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4.29.2010

Celebrity Wife Blueberry Oat Squares

There is really nothing worse than paying bills—whoever put the fun in (fun)d is a moron because there is nothing fun about facing one’s diminishing funds. So, when I was sitting on my living room floor, TV on, check book open, the clouds parted when I realized I had surfed into the middle of an I Love Lucy marathon. I’ve always loved Lucy and one of the reasons is that she reminds me of my mother—both slightly daffy, loveable, beautiful redheads (except my mother’s red hair is real, thank you very much).

Of course I got completely sucked in, tossed my calculator to one side, and tuned into one of my favorite episodes: “The Fashion Show.” This is the one where the gang is in Hollywood and Lucy wants a dress by designer Don Loper. She winds up getting a terrible sunburn before appearing in a celebrity wives fashion show and the poor, charred lobster has to model an itchy wool suit with her arms outstretched and legs akimbo to avoid any chafing. Ouch. But the thing about the episode that always has me shaking my head is the moment when the other wives are announced before they begin their parade down the catwalk: “Mrs. William Holden,” “Mrs. Dean Martin,” “Mrs. Van Heflin” etc. For those of you who are married, and have taken your husband’s last name, can you imagine ever referring to yourself as Mrs. Joe Shmow instead of say, Joanna Shmow? Or, at the most, Mrs. Joanna Shmow?
All of this got me thinking about the syndrome of the celebrity wife. On the one hand I feel kind of sorry for her because, unless she has achieved stardom of her own, in any field, she is always thought of as the “Mrs.” On the other hand, maybe that’s enough for her and who am I to judge? (Yeah, right.) There are so many Hollywood wives who, let’s face it, wouldn’t be writers, children’s boutique owners, and eco-entrepreneurs without the last name lent to them (hey, we all know how long these marriages tend to last) by their husband and the bold face names that need to kiss his behind, and therefore kiss theirs, by applauding at book readings, drinking champagne at store openings, and toting hemp tote bags.
One outlet for celebrity wives is an invitation to the plebians into the workings of their fabulous kitchens. I was flipping through some recipes I’d clipped and found one for carrot cake by Jenny Belushi, wife of Jim. Now, maybe she is a wonderful baker (in fact, she owns a children's clothing store) and I’m just not in the loop but my first thought was, “huh?” The internet is full of recipes from celebrities, their wives, and First Ladies. (Somehow I don’t think Barbara Bush barbequed her chicken in the Rose Garden wearing her pearls or Jackie Kennedy pushed the chef out of the way to slide her International Coffee Cake into the White House oven.)
But there is one celebrity wife who caused quite a ruckus when her cookbook came out several years ago. Deceptively Delicious by Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld (I’m sorry, Jessica Seinfeld) is based on the premise that kids hate vegetables and one way to make sure they are well nourished is to sneak veggies into their favorite foods via purees. Now, because I don’t have kids, I didn’t pay much attention to the book or the brouhaha that followed its publication. Mindy Chase Lapine’s The Sneaky Chef is based on the same principle, was published before Mrs. Seinfeld’s book, and Ms. Lapine accused Mrs. S of plagiarism which led Mr. Seinfeld to call Ms. Lapine some names when he was a guest on Letterman and the whole thing got ugly. Long story longer, Ms. Lapine lost her court case and Mrs. S went back to her kitchen to make her purees in peace. (Because I’m sure she is very busy making purees over a hot stove all day.)Of course Jessica Seinfeld is an easy target. Oprah welcomed the cookbook author to her instant best-seller Chicago stage and accepted 20 pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes as a thank you—a distasteful misstep (hah!) on both their parts, and Regis and her good friend Kelly cooked with her. The book has fancy experts (Dr. Oz wrote the forward, Joy Bauer kept an eye on the nutritional composition), tips from other celebrity moms (Alexandra Wentworth aka Mrs. George Stephanopoulos), and acknowledgments to more than a few heavy hitters. None of which would have happened had she not been married to Jerry.
But does any of this really matter? Isn’t the proof in the pudding? Or, in my case, the blueberry oat bars. I wound up buying the book when I noticed it was going for cheap on Amazon and, being a member of the very exclusive Prime club, it would be at my front door for under $10. Plus, I was curious. The first thing I liked was that it is spiral bound and lies nice and flat on the kitchen counter. And there were more than a few things I wanted to try. But, when I noticed that the puree she sneaks (oops, sorry Ms. Lapine) into the blueberry oatmeal bars was spinach I knew I had to make it.
You might think that the most important kids in my life, the nieces, were going to be my guinea pigs. Wrong! They are both vegetarian and have happily eaten their vegetables since they transitioned to solid foods. The real test would be my mother. When she was a child her mother wrote a note to the director of her sleep away camp: “Please do not make my daughter dive or eat spinach.” And her palate hasn’t changed since the 1950’s. So, I presented her with a blueberry oat square, sat back, and waited. Her response? “Mmmn, very tasty! The filling is terrific!” When I did the big reveal her mouth fell. And then she added, “Well, I don’t know. Why chew if it’s going to be spinach?” Too late lady, you said you liked it! Maybe she was afraid I’d start baking with spinach all the time. And just for fun my nieces got in on the act and loved them, as did their mother. So, pooh-pooh all you like, Mrs. Seinfeld’s deceit was indeed, delicious and it worked! I got Mom to eat her vegetables.Celebrity Wife Blueberry Oat Squares
Adapted from Deceptively Delicious, by Jessica Seinfeld, 2007
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Spinach Puree

