Friday, October 30, 2009

And more pumpkin . . .

This week, I made pumpkin pancakes (so-so . . . should have followed a recipe) and a pumpkin buttermilk bundt cake (barely lasted long enough to take photos of). And, it's not enough - I'm planning on making the pumpkin cookies from Joy of Cooking tonight or tomorrow. I've been using canned solid pack pumpkin, not the innards of our jack-o-lanterns and have amassed a nice little stash from Trader Joe's and Whole Foods where it seems to be in abundance on the shelves.

The Food Librarian inspired the bundt cake - she's making a bundt cake every day for 30 days and I've been following her quest closely. The recipe is here on Epicurious (Gourmet 11/05) and I followed it exactly except I added a dash of cinnamon to the icing. I haven't made a bundt since this disaster and I used the Pam spray for baking with flour in it - why didn't I discover this sooner?? Next to my silpat mats, it's going to be my best baking secret.

Have a fun, safe Halloween! And, happy birthday Stephanie!

P.S. If you want someone else to make you pumpkin pancakes, try them at Dish in La Canada - delicious.

Friday, October 23, 2009

First course

I know that asparagus is in season in late spring but come on, if you live in Pasadena, doesn't it feel like spring? I proposed a cream of garlic soup for a dinner party I had last week but my husband thought that the after affects of smelly garlic seeping out of our pores for the next 48 hours might not be pleasant.

I made this soup and everyone loved it. I've made asparagus soups before but this is the version I've settled on as my favorite. I'm using my immersion hand blender a ton these days - put it on your Christmas list!

Along with the soup, I served crusty french bread and this Artichoke Tapenade from David Lebovitz. I've been daydreaming of this tapenade ever since. I made a half batch and it fit in my mini-chopper thing and was a good amount for the four of us.

Because I'm that kind of person, I had to look up what makes something a tapenade and not just a dip and found that a tapenade has olives as one of the main ingredients. Had there been any left over, my daughter would have loved it. Olives are one of her favorite foods.

Asparagus Soup (serves 4 - from Gourmet 3/01)

2 pounds green asparagus
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 to 6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Cut asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces. Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add asparagus pieces and salt and pepper to taste, then cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Add 5 cups broth and simmer, covered, until asparagus is very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Purée soup in a blender until smooth and return to pan. Stir in heavy cream then season with salt and pepper. Bring soup to a boil and whisk in remaining tablespoon butter. Add lemon juice.

Pumpkin Crumb Cake

On Sunday we're going to a pumpkin carving party that our friends from church have hosted for the last 4 or 5 years. There is usually some kind of contest and always a lot of kids and good food. I'm making a dessert this year and it's one I've made for ages. You'll notice that the recipe is a total cheater one with a cake mix but it's always a big hit and tastes even better the next morning with a cup of coffee. If you have a fall brunch to attend, try this out.

Pumpkin Crumb Cake (9x13 pan)

1 yellow cake mix (18.25 oz)
4 eggs
1/2 c. butter melted + 3 T butter, softened
1 can pumpkin (15 oz)
3/4 c. sugar, divided
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 pan. Reserve 1 cup cake mix. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the cake mix with one beaten egg and 1/2 c. melted butter. Mix well and then pat into the bottom of the pan.
In another bowl, mix together the pumpkin, 3 eggs (beaten), 1/2 c. white sugar, brown sugar, and spices. Pour over crust.
In a small bowl, combine the reserved 1 cup of cake mix, 1/4 c. sugar, and 3 T softened butter. Crumble over the pumpkin filling. Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or until the pumpkin is just set in the middle.

Variations: I often make it in a large springform and cut it into wedges like a pie. You'll get fewer servings that way but it looks fancier. You can sprinkle 1/2 c. chopped nuts (pecans?) over the top right before baking.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Steph's Banana Oatmeal Cookies

While I was on vacation this summer I asked Stephanie to write a guest blog for me. It wasn't a great time for her because she was moving (with a 1 year old, a husband, and a dog) from Ohio to California. Since she's been living closer, we've had a great time cooking together and talking about all the baking we're doing (instead of all the running we should be doing).

A few weeks ago, she sent me this email with the recipes that follows (and the photo):

Hey Bec!
I wanted to share this recipe with you....It's a variation of the banana-oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies that we (especially I) love so much. I found it while I was perusing on-line today (I think I found it in a food blog). Anyway, I thought I would share it with you since you mentioned the other day that you were trying to stay away from sugar. This is a vegan recipe (which we both know I am not one), but I made these cookies this morning with much success. They're moist and delicious, and my taste-tester (baby boy) seemed to enjoy them as well! Let me know what you think.

