybe not when I’m pms’ing, but you get the point. This is a great recipe to make this time of year. Summer is winding down and the first few hints of fall are in the air. It’s a hearty dish but it’s still light enough that it won’t weigh you down. Of course, if chorizo is hard to find in your neighborhood (or you just don’t eat pork), you can substitute chicken, beef, lamb, etc. I bet lamb would be extra delicious in this recipe.

Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Chorizo and Pomegranate
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield: 4-6 servings

1/2 pound fresh chorizo, casings removed
3 cipollini onions, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup pure pomegranate juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
Salt & pepper; Course sea salt
Crème fraîche or sour cream
Sliced avocado
Pomegranate seeds
Finely grated lime zest

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°. Set each sweet potato on a sheet of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and season with course sea salt.
2. Wrap the potatoes in the foil and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the chorizo and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the onions, chile and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo is cooked through and the onions are softened, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add the pomegranate juice and cook until nearly absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro and season with salt and pepper.
5. Unwrap the sweet potatoes and arrange on a platter. Cut a lengthwise slit in the top of each one and fluff the insides with a fork. Season with salt and pepper and fill with the chorizo mixture.
6. Top each sweet potato with crème fraîche, sliced avocado, pomegranate seeds, grated lime zest and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.