October 30, 2008

Apple Cider Glazed Butternut Squash

apple cider butternut squash

1 large butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons apple cider
black pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush the insides with olive oil. Place the squash open side down on the baking sheet. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the squash is softened and easily pierced with a fork. Meanwhile, mix together the melted butter and apple cider. Sprinkle with salt, paprika and pepper. Drizzle with the melted butter and apple cider mixture. Serve hot.

Yield: 2-4 servings

My thoughts:
Despite my recent revelation that I prefer acorn squash (Is it possible that I have only ever eaten butternut until now? Or do I suffer from some sort of winter squash specific amnesia?)this is still perfectly delicious. I am not one for sweet dishes served as part of a main meal but I do feel that butternut squash benefits from splash of sweetness. The apple cider does the trick, it adds just a bit of fruity sweetness without taking it to a near candied level. The smoked paprika, salt, pepper and butter add a complementary savory note to form a uniquely satisfying seasonal dish.

October 28, 2008

Confetti Cupcakes

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons multicolored sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour or line 16-18 wells* in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and milk beat well. Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat until the batter is light and fluffy. Fold in sprinkles.


Fill each well 2/3 of the way filled. Bake approximately 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the middle cupcake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Frost with desired frosting. I used cream cheese frosting that I tinted orange.

Halloween Cupcakes

*Alternately make 12 regular sized cupcakes PLUS 9-12 mini cupcakes.

My thoughts:


There is a certain brand of cake mix that releases a limited edition mix at every holiday that includes seasonally colored sprinkles to mix into the batter. Now I am not a cake mix person at all but every holiday I am a little tempted to pick a box up. I can't resist things in seasonal colors or limited editions. It is a sickness, really. Rather than give in and totally lose any cake making cred I might have, I decided that this year I would make my own homemade version. It really is quite a simple cake and frankly just about as quick to mix together as the mix.

While it seems almost too simple-a white cake with sprinkles stirred in-it seems special once you take a bite and see the colors inside. The baking softens the sprinkles so they are just bursts of color in the vanilla cake, not crunchy at all. I choose orange and black sprinkles because Halloween is this week but since the cake is so light colored any color sprinkle contrasts nicely. The cake has a good crumb and a great vanilla flavor that pairs well with almost any flavor frosting. Anyway, it is a fun festive cake that never fails to please and is infinitely tastier than what you could get out of a box.


Note: make sure that you use sprinkles (also known as jimmies or hundreds and thousands) and not tiny round nonpareils or the colors will not show up very well in the final product.

October 27, 2008

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
food coloring

In a large bowl, beat together the vanilla, cream cheese, food dye and confectioners sugar until smooth. Add more confectioners sugar in 2 tablespoon increments if you want or need a stiffer or sweeter frosting.

My thoughts:
A basic vanilla cream cheese frosting.


October 25, 2008

Bacon Cornbread

bacon cornbread

1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup crumbled center cut bacon (about 4-5 slices)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400. Grease or spray one 8x8 baking pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. Beat in the egg, milk and oil until well combined. Fold in bacon. Pour into pan and bake 25 minutes or until golden brown and a tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Note: If your bacon is exceptionally fatty, you might want to use just the meatier portions in this recipe or your cornbread will turn out unappetizingly greasy.

My thoughts:
Bacon studded cornbread and even a version cornbread made with bacon grease instead of oil (but no bacon bits) is a classic Southern quick bread. There are a few variations, including some that include corn kernels or honey but this is my favorite. It has a lot of flavor and is surprisingly not heavy tasting. In this version the bacon is at center stage and provides a great salty-smoky contrast to the lightly sweetened bread.

October 23, 2008

Sage Roasted Chicken

roasted chicken

1 6-7 lb roasting chicken
10-12 leaves fresh sage
Provençal salt*
olive oil

Preheat oven to 325. Meanwhile, rinse the (empty) chicken off with cold water. Place on the rack and position in the roasting pan. Rub the chicken with a tablespoon of oil. Arrange the leaves on the breast and sprinkle liberally with Provençal salt.

nude chicken

Roast at 325 for about 2 hours, then turn the heat up to 350 and cook an additional 30-45 minutes or until the juices run clear and the leg easily moves when wiggled. The internal temperature should be between 160 and 180. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes before carving.

*Provençal salt is a mixture of coarse sea salt and Herbes de Provence.

My thoughts:
It is just easing into chicken roasting weather and I went totally overboard and made a roasted chicken with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, sauerkraut and roasted butternut squash all on a random Thursday evening. Now you don't have to go that far but I suggest you carve some time out to make this chicken.