Steph's Banana Cookies 2 dozen


1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. oats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4tsp cinnamon
1 tblsp ground flax seed

1/4 c. agave
1/4 c. soymilk (or regular milk)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 T canola oil
2 ripe bananas (mashed)

1/2 c. chocolate chips

You know the drill...mix the wet, mix the dry, incorporate the wet into the dry. Fold in chocolate chips. Bake 10-12min at 350 degrees.

The verdict: I tried them on Monday and they were a) incredibly quick to make b) no white flour or sugar - hooray! c) so delicious they were gone this morning. The only change I made was to use 2 T mini chocolate chips instead of 1/2 cup of the regular ones. If you want to be truly sugar free, try nuts instead. Oh, I used steel cut oats instead of rolled oats and I think the texture might be a little better with the rolled oats.

This recipe is a keeper - I loved it and will be making it often, but apparently not as often as Stephanie since her father-in-law keeps bringing her 5 pounds of bananas at a time hoping to be rewarded with a batch of these!

Monday, October 19, 2009

I've always wanted to know

There are certain baking questions that I often ponder but then forget to look up when my hands (and kitchen) are clean enough to do so. I'm not sure you'll be all that interested in this but here it is - mostly for me to read the next time I forget the answers!

Q. What is the difference between white and brown sugar and can I substitute one for the other?
A. Brown sugar used to be made by adding molasses to sugar syrup before crystallization but today it's just white sugar with molasses added after that process. In spite of their difference in weight, you can substitute brown sugar for granulated white on a 1 to 1 basis, and the most significant difference will be taste.
Substitute white sugar for brown sugar on a 1 to 1 basis, but add 1 tablespoon of molasses per cup, and decrease the total amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/2 to 1 tablespoon.
To use honey in place of sugar, use 7/8 cup for every cup of sugar, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons.

Q. Why do you use salt in almost every baking recipe?
A. From the research I've done, I think it's all flavor, nothing structural.

Q. Why should eggs be room temperature before baking with them?
A. The idea is that when you beat room temperature eggs, they will have greater volume than their cold counter-parts. This is especially important for whipping egg whites. For cakes and such, the best answer that I can find is that ingredients mix better and emulsify when they're the same temperature and the cake will rise and bake more evenly if everything is the same temperature. If you forget to take your eggs out of the refrigerator ahead of time, you can put them in warm water to bring them to room temperature.

Q. What's the difference between baking powder and baking soda?
A. Both are leavening agents which make baked goods "rise" and baking powser actually contains baking soda. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate and baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate, but it includes the acidifying agent already (cream of tartar), and also a drying agent (usually starch).
Baking powder is available as single-acting baking powder and as double-acting baking powder. Single-acting powders are activated by moisture, so you must bake recipes which include this product immediately after mixing. Double-acting powders react in two phases and can stand for a while before baking. With double-acting powder, some gas is released at room temperature when the powder is added to dough, but the majority of the gas is released after the temperature of the dough increases in the oven.
You can make your own single acting baking powder by combining 2 parts cream of tartar with 1 part baking soda and 1 part corn starch.

*I found these answers various places and jotted them down to myself without the sources. If you originally wrote anything that I've excerpted above, I give you all the credit and I sincerely apologize.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Another birthday to celebrate

My husband was 34 on Tuesday and we celebrated with a special breakfast, dinner at Derek's Bistro and homemade key lime pie for dessert. Needless to say, he and I both love sweets. We had a dessert buffet at our wedding reception and one of the items on that buffet was cinnamon rolls with orange icing. My best friend worked at Bean Town in Sierra Madre at the time and had the baker make a special batch for us.

I haven't made cinnamon rolls in ages. My grandma Vi made amazing Kucha rolls with gooey brown sugar pecan topping and the last time I tried her recipe, it was a bit of a disaster. I will make those again and get it right, but for J's birthday, I needed something simpler.

This recipe uses only 2 bowls, nothing has to rise, and you don't even need to melt butter or bring ingredients to room temperature. I wondered why the recipe said "Cinnamon biscuits" when they were clearly cinnamon rolls, but in my first bite I realized that this was really a biscuit dough.

Like the last soup I posted, I bet you have these ingredients on hand (okay, probably not 1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream) and I bet you love cinnamon smells coming from your oven on a rainy morning. Unlike the last post, there's probably no nutritional benefit to these rolls but you can't have everything, right?

Here's the recipe - I made no changes at all except to put some orange extract into the frosting for a subtle orange flavor (no OJ in the house).

Enjoy, and happy birthday, dear J!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Better than cold cereal

Since pictures of soup rarely look that appetizing and I know certain readers check often for any glimpse of baby girl, I thought I'd start with a photo of what we did today. My normal Sunday afternoon routine is to do a big grocery shopping trip for the week and prepare a nice, Sunday supper. Today after church, we headed out to Fillmore to take a train to a pumpkin patch. It was a long, fun day and by the time we got home, we were hungry, dusty, and tired. I thought we were going to eat out on our way home but we were too tired (and had a 2 year old who never took a nap) so we skipped the restaurant.

