Applesauce in the Oven

100_9091When your apples are too far gone for pie, make applesauce.

And when you are too lazy to make applesauce, make oven applesauce.

I did see that the Barefoot Contessa had a recipe for applesauce in the oven, but I was actually too lazy to even follow it. Plus, she used butter. Which I can’t. And is that even necessary?

So I basically cut up my old apples with my exciting new apple slicing tool (see below), made sure all of the seeds were out, and covered them with liquid and baked. The side benefit I hadn’t anticipated? Oven roasted apples caramelize and take on a whole new, richer, deeper flavor.

apple slicerDepending on the juice content of the apples you use and how much liquid you decide to add, you can either eat them fresh out of the oven with a little bit of yogurt or run them through the blender with a little bit of added liquid and make the darkest, most satisfying applesauce you have ever tasted. Either way, no peeling (the peels soften to the point of non-existence during cooking) and the best-smelling kitchen of your life.

Note to realtors: Nobody can bake cookies every weekend without developing a gut. Throw some old apples in a big pot of water and add a couple of cinnamon sticks and a squirt of lemon juice and set in a 200 degree oven for 3 hours. Instant homey smell without the calories.applesauce in the oven

My writing group met this weekend for our annual round-up of writing goals. I was sincerely proud of what other people had accomplished but discouraged by my own lack of progress. The Middle Grade Gothic novel I wrote is much improved after dozens of drafts but to what end?

eric amber passage of armsAnd some selfish library patron is still reading (or hoarding) the Eric Ambler book I want to read next. Ambler is the guy who either invented or honed the modern spy novel (depending who you ask) and his writing is simply amazing. Although I probably shouldn’t be telling anyone else if I ever want to get my book.

I think I cook because it’s something I can finish — and enjoy — and share with others. Unlike most of what I write.

Applesauce in the Oven (adapted from Ina Garten)

Apples — doesn’t matter what kind or how many
Maple syrup or brown sugar to taste
A pinch or more of salt
Liquid including at least something acidic, such as orange or lemon juice
Cinnamon and maybe even other spices (I used my favorite pumpkin pie spice mix — and I used a whole lot of it)

Preheat your oven to about 300 if you are using a big oven-safe stew pot such as I have pictured above. Another time I used a casserole dish and cooked the apples at 200 degrees until they were fork-soft for twice as long.

Cut the apples open and remove the cores and seeds, cutting away rotten spots. That’s it. No peeling.

Cover the apples with liquid. You can use anything from cider to wine to orange juice or some combination of whatever you have on hand. Make sure to include at least one acidic juice. I bet a dash of cider vinegar would work well if you are completely out of citrus.

Add sweetener if desired. The Barefoot Contessa and others recommend brown sugar but I wanted a lower glycemic index so I added a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup instead.  For the version pictured above, I used two cinnamon sticks which I fished out afterwards, rinsed, and reused to mull cider. Later, when the holidays were done, I just used a whole bunch of pumpkin pie spice in my baked apple sauce. Both alternatives smell great while cooking.

Bake your apple mess until the apples are soft and liquid. This can take 1 to 2 hours but what’s the rush? The whole house will be infused with a dreamy, apples-and-cinnamon scent that evokes the joy of pie.

I put half in the blender after one batch because my mother doesn’t like chunks in her apple sauce but I like mine al dente, fresh out of the oven, served with a drizzle of yogurt or a a slice of cherry cake.

roasted apples and cherry cake

Posted in Baking, Baking with fruit, Cooking with leftovers, Vegan, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

When Only Bread Baked by a Cranky Frenchman Will Do

Savor: S.F. Sourdough breads; Nov'12; sillosWe are spoiled rotten when it comes to bread around here. I can afford to refuse to eat anyone’s baguette but the Cheeseboard’s (all crust!), insist on Acme’s whole wheat loaf for sandwiches (s0 sweet, so dense), and prefer Semifreddi’s Challah to any other.

Some members of my family have a thing about La Farine’s morning buns even though there are several stiff competitors for Best Morning Bun.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that I forgot all about La Bedaine when it came to buying bread, even though the owner/baker had been nice enough to conduct a puff pastry class I attended. (Read about it here.)

