Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gingerbread Cupcakes

I don't have much to post about Thanksgiving because this year we are so blessed to be guests in my cousin's home in Connecticut for the holiday. I have never hosted a Thanksgiving dinner (read: made a turkey by myself) and I hope that some year soon I can do that in our new home!

Even though I've not had full responsibility for the holiday, I do love making Thanksgiving dishes and I thought I'd share a few ideas with you.

If you need a new stuffing idea, try this. I've had great success with it in past years and made a few changes. I leave out the ham and hazelnuts and use dried cranberries in place of the dried cherries. My colleague at work makes it just as is and loves it.

If you want to try a twist on a pecan pie, this one is also really good. I also like this pumpkin pie variation which has swirls of pumpkin pie filling in a gingerbread "crust."

If you want to skip the pies, and make cupcakes, try the cupcakes I made last night. My friend Katy was in town from Texas and came over for dinner and we made these gingerbread cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting. They were delicious - the texture reminded me a lot of the Martha Stewart Zucchini Spice Cupcakes that I love so much. The little bit of lemon in the frosting is a great complement to the gingerbead spices. If you want a different topping option, try lemon curd or a powdered sugar icing made with lemon juice.

Gingerbread Cupcakes (makes 18) - Martha Stewart's recipe

2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup unsulphered molasses
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper baking cups, and set aside. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. In a bowl, combine boiling water and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, sift together flour, ground spices, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light. Beat in the brown sugar until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses, baking-soda mixture, and flour mixture. Beat in the eggs.

Fill the cupcake papers three-quarters full, making sure that the batter is divided evenly. Bake cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of them comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cupcakes cool a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting (frosts 24 cupcakes)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 - 3/4 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp lemon extract (optional)

Use an electric mixer to beat all ingredients together until fluffy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Recently, I heard Terry Gross interviewing Ruth Reichl on Fresh Air. Terry asked Ruth what fall recipes are her favorite and she described this Roast Pumpkin with Cheese "Fondue" from the November 08 issue of Gourmet. You layer toasted bread, two kinds of Swiss cheese (Gruyere and Emmantal) and a mixture of cream, broth, and nutmeg inside the pumpkin and then bake the whole thing for an hour or so. Terri asked, "Is it a soup?" but I don't remember exactly what Ruth said.

When writing the title of this recipe, Gourmet puts fondue in quotation marks and I had been calling it fondue until my mom asked me what actually makes something a fondue.

Being Swiss, I thought I owed you a thorough definition of fondue: Fondue originated in Switzerland in the 18th century and the term is used to describe the communal eating process of dipping something in a pot of hot cheese, oil, or broth. Traditional Swiss fondue was a combination of "at least two varieties of cheeses that are melted with wine and a bit of flour and served communally out of pot called a 'caquelon.' Long forks are used by each guest to spear a cube of bread then the bread is dipped into the cheese and eaten" (

Now, because there are already layers of bread in the pumpkin, you don't really sit around and dip into it with forks like real fondue. It can be eaten as a vegetarian main course or, like we did last night, as an appetizer. I served it with more bread on the side and slices of green apple. You scrape the cooked pumpkin flesh with a spoonful of the melty cheesy goodness and it tastes divine!

Next time, I might try some white wine in place of the broth and a little kirsch for a more traditional fondue flavor (although this is close) and it could definitely use more salt.

Roast Pumpkin with Cheese "Fondue"  (8 main course servings)
from Gourmet 11/08

1 (15 inch) baguette, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 orange pumpkin (about 7 pounds)
1.5 cups heavy cream
1 cup reduced sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
2.5 cups coarsely grated Gruyere (6oz)
2.5 cups coarsely grated Emmental (6oz)
1 T olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 450 and position rack in lower third of the oven.  Toast baguette slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet until tops are crisp (bread will still be pale), about 7 minutes.  Transfer to a rack and cool.

