Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Apple Peel Twigs

I've been spending some time lately trying to conquer a few kitchen anxieties in an effort to become more proficient in my cooking skills.  Peeling things and pastry-making, specifically.  I'll address the pastry business if I manage to crack the code on that niggly awful process (which yields nearly 16 million google hits for good reason), but until then, peels!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm the laziest prep cook in existence and if there's a step in a recipe that even remotely seems like it doesn't need to be done, it's just not going to happen in the Trash Salad kitchen.  There's always a Law and Order SVU marathon on, you see, and that is always going to take precedence.  As a result of this cooking philosophy, I have peeled apples maybe twice in my life and really never had a problem with chunky applesauce or brown betties with an extra special texture to them.  But autumn is a time for productivity and personal challenge, and thus I decided to go the whole nine with desserts while also learning how to peel without looking like a thumbless orangutan.

Glory be, if I didn't discover the most outrageously delicious, easy to make, and healthy snack food item made from scraps in the process.  Apple peels, tossed with cinnamon sugar and dehydrated at low temperature.  So simple sounding, they have a light crunchiness with a sweet and spicy tart flavor that is impossibly addicting.  The entire batch was inhaled in less than 24 hours (by me).

Just toss them in the oven while you're waiting on your pie dough to transform from a chilled blob into magic unicorn crust that should flake to infinity.

Apple Peel Twigs

Adapted from Sassy Radish via MStew
Total time: 2.5 hours, active time 2 minutes

  • Peels from 6-8 apples
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  • pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Preheat oven to 250F/120C.  Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Toss apple peels with the spiced sugar, using a few drops of water if more moisture is needed to help the sugar stick.

Spread peels out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 2 hours, rotating halfway through until peels are curled and crisp.  Let cool in the oven for another 30 minutes to dry before serving.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Loaded Veggie Cream Cheese

Two recent and disappointing bagel experiences have driven me back into the realm of kitchen experimentation and bloggery.  Different days, different Hoboken bagel-specific establishments.  Disappointing to the point where the convenience of the on-the-way-to-work breakfast pickup is now outweighed by the significant potential for negative surprise induced by opening the bag.

I like to treat myself to an enormous bagel breakfast on the occasional Friday that I head into the office. Normally my morning routine involves a harried five minute dance between the french press and the bathroom sink followed by a sad high-fiber desk cereal around 10am, but Fridays I pull out all the stops and add 2-4 minutes onto my commute for the bagel detour. The payoff is that the doughy rings in this area of the world are so huge that the workday is usually halfway over by the time I finish it. Breakfast as a time-traveling device, you see.

My standard order is a whole wheat everything with light veggie cream cheese. Everywhere, always - with the very occasional substitution of olive cream cheese, but only if it visibly contains green, black, and pimento varieties.  A few weeks ago, I opened the bag to find this:

A bagel straining under the weight of its cream cheese, with maybe one or two vegetable (?) chunks spotted.  Have I just never taken the time to look at my breakfast before? Are we entering a new world of cream cheese homogeneity and chunk skimpage?

Familiar with my own obliviousness, I inclined towards the former assumption and carried on the following Friday at another bagel shop, hopeful of a better result. Here, the gentleman misheard my order and instead said that I was getting lox cream cheese when he handed over the bag.  "Excellent!" I thought to myself, "lox cream cheese is usually much more expensive and I am getting it for the same price!"  And then I unwrapped this, barely pink, barely salty, completely chunk-less abomination (I didn't take a photo because it made me angry, but here is an artistic rendering):

Let's do a little better, shall we?  The goal is to veer away from the usual ratio of ingredients in deli/store-bought vegetable cream cheese:

towards the Xanadu of schmears, which I have determined to be a 1:1 ratio of cream cheese to stuff.

Within the "stuff", you can play around with whatever you have on-hand, but I really like equal ratios of carrots to other assorted crunchy vegetables to flavorful components (half oniony things, half herby/salty/spicy things), and rounded all off with a generous amount of freshly ground pepper.  Much cheaper, more interesting, and fresher-tasting than anything scooped out of a deli pan. And! Keeping this on-hand will cut down your Friday morning bagel detour time by at least 50%.  

Loaded Vegetable Cream Cheese

Makes 2 cups
Total time: 5-10 minutes 

  • 8oz (225g) lite or regular cream cheese (I like Neufchatel)
    • 1/3 cup shredded carrots
    • 1/3 cup finely diced colorful/crunchy veg (any color bell pepper, celery, fennel, radish, cucumber)
    • 2-3 tablespoons finely diced onions or white parts of scallions
    • 2-3 tablespoons finely diced miscellaneous flavorful bits (olives, capers, fresh soft herbs, green parts of scallions, jalapeno or other spicy peppers, pickles, crumbled up bacon)
    • black pepper
    Heat cream cheese in a few 30-second increments until it spreads easily.  Mix with other ingredients and add freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Cream cheese will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks.