Friday, October 31, 2008

Applesauce Spice Muffins

Happy Halloween!

The air has finally cooled off a bit and it actually feels like Fall this morning. I watched the misty fog rise up off the damp earth as the sky gradually became lighter shades of gray. Strolling down to the end of our dirt road to pick up the newspaper with my youngest brother, I breathed in the fresh aroma of wet leaves. The moisture brings out the best (and the worst) of smells.

As we entered back into the house, the scent of the spicy applesauce muffins I had placed in the oven before venturing out hit our gratified nostrils. We sat on the stairs counting down the minutes until they would come out of the oven....

I made these delicious muffins in an attempt to use up some of the large quantity of applesauce left over from the other night's dinner of applesauce pork chops. (It's not visible in the photo but we used festive Snoopy Halloween paper cups to hold them!) They were perfect for a light, autumn breakfast on a chilly morning. These would also be wonderful with a nice, warm chai latte in the afternoon. Hmmm...I think I just discovered my midday snack.

Applesauce Spice Muffins
adapted from a recipe in Gourmet magazine

1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. oats
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. allspice
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. salt
2 eggs
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted
1 c. applesauce, unsweetened*
handful of raisins
(1 c. nuts, opt.)

*My applesauce was a tad sweetened and had lemon juice, fresh ginger, and a few other spices already. I merely cut back on the additional spices.

2 T. sugar
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. allspice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Blend together flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and spices in a small bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Gradually add butter and mix well. Stir in applesauce. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until dry are moistened. Fold in raisins (and nuts, if desired).

Grease muffin cups or place paper holders in 12 muffin cups. Evenly distribute the batter into the cups. Mix topping ingredients together and spoon onto the top of the batter. (I also added a small slice of apple to the top for a little added flair.)

Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Muffins are done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in muffin cups for 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Candy

What candy bars are you dreaming of pilfering from the tot's pillow case tomorrow?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Stepping off a busy New York City avenue directly into another country may seem impossible, but the abundance of possibility becomes evident after crossing the threshold of one of many ethnically-diverse restaurants within the city. I easily imagined myself lounging in a breezy, sea-side café overlooking the Mediterranean as I savored each delicious course Friday night at the upscale Barbounia on Park Avenue at 20th Street.

After exploring countless department stores on 5th Avenue all afterno
on, we had worked up quite an appetite. Wandering downtown, this alluring restaurant drew us in with its vibrant blue, yellow and orange hues of Provencal pottery and welcoming autumnal decorations adorning the stoop.

We arrived about a half hour before the kitchen opened for di
nner. Claiming a couple chairs in the bar area, we watched as, nearby, the waiters tasted and discussed the dishes they would be serving that night. I consider a briefing of waiters before work an essential aspect of running a reputable restaurant, or any other business, for that matter. It is important for one to know the product one will be selling. At a restaurant, the waiter must understand first-hand the intricacies of the flavors he will be suggesting. I worked at a restaurant once where it was not their policy to allow their servers to taste the dishes. It made it difficult to answer the questions asked by customers about specific dishes. How can one be expected to speak on the spiciness, sweetness, consistency, etc. of a dish without having tried it oneself? How can you recommend something you have never experienced?

Barbounia’s policy of allowing their servers to taste their foods before setting out on the floor left me confident about their service and food before we even commenced with our meal.

We were the first table of the night seated in their warmly-lit dining room. The large mirrors adorning the walls, alongside the fair blue colors of the sea, gave th
e room a sense of brightness, even as the last rays of sunshine disappeared with the day outside.

Our waiter, Gabriel, was gracious, burly man from Romania. He spoke with a thick accent, sounding almost Greek to me. (Perhaps it was suggestive due to the surroundings.) He was attentive to our every need, perched nearby, ready to move in as soon as we glanced in his direction. After explaining to us the range of countries—such as Turkey, Greece, and Israel—that the menu included, he left us to explore the tantalizing possibilities that lay out before us.

We started off our dinner with a Mezze—a tzatizi made with Greek yogurt, fresh herbs, scallions and olive oil. It was served with warm flatbread straight from the oven. The bread was surprisingly moist considering its thickness (about ½ inch) and the tzatizi was a wonderful mingling of tart yogurt with bitter herbs.