Acme Whole Wheat loaf

Acme Whole Wheat loaf

I shouldn’t have. It turns out that this tiny bakery provides something you can’t get at any of those other places — loaves baked by an actual Frenchman who understands the Gallic way of shopkeeping (smiling at strangers means you are simple to the French — vive the cultural difference). And La Bedaine’s bread tastes like I remember bread tasting in France, with a variety of textures and flavors, redolent of the oven, even days later.

photo credit Rita C./Yelp

photo credit Rita C./Yelp


Many people patronize La Bedaine exclusively for their sandwiches or their elegant sous-vide entrées that can be reheated in moments in your home or the pastries (bien sur) but I’m hooked on their pain au levain — an entirely different experience than anyone else’s.

I’m also pretty excited about the La Bedaine baguette, even though unlike the Cheeseboard’s crust-only confection, this bread has an inside as well.

All that is left...

All that is left…

New Year, new tastes, right?

Posted in Bread, French food, Reviews | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Round Pie in a Square Pan

square pieAm I stuck lately? Sure. Stuck on pie. Stuck on my two rewrites. In an uncomfortable rut in my life? Unable to cobble together enough to pay my mortgage? All of the above.

I have been revising my Middle Grade Gothic novel for what feels like years (and is actually over a YEAR). At least I’m up to revising the ending, but everything I wrote this weekend is crap and has to be redone.

I paused, at one point yesterday, and baked a pie for the friends I was petsitting for — mostly because they had a whole bag of Pippin apples on the counter. If that’s not a blatant invitation to bake a pie, I don’t know what is. If they have a round pie dish, I couldn’t find it. I loved their red, square casserole anyway and it was the perfect depth for deep dish.

Before you start gagging and having visions of Martha Stewart, let me tell you what happened. I was blocked on the crust!27257-green-apple

I have never understood why people are so intimidated by pie until yesterday. No matter what I did — from chilling the marble rolling pin to trying again with a totally different fat — I could not get a damn crust to roll out. I didn’t have my trusty French rolling pin or my pastry cutter, but that shouldn’t matter. I had cold fat, two knives, a cold smooth surface, flour and water. In theory, or at least according to my own blog, that’s all you need!

I resorted to a press crust finally for the bottom, and threw some strips of dough over the top in a faux-lattice.

Saul-Bellow-deresiewicz_slideMy friends tell me it tasted great and I believe them because it smelled pretty fantastic. These friends are also far more healthy eaters than me and had no white sugar accessible, so I substituted wildflower honey (which they had plenty of), turbinado sugar (same diff), and maple syrup. Instead of vanilla, I used some homemade spiced rum someone had given them as a gift. Recipe for this improvised square pie below.

After my Dad died his friend Phil, with whom he had been having lunch once a week for decades, started having lunch with me instead. In between lunches, Phil, being an old school kind of guy, writes me letters. Phil is also old school enough to have written letters with Saul Bellow too.

Phil wrote me that when Saul got stuck while writing The Adventures of Augie March, he found the action of the Parisian street cleaners, hosing the gutters madly with water controlled by rolled up old carpets helped him to feel free to gush whatever the hell he wanted onto the page. The moral of this story? I badly need a trip to Paris.

Improvised Apple Pie (dairy-free)

Make your crust and put it in the fridge or freezer (covered to avoid picking up weird smells). My press crust recipe is here.

Ingredients for filling:

Love this cheesy cover -- says "Nobel prize" winner!

Love this cheesy cover — says “Nobel prize” winner!

2 – 3 cups of cut up apples (some green plus whatever you have in the house, but not too mealy)
2 tablespoons of rum
3 tablespoons of honey3 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 cup turbinado or brown  sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice or orange juice
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Peel and cut up about 2 cups worth of apples into bite-sized chunks. Discard cores.  I usually use whatever apples I have on hand but mixing in green apples that are closer to their quince ancestors and more pectin-y means you don’t have to bother with thickeners in your filling. I have never even heard of using corn starch or even flour in an apple pie filling because my Mom always used Granny Smiths — but I read that people do it. Don’t. Green apples will solve this problem. Make sure the apples are fairly fresh. You want some texture. If the apples are already soft, use them to make homemade apple sauce instead or apple butter.

