Monday, October 21, 2013

hey, this recipe has pumpkin in it.

It's pumpkin season. I know this because every person I have ever met has posted about how many pumpkin muffins/lattes/soups/pies he or she has already had and it's not even November yet. As you may have guessed, I am not as big of a pumpkin fan as every else that I know. But I am a people pleaser, so I bake pumpkin things when people want pumpkin things.

I made this recipe for a "pumpkin potluck" my friend Leslie hosts every year. Last year I made Dorie Greenspan's "pumpkin stuffed with everything good" if you want a serious pumpkin fix (and accompanying post-pumpkin food coma), you could double up. Fair warning: both recipes are very rich but also very good.

While we're getting into the fall spirit, here are a few pumpkin jokes for your viewing pleasure (yep, it's that time of night):

Q: What does a pumpkin pie say after a big meal?
A: That was filling!

Q: What is a pumpkin's favorite sport?
A: Squash!

And my personal favorite...
Q: How do you mend a broken jack-o-lantern?
A: With a pumpkin patch!

I'll be here all week.

pumpkin whoopie pies with bourbon-maple-cream cheese filling and candied walnuts
adapted from Gourmet Live
makes 16

for the cookie-cakes:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
pumpkin cookie-cakes ready to be filled!
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 c packed light brown sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 (15-oz) can pure pumpkin (not pie filling)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
for the candied walnuts:
1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 c pecans
for the filling:
6 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 c confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp bourbon
2 tbsp pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)


For cookie-cakes:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl.
Whisk together sugar, oil, pumpkin, egg, and vanilla in a separate large bowl until well combined, then stir in flour mixture.
Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop or tablespoon measure, drop a scant scoop's worth of batter or 2 scant tablespoons of batter onto a lined baking sheet to form 1 mound. Make 15 more mounds, arranging them 2 inches apart until baking sheet is full (you will have batter left over).
Bake until springy to the touch, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookie-cakes to rack to cool.
Form and bake remaining batter on the other parchment-lined sheet. You should have a total of 32 cookie-cakes.
Leave oven on.
For candied walnuts:
Line a small sheet pan with parchment paper.
Stir together sugar, salt, and 1/2 tablespoon water in a small saucepan. Heat over moderate heat until sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil. Stir in pecans.
Spread mixture on lined sheet pan and bake until coating is bubbling and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Cool completely on pan on a rack.
Coarsely chop candied walnuts.
For filling:
While cookie-cakes are baking, beat cream cheese, butter, and salt in a bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add confectioners' sugar, bourbon, and maple syrup, and mix on low speed until smooth.
Chill filling until firm enough to hold its shape when spread, 30 minutes to 1 hour. 
Assemble whoopie pies:
Spread 1 heaping tablespoon of filling each on flat side of half the cooled cookie-cakes, then top with other half of cookie-cakes. If necessary, chill whoopie pies just long enough to firm up filling again, about 30 minutes.
Gently press walnuts onto filling around middle of each whoopie pie to help them adhere to filling.

the finished product.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

pie time for a party.

When I first came to divinity school, I wanted to keep throwing dinner parties like I did in Charleston, but there was just one small problem: I didn't have an income to pay for these parties. My mom suggested that I start a potluck supper club, which I did, and it was fun the first 3 or 4 times we did it, but most people's enthusiasm waned much more quickly than mine. Unless you really like to cook, committing to doing that once every two weeks just doesn't sound like that much fun.

Two years later and I'm trying again. This time I actually know some people in Nashville (which tends to happen when you've lived somewhere for two years), and I put out an open call on Facebook asking who was interested in joining. We had our first supper on Friday, and it was wonderful. Everyone brought amazing food--Senegalese peanut stew, butternut squash, rosemary, and goat cheese flatbread; and salted beer crescent rolls, to name a few--and several of our friends stayed for 3 or 4 hours just talking, laughing, and drinking the wide variety of pumpkin beer people brought. It was basically my dream come true.

Who knows if this iteration of the supper club will last, but I'm pretty sure I'll keep trying to make these happen as long as I live. There's just nothing I would rather do with my time than enjoy good food with good people.

