Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween: Pumpkin Muffins

I've created a monster. I started bringing in sweets to work a few weeks ago, and now I am always getting questions about what I'm baking next. Luckily, I have a devoted audience to give my baking to so I don't eat it all. And they always like everything I bring in, so it's a great morale booster for this blog.

So for Halloween Friday, what better than pumpkin muffins. These turned out just about perfect for a pumpkin muffin in my opinion, light and fluffy with a little spice and a lot of pumpkin flavor. The only problem was that the tops got just a little sticky overnight. That could probably be remedied by using white sugar instead of brown sugar, which has more moisture. These are lighter, fluffier muffins than what I usually bake, but that's probably because they're not quite as healthy. If I make these again on a non-holiday, I will probably substitute half of the flour for whole wheat flour and at least half of the oil for applesauce and maybe reduce the sugar too. But it's Halloween, and pumpkin muffins are at least a little better than a bowl of mini candy bars.

Pumpkin Muffins
Makes 12

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
pumpkin seeds (optional)

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper cups or grease.
-Combine first 9 ingredients (all the dry ingredients, which go from flour through ginger) in a large bowl.
-In another bowl, beat the eggs, then mix in the oil, milk and pumpkin.
-Slowly mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until well combined.
-Pour into the muffins tins. Top with pumpkin seeds if you like. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the tops are slightly browned.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies w/ Coconut

I'm supposed to be gearing up for marathon training this winter, so I really need to stop this whole baking experiment I started a little while ago, or at least shift to whole wheat, flax seed, no-butter baking, i.e. cardboard manufacturing. But I felt like these cookies were at least a step in the right direction since they had oatmeal in them (and everyone knows oatmeal is a runner's best friend).

I got the inspiration for these cookies from Potbelly's. On the rare occasion when I buy my lunch (like today) I always go to Potbelly's. The sandwiches are fantastic, even if the lines are ridiculously long. And every time I go I have to summon all my willpower not to buy one of their oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes I lose this battle. Oatmeal is definitely my favorite breakfast food, but I never really liked oatmeal cookies until I tried the ones at Potbelly's. Probably because I never had an oatmeal cookie with chocolate chips in it, always the ones with those nasty little brown raisins (I reaaaaally dislike regular raisins, white raisins and craisins are great though.)

This is my attempt at a close approximation to their cookies, although I'm sure it's not exactly right, and of course I added coconut which is not--as far as I can tell--in theirs. The coconut helps to keep the cookies moist and chewy and adds a little sweetness. Now I have to admit this is the third time I made these. The first time, I didn't have very much oatmeal left so I tried to make these with only 2 cups of oatmeal. The result was paper thin crunchy cookies. Poppop makes something like them that he calls lace cookies, but mine were not nearly as good. The second time was pretty tasty, but a little too-oatmeally and dense. The third time was perfect. (I feel like Goldilocks.) This is what I did the third time.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies w/ Coconut
Yields 25-30 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup dark chocolate chunks
2/3 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread parchment paper on baking sheets or spray with non stick cooking spray.
-Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
-Combine butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low until incorporated, then raise the speed to high and continue until the mixture is fluffy. Add the brown sugar to the mixture, beating with the mixer, then add the eggs one at time. Mix in the vanilla.
-Add the flour mixture slowly, using the mixer to combine the dry and wet ingredients.
-When the flour is fully incorporate, fold in the oatmeal using a spatula. Stir in the chocolate chips and the coconut.
-Spoon about a tablespoon of dough onto the baking sheet for each cookie, leave 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 12-15 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until the cookies are just brown on top but still spongy. Let the cookies cool slightly on the baking sheet, then transfer to a rack. Store in tupperware so they stay moist.

(If you're cookies start to get hard, put a piece of sliced white bread in the tupperware with them. They will get moist again. I learned that from an innkeeper in Gettysburg.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sausage, Peppers and Onions...O My

I have had this one sitting around for a long time, and I thought of posting it today when I suggested it to a coworker who was trying to think of something to make for dinner tonight. We make this meal a lot during the week because it is quick and easy and really delicious. We also almost always have the ingredients in the fridge. These go well in a roll or with mashed potatoes.

Sausage, Peppers and Onions

6 spicy Italian sausages
1 large onions
1 large green pepper
1 bottle beer (lager or ale)
olive oil

-Brown sausages in olive oil on medium high heat in a large frying pan. Add about half of the bottle of beer and simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the sausage is cooked through. The beer should simmer down into a thick, brown sauce. If the beer starts to get too thick before the sausage is finished cooking, add a little more.
-In a separate frying pan, saute the peppers and onions in olive oil. When the vegetables start to soften, add a little bit of the beer and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I can't believe I made this!

Considering I started baking in ernest about a month ago, not even I would have believed that I could pull off a fancy looking pumpkin soufflé. But when my November Gourmet magazine came, I saw these, and I thought, why not? The ingredient list seemed doable, and the process didn't seem too intense. My friend was coming over with her new boyfriend, so I thought I would make a good first impression. A good, fluffy, powder sugar impression.

I followed the recipe exactly, having zero confidence in my ability to experiment with soufflé. The only thing I did different was I didn't use canned pumpkin. I was making pumpkin soup the night before (I'm still perfecting, stay tuned), and I had too much pumpkin so I made my own puree by cutting the sweet pumpkin in half, deseeding, scraping out the inside, peeling the skin with a paring knife and cutting in cubes. Then I boiled the pumpkin cubes until soft, drained, and threw the cubes in the blender. (This was not nearly as hard as I had imagined it by the way. When my friend told me he made a pumpkin pie this way I thought he had lost his mind.)

The good news: I discovered I can competently make a soufflé and have it turn out quite pretty. The bad news: I think I discovered I don't particularly like soufflé, or at least not pumpkin soufflé. If anything can possibly taste too light and fluffy this does. It tasted like eating pumpkin pie air, if that makes any sense. But if that's your type of thing, you'll probably love this. Myself, I'll be trying for chocolate soufflé next time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ugly Delicious

Recently one of my friends told me that my photos were really improving on this blog, which made me happy because I spend considerable time trying to get a decent picture and sometimes eat a cold dinner as a result. But I have to say, some foods just aren't photogenic. They're like that awkward 12-year-old with braces and a nose that grew faster than the rest of their face. Sure they have redeeming qualities, but looks ain't one of 'em.

For example, this sausage and bean soup is really delicious. It's warm and comforting and a little bit spicy because of the sausage and red pepper flakes. There was a hint of cheesy flavor from the rind of romano cheese that cooked with the broth--which had a lot of flavor because of the vegetables and the white wine used to deglaze the pan.

Maybe if I had a photographer from one of the glossy food magazines and some awesome rustic looking bowl to serve it in, this soup could look beautiful. Perhaps it's just an ugly duckling. But I don't want to be shallow, not everything has to be pretty. There's room on my blog for ugly delicious food too.

And as a final pitch for this soup: Nic was totally hating on the idea when I told him what I was making. He wanted me to take out his portion of the sausage so he could eat it plain. The cabbage was his main problem. I have to give him credit, last time I used cabbage in a meal it WAS terrible. But I insisted it would taste good, and made him just suck it up and eat it. Yesterday, a day after the soup was made and eaten, he told me out of the blue, "You know that soup really was good." I win.

Sausage and Bean Soup

6 Italian hot sausages, casings removed and cubed
1 huge leek (or 2 regular leeks), white part only, sliced thin
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
2 carrots, chopped roughly
2 celery stalks, chopped
3/4 cup white wine
1/2 head of cabbage, sliced thin
2 cans navy or cannelloni beans, drained
1 bay leave
scrubbed rind from parmesan or romano cheese
pinch red pepper flakes

-Cook Italian sausage over medium-high heat in a large sauce pan. Remove the sausage from the pan when cooked through, leaving rendered fat. Cook the leeks, onion and garlic in the same pan over medium heat until translucent. (Add a little olive oil if necessary.) Add carrots and celery and cook until the vegetables start to soften. There should be some browning on the bottom of the pan.
-Use white wine to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom to release the brown bits. Add cabbage, beans and bay leave and cover with water by about one inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and add the cooked sausage.
-Simmer for about 30 minutes, then taste. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Continue to cook for up to 30 minutes more or until the broth is flavorful and you're ready to eat.

So let me know about some ugly delicious food you make in the comments.

If only I could justify using a POUND of butter...

This recipe just blew me away. Whipped potatoes with garlic and cheese from Saveur, courtesy of my RSS reader. I am sure they are great, mainly because they call for cooking the potatoes in a POUND of butter, but who in the world can use that much butter for 6-8 servings and still sleep well at night? I did the math. Assuming you shared with 7 other people, that's still 400 calories a serving in butter alone. That doesn't count the cheese and potatoes in the recipe. I love mashed potatoes more than anything, but I don't think even I could come to terms with making these. Still I have to wonder how rich and creamy these potatoes would be...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Puck-in Food Art

Now there's some team pride. I was going to do the Eagles logo on the other side, but that was a little more complicated. Nic tried to make a rival Washington Capitals pumpkin, but it didn't really turn out. He's going to try again this weekend. (I know a Phillies logo would be more apropos because of the World Series, but I'm not going to lie, those will be the only baseball games I watch all year.)