Here’s a new step my my Mom never did. Put all of your ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and nuke them until the sugar is dissolved and the apples are starting to get soft. Alternatively, do what Cooks Illustrated says and cook them in a dutch oven and then remove them and cool them flat in large pan with sides. I have already registered my disgust at their need to dirty everything in your kitchen. No need to do it again here!

Preheat the oven to 375.

Once the filling is cool (which it will do just fine in your microwave-safe bowl) pour it into your chilled crust. At this point you could opt for a streusel topping or roll out a sheet of pastry to put on top (which was what I did at Thanksgiving). If you add a top crust, sprinkle it with turbinado sugar before baking and be sure to prick the top with a fork multiple times before baking. In good news, the pre-cooked filling probably won’t bubble out and make a mess of your oven but put a baking sheet underneath when you put the pie in the oven just in case. Every apple is different.pie_yum

Bake your pie for about an hour, covering it with foil if the crust starts to burn. As I mentioned above, pre-cooked filling isn’t as lively as the other kind, so your pie will be ready when the crust is golden brown and the whole thing looks firm.

Improvised Apple Pie: Printer-ready


Posted in Baking, Baking with fruit, Lactose-free, Pie, Writing | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Pie Academy: Part 2 (Don’t Fear the Crust)

100_9060_2Now that I’ve gotten past Chanukah-giving trauma — and have many more successful pies under my belt, both literally and figuratively — I’m ready to spill. And split my pants.

My fellow blogger Chicago John reminded me the importance of keeping track of what I’m baking, so when I had to make a second pecan pie in 48-hours (don’t ask), I decided to take notes. Next year I’m going to go corn-free (not because I think corn syrup is the root of all evil, but to see if I can make a pecan pie with a lower glycemic index) but this year, I merely modified the recipe on the good old bottle of Karo syrup. Dark kind, in case you are interested. karo-dark-corn-syrup-63508

I also made double-crust apple and pumpkin tarts but pecan pie is so freaking easy — I wanted to share it with people who are afraid of baking pie. Crust is just flour and water. Really. You don’t have to roll it out unless you feel like it. And the secret to flakiness (of crust, anyway) is about to be revealed.

Crazy Easy Pecan Pie (dairy-free)

Make the crust at least an hour before so it has time to chill. Some say to chill it overnight and it will be better. If you have time, do it.

Ingredients for the Crust:

1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour plus extra for your hands
1 stick of Earth Balance (cold from the fridge but not frozen)
1 or 2 tablespoons cold water, mixed with 1 teaspoon orange juice or other acid — plain white vinegar works too
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar (if desired, this is optional)


Ready to be crust

Put the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the Earth Balance into the flour until the particles are about the size of peas. Add a little bit of your cold water/OJ combo and mix with your hands until dough is formed. Too dry? Add more water. Too wet? Sprinkle a bit more flour. You are aiming for the consistency of Play-Doh. For my purposes (press crust) you just need a big ball. But don’t play with it! Overworked crust isn’t tender-tasting.

Take a 9 inch pie pan and lightly oil and flour it. This is new this year — but I discovered it makes it a whole lot easier to get the pie out afterwards.

Once your pie pan is prepared, put the dough ball in your floured pan. Flour your hands to keep from sticking to the dough and press it flat, making sure to get it up the sides. Try to get the crust as even as possible. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge. Light the candles and relax for an hour — or up to a day or two. channukah 2013

Ingredients for the Filling:

1 bag of pecans (6 oz.) — whole or pieces
1 cup of brown sugar (darker the better)
1 cup of Karo syrup (or substitute up to 1/3 maple syrup if you’ve got it)
2 tablespoons Earth Balance
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs

My mom is going to kill me for saying this but it sort of doesn’t matter how many pecans you use. I have used a whole bag, half a bag, two bags. Honestly, if you can fit them in the pan, you can pie them. I have toasted the nuts before baking too and I don’t think it adds anything except the chance of burning them both before and during.