Our appetizer was a beet salad consisting of arugula, walnuts, raisins, Stilton cheese, and thinly sliced pears and red beets, splashed with a red wine vinaigrette. The bitterness of the arugula was a perfect combination with the sweetness of the Stilton cheese. I find sweet, soft cheeses are a wonderful complement to bitter greens such as arugula or mâche. Très delicieux.

Swimming in a sea of green tabouli in a braised fennel yogurt sauce was a citrus-marinated salmon—the entrée. Grilled to a moist medium-well, the fish literally melted in our mouths.

I made certain to leave a small pocket in my stomach empty so I could try one of their succulent desserts. Every one of the eight listed on the menu was unique and intriguing, but I finally settled on the yogurt panna cotta. The creamy panna cotta covered a thin layer of chopped hazelnuts and almonds, drizzled with a tangerine honey, sprinkled with mulberries and candied oranges pieces, and, finally, garnished with a tiny dollop of pistachio ice cream. There was also a cookie made with shredded wheat, held together with a light honey, balancing out the textures with a bit of crunch.

I could have melted away into that dessert; it was simply incredible. Every flavor provided a fascinating view to the harmonious dialogue, resulting ultimately in a faultless conclusion.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Strawberry Cream Cheese!

I started off Saturday morning with the intention of making my way down to the Chelsea Markets located in the southwest corner of the district, but the hunger rumbling in my stomach didn’t allow me to make it that far. I passed a bagel shop with people seated in the window, enjoying their large New York bagels slathered in cream cheese.

After continuing a block or so, the image remained in the fore-front of my mind and beckoned me to join. I couldn’t help myself. I did a quick 180 and high-tailed it back up the street to Murray’s Bagels. I’ve never heard of this place before, but I am certain they must be a popular hang-out, judging by the crowd inside.

The shop had about 20 different choices of bagels, including cinnamon raisin, whole wheat poppy seed, and everything. THEN, you got to choose your smear from their variety of freshly made cream cheese spreads! They had pimento, maple walnut raisin, scallion, jalapeno…so many choices!

I opted for a multi-grain bagel with strawberry cream cheese. There were huge pieces of strawberries mixed into the cream cheese! I cannot tell you how happy this made me. I have this thing for strawberries, and I mean, fresh strawberries, not artificially-flavored strawberry concoctions. The strawberry cream cheese spread made by Philadelphia is okay, but this strawberry spread was out of this world! Fresh chunks of strawberry and cream cheese on top of an enormous, chewy bagel…you can’t get much better than that. It was creamy and full of the wonderful taste of STRAWBERRIES!!!

What an excellent beginning to my Saturday! I’m glad my tummy made me stop. :-)

Can you see the chunks of strawberries?!?!?

Monday, October 27, 2008

New York City space

I am wide-awake this morning at 5 am, jet-lagged from a trip to New York. This was my first visit to the Big Apple. Although very much like I imagined it to be based on the descriptions offered by many friends, the experience is not one I would have passed up. I firmly believe that the only way to really understand a place is to personally move around in its space. No matter how many pictures are painted of it for you, visually or mentally, it remains an enigma until you have first-hand experience of it.

Here's a taste of my ruminations on NYC. But don't take my word for it. Go try it for yourself....

Having been blessed with the opportunity to see many cities throughout the world, my mind was doing a comparison/contrast to other places I have traveled. Its similarity to Paris stood out. I suppose it is the fascination with and love of art that ties these two cities together. Both claim to be the fashion capital of the world. I stand by Paris, although NYC comes in a close second....

Inside Saks on Fifth Avenue

Another thing that reminded me of Paris was NYC's open air markets in the parks. We stopped by the one in Union Square to take a peek at the vendors wares. I was attracted to the fruit and vegetable stands. They had some succulent-looking apples of many varieties being sifted through by the locals.

These large cabbages stood out with their vivid purple and green hues next to a ripe pumpkin.

I was bummed that I did not live here and, thus, could not take some of these luscious fruits and vegetables home with me to bake into delicious tarts and pies.

