3.30.2014

sunday suppers || a brunch feast
















When my lovely friend KAREN MOREDECHAI, of SUNDAY SUPPERS called me about collaborating on another event, this time, a winter brunch, we had no idea just how L O O O O O N G winter would be, and how sorely it needed a send off. What we did know is that we always have a wonderful time together, particularly when we are in the company of such gracious, eager guests, ready to get their hands in the mix and cook up a sumptuous feast. This one stars some of her recipes (get excited: she has a gorgeous book coming out next year!) and some of mine (from my newly James-Beard-nominated cookbook FEAST and THE NEWLYWED COOKBOOK). 

Here's a few simple moments from the day. She was the one behind a real camera, and you'll find her dreamy images on her site today, SUNDAY SUPPERS, and all week. Come visit us both in the coming days for recipes, for these brunch treats are just as lovely for saying hello to S P R I N G. 

3.20.2014

goodbye winter || ruby beauties


enough with winter already. but, it wouldn't be fair to bid it adieu without a nod to the winter reds that have kept us nourished these many long months. || gratitude to these winter stapes, and to talented photographer Yunhee Kim who shot these two images for Feast.

xo

2.08.2014

{valentine’s day} Strawberry Rye Squares


When it comes to holidays, my mom is A+. She’s never missed a year of making black eyed peas for New Year’s or corned-beef and hash on St. Patrick’s day. Though her Easter baskets never sported the live bunny I always hoped for, they were top-notch. Solid chocolate bunnies? Duh. She has a wooden Santa display to rival the Macy’s windows, and don’t get me started on her birthday cakes. Legendary. But strangely, though I’d never claim Valentine’s day as my favorite holiday today, if I had to pick one holiday past to pop in on, February 14 might actually be it.

Perhaps it’s because, for the most part, Valentine’s was just another ordinary day—a Tuesday, a Thursday, a Friday in midwinter. It was usually a school day, which meant it would have been easy enough to overlook. But without fail, when we came down to breakfast on that day each year, there would be heart-shaped pancakes, and tiny surprises at each of our places—simple things like I love you stickers or sometimes candy hearts, that graduated to tiny gold heart earrings or pink nail polish from year to year.

My mom wasn’t a note-in-the-lunchbox kind of mom; managing laundry, three meals, school projects, dance classes and every other detail of a family of six was her daily, tangible love note. But to this day, on Valentine’s day there is always a note from my mom—in the lunchbox, or now, the mailbox, making me feel—strike that—know that in a world that isn’t often quick to love, a mother always is.

As much as I love my hubby (and yes, we’ve had some sweet valentine’s dates), this year, for the first time ever, I’ve been irrationally excited about Valentine’s day, mama-style. The other day, I was even lured into a tacky dime store by the sparkly pink display, and left with a sack full of hearts in every form. I’ve been imagining a valentine’s tea for Greta and her 3-year-old playmates, a sweet, heart-shaped-pancake breakfast on Friday and a week’s worth of love-note-laden lunches. Truth: the party probably won’t happen—at least not this year. And, on a weekday, we’re lucky to get hard-boiled eggs eaten before we all have to rush out the door. But the thing about a mother’s love, or any real love for that matter, is that it’s never reserved for just one day.


In the end, Valentine’s is just another reminder to slow down and cherish someone. To take the time to hang tacky hearts in the window, however crookedly, if it means standing behind your little one, arms around them with your cheeks practically touching as she explains the way she sees the world. It means giving in to that one more book before naptime, even though you’re bloody exhausted, or taking a walk hand-in-hand in the bitter cold until you reach the end of the street, where the church bells chime and manage to almost stop time. It means baking your beloved’s favorite sweet, and pulling out the heart-shaped cookie cutters to make them just a touch more special, as if anything you do out of love could be more special at all. Because that’s what we do when we love—we keep trying, and praying if we need to, to outdo ourselves. To love more and better and harder and more purely than we thought we ever could.


STRAWBERRY RYE SQUARES || makes 12 to 36 bars



1 ¼ cups rye flour
1 cup barley, whole-wheat white or all-purpose flour
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark)
½ cup unbleached sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk
Scant 1 cup strawberry preserves (or your favorite jam)
¾ cup lightly toasted hazelnuts or walnuts (or a combination)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9 by 13-inch pan and line it with parchment paper with flaps overhanging two edges. Butter the parchment paper.

Whisk together the flours, oats, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat together the butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and the yolk. Add the flour mixture and slowly stir together, scraping the bottom of the bowl to get all the butter or floury bits.

Layer about 2/3 of the dough into the baking pan, pressing into an even layer. Spread the preserves evenly over the top. Drop the remaining dough in small clumps to the cover the jam, letting a little jam peek through. Sprinkle with the nuts.


Bake until the dough is set and golden, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool slightly in the pan, about 5 minutes, and then use the parchment to lift the bars onto a flat surface. Use a heart-shaped cutter, or several of them (I use all different sizes) to cut the bars into shapes, keeping them as close together as possible. This works best while the bars are slightly warm. Let them cool lightly in the cutters before removing and cutting out more (the bars set and firm as they cool). Cool completely and serve with coffee or tea. 

p.s. minus the sugar (there's admittedly a bunch) these are pretty wholesomefull of whole grains and nutsso I feel a-okay about sending these as Greta's school sweet in her lunchbox this week. use whatever wholegrain flours you have, and skip the nuts if allergies are an issue. 

12.30.2013

ALMOND CROISSANTS: the best possible way to end, or start a year

photo by Yunhee Kim

On the morning we brought Greta home from the hospital, November 4, 2010, we went straight to our neighborhood bakery, Astor Bake Shop. I know, lots of mothers don't leave the house with their newborns until they are solidly three months old, but I was not only very hungry, but way too excited to sit at home (don't worry, she's as healthy as an ox).  

I remember everything about that day: how teeny Greta was, all 7 pounds of her, in her fleecy white coat, curled into my chest; the way everyone at the bakery pointed and stared (look, a brand newborn); the way the air felt, cool and sweet and full of possibility; and, every enormously delicious morsel of my almond croissant – the first real food I had eaten for nearly 48 hours. 

If you've never had the pleasure of enjoying an almond croissant, here's what you should know: they’re like manna from heaven. Though almond croissants are generally a pastry chef's trick to make day-old-croissants new again (split the croissant, spread it with almond crème and bake until golden brown and intoxicatingly fragrant), they're always my number one pick in a pastry counter. I can think of no greater food with which to end, or start, a brand new year.

A good or even amazing almond croissant is easy to come by in Paris or New York, but elsewhere, say, in the tiny upstate New York town where we're spending our New Years, you have to make your own. Believe me, it is well worth the tiny effort.

Here’s my recipe, bar none one of my favorites from Feast (p.s. if you don't have croissants, this works on day-old bread, too).

ALMOND CROISSANTS | SERVES 6

1 recipe almond cream (see below)
6 day-old croissants, halved crosswise
Skin-on sliced almonds, for sprinkling
Powdered sugar, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide all but 1/3 cup/75 ml of the almond cream over the bottom halves of the croissants. Cover with the top halves, using your hand to flatten the croissants just slightly. Spread more almond cream over the top of the croissants with an offset spatula, leaving some of the edges bare. Sprinkle with almonds. 

Bake on the prepared baking sheet until the cream is cooked through and the top is golden brown, about 20 minutes, covering the top with foil if needed to prevent overbrowning. Dust generously with powdered sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

ALMOND CREAM | aka frangipane 

Almond cream, or frangipane, is a sweetened ground-almond or almond flour base for desserts, pies, tarts, and more.

1/2 cup unsalted room-temperature butter
1/2 cup unbleached sugar 
1 cup ground almonds or almond flour
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons oat flour or all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt 

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add ground almonds or almond flour and beat together. Add in the egg and egg yolk, one at a time, and then the vanilla extract. Stir in the flour and sea salt, scraping the bottom for any dry or unmixed bits, until the mixture is evenly fluffy and smooth. 

Store in a container with an airtight lid in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. (Makes enough for 6 croissants or 6 almond toasts)

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite 


12.29.2013

Swedish Pancake Sundays




Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Is there anything cuter than a toddler in long johns? Where we’ve been for the last week or so—in upstate New York and then in my hometown, Rockford, IL, it’s snowed for days on end, so Greta has practically lived in hers (you can buy these cute polka dot numbers here). As useful as long johns are under snow pants, paired with an apron, they also make a great post-snow-romp pancake-making uniform. 


These days in our house, there's only one kind of pancake: Swedish pancakes. In Rockford, where every third person is a Johnson, Swanson or Larson, Swedish pancakes are near-obligatory weekend fare. We ate them every Sunday after church for as long as I can remember, tucked into a booth at Stockholm Inn where my dad would make the rounds from table to table, visiting all his patients (mostly Johnsons, Swansons and Larsson) while we waited for our short stacks served with ligonberries, hash browns and a side of poached eggs. 

