Monday, November 24, 2008

Morning Muffins

I have a quick and easy way to check the temperature. When I get up in the morning, I look at my neighbor's roof. The amount of frost tells me how thick of a sweater I need to put on; recently it's been fairly frosty. When it's chilly out I'm always looking for excuses to warm up my kitchen by turning on the oven. The bag of pears on my counter and my Nigella cookbook gave me just the excuse - Ginger Pear Muffins.

I loved these muffins warm out of the oven. The chunks of pear are so soft that they almost merge with the surrounding muffin and the ginger adds a warm spiciness that makes them perfect breakfast fare for a chilly fall day.

I wanted to try adding candied ginger to them, but was unsure whether or not that would work, so I stirred it into 1/2 the batter. I think it worked best when the muffins were warm, as all the ingredients blended together beautifully then. Once cold the bits of ginger were much more distinct, and unless you are a huge ginger fan, they might be a bit off-putting.

Nigella suggest that in the evening you can combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and the wet ingredients in a large measuring cup, cover both with plastic wrap, and put the wet ingredients in the refrigerator overnight. Then in the morning all you have to do is peel and chunk the pears, stir it all together and bake. Does breakfast get any easier than that?

Pear and Ginger Muffins
- adapted from Nigella Express

1-3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 6 tsp packed light brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
2/3 cup sour cream*
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp honey
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups peeled and diced pears,
1/4 cup candied ginger, diced (optional)

1- Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F. and line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper muffin cups.

2- Measure into a bowl the flour, granulated sugar, the 1/2 cup of brown sugar, baking powder, and ground ginger.

3- In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, oil, honey, and eggs, Add all at once to the dry ingredients and gently fold in.

4- Mix in the diced pear and candied ginger (if using) and divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

5- Sprinkle each one with 1/2 tsp brown sugar and bake for 20 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack. Best when eaten while still a bit warm.

* You can substitute non-fat plain yogurt for the sour cream, if you'd like to reduce the fat and calories a bit.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crunch Time & Munch Time

A question that my daughter and I frequently get asked, especially from people who read this blog, is "Why do you not weigh 300 pounds?" (It's always 300 pounds. Is that a magic number?) Well, for one thing I try not to hork down all the food I make and am always on the lookout for friends and neighbors to share with. For another thing, we exercise. A lot. We're kind of workout junkies.

We are addicted to the FIRM workouts (pre-2000) and buy anything that has Tracie Long or Susan Harris in it. 5 to 6 days a week we cajole, boss, and encourage each other to put on our workout clothes and go lift weights, stretch and sweat. It feels good in a strange, painful kind of way.

While we workout my 6 year old sits on the couch and practices for his future career as a personal trainer. He'll point out if I'm doing the wrong leg and gets truly distressed if I'm holding my weights at my side if the ladies on the tape have theirs on their shoulders.

When we're all done, he gets his reward for being such a helper. We watch a segment of Everyday Baking. He loves "the baker guy" (John Barricelli) and as John measures out his ingredients my son says, "Do we have that, Mommy? Let's make this!" With such a winsome request, how could I resist?

We made carrot cake cupcakes. They have carrots, so they're pretty much health food. Plus, I just burned all those calories working out, so I can feel positively righteous eating one of these moist, delicious cupcakes. Eating 3 or 5 is another matter, though.

Perhaps some day Sarah and I will get to Charleston, South Carolina to work out at Tracie's health club, V. But in the meantime, if anyone can score me a copy of Tracie's Yorktown workout, I'll trade you a cookbook for it!

Carrot Cupackes
- adapted from Everyday Baking

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons plain low-fat yogurt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups grated carrots (from about 4 medium carrots)


1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1-Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12 cup standard muffin tin with paper liners.

2-In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg; set aside.