Ingredients
1 bag baby spinach

Directions
Steam for 30 to 40 seconds in steamer basket just until wilted. If you don’t have a steamer basket cook spinach with one tablespoon of water for 90 seconds, till wilted.
Pulse spinach in mini food processor or blender until creamy.
Blueberry Oat Squares

Ingredients

Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups rolled oats
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup Earth Balance trans-fat free soft tub margarine spread, chilled
1 cup reduced sugar blueberry preserves
½ cup spinach puree

Directions
Preheat oven to 375, Spray an 8x8 inch baking pan with cooking spray and line the pan with 2 overlapping strips of parchment paper.
In a large bowl mix oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt & vanilla.
Using two knives or a large fork cut add margarine and cut into mixture quickly until it looks like coarse meal. You will still see clumps of margarine.Press ½ the oat mixture into prepared pan and bake until lightly browned. 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl thoroughly stir preserves and spinach together until it is uniform in color.
Pour blueberry-spinach mixture over partially baked oat layer. Top with remaining oat mixture and bake until topping is slightly browned, 25-30 minutes.Set the pan on a rack to cool completely. Using parchment paper as a handle, lift mixture out of pan onto a cutting board and cut into 16 squares.
NOTE: Cool completely before eating to allow any residual spinach flavor to dissipate.

4.22.2010

Child of the 70's Real Chocolate Thin Mint Cookies

Growing up in the 70’s I was unfortunate enough to have parents who, with the exception of Upstairs/Downstairs, didn’t watch television—which was kind of ironic since my father put food on the table by writing commercials. Regardless, they were pretty strict about TV watching and, like all forbidden fruit, the machine my father called the ‘idiot box’ became even more desirable than it might have had I been allowed to watch more than one hour a day. So, when I was still too young to have homework, I came up with lots of ways to become a worthy couch potato.
There was the daily visit to our next door neighbors’ for a Coke and a few blissful minutes of The 4:30 Movie. Weekends spent in my grandparents’ den where I’d pretend to be asleep, with one eye open, just until Carol Burnett tugged at her ear. And when I was home from school with the flu I’d plant myself in front of the set in my parents’ bedroom and, from I Love Lucy to The Price is Right to The Mike Douglas Show, not move all day. Plus I lied when Dad called from work, “No, I’m not watching TV, just resting.” If only my parents had understood that if they’d allowed unlimited television time Charles Dickens might have beaten out Peter Brady for my attention Friday nights at 8pm. Well, maybe not.
But the most devious plot was the mutual blackmail between me and a certain babysitter. She was 15, lived in the building, and one Friday evening after The Partridge Family, when I should have been getting into bed, we made a deal (hah!). She’d let me stay up for the racy Love American Style if I kept my mouth shut while she went to grab a smoke with the elevator man. My lips were sealed! But, can you imagine? I was eight and left alone in the apartment with my sleeping younger siblings. Not surprisingly, I learned a few years later, she had been sharing a lot more than a cigarette with Juan.While doing all this covert TV watching I was struck by how many commercials there were for things I’d never seen or experienced. What were Buster Brown shoes and where did you get them? All the TV kids had them. And Dolly Madison snack cakes. Charlie Brown was filled with ads for them but I’d only seen Drakes and Hostess in the market—I wanted to try a Zinger! What about the Avon lady? She never rang the doorbell of apartment 9D. I felt like I was missing out on so much.
This past weekend in the New York Times there was an article about how the Girl Scouts are finally including independent schools in their chapters. Excuse me but where were they when I was a kid? That was another thing under the "as [only] seen on TV" category. I was so jealous of those cool pins and badges and that special camp. But what really got me were the cookies. I knew girls in Westchester who bragged about how many Do-Si-Dos they sold or how chewy the Samoas were—yet another injustice of my childhood.
Since then of course I’ve contributed quite a bit to the Scout effort through my annual Thin Mints purchase, whether via my sister and her colleagues’ kids or suburban friends. And every year I am excited to put my boxes in the freezer (everyone knows they are better ice cold) and ration them out slowly to last as long as possible. And that’s where it gets screwy: I actually never finish them. I seem to have cookie amnesia; when it comes time to place my order I simply forget how mediocre they are! One look at the ingredient list and you might realize these chocolate cookies are sub-par because they contain, drum roll please, no chocolate. But never fear, there is plenty of hydrogenated palm oil, TBHQ (huh? It’s a preservative), and artificial flavor to make up for it.
Although I’m no longer curious about Zingers, and realize how hideous Buster Brown shoes were, I’m not willing to give up on my fantasy of the perfect chocolate mint cookie. I found this recipe on-line ages ago and the results are definitely badge worthy—a cocoa cookie covered in REAL dark chocolate and infused with the cool of mint. Now, if only Keith Partridge could share them with me.Note: My logs flattened a little in the freezer making the cookies more squared off than perfectly round. This can be avoided if you fill a small pan with rice and lay the logs on top of it. I am way too lazy to take this step but if you're not, good for you.

