BrokeAss Gourmet

BrokeAss Gourmet

Hidden Fig Honey Cake

  • Prep Time 10 minutes
  • Cook Time 35-40 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $9.50
  • 2 Comments

Since the figs are baked whole, they turn jammy and sweet inside, and every bite of tender cake is met with a taste of that figgy goodness. 

The first time I had Rosh Hashanah honey cake (and the next several therafter), I was not impressed. So often, it had a dry, crumbly texture, and a cloying aftertaste. This never seemed right to me, especially for a dessert intended to symbolize the sweetness of a new year.

This year, I have decided, our Rosh Hashanah dinner is going to be the most delicious yet. I have the sauce for my Jalapeño-Honey Chicken all ready to go, and my Olive Oil Challah dough has been prepared and needs only to be braided into a sweet, round loaf, and baked to golden-brown perfection. With a meal that good, there's no way I'm finishing things off with a crappy, dry cake, tradition or not.

I made this cake crazy moist with eggs, oil and a healthy dose of unsweetened applesauce. Just to make sure that every bite is rich and sweet and flavorful, I plopped fresh figs (Black Mission ones make for a dramatic presentation) into the cake batter (I left the stems in for a little extra drama).

Finally, I topped the whole thing with chopped almonds, which toast up gorgeously in the oven as the cake bakes.

Since the figs are baked whole, they turn jammy and sweet inside, and every bite of tender cake is met with a taste of that figgy goodness. This is a perfect end to any Fall meal, and would be amazing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside. That said, you could probably also get away with serving this with coffee and calling it breakfast. 

However you serve it, if you're celebrating Rosh Hashanah tonight, I hope your new year is delicious and sweet and a little bit quirky--just like this cake.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed Pantry
  • 3/4 cup strong brewed coffee, brought to room temperature $1.50
  • 3 eggs $1.50 for 6
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce (you can make it yourself with this recipe--just leave out the orange and cardamom) $2.50 for 12 ounces 
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar Pantry
  • 3/4 cup honey Pantry
  • 2 1/4 cups flour Pantry
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder Pantry
  • 1/2 teasoon baking soda Pantry
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt Pantry
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon $1.50 for 1 ounce
  • 12 fresh whole figs (any kind--I used Black Mission figs) $4 
  • 1/3 cup chopped almonds Optional

Recipe Serves 12

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper (trim with scissors as needed),, a little oil or use cooking spray. 
  3. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, mix together the oil, eggs, applesauce, brown sugar and honey until well-incorporated.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. 
  5. Add the flour mixture and coffee to the wet mixture in the bowl. 
  6. Mix gently, just until smooth.
  7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and shake gently to even the top. 
  8. Arrange the figs, bottom-side-down in the pan, making sure to distribute them evenly.
  9. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  10. Let cool to warm or room temperature and cut into squares, ensuring that each square has a fig in it.

Though I have been out of school for many years, I still feel the promise of things to come when, toward the end of the summer, the nights start to cool down and the leaves on trees crinkle and fade from green to orangey-brown. Kids everywhere head to office supply stores with their parents to buy new pencils, notebooks, and binders (or, more likely, iPads, iPhones, and laptops), to fill their backpacks (which, if they are anything like I was, are already personalized with white-out, silver Sharpie, and buttons stamped with contrarian statements). 

And then there's lunch.

It's been a long while since I've packed a school lunch for myself, and it will be a little while yet before I pack one for my own future little ones (sorry mom--hang in there!), but I have had a handful of nanny gigs over the years, which required me to make bag lunches, and Evan and I picnic nearly every weekend in our beloved Dolores Park. In other words, I know a few things about making food that is easy to throw together and still tastes good after sitting in a bag (most likely unrefrigerated) for at least 3 hours.

So parents, kids old enough to pack their own lunches, and anyone else who brings a lunch to work or school, take a deep breath. This is easier than you think. You've got this in the bag.

Rule #1: Consider a reusable bag/box. If you're not already doing this, you should be. Not only are reusable lunch bags and boxes better for the environment, if they are insulated, they keep your food colder (or hotter, depending on the temperature when you pack it) than a regular paper bag. Got a big kid who thinks lunch boxes are lame? Send them to school with this reusable "paper bag".