3-In another large bowl, whisk together melted butter, brown sugar, egg, yogurt, and vanilla. Stir in carrots. Gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture mixing until well combined. Spoon the batter into the lined muffin cups. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

4-Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

5-To make the frosting: Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, butter, and confectioners' sugar together till creamy. Add the vanilla and orange zest, beating till smooth and creamy. Using a knife or small offset spatula, swirl the frosting over the cooled cupcakes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Perfect Pearing

I am inexperienced with pears. I'm fairly clueless about how to tell when they're ripe, so I've had some hard, crunchy pears and some squishy mealy pears, neither of which is an incentive to buy more pears. But I persist because a pear that is perfect, juicy, yielding, and smooth, is beyond compare.

With my chirpy optimism firmly in place I bought a bag of pears at Costco. If you shop at Costco you know that's a serious amount of pears. When I was unloading my Costco haul my family looked curiously at the bag and asked, "What are you going to do with that?" Well, duh. Bake!

I have several recipes lined up to try and I'll bake till the pears run out or go runny.

At first I thought I'd make an apple, pear pie that sounded scrumptious. It still sounds scrumptious and depending on how the supply holds out, I might still make it, but this crumble sounded waaaay easier to make. And it, too is scrumptious. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the predominant flavor is orange. If you like orange and cranberry together, you will adore this. If you don't like orange flavor, I'd suggest leaving out the orange zest and swapping out the orange juice for apple or pear juice.

Pear, Apple, & Cranberry Crisp
- adapted from Barefoot Contessa At Home by Ina Garten

2 lbs ripe Bosc pears (I used Bartlett), about 4 pears
2 lbs firm Macoun apples (I used Fuji), about 4-6 apples
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

1- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. with a rack centered in the oven.

2- Peel and core the pears and apples and cut them into large chunks. Place the fruit in a large bowl with the dried cranberries and the zests. In a small bowl combine the sugar, flour and spices. Sprinkle the fruit juices over the fruits, then toss the fruit with sugar mixture. Pour into a 9 x 12-inch baking dish. (If you don't have one, a 9x 13-inch would be fine.)

3- For the topping, combine all the dry ingredients in either a mixer bowl or a food processor bowl. Add the butter and either stir with paddle attachment on low for 1 to 2 minutes, or process with several pulses until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle the crumbles evenly over the fruit, covering it completely.

4- Place the baking dish on a sheet pan (lined with parchment paper if you like, for easier clean up). Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm. A drizzle of cream or a dollop of good vanilla ice cream would pair nicely with it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fabulous Fruitcake

My husband is an oddity. He is the only person I've ever heard of who likes fruitcake. That means that all the tons of fruitcake that are given annually, reused as doorstops, and regifted at white elephant exchanges throughout the world, were actually intended for him. I refuse to give out our address here in case the resultant flood of fruitcakes landing on our doorstep would throw the earth off its axis, resulting in worldwide famine, such that even fruitcake might look appealing.

My husband is a great guy, though, weird food preferences aside, and when I got a new cookbook with a fruitcake recipe in it, I promised to make it for him. It called for actual dried fruit, rather than the molded paraffin "fruit" peddled in the grocery store in little plastic tubs. This looked like something I could handle.

But here's the embarrassing part - I got that cook book over ten years ago, and I didn't get around to making the fruitcake for him until last year. (Hangs head in shame.) But my husband forgave me and said it was worth the wait.

I decided that fruitcake is like split pea soup. When you make it yourself and see all the yummy things you've put in it, you're much more likely to try it, even if the end product looks a bit suspicious. I grew quite fond of my little brown babies, swaddled in their little boozy blankets, lined up on my pantry shelf. And when we finally sampled one, it was a delightful realization that fruitcake isn't inherently nasty. It all depends on what you put into it. Put in good stuff and lots of it and you'll be amazed and pleased when your fruitcake is actually eaten. But if you want to have fruitcake for Christmas, you need to start now as it needs a month to marinate.

