Thursday, October 21

Maple and Ginger Baked Apples with Spice Whipped Cream

Do you  mind if I brag for a moment about my friends?  I promise it's not to make you feel bad or left out, but to let you know that a good group of friends can make a world of difference.

Since moving to Nashville, Cope and I have made some of the best friends we have ever had.  Not just one or two, but a group of people that we've all become super close with.  They've become our surrogate family in many ways; we share meals, weekends and holidays with them.  I've never had such a close-knit group of friends like this, and after years of fantasizing about having "Friends" of our own, my wish has finally come true ("I'll be there for you...").

These Nashville peeps of ours are a talented group as well.  Annoyingly talented.  And, not just in the musical sense.  We all share a love of the arts, and I suppose that's why we've all connected so well.  Each of them is following their heart in pursuing a dream all their own.  There is a fire amongst our friends that I've never witnessed before.  In large, they've all been an inspriation for me to follow my own dreams and I don't think I could have started this book without them.  Not to mention I have a full-on creative staff complete with a graphic designer, photographer, jewelry designer (more to come) and editor.

And there is no lack of encouragement, either.  I'm convinced it's this support system that keeps us all trying, failing, and getting closer to that dream everyday.

The reason I'm sharing this with you today is because I am feeling especially grateful for my friends.  Grateful to have such wonderful people in my life that are a positive force in every way.  And the only way I really know how to show a little gratitude is to whip up something yummy!

I had my first baked apple several weeks ago, and fell in love.  I've been thinking about them ever since, and trying to figure out a way to add in some of my favorite fall spices and textures.  After coring the apple, I stuffed it with a topping that I've used for the "Crunchy Caramel Apple Pie" but substituted the brown sugar with maple syrup, and added fresh ginger.  And of course, an inside-out apple pie isn't complete without something creamy to dip it in.  It's super easy to make, and a fun treat to serve your guests at a Pumpkin Carving Party, or any other fall festivity for that matter.  And it makes your house smell extra dreamy.

Maple and Ginger Baked Apples with Spice Whipped Cream

4 rome or gala apples
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, plus 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup quick rolling oats
4 cinnamon sticks
1 cup whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon confectioners' sugar

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Core apple with melon baller.  Peel about 1 inch of skin from tops of apples; cut a sliver off bottom so apples can stand.  Place in 9-inch glass pie plate.

In a bowl, mix together flour, oats and grated ginger.  Pour in 1/2 cup maple syrup and stir.  Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until combined.

Scoop mixture into each apple and round off top.  Insert cinnamon stick into each one.  Place remaining 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons maple syrup in pie plate.

Bake apples for about 35 minutes, basting occasionally with pan juices.  Pierce apple with fork and when tender, remove from oven.  Watch carefully as oven temps vary.

Spice Whipped Cream:
In a chilled metal bowl, whip cold cream just until soft peaks form.  Add confectioners' sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and whip until soft peaks return.  Serve alongside baked apples and drizzle with warm pan juices.

What are you thankful for today?

Friday, October 15

Pasta Fagioli

I swear the only thing keeping me from being 500 pounds is my dog.  Since getting her a year ago this week, I've grown to love our (twice) daily walks together.  Every morning at 6:30, she jumps on the bed (if she's not snuggled between Copeland and I) and literally taps me with her paw ("wake up, lazy ass"), being gentler on some mornings, like when we've been up late with friends.  Oh wait, that's me wishing she were a little kinder on those mornings.

I can already smell the coffee brewing, and as I shuffle to the kitchen, Ava begins her preparation for her morning exercise.  A little "downward facing dog" really helps to get the blood flowing I'm told.  Despite my moaning and groaning, this is my favorite part of the day.  With her head cocked to one side, she waits patiently as I get ready...that is, until she sees the chapstick go on, which of course indicates that shoes come next, then leash...Wahoo!!  After her full-body-wiggle into her collar and leash, we're off!