Back in New York, where we are today, there is no Stockholm Inn. Since András Swedish pancake devotion treads on dissidence (after all, Hungarians have their own beloved palicsinta), Greta and I rely on the recipe Paul Norman contributed to my third-grade-class cookbook many moons ago (thank you Paul, wherever you are). A slightly tweaked version appeared in my new cookbook, Feast, and has inspired our post snow-romp, pre-church Swedish pancake fever three weeks running. We can’t stop. 

Expect more reasons to don long johns and aprons yourself later this week (hint: almond croissants), but for now, happy Sunday.  



SWEDISH PANCAKES  | SERVES 4

2 cups/480 ml milk
3 eggs
5 tablespoons/75 ml melted butter, plus for cooking
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch fine sea salt
1 cup/125 g sifted all purpose flour

Combine milk, eggs, melted butter, vanilla and salt in a blender and pulse until smooth. Add the flour, a little at a time and blend to a smooth batter, about the consistency of heavy cream.

Preheat a crepe pan or a flat griddle pan over medium heat. (When the water dropped onto the griddle sizzles, it is ready). Brush the griddle lightly with butter.

Pour the batter into thin pancakes, twirling a crepe pan to coat with a thin layer of batter (or, if you’re using a griddle pan, use an offset spatula to quickly smooth into a thin, even layer). Cook until the batter turns dull and slightly brown on one side, about 3 minutes. Use a fork or the offset spatula to roll each pancake into a cylinder and transfer to the plate to hold. (if you prefer, let the rolled pancakes sit on the griddle to brown slightly on both sides before removing to a plate). Serve warm with butter and maple syrup, or lingonberry jam.
COOK’S NOTE:

Swedish pancakes can be round, if you have a non-stick or cast-iron crepe pan with a thin lip, or square, if you’re using a flat grill pan. What’s important is to use a well-seasoned, non stick pan since these tear easily (unlike French crepes, which can often be flipped without tearing).

12.13.2013

{Feast} Roasted Kale, Broccolini and Chickpea Salad with Ricotta


photo by karen mordechai
If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him. the people who give you their food given you their heart. | Cesar Chavez. 

Whenever people learn that I'm a professionally-trained cook, the first thing they ask, almost always, is "what's your specialty?" Until fairly recently, I might have said something like healthful, indulgent, French-Italian-inspired farm-to-table fare. But probably my biggest specialty of all is fast. And, easy. Because life is always full to the brim, there's very little time for fussy technique in my kitchen, even, or perhaps especially when I'm entertaining, when fussy cooking would be too big a distraction from the wonderful people around me. 


Enter this salad: crispy broiled chickpeas, kale and broccolini (the skinny, fast-cooking cousin of broccoli) topped with luscious dollops of ricotta. It's both easy and inspiring, and a befitting  starting point to a meal celebrating my new book, at Sunday Suppers, the beautiful dinner (and photography!) studio of my friend Karen Mordechai


Because all the magic happens in the oven under the broiler, this is a salad you can make while talking, pouring wine, setting the table or, say, making friends with the 20 wonderful, gracious guests we had Sunday night. I hope to see them all again. In the meantime, here's the salad recipe, for your next feast. 

ROASTED BROCCOLINI, KALE + CHICKPEA SALAD WITH RICOTTA | SERVES 4

1 bunch broccolini, or broccoli, cut into long florets
1 bunch Tuscan or Lacinato kale, stemmed (if large) and torn
1½ cups/240 g cooked chickpeas (see below) or canned, drained
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
¼ cup/60 ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus for drizzling
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
1 lemon, cut into wedges
8 oz/250 g fresh ricotta cheese


Preheat the broiler to high. Toss the broccolini, kale, chickpeas, and garlic with the olive oil. Season lightly with sea salt, pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes and divide between two rimmed baking sheets. Broil each sheet, tossing halfway through cooking, until the kale is crispy and the broccoli just tender and charred but still bright green, about 5 minutes, rotating the trays top to bottom if two don’t fit side by side in your oven. Squeeze the juice from two lemon wedges all over the top and toss together.

Divide between two to four small plates and top each with a dollop of ricotta. Sprinkle the ricotta with black pepper and drizzle each plate with oil. Serve warm or at room temperature.


CRAZY GOOD CHICKPEAS

Start with one 1-lb/455-g bag dried chickpeas and soak them in water overnight in a medium soup pan or saucepan. The next day, bring them to a boil and skim off the white foam after 5 minutes of cooking. Drain, rinse, and return them to the pot. Cover with 4 cups/960 ml fresh water and throw in carrot, celery, onion, parsnip, thyme and bay leaf for extra flavor. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer, add ¾ tsp salt, and cook until completely tender, about 45 minutes. Drain, reserv­ing 1 cup/240 ml of the cooking liquid for prepa­rations like Hummus. You should have about 6 cups/985 g of cooked chickpeas. 

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite 


p.s. the Chavez quote, above,  appears on a beautiful screen-printed banner in the Sunday Suppers studio, which you can buy for yourself, here.

12.11.2013

a sunday supper feast


i spent this past sunday back at one of my favorite places in all of nyc, the sunday supper studio
cooking a vegetarian feast from my new book
we started with my favorite ever easy, elegant salad: 
Roasted Broccolini, Chickpea and Kale Salad with Ricotta 
(recipe coming)
see our whole menu, here


the beautiful table + floral installation by fox fodder farm


gorgeous rainbow chard from good eggs  



i added carrot, celery, onion (hidden under the pile of chickpeas), 
parsnips + bay leaf 
to chickpeas before cooking them. 
those parsnips were so delicious.


karen welcomed guests with fat, soft 
pretzels from pelzers pretzels (of philadelphia fame) + mustard. 
i can't stop thinking about these. 


some of our guests and now, new friends. 
my favorite quote of the night: 
"i have never eaten a plateful of vegetables so fast!" 



karen had a few quince on the countertop, which we added to our grand finale: 
my pear frangipane tarts. 
(recipe coming, so, so good.)


the end. 

more photos, details and recipes coming tomorrow! 

12.05.2013

pastry shop almond chocolate chip cookies

Photo by Yunhee Kim 



It’s never good to lie to your children. But, when you have an 11-pound box of chocolate pistoles and a three-year-old in the same room, you better be prepared to fudge the truth a little. When Greta asked me what the not-so-inconspicuous (okay, enormous) glass jar on the counter was filled with, I said buttons. Which wasn’t entirely false.

Pistoles are the chocolate disks that pastry chefs rely on as a quick melting chocolate. They really do look like buttons, and at the time of my tiny untruth, I might have actually believed that pistoles meant button in French (Google has since set me straight: button is bouton). 

Pistoles' uniform size and shape help them to melt consistently, eliminating the need for chopping chocolate from bars and blocks. I got hooked on them during my restaurant days; they sustained me on the afternoons when I couldn’t stomach, say, tripe stew another day for staff lunch. Once I discovered you could buy them online and keep them at home, too, I never looked back. I do sometimes use them as melting chocolate, but I think they’re best employed as the ultimate chocolate chip.

I’ve said many times before there are a lot of bad cookies out there. There’s no reason for it. Cookies are easy. Cookies are your moment to shine, no matter how unaccomplished you deem yourself to be at baking. They're your opportunity to play like a pastry chef and make something really worthy of the beautiful glass cases that lure us through pastry shop windows. That is the inspiration behind this, my latest chocolate chip cookie endeavor (here’s my former one): a chunky, chubby chocolate-laced mouthful.

So about that little fib: András, a more righteous soul than I, caught me in the lie, confessed the truth to Greta, and she’s been asking for “one chocolate button” in her lunchbox ever since. But here’s the good news: one chocolate pistoles is pretty harmless—a perfect little treat, a treasure, a token easily given without much backlash.  And, even better news: when they’re right there on the counter every day (all 11 pounds of them), they do kind of loose their tempting charm. Except, of course, in these cookies, when they are oozy and mysterious. They are the kind of thing that cause you to pause and say “what is that chocolate chip?” That’s your cue to explain, it’s not a chip at all, but a button—a lush, decadent little buton chocolat.

Pst. Here’s where I buy mine.