Mix the sugar and syrup with the vanilla in a big bowl. In a separate small bowl if you are nuking (or pan, if not), melt the Earth Balance. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Add the eggs to the sugars and mix well. You can’t over mix this. Add the pecans. Once the melted Earth Balance is no longer hot (you don’t want to cook those eggs), add it to the mixture and blend well.



Pour the whole mess into your chilled pie shell. Bake for just under an hour or until the top no longer shimmers to the touch or a toothpick to the center comes out clean. As always with pie, if the edges (or any other part of it) starts to get too dark too soon, put some foil over it.

This recipe could not be easier or more foolproof. No mixer, no rolling pins, no nothing. And it is crazy delicious.

Crazy Easy Pecan Pie: Printer-friendly version

Posted in Baking, Dairy-free, Lactose-free, Pie | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments


Le bedain logoLast year at this time I promised I would get really good at making pie and then pass along my wisdom.

Bad news.  I didn’t make that much pie. I did make enough so that I don’t feel nervous any more when I have to roll out a crust. It helps that I bought a long, wooden rolling pin, the kind Alain, the chef/owner of La Bedaine bakery recommended. French rolling pinThey are also called French rolling pins.

You’d be surprised what you can find at Ross for under $10. It was worth it. For some reason, dough doesn’t stick to the wooden rolling pin and it’s more conducive to less rolling rather than more and only going in one direction.

I found these really useful tips and excellent recipes on the Earth Balance website:

The Earth Balance folks reminded me to chill the crust before baking for at least an hour. They also recommend chilling the pastry cutter which I think was overkill.

Another weird place I found great inspiration for my deep dish apple pie? The Crate and Barrel e-mail that was attempting to sell me stuff:

aside_CID_ND13_FrontCover_186x223Crate and Barrel included some tips from Cooks Illustrated, the magazine that advocates you dirty every single pot and pan in your kitchen and treat cooking like a difficult science experiment. I did appreciate their idea that I mixed pippins (hybrids of pectin-rich quinces) with red apples for sweetness.

So far I have made pecan pie with a press crust (the downside of rolling crust: flour all over my marble dining table), plus a double crust deep dish apple. Both pies came out super ugly but let’s face it, my heart’s not in it. Whose idea was it to stick (C)hannuka(h) and Thanksgiving together this year? Sure, it won’t happen again for 79,000 years. How does that help me this week?

Posted in Baking, Holiday baking, Lactose-free, Pie | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Dueling Cornbread Mixes

100_8972Why mixes? I have a weird love/hate relationship with mixes. Much like I have a love/hate relationship with ornaments that say, “Merry Christmas from Heaven,” featuring a photo of a dead dearly beloved.Merry_Christmas_From_Heaven_Photo

No. I just hate those. If you Google them, you will see there’s also a part about “hi from Jesus.” I can’t make stuff like that up.

Mixes are mostly bad because you can taste the chemicals, but on occasion I want to taste the guar gum and carrageenan. (See any of my posts on Bisquick.)

7fd2a800-a1f4-44d3-b558-f2514f06a564According to my grandmother (whom I never met), it was only OK to use a mix for bundt cake. There is no shame in bundt mixes. They are complicated.

Also, the Safeway by school didn’t have any bags of cornbread stuffing. Plus, the premier maker of cornbread mix is Krusteaz and I love the name Krusteaz.

For the record, I wanted to make stuffing from actual bread (again) this year but I was vetoed, as usual. I decided at least I could make the cornbread for that part of the stuffing and let it get stale. Which doesn’tcornbread mix take long. At all.

I bought two different mixes so I could compare. The Betty Crocker was yellower out of the packet but that might be yellow coloring. The Krusteaz contains “honey powder” but didn’t taste significantly sweeter. They both baked in 16 minutes, even though I muffined the Betty Crocker and dumped the entire box of Krusteaz in a shallow Pyrex pan lined with parchment. corn muffin

The mixes were identical in every way except color — right down to the ingredients you add to them (egg, milk, oil — though the Krusteaz called for twice the egg). They were both delicious and I don’t care for cornbread as a rule. And they are both, a mere few hours later, totally stale.