"They" say that nature hikes makes you smarter, by the way.  Apparently, it improves memory, or something to that effect.  I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I will say, I'm happier because of them.  I know I'll make an excellent old lady one day because nothing warms my heart more than these peaceful moments of reflection.

My mind usually wanders to food: "What should I make for breakfast?" (Hmm...pumpkin-spiced oatmeal with dried cranberries and pecans, drizzled with maple syrup.  Yes please!), or "Is it wrong to make myself a pumpkin pie?"  What I love most about my morning walks is that I usually get a moment of clarity, albeit brief.  Since the turn of the seasons, I've been struggling with the fall and winter recipes in my book.  Don't ask me how I haven't been inspired with such a variety of yummy food available.  I don't get the whole "block" thing, but I've had it for weeks.  Not ideal when you're trying to write a book.

So, in this moment of clarity, it becomes apparent that I need to try something:  Gram's pasta fagioli (fa-ZOOL - as it's known in my house) would be SO yummy with butternut squash as the base instead of tomatoes.  Substitute the basil with sage, sprinkle with pancetta, and bingo!  Inspiration is back at my door, and one can only hope she'll stay for a while.

The original recipe follows below, with my changes in parenthesis, which I  must say, is an unexpected delight!  I loved the warmth and spice of the butternut squash with the creamy white beans.  And the smoky pancetta kicks it up a notch.  Yum!  If you're not feeling adventurous, the OG Pasta Fagioli is warm and hearty!  Perfect before an evening stroll.

Happy Friday!

Pasta Fagioli

3 cans of cannellini beans
1 pound elbow or shell pasta (I use brown rice or whole wheat)
8 cups organic chicken stock
1 jar of tomato sauce (or 2 cups pureed butternut squash)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup fresh basil (or sage), finely chopped
1/8 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Sea salt
*(optional) 4 ounces cubed Pancetta


Puree 2 cans of beans in blender or food processor.  While running, add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to create a smooth consistency.  Drain the third can of beans in colander.  Set aside.

Pour about 3 seconds worth of olive oil (or 2 tablespoons) into large pot.  Turn heat to a medium setting and when oil is hot, add cubed pancetta, cooking until slightly browned.  Add chopped onions and garlic and saute until translucent.  Stir in chicken stock and turn up heat.  Add all beans, butternut squash (or tomato sauce), oregano and fresh herbs.  Salt to taste.  Whisk gently for several minutes to create a smooth and creamy consistency.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes to bring flavors together.

In a separate pot, bring salted water to a boil; add pasta and cook al dente (usually 8-9 minutes for brown rice/whole wheat pasta).  Drain, and add to simmering soup.

Remove from heat and serve with lots of fresh parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of  fresh parsley.

Saturday, October 9

Joie de Vivre

Last Saturday, the mister and I attended a sunset dinner in a "baby" orchard just outside of Nashville.  Delvin Farms and the talented Chef Michael Martin from Whole Foods graciously hosted the event to help support the local chapter of Slow Food. The evening was absolute perfection.

We arrived at the orchard as the sun began to set and were promptly greeted with a fizzy grapefruit aperitif designed to stimulate the appetite.

The air was filled with spicy and familiar smells that swirled from the chef's tent.  We both agreed it reminded us of our time spent in Siena.  Immediately we were starving.

The atmosphere was rustic, yet favorite style.  We got to know our neighbors and learned a little more about the Slow Food Movement, which is doing amazing things to help our local farmers recover from the floods that devastated Nashville last May.

And the food...HELLO.  I don't know how to describe it without getting all poetic, and food-obsessed-sounding.  Let's just say it was magnificent.  Simple, unadulterated, and exactly how food should taste.  All-of-the-time.

And this is what life is about, right?  Sure, the cost of the dinner was the equivalent of a sweet-ass pair of new boots, but it resonated much deeper than any item of purchase ever could.   With some serious foodie inspiration and delicious wine combos, we mingled with the friendly folks that pour their hearts and souls into the food that we eat.  It's that whole time-and-place-appreciation thing. Talk about good mojo!