It’s hard to believe it’s only Wednesday. It feels like there’s been so much week to this week already. And you know what happened? I baked.
It’s true! A cook friend of mine, who specializes in creating meals for those who are ill, had to tend to her father in Hospice care. She asked me to substitute cook for her on Monday, and her client’s menu included 3 “bland diet” friendly meals, easy to digest by a woman undergoing serious chemotherapy, along with 2 custards and apple muffins. My insides initially bristled at the idea of baking- measuring out ingredients and the science of baking are intimidating to me. But, I’m always on board to help a friend, and I’d certainly do anything in my power to bring a little sunshine to someone battling Cancer. So, I put on my big girl panties, and I tried to follow the recipe for the muffins. All too quickly, I got ahead of myself. Oh, I did it all kindsa’ wrong- mixing the sugar with the dry ingredients (sugar seems dry to me, but if you’re a baker, then you are aware of the “sugar goes with the wet ingredients” secret). Then, I realized I had left out the vanilla too and added that later than I should have. After that, like the cook that I am, I used my hands to incorporate the apples into the batter. I’m sure that my grandmothers were chuckling from above, watching me bumble around…but every time I started to become frustrated and wrinkle my nose, I took a deep breath, and remembered that I wanted to infuse love and positive energy into every stitch of food I made. I smiled, and did my best. Adam shared my muffins with folks at his office who reported they were “the bomb” and “amazing”. (WOW!) Most importantly, I hope that the client felt and tasted the love in each bite.
Here’s the recipe, from a woman named Mary Singleton via my friend Charli.
Fresh Apple Cake- From Mary Singleton
1 ½ c. oil
1 t. vanilla
2 C. Sugar
3 c. flour
1 t. soda
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
3 c. chopped red apples (do not peel or peel, your choice)
1 c. chopped walnuts
Sift together dry ingredients, set aside.
Add oil, eggs vanilla to mixing bowl, add sugar. Mix until homogenous.
Stir in dry ingredients until homogenous
Stir in nuts and apples, by hand
Grease, but do not flour a tube pan (I usually use a rectangular pan -11X13) Pour batter into pan.
Bake at 350 degree for from 45-60 minutes (test with cake tester- or tooth pick. It should be clean when cake is done.) Cupcakes (use cupcake liners) bake half as long.
Cool in pan for about 10 minutes after baking, turn out on plate. If you use the 11X13 pan leave in pan and cut after cool.
In other news this week, I started cooking for a new client who is pre-diabetic. Her family’s menus will feature items that are low sugar, low carb, low fat, high in protein and vegetables, and loaded with color. Eating a colorful diet is one of the best ways to feed your body what it needs. If you pay attention to the seasonal crops that come out of the ground, you’ll notice that mother nature has planned it all out for us.
The tomatoes alone show off this principle quite nicely. And then, there’s the purple eggplant,
yellow squash and light green okra,
pink insides of watermelon,
dark green sweet potato leaves,
and creamy, white potatoes.
I spot a potato shaped like a heart right in the middle of that photo. : )
In creating meals, I always consider the color palette of the final plate. I cannot decorate a house or even wrap a gift to make it look pretty, but I can totally tap into the vibrant colors of food to build an eye-catching plate or bowl.
Today I share a summer soup with you. And I’d love for you to think of it as a template- a canvas, if you will. One can make soup from just about any combination of items. The trick is knowing when to add each component so that it maintains the best version of itself, even within the greater scheme of things. I’ll show you what I mean.
I started my soup by browning off several pieces of chicken. (Four thighs and two breasts or just 6 thighs would be plenty. The dark meat is always more tender than the white meat.)
Now, you could certainly make this soup completely vegetarian. Or you could use a store-bought rotisserie chicken. You could even drop a couple raw shrimp into each steaming bowl in the end, letting them cook in the soup. In any of those cases, you’d just drizzle some olive oil into the bottom of your pot and go straight for the onions. I chose to cook the chicken in the pot first to start building flavor from the get-go. Browning the chicken skin renders off some tasty fat in which to soften the veggies. Either way…
I preheated my oven to 350°, brought a big pot of water to boil for peeling my tomatoes, and I heated my large soup pot with a good drizzle of olive oil to medium – medium-high heat. I allowed each piece of chicken to crisp up on the skin-side first.
Then, I flipped them over and cooked them just a minute or two on the second side. I transferred them to a pyrex dish and let them finish cooking through to 165° in the oven.
Oh, and inside of the oven already, I had two heads of garlic roasting.
All you need to do is slice off the bottom, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place the garlic inside of a foil pouch. Just let them hang out in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the cloves are soft and sweet. Be careful unwrapping! It will be hot!
Once your chicken is in the oven, go ahead and carefully remove excess fat from the bottom of the pot. You just need a thin layer of fat or oil to cover the bottom.
Add one diced onion (any kind you like), and a pinch of salt, and let it soften over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
This gives you time to prepare your other ingredients. I diced my peppers not too small, cut 2 zephyr squashes into pie shaped wedges (just half moons sliced in half again), and chunked my carrots into 1 inch pieces. I peeled about ten tomatoes and diced them as well, saving their seeds and juices.
Once the onions are soft and clear-ish, it’s time to add your peppers.
You can use any kind you have on hand. This is also a great time to add celery or fennel- or any item that you want to employ to lend flavor to the pot of soup.