PASTRY SHOP ALMOND CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES| MAKES 24 


¹⁄₃ cup/45 g skin-on almonds (see Cook’s Note, below)
2¼ cups/280 g whole-wheat white flour
¾ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp fine sea salt
1 cup/225 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup/155 g firmly packed dark brown sugar
¾ cup/155 g unbleached raw sugar
4 egg yolks, at room temperature, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
9 oz/255 g high-quality bittersweet chocolate pistoles, chopped bittersweet chocolate, or large chips

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/gas 5. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Pulse the almonds in a food processor, stopping when the almonds are still coarse, with some powdery bits.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat together the butter and both sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, two at a time, followed by the vanilla. Add the flour mixture and beat until it just comes together, scraping down the bowl as needed to make sure the butter is evenly incorporated. Give the dough a final mix with a mixer or by hand.

Divide the dough in half in the bowl (like splitting the Red Sea). Pour in half of the chocolate and half of the ground almonds and give the dough a few strokes with a wooden spoon to marble and streak the almonds and chocolate in. Add the remaining chocolate and all but 2 to 3 tbsp of the ground almonds. Fold in loosely, but don’t mix in completely, so that visible streaks of ground almonds remain throughout the dough.

Scoop a heaping 1 tbsp of dough and place on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, leaving about 3 in/7.5 cm between cookies, until both baking sheets are full. Brush each cookie with beaten egg, then sprinkle with ground almonds. Bake until the cookies are set and golden around the edges, but still soft in the center, about 10 minutes, switching the baking sheets between the top and bottom racks halfway through cooking.

Let the cookies cool slightly on the baking sheet, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies with a thin spatula to a wire rack to cool, or just slide the parchment paper with the cookies directly onto the wire rack. Let the baking sheets cool completely before using to bake the remaining dough, lining with more parchment paper if needed. Serve while the oozing chocolate layers are still warm. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
COOK’S NOTE. You can buy almond meal or almond flour in specialty stores, but to add tex­ture to this cookie, I like to make my own chunkier version from ground skin-on almonds.





photo by Yunhee Kim

11.29.2013

{Feast Events!}


These are my next three Feast events + book signings! I hope you'll come see me ~ consider yourself invited.

11.24.2013

{Feast} A Modern Thanksgiving

photo by Yunhee Kim 

Throughout childhood, my mom's annual Thanksgiving was utterly classic-- a Butterball turkey, mashed potatoes, bagged stuffing, grandma's cranberry relish, turkey gravy, warm buttery dinner rolls, and two pies: pumpkin and pecan. The only discussion was whether to make mom's version of sweet potatoes (candied) or dad's (smashed with marshmallow topping), or both (the answer: both!).

The first Thanksgiving after I graduated from culinary school, my siblings put me up to making the whole meal. The mashed potatoes were riced (read: luxuriously lump free) and extra rich (yes, cream). The turkey was brined and the gravy herbed. The rolls were homemade, of course, and the stuffing a decadent, wild mushroom and sage number. My family said it was the best Thanksgiving meal they'd ever had. And then, agreed that they still wanted mom's henceforth. Ah, tradition. 


Truth? That's been a great deal for me--it's the one day of the year I usually don't cook. Plus, Thanksgiving cooking is epic. Super intense. You need a trunk full of ingredients. You need counter space, oven space. You need to wake up early to put in the turkey (deal breaker.). By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, I've already cooked  my heart out all year long; I'm more than happy to just show up to the meal, hungry. 


But somehow I always get lured into making dinner the night before. That's when I cook the meal I really want to eat--the meal I'd be making if I were hosting thanksgiving. This meal would star fish, my favorite protein, and would be decidedly autumnal and centerpiece-worthy. 


It would also be epically easy, because my days of ricing potatoes, folks, were over long ago. These days, I'm more likely to put that effort into getting the family to agree on what movie we'll watch after we've cleaned up, which, by the way, will take just minutes, since this whole meal roasts on one cookie sheet, unlike our beloved pilgrim's feast. 


This, friends, is the modern Thanksgiving. 




ROASTED WILD SALMON, MUSHROOMS AND SQUASH WITH HERB GREMOLATA | SERVES 4

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 organic acorn or delicata squash, seeded and thinly sliced
8 oz oyster mushrooms, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
4 small shallots, peeled and quartered
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1 ½ -pound skin-on side of wild salmon or arctic char
1 handful sorrel or arugula, chopped
1 handful parsley, chopped
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Serves 4 {easily doubled or tripled} 

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Toss together 2 tbsp of the olive oil with the squash, mushrooms, and shallots in a medium bowl. Place in the bottom of a large oven-to-table baking dish and spread out evenly. Season with salt and pepper. Bake until squash is fork-tender and the mushrooms mostly roasted, with some golden and crispy parts, about 20 minutes.