Anyway, about what I brought to the party: When I was a kid, we used to have this savory pie at least 2 or 3 times a year, usually when we were in the middle of a "cold" snap (i.e., under 50 degrees). It's a magical dish, the epitome of warmth and comfort, but I hadn't made it in years. I'm not sure what reminded me of it, but as soon as I thought about it I knew I had to make it. I just ate the last leftover piece for supper tonight, and I already want to make it again. In fact, it was so good that every time I cut myself a slice I forgot to take a picture until I had already eaten a couple of bites. I promise, it tastes better than these pictures make it look.

A few notes: Feel free to substitute 1 lb. regular sausage + 1 tsp red pepper flakes if you don't have hot sausage. It's not spicy either way, but omit the red pepper if you don't want any spice at all. You can also use any frozen greens here in place of the spinach, or cook/drain about 32 oz (2 lbs) fresh greens to replace the frozen. Unless you happen to have fresh greens on hand, because you're mixing this with so many other ingredients I would stick with the frozen variety. Also, you can certainly use a pre-made refrigerated pie crust, but I think the flavor and flakiness of this recipe make it worth the effort.

cheesy spinach, mushroom, and sausage pie
serves 8

1 lb hot sausage
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
2 10-oz packages frozen spinach, thawed and drained
7 eggs
2 c grated mozzarella
16 oz ricotta or cottage cheese
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
2 prepared pie crusts

Preheat oven to 350. In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, brown sausage with garlic; drain. In the same pan, brown the mushrooms; remove from heat.

In a very large bowl, beat 6 of the eggs, and beat yolk of remaining egg with 2 tbsp water; reserve egg white. Add sausage, mushrooms, cheeses, and salt to 6 beaten eggs and mix until combined (you may want to use your hands for this).

Roll out one layer of pie crush into a greased 9-inch deep dish pie pan and brush crust with egg white. Spoon filling into the crust and top with remaining layer of pie crust. Press edges together and crimp to seal. Cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape, and brush top layer with the egg yolk-water mixture.

Bake for an hour and a half to two hours, until the crust is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out hot. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Monday, September 30, 2013

maple bacon crackerjack.

Yes, you read that right. This is popcorn popped in bacon fat, tossed with bacon, peanuts, and maple caramel. Don't make this unless you have guests, and even then, you probably shouldn't make it until right before they arrive so you don't gobble it all up before they get there.

This is not the kind of thing I make often, and in fact I haven't made it in several years. But it's always a huge hit, it screams fall (tailgate food!), and I guarantee people will ask you for the recipe. You can say you made it up--my feelings won't be hurt.

maple bacon crackerjack
adapted from cooking light
makes about 10 cups

5 slices bacon
1/2 c popcorn kernels
1/2 c peanuts, roughly chopped
2 tbsp butter
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c maple syrup
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional, but it makes you eat it a little slower!)

Preheat oven to 325. Place bacon in a large pot (this helps reduce the number of dishes you'll have to do later), turn burner to medium and cook until crisp, turning frequently. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels.

Add a couple kernels of popcorn to the pot and set your burner on medium-high. Wait for those kernels to pop, then remove from heat and add the rest of the kernels. Keep off heat for about 30 seconds (this gets all the kernels to the same temperature). Put pot back on the stovetop until most of the kernels have popped, which should happen fairly quickly. You might want to shake the pan a little so none of the kernels burn. Transfer to a large baking sheet and sprinkle the peanuts over the popcorn. Dice the bacon into small pieces and add that as well.

Combine butter, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and pour over popcorn-peanut-bacon mixture, tossing to coat (this is pretty messy). Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Place in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes to crisp it up before serving.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


This semester I'm in a class called "Visions of the Future," in which we're talking about some different ideas about what the future will hold. Mostly we'll focus on those visions that are informed by some countercultural perspective, perhaps feminist or queer or postcolonial. But for this week our professor simply asked us to write a vignette describing a sliver of our vision of the future--what we dream or hope the future will be. Because I don't have a picture or dish to post quite yet and I enjoyed writing this, I thought I'd put it up here. Of course, it always comes back to food, and feeding each other.

People from all over town trickle in to the church, tired enough from their walks that they will relish a good meal, but awake and healthy enough that they are as excited to see each other—to hug, to talk, to catch up—as they are to eat. Everyone has brought a little something to share, perhaps a loaf of bread, or carrots from their garden, or a bottle of wine if it’s been a good week. We put down our food and begin to set the table, and no one, not even new people, has to stand around awkwardly waiting for someone to talk to. No one has to ask how to help because it is so clear that this is what we do next. When the tables are set and the candles are lit we all sit down together. Anywhere is fine; there is no wrangling for seats or concern about sitting next to someone I don’t particularly like (or someone who doesn’t particularly like me). We all have a place at the table, and it’s not one that’s been assigned. Perhaps it is chosen for us, but we also choose it.