Fabulous Fruitcake
- adapted from Have Your Cake And Eat It, Too by Susan Purdy

Fruit: (you can adapt the fruit and the amounts according to your preferences and what you have available to you. I couldn't find dried apples or peaches, but added dried blueberries and dried cherries)

1/2 cup (3 oz) cut-up dried pears, packed
1/2 cup (3 oz) cut-up dried peaches, packed
1/2 cup (3 oz) cut-up dried apricots, packed
1/2 cup (3 oz) cut-up dried pitted prunes, packed
1/2 cup (3 oz) cut-up dried pitted dates, packed
1 cup (3-1/4 oz) cut-up dried apple slices, packed
1/2 cup ( 2-1/2 oz) seedless raisins, packed
1/2 cup ( 2-1/2 oz) golden raisins, packed
1/4 cup (1-1/4) dried currants
1/4 cup (2 oz) candied pineapple, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup dark rum or brandy


Solid Shortening
Butter-flavor cooking spray
2 large egg whites
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup apple or orange juice
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp grated orange zest or 1/2 tsp orange oil or orange zest
1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsifted whole wheat pastry flour (or use a total of 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Dark rum or brandy for soaking cakes (optional)

1- The day before baking the cakes, or as early as possible on the baking day, assemble all the fruit in a large bowl. Stir in the dark rum or brandy; cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.

2-Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F, with 2 racks dividing the oven into thirds. Lightly grease 4 loaf pans with shortening. Cut parchment paper to fit inside and press the papers against the pan bottom and sides. Lightly coat the paper with cooking spray.

3- In a large bowl, combine the egg whites, brown sugar, oil, honey, juice, applesauce, vanilla, and grated zest or flavoring. Whisk, or beat on low with an electric mixer, to blend well. Set a large strainer over the bowl and add the dry ingredients, flour through cloves. Stir and sift the dry ingredients onto the wet. Add the wheat germ and pecans. Mix just until blended; do not overblend.

4- Stir the boozy fruit into the batter and blend well. Divide the batter among the prepared pans, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cakes are risen and golden brown on top, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

5- Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes. Then tip them gently from the pans, peel off the paper, and set them right side up on wire racks to cool completely.

6- When the cakes are completely cool, if you like, wrap them in rum- or brandy-soaked cloths, place in heavy-duty zip-lock bags and set in a cool dark place to age for about 1 month. Renew the spirits when they dry out. (Don't substitute fruit juice for spirits; only alchohol will preserve the cakes.)

7- Glazing the cakes: (I didn't get pictures of this. By the time I'd finished basting the babies in booze, I totally forgot they were supposed to be glazed! Too much rum fumes, I think.) Set the cakes on racks over wax paper. Drizzle some of the glaze on top of each cake, letting it run down the sides. Place a few pecan halves in the glaze before it dries. Let sit until the glaze is dried and set, about 30 minutes. When the glaze is hard, you can wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and freeze them, or give them as gifts, or slice and serve.


1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1-1/2 to 2 Tbsp rum or brandy
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1- Whisk together the sugar, 1-1/2 Tbsp rum or brandy, and the extract. Add a few more drops of liquid if needed to make the glaze soft enough to drip from a spoon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Quest

I'm on a quest. Is it a heroic quest involving dragons and magical weasels? Alas, nothing that exciting. It's a search for a recipe. Or rather, a quest to recreate a recipe.

About ten years ago our church hosted a Passover Seder and I volunteered to be one of the servers. I missed the presentation of the Seder, but I had fun hanging out in the other room with the caterers and other servers, staging the meal, making sure everyone got hot plates at approximately the same time. We got to eat our dinner after everyone had been served and then hustle to plate up the dessert.

Part of the dessert, the part that has stayed in my memory all these years, was a cookie. I know that coconut macaroons are traditional for Passover, but these were above and beyond mere macaroons. They were about the size of tangerine, although memory might have inflated the size. The outside was a chocolate cookie, like a thick chocolate peel covering up a middle of moist, delicious coconut macaroon. A cookie wrapped around a cookie. They were heavenly and I'm embarrassed to admit that I ate more than one. I won't confess to an exact number, though.

