From the “why didn’t I think of that sooner” files: shredding pumpkin skin!

Sigh…this is a short but sweet post aimed at simply sharing my most recent d’oh moment.  I’m attempting to recreate Alton Brown’s pumpkin bread recipe which calls for shredded/raw pumpkin.  Despite my extensive internet research (by extensive, I mean I looked on 2 or 3 websites) on the easiest way to peel a raw pumpkin, I struck out.  I even saw one eHow posting about the “easiest” way to peel pumpkins that didn’t deviate from my labor intensive way: cut it, scoop it, half/quarter it, then peel it with either the world’s studliest potato peeler or a knife.  Yeah…not easy.

Enter in the box grater.. (cue also sprach Zarathustra)

pic courtesy of walmart.com

pic courtesy of walmart.com

I was too lazy to take a pic of mine (cloudy day, covered in pumpkin guts-you get the pic) and I couldn’t even find a pic online of my extremely pared down version of the box grater.  It’s basically the smart car version of this multitasker.  Simply cut your pumpkin into manageable slices (for me, it was quarters) and grate it into a bowl.  Stop once you hit flesh and then get rid of the grated skin in the trash, compost, chicken or pig of your choice.  Easy and fast!  Take that eHow!   Hallelujah!  No more worries about cutting off my thumb peeling all of this pumpkin.  Happy baking!

Step away from the canned pumpkin!

Nothing says the start of my favorite time of year like pumpkins.  Our little Blueberry can sniff out a hidden pumpkin patch the way some kids know where you hide the candy in your handbag!  There are 7 large pumpkins clustered in the middle of my dining room table right now as a result of multiple trips to pumpkin patches.  If you are anything like me, you have a hard time saying no to buying yet another interesting looking pumpkin for fall decorations.  But instead of decorating them and forgetting them, think ahead and plan for reusing those pieces of decoration for your baking!  If you are thinking about trying to be a little more conscious with your food, finding fresh local produce from small farmers like us is a fantastic way to not only get to know your neighbors but it’s also a smart way to help your kids better connect with the food they eat.

To start, pick out some midsize pumpkins. If you have a choice, I recommend sugar pumpkins. They are typically easy to find and available both at farmer’s markets and your local mega mart.

Slice off the tops and then scoop out the interior. Once clean, bake flesh side up in a 350 degree oven for 20-35 minutes. Some recipes will suggest oiling them or seasoning them. I like to just roast them dry.

Just keep an eye on the pumpkins after 20 minutes to ensure that they don’t burn. A little bit of carmelization is a good thing but you don’t want them to look like the crazy tanning lady…

Once they have cooked and cooled, you can scoop out the flesh and just discard the skin, or if you are like me, make some happy little Berkshire piggies happy by giving them the leftover pumpkin.

Just because I love looking at their little selves.  Smoochie smoochie!

Just because I love looking at their little selves. Smoochie smoochie!

I just love those piggies and will use any excuse to show pictures of them: Wilbur, Spot, White Fur, Stinky and Hubert (he’s French), our baby barrow Berkshire piggies. I love them. And yes, I will eat them too…but I digress.

From there, you can freeze the flesh or use it right away. I’m more of an instant gratification kind of gal, so I made muffins with my freshly cooled pumpkin. And when I say muffins, let’s be honest…I mean cupcakes that I call muffins so I feel a little better about myself:

Blueberry’s favorite Pumpkin Muffins

For the muffins:

1 cup room temperature butter 1 to 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

2 cups brown sugar 1 teaspoon salt

1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon ground clove 1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon ground ginger 3 large eggs

1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 2 ½ cups AP flour

1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (see above) ½ to ¾ cup instant rolled oats

For the topping:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 tablespoons butter

1 cup brown sugar 3 tablespoons AP flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter, sugar and pumpkin together with an electric or stand mixture. Then add eggs and mix until thoroughly incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix all dry ingredients. While you can absolutely buy pre-ground spices, I strongly recommend that you invest in one of these cool little things:

AR Women Bloggers_Pic3

I cannot tell you how much I love this little grater. And if you are wondering what the heck that is in my needing to be manicured hand, its nutmeg. Once you have smelled freshly grated nutmeg, you will want it on and in everything. The little plastic jars of spices cannot hold a candle to this. In addition, this little grater can also help you discover the joy of freshly grated cinnamon:

AR Women Bloggers_Pic4

I was trying to be so cool and give you an action shot here of me grating fresh cinnamon into the mix. However, shortly after I snapped this, I managed to grate about half of my finger into the mix. You will note that I didn’t include that in the ingredient list. You are welcome.

After you have mixed your dry ingredients, slowly incorporate them into your wet mixture. The dough should be wet but not overly wet..think cookies versus cake. From there, scoop into muffin cups-about 2/3 full. From there, mix all of your topping ingredients in a separate bowl and spoon generously on top of your muffins before baking for about 20-25 minutes.

I’ll be honest; this isn’t a great shot of the muffins. By the time I took this, I had downed several of them…in the name of research, of course! However, all of that sugar made me a little jumpy. Sigh. The things I do for blogging…

Now, what I really love about these muffins is that they are idiot proof, and frankly, living my life, I need more things that are idiot proof. The first time I made this recipe, I forgot the baking soda and powder but they still turned out like rock stars…or rocks, but at least tasty rocks. If you wanted to riff on this recipe, you could substitute applesauce for some or all of the butter. You could also swap out whole wheat flour for AP flour. In addition, you could omit some of the sugar. Bottom line is that there are many ways to make and remake this recipe..just get in the kitchen and bake!

 

Holla! I mean…challah!

Hello, my name is Shellie and I’m a bread junkie.  I’ve been a bread junkie for 40mumblemumble years now and I do not see an end in sight!  When I think of a perfect meal, it always involves bread, butter and cheese.  Maybe some grapes.  You know-the kind that comes in a glass and makes everyone look better.  And when I think of that perfect meal, one of my favorite breads always comes to mind: challah.

image courtesy of jewishrecipes.org

 

Thinking back to my younger days, one of my favorite treats as a little Shellie was the joy of freshly baked Challah bread from Publix.  It may have been grocery store bread, but it was so good all the same.  If you have ever had challah, you know how amazing it can be.  Eggy and rich with a golden crust that shines.  I like to imagine I hear angels singing “ahhhhhhhhhhh” when I bite into it.

Now, full disclosure.  While I have made bread many times, I have never attempted challah.  Not quite sure why, but instead of riffing, I decided to follow a recipe on Allrecipes (one of my favorite sites to be sure!) for challah.  I thought this was a good recipe and since I’m a newbie to making challah, I don’t think I can improve on this recipe…yet.

However, I do have some thoughts about the recipe.  Make sure that you have tons of flour.  I mean tons.  While the