Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Season of the Pumpkin Things

Bless me, has been roughly two years since my last rant on pumpkin spice-flavored things.  I just scoured the blog to see how many posts I've written with recipes containing pumpkin.  In the nearly eight year history of this blog, there have been exactly four recipes with pumpkin.   Today I will bring you Number 5, but not before I go on another tiny rant.

Let me say that I am not anti-pumpkin.  I know I am very late to the Pumpkin Appreciation Society party.  I don't exactly understand the deep love that some have for pumpkin spice things.  Every year it seems that the grocery stores have yet another endcap full of items flavored with the squash, and some mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.  I'm not the only one who thinks the overabundance of pumpkin spiced things is a little over the top.  You can see for yourself in this article published on Eater last year.  I'm also sure that since this article was published, there have been even more pumpkin spice flavored foods created. 

Despite not understanding the obsession, my appreciation is true.  I just don't need a cabinet full of Pumpkin Spice Oreos, Pumpkin Spice Cheerios, Pumpkin Spice marshmallows in my hot chocolate, or Pumpkin Spice Creamer in my morning coffee.  Or Pumpkin Spice Eggnog...just because. 

But if you ask me what I think of a pumpkin bar with a spiced wafer crumb bottom and swirled with cream cheese?  Well...I will say, yes, please, and thank you mind if I have two?  The cookie crumb will get even better the second day they're around (if they don't last that's okay.)  I made these in an 8x8 inch pan, which I love.  It's manageable and still gives you enough to share if you feel like it.

I used my favorite Fall cookie here for the crumb.  If you're in the greater Philadelphia, PA area, I suggest running to the grocery store and picking up a box or two of Sweetzel's Spiced Wafers.  It's good to have family back East who send you your favorite Fall cookie.  If you don't have them, gingersnaps would work just as well.  You could also use graham crackers, but the spice in the crumb really makes these great.  You can happily and easily use canned pumpkin (be sure it's not pumpkin pie filling) or grab a sugar pie/pie pumpkin from the grocer's or the farmers market and make your own puree.  It's as easy as halving a pumpkin, scooping out the seeds, drizzling with some oil or butter, and roasting for 40 minutes in a hot oven.  I just find making my own so satisfying.  

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Bars
Makes one 8x8 inch pan

Cookie Crust

1 ¾ c spiced wafers cookie crumbs
6 tbsp butter
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar


¾ c sugar
4 tbsp flour
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 eggs
12 oz pumpkin puree
1 tbsp milk

For the crust: Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. If using whole cookies, break them into pieces, put in a food processor and process until fine crumbs. Put in a bowl with sugar and salt and mix well. Melt butter on stovetop, then add butter to crumbs, mixing well. Line the pan with parchment, pour the crumbs into the pan, pressing down and into corners with a spatula until crust is evenly spread. Bake for 6 minutes, remove from oven, and allow to cool. Turn oven up to 375 degrees for baking bars.

For the filling: In a medium bowl, cream sugar, flour, and cream cheese. Mix until smooth and reserve about a half cup of the mixture to the side.  Add the pumpkin pie spice, eggs, and pumpkin puree, mixing until incorporated and smooth.  Pour batter into 8x8 pan and spread evenly. Mix milk with reserved cream cheese mixture until smooth.  Spoon sporadically onto batter and make swirl with the tip of a knife.

Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Approximately 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once mostly cool, chill for at least 4 hours or longer. Remember to run a knife edge along inner edges of bars if you plan on removing from pan.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Can You Be Obsessed...

...with cake?  Not just being pro-cake.  More than just proclaiming, 'I much prefer cake over pie.'  (That's me)  But...can you be obsessed with a cake?  Can you like a cake so much that you make it once and before it's been completely consumed--not solely by you, thank god--you are already thinking about making it again?  Like NOW.  It's similar to how I felt after I got my first tattoo.  No sooner did I have the first one, not even fully healed, that my mind was swirling with ideas on what the next tattoo would be and where it would go.

If you make this yourself, you'll understand why I couldn't stop thinking about it.  The original recipe  is from Christopher Kimball's 'Milk Street' magazine.  My absolute favorite part is that it's a one bowl recipe--all you need is a bowl and a whisk (and a cake pan, naturally).  No mixer, no fancy gadgets.  The best kind of recipe.  For those of you who are gluten-free...guess what?  It's gluten-free!  The cake, hailing from Galicia, Spain, is known as tarta de Santiago.  Traditionally, it is dusted with powdered sugar using a stencil of the cross of St. James the Great, who is reportedly buried in the region's cathedral.

It's a dense cake.  On the Instagram post, someone commented that it is the perfect marriage of marzipan and meringue.  (It IS!)  It gets better the next day or even the day after that.  A friend drizzled a piece with blackberry honey...and holy was good.  You can pair it with whipped cream and berries as they do in 'Milk Street.'  It would probably be awesome with vanilla bean ice cream.  But, truthfully, I prefer it in it's simplicity.  Just give me a good cup of coffee to accompany a slice.

The recipe in 'Milk Street' uses 1/4 tsp almond extract and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and no zest.  After reading the article, I did a little Googling to learn more about the cake and decided I wanted to try adding citrus as it's a more traditional way of baking it.  Either way, you'll love it.

Galician Almond Cake (Tarta de Santiago)
adapted from the recipe on Milk Street's site
makes one 9-inch layer cake

1 cup white sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour (not almond meal)
zest of one medium lemon
zest of one medium orange
3 tbsp turbinado sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9-inch cake pan with a circle of parchment and butter the sides.  In a mixing bowl, add the white sugar, eggs, egg whites, almond extract, salt, and citrus zests (roughly 2 tbsp altogether).  Whisk until well-mixed.  Add almond flour and mix until incorporated.

Pour batter into lined cake pan.  Sprinkle top with almonds and turbinado sugar.  Try to alternate, so sugar will caramelize on top of cake and on almonds.  Bake 50-55 minutes, until top browns.  Cake should feel firm when tested with a slight press of finger.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.  Run a knife along inner edge of cake before turning out onto plate.  Then invert on second plate.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Leprechauns and Sunshine

Going on the premise that everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick's Day, I thought some playing around with the bottle of Jameson Caskmates Irish whiskey would prepare me for celebrating on the 17th.  Having been aged in craft beer barrels, the Caskmates Stout edition has notes of cocoa, coffee, and butterscotch.

With Winter being the height of citrus season, I tend to have more than a fair share of oranges in the fruit bowl.   Orange and chocolate pair well, and with the chocolate bitters in the pantry, tools for a concoction were right at my fingertips.  This Saturday, don a little green, make some colcannon, and whip up this easy cocktail that I've dubbed...the Sunkissed Leprechaun.  A little Irish mixed with a dose of sunshine.

The Sunkissed Leprechaun
Makes 1 drink

1 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey (Stout Caskmates used)
2-3 oz orange juice
3 dashes chocolate bitters
orange slice for garnish, optional 

On the three occasions when I made this drink, I did not use a cocktail shaker.  You absolutely could, if you wanted to.  I mixed the whiskey and bitters together in a glass, added the orange juice, mixed again, and added an ice cube or two.  If you use a shaker, mix all ingredients in shaker with ice, strain into glass and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Another Valentine's Day...

...and another visit from me saying 'hey there!'  I know it's a little late in the game, but if you have an hour or two to spare and aren't planning on surprising your love first thing in the morning,  you can make these shortbread cookies for giving later.  Don't forget to save a couple for yourself.

What I love about shortbread cookies is how easy they are to bake and how you will most likely have everything already on hand.  Now let me tell you what I love about this shortbread recipe--it uses brown sugar instead of granulated white.  In other words, it takes the cookie a notch above the rest, giving it a little less crumble, a tiny bit more chew, and a touch of warmth from the molasses.

Brown Sugar and Orange Shortbread
Adapted from the Brown Sugar Shortbread recipe from Lick the Bowl Good by Monica Holland

1 cup butter, unsalted, room temperature

2/3 cup brown sugar, packed

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cornstarch

1/8 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp orange zest (about what you'll get from a medium sized orange)

Sugar sprinkles (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment and set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the zest and mix thoroughly.  Gradually add the flour, etc until incorporated.  Turn the dough out onto the counter until you produce a smooth dough.  Between two sheets of parchment or wax paper, roll the dough out until it's about 1/4 inch thick.  Chill for half an hour.  Cut into desired shape---the original recipe was cut into 2x1 inch rectangles---I used an inch and half round cookie cutter.  Makes hearts, diamonds, squares--whatever you want.  

Prick the dough with a fork.  If you're going to top them with sugar sprinkles, wash tops lightly with milk and sprinkle on sugar. I used King Arthur Flour's Sparkling White Sugar (red sugar sprinkles would be entirely appropriate too).  Place about an inch apart on cookie sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes or until bottoms are a light golden brown.  Let cookies set for about 5 minutes on the baking sheet before moving to a cooling rack.  

If you want to score bonus points, package them up in cute little Valentine's boxes or cello bags.

I know I haven't been around lately.  Do I  have a good reason?  Not really.  Life sometimes gets in the way.  I'm hoping to make this more of a habit again.  Let's do this!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Just in Time

Hey!  How are ya?  How ya doin'? This was an unexpected hiatus.  It's not like I stopped cooking.  My writing motivation has been low...hell, practically nil.  So, stick with me while I seek my writing muse to keep me going.

But, just in time for July 4th festivities, I bring you a drink that is perfect for your backyard bbq.  Lemonade is the ubiquitous Summer beverage and what fruit screams 'Summer!' more than watermelon?  Now how about we mix the two together?

I'm about to make a new batch of watermelon lemonade today.  I predict it won't be the last for the season and I'd bet that it won't be yours either.

First off...I highly recommend making simple syrup and keeping it in your fridge.  Who likes granules of sugar in their lemonade if not mixed thoroughly?  I don't.  Simple syrup sweetens perfectly and it comes in handy for adult beverages too.  Win win for all.

Watermelon Lemonade
Makes just shy of a quart

1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup simple syrup (less or more to taste)
1 1/3 cups watermelon juice
1/2 cup water

In a blender, add roughly 4 cups of watermelon, cubed, and 1/2 cup water.  Puree watermelon.  Set up a sieve over a mixing bowl to strain the pulp from the juice.  Combine the lemon juice, watermelon juice, water, and simple syrup together in a pitcher or bottle.  Mix thoroughly.  Feel free to adjust ingredients as you see fit.  I personally love a tart lemonade, so my amount of simple syrup may still bring a big pucker to your lips.  

For the simple syrup:  Equal ratios of water to sugar.  One cup of sugar to one cup of water over medium heat until sugar dissolves.  Be sure to stir.  Once dissolved, allow to cool before use.  Will keep in fridge for at least a couple of weeks.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Little Sweetness

Another Valentine's Day has arrived with all its heralds of the holiday...chocolates, roses, hearts, red and pink for miles.  I'm bringing you something sweet with jammy and buttery goodness.  Keep this in mind for a birthday, a dinner party, weekend brunch, or yes, even Valentine's day.

The lastest issue of the King Arthur Flour catalog was in my mailbox a few weeks ago and in it was their recipe for pound cake.  When was the last time you had pound cake?  I remember an Entenmann's pound cake was frequently in the house when I was growing up.  Rich with butter, it was perfect either topped with strawberries and whipped cream or just on its own, where you could savor the simplicity of it.

I kept thinking about that recipe and after I found a set of little heart cake pans while out shopping one day, I knew that was the impetus needed to finally bake that cake.  Of course, I had to add a little of me to the cake and decided that making a filled cake would be the way to go.  The great thing is that you can easily use a store bought jam, or take the extra few minutes and make your own.

King Arthur Flour Original Pound Cake Recipe

Quick Strawberry Preserves
Makes about a cup

1-2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 cup sugar
Juice of a quarter lemon
1/4 cup water

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a low boil.  Once the mixture boils, lower the heat and allow to simmer until the fruit begins to break down.  Feel free to help the process by crushing the fruit with a wooden spoon.  When the mixtures has reduced by half, turn off the heat and allow to cool.  It will thicken slightly as it cools.  

For the cake:

You can make a classic loaf cake or a single 9-inch layer (maybe even a heart shaped layer).  Slice the cake in half and spread a fairly thick layer of jam/preserves on the bottom half, gently replacing the top.  Dust with confectioners' sugar or even a layer of whipped cream.  This cake also gets better if you let the preserves seep into the cake, kind of like a jelly donut.  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Here We Are.

A week into 2017.  A new year.  A year of possibilities, clean slates, and brighter days. A year of uncertainty, fragile emotions, opportunities for change. Once again...I have no resolutions made, just the desire to change bad habits into smarter life choices.  Happy to be finished with the holidays and too many days laden with sweets and more sugar than I knew what to do with.  But...truth be told, I'm kicking this year off with a little sweetness, but not so overtly that it will give you a sugar headache.

I've been toying with the idea of giving up sugar, trying a Whole 30 kind of clean-eating deal, and giving up coffee...but honestly, it's just not gonna happen.  Like I's a time for smarter life choices.  Moderation.  Focusing.  Being more aware of my actions.  I've made the same promises to myself for the past few years and find myself in the same place.  And deeply unsatisfied and unhappy.  At some point over the past couple of months, I realized that I was eating to fill myself up, but it wasn't just the physical hunger I was trying to satisfy.

No, this isn't a counseling session, but it is me putting it out to the universe that the choices will be different this year.  The wherewithal to move forward, continually, expect to stumble, and embrace those stumbles and mis-steps instead of getting discouraged and giving up.

So...I keep the sweetness in my life.  And I share this one with you.  

Sweet Onion and Apple Jam

1 large Vidalia or Sweet Maui onion, sliced thin (about 2 cups)

3 medium apples, peeled and grated (large hole on box grater, about 2-2 1/2 cups)

2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger

1 cup light brown sugar

1 cup water

juice of half a small lemon, preferably Meyer

Slice the onion as thin as you can and put into a medium saucepan along with the grated apples, ginger, brown sugar, water, and lemon juice.  Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Let boil for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Lower temperture and let simmer until mixture reduces.  Be sure to stir so it doesn't stick.  Refrigerate to keep for about a week.  Notes:  I used Golden Delicious apples, but feel free to use whatever you like or have on hand.  Powdered ginger would work fine if it's what you have, but to me, nothing beats that zing of fresh ginger.

I made this as an accompaniment for a good cheddar on crackers (my mind is still in holiday party mode), but as you see below, this is pretty fabulous on a bagel and cream cheese.  I'd try it on roasted chicken or pork (another suggestion), and it would probably make a great layer in a sandwich.