Another comparable element of NYC to Paris is the caliber of cuisine and its richness of diversity in ethnic foods. I'll share some of my encounters with NYC cuisine over the next few posts. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wedding Cake Extraordinare

Two friends of mine from college are blessed to have an incredibly talented sister who fashioned their wedding cakes from scratch. I've watched Emily powder the kitchen from top to bottom in flour and drown in waves of frosting. She carefully pieces together each layer after baking them, and then painstakingly adorns the exterior with intricate flourishes of her pastry tips.

Colin and Sarah's cake was designed based on a photo Sarah found in catalog of wedding cakes that was her perfect cake. Emily's replication surpassed the photo--she added a flare of roses, the same used in the bouquets of the wedding party.

Living at the house while Nick and Elizabeth's was constructed, I was literally in awe the whole time. Her perseverance and patience were manifested at every moment as she outdid herself in embellishment this time--placing the curly cues, constructing the roses (no easy task!), balancing the tiers, and you can't see the ruby red cake within the frosting that she carefully dyed to the exact color desired. A masterpiece in culinary art.

The O'Neill cake I did not have the pleasure of viewing in person
but it is clear from the photo that it is no less stunning than
Emily's previous creations....

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Slice of the Pie

The activity this weekend kept me on my toes. There was ample opportunity for baking ventures.... Pie definitely was the theme of the weekend.

I offered to bake a bunch of pumpkin pies for the birthday bash on Saturday as it is a favorite dish of both the guys being celebrated. On Wednesday, I cooked and pureed a pumpkin in preparation.

The pumpkin let me down, however, as it produced enough meat for only two pies. I was forced to break out the canned pumpkin for the other three. The pies made with the fresh pumpkin turned out lighter in color than the ones made with the canned pumpkin. I wonder what kind of coloring or preservatives is placed in the canned pumpkin that makes it richer in color....?

My dear friend, Giovanna, helped me dish up the plethora of pie at the party. We had close to an hundred people at the house, ravenously hungry.

We jazzed it up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. It was very popular amongst the masses.

Afraid that we would run out of pumpkin pie, Giovanna and I scoured the kitchen for ingredients for another dessert to add to the mix. Having purchased a 20 lb. box of apples at Apple Hill earlier in the day and a couple of crusts left over the in fridge to roll out, the obvious solution was an apple pie. As I didn't feel like using both crusts, I decided to be a bit innovative and create a apple pie with a crumble topping.

I think she is enjoying this a bit too much. ;-)

My fantastic friend rolled out the crust while I mixed together the apples with some spice and flour. We then collaborated on a topping to sprinkle on top. Here is the result of our efforts:

Apple Crumble Pie

6 or 7 apples (we used Galas)
1/4 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1 unbaked pie crust

1/2 c. oats
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. chopped walnuts (or other nuts)
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Chop apples into slices and place in a large bowl.* Mix with
flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Pour apple mixture into pie crust.
In separate bowl, mix oats, sugar, nuts and flour together. Melt butter and pour into dry ingredients. Mix well. Sprinkle evenly over top of the apples.
Cook for 35-45 minutes.

*You can peel the apples if you wish. I prefer to leave the skins on as it gives further texture and color to the pie.

As the apple pie was cooking, someone commented that the kitchen smelled like Thanksgiving. I love when the kitchen smells of the flavors and spices of autumn!

We enjoyed the apple pie later as a night-time snack after digesting the burgers, hot dogs and pumpkin pie, chatting around the kitchen table. I love opportunities to enjoy the company of wonderful friends and delicious food. :-)

Happy Birthday, Fr. Masutti and Dominic!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Artistic Chefs

My fascination with cooking combined with my desire for beauty can sometimes make my orientation towards perfectionism unbearable. On the other hand, when I come across something which is both pleasing to the eye and the palate, my exultation is immense. I want everyone to catch a glimpse, partake in a share of the magnificent bounty. I get so excited at the sight of beautiful food!

My modest friend, Emma, is one of those artisans who never ceases to amaze with her rich flavors and elaborate displays. She is has a particular knack when it comes to baked goods. Her cakes dazzle every viewer. She has an incredible eye for detail. There is symmetry, balance, color -- all of those elements you would expect to find in a fine painting or sculpture -- she utilizes in her culinary creations. Actually, I am nearly reduced to tears cutting into her beautiful creations. How can one mar such an exquisite piece of art!