Child of the 70's Real Chocolate Thin Mint Cookies
Adapted from bakingbites.com October, 2005
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Ingredients-cookies
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
6 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp peppermint extract

Ingredients-chocolate coating
10 oz Ghiradellli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips
1 stick butter
1/2 tsp peppermint extract

Directions-cookies
In small bowl whisk together flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt
In bowl of an electric mixer cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
With the mixer on low add milk and extracts and beat until combined. (It will look a little curdled)

With mixer on low, add flour mixture until fully combined
Scrape dough out onto cutting board, give it a little knead to smooth it a bit and divide into two pieces
Roll each section of dough into logs around 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 1-2 hours until dough is very firmPreheat oven to 375 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper
Using a very sharp knife, slice dough into thin rounds no more than 1/4 inch thick
Place cookies on sheets leaving 1/2 inch between cookies-they won't spreadBake 13-15 minutes until cookies are firm at the edges
Cool completely on wire rack

Directions-coating

Place chocolate and butter in microwave bowl and microwave for 30 second intervals, stirring between nukes, until mixture is smooth and liquidy. Add peppermint extract and stir vigorously to distribute evenly.
Carefully drop cooled cookies, one at a time, into chocolate. Frankly, it's just easier to get in there and use your fingers to coat both sides. Then scrape cookie against side of bowl to remove excess and place on pan lined with wax or parchment paper. (If while dipping the chocolate gets too cool and thick, briefly pop back in microwave.)

Leave cookies to set, 30 minutes-one hour. Store cookies in airtight container between layers of wax paper...in the freezer of course!
Yield: 6 dozen cookies