Remove the top of the pumpkin by cutting a circle (about 3 inches in diameter) with a small sharp knife.  Remove any seeds and fibers from the inside of the pumpkin (including the lid) with a spoon.  Season the inside with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

In a bowl, whisk together the cream, broth, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Combine cheeses together in a separate bowl.

Put a layer of toasted bread in the bottom of the pumpkin.  Top with 1 cup cheese and 1/2 cup cream  mixture.  Continue layering (bread, cheese, cream) until the pumpkin is filled from about a 1/2 inch from the top, using all of the cream mixture (you may have bread & cheese left over).

Cover pumpkin with the top and put in an oiled small roasting pan.  Brush the pumpkin all over with olive oil.  Bake until pumpkin is tender and filling is puffed, about 1.25 -1.5 hours.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Here's what I did with the greens in my CSA box (honestly, I'm not good at identifying all of them but I think they were chard, collard, and maybe mustard greens).

Southern Comfort Soup- serves 6
(from "How to Pick a Peach" by Russ Parsons)


1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup jasmine rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound mixed leafy greens without stems (mustard, kale, collard, beet. turnip and chard)
6 cups weak vegetable or chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Heat the water and rice in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. When the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover tightly. Cook until the bottom of the pan is dry and the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, covered, until ready to use.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and garlic in a soup pot over medium-high heat until the garlic softens. Coarsely chop the greens and add them to the pot. They will come close to overfilling, but within about 5 minutes of cooking and stirring they will wilt down to almost nothing. Add the broth and 2 teaspoons salt and slowly bring to a simmer.

3. When the greens come to a simmer, cook until the colors begin to darken and fade, 5 minutes or less. Transfer the greens and liquid to a food processor or blender (or use your hand immersion blender) and puree until the greens are finely minced.

4. Return the puree to the pot and bring back to a simmer, then stir in the rice and vinegar. Season with a generous grinding of pepper. Taste for salt and vinegar.

5. Ladle the soup into heated shallow bowls and garnish with a generous grating of cheese. Serve.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


CSA (n.): Community sponsored agriculture. A way to buy local, seasonal produce directly from a farmer.

My sister Theresa has been singing the praises of CSAs to me for awhile now and I finally signed myself up and received my first box of produce. I used to order from an online service called Organic Express (now Spuds) and enjoyed getting a mixed box of seasonal fruit and vegetables but the idea of supporting local agriculture is even more attractive to me.

If you live in the LA (Pasadena) area, check out the South Central Farmers' Cooperative. I see signs at my local Whole Foods that some of their locally grown vegetables come from this group. While the actual South Central Farm was bulldozed in 2006, the CSA is run from South Central and the produce is grown in Bakersfield. You can a buy a CSA box for only $15 and there are several pick up options (I picked mine up from Knox Presbyterian on Hill and Del Mar in Pasadena).

I'm excited to try some new things. Like purple beans - no joke. Hopefully I'll have some new recipes based on my box o' fun for you soon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are you tired of pumpkin yet?

Because I'm not! But, I'm moving on to my next favorite seasonal flavor - gingerbread. My Grandma Vi used to send us big, soft gingerbread people at Christmas time that she made herself and decorated with raisin eyes and m&m buttons. By now you know that I'm not to be trusted with cookies that you roll out, cut, and decorate but I love all things gingerbread and I have a bunch of other gingerbread recipes ready to go. I'm trying to pace myself because I'm working out as much as I possibly can and tonight, I was in a baking mood after a long day at work. And, let's face it: If there are candy canes on the lamp posts of Monrovia and gingerbread lattes at Starbucks, it's time to get baking!

My decision to make this particular recipe started with some sour cream that I needed to use up. I was looking up chocolate sour cream cake recipes when I thought of gingerbread. I can't remember making a gingerbread recipe with sour cream before and I liked the looks of this one. I got my dry ingredients all measured out, had my eggs room temperature and when I pulled out my molasses, I only had a little more than 1/4 cup, not the 1/2 cup the recipe calls for. I added a little extra brown sugar (remember, it's just white sugar and molasses) to compensate. I also substituted 1/2 cup of the flour with whole wheat.