Rule #2: Leftovers, Leftovers, Leftovers! The absolute first place you should look when you have the 9 PM "Oh damn, I forgot to make my kid's lunch!" panic is whatever you ate for dinner. First of all, if your kids ate it for dinner, they probably enjoyed it, so it will likely go over well for lunch the next day. Secondly, it's a helpful way to clean out your fridge. Either pack leftovers in thermoses or other sealable tupperware containers, or repurpose them. If this works for you, consider planning ahead just a smidge, and make a little bit extra dinner so you have leftovers ready to go for the next day.

Slice leftover grilled or roasted meats and layer them into a sandwich (see below for notes on sandwich making) with vegetables, cheese, pesto, mayonnaise, etc. Or wrap them in flatbread, pita, or a large tortilla. Think of your leftovers as a handy shortcut to lunchmaking. 

 Rule 3: One Good Sandwich. Sandwiches tend to be the first thing we think of for school and work lunches, mostly because they are an all-encompassing meal in one handy package. But a little bit of thought is required if you want to make a really good one. Good, sturdy bread, firstly, is imperative. You want something that will be able to hold wet or semi-wet ingredients for a few hours without falling apart. Think thick sourdough, cut from a bakery loaf, dense whole wheat bread (which is also digested more slowly, which helps combat that after-lunch need for a nap), or a roll. Toasting sliced bread is also a great way to ensure it stays intact until lunch time. And if you are making lunch for a gluten-free eater, buy a rice-based gluten-free bread and be sure to toast it before building your sandwich. 

Keep sandwich ingredients minimal. I recommend sticking to 2 or 3 components, maximum. Think: salami, mozzarella, basil, or egg salad and tomato. 

You might also consider a make-your-own-sandwich kit for bigger kids or adults. Send a split roll, packets of mayonnaise and mustard (grab extra the next time you are at the deli) and sandwich fillings like sliced meats, tofu, tuna salad, tomatoes, and/or lettuce. Lunchers can have fun constructing their own sandwiches at school/work, and they can choose to eat it closed or open-faced.

Rule 4: Always Pack a Couple of Snacks: Depending on how hungry your luncher gets, make sure there are plenty of snacks in their bag. Sliced or cubed cheese (or packaged cheese sticks or Babybel rounds), whole or sliced fruit and vegetables (hint: if your luncher likes sliced carrots, celery, radishes, and/or jicama sticks, cut up a bunch and keep them in the fridge in an airtight container with cold water--they'll stay crisp all week and will be ready to pack or snack on whenever you need them), raw or toasted nuts, and/or crackers (go for healthier, whole-grain ones). 

Rule 5: Don't forget something sweet. A little something sweet is such a nice way to round out a meal. And no, it doesn't need to be super sugary and unhealthy. Consider a ripe piece of fruit, a small square of dark chocolate, an oatmeal cookie, or a handful of chocolate-covered almonds.

Bonus Rule: Ask for feedback! If your luncher is coming home with a half-eaten lunch, or throwing (or trading) some of their food away, find out why and adjust as needed (within reason, of course). Kids are prone to changing their tastes periodically, so don't be afraid to try things multiple times. And if your kids are old enough, consider asking them to help make their own lunches. In my experience, when kids participate in preparing food, they are approximately eight million times more likely to eat it. 

Now it's your turn! What are your lunch-packing secrets? Tell me in the comments!

A little careful planning and a discerning eye can help you stock your kitchen with healthful real food without giving you cause to declare bankruptcy. 

I'll admit it: I love Whole Foods. The stores are clean and pleasant to shop in, the salespeople are knowledgeable and helpful, the produce is beautiful and always fresh, and the meat and seafood departments are impeccable. Yes, Whole Foods is notorious for being expensive (California stores got into big trouble for overcharging recently), but I have found that with a little bit of planning and insight, it is indeed possible to complete a Whole Foods shop without bankrupting yourself. Read on for my tips and tricks for getting out of Whole Paycheck with most of yours still in the bank. 

Shop on the outside aisles. The outside aisles contain the bulk section, the produce section, the meat and seafood counters, and the dairy and egg refrigerator cases. These are the best things to shop for at Whole Foods. Not only do they tend to be the healthiest items in the store, but Whole Foods also has a great selection in (and often very good sales on) these departments. The prepared, processed, and packaged foods tend to be where the highest-ticket items are. If you want affordable cookies, crackers, bread, and shampoo, head to Trader Joe's. They're not worth buying at Whole Foods.