4.15.2010

Welcome Home Rhubarb Crumb Cake

I have a problem bringing anything new into my apartment. (Actually, that goes for anyone too.) Say I buy a new shirt at Club Monaco. It will stay in its shopping bag until I have fully accepted that I purchased something, when I probably shouldn’t have spent the $79 in the first place, and hang it in the closet. This process might take a few days. Sometimes I get so used to the shopping bag just sitting there on the floor that it could be a week before I realize it isn't part of my living room’s d├ęcor scheme.
But sometimes when you bring something new into your house it needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Like last week my appliances planned a revolt behind my back. First, my 15 year old toaster started to give off the smell of burning plastic with accompanying thick smoke. After climbing up the step ladder to disconnect the piercing smoke alarm I had to toss my smelly friend for good.
Meanwhile, the precarious health of the little TV in my bedroom (which is a big luxury considering the living room and its larger TV are on the other side of the bedroom wall) began a rapid decline. The first symptom was morphing Jay Leno into a cone-head—which kind of worked because his elongated head matched his elongated chin. Then it turned Pierce Brosnan into a double amputee (I’m not sure how he managed to walk across the stage to shake Craig Ferguson’s hand) and soon after Charlie Rose really became a talking head. But it was when the little weather box on the bottom of NY1 disappeared that I knew it was time to put circa 1991 Toshiba out of his misery.
All of this translated into having to discard, and then install, two new household items immediately. It was quite unnerving. Amazon solved the toaster problem, although I wish they would just make toaster ovens like they used to. Why are there so many dials and settings? Toast and Bake are enough, thank you. No ‘convection’, ‘broil’, ‘stay on’ or ‘bagel’ options. What’s a bagel setting anyway?
The TV proved to be more of a challenge. Because of the unnecessary aspect of the bedroom set I decided waltzing into Best Buy to procure a 19” flat screen was just not going to happen. So, I hit Craig’s List. Who knew so many people were getting rid of old TV’s? I could have even gotten one for free if I hadn’t minded going to a stranger’s house in the depths of the Bronx. An art gallery was selling several sets they’d used in an exhibit. Perfect. After emails back and forth I chose a Toshiba 14” with built in DVD for $40! Okay, it was a little 2002-ish but who cares? It was For-ty doll-ars! (Make that $52, the cab home was $12). I zipped down to Chelsea and my new TV was waiting for me in its original packaging, all ready to go. I was feeling very “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar” for the first few feet I had to walk carrying the big box to the elevator. It was the ½ block down to the avenue to try, in vain, to get a taxi that caused a spasm in my back and cuts on my hands from the cardboard handles. After trudging two more blocks, and almost getting hit by a handicapped accessible van (I know, ironic), a taxi swerved to pick me up. In two seconds, and with whiplash from flying up 10th avenue at 70 miles per hour while clinging to my new television, I was home.
I snapped into action. New TV out of box, disconnect old TV and put it in the same box, clean top of bureau where the old TV had sat for 9 years (yuck) and hook up new TV. Ta-da! It worked like a charm. I took the box and old TV into the trash room and it was like nothing had happened—except I now had this hulking thing in my bedroom that looked twice as big as its predecessor. This is what I mean about getting used to new things in my apartment. I couldn’t stop staring at it and it wasn’t even turned on. What are you doing here? I wanted to ask. I missed my old TV. New guy seemed so much bigger than the old one and was infringing on my hairdryer’s bureau space. Plus, it was cutting off part of the mirror, throwing the whole room off balance. Or was I overreacting? I think we know the answer to that question. Regardless, I decided I hated my new TV and had resigned myself to living with it until I felt flush enough to go for the flat screen. And then the winds changed. Its picture is great, the blow drying station hasn’t really been affected AND now I can watch my Mary Tyler Moore DVD’s in bed!
All this to say, the other day I bought rhubarb despite not knowing what I was going to make with it. It looked so pretty in the market. And I reacted to it in the same way as I did with the shopping bag, the toaster and the TV. Who let this big, red, stalky interloper into my house and what was I supposed to do with it? Realizing that unlike the inanimate objects I had at first rejected before embracing, this rhubarb was perishable and I didn’t have the luxury of ignoring it until I was ready to accept it. Although I love strawberry-rhubarb pie I really like to wait for the local berries to hit the market before making it so I scratched that off my list. Rhubarb compote is always a pleasure but I still had the stewed prunes of a few weeks back on my brain. I decided to go with a crumb cake that was so good last summer. I love fruit in my crumb cake because it distracts me from all the butter I know I put into it. Plus, it breaks up the richness of the cake with a little something tart.
And for my next trick I’m taking a piece of cake and a glass of milk to bed with me tonight, along with Dick Van Dyke, Season One.
Welcome Home Rhubarb Crumb Cake
Martha Stewart Everyday Food
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Ingredients-Streusel
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for pan
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Ingredients-Cake
1/2 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), divided
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter and flour parchment and pan, tapping out excess flour.

Make streusel
Whisk together butter, brown sugar, and salt.
Add flour and mix with a fork until large crumbs form. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Make cake
In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup flour.
In another medium bowl, whisk 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt.
In bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
With mixer on low, beat in vanilla, then flour mixture.
Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle with rhubarb and top with streusel.
Bake cake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely in pan.
Using paper overhang, lift cake from pan.
Cut into 16 bars. Note: If you are not going to consume immediately store the cake in the refrigerator. The moistness of the fruit will accelerate spoilage.