The roasted pumpkin seeds were really good too. Salted and toasted in the oven for 10 minutes. I was going to bake something with them, but I just ended up eating them all instead.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tried and True: Chili-changas

Leftover chili? Well even though I fed six people dinner with the pot I made this weekend, and left half the leftovers with a friend, I still had a lot left. I got the idea for this quick dinner from Hard Times Cafe, a restaurant that specializes in chili, serving four different kinds in many different ways, including over pasta, fritos, corn bread and wrapped in a torilla.

To change up the flavor of the chili a little, I cooked a pound of ground turkey and mixed it into the chili. Once it was in the tortilla, I topped it with chopped onions and tomatoes, shredded cheddar and sour cream.

These are one of my favorite meals in a tortilla, second only to fish tacos.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Traffic Light Chili: Three Years in the Making

When you are cooking for the masses, and you're not sure exactly how many that is, this is the perfect recipe. In college whenever I made a batch of this I was amazed how many people it fed, and how many people showed up to eat it. I never had a name for it, but I wanted something clever for the blog and the green, yellow, red... and orange peppers make this chili really colorful. And delish. Other than the peppers, there are four different kinds of beans, onion, tons of seasoning, and corn. No meat, but with all that other good stuff, who needs it?

I said it was three years in the making, but really I haven't changed the recipe much since I got back from Egypt. I started making it when I was living there, and made it probably at least two times a month (X10 months) for my roommates and a handful of other Americans living there, who humored me and ate it over and over and over again until I got the flavors just right. The only thing that has changed since I moved back is adding black beans, which weren't available there, and sadly I don't have Egyptian beer (Sakkara or Stella), which was so bad it was almost good.

I always said I wanted to enter this in a chili cook off, but until that day comes, I'm sending it to a blog event called Fourth Helping of Susan's My Legume Love Affair.

Traffic Light Chili

olive oil
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium vidalia onions, roughly chopped
1 each: red, yellow, orange, and green bell pepper, roughly chopped (4 peppers total)
1 12 oz. bottle beer
2 cans black beans, drained*
2 cans kidney beans, drained*
1 can garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained*
1 can cannelini beans, drained*
1 28 0z. jar crushed tomatoes
1 6 0z. can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tbs. cinnamon
1 tbs. chili powder
1 1/2 tbs. paprika
1/2 tbs. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 can corn*
(For added spice you can add chopped jalapenos, a dash of hot sauce or crushed red pepper. I've tried all three.)

*15.5 oz.

-Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion and simmer until it starts to soften. Add peppers. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
-Pour in about half of a bottle of beer. (I used Yuengling.)
-Add all the beans, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir in seasoning.
-When the chili starts to simmer, lower the heat to low and continue to stir occasional for 30-45 minutes or until the peppers are just soft. Add more of the beer if the chili starts to get too thick. Add the corn in and leave on the heat for 10 more minutes so the corn heats through.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Eggplant Parmesan a la Poppop

This is one of my Poppop's specialities. It's not actually his recipe, but it's his basic technique. And it is hearty and delicious and vegetarian. I bought the eggplant at the farmer's market, which I walked to yesterday morning. So I ate low on the food chain today, bought local AND conserved gas. My middle class, urban guilt is somewhat assuaged.

I made this in two smaller casseroles so that I could save some for another meal, but you can put it all in one large baking dish. Once it is all assembled, you can store it in the freezer, probably for a month or so. Just defrost it in the refrigerator before baking.

Eggplant Parmesan a la Poppop

1 super big eggplant, or 2 medium eggplants
3-4 cups seasoned breadcrumbs (breadcrumb+2 tbs. dried basil+2 tbs. dried parsley+ 1 tsp. salt)
2 cups grated parmesan or romano, divided
3-4 eggs
1 batch garlic sauce or your favorite sauce
4 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella

-Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray.
-Wash eggplant and cut into 1/4 inch thick pieces. (I do circles.)
-Mix breadcrumbs with 1/2 cup grated parmesan. Scramble the eggs.
-Dredge the eggplant in eggs then breadcrumbs. Place on baking sheet.
-Bake the eggplant for 35 minutes, flipping halfway through. Eggplant is done when it is golden brown, but soft in the center. Remove from oven.
-Lower oven temperature to 400 degrees.
-To assemble, start with a thin layer of sauce. Add a layer of eggplant, overlapping slightly on the edges. Then a layer of cheese (both mozzarella and parmesan). Then sauce. Repeat. For the last layer, stop at the cheese step. (There will be leftover sauce.)
-Cover with aluminum foil and place in 400 degree oven for 45 minutes covered. Uncover for last 15 minutes. (For my small casseroles, I do 30 minutes covered, 10 minutes uncovered.)
-Serve with leftover sauce.

Garlic Sauce: The Building Block

I had to post this because I use it in a lot of the foods I make, including the eggplant parmesan I'm about to post. You could just throw it over pasta too of course, but I don't really do that too often. It is perfect for lasagna though.