Next?  Pie.

Posted in Baking, Muffins | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Chocolate Pudding: Take Deux

hershey-baking-cocoa-special-dark_lgOther people have been living in my apartment. There have been so many of them, I don’t know which one is addicted to dark chocolate — cocoa powder to be precise.

When I moved out, I had maybe three or four different kinds of high-end cocoas and drinking chocolates in the cupboard. I came home to a Schaffen Berger unsweetened tin with a scant 1/2 inch left in the bottom in the cupboard with the teas, and two Hershey’s Special Dark drinking chocolate tins in the fridge. Yes, the fridge. Granted the stuff isn’t powder so much as a fine grind of chocolate (no sugar) but I have never kept drinking chocolate in the fridge before milk is added to it.hershey_miniatures

Special Dark are the Hershey bars that everyone leaves in the bag of miniatures because they taste bitter. Even people who like dark chocolate hate “Special Dark” because it’s not what Hershey does well. Mr. Goodbar is what they do well. Try it. Buy a bag of miniatures for Halloween. Leave them on your desk at work at 9 a.m. By noon, you will have a bag of “Special Dark.”

Here’s the part where I tell if you those useless leftovers can be saved by making a delicious pudding out of them!

I adapted this recipe from the Hershey’s website. I used 1% lactose-free milk so there was very little fat since dark chocolate has twice as much protein as fat, if the Hershey’s website can be believed.Cocoa makes pudding

Chocolate Pudding with Cocoa

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups milk (coconut or almond milk work too since the thickness comes from the corn starch)
2 teaspoons of vanilla

Mix the dry ingredients well — getting rid of as many lumps as possible. Add the milk (or coconut milk) gradually — stirring as you go. Allow the pudding to boil but be careful not to let it burn. Turn the heat down and keep stirring until it thickens. It doesn’t take long.

100_8967Pour the hot pudding into individual bowls or a container to chill. If you don’t like skin, put waxed paper on top, touching the top, so it doesn’t form. Put in the fridge to set.

I like pudding hot off the stove with walnuts (antioxidants anyone?) but it tastes better the next day, after the flavors have mellowed.

Printable version here.

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Quince: The Original Fruit

preservesasgiftsI love to make jam (and have recently discovered the joys of jelly) but I’m loathe to blog about it because if you do it wrong, you can give someone the gift of botchulism. If you are new to preserving, you can go straight to the source and use this well-written guide from the USDA. I follow the canning practices of my mother, who has been making jams from our garbage fruit trees for decades. She never kills anyone. Good enough for me!

Quince_drawingAll of the garbage fruit trees in the garden have long since succumbed to the Oak Root Rot (except the lovely Meyer lemon I wrote about here, but that is far from a garbage tree), so imagine my delight when a neighbor pointed out that a pretty little flowering tree by the garage door was bearing quinces. I thought it was crabapple and moreover, I had no idea what quinces even were. Turns out, they are the ultimate canning fruit, being super fragrant, inedible raw, and loaded with natural pectin. They look like a small yellow apple and people believe they are the actual apples from the Garden of Eden, among many other literary and biblical endorsements. Others refer to quince as a “miracle” fruit because they gel so quickly when you cook them. They take the tedious guess work and candy thermometers out of jelly and jam making.

quincejellyandlemonsThe difference between jam and jelly (which I never considered before either) is that jam involves the whole fruit while jelly is clear because it’s the strained essence. Because you boil the whole quince to get that lovely pectin, and the fruit is mostly seeds, jelly made the most sense to me. After making two batches of quince jelly — one with ripe fruits that were yellow and another with green fruits that were not — I decided to pick the remaining quinces on the tree and see if they would cause other fruits to gel more quickly. They did! Another nifty thing about quinces is how they turn pink when cooked and even weirder, the jelly I made with unripe (green) quinces was rosier than the jelly I made with the ripe ones.