This is her Buche de Noel from last Christmas. My favorite part is the marzipan mushrooms! They make it seem like she took the 'log' right out of the forest!

Her cute cupcakes with gummy gingerbread men...

Her grandmother's chocolate rose birthday cake.

She's created so many other amazing concoctions. Among my favorites: her saffron bread, herb braid bread, a German Apple Pancake, pumpkin jelly name a few! (Unfortunately, I failed to take photographs so I cannot share a visual image with you... :-( These are her photographs. She's a lot wiser than me! ) She is my greatest inspiration when it comes to the cooking and baking. We have so many awesome memories together in the kitchen....

She has taught me so many baking techniques and recipes I can't even begin to tell you the half of them. The most indispensable recipe she taught me was one for pie crusts. I have used nearly every filling imaginable, from sweet to savory, inside of it. (In fact, I just put together a triple batch to bake the pumpkin pies for my brother's birthday party on Saturday...)

I don't think she'll mind me sharing it with you.... :-)

Pie Crust

2 1/4 c. flour (you can mix and match)
3/4 t. salt

3/4 c. butter
5 or 6 T. ice water

Place the flour and salt in a mixing bowl with the beater attachment on your mixer. Put the mixer on the lowest speed. Cut the butter into 5 or 6 pieces and add to the bowl of flour and salt. Watch out...the butter may cause the flour to jump out of the bowl!
When the butter is the size of peas, gradually add a Tablespoon of ice water at a time. You want the dough to just stick together. (Sometimes it takes me more than 6 T. when the air is really dry. The amount of water used will depend on the level of h
umidity where you live.) Don't leave the mixer on too long or it will make your dough tough. Form the dough into a ball with your hands and wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for at least 10 minutes before rolling out.
It yields 2 pie crusts. Ideal for your autumn apple pies!

This is a quiche I made with the crust. The darling baking dish was a gift from Emma.

Next post, I'll share the creations of a chef friend who dazzles wedding guests...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thanksgiving Warm-up

My family decided to take a stab at our Thanksgiving cooking-skills this evening.

After thoroughly scrubbing the nearly 21-pound turkey down, we maintained our tradition of blow drying with Mom's hairdryer.
We broke out the paper towels, though, after a few minutes because we were in hurry to get it in the oven.After filling the bird with corn bread stuffing, we placed it in the oven for the long haul.

For a moment, I must digress a bit....
It is well known amongst a good number of my friends that any turkey I am responsible for does not cook in an efficient manner. This became apparent my sophomore year of college when I attempted to a cook a similarly-sized turkey for the Thanksgiving crowd remaining on campus. We waited over 8 hours for it to cook. We raised the temperature in increments, eventually reaching 500 degrees, but to no avail. Our hunger eventually got the best of us and we removed it from the oven, sliced it up and zapped pieces in the microwave so we could eat before midnight. I was sorely disappointed and discouraged by that experience but still willing to give it another try....Well, turns out I simply don't have the magic touch for cooking turkeys. Today our turkey remained uncooked after 7 hours in the oven. I am beginning to feel cursed when it comes to turkeys. I think I'll stick to cookies....

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Starbucks Salted Caramel Signature Hot Chocolate

A bit tired after two VERY late nights, coming in after 1 am, which for those of you who know me is practically unheard of, I'm staring bleary-eyed at the screen trying to decide whether I can write something coherent. Anyways, you've been duly warned.... ;-)

Starbucks has a series of specialty hot chocolate drinks this year, one of which is garnished with salt. Yes, you read that correctly: SALT. (A friend of mine thinks this is a new fad with chocolate drinks.) I have to admit, I was not repulsed when I read it on the menu; I was intrigued. Not in the mood for chocolate the first day I read about it, I was eager to return some other evening and test it out. I finally got my chance last night. After strolling around downtown for a few hours in the evening, checking out the 2nd Saturday art galleries, we were both thirsty and chilled so we stopped into a Starbucks to recharge our batteries. I decided to go for gold and try out the Salted Caramel Signature Hot Chocolate. (Don't look at the nutrition value like I just did. It's depressing.) The flavor was rather shocking. Salty and sweet together always invoke a funny sensation on the taste buds. But if you've ever had the Chex Mix with M&Ms or a trail mix with chocolate, this really isn't that different.