At the time I didn't even think to ask for the recipe, assuming it was just a cookie, but the cookie has niggled into my brain and assumed mythic proportions so that I must recreate it.

If any of you are reading this, nodding your head as you know exactly what cookie I'm talking about, please email me the recipe. I can't offer you my first-born child (he'd be irritated), but I can offer my unending gratitude and a batch of cookies. I do best on quests if I have a roadmap. If not, I'll just have to set off across the hills, taking whatever bend in the road looks best at the time, and see where it leads me.

The first step in my journey is to try different macaroon recipes to get a feel for the consistency. This one isn't right. It's a very good macaroon, but it's not right for a filling. It's a bit soupy and drippy, which makes the part that I enjoy "trimming" from the baked cookies. It is ridiculously easy, though, and if you like a simple, tasty coconut macaroon, you can't go wrong with this recipe from Ina Garten. It's almost foolproof.

Coconut Macaroons
- adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten

14 oz sweetened shredded coconut
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp kosher salt

1- Preheat the oven the 325 deg. F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2- Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl and set aside.

3- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and salt on high speed until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.

4- Drop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets using a 1-3/4 inch scoop (about 2 tsp). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and serve.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fun Size Brownies

After Halloween is over, the costumes are put away, the makeup is wiped off, and the kids are roused out of their sugar comas, two questions remain. What to do with the pumpkins, and what to do with the candy.

This year I was super lazy and didn't even buy a pumpkin to carve (my kids will eventually get over it, possibly with years of therapy), so I don't have my usual pumpkin-colored compost heap next to my front door. I generally don't have the heart to toss their carefully carved creations. Then, when they get gooey and slippery, I don't have the nerve. I wait till the first good freeze, then I can scoop it up with a snow shovel and drop it directly into the garbage.

One year I was feeling super thrifty so I bought sugar pumpkins and we just painted cute faces on them so I could then cook down the pumpkin to use later. I put the cooked goop into plastic freezer containers and put it in the freezer. I think it was about 2 years before I finally tossed it.

Leftover candy is not nearly as much of a challenge for me. I can either stick it in the treat basket, from which we pull snacks for movie time or outings, or I can bake with it. Ideally, all the candy is handed out to the darling urchins who ring the doorbell in their sweet angel / super hero costumes. And if not to them, then the teens who just can't get over the idea of free candy and who think a hooded sweatshirt qualifies as a costume.

This year it poured rain on Halloween day and I think everyone scrambled to plan B, which did not include trick-or-treating, so I was left with a big bag of leftover candy. Fortunately, it was all ingredients. You know, the kind you can chop up and put into baked goods that make it even better than the original.

First out of the oven - peppermint pattie brownies. Those frosty little morsels of peppermint goodness go really well in a dark, fudgy brownie. And if you're just too sugared out right now to even think about making these, put all your peppermint patties in a zip-loc bag and put them in the freezer. They'll be ready and waiting whenever the mood for these amazing brownies strikes. Which, really, shouldn't be too long, now that I've planted the idea in your brain.

Fudgy Peppermint Pattie Brownies
- adapted from a King Arthur recipe

1-1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup (8 oz) butter
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1-1/2 cups (6-1/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 bag mini peppermint patties

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F with a rack in the center of the oven. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch pan.

In a small bowl combine the cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

Unwrap the patties and place them in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly, just till it's hot but not bubbling. It will become shiny looking as you stir it. This will dissolve more of the sugar and give a shinier top crust to your brownies. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl.

Add the cocoa mixture and the vanilla and stir. Add the eggs, beating till smooth; then add the flour, beating till well combined.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it to cover the whole bottom of the pan. Place the peppermint patties over the surface of the batter, close together, but leaving 1/4-inch uncovered around the edge. Carefully spoon and spread the rest of the batter over the peppermint pattie layer, smoothing the top.