The meal begins without ceremony or prayer because we know the meal is our prayer. We pass around what we’ve brought without worrying if it’s fancy enough or fresh enough or enough. We do not worry that giving away some of what we have will cause us to run out. We simply provide for each other when need be out of an understanding that nothing we have is ours alone. We eat and drink our fill, then get to the work of clearing plates and wrapping up leftovers and washing dishes together. And we linger, never quite ready to leave this home for another.

 There's my vision of the future. What's yours?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

the perfect summer dessert

Summer always makes me eat just a little bit healthier, particularly when it comes to the end of a meal. The rest of the year you can always count on me to choose a chocolate dessert (usually a giant brownie) when I have the option, but when the thermometer starts topping out at 90+ degrees, I switch gears and go for something a tad lighter. Don't get me wrong; I don't want just fruit for dessert--let's not get crazy--but a side of fruit with my ice cream is a nice touch.

There are so many fruit desserts out there: cobblers, pies, crumbles, brown betties, crisps, slumps (yes, that's a thing). Who can keep up? I think I've tasted them all at least once, but I couldn't tell you the difference if I tried. No matter now, though, because I've found the perfect summer dessert. Like most of my favorite recipes, it's infinitely adaptable--replace the pistachios with almonds and the grapes with cherries, or go for peanuts and strawberries--whatever you have around, really. The great thing about roasting fruit is that it actually does better when it's a day or two past its prime, so feel free to make this when you bought one basket of peaches too many and you just can't finish them before they go soft.

If you're in charge of dessert for a 4th of July celebration, I promise people will love this. If they don't, you can complain to me...and please send along the leftovers.

goat cheese tart with roasted grapes & pistachio crust
adapted from food & wine
makes one 9-inch tart, 8-10 servings

1/2 c shelled pistachios
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 c red seedless grapes
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
8 oz soft goat cheese at room temperature
2 1/2 c Greek yogurt (whole milk or 2%)
Juice and zest of one lemon
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/4 c honey
whipped cream to top (optional)

Make the pistachio crust: pulse pistachios in a food processor until finely ground. Beat butter and sugar on medium speed until pale, about one minute. Add ground pistachios, almond extract, and salt, and beat until combined. Add flour and beat on low speed until incorporated and the dough is crumbly.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Scrape the dough into a fluted 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. (A pie pan also works fine if that's all you have.) Using the bottom of a glass, press dough into the pan so the bottom and sides are of relatively equal thickness. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then bake until fragrant and golden brown, 40-45 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool.

Meanwhile, roast the grapes. Turn your oven up to 400, and toss grapes with olive oil and kosher salt. Roast until grapes are softened and have begun to caramelize, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool.

By now your crust should be relatively cool, so go ahead and make the tart filling. Beat goat cheese, yogurt, and lemon juice and zest in a medium bowl on medium speed until combined. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Scrape the filling into the crust, and top with cooled roasted grapes (make sure you get all of the delicious olive oil-grape juice syrup on there, too!). Refrigerate for at least two hours or as long as overnight.

Just before serving, heat the honey in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it begins to boil. (Food & Wine recommends getting it to 236 degrees, but I don't think you have to get that particular). Pour the warm honey over the tart and let it soak in for about 5 minutes. Cut into slices and serve.(You'll need a pretty serious knife for this...the crust is pretty substantial.) I topped each slice with a dollop of thyme-infused whipped cream, and it was absolutely perfect.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

homemade ginger ale

For a long time I didn't think I liked ginger. I liked ginger ale (which, let's be honest, often tastes nothing like actual ginger), but at our house we never ate anything with ginger in it so I stayed away from it until I went to college. I only found out I liked the "real" taste of ginger when I tried it pickled along with sushi, another food I didn't try until college. (Shockingly, sushi wasn't readily available in Bamberg, South Carolina.)

After discovering I actually liked the taste of ginger I continued to drink, say, Canada Dry, but I also wanted to find a more gingery ginger ale. I tried Blenheim and it certainly tastes like real ginger, but it also has a cough-inducing kick to it that doesn't exactly scream "refreshment." So I went back to the standard supermarket varieties until recently, when I realized I could make my own.