I've found that sprinkling a chicken with coarse salt and spices is my favorite way to insure a juicy bird with crisp burnished gold skin. As an added bonus the sage and flavored salt seep into the meat leaving it juicy and herbal without taking away from the chicken's natural flavor. This technique incredibly simple but the results are amazing. Honestly, this was the best roasted chicken I think I've ever had, much less made.

October 21, 2008

Chocolate Drizzled Caramel Apples

6 large apples

for the caramel:
1 cup heavy cream
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
pinch salt

for the chocolate
4-6 oz dark chocolate
1 tablespoon melted butter

colored sugar
candy bits

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silipat. Set aside. In a small sauce pan bring the cream, butter, half of the water and salt to a boil. Set aside. In a medium sized, heavy pan, heat the sugar, the rest of the water and corn syrup to a boil, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Boil until it turns a light golden color. Slowly, carefully stir in the cream mixture. Stir until the caramel is 255 degrees (just beyond softball stage so it isn't too soft and runny). Remove from heat and carefully dip the apples in the caramel.

Place on lined baking sheets to cool. If the caramel is a little thin, let it cool slightly then re-dip. Cool. Meanwhile, melt the butter and chocolate. Drizzle over cooled apples. Sprinkle with sugar, sprinkles and/or candy bits.

My thoughts:

As if dipped in caramel is not a decadent enough way to eat an apple, it seems that the trend now is for these chocolate and candy dipped mega apples that are just dripping with sugary treats. I wasn't quite up to making or eating an apple that quite that extreme but a little bit of chocolate drizzled (not dipped!) over the caramel sounded perfect. So I came up with this, a little fancier than the typical caramel apple but not over the top and very easy to eat using just a bit of chocolate sprinkled with sprinkles and a bit of orange colored sugar. I used some very large, round tart apples but any largish apples would work. I prefer tart apples because it sweet apples make for a super sweet caramel apple. Tart apples provide more of a contrast. I also don't use a candy thermometer-just a clear cup of cold water by the stove that drop bits of caramel in after it is has been boiling awhile. I waited until it formed a soft ball and then boiled about 1 additional minute until it formed a slightly more solid ball but wasn't brittle.

Note: the trick to making caramel apples and not having all of the caramel pool to the bottom is to boil the caramel to just past softball stage. This makes the caramel a little less filling-pulling-out sticky and keeps it in place, even over the course of a few nights.

October 19, 2008

Cuban Inspired Pork Chili

2 1/2 lb boneless pork rib roast, cubed
30 oz canned fire roasted tomatoes
20 oz can hominy (I like Manning's)
15.5 oz canned black beans, drained
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
1/2 cup fire roasted corn
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground jalapeno
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon cayenne chile powder
1 teaspoon cumin
juice of 1/2 lime
pinch salt

Heat the oil in the pan, saute pork cubes, garlic and onion until fragrant and the pork is lightly cooked. Add the hominy and black beans. Break up the hominy with the back of a spoon. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato, lime juice and spices. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 25-35 minutes. Uncover and simmer for an additional 20 minutes or until the pork is tender and the liquid has reduced. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:

Now you all know my almost unholy love of pork and I have made many pork chilis over the years but this one must be my favorite so far. It is relatively quick to make but tastes as though you've been slaving over it for ages.

I love how easy it is to find canned fire roasted tomatoes now. Even the national brands have them and I love the little extra flavor they give recipes. Combined with the fire roast corn (make and freeze your own)it give the chile a subtle smoky flavor. While there are a fair amount of spices in it, it isn't scary spicy just well flavored. Make it tonight or you will regret it.

A small note: After we went at like a pack of wild dogs (it was that good!) there was only a bit leftover but for more reasonable people I bet you could get 4 or even 6 servings out of it.

October 16, 2008

Seafood Udon Soup

6 dried shitake mushrooms, rehydrated in 1 cup hot broth (reserve the broth)
4 cups shrimp broth
1 1/2 cups raw frozen or fresh mixed seafood
1/3 cup dried wakame (cut up)
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 inch knob ginger, grated
2 tablespoons akamiso miso paste
10 oz udon noodles
1 carrot, sliced into strips

Bring the broth, ginger and garlic to a boil. Add the noodles and carrot and continue to boil until the noodles almost soft. Add the wakame, mushrooms, mushroom broth, seafood and miso paste. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the seafood is cooked thoroughly and the noodles are soft. Serve hot.

My thoughts:

I actually made this for lunch the other day and it was so tasty, I felt like I had to share. What I love is that it doesn't take much longer to make than heating up a can of soup but it is 100x better. It is also a perfect quick dinner for those days when just transitioning into cooler weather; it is warm and comforting but not heavy.

