Category Archives: Cooking

food, kitchen tips, cooking, baking, ingredient obsessions

zucchini, blueberry & lemon cupcakes

If you are anything like me, each year, you plant a single zucchini plant in anticipation of a few meals and maybe a dessert with the mid-summer veggie. Then the thing grows out of control blob-style and you are swimming in zucchini, wondering if it will ever stop growing as you search for new recipes to use up yet another.
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Or you completely screwed up and planted a mis-labeled yellow squash plant and have completely run out of ideas, while you pine for the zucchini that you thought you’d be eating.
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I actually had to pay for my zucchini this year. Seriously? Who does that in the summer time in Ohio? I have a garden with tomatoes taller than I am, but I bought a bunch of zucchini the other day because I just missed them. If you are wadding knee-deep in zucchini this year, here’s a recipe for you. Unlike zucchini bread, this one is bursting with pops of fresh flavor. Lots of grated zucchini, pops of blueberries and a little citrus zing from lemon. No cinnamon or ginger or cardamom to compete with the summer-y flavors.
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The inspiration from this recipe came from I Am Baker who was inspired from a blueberry zucchini bread recipe from allrecipes.com. I packed in even more zucchini, cut the amount of sugar significantly, and threw lemon zest into the batter. Then I baked these little beauties into single-serving portions and topped a bit of lemon buttercream.
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I’m sorry, but I just can’t resist the chubby baby fingers digging into a cupcake photo op.

zucchini, blueberry & lemon cupcakes 
makes about 2 dozen, adapted from I Am Baker

for the cupcakes:
3 eggs
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups sugar
3 cups shredded zucchini (~3 small zucchini)
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
1 pint fresh blueberries (with a few reserved for garnish)
zest of 1 lemon

for the lemon buttercream:
1 cup butter, softened
3 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 lemon: juice & zest
⅛ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place cupcake wrappers in muffin tins.

Shred zucchini. (A food processor with grating disc makes this amazingly fast.) If your zucchini are particularly watery, it doesn’t hurt to wring it out with a paper towel to sop up the excess. I shredded mine rather coarsely and skipped the wringing out step. If your zucchini is finely grated, you will need to do it.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and oil together. Add in the zucchini and stir until coated. Add in the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir until incorporated. Add in blueberries and gently mix.

Fill muffin cups ¾ full with batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes until centers have set and a cake tester comes out clean. Turn out cupcakes onto a wire rack to cool.

For the lemon buttercream, cream the butter for several minutes using a stand or hand mixer in a large bowl. When the butter is pale, mix in the powdered sugar, lemon juice, zest and salt. Mix until creamy.

Top cupcakes with buttercream.

charred lemon and rosemary G+T

Every vacation spot really deserves its on signature drink. As my family vacations at Rosemary Beach each year, incorporating rosemary into a cocktail was a no-brainer. This is also a nice way to summarize my go-to gin and tonic for the hot weather.
 
There’s nothing particularly complicated about this, but it takes a tiny bit of advance planning. It incorporates a rosemary-infused simple syrup, charred lemon juice, botanical gin, and tonic. Garnished with a sprig of rosemary and a charred lemon slice, it’s summer happiness in a glass. 

charred lemon and rosemary G+T

For the simple syrup:

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
several sprigs (4-5) fresh rosemary

Combine sugar, water and rosemary in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until sugar is fully dissolved and syrup has thickened slightly, ~15 minutes.

For the charred lemons:

2 lemons (for two drinks*)

Cut 1 lemon in half and another lemon into slices. Over medium-low heat, char the lemon halves and slices cut-side down in a skillet until blackened, 2-3 minutes. Remove the halves from the skillet and flip the slices, charring on the opposite side.

* For four drinks, cut 2 lemons in half and a third lemon in slices. For every additional drink, add an additional half lemon to char.

For the drink:

0.5-.75 ounce rosemary simple syrup
charred lemon juice from ½ lemon
2 ounces botanical gin (or whatever gin you prefer)
4 ounces tonic water
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 slice charred lemon

Pour the simple syrup, lemon juice, and gin over ice. Stir to combine. Top off with tonic. Garnish with rosemary and the charred lemon wedge. Sip, preferably on a beach.  

gender reveal cake

I think this is one of my most favorite cakes ever.  Not because of the flavor combo or anything. It’s just vanilla. A yummy vanilla, but still. Being the first person to know that a mama of two boys is going to have a baby girl is just SO MUCH FUN. Then getting to concoct a 5 tiered-shades of pink-cake to share the news with her and her family. It doesn’t get better than that!
IMG_1304 Maggie and Ryan are amazing parents to two wonderful little boys. When I heard the news that they were expecting their third, I may have blurted out, after issuing congratulations, “I can make you a cake for gender reveal!” And tempered it slightly: “you know, if you want.” Maggie graciously mentioned that her mom had offered the same, but then she called a week later saying that her mom wanted to share in the excitement of finding out the gender of baby #3 with the rest of the family.
IMG_1281 So I got to be the first person to know! Maggie’s OB office called me while I was at work and revealed the secret. The mama herself didn’t even know. While I know they would have been so excited to have a third boy, something about having a baby girl after two boys is just like icing on the cake.
IMG_1286 I scoured the internet for a cake that would be suitable for sharing such exciting news. I looked at “surprise inside” cakes with giant pink hearts inside, only revealed upon cutting  the cake.  I thought about an interior of frosted hot pink. And then I settled on a pink cake itself. Well, a shades of pink cake. Five shades, in fact.
IMG_1696 Then people that were at the gender reveal starting raving about the cake flavor. The simple addition of almond extract can take vanilla white cake to the next level. Topped with a tiny stitches “baby banner”, this cake just made me smile. I think Maggie and Ryan felt the same. Congratulations to the family of 5-to be! “Baby Cutie” is going to be one lucky little girl.
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gender reveal cake

adapted from “The Perfect White Cake” to make 5 skinny tiers
halve this recipe for a standard 2-layer cake

5 cups cake flour
2 cups milk, room temperature
12 large egg whites, room temperature
1 Tbsp almond extract
2 tsp vanilla extract
3½ cups sugar
2 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
3 sticks butter, softened
gel food coloring

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prep your cake pans. I only have 3 8″ rounds, so I had to bake these in succession. Cut out circles of parchment to line the bottom of each pan. Spray pan with baking spray (or alternatively, butter and flour).

Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in bowl of a mixer. Cut butter into Tbsp and add 1 cube at a time on slow speed. Mix for 1-2 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg whites and extracts. Add all but ~½ cup of the milk mixture to the flour mixture. Mix at medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add the remainder of the milk and mix for 1 minute.

At this point, separate the batter evenly between 5 mixing bowls. Mix in gel food coloring into each and stir until you’ve achieved the desired color. It’s best to start with a small amount and work your way up.

Pour batter into your prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick test comes out clean. For the skinny cake layers of this cake, 20-30 minutes. (For standard size cake layers, 25-30 minutes).

Allow cake to cool.

for the buttercream
more than enough for 5 skinny tears of cake*
cut the recipe in half (or even a third) for a standard sized cake

3 cups butter (6 sticks), softened
9-12 cups powdered sugar
3 tsp almond extract
3 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
⅓-½ cup milk or cream

In a stand mixer, whip butter on high speed until very fluffy and almost white. Whipping the butter longer will produce a fluffier, lighter frosting that will need less powdered sugar. Add powdered sugar in 2-cup increments until 9 cups have been added. Mix on low, unless you’d like to be completely covered in it. Add in extracts and salt. Mix.

Adjust the consistency of the buttercream. Add in milk to soften for easier spreading and piping. Adjust with additional powdered sugar for a firmer texture.

*This will produce more frosting than necessary to frost and fill this cake. With a gender reveal cake, it’s (obviously) important that NO part of the cake be seen. It’s best to have too much frosting than to realize that you didn’t make enough.

assembly
dowel rods (2-3)

First, place a few strips of wax paper around the edges of the cake stand to catch any frosting messiness that is bound to happen while you’re assembling. Next, place the bottom tier on the stand.

Spread a layer of frosting over the bottom layer of cake. Top with layer 2 and repeat through the top layer. Before you frost over the top tier. Snip the ends of the dowel rods so they are even with the top of the cake. Insert the dowels about 1½ inches from the center of the cake. With a whopper of a cake like these, using dowels will help support the structure. You might be able to get away with not using them, but you really want the gender to be revealed when the happy couple cuts into the cake, not when the top tiers slide off onto the floor…
IMG_1292 At this point, frost the outside of the cake with a crumb coat of icing. Refrigerate until firm.
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Frost the outside of the cake with the final coat. Pipe dots around the top and bottom of the cake.

I also made a tiny little embroidered “baby” banner for the top of this cake. I used straws to secure the banner in place.

the classics: chocolate chip cookies

It’s chocolate chip cookie week! King Arthur Flour sent me an e-mail saying it’s a National week to be celebrated. Who am I to argue?  In kicking off this national week of celebration, I’m also kicking off a series of posts that I’m calling “the classics”.  These are the recipes that your grandma uses. The ones you just don’t mess with. These are the basics of cooking and the ones we return to over and over. The cream of the crop. The tip of the top. These are everyday just the way they should stay – without alterations or invention. These are the recipes that you remember from your youth.
DSC_0032These are complete and utter chocolate chip cookie perfection. Isn’t that quite a bold statement?! But I promise that it’s true. There’s a reason chocolate chip cookies are an American classic. Cookies like these are childhood memories. They become entrenched. And I don’t understand why people diet and give up stuff this good. I’ll take the muffin top and my chocolate, thank you very much. I’ve made this recipe so many times that I don’t even think I’ve ever written it down. The slightest twinge of crisp on the outside with a soft, under baked center. Melty flecks of chocolate throughout. Just the right amount of vanilla. This is the cookie that you’ll find in my cookie jar more than any other.
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classic chocolate chip cookies

This one is my own creation, with influence from a few over the years, including Betty Crocker & Baked.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Cream together butter and sugars, on high speed until light and fluffy. Add in eggs and vanilla extract, just until incorporated. Mix in flour, soda, and salt.
Using a cookie scoop, place dough onto a Silpat or parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
Bake one (or two cookies) as a test run. If they spread too much, add a little more flour. The key to a perfect chocolate chip cookie (or really any cookie) is not to over bake. Once you see the top slightly brown, you take that cookie sheet right out of the oven. You want those little suckers to be perfection on the inside. Different ovens bake differently, especially with cookies. Heck, batch to batch can vary on time. But anyway in the neighborhood of 7-12 minutes is pretty typical.
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Hazan family awesome sauce

This recipe has been written and blogged about extensively. I don’t have anything particularly new to add to it. It’s perfect as is.



Marcella Hazan’s mother perfected this recipe and I’m not one to mess with perfection. This tomato sauce is lovely in its simplicity.  Just 3 ingredients, and you probably have all of them. You can easily double or triple it. And it can be frozen and thawed for meals yet to come.



Even my red-sauce hating husband is a convert. For you busy parents – make this on the weekend and rewarm it with some pasta for an ultra-fast meal.



Hazan family simple tomato sauce
1 28-oz can tomatoes: diced or whole*
5 Tbsp butter
1 sweet onion, skinned and halved
Coarse salt to taste

Combine tomatoes, butter and halved onion in a Dutch oven or large non-reactive pot.

Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low and cook for ~45 minutes. Sauce should reduce somewhat.  Discard onion and add salt to taste. 

*San Marzanos are especially delicious, but certainly not required.

Note: This recipe can be successfully doubled or tripled. I typically will reduce the sauce for longer times – 1½ to 2 hours.

easy fudgy brownies

I have a confession to make. I kind of like boxed brownies. They’re fudgy on the inside with slightly crispy edges. They take almost no time to make and you can eat them warm from the oven.
IMG_1196 But I also hate relying on box for something so simple as a brownie. These are amazing little wonders. They’re also super quick to mix up and amazingly good. Like the box, but with far more flavor. Perfect crispy edges and fudgy centers. Oh me oh my.
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You can definitely use a single Dutch process cocoa for these guys, but I really encourage you to use a mix of half Dutch process and half black cocoa. Black cocoa has this amazingly dark chocolatey flavor that intensifies the chocolatey-goodness of whatever you’re making. I get mine from King Arthur, but it can be found on Amazon as well.
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fudgy brownies
adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
for a 9×13 inch pan*

2 ½ sticks of butter
2 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process)
1 cup black cocoa powder (it’s fine to substitute unsweetened cocoa powder for the black cocoa)
1 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp espresso powder

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line your baking dish with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine sugar, butter, cocoa powders, espresso powder, and salt. Microwave in 1 minute intervals, stirring between rounds, until the butter has melted. It will look gritty. Set aside for a few minutes until the batter is no longer hot. Mix in the eggs, stirring to incorporate fully. Add vanilla and flour. Stir until your arm feels as though it might fall off. Mel advises 40 times. Really though, I don’t know that it matters much, as long as the ingredients are fully mixed.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until a tester toothpick comes out clean.

*This can easily be cut in half for an 8×8 inch square baking dish. Just bake for less time: 20-25 minutes.
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brownie photo bomb!

skillet brownie

I’m about to post two brownie recipes – immediately following a post for hot cocoa.  So I have a little thing for chocolate, ok?
IMG_1238 Anyway, chocolate obsession aside, if you’re looking for a dessert recipe that’s great for a tiny gathering – no more than 4 people – look no further.  Warm, gooey brownie.  Cold ice cream.  Happy belly.

IMG_1217It’s also something you can mix up in advance and bake when you’re ready.  The only caution with these is not to overbake.  Also, this brownie is not very sweet.  It’s rather heavy in the chocolate department and begs for the ice cream to balance it out. Choice of ice cream is completely up to the lucky person waiting for the brownie. Alex goes for mint chocolate chip. Peppermint is perfect at Christmas time. Coffee for late nights. Vanilla bean is always perfection.IMG_1253 And if you don’t happen to have adorable little mini cast iron skillets – no worries.  These can be made in ramekins or muffin cups for the kiddos.  Just shorten the baking time accordingly.
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skillet brownie
adapted from Ina’s Make It Ahead
1 stick butter
5 oz dark chocolate (55-75% cocoa) disks or semisweet or dark chocolate chips (~⅔ cup chips)
2 large eggs
1½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp instant espresso powder (King Arthur brand sells a nice one)
½ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 Tbsp flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate and butter in 30 second increments. Stir well between each heating and warm only until just melted. Add sugar and espresso powder. Allow to cool until warm (not hot). Stir eggs and vanilla extract into chocolate mixture until completely incorporated. Fold in flour, baking powder and salt.

Mix ½ cup chocolate chips with a small amount of flour. (The flour will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the brownie.) Stir them into the brownie batter.

Divide the batter among 4 small cast iron skillets (or ramekins).

Bake for 20-22 minutes. A toothpick tester will not come out clean. Serve warm with a scoop of your favorite ice cream. Jeni’s salty caramel pairs oh so well.

hot cocoa mix

This is the stuff to keep in your pantry all winter long.  Don’t just break it out for the kids.  It’s awesome mixed in with your morning coffee for a DIY mocha.

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IMG_0815 With just three ingredients, it’s simple and decadent. Using good cocoa will ensure that it has amazing flavor. King Arthur Brand is a favorite of mine.

hot cocoa mix
a la Martha Stewart

3 ½ cups sugar
2 ¼ cups cocoa powder (I love King Arthur Brand.)
1 Tbsp coarse kosher salt.

Mix it up. Or get a little help.
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Warm up a cup (or three) of milk. Microwaving is just fine.
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Add in 2 Tbsp mix for each cup of milk. Stir it well. Or use one of these little wonders.Unknown-3

Top it off with a homemade marshmallow or a dollop of whipped cream for an extra special mug.
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curried butternut squash soup

Now that the winter cold has set in, I think it’s completely appropriate to hunker down with a nice bowl of soup. Or prep this on the weekend and save to reheat for an easy weeknight dinner.
curried butternut squash soup
It starts with a few roasted ingredients on a sheet pan:

IMG_0946some butternut squash

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an apple, an onion, and a shallotIMG_9952
a quick blend with some curry powder and stock.

It’s a simple, satisfying supper.

curried butternut squash soup

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into large chunks
1 apple, seeded and chopped into large chunks
1 onion, skin removed, roughly chopped
1 shallot, skin removed, chopped into small
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
coarse salt
black pepper
1 cup apple cider (or apple juice)*
2 cups chicken broth/stock
1 Tbsp curry powder

for spiced pepitas
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp chili powder
pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1 Tbsp olive oil
coarse salt
black pepper

Greek yogurt or sour cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Roast the butternut squash, apple, onion, and shallot with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme on a sheet pan until tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, combine pumpkin seeds, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Transfer roasted vegetables to a large Dutch oven, add curry powder apple cider, and chicken broth. Use an immersion blender to puree until completely smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, blend the roasted vegetables in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. Then transfer to the Dutch oven and add curry powder, stock, and cider.) Heat over medium heat until hot.

Serve with a spoon of Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of spicy pepitas.

* If you don’t have apple cider or apple juice, it’s fine to use water or chicken broth.

easiest ever tuscan boule

A headline with “easiest ever” is a mighty promise for homemade bread. Fortunately this loaf delivers on ease and flavor.
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No-knead recipes abound these days, but this takes the “easiest” cake on several accounts:
1. It requires no kneading.
2. A single recipe makes 4 loaves that you can bake any time of the coarse of 2 weeks.
3. It takes 5 minutes to mix up
4. 4 ingredients (though I hardly count water and salt as ingredients)
5. You can mix by hand (easily) in the same container that you store the dough in
6. Shaping the loaf takes about 30 seconds
7. No special equipment is required
8. Naan. You can make wonderful Indian bread with nothing more than a bit of prepped dough, butter and a cast iron skillet. (See the bonus recipe at the bottom of this post!)
9. You can make even easier “lazy” sourdough with your next batch

Did I mention that this little recipe churns out a delicious loaf of bread?
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easiest tuscan boule
from The New Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

master dough recipe
This dough can be mixed by hand with a wooden spoon or very easily with a Danish dough whisk. Alternatively, it can be prepped in a mixer with a dough hook and transferred to a container for rising. The container that you use to rise should be able to be transferred to the fridge. These work great for both mixing and rising (and require no clean up!)

This master recipe makes 4 small-medium sized loaves. The dough is stored in the fridge for up to two weeks and can be baked any time you’d like a fresh loaf.

Combine in a large container:
3 cups lukewarm water (100°F)*
1 Tbsp yeast

Add:
1- 1½ Tbsp coarse kosher salt (Morton’s is my favorite)
6 ½ cups all-purpose flour**
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Mix it up until it’s relatively even in consistency.
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This is a relatively wet dough.
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Once it’s mixed, let it sit to rise for 2 hours. (Do not snap the lid down, so as to let the gas from the yeast escape. Farting yeast, Heh heh…
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After 2 hours, this bad boy is going to rise quite a bit!
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Do NOT punch down the dough. Just let it be. You can bake a loaf at this point, but it develops more flavor after at least one night in the fridge. It can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. Leave the lid unattached for the first few days, and then snap down if you’d like. Do not be alarmed when the dough starts to “deflate”. It’s normal for it to significantly decrease in volume. It will not rise again.

When you’re ready to bake a loaf, significantly flour your hands and the top of the dough a bit. Grab a fist sized lump of dough (~¼ of the recipe) and pinch off. You can use shears or your hands. Shaping the dough should take no more than 30 seconds or so: Generously flour the top of the dough. Wrap (gently pull) dough over the top to form a ball shape. (This is called gluten cloaking.) Sit the ball of dough down on parchment paper. That’s it! Let it sit for 40 minutes and preheat a pizza stone*** in the oven to 450°. The dough will not really rise during this 40 minute rest period.
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Just before baking, slash the dough. Essentially, just cut about ½-1 inch down into the dough.
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To bake a loaf, underneath the pizza stone (or cookie sheet), place the broiler pan and 1 cup of water. This will create steam while the loaf is baking. Do NOT use a glass pan for steaming, as it could shatter.

Transfer the parchment paper with your rested dough onto the pizza stone. Bake for 30-35 minutes total. About 15-20 minutes though baking time, remove the parchment paper so that the bottom crust can fully crisp.

After the bread has completed baking, remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. Cutting into the bread immediately will result in a gummy interior. You don’t want that! Just wait it out a bit. You’ll be rewarded:
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*It’s fine if it’s colder, but the dough will need to rise longer than 2 hours.
** AP flour should not be subbed out with whole-wheat flour in this recipe. Whole wheat flour contains oil from the germ that will affect the light texture of this loaf. If you’d like a light, simple whole wheat loaf, check out a similar book by these authors: Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
*** A pizza stone produces a great, crispy crust, but it’s perfectly fine to bake it on a pizza pan or cookie sheet. No worries!

To make a lazy sourdough, when your container is empty, don’t wash it.  Scrape down the sides and mix the next batch directly in the container.  Alternatively, for an even stronger sourdough, mix some of the remaining dough (up to 2 cups) in with the water and yeast while mixing the next batch.  You made need a little muscle to incorporate the old dough into the new.  Do not attempt this sourdough if you’re using a dough that contains eggs or daily.  Obviously, but just sayin’.

naan
a bonus recipe

This naan is also incredibly simple, and ultra fast. Upon discovering the recipe for this in the book, I had to make it immediately. It was ready in 5 minutes and I had no Indian food to serve it with. I’ve attempted naan at home before, and my results were pretty horrible. I’ve resorted to the frozen stuff that you heat up in the oven since then. This, however, is stellar. Puffy and soft and buttery. Oh so good. It’s begging for some mutter paneer to dip into. But alas, I had none. Naan-wiches were born. Not even remotely Indian, they’re delicious nonetheless.

To make naan, pinch off a small (plum-sized) amount of master dough.

Roll the dough into a ball and press out with your fingers to flatten.
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Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once that pan is ultra hot (a bit of water will sizzle and skip), add a pat of butter. Immediately add your patted out dough to the pan and cook for about 2-4 minutes on one side. (If it’s burning, turn it faster than that.) Flip the dough over and allow the other side to cook for another 2-4 minutes.
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Done!

naan-wiches
One fresh naan
Almond butter (or peanutbutter or whatnot)
Thinly sliced crispy apple
A drizzle of honey

Fold it on over. Lunch!
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