For my birthday this year my sister, who is pretty much the best gift giver on earth, sent me a SodaStream along with a very thoughtful Pinterest board of soda and cocktail recipes to go along with it. For the past few months I've just been making seltzer water, but I'm a big cocktail fan during the summer, and since I'm not in school I have the time to make things like homemade soda. I gave it a shot and the results were well worth the minimal effort.

This recipe for ginger syrup also comes with a nice perk--you end up with candied ginger along with the syrup! Once you've strained the ginger and spices out of the syrup, toss the candied ginger (it's just been boiled in syrup, after all) with sugar and let it sit out for a few hours to dry. Voila--crystallized ginger!

ginger syrup for ginger ale
adapted from FormerChef
makes about 3 cups of syrup, enough for about 9 liters of ginger ale (don't worry, it keeps for awhile!)

1 c brown sugar
1 c white sugar (or raw sugar, if you prefer)
2 c water
2 tsp cardamom pods
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp peppercorns
3 star anise pods
4 oz peeled and sliced ginger, about 3/4 c

Stir together the brown and white sugars and water in a small pot. Toast the whole spices in a skillet until they begin to brown; remove from heat. Add the spices and ginger to the sugar-water mixture and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the mixture boils, turn it down to a simmer and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep until mixture cools. Pour into jars and refrigerate.

To make ginger ale, use about 1.5 tbsp syrup per cup of seltzer. The syrup will keep in the fridge for at least a month, and I've read that if you add a bit of vodka to it it will keep indefinitely.

This will vastly improve any ginger ale-based drink you want to make. The buck, your basic ginger + spirit (e.g., gin buck, whiskey buck, tequila buck) is a good place to start. Here are a few other cocktails to try your new concoction in:

- bourbon & ginger: bourbon + ginger
   ale + peach
- pear haymaker: vodka + ginger ale +
   lemon juice + pear
- the operator: white wine + ginger ale +
   lime juice
- tequila grapefruit splash: grapefruit
   juice + ginger ale + tequila +
   Campari + triple sec

Saturday, May 4, 2013

strawberry season!

Although it's not quite time for strawberries in Tennessee yet, in more southerly states the season is in full swing. I really wanted to make a strawberry cake for my birthday party last week (along with strawberry-infused vodka), so I had to make due with CostCo strawberries. Of course a friend from Louisiana brought strawberries picked that morning to the party, but it was too late for the cake so we've just been eating them out of hand (which may be the best way to enjoy them anyway).

Luckily, this cake doesn't rely too heavily on the quality of the strawberries; they mostly provide a little color and some tart texture to round out the airy soft genoise layers and light and creamy mousse filling. This cake requires a bit of time and effort but I think it's worth it, particularly for a special occasion. Having a stand mixer makes the process much easier because you whip the batter for a long time, but it's possible to make it with a handheld mixer.

If you make nothing else, make the cheesecake mousse filling--it's quite easy and probably the best filler/frosting for a cake I've ever made.

P.S. - Speaking of strawberry season, my strawberry-basil breakfast bowl recipe was recently featured on a Whole Foods' cooking blog--check it out! (It's a variation on a blog post I did last summer, the blueberry-basil breakfast bowl.)

vanilla bean genoise filled with cheesecake mousse and strawberries
adapted from Sarabeth Levine and, oddly enough, Worcester Telegram and Gazette
makes one three-layer 9" cake

   5 tbsp butter
   5 large eggs + 5 large egg yolks
   1 c sugar
   seeds from 1 vanilla bean, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
   1 c pastry or unbleached cake flour
cheesecake mousse:
   8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
   1/2 c powdered sugar
   seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
   1 c chilled heavy cream
+1 pint strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced

Make the genoise: Preheat oven to 350. Grease three 9" cake pans (or one or two, if you don't have three and need to bake the layers in batches) and line them with parchment paper. Do not leave out this step; I promise the cake layers will stick to the pans if you do!

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, or in a small heatproof bowl in the microwave. Let cool.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to low to maintain the simmer. Whisk the eggs, yolks, and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer, or a very large heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over the water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water), and whisk constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is very warm to the touch, about 1 minute. If you have an instant read thermometer, the mixture should reach 118 degrees.

If you have a stand mixer, attach the bowl to it and fit it with the whisk attachment. Add the vanilla and beat the mixture on high speed until it is almost quadrupled in volume, very pale yellow, and fluffy, about 5 minutes. If you're using a handheld mixer, Sarabeth says this will take at least 6 minutes. She says the right consistency has been reached when, if you lift the whisk attachment a couple of inches above the bowl, the egg mixture creates a thick ribbon that falls back on itself and holds its shape on the surface of the mixture for at least 5 seconds before sinking. I whipped mine for at least 6-7 minutes and didn't quite reach the 5-second mark, but my cake turned out just fine! Whenever you think it's good enough, remove the bowl from the stand mixer.

In four equal additions, sift the flour over the egg mixture, folding in each addition with a whisk. (I'm not much of a sifter, but I think it's important here.) Handle the batter gently to keep it as light and fluffy as possible. Transfer about a quarter of the batter into a medium bowl; add the butter and fold in with a whisk. Pour this mixture back into the remaining batter and gently fold it in with a whisk.

Pour the batter into the cake pans and smooth it over with a spatula. If you don't have three pans to use at once, try to fill the pans you have to about a half-inch thickness; this should make your layers roughly even. Bake until the top of the cake is golden and it springs back when pressed gently with your finger, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely in the pan. (If you need one of the cake pans to make another layer, you can probably get away with letting the layer cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before removing it.)

While the cake layers are cooling, make the mousse: using a handheld or stand mixer (whisk attachment) on medium-high speed, whip together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Whip the heavy cream in another bowl until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture in three additions, and cover and refrigerate until cake layers are cooled and you're ready to assemble the cake.

Assemble the cake: Run a knife around the outside of one cake pan, and flip the cake out onto the plate you want to use for your cake. Remove the parchment paper, and spread a thin layer of mousse over the surface of the cake. Cover this with a layer of sliced strawberries. Repeat this process for the next layer, then top with the third layer and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining mousse. Top with strawberry halves or more sliced strawberries, if you'd like.

You can store this cake in the refrigerator for a day or two before serving, but make sure to remove it at least an hour before you want to serve it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

a time for baking, a time for blogging.

Although I have done less blogging (ahem, no blogging) over the past few months, I have baked more than ever. I started making muffins, scones, granola bars, and various other breakfast-y items for the divinity school's weekly coffee hour back in September, and I've tried dozens of recipes, from walnut date bread with brown butter (YUM) to blueberry-buttermilk "biscones" (yum) to chocolate oatmeal flaxseed muffins (un-yum).

As much as I love whipping up three or four new baked goods each week, I keep going back to one scone recipe that consistently delivers. No matter how you embellish them, these scones are divine--rich but delicate, with a crumbly brown exterior and a soft, light interior. You can make them sweet and/or savory, add dried fruit, chocolate, nuts, or cheese, break them open and spread them with butter and jam or eat them as-is.

The scones pictured here have about 1/2 cup of oats replacing the same amount of flour, with about 1/3 cup of blue cheese and 1/3 cup of chopped dates mixed in. If that combination doesn't appeal to you, here are a few other options for mix-ins:

1/3 c white chocolate chunks + 1/3 c dried cranberries
1 c fresh blueberries + 2 tsp lemon zest
1/3 c chopped pistachios + 1/3 c chopped dried figs

1/2 c grated parmesan + 2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 c chopped cooked bacon + 1/3 c gruyere, topped with cracked black pepper
1/3 c grated cheddar cheese + 1/3 c diced apple (okay, this one straddles the line a bit)

simple cream scones
adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
makes 8 scones

2 c (10 oz) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar (for sweet scones only)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbsp butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
1/2 - 1 c mix-ins (optional)
1 c heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 450. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Whisk together the flour, sugar (if using), baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in any mix-ins you are using.

Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the cream. Using a rubber spatula, stir together just until combined. If there's a bit of excess flour, incorporate it into the dough using your hands, but try to handle the dough as little as possible! (If you knead it too much, the scones will be tough.)

Lightly press the dough into a round cake pan and cut into 8 wedges. Place wedges on the prepared baking sheet, and bake until they are light brown, 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through if you remember.

Transfer the scones to a wire rack and let cool for as long as you can stand it (at least 5-10 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature.

P.S. - If you don't want to bake eight scones at once, these freeze well. Once you've cut them into wedges, just place them on a baking sheet and freeze until firm (at least 3-4 hours). Transfer to a freezer bag, and they'll keep for at least a month.