A couple of tips: Whenever I make something with shrimp I save the shells (and heads) and make a quick broth with water, the shells, carrots, garlic, celery, onions etc and then freeze it for a future use. You can defrost it in minutes by heating it (frozen) in a shallow pan over low heat.

If you are using frozen mixed seafood (I get a great mix of squid, scallops, mussels, shrimp and a few other treats at my local Asian grocery) toss it in the soup still frozen. Aways use seafood that was frozen raw for best flavor. Frozen cooked seafood can get rubbery when recooked.

Some udon noodles have very specific cooking directions. If the directions are very different than simply boiling them as my recipe calls for, you might want to prepare the noodles according to the package instructions then add them when you add the seafood.

I don't like a very brothy udon soup so if you would prefer a more liquid soup or if an inordinately large amount of the broth evaporated during the cooking time, add a cup of hot broth or water to the soup before serving.

October 14, 2008

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup chunky or "extra chunky" peanut butter
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
6 oz semisweet chips
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, vanilla and sugar. Add the egg, beat until fluffy. Stir in peanut butter. Add the flour, baking powder, and oatmeal. Mix until well combined. Fold in chips. Place tablespoon-sized scoops of dough on the lined cookie sheet about 1/2 inch apart and bake for 12 minutes and the bottoms are just golden. They might look slightly soft in the center but that is okay, they will firm up a bit while they cool. Allow to cool in the pan for a minute or two then carefully remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: about 2 dozen cookies

My thoughts:
We had some chunky peanut butter (normally we are "creamy" people) that was taking forever to finish so I decided to turn it into something tastier than it is on its own: cookies! Chocolate and peanut butter are a classic combination (or at least it has become one thanks to the advent of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups)and these cookies are sure to become a favorite. They are full of peanut flavor thanks to the bits of peanuts in the peanut butter but not oppressively so; you can still taste the distinctive flavors of the chocolate and the oats. The oats give the cookie some texture interest and add a bit of chewiness that I enjoy. Using dark chocolate chips keeps the whole thing from becoming cloyingly sweet tasting.

Update: I dropped most of these off at my Mom's house yesterday on the way to Blogher DC (you can read notes on the panel I was one here) and she gave them a rave review. She thinks they are her favorites of all the cookies I've made and that's really saying something!

cookie dough

October 12, 2008

Banana Walnut Muffins

2 eggs
1 1/4 cup mashed overripe bananas
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 banana, sliced into 1/4 inch slices (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line 16 wells in a muffin tin. In a large bowl, whisk together the spices, nuts, baking powder and both flours. Set aside. In another large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the milk then add the dry ingredients. Mix to combine. Fold in the mashed banana. Divide evenly into wells. Top with slices of banana (one per muffin) if desired.


Bake about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the center muffin comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Note: if the tops are covered in banana slices, slide the toothpick at an angle, under the banana to test. Do not pierce the banana slice. Cool on a wire rack.


My thoughts:
In the interest of full disclosure, while I did come up with the recipe for this muffins, I didn't actually eat any. I am not a fan overripe bananas or really bananas that are even just barely past green. Yup, I like an unripe banana or no banana at all. My husband, however, doesn't share my aversion and requested a recipe for banana muffins that had nuts (which I also don't really care for in baked goods), used butter and whole wheat flour (again, not a favorite) and I am nothing but accommodating (at least when it comes to baking) so I came up with these muffins that included all of his stipulations and cardamom, which he adores. According to him, they are quite moist but very light textured and very flavorful. The banana slice added some moisture and really added to the banana flavor.

October 09, 2008

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with Pear Butter Barbecue Sauce

3-4 lb boneless pork shoulder roast*
1/2 cup pear butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot chile powder
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 cup pear cider

for the barbecue sauce:
6 oz tomato paste
1 small onion, minced
3/4 cup pear butter
1 tablespoon mesquite liquid smoke
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

for the barbecue sauce:
Stir all ingredients together. Pour into a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Pour into a small pan and heat through, stirring occasionally. Cool. Refrigerate until use.

for the roast:
In a small bowl, combine the pear butter, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and spices. Spread over all sides of the pork. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Preheat oven to 450. Place the pork in a roasting pan. Bake for 30 minutes then pour the pear cider into the bottom of the pan. Cover with a lid or foil and lower the temperature to 325. Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast measures 160°F, about 2 hours. Allow to sit 15 minutes before removing the netting and slicing. Serve with pear butter barbecue sauce.

*Boneless pork shoulder roast is generally sold with some string wrapped around it. This holds the roast together and needs to remain in place during the baking. You shouldn't cut it off until you are ready to serve. If you can't find a boneless shoulder roast, use a bone-in and either debone and truss before roasting or roast it bone-in cut around the bone to serve.