I next added some quince to some seedless green grapes I had leftover and didn’t feel like eating, along with some lovely organic honey we got for New Year’s and the juice of our Meyer lemons. grapejellyI dropped a cinnamon stick in my Mom’s big copper jam-making pot and kept it in through the later batches of strawberry jam. See below for the recipe I ended up with for quince jelly. The strawberry jam (and any jam really) is too easy to even write down. Cook any fruit with sugar to taste (or honey), a bit of lemon juice, and wait for it to thicken. Done.

Cooking quinces

Cooking quinces

For recipes, I used a whole bunch of websites but the one I liked best was Chocolate & Zucchini which is written by a French chick who is a veritable quince expert.

Quince Jelly for Rosh Hashanana adapted from Chocolate&Zucchini

Quinces (either ripe or not)
Sugar (granulated)
Lemon juice

Most recipes suggest about 7/8 of a cup of sugar for each cup of quince juice you end up with but I think you should use your own taste buds as your guide. Similarly, add lemon juice until you are pleased with the flavor you get. These are really the only ingredients but you will need cheesecloth, which I didn’t have.

Wash and cut up your quinces into quarters, removing worms if necessarstrawberryjamy (I didn’t have this problem). Cook your quinces until they are mushy — seeds and all. This only took me 20 minutes but I read that it took some people an hour.

Strain the quince mush into a bowl. Restrain the contents of the bowl through damp cheesecloth into a large measuring cup. Reserve the gunk in the cheesecloth to add to jam later if you are like me!

Now that you have measured, you know how much sugar you want to add. Lemon juice to taste. Using a big, heavy (non-reactive) pot like our copper jam-making monstrosity, cook the quince extract with the sugar, dissolving it fully before you allow the mixture to boil.

A note on sterilizing jars: There are several ways to do this. Please consult the USDA to be sure. I boil my jars and lids in an enormous pot and only remove them from the boiling water with tongs when I’m ready to fill them, but you may feel more comfortable with another method. strawberriesreadytojam

The only trick to making jelly or jam (besides sterilizing your equipment) involves cooking the mixture till it’s ready to gel without allowing it to burn. Most recipes say to boil the mixture to a certain temperature. I don’t always do that. The beauty of quince is that it gels at the drop of a hat no matter what you do. Again — there are many ways to figure out when your jelly or jam is ready to be jarred. I use the cold plate technique. You freeze a small saucer and drop the mixture on it. If the drop doesn’t run, you are ready to fill your jars. A more scientific way would be to use a candy thermometer but I’m way too lazy. As you stir the mixture, you will feel it thicken and pull against your spoon which gives you a hint when to start dropping on a cold plate.

Other tips? Don’t fill your jars all the way to the top and tighten the tops as the jam cools without moving the jars as they settle.

Speaking of lazy, I finally finished the new draft of the script I feel I have been writing my entire life. Why is it that I can’t tell you what’s going to happen at the end of the story and then suddenly, I know? Magic. Just like jelly. Try it yourself and have a sweet New Year.jamsandjellies

Posted in Breakfast, Fruit jam, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Some of my best friends are vegans…

barryhortoncupcakeI’ve often been accused of writing a vegan and/or gluten-free blog here myself. I don’t. The only ingredient consistently missing from my recipes is dairy, which I’m not supposed to eat. Even then, I’m not perfect, usually opting for dairy that is lactose-free which doesn’t count.

I do like the challenge of trying to make edible food that is either vegan or gluten-free but I am in complete awe of people who can do both — and make it delicious — because it is a challenge for most of us.

I have blogged before about my friends Barry and Jennifer who have a vegan AND gluten-free catering company called Local Love here in the Bay Area. Barry is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who used to be head chef at Ravens’ Restaurant in Mendocino. His vegan and gluten-free desserts are so good that they have no right to be free of anything!

The other extraordinary thing about Chef Barry and his wife Jennifer is their lack of attitude. They eat vegan and gluten-free food but they don’t judge you for your disgustingly unhealthy diet. They are the kind of folks who adopt stray cats and dogs (not even sure how many they have at home right now) and allow themselves to be upstaged by their toddler in their Kickstarter video.

barrysplantainchipsThey are using Kickstarter to raise funds to help open a vegan bistro here in the Bay Area (East Bay to be exact). Yes — we all hate Kickstarter. It’s like Ryan Seacrest. You know he bugs you but you can’t put your finger on why…On the other hand, it works and we actually need a vegan bistro in the East Bay that isn’t overpriced. You’d think we’d have a bunch to choose from but the fact is, we don’t. 10-chocolate-mini-cupcake-with-an-irish-cream

If you give them $10 you will get to enjoy one of those desserts I rave about. Barry does things with nuts that will make you forget buttercream. And that’s saying something.