What first came to mind upon tasting it was a sweet pastry with chocolate filling, like a Pain au Chocolat. I mean, when we bake cookies, cakes, etc. we use salt in the recipe, don't we? Sweet with salt isn't unheard of.

Several people had remarked to me that they thought the salt brought out the other flavors. It certainly doesn't stand out in this drink and scream 'SEA (CHOCOLATE) WATER!' or anything. Although, apparently, it is sea salt on top and sugar produced from Hawaiian cane....

I know that salt affects the baking process when cooking pastries and such. But, more importantly, studies show it does enhance the flavor of foods. And better still, it supresses undesirable flavors! Scientists say it is one of the reasons that people have a hard time going on low-sodium diets. You are then forced to put up with all the undesirables in the gastronomic world. Bummer. (Here is an experiment you can do testing out the effect of salt combined with sweet and bitter tastes on your taste buds.)

Thus, really, it is ingenious to top a delicious drink with salt if it causes the taste buds to further rejoice in the flavor!

On the other hand, it just occurred to me that one of the reasons pre-packaged/canned foods are so high in sodium is probably because they are trying to capitalize on the little good there is while masking the preservatives. That is not a happy thought.

Back to the hot chocolate...
We passed the drink around (probably spreading a bajillion germs). Many noticed the buttery taste of the caramel. One of my friends said that it reminded her of Popcorn Jelly Bellys. (Yuck. Those things are nasty!)
All in all, I thought it tasted okay. I don't know that I would go for it again but it isn't so much the salt that turns me off, rather the buttery, caramel taste. Shame on you, salt, for bringing out that flavor. Too bad we can't pick and choose which flavors to accent....

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Addy's Delights

SAC dinners would never have been the same without sips of the ambrosial Bailey's Irish Cream.

The one evening of the semester that we students actually ate a decent meal was the night we were treated to a fabulous meal at a restaurant in one of Northern Virginia's quaint towns, all done in appreciation for our countless hours of work keeping the student body entertained. You can bet your britches we took full advantage of the
situation, tasting every appetizing item we could find on the menu.

Adrienne and I liked to finish off the meal with Bailey's. It was the cherry-on-top of our evening.
Adrienne and I could turn a gray sky blue with a shot or two of this delicious liqueur.

As I was running this morning, reminiscing on my college
years, a brilliant idea popped into my head. (That's the only time anything ingenious fires in my brain. Unfortunately, I always find myself without means to write it down and often promptly forget it.) 'Why not try the Bailey's in a batch of cookies?'

I was determined to remember this time...Bailey's and cookies, Bailey's and cookies. All the way home....

Miracle of miracles, it stuck. :-)

So, Addy, these are for you. Enjoy.

Bailey's Irish Cream Cookies (or Addy's Delights)

1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 egg
1/2 c. Bailey's Irish Cream
1/2 t. baking soda
dash of salt
2 c. flour
1 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter. Mix butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add egg, vanilla and Bailey's and stir until smooth. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to wet in two installments. Stir in chocolate chips and coconut last. Grease a cookie sheet. Place teaspoonfuls of dough on cookie sheet. Place in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until slightly browned on top.

These are wonderful with a warm cup of tea, particularly chai! Or better yet, dip it in a shot of Bailey's as you sip the sweet nectar....

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Once in a blue moon, I make my way out to the Whole Foods Market. It is a real treat for me to peruse this store as there are so many exciting, unfamiliar foods to snatch up. Self-control is an indispensable virtue I am forced to employ whenever I pass through the portal. And I NEVER go on an empty stomach.

Always looking for an innovative way to 'eat my greens,' I opted for a bunch of Rainbow Swiss Chard, amongst the produce, beckoning to me with its vivid hues of the rainbow. The dark, virid leaves, the sunshine yellow veins, the lively orange stalks, transfixed my gaze and I had eyes for no other vegetable. Quite honestly, they looked like someone grew them in a Kool-aid solution. Their vivacity is distracting.