Happy Gingerbread Season to you!

Here's the recipe I used.

PS: If I were going to make a gingerbread house this year, it would look like this one in honor of the mid-century modern house that we're in the process of purchasing. Stay tuned for details!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pumpkin Cookies

I've literally made 8 dozen of these cookies in the last week. Theresa mailed me an index card with this recipe on it when she lived in Texas and I think it was originally from Joy of Cooking. While the original recipe is pretty perfect, I still modified it quite a bit the second time around (not because the first batch wasn't good but because we were eating way too many) so I'll post both versions.

If you're lucky enough to have some canned pumpkin (and you're not sick of it yet), these are great.

Pumpkin Cookies (3-4 dozen)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 c. chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 c. chocolate chips (didn't use them this time around)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients (flour through salt). In a large bowl, cream the butter for a minute. Add the sugar and beat until pale and fluffy. Add the egg, applesauce and vanilla. Add the pumpkin. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in nuts, raisins, and chocolate chips. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

Bec's Version of Pumpkin Cookies (3-4 dozen)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 T. flax seed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup agave
1/2 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 c. chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1/2 c. raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients (flour through salt). Stir together the pumpkin, applesauce, and agave. In a large bowl, cream the butter for a minute. Add the sugar and beat until pale and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and pumpkin mixture. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in nuts and raisins. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Unexpected nice things

Challenge: Don't focus on the things that don't go my way and look for the nice surprises in life.

1. Starbucks has their holiday flavors and I had an amazing gingerbread latte this morning.
2. My colleague built a podium for me out of a cardboard box (my students have debates and my classroom has no podium or lectern)
3. A friend made an unexpected trip to So Cal from Indiana and I get to meet her new baby on Monday
4. A friend who has had a bunch of painful dental work done is babysitting tonight so we can go on a date
5. Today is the fifth day in a row that I'm able to work out - a luxury with a 2 year old!

What happened to you today?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sin Hongos

On Sunday night, I made a dinner was a big departure from the "old me." The one who hated mushrooms, made fun of siblings who liked them, told little cousins that they were fungus like athlete's foot, and learned to order everything at restaurants without them. But, I've turned over a new leaf.

While love might be a strong word, I have learned to like mushrooms and after seeing this recipe for Mushroom Bisque with Crispy Shallots last week, I really wanted to give it a try.

End result: Forgot to make the crispy shallots which I think would have added a lot to the dish. I didn't like the mushrooms in such big chunks (my favorite chunks were the sauteed onions) and next time I would add some spice (rosemary?). If you're a mushroom person, it's a good recipe and it only took about 20-30 minutes to make. If you're a vegetarian, try mushroom broth in place of the beef broth and maybe add a little dark beer or more sherry.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Until today, I had never tasted a persimmon. Boy, was I missing out. Steve's dad has a Fuyu persimmon tree in his front yard and says that he counted last year and he picked 4,000 persimmons. The other day, they gave me a bunch of them and I was intrigued. I ate one of them raw, sliced another into a salad with watercress and goat cheese, and then made a batch of persimmon preserves.

I adapted this recipe for pear butter from Simply Recipes. I had a few less persimmons so I used less sugar (and a little agave) and I used some anise seeds in a tea strainer instead of star anise. I don't have a food mill or chinois but because I peeled the persimmons first, I just blended the mixture with my hand blender before adding the sugar.

The end result was good - definitely more of a persimmon butter than a jam and while not chunky, the flavors tasted sort of like a chutney to me. I like ginger a lot and that's the flavor that dominates but next time I'd probably reduce the ginger a little bit.

Stephanie is working on some persimmon desserts so maybe she'll share her recipes on the blog when she finds one she likes!

Thanks to Steve, Steph & Nono for the persimmons. Thanks to Elise for the recipe.