Garlic Sauce

olive oil
7 cloves garlic, minced
2 6 oz. cans tomato paste
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
2 tsp. honey

-Heat olive oil in large sauce pan on medium. Saute garlic for 2-3 minutes, until smelly and just starting to brown.
-Add tomato paste and mix the garlic and olive oil into the paste, continue to saute for 3-5 minutes.
-Add crushed tomatoes. Refill crushed tomato can with water and add to sauce. If you're in a rush, add less water.
-Add parsley, honey, and salt and pepper to taste.
-Cook until it is thick, about 1 hour. If you added less water, it will take less time.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cheating Tastes So Good

I had a peck of apples. I thought about pie, I really did, but crust scares the be-geebies out of me. I'm sure I could make it, I'm just not sure I could get it right the first, second, or third time. And I was just not feeling a 10-tries-to-get-it-perfect recipe tonight. So I cheated. I bought puff pastry and made these AMAZING apple turnovers instead.

Holy moly, I don't know if I'll ever even bother with pie after these bad boys. They were light and crispy, tart and sweet, so good I actually thought about not taking them to work to share. (But then I remembered I was supposed to be training for a marathon. I can see these really improving my time.) Nic and I rarely get really excited about sweets. We're more of savory people. But we're both in love with these. There probably won't be many more apple recipes on here in the near future. I might just dedicate all my apples to these. Seriously. SO GOOD. Make them immediately.

Apple Turnovers
Inspired by Williams-Sonoma (A kid's recipe, I might add, that started with "make sure a grown-up is nearby." Check.)

2 1/2 large, TART apples (1 1/4 lbs.)
juice of 1 lime
1/3 cup granulated sugar+some for dusting
1 tbs. all-purpose flour+some for rolling pastry
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
14 oz. puff pastry, thawed
1 egg
1 tsp. water

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet (or two, mine's huge) with non-stick cooking spray.
-Squeeze lime into medium sauce pot. Peel, core, and cube apples and put in pot with lime to keep from browning.
-Stir in 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tbs. flour, and a pinch of salt to apples and lime juice.
-Cook apple mixture over medium heat, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir once or twice. Cook until the juices start to thicken into a syrupy liquid and the apples get a little bit softer. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
-Sprinkle flour on a work surface to roll out puff pastry. (Keep it in the fridge until the very last minute.) Sprinkle more flour on top of pastry and roll out until double in size. (My puff pastry came in one, large 14 oz. piece. To make this easier, I cut the pastry into four parts first, then rolled out each part individually until double in size.)
-Cut the puff pastry into eight even squares. They should be about 5-6 inches wide.
-Beat one egg with 1 tsp. water for egg wash.
-One by one assemble the turnovers on the baking sheet. Place the puff pastry on the sheet. Spoon about 1/3 cup of apple mixture onto one half of the square, not too close to the edge. (Don't over fill. Make sure you can actually turnover the dough.) Brush two edges of the pastry square with egg wash. Fold half the square over the filling to form a triangle. Use a fork to seal the edges. And repeat seven more times. (There might be a little extra apple filling.*)
-Brush all the turnovers with egg mixture and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Poke a hole in the top of each turnover with a paring knife.
-Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown, firm, and dry.
-Cool for 10 minutes.

Try not to eat them all before they cool.

*I used mine in a mini-apple crumb. Just top with oatmeal+brown sugar+butter mixture in a very small baking dish or souffle cup.


World Food Day

Today is World Food Day. A day to "highlight the plight of 923 million undernourished people in the world," so designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And this year, the day comes as food prices around the world are rising, meaning more people are going hungry.

923 million--I did the math for you, that's a little less than 15 percent of the total world population, although of course the hunger is not evenly distributed . Undernourished means continuously consuming less food (energy) than is necessary to carry out basic daily tasks and remain healthy, according to the FAO, or in other words, constantly being hungry. This year the focus of World Food Day is on "Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy." Because global warming is going to make more people hungry.

This article in the Washington Post blog, A Mighty Appetite, points out that 1.4 billion people in the world live on less than $1.25 a day. In the U.S., $7 a day is the maximum daily allotment for a family of four on food stamps. The article raises the question:

Ever wonder how much you spend a day on food?

Well, I'm pretty meticulous about budgeting, so I went back and looked at what our household of 2 spent on food in September. On average, we spent about $20 a day. For two people. Not four. Shocking, even embarrassing, but eye-opening.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Squashed Squash: Or How My Blog FAILED My Friend

My dear friend Claire told me today that she tried to make the mashed butternut squash I made for a little dinner party a few weekends ago. (Awesome, someone likes what I made them enough to want to eat it again!) She knew that I blogged about the dinner, so she figured the recipe would be here. But it wasn't. Just the roasted chicken and vegetables, no mashed squash. So she tried to remember what I did, and long story short, it didn't turn out so great. AND IT'S ALL MY FAULT.