Coat the salmon with 1 tbsp of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Lay the salmon on top of the vegetables and continue roasting until just cooked through, about 10 minutes more. The salmon should be pale pink on the outside, easily flaked with a fork and ever so translucent pink in the very center.

Meanwhile, stir together sorrel, parsley, pine nuts, and lemon zest and juice with the remaining 2 tbsp oil. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter the gremolata wildly all over the top. Bring the baking dish to the table still warm from the oven (or transfer the fish and mushrooms to your favorite platter before you add the gremolata) and serve portions of fish, squash and mushrooms with plenty of gremolata for each person. 


11.17.2013

baked apples. easy.

photo by Yunhee Kim 


There are a lot of things I’m not good at. I recently forgot (yes, forgot) to vote, I never have the right boots for fall, I’m not blessed with the kind of easy humor that diffuses awkward meetings, and when it comes to pop culture, well, all my material is significantly dated. And that’s just the beginning. But there are a few things I do pretty well—keeping cool under the pressure of a crying toddler—especially on that’s not my own, is one of them. In fact, if you see me on an airplane and your wailing child has everyone turning, squinty eyed your way (as if, folks, that actually helps anything), you might as well pass her down the aisle to me. I likely have something—a song, a goofy face, squeaky toy or other surprise in my bag that might help.

Just last week on a plane to Birmingham, a mother sat down in my row with three kids under age four. She passed them each some some buttery crackers to keep busy, but just as we were wheels up, the littlest one burst into sobs. The mother cooed and bounced her babe on her knee, but the wailing only got worse. I could almost feel her sweating two seats away. Eager to help, I fished in my purse and produced a handful of Hello Kitty stickers. I passed them her way—instant awe and silence from the toddler (stickers are magic). The mother leaned over and mouthed a grateful “thank you.”

Of course, that’s not a talent, really. And just as often, other parents have entertained my child on an airplane or restaurant or other places we find ourselves without all the gear needed to keep things on the up and up. It took me nearly a year to learn we had to bring wipes, snacks and sunscreen everywhere we go (thanks, every mom I met in zoos, beaches and parks, who shared theirs until I got the hang of it), and there’s still lots I have to learn.

Where am I going with this? Ah yes, baked apples.

As women, we grow up believing that we should have a fulfilling career, a satisfying marriage, beautifully coiffed children who never cry on airplanes and all the answers for when they do. We expect ourselves to get our holiday cards out on time and make homemade Christmas gifts and bake, at least once a season, a perfect pie. But the truth is, we can’t be or do all things, no matter how hard we try. We can’t be poised, cultured career women and patient, prepared mothers and have nails that don’t chip or boots that are perfectly up-to-date. And we can’t all bake rustic, divine-looking pies, even if technically we could, given the time and energy, someone to entertain the children while we bake and clean up after us.

But we all deserve to have an easy, everyday dessert for pie season that’s just as good and infinitely easier. That’s baked apples: impossibly simple and nearly guaranteed to make you feel that, despite your shortcomings, or mine, we’re still darn good mothers, wives, and women. This is a dessert that promises that we can, sometimes, invite our friends (or our kid’s friends) over on a Sunday for sweets by the fire, and still have the energy left to iron our slacks, and pack lunches and ballet tights and mittens for the next day so that we can try in earnest to be, not perfect, but our own special breed of our very best. Here’s to agreeing that’s good enough.

BAKED APPLES | SERVES 6

A dessert this simple is hard to resist.  It relies on the exceptional taste of the apple itself, freshly picked and still dense with tart, sweet juice that concentrates to baste itself (with a little help from cinnamon sugar) in the oven. I bake mine in a very hot oven because it’s the crispy, almost–crème brûlée crackle on the top of the apple that makes this easy dessert one of my absolute favorites.

3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus room-temperature butter for the pan
6 crisp, sweet-tart apples such as Jonagold, unpeeled and cored
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 to 4 tbsp sugar, depending on the sweetness of the apples
Vanilla ice cream  (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas 6. Lightly brush a medium baking dish with room-temperature butter and place the apples, touching if necessary, in the dish, stem-side up. Stir together the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Put a pat of butter inside each apple and sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar.

Bake until the apples are sitting in their own juices and starting to sink just a touch and the tops are crispy and caramelizing, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool just slightly on the countertop, about 5 minutes. Spoon the apples onto small plates or shallow bowls and spoon the juices over the top. Serve warm.

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite 
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New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.