After a few minutes, your peppers will soften,
and you can add raw garlic or roasted garlic.
Once garlic is roasted, it’s easy to squeeze the cloves out of the paper. Use a knife to chop/ smash the garlic into a paste. Then, stir it in to the pot.
Now, you’ve got a serious base of flavah happening. Time to add the liquids.
I poured in 8 Cups of homemade chicken stock. If you’re not making your own, it’s best to purchase a low sodium option, so you can control the amount of salt in your food. Speaking of, once you add the broth, tomatoes, juice of a lemon, and a few bay leaves, add a hearty pinch of salt, pepper, and sugar. The sugar just helps to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes. I add the tomatoes at this point, because they (and all of their glorious liquids) will become a part of the broth. Bring it up to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer.
Then you can add your herbs. I find it best to tie my herbs with a little kitchen twine. While the leaves may fall into the soup, I can easily fish out the stems later.
I say let that pot simmer for at least 20 minutes. This gives the broth time to become harmonious.
After those 20 or 30 minutes have passed, it’s time to add the fresh peas. I know they’ll take at least 20 minutes to become tender, and once they reach that point, they will be fine to hang out in the pot a while longer. This is also a good time to taste your broth and gauge your flavors. You can adjust seasoning accordingly, keeping in mind that the peas need to be seasoned as well.
We let our peas go for 20 minutes and we were getting close to the finish line. Time to add the carrots. If I had kale, I’d add that now too.
The carrots need about 15 minutes to become al dente. You can tell they are just right by piercing one with a fork. If the fork goes through with ease, they’re ready. But you don’t want them to get mushy- that’s why we add them late in the game.
I shredded my chicken
and slid it into the pot along with the corn and squash when the carrots were just about perfect.
The chicken is already cooked, and the corn and squash take mere minutes to become tender, so you don’t need long. If you’ve got spinach or asparagus or anything else that cooks quickly, you want to add it at the very end too. And that’s it. Give her one last taste, and adjust seasoning to your pleasure. Pull out the thyme stems and your bay leaves before serving.
I sprinkled a little fresh parsley over the top for a bright green finish. You could use fresh thyme too. We served our soup with these uh-mazing corn and cheddar biscuits that Adam made. A more simple option would be garlic bread or cheese toast or just a fresh baguette. But, Adam loves a good biscuit- and I get to reap the benefits of that love. This particular corn biscuit is a derivative of Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart’s Cheddar Chipotle Cornmeal Biscuits from Southern Biscuits.
Here’s what you’ll need:
1 – 2 T butter, melted to brush onto biscuits at the end of cooking
1 3/4 C flour, divided (1/4 Cup is to flour your surface)
1/2 C cornmeal
2 T granulated sugar
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 C chilled butter, roughly cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 Cups good cheddar cheese, shredded
2/3 C milk plus sour cream to make 3/4 Cup. (The original recipe calls for 3/4 C buttermilk instead.)
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 400°.
In a large food processor, combine 1 1/2 Cups flour, plus your cornmeal, salt, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda.
Pulse once or twice to incorporate. Then add the chunked butter. Pulse a few times until it starts to look like large breadcrumbs or crumbled feta. Next, add the cheese and pulse to incorporate. Move that mixture to a large bowl
and add the kernels of corn and stir to combine.
In another bowl, whisk together the milk and sour cream mixture and egg.
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet mixture into the dry. Stir, starting from the outside of the bowl, working your way in, until it starts to form a ball of dough. Be careful not to work it too much. Once the dough comes together as one mass, turn it out onto a floured surface. It will still be tacky, sticky and wet. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour on top and kind of flatten it out gently, patting it out to about an inch in thickness.
Use a tiny biscuit cutter to cut out small rounds of dough and place them in a mini-muffin tin that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
Bake on the center rack of your oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted into the middle of a biscuit and pulled out clean. Oh! And Adam brushed them with melted butter about 5 minutes before they were finished cooking.
When your biscuits are ready, carefully move them to a cooling rack.
The flavor really changes during that five minutes cool-down-time. Don’t ask me how I know…
Mmm, mm, mmm. I just finished slurping down another bowl of this soup for lunch. And let me tell you- that broth is spectacular. Like, put it in a CamelBak or a water bottle and let me just sip on it all day. The fresh tomatoes combined with the fresh local peppers and homemade chicken stock- OH!- out of this world. And the beauty of this soup is that you can really taste each of the add-in components in their own right. Each vegetable gets showcased respectfully, at the height of its own goodness. And together, the bites- or slurps- were wonderful. And I’m not sure that I can even explain how in love I am with these corn biscuits. It’s not a muffin. So, don’t prepare yourself to taste a sweet Jiffy corn muffin. Prepare yourself for a buttery, cheesy, fluffy, savory mini-biscuit morsel of awesome. And dunk til your heart’s content.
Well, friends. I gotta roll. Got some cookin’ to do. Shocker! I hope that this post finds you happy and healthy, pushing the boundaries of your own comfort zone as I have done this week. Go ahead, help someone in a big or small way. Do something sweet. Be the one bearing gifts of yumminess this weekend- or bring a special treat to share with your coworkers on Friday morning. Whatever you’re up to this week, tap into your best self and hug those around you. Tell everyone you love that you love them. And enjoy each moment of this hot and sweaty summer, because it’s already getting away from us. Wishing you a very positive, fulfilling, and delicious week.
Happy cooking and eating to you,