I didn't have enough produce to make a salad and I was just getting ready to get out some cold cereal when I thought that a bowl of soup sounded much better. It's been summer for so long that I have no canned soup in the house but luckily, I had the ingredients for this recipe. I made the soup in the amount of time it took my daughter to take a bath and put her PJs on (15 minutes).

It's an old recipe and it's not the best soup I've ever made, but it was warm and filling and better than fast food or cold cereal. Chances are, you have these ingredients in your pantry so if you need something quick and homemade, try it out. I added some Tapatio and red pepper flakes to make it spicier - I was wishing I had a jalapeno to saute with the onion - and served it with shredded cheese and sour cream.

Black Bean Soup (makes 4 cups)

1 medium red onion, chopped
1 15oz can of black beans, drained (you could add more - I only had 1 can)
1 14.5oz can chicken broth (I used 2 cups of the TJ's kind in a carton)
1 T lime juice
1 c. frozen corn (can used canned)
1 c. bottled chunky salsa
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion until tender. Take about half of the black beans and mash them with a fork in a small bowl. Add them to the pot with all of the other ingredients and simmer for about 10 minutes or until it's heated through.

*Vegetarian recipe if you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth

Monday, October 5, 2009

Is it fall, finally?

First, a public service announcement: Do NOT leave wooden spoons too close to gas burners. They will ignite. Your house may smell like a camp fire in a fall-ish way and your 2 year old will be amused, but it is ultimately dangerous.

Now, back to regularly scheduled programming.

It finally feels like fall here - I wore a sweatshirt to the gym this morning, put my daughter in jeans and lace up shoes (tennis shoes? sneakers? what do you call them?) and made soup for dinner . . . hooray! I made this lentil soup and added spicy chicken sausage at the end until it was warmed through. Yum.

This is one of the first desserts that I "made up" all on my own soon after we were married. I haven't made it in years but it sounded like a nice fall complement to our dinner and I had all the ingredients on hand. I drastically reduced the sugar from the old recipe and tonight, I used all whole wheat flour for the topping (and to toss with the apples) but you can use all regular flour and increase the sugar if it's too tart for you.

It turned out good with the changes but you might like a little more topping - you could increase the oats, flour, and butter to 1/2 c. each.

Apple Cranberry Crisp (serves 4)

Peel and chop 3 apples (I used Granny Smith; Stephanie uses Fuji) and mix with 3/4 c. dried cranberries, 1-2 T. sugar, and 1 T flour. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so until the apples are juicy. Spread them in a buttered pan (9x9 or other baking dish). Put it in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend 2 T brown sugar, 1 T agave, 1/3 c. flour, 1/3 c. oats, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger, 1/2 tsp. ground cloves, 1/4 tsp. allspice, and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Add 1/3 c. melted butter. Stir in 1/3 c. toasted pecans (optional).

Crumble topping over hot apples. Bake until the topping is golden brown and juices are thick and bubbly (about 20 -25 minutes more).

Goes well with vanilla ice cream and a cup of coffee!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Save me from myself

If I'm not inspired about making main dishes or figuring out what's for meat these days, I'm way over-inspired when it comes to baking. As in I've made 2 batches (6 dozen) cookies, a cake, granola and a batch of muffins in the last four days and my butt feels huge. The three miles I ran this morning wasn't enough. I need an intervention.

There's a cake in the oven now and if it turns out well, I'll share that recipe soon but what I just finished baking is (luckily for me) to share with friends tomorrow. I'm seeing a college friend that I haven't seen in over two years and we get to meet each other's kids for the first time. So, in honor of that, I baked. As if I need an excuse.

I read about these muffins on Food Librarian and but the recipe is originally from Martha Stewart. The changes that I made were to sub part of the flour for whole wheat (you can use all-purpose for the whole 1 3/4 c.) and I decreased the sugar by 1/4 cup. They are a bit tart with the cranberry and definitely muffins, not zucchini cupcakes, but delicious.

Zucchini Cranberry Muffins (1 dozen)

1 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/2 t vanilla
1 c grated zucchini
1/2 cup cranberries, cut in half or quarters

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a muffin tin (or use paper liners). Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Then combine the eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla and zucchini in another bowl. Add the wet to the dry, and stir until just combined. Then, stir in the cranberries. Don't overmix. Divide evenly in a muffin tin and bake for 18-22 minutes at 375 or until a tester comes out clean.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I want to make a nice dinner that's not chicken or salmon for my husband tomorrow night. I'm sitting in my windowless office at work totally uninspired. Maybe going to Farmer's Market tonight will help me get some ideas . . or maybe you will! Any suggestions??