At the meat and seafood departments, go with the cheapest items: Whole Foods has very high standards for all their products, so even their least expensive cuts of meat and seafood are very high quality. Opt for chicken thighs and drumsticks over breasts, and sirloin, flank, and skirt steaks over ribeye. Get the sole over the wild salmon. And while you're in the meat and seafood department...

Ask the butchers and fishmongers to help you out. In addition to being knowledgeable about the products they sell, the people behind the meat and seafood counters are the ones who clean, de-bone, skin, filet, grind, and trim the proteins they sell. As such, don't be shy about asking them to do some of the prep work for you. If whole fish are on sale, buy them (they're much cheaper per pound than skinned, pre-cut fish filets or steaks), and have the fish monger clean, skin, and filet them for you, free of charge.  

Buy in-season produce for the best prices. There’s a simple reason why a locally grown tomato in July costs less than a flown-in-from-Chile tomato in January: airfare. When we buy fruits and vegetables grown near where we live (which is only possible when they’re in season), they cost less because the produce doesn’t have to travel as far. Whole Foods generally has most of their produce available year-round (often flown in), but they also work with many local farms to bring in the best of the best when it's in season. Though my preference is to buy as much produce as possible at my local farmer's market, the on-sale, seasonal stuff available at Whole Foods is also very good.

Learn to love the bulk section. Some of the best deals at Whole Foods can be found in the bins of the bulk section. When you buy in bulk, you are paying only for the food itself, not packaging, so the pricing is significantly lower than pre-packaged goods. It's great for when you need a lot of something, but it's also wonderful for when you need only a little (why buy a twenty-four-ounce package of walnuts when you only need a quarter cup of them for a recipe?). It’s worth the annoying twelve-seconds it takes to wrap a twist-tie around a plastic bag and write the product code on it. Invest in a pack of cheap jumbo-size mason jars to store things like flour, sugar, rice, beans, pasta, oats, nuts, and dried fruit from the bulk section. Keeping them in an airtight container like a mason jar will keep them fresh for longer.

Shop like a European. I know this isn't possible for everyone. When you have a nine-to-five job and children and errands, it can be hard to regularly practice the classic European way of shopping, which is to keep a pantry stocked with basic non-perishables, and then augment a few times a week with small quantities of fresh items: a piece of meat or fish, here, some cheese and eggs there, and whichever fruits and vegetables are gorgeous and seasonal. It means more frequent stops at the store, but when you can, this is one of the most cost-effective ways to shop. Since it requires you to grocery shop on an as-needed basis (as opposed to the more traditional American style of filling a cart with enough food for two weeks), you are far more likely to actually use all of what you buy (how many times has the lettuce you optimistically bought a week ago been left to turn to mush in your crisper because you never got around to eating it?). Nothing is sadder than a compost bin full of never-used produce gone bad.

Remember, these principles can be applied to other supermarkets and health food stores too. Whole Foods is obviously the most ubiquitious whole food grocer in the United States, but, if you're lucky, there are other good options available where you live as well. Remember: just because a store is generally expensive doesn't mean it has to be off-limits. A little careful planning and a discerning eye can help you stock your kitchen with healthful real food without giving you cause to declare bankruptcy. And whatever you do, don't forget your reusable bags

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Honey Whole Wheat Challah

  • Prep Time 2 1/2 hours
  • Cook Time 30 minutes
  • Estimated Cost $5.50
  • 1 Comment

This challah is incredible on its own, but my favorite way to serve it is sliced and toasted, and topped with a generous layer of ripe avocado, a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper. 

The last 2 weeks have been insanely busy. As the premiere of Young & Hungry creeps closer (June 25 at 8/7 Central on ABC Family -- set your DVR!), there is so much to do to get ready. Most recently, that has included shooting a web series cooking with the cast.

Check it out: that's me cooking with Rex Lee, of Entourage fame

 

But all that excitement has also meant a lot of time spent away from my cozy little San Francisco kitchen, and whenever I've been away from home for an extended period of time, the first thing I want to do when I get back is make challah.

OK, that's not exactly true. The very first thing I want to do is see Evan. But after that, I want to make challah. Warm homemade challah for Shabbat dinner, to be repurposed the next day as French toast or panzanella. Making challah centers me. It takes some time, so it forces me to carve out at least a couple of hours to devote to this special task. As I mix the eggs and flour and oil, and knead the dough, my worries melt away and I shift my focus to the weekend ahead.