Never having encountered these before, it was necessary to do a little research. I discovered that they can be used as a substitute in most dishes that contain spinach, such as lasagna or omelets. They cook up real nice in a skillet with a little garlic and butter. Although, the chard takes a bit longer to saute than spinach, its flavor, I find, is a bit more forgiving, not quite as bitter.

My greatest discovery of the day, however, is that there is no limit to the kaleidoscope of color employed in making a dish. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that there existed a platter containing more vibrancy than I already beheld in these leaves.

As I was browsing through recipes, I stumbled upon a dish on the Food Network website for a seared pork tenderloin with fruit chutney. It literally bursts with flavor. Your tastebuds feel as if they are dancing under a disco ball on a hot, summer night. I love the tartness of the apricots, the sweetness of the prunes, the kick of the red pepper flakes, the citrus notes of the orange zest....and then there's the chard.

The best part: it is incredibly quick and easy to make. Cook time is 20 minutes tops and an additional 10 to prepare your ingredients (or you can multi-task like me and cut up everything that goes in the chutney while the pork sautes on the stove). I don't think I will ever again broil my pork chops with lemon-pepper seasoning....b-o-o-ring.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pumpkin Smoothies

My Fall afternoon study sessions at the Daily Grind coffee house back in college were usually accompanied by a delicious pumpkin spice smoothie. I would settle into one of the chairs with a book in one hand and my drink in the other. I have this strange need to multi-task while I am reading or writing. If I don't have a drink, I will either eat hordes of food (no good) or become distracted by the other things taking place around me. Sipping on tea, lattes, or smoothies while I work focuses my attention on the task at hand (pun intended, maybe).

I'm lucky I didn't drown in tea while I was writing my thesis....

I've been attempting to find a replacement for the pumpkin smoothies here on the West coast. The ones I have tried at Starbucks are a sorry replacement. They are like drinking a cup of high fructose corn syrup with a hint of pumpkin flavoring hidden somewhere in the background. Most places like to add espresso to their blended drinks, tainting the spicy, autumnal flavors. Others use a smoothie base heavily laden with artificial additives, again masking the essence of the pumpkin. Not having much luck here.

Well, why not make my own? I did a Google search for recipes the other day, most of which I wasn't too impressed with. Many of them called for adding bananas or other fruit. Dangnabit, I want to taste the PUMPKIN! So I figured, why not simply add milk to a bit of pumpkin puree with the spices one would use for pumpkin pie? In the end, what I was looking for was a smoothie that tasted like a liquefied form of pumpkin pie, right? Here is the result of my creation:

Pumpkin Smoothie
1/2 c. pumpkin

1 c. milk
1/4 t. cinnamon

1/8 t. nutmeg
2 T. brown sugar
4 ice cubes
opt. 1/4 c. vanilla ice cream

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth (approximately 1-2 minutes). Adjust sugar to taste. (I prefer it not too sweet so you may want to add a little extra sugar.) The ice cream also will add to the sweetness, and the vanilla rounds out the flavor nicely. Add a bit of whip cream and garnish with cinnamon, if you like.

I am going to experiment further with spices (such as allspice, cloves and ginger) and perhaps add the banana next time. It never hurts to try. :-) I would love to hear other ideas for intensifying the flavor.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fall Harvest

Cooking and baking with the seasons is not only efficient, both in terms of time and money, but almost necessary for well-being. I believe the good Lord created the seasons, in part, to cater to our need for variety and change. We easily tire with too much of a good thing. For instance, how many people just a few, short months ago couldn't wait for the warmth of the sunshine on their face in the morning, are now ready for a cool, crisp walk in the brisk matutinal air. (Guilty.) We are creatures of change. What satisfied us today probably won't tomorrow. We crave variety. Well, it is the spice of life...

I, for one, am ready for the flavors of Fall. The body right now favors the succulent reds, greens and yellows from the apple orchards, the diverse, nutty squashes produced in all shapes and sizes, the plump, juicy tomatoes ripe from the vine. I have been eagerly awaiting the autumnal produce to hit the foodstalls. I appreciate these in the purity of their raw forms, but my creative juices get flowing whenever I encounter a ripe bundle of fruits and veggies.