Bake the brownies for 28 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out dry, with maybe a few crumbs clinging to it. The brownies should feel set both on the edges and in the center. Remove from the oven, and after 5 minutes loosen the edges with a table knife; this helps prevent the brownies from sinking in the center as they cool. Cool completely before cutting and serving. Makes 2 dozen brownies.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fun With Forks

When I was 8 years old my family took a trip to Switzerland. My grandparents traveled with us in a VW van as we motored over the Alps. Slowly. Our VW van didn't have much power and everyone passed us.

One of our destinations was the town of Zermatt. Nestled snugly next to the Matterhorn, it's a charming little town that is accessible only by train. The entire town is car-free, so all travel within the town is done on foot, by cart, or, in the wintertime, on skiis.

We were delighted with the cobblestone streets, the quaint shops, and the breathtaking view of the Matterhorn. After spending the day happily touristing, we chose an intimate restaurant that was down a flight of stairs, so that the view out the window from our table was of the feet ambling by.

We ordered cheese fondue. My mother raved about how wonderful cheese fondue was and what a treat it was to be able to have it in the country that made it famous. After the build-up my mother had given it, I was disappointed. It had Swiss cheese in it! And it tasted of alchohol. Euww.

(I must take a moment here to congratulate my parents on their forbearance. They put up with this whiny, picky eater (me) and didn't kill me. I am not sure how they managed it. I know if I had young me as a child, prescription medications would be in order. Thanks, Mom and Dad. And for the record, I really like Swiss cheese fondue now.

But to cap the story off, when we'd finished wining and dining (and whining), we emerged from the restaurant into the now-darkened town square and found we'd missed the last train off the mountain. We were stuck. 8 people with nowhere to go. So we started inquiring at hotels. All full. The last hotel we checked, the largest and fanciest, had one room available. The bridal suite. We took it. I know that for my frugal father this must have given him actual, physical pain. But it was the nicest hotel room I've ever stayed in, even if it was a bit crowded.

With this memory in my background, it should have come as no surprise to me that when I first attempted cheese fondue my children thought it was peuuwy. (The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.) But I was able to find a recipe that uses cheddar cheese and no alcohol and it won them over to the joys of fondue.

I made a couple of baguettes to go with the fondue, but it's also fun to have an assortment of dunkers. Ham chunks, crabmeat, shrimp, little sausages, broccoli, cauliflower, apple chunks, mushrooms, and asparagus spears are also good.

Cheddar Cheese Fondue
- adapted from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated

2 cups half-and-half
1 Tbsp Worcestershire
2 tsp dry mustard
1 garlic clove, halved
1-1/2 pounds mild or sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 6 cups)
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
Assorted dunkers

1- In a medium saucepan over low heat, heat half-and-half, Worcestershire, mustard and garlic, stirring until hot but not boiling. Discard garlic.

2- In a medium bowl, toss the cheese with the flour until well mixed.

3- Gradually stir the cheese into the hot mixture, whisking constantly. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and mixture is smooth and bubbling. Add salt to taste. Pour into a warmed fondue pot and keep over low heat on fondue stand.

4- Spear dunkers on fondue forks, dip in cheese sauce, and try not to drip!

Any leftover cheese can be gently reheated and poured over vegetables or baked potatoes.


And now, what you really tuned in for, the winners of the Confetti Cakes for Kids cookbook giveaway! (drumroll, please)

1- My Kitchen In Half Cups

2- Kim in AZ

3- Patio

4- Melinda

5- Aimee

You have 4 days to get your mailing address to me. Email me at lynncraigATcomcastDOTnet so that I can get your books on their way to you. Congratulations, winners!

And for all of you that took the time to leave comments to enter, I wish I could have had a copy to send each of you. Thank you so much for you nice comments! And to Ms Anorexic, I'm sorry that I offended you.