Tonight, I'm switching things up and, instead of my usual Olive Oil Challah, I'm making this heartier, healthier whole wheat challah, made with honey rather than sugar. I like to use dark amber honey to really emphasize that component of the flavor. The combination of the honey and nutty stone-ground whole wheat flour yields a rich brown dough.

Additionally, while most challah recipes call for canola or vegetable oil, I generally prefer the flavor of extra virgin olive oil. Not only is it a healthier fat, but the flavor survives the baking process and adds much depth to the finished product.

This challah is incredible on its own, but my favorite way to serve it is sliced and toasted, and topped with a generous layer of ripe avocado, a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 packet instant yeast $1.50 for 3 packets
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoons honey Pantry
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl Pantry
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten, divided $1.50 for 6
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour $2.50 for 32 oz.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour Pantry
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt Pantry
  • sesame seeds Optional

Recipe Serves 8-10

Directions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or dust with flour, or grease with olive oil). Set aside.
  2. Combine the water, yeast and 1 tablespoon of the honey in a mixing bowl. Stir well to combine.
  3. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel, and let rest for 5-7 minutes, until bubbles appear on the surface.
  4. Gently whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of honey, olive oil, and 2 of the beaten eggs. 
  5. Stir in the flours and salt until you have a cohesive dough.
  6. Knead dough on a floured surface (or in a standing mixer) until it becomes somewhat elastic (2-3 minutes in the mixer, 5-6 minutes by hand). Please note: the dough will not be springy and soft like regular challah--it will be somewhat dense. This is okay.
  7. Gather the kneaded dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl you mixed it in with enough oil to coat it well. 
  8. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm spot (like an oven that has been brought to temperature and then turned off so it's warm, not hot).
  9. Let the dough rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled in size.
  10. Once risen, gently punch down the dough to deflate, and transfer it to a lightly floured surface.
  11. As I've stated before, there are a few ways to go about weaving the challah. You can do it the Deb (of SmittenKitchen) way, the Tori of The Shiksa in the Kitchen way, or you can do it the Gabi Moskowitz, 1989 Graduate of Beth Ami Hebrew School Sunday Challah-Making Class way, which is to sort of braid it like you would hair, and then tuck the messy bits under so no one can see them. You can find my step-by-step tutorial for this approach with photos here. You can make 1 large braid or 2 smaller ones. 
  12. Once the dough is braided, place it on the parchment-lined or floured/greased baking sheet. Cover the braid gently with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rise in the turned-off oven for 1 hour.
  13. Take the dough out of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  14. Once the braided dough has risen, use a pastry brush to coat the top with the one remaining beaten egg. Give it 2 or 3 coats.
  15. If desired, top the egg-washed dough with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
  16. Bake the challah(s) for about 30 minutes, until deep golden brown. 
  17. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Of all reasons I've heard from people for why they don't cook, perhaps the the most common one is that they're a party of one.

"It's just me," they'll say. "Why should I bother when there's no one else eating with me? I can get takeout delivered to my door, and not have to do any prep or wash any dishes." Or worse, they'll make the case for a microwaved frozen dinner.

There is, of course, a litany of reasons why cooking for oneself is a good thing to do: it's healthier and more cost-effective than the aforementioned options; when you control what goes into your food, you control what goes into your body. Fresh ingredients are not only healthier, but also usually cheaper than take-out or frozen meals. Those are valid points. But they're not the main reason I do it.

For me, cooking for myself is one of the most deliciously indulgent, deeply satisfying pleasures available. It's "me time" in the best possible sense: I get to cook exactly what I feel like eating. I can season my food precisely to my liking. I get to take my time chopping, basting and roasting, not worrying about anyone else's schedule or level of hangry-ness. I can sip wine while I stir, and listen to whatever music I please. I can set a beautiful table and enjoy my dinner formally, or I can eat on the couch, while I watch Law & Order: SVU--it's totally up to me. After dinner, I can sit at the table and read for an hour, or, if I feel like it, I can abandon the dishes and go take a bath.

Don't get me wrong, I love cooking for others. Most nights, I cook dinner for Evan, and it's my favorite part of the day. But, on the nights we don't eat together, I relish my time in the kitchen alone. The importance of the quality of my dinner doesn't diminish because I'm the only one eating it.

I hope to have a family someday, and I hope to cook them incredible food every night. But I also hope that, occasionally, I'll find myself on my own for dinner. I'll pour myself a glass of Pinot, turn on some Smokey Robinson, and chop, stir, and nurture my body and soul with a special meal made just for me.

Why wouldn't I bother?

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