His entrees are good too!

Posted in Fine dining, Gluten-free, Vegan | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Characters and Cupcakes

banancupcakesbananacupcakeOur next door neighbor turned 93 this week so of course we baked banana cupcakes with googly eyes. The recipe was a riff on my banana layer cake recipe but I am incapable of making the same thing twice, apparently, so I made a few alterations and my nephew felt that the result was so delicious I should share this version with the world. Or at least that fraction of the world who reads this blog!

Speaking of reading what I write, I finally got through the first draft of the script I have been writing seemingly my entire life. A good friend who is a much better (and more experienced) screenwriter gave me excellent advice to help with the next draft.

Characters. I know, it seems obvious, and moreover, it’s what my best screenwriting teacher used to emphasize. The more you know about your characters the more the plot complications (and humor, in the case of a comedy) will be organic and the better the movie will be. But you get so caught up in the writing of a movie, so preoccupied with plot, jokes, and drama that it’s easy to forget that each character must be a living breathing person with drive and motivation. I saw a movie today that was an example of what can go very wrong when you neglect to create characters. The To Do List, a female-driven (and written and directed) comedy, has a stellar cast of hilarious comic actors. It has a novel, fun concept and a great setting for humor:  a local pool. And it’s one of the least funny movies I have ever seen. The To Do List was so not funny, it was painful to watch. This summer, The Heat proved that a buddy cop movie with women could be hysterical. I’m devastated that The To Do List didn’t do the same for Superbad — or any one of the literally hundreds of “boys trying to lose their virginity movies.”  Instead, it was an  object lesson in how not to write a script.

Banana Cupcakes (lactose-free)


2 sticks of Earth Balance (softened but not melting)
1 1/4 cups granulated white sugar
3 teaspoons of vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup (approx.) mashed bananas, beaten very smooth
2 cups Bisquick (I used lowfat in the white box)

Preheat your oven to 350 and put cupcake liners in two tins.

DSC00492Mash the bananas and then beat them till smooth. We used our new immersion blender which is the ideal too for this type of job and also super easy-to-clean — unlike the mixer which we will use for the rest of the recipe! Once the bananas are ready, stir in the vanilla. Yes, I use a lot of vanilla. I could even be a vanilla-holic. I like the way it tastes.

Cream the Earth Balance (or butter, if you prefer) and sugar until the mixture is just that — creamy. I use an electric mixer but if you need the upper body workout, you could do it by hand. The key here is to allow the shortening to reach room temperature before you begin but not be too soft. You don’t want it melting on you or it will spoil your crumb.

Add the eggs — one at a time. Incorporate completely. Now comes the tricky part. You will be alternating the banana mixture and the Bisquick (though you can sub the dry ingredients in my layer cake recipe if you don’t like Bisquick). You want to end on dry ingredients and you must not over beat at this point. Once the floDSC00487ur goes in, you risk a tough cupcake if you over beat. I wish someone had told me years ago to use the paddle attachment instead of the whisk-looking one on my mixer. Now I’m telling you.

Pour your smoothly beaten batter to half fill the muffin cups and bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean to the center of the center muffin. Cool completely before attempting to frost — let alone adding googly eyes (edible ones). We made a cream cheese frosting and you can find my vegan cream cheese frosting recipe here. I’m ashamed to admit that I was out of Earth Balance so I threw a stick of regular butter in the blender, dumped a whole bunch of powdered sugar in and a dollop of cream cheese and beat it till it looked like frosting. That’s not a recipe but it does work. Frosting makes itself. This recipe yields two dozen cupcakes.

Banana Cupcakes (printable version)



Posted in Baking, Baking with fruit, Bisquick, Cupcakes, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments