Tag Archives: almonds

Almond-Cocoa Nib-Smoked Salt Bark

I’ve been trying to keep my head above water lately. I think I was in denial about my sister’s death for most of the summer. I went back to Minnesota frequently to spend time with my family, and somehow I was able to convince myself that Heidi hadn’t really died. Now that fall has set in and the weather has turned, sadness has enveloped me. It’s almost as if my body was waiting for the outside world to start dying so that it could accept my sister’s death as well. I’ve always loved the melancholy of fall, but this year it has taken on a different meaning for me. Like a lot of people I know, fall was Heidi’s favorite time of year. And so, I am thinking about her a lot. It’s her birthday tomorrow; she would have been 43. I plan on getting a carrot cupcake to celebrate my beautiful big sister. Sometimes I think about years down the road, when I am that much older, and my parents are elderly. How is it possible that she won’t be there with us? Neither of us had children, so this is the end of the line for my family. I am staring down my mortality these days.

Trying to stay busy helps to keep the sadness at bay some days. And other days, it’s useless. The tears can spring up when I least expect it: seeing another blue-eyed redhead sitting across from me on the subway, hearing one of Heidi’s favorite songs playing in the grocery store, or watching a movie that has siblings in it. For a while, I was baking obsessively simply because I didn’t know what else to do. My freezer is now full of cookies, muffins, and brownies.

In reference to grief, I’ve heard people say that they were initially scared about forgetting their loved one if they attempted to move on with their life. It’s a horrible catch-22: when I am feeling the full weight of my sorrow, I feel closest to my sister, and so in a strange way the rawness feels nurturing and restorative. And on the days where I am keeping myself distracted and not thinking about the loss of my sister, I feel very disconnected from it all. In order for me to feel closer to her, I want to get back to the sadness and pain. Maybe it’s just a necessary part of grieving, a way for our brains to force us to process our emotions. Regardless, I will get through it.

In celebration of Halloween, try this recipe for Almond-Cocoa Nib-Smoked Salt Bark. If you use chocolate that is 60% cacao or higher, it’s packed with anti-oxidants and other good stuff.

Happy Halloween!

Almond-Cocoa Nib-Smoked Salt Bark

20 ounces (60% or darker) chocolate chips

1 cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped

1/4 cup cocoa nibs

2 tablespoons smoked coarse sea salt

1. Line a 8×8-inch square pan with parchment paper; set aside.
2. Gently melt the chocolate using a double boiler or microwave method.  Remove from heat.
3. Pour chocolate into parchment-lined pan.
4.Evenly sprinkle the almonds, cocoa nibs, and sea salt over the chocolate edge to edge.
5. Using the back of a spoon, gently push the almonds down to make sure each piece has adhered to the chocolate.
6. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes until firm.

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad

L1030066I am one week into my new food regimen.  I like to think of it as a regimen rather than a diet.  I don’t do well with diets.  The minute I am told I can’t have a particular food, I immediately want it.  This regimen was prescribed for me by a naturopathic doctor that I have been seeing for my IBS.  As you know from my last post, peri-menopause has caused quite a bit of havoc in my life over the past 18 months. I can’t believe it took me this long to seek medical treatment. I am a firm believer that much of what ails us has to do with our diets. So when my doctor prescribed this specific diet for my condition, I decided to give it a go. One year ago, I probably would have said, “No thanks”, but I am desperate to feel better. The regimen is  similar to the Paleo diet in that it excludes sugar, dairy, and all cereal grains. However, I am allowed a few types of cheese (thank god) as well as legumes.  I joked to my husband that I might join the CrossFit/Paleo cult that has swept the nation. I saw fear in his eyes.

I had awful headaches during the first few days. I’m assuming this was my body going through sugar withdrawal. But after they passed, it got a lot easier. I’m feeling pretty good and not feeling deprived at all. In fact, the thought of sugar doesn’t even sound good to me, which is strange. I was planning on allowing myself a piece of cake next weekend for my birthday, but I decided that I am going to make a healthy dessert instead.  Black bean brownies, anyone? I will try to post that recipe here in the coming months. It’s one of my favorite things to eat when I need something sweet.

In the meantime, get a load of this salad! It may sound boring, but I can assure you that it’s full of flavor and slightly addictive.  The dressing has a nice bite/tang to it, thanks to mustard and shallots. Give it a whirl!

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield: 8-10 servings

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1 cup finely grated Pecorino

1. Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld.
2. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
3. Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 Tbsp. oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
4. Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

Banana French Toast With Streusel Topping

DSC_4409It was inevitable.  I finally contracted the winter cold/flu that’s been going around.  I forgot how much an illness can really put you out of commission.  I might actually make it out of my pajamas today, but don’t hold me to it.  Besides the usual muscle aches, chills, and runny nose, I’ve also had a nice low-grade headache for the past few days.  It’s all very manageable as long as I allow myself to lay down every few hours and regroup.  The one plus side to all this is that I’ve noticed my brain has cut me some slack.  Things appear to have slowed down the last few days.  My anxiety has quietly tiptoed out the door for the time being, and I don’t feel nearly as distracted as I usually do.  Have you ever juiced or fasted for several days?  If I remember correctly, the same feeling envelops you when you partake in a multi-day cleanse; it’s almost trance-like.  Of course, I’m also very low energy, so there’s that.  But this illness-induced-Zen-state feels kind of refreshing (if you don’t count the constant nose-blowing).  Being as that January is my least favorite month, this isn’t a bad way to go out.  But let’s not kid ourselves, I eagerly await February’s arrival.
DSC_4390I’m not nearly as obsessed with French toast as I am with pancakes However, I do still enjoy French toast, albeit usually stuffed or topped with something.  In other words, it needs a lot of bells and whistles in order for me to enjoy it.  I once made a cranberry cream cheese-stuffed French toast on Christmas morning.  It was rich and decadent, and received my stamp of approval.  I dug around for a recipe that was similar to the phenomenal banana-stuffed French toast I used to always order at Zoë in SoHo.  The restaurant is long gone, but that French toast would cause me to roll my eyes and moan with every bite.
DSC_4398Of course, you can swap out the bananas for your favorite fruit, but I think bananas pair really well with French toast.  And the caramelization that you get on the bananas is key.  If you’re feeling festive, add a splash of rum to the bananas when you caramelize them.  This will enhance the flavor.  Likewise, if you don’t have almonds on hand, you can always use pecans, hazelnuts, etc.  In fact, I think pecans might be a better pairing with this dish.  Let me know if you try it!
DSC_4400Banana French Toast With Streusel Topping
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield:  6 servings

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 large ripe bananas, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 1-pound unsliced loaf egg bread, ends trimmed, bread cut into 6 slices (each about 1-1/2 inches thick)
2 cups milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
6 large eggs
2-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups thinly sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup quick-cooking oats
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat.  Add 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons water and stir until sugar dissolves.  Continue stirring until mixture is foamy, about 2 minutes.
2.  Add bananas; cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to small bowl; cool.  (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead.  Cover and chill.)
3.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk milk, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl to blend.
4.  Pour into large glass baking dish.  Place bread in egg mixture; let soak 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
5.  Place almonds in shallow bowl.  Carefully remove bread from egg mixture and coat both sides with almonds.  Place bread on heavy large baking sheet.
6.  Place cooled, sliced bananas on top of bread slices.
7.  Mix brown sugar, oats, flour and remaining 2 teaspoons cinnamon in medium bowl.  Add remaining 1/4 cup butter and rub in, using fingertips, until moist clumps form.  Sprinkle topping over bread.
8.  Bake French toast until topping is golden brown and filling is hot, about 25 minutes.  Transfer toast to plates.  Serve hot with maple syrup.

Somewhat Healthy Granola

DSC_3992Mr. K and I just returned from Christmas in Minnesota.  Family time is hard, isn’t it?  My parents divorced when I was 16.  I was actually ok with it at the time, seeing as my mom and dad are not compatible in the least.  Both of my parents are remarried and have been for at least a decade.  I don’t think I was aware of it at the time of each of their weddings (or if I was I didn’t quite know how to handle it), but I felt very territorial when they remarried other people.  Perhaps part of it was dealing with the unresolved feelings from their divorce several years earlier, but I really struggled when they remarried.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I hid this very well from my mom.  I’ve never had a hard time telling my mom how I feel about things.  Of course, this isn’t necessarily a good trait.  Especially when my honest feelings end up hurting her.  I wasn’t crazy about my stepdad at first.  The summer after my sophomore year in college, I stayed at his house since my mom had recently moved in with him.  We ended up butting heads a lot that summer.  I think we both felt threatened and it played out like a bad sitcom.  I remember getting into an argument with him because he thought it was rude of me to not eat my dinners with them every night.  Naturally, he had no idea that I had been eating dinner solo basically since I was 16.  My stepdad and I have come a long way since then.

There were a few tense moments with various family members during my visit.  I grew up in a VERY small, rural town in Minnesota.  Many town residents consider Minneapolis “the big city” that some younger people end up moving to after high school or college.  For those of us who end up moving much farther away and to a much larger city, there can be a cultural divide when we go home to visit.  Many people in my extended family tend to feel threatened by this.  After I moved to NYC, I was hyper-aware of how I sounded and what I talked about during my first few visits home.  I wanted to be true to myself and my lifestyle without offending anyone that might feel intimidated by this.  It’s a tricky balancing act:  I want to share all of the fun and interesting things I’ve done lately without sounding pretentious.  Why hasn’t someone created an App for this yet?
DSC_3988 Tense moments aside, I realized during this visit home that I still tend to feel territorial towards my parents from time to time.  I love them both fiercely, and over the years I have become quite protective of my relationships with each of them.  It could be partly related to the fact that I no longer live close to them and haven’t in almost 11 years.  We are all getting older and our time together is limited.  Therefore, when I go home I want to spend as much time with them as possible.  And when I feel someone is threatening that, my fangs can come out.  Luckily, they only came out once or twice on this trip.  Maybe one of my New Year’s resolutions should be to sand down the fangs in 2014.  Nawwww, I don’t do resolutions.  But I will be sure to tell my parents how much I love them.

Do you know what else I love?  (Ok, that was a bad segue.)  This granola!  I’ve been making it regularly for my husband over the last year or so.  We are never out of this granola at our house.  Mr. K likes to eat it with fruit and almond milk for dessert most nights.  I am not blessed with the same metabolism, so I try to keep my intake to once a week or so.  You’ll notice that I call it “Somewhat Healthy Granola”.  I feel like granola is often touted as a healthy snack food, but the thing is, granola isn’t all that healthy.  There are probably two camps on this, but I put granola in the unhealthy category of food.  Most mass-market granolas are covered in sugar and oil, making them very delicious but very loaded with calories.  A lot of smaller granola producers have sprung up over the last few years, and they are holding back on the sugar and oil.  Instead, they highlight the oatmeal, nuts and dried fruit that make up the majority of the granola mixture.  This makes for a less sweet (and usually much less crunchy) but healthier granola.  My Somewhat Healthy Granola recipe falls into this latter category.  But don’t fret, the brown sugar and maple syrup still ensure a wonderfully-rich sweetness.  And although there is no butter in this recipe, there is a hint of butter flavor that comes from the toasted nuts.  I’m a sucker for salty-sweet snacks and this falls under that umbrella.  If you aren’t crazy about salty sweets the way I am, you can easily cut back on the salt.

Happy 2014!

Somewhat Healthy Granola
Adapted from Alton Brown

Yield: 6-10 servings

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup almonds, pecans, or walnuts (or whatever your favorite nut is)
3/4 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
2.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
3.  In a large bowl, combine the oats, nut, coconut, and brown sugar.
4.  In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil and salt.
5.  Add oil mixture to oats mixture and stir until combined.
6.  Pour mixture onto parchment-lined baking sheet.
7.  Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, tossing every 15 minutes to ensure even toasting.
8.  Remove from oven and let cool for 1 hour.
9.  Transfer granola to a tightly-sealed container.

Almond-Apricot Thumbprints

DSC_4001I’ve been on a Christmas cookie-baking bender the last few weeks.  I think I’m making up for lost time.  The last two Christmas seasons I was incapacitated by the day-to-day aspects of running my chocolate business.  I would wake up at 5 a.m., assemble packages to be shipped, go into the kitchen at 9 a.m. to make more chocolates, come home at 7p.m., inhale some leftover pizza, spend an hour promoting my business on social media, continue packaging product until 11 or 12 that evening.  And then start over again the next day.  I barely had time to bathe, rarely saw my husband, and definitely didn’t have time for a social life during the month of December.  And this was with the help of two lovely interns.  As anyone who has their own business knows, starting a business is extremely hard.  Small food businesses can be even tougher because of the lower price points.  It’s all about volume.  You have to sell A LOT in order to make any money.  I thought starting a small chocolate company was my calling but I quickly burned out after less than two years.  And that was after achieving many successes:  my products were featured in Food & Wine and Bon Appétit magazines, and were sold in local Whole Foods Markets.  That is to say, I had many reasons to keep at it and continue to grow my business.  But when I sat down to reflect, my quality of life had severely diminished over the last two years.  I also knew enough other small food business owners to know that the “quality of life” aspect doesn’t change all that much down the road.  Your business is like a child that needs constant attention, nurturing and energy in order for it to thrive and be profitable.  And even after all that, being profitable isn’t a guarantee.  In other words, you have to REALLY want it, and I realized I didn’t want it more than I wanted a work/life balance that allowed me to have a fulfilling life with my family.
DSC_3949The stress of running a small business also took a toll on my mental health.  I rarely had time to exercise, go to yoga classes or see my therapist; all of which help to keep me sane.  I discovered I had a much shorter fuse with my husband during this time, and could be set off by the smallest things.  I went to an all-day market one Saturday only to come home to the kitchen still full of dirty dishes.  I couldn’t believe it!  The audacity of Mr. K to be home all day and not do the dishes?  Of course I hadn’t actually asked him to do them, I just assumed he would know to do them.  (Because, well, I probably forgot to mention that he is a professional mind-reader in his spare time.)  I had to slow down and remember that I still needed to convey what I wanted instead of just hoping he would know what to say or do.  All of the things I had time to do before I started my business started to get left behind, like taking time to communicate clearly with my husband.  Humans are silly creatures, aren’t we?  Several months after closing my business, we sat down to check-in with each other one night.  We both articulated how happy we were in our marriage.  We no longer felt neglected or unappreciated by the other person.  Instead, we recognized that we had both been making a big effort over recent months to show the other person how special they were.  And readers, that is one hell of a good feeling.
DSC_3964Now back to my cookie baking streak.  In case you missed my post earlier this week, I made Chocolate-Covered Gingersnaps that were met with a resounding “Hell yes!” by both my husband and I.  These Almond-Apricot Thumbprints didn’t receive the same accolades.  I found them to be on the dry side with a bit of an unpleasant sandy texture.  My husband on the other hand, can’t get enough of them and has even gone so far as to declare them Favorite Cookie No. 2 after some brownie sandwich cookies with cookie dough frosting I made a few months back were named Favorite Cookie No. 1.  I do love the pairing of apricot jam with the almond flavor in these cookies but it’s still not enough to declare them a success in my book.  Maybe the dough needs more butter?  Feel free to let me know if you try this recipe as is and what you think.  I hope to post at least one more Christmas cookie/candy recipe before the holidays are over!
DSC_3983Almond-Apricot Thumbprints
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield:  About 4 dozen

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups unsalted, roasted almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup coarse sanding sugar
Apricot jam (for filling)

1.  Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 375°.
2.  Pulse flour and almonds in a food processor until almonds are very finely ground.  Add baking powder and salt and pulse to blend.
3.  Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
4.  Add egg and almond extract and beat until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine.
5.  Place sanding sugar in a shallow bowl.  Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls (if dough is sticky, chill 20 minutes).  Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart.  Using your thumb, make a deep indent in each ball.
6.  Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until golden, 13-15 minutes.
7.  Transfer to wire racks and let cool.  Fill with jam.

Cookies can be baked (but not filled) up to 2 weeks ahead; wrap tightly and freeze.  Thaw before filling.  Cookies can be filled 1 day ahead; store airtight at room temperature.