I took the boys to the just-opened-for-the-season, pumpkin patch down the road the other day to ensure we had pick-of-the-litter this year for jack-o-lanterns on Halloween. We usually end up with the end of the batch, roly-poly pumpkins that have to be propped to stay upright, as we procrastinate until two days before eve. The patch was practically deserted, hardly anyone else wise to this early-picking strategy. Wandering the property were mostly young mothers with their tots eager to test out the pumpkin barn chute or haunted house. Our dilemma this time around was TOO many pumpkins to choose from! We went through the barrels, testing the durability, shape, size, weight, toughness, etc. of every specimen, each of us determined to find the perfect pumpkin. While the boys had their eyes on the largest they could manage to carry, I was distracted by the barrels full of ideally-sized pumpkins for placing in the oven. Forget the jack-o-lantern idea. I want to EAT my pumpkin. I found two of a rich orange hue which appeared would produce a hearty pulp.

Heading home, I realized that but for my desire to taste fresh pumpkin forthwith, the jack-o-lantern pumpkins this year probably would have suffered the fate of the previous years, puny and unwieldy. We probably would have waited to pick our pumpkins later in the month. And who knows -- with my voracious appetite for delectable flavors and creativity those pumpkins sitting on the front porch waiting to be carved may not make it to craft day, but end up dinner before Halloween. In which case, we'll be making our annual trip to the store on the eve of the Eve of All Saints for second-class jack-o-lantern pumpkins....

How to cook and puree a pumpkin: Cut out the top as you would for carving and scoop out all the seeds and pulp. Replace the top when done and wrap with tinfoil before placing in the oven. Cook at 375 degrees F for about an hour. I have had pumpkins cook anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Smaller pumpkins do not necessarily cook faster. It depends largely on how fresh the pumpkin is, although size can also be a factor. The one I cooked yesterday was relatively small but obstinate about cooking in a timely fashion.

The pumpkin is done when a fork can easily pierce the interior pulp (same texture as when potatoes are ready to be mashed). Then scoop out the pulp, careful not to take the skin with it, and place in a food processor or blender to make a puree. If you accidentally remove it before it is done fully cooking (like I did yesterday with mine), simply add a little water as you ease the pulp down towards the blade. If it is persnickity and won't easily puree, use a spoon to push it down towards the blade and add a little water if it is too thick. The puree can be used in any dish in which you would normally use canned pumpkin, such as pies, smoothies, or breads. It keeps well in a closed container for about a week in the fridge.

**N.B.** I hope you didn't toss out those seeds! There are a variety of uses for those as well!
:-) (And are an excellent source of magnesium!)
Separate the seeds from the pulp and rinse off in a colander. Pat them dry between two paper towels. I roasted mine in the oven at 250 degrees F for about 45 minutes. (You can roast them for up to an hour depending on how toasty you like the taste of your seeds.) You can also roast them at a higher temperature (about 325 degrees F) if you are in a hurry, but they easily burn when done this way. Many people like to toss them with salt or other flavorings, similar to those one would use for popcorn, before roasting but I like mine naked. They are a great addition to salads and an excellent garnish for squash and other autumn soups.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A First Time for Everything

I have been chewing on the idea for quite some time now of starting a blog. As with most ideas that dwell in my head, it has been properly masticated and was begging to be swallowed. You are viewing the beginnings of digestion... :-)
No. This will not be a blog of horrible analogies. As is evident, I would fall into a rapid tailspin and would have to shut this down. Rather, I wanted to share my thoughts and musings on any and all things related to FOOD.

It appears I have become a foodie.

But what this really comes down to is I love beauty. I love beauty in every facet. I encounter it in so many ways every day. I want to share my passion for beautiful things with others. I want to help you catch a glimpse of the taste, smell, touch, sound, sight of the variety of comestibles in the world around us. Not only has God blessed us with so many natural delicacies, but He also allows us to partake in the creation of beautiful tastes. I want to share some of the recipes I have concocted. Take you on a tour of amazing combinations I have discovered. Give you a hint of the flavors enough to peak your interest and get you out there testing them yourself.

I am new to this blogosphere. It make take a while for me to navigate all of the functions. Please be patient with me. Any comments, suggestions, hints, etc. are greatly appreciated.

Get ready for some incredible tastes and awesome treats.... :-)