My thoughts:
This is the best pork roast I've ever made. Juicy and with just a hint of fruity flavor. Despite the somewhat sugary basting sauce, the pork itself isn't particularly sweet-just well caramelized.

Matt said it was "company worthy" and his favorite of all the pork roasts I've made. It really is fabulous and the leftovers make great sandwiches. Pork shoulder roast (also sometimes labeled as "Boston Butt") is also very forgiving, even if you over cook it a bit it stays moist and tender, just make sure to let it sit after it comes out of the oven or all the juices will run out once it is cut. The pear butter barbecue sauce would be great on sandwiches or other meats.

Note: While I haven't tried it, I would supect that apple butter and apple cider could be substiuted with great success if need be.

October 07, 2008

Indian Spiced Rice Pudding

1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup uncooked jasmine rice
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon mace blades*
1 cinnamon stick

In medium saucepan, bring water, rice, cardamom, mace cinnamon stick and salt to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 25 minutes. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Continue to simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove the cinnamon stick. Serve hot or cold but it will thicken upon cooling.

*Short, orangish strands of mace, it looks similar to saffron. Substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground mace.

My thoughts:


When, to my horror, I discovered a mouse had nibbled on my bag of unsweetened coconut I was forced to make a sudden adjustment to my coconut squares plan. Unfortunately I had already started the recipe and was left with a can's worth of sweetened condensed milk I had already mixed with some vanilla. I wasn't sure how to use it. I had a pork roast in the oven so I knew I couldn't make something that required baking and the dozens of recipes for "magic" bars I found online held no appeal. I finally hit on the idea to try and think of something that creamy used a lot of milk and sugar with the hope that subbing sweetened condensed milk for those ingredients would work. After some serious thought I came up with the idea of making rice pudding. It uses a fair amount of milk and sugar and is made on the stove top. Luckily it worked-the rice was perfectly tender and the pudding just sweet enough. The Indian-inspired spices were a great choice, the dish was still homey but different enough from the traditional rice pudding to feel special.

October 05, 2008

Autumn Vegetable Chowder

1 medium onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups cubed potato
1 cup small broccoli florets
3/4 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon white pepper

In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes or until they are soft and translucent. Do not let them brown. Add the cauliflower, spices and broth. Bring broth to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to a simmer and cook 20-30 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and easily cut, stirring occasionally. The broth will not totally cover the cauliflower but don't worry- stirring will be enough to ensure the caulflower cooks through. Meanwhile, bring some water to a boil. Add the broccoli, celery and potato and cook until fork tender. Drain and set aside.

Using a regular blender or immersion blender, blend the cauliflower mixture until smooth. If you are using a regular blender, you will have to do this in steps, pour the blended soup in to another large pot as you go. If using an immersion blender, you can blend the soup right in the same pot. Once blended, add the milk, potatoes, corn and broccoli. Return to heat and allow to simmer another 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Stir and serve.

Note: If a large amount of broth evaporated (if the cauliflower looks virtually dry)you might want to add about 1/2 cup of broth to the mixture after blending. You don't want the cauliflower base to be too thick.

My thoughts:
Chowder tradionally has some sort of seafood in it and a heavy, creamy base but I decided to go in a slightly different route and lighten it up by using cauliflower puree and just a touch of milk.

The inspiration was the Winter White Cauliflower Soup I created a while back. That soup was a suprise hit-rich and creamy without a lot of fat and not too overtly cauliflowery. I didn't want to make the same thing over again so I thought: chowder! The base is still a creamy cauliflower (seriously, no one can ever guess it was cauliflower in the soup!) but I've added some vegetables to round it out. What I love is that even though it is vegetable-heavy it isn't heavy or vegetal tasting just really homey and comforting.

October 02, 2008

Pear Butter

9 red or green Bartlett pears, sliced
1 cup pear cider
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cardamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon mace

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker.

Cook on low for 10-12 hours. Uncover and cook on low for an additional 10-12 hours or until is roughly your desired thickness and most of the liquid has evaporated. Allow to cool completely then pour into the food processor and puree. Pour into clean glass jars. Refrigerate.

Yield: approximately 4 cups pear butter

My thoughts:
Apple butter might be more common but I think this perfectly spiced pear butter is even tastier. It is rich and creamy but dairy free and a great alternative to jam or jelly. I like it on toast, yogurt, English muffins, biscuits, pancakes, oatmeal, rolls, waffles, muffins and I hear it is tasty swirled into cottage cheese. I have some other ideas on how to use it so I should have a new recipe or two that uses pear butter coming soon.

While you can make this on the stove top using using these instructions, the slow cooker is the way to go. No splatter, no stirring, no monitoring, no having to leave the stove on all night. Once made, the pear butter should keep about 2 months in the refrigerator.