I think I've mentioned before that one of my big incentives for starting this blog was to write down some recipes that I make a lot, but never measure, time, or in any other way make replicable. My mother has the same problem, as did pretty much every other cook in my lineage. And I've been doing pretty good about the whole measuring thing, but during the preparations for the dinner in question, I got rushed at the end and threw together the mashed squash without measuring, based entirely on the "taste, add, taste, repeat" process. Plus I forgot when I put it in the oven, so I only knew it was done because it felt done.

So there was no recipe here. But I promised Claire I would remedy that immediately. I made another batch of mashed butternut squash tonight. I timed the cooking process. I wrote down all the ingredients and actually measured their quantities. I have a whole new respect for people who write cookbooks. It is way harder to figure out how you make something than to just make it. Now I have a few pounds of mashed squash to eat for lunch for the rest of the week....o, the tragedy.

Seriously, this stuff is way too tasty to be healthy. But my Google search tells me that winter squash, especially butternut, is really good for you, packed with fiber, vitamins A, B and C, beta carotene, and even some iron! (The article didn't mention the health benefits added by the butter and brown sugar, but clearly that was an oversight.) I actually try to add the minimum amount of sugar and butter, but if you find that you like it even less sweet and buttery, feel free to cut back (or hey, if you like more sugar and butter, live it up, there's vitamins in this stuff!). I suggest adding a little at a time so you can stop when you're happy.

Mashed Butternut Squash

1 butternut squash
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tbs. brown sugar
1/4 or 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (depending on taste and size of squash)
pinch salt

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
-Cut the stem off the top, then cut the squash in half. Remove the seeds with a spoon. You can stop cutting here, but it cooks faster if you cut it in long quarters.
-Put 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of a baking dish. Sprinkle a little salt on the bottom (this way you won't need to salt it at all or as much later). Lay the squash in the pan with the flesh of the squash (not the skin) in contact with the bottom of the pan. (See picture above.)
-Bake for 30 minutes, then flip so the other side of flesh (again not skin) is in the water.
-Bake for an additional 30 minutes. Squash is done when it easily pulls apart with a fork.
-Remove squash from pan. Peel the skin off. (This is the hardest part. I have no technique for this other than using some paper towels to protect my finger tips and moving quickly.)
-Put the squash in a large bowl. Add butter and mix until combined. Add milk slowly until the squash is the consistency of mashed potatoes. Add brown sugar and cinnamon.

It looks like baby food, that's why this picture is last, but it tastes like pie filling crossed with mashed potatoes. (Think about it.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I'm back from my long weekend. I finished the Baltimore Half Marathon and ate a ton of great food I didn't have to cook. I picked up a peck of tart apples on our drive back through farm country, but unfortunately I also picked up a wicked bad cold. So I am eating canned soup and oatmeal. Thrilling.

No food, but here's a picture of a pretty fall basket I put together with some gourds I got from the bed and breakfast where we stayed in Gettysburg. I was going to go outside and get some colorful leaves to add, but then I realised that here in Northern VA the leaves are still green, and it is 80 degrees outside today. Those 100 miles or so really make a big difference.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pumpkin Cake w/ Apple Streusel

My friend MK loves pumpkin. So I knew that I had to incorporate it into her birthday cake somehow. Luckily, I found this recipe in a cookbook I borrowed from the library recently, The New Whole Grains Cookbook. This has to be brief because I am about to run out the door on my way to Baltimore. I only made a few changes, namely I used three apples instead of four, I used gala apples instead of granny smith, I added pecans to the streusel topping, and instead of 2 tbs. of pumpkin spice I made my own spice mixture. So if you want the original recipe you can make those changes back.

The result was a pumpkiny, spicey, pretty heavy cake. You only need a very small slice. But it taste very much like fall, with the two main in-season baking ingredients both part of this cake.

Pumpkin Cake w/ Apple Streusel
Adapted from The New Whole Grains Cookbook

3 tbs. + 1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 gala apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
5 tbs. granulated white sugar
1 tsp. + 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. all spice
1/8 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/3 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1/4 cup chopped pecans.

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 9" spring form pan (should be at least 3" deep).
-Dice 1/2 cup butter and let it come to room temperature.
-Melt 3 tbs. butter in saute pan, and saute the apples over medium high heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 3 tbs. of white sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon to the apples. Toss and cook until the liquid is thick and bubbly.
-Combine flour, brown sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the diced butter and mix until the butter is broken up into little pieces. Measure 2/3 cup of the mixture into a small bowl for streusel.
-Add 2 tbs. white sugar, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, all spice, cloves, and pecans to streusel topping.
-To the stand mixer bowl, add baking soda, pumpkin, sour cream, and eggs. Beat until smooth and pour into pan.
-Top the batter in the pan with the apples, then with the streusel. (I didn't end up using all of the streusel. I just added until the apples were covered.)
-Bake for 40-5o minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. (Apple and streusel on the skewer doesn't count.)
-Cool and serve.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ready to Race w/ My "Power" Muffins

I am gearing up to run the Baltimore half marathon this Saturday. I'm not packed, and I haven't checked the weather yet, but I did bake these awesome "power" muffins to munch on. (For good luck, I baked them after a run while I was still in my running clothes. I don't necessarily recommend that if you plan on sharing these with others.)

And if you don't run, these muffins are a pretty healthy alternative to the store bought variety anyway. No butter, no shortening, minimal sugar, and whole wheat flour. Plus fruits and vegetables.

Edit: My friend pointed out that I didn't mention if they actually taste good. Well of course they taste good! I wouldn't post something if it tasted horrible. But for more detail: they aren't really sweet because of the minimal sugar, but they are yummy, especially with the added texture and sweetness of the fruit. They taste healthy, but not in a bad way, in a way that makes you feel like you just cheated the system because you ate something that tastes good and is good for you. They aren't as cakey crumbly as store bought muffins, but they are moist. And they leave you feeling full for a pretty long time.

I will begrudingly consume gu packets and sports drinks, and maybe even a straight salt packet, while I'm actually running Saturday, because muffins are a little too hard to eat on the run, but for some pre-race carbo-loading I'll be going with my muffins. I found the basic recipe on my favorite non-food related Web site,, in an article called Stud Muffins, and used it to create two different muffins: blueberry and carrot-craisin. I bought flax seeds with the intention of using them when I made these to make them even more healthy, but I totally forgot about them. Next time.

Power Muffins
Adapted from

2 cups whole-grain flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup applesauce
For Blueberries Muffins, add:
1 cup frozen blueberries
2 tsp. vanilla

For Carrot-Craisin Muffins, add:
1 cup shredded carrot
3/4 cup chopped craisins

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a muffin pan with cooking spray or fill with paper muffin cups.
-Mix the first five dry ingredients in a large bowl. Beat the eggs and mix in the milk and applesauce in a separate bowl.
-Add wet ingredients to the dry mix. Stir until combined, then fold in fruit.
-Spoon into muffin tin. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until muffin tops are golden brown.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Top 5: All Time Favorite Comfort Foods

A little while back, Nic and I were talking about food, a fairly regular topic of conversation for the two of us, and we started making "Top 5 favorite foods in the whole world" lists. I think the conversation started when Nic was extolling the virtues of rice pudding. This soon branched out to "Top 5 favorite food combinations," "Top 5 places to eat in the world," Top 5 places to eat in D.C.," etc. I don't remember if I ever decided on my all-out favorites. That seems like a big commitment, but my favorite comfort foods was an easier list to put together. Just typing the list makes my very, very long day at the office seem not quite so bad.

(In no particular order.)
1. Poppop's meatball sandwiches on REAL rolls from the bakery
2. Chocolate-raspberry cake (see Final 12 Hours in D.C.)
3. Mashed potatoes w/ brown gravy
4. Perogies w/ sauteed onions and butter
5. Fried tomatoes w/ Italian bread

(I realized while typing this, I have made exactly zero of these since I started my blog. We'll have to remedy that. Maybe I can even get Poppop to do a guest post for the meatballs!)

Let me know your Top 5 in the comments--or if you can't think of the full list at the moment, one or two will do.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tried and True: Beef Stew

I almost missed Tuesday's Tried and True! I got distracted baking a cake for my friend's birthday tomorrow and some "power" muffins for carbo-loading for my half marathon this weekend. (Guess what the next few posts will be?)

But here is one I've been holding on to for awhile. This is not a fast recipe, since it has to simmer for a long time, but it is really easy. My mom used to make something similar, but she used veal (eek!). I can't bring myself to use the veal, although it is a lot more tender.

Beef Stew

Makes 4 servings


1 1/2 lbs. beef
3 tbs. olive oil
5 cloves minced garlic
2 tbs. flour
2 3/4 cups stout (2 bottles Guinness)
1 cup beef broth
6 small potatoes (3 large russet potatoes), cut into 1" cubes
3 shallots
2 carrots
1 6oz. tomato paste
1 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tbs. parsley
2 cups green beans

-Heat oil in large saucepan on medium-high heat. Brown beef on all sides. Add garlic and simmer for a few minutes. Add flour and mix in.
-Add stout and beef broth. Bring mixture to a simmer. Add potatoes, shallots, carrots, paste and seasoning. Reduce to low and simmer for 3 hours or until beef is very tender. Add green beans for the last 30 minutes.

Serve with crusty Italian bread or mashed potatoes.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Apple Cider Bread

In case you missed it, I started baking two weeks ago. Unfortunatly after one successful baked good, I got way too ambitious, and last week I tried to make gluten-free oatmeal chocolate banana mini muffins (sooo many ingredients!) for one of my co-workers who can't eat gluten. They weren't horrible, but they definitely need some "perfecting." They were not good enough to be posted because if anyone made them they would never make one of my recipes again. But the gluten-free baked goods you get in the store must be really horrible, because my co-worker thought these were great in comparison.

I decided I needed to back up and just make something from someone else's recipe. Then I saw this Chai-Spiced Bread on the Sweet Savory Southern blog, and it sounded too good not to try. It went really well with the dinner I made for friends Saturday. One small problem with the recipe. It says to wait two hours for the bread to cool before slicing. That bread was LONG gone before two hours went by.

Well if you can make bread that tastes like a chai latte you should be able to tweak the recipe and make bread that tastes like apple cider right? RIGHT. And it is moist, yummy, not too sweet, and absolutely addicting to eat. I think making the bread with whole wheat flour gives it more substance, and I like the taste better, but you can substitute all purpose flour if you prefer.

Apple Cider Bread
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup apple cider
1/3 cup skim milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. all spice
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
crushed pecans for topping

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9X5" loaf pan with shortening or cooking spray.
-Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in eggs, cider, milk and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, cinnamon, all spice, cloves, nutmeg and salt until well combined. Spread in pan and sprinkle top with crushed pecans.
-Cook 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
-Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Then remove from pan.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Apples, apples, everywhere

For some reason I thought it was a good idea to buy a "tote bag" of apples last week. I eat one apple a day, max. And Nic is pretty uninterested in apples. Days later I still had a big bowl of apples, a festive center piece, but not going anywhere fast. It was already way too late to make apple pie. (I say that like I would have made a pie if it was earlier. I wouldn't.) But apple sauce, now that I can handle. It must be the easiest thing to make ever. And with apple season in full swing, at least here on the East coast, this is the perfect way to use up extra apples when you're tired of making your pies.

First you peel, core and dice the apples. For this batch I used 6 apples, but that doesn't make very much. Maybe 3-4 servings. So you should double or triple the recipe if you want a lot. (P.S. Taking pictures of hands is not easy! That or I have really un-photogenic hands.)

Then you put the apples in a sauce pan with 1/4 cup apple cider, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Simmer for 20 minutes covered. Mash the apples for a chunky sauce or throw them in the food processor for something smoother.

And you're done!

A Fall Feast

I had some friends over for dinner tonight, and I wanted to put together something simple but seasonal. Fall is my absolute favorite season, the weather is beautiful and the air just smells cleaner.

I made one of my favorite looks-more-impressive-than-it-is meals: Roasted chicken and vegetables. Then I threw in a side of smashed butternut squash and a mixed green salad with toasted pecans and craisins. The table was a riot of fall colors. And the best part is while the meal cooked, I had plenty of time to clean up before my friends got here.

I am also proud to say I made my first bread, garlic knots! I kneaded the dough and everything (Thursday night, well in advance). I was inspired by the yummy recipe Katie posted on her food blog last week. I pretty much followed her instructions, but I substituted half of the all purpose flour with whole wheat, trying to be healthy. They were pretty good, but I think the wheat flour sacrificed some of the fluffiness. But my conscience felt better.

And for dessert: hot apple cider=fall.

And a special thanks to Taylor, who took pictures for me while I scrambled to get everything on the table.

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

The chicken was amazingly moist because I let it brine in the refrigerator for over 24 hours. Osmosis works wonders! And the fresh herbs and citrus were great, simple, fall flavors.

For the chicken and pan sauce
3-5 lb. whole chicken
brine (4 tbs. salt+water, enough to cover chicken)
handful fresh thyme
handful fresh rosemary
1 orange, cut in quarters
1 cup red wine
1 cup chicken stock

For vegetables
12 small "confetti" (colorful) potatoes
3 carrots
4 scallions
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbs. fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1 tbs. fresh thyme
olive oil

-Brine chicken in a covered bowl or pot in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours.
-Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
-Rinse chicken, pat dry. Place in roasting pan. Brush skin with melted butter, put some under the skin as well. Season inside and outside of the bird with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity with thyme and rosemary then with the orange pieces.
-Place on the middle rack of the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 375 and cook for another 45-60 minutes. The chicken is done when the internal temperature of the bird is 170 degrees.
-Remove from oven. Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes on a platter under foil before serving. That keeps all the juices in.
-Put the roasting pan on the stove top and skim off most of the fat. Add cup of wine. (This is a rough measurement, it depends on how much juice from the chicken is already in the pan. The sauce should look somewhat purple.) Simmer until the sauce is reduced by half. Add cup of stock. Simmer until reduced by half again.
-Once the chicken is in the oven, cut potatoes and carrots into big chunks. Keep them all relatively similar in size so they cook evenly. Remove the root end and the skin from the shallots. Toss potatoes, carrots and shallots in a bowl with enough olive oil to lightly coat them. Add salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme and toss. (Use a generous amount of salt.)
-Put the vegetables in a baking dish in the oven about 45 minutes before you think the chicken will be done.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Coconut Salmon w/ Sweet & Sour Sauce

Here was my train of thought this morning when I was peering into my freezer trying to decide what to defrost for dinner: Thursday night. What am I doing? Run. Movie? No, VP debate is on. Palin. Alaska. Salmon. Double Musky Coconut Salmon! MMMMM.

I have only eaten at the Double Musky Inn in Girdwood, Alaska twice but it might be one of my top 5 favorite restaurants. But we'll have to wait and see when I sit down to write that list. The restaurant is billed as "Alaska's Mountain Cajun Cuisine." Some lady on the Food Network even said they have the best steak in America. I'm not much of a steak connoisseur, but I do know that their coconut salmon served with sweet and sour sauce is worth the trip to Alaska for a chance to eat.

Lucky for us in the lower 48, the owners of the Double Musky, Bob and Deanna Persons, published a cookbook, which I happened to pick up and you can get on their Web site. I don't own a lot of cookbooks--just counted, I have five and that's if you count a spice companion--but this one is great. I am not an expert on their menu, but it looks like they have recipes for pretty much everything they serve. (Funny side note, Sen. Ted Stevens wrote the foreword. He also seems to be a fan of the coconut salmon.)

I am pleased to report that the homemade coconut salmon is just as good as I remember the restaurant version being. Success! It was so good in fact that I didn't get any pretty pictures of it before we gobbled it all down. The recipe SPECIFICALLY says "it is best eaten right out of the fryer." We took that quite literally. Technically it is supposed to be an appetizer, so if you feel guilty eating fried fish with coconut all over it as your main course go ahead and serve it that way. I felt no such remorse. Although some green onion mashed potatoes did complement it nicely.

(Where did this salmon come from, you might be asking. I know, I told you in the Worst Kitchen Moments post that all my halibut and salmon went bad. But luckily Nic's dad had kept his own 100 lbs. of the fish in Texas, and he was kind enough to bring us some on his last trip to D.C.)

I halved both the beer batter and the sweet and sour sauce recipe. It was just the right amount of sauce, but it was still more than enough batter for the amount of salmon we made (1/2 fillet), which could serve 4-6 as an appetizer or 2-3 for dinner.

Coconut Salmon w/ Sweet & Sour Sauce
From The Double Musky Inn Cookbook
For beer batter
1 cup beer
2 tbs. vegetable oil
2 eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
pinch pepper
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 cup water
2 3/4 cups flour

For sweet and sour sauce
1 1/2 cups grape jelly
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 tbs. horseradish

For coconut salmon
beer batter
shredded sweetened coconut
oil for deep frying

-Mix together beer, vegetable oil, egg, salt, pepper, water, and garlic powder. Add the flour little by little until it is the desired consistency. You can make this batter ahead of time and refrigerate it until you are ready to make the salmon.
-In a saucepan on low heat, warm up the jelly until it is smooth and all the clumps are gone. Then add mustard and horseradish. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Again, this can be made early and refrigerated.
-Remove the skin from the salmon. Cut the salmon into chunks about 1/2 inch thick. The other dimensions don't matter as much, but they are supposed to be finger dipping food.
-Coat the salmon pieces with flour, then beer batter, then coconut. Make sure you get plenty of coconut on there and pat it down so that it sticks.
-Heat 3 inches of oil in a deep pan to 375 degrees. (I throw in a little piece of bread and see if it sizzles in place of a nifty oil thermometer.) Fry the salmon until the coconut turns golden brown. This cooks pretty fast so keep an eye on it!
-Drain on paper towels. Eat immediately.

I'm not sure if they don't taste as good once they cool. I didn't wait to find out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Top 5: Worst Kitchen Moments

Anyone who has read High Fidelity, or seen the movie, might get the reference in this post's title. In the story, these three guys who work at a record shop are constantly making Top 5 lists. There Top 5's are more like, "top 5 musical crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in the '80s and '90s," but you get the idea.

They liked to talk about music, I like to talk about food.

My Top 5 Worst Kitchen Moments
(In no particular order.)
1. Watching a roommate boil ground beef.
2. Spilling an entire pan of banana bread into the oven.
3. Loosing my eyelashes and a significant chunk of the front of my hair when a ball of flaming gas exploded from my oven in Egypt.
4. Getting stuck in an elevator with a turkey brining in a (clean) trash can.
5. Catching 100 lbs. of Alaskan halibut and salmon, then having it rot when the chest freezer broke three weeks after we bought it.

Feel free to share yours in the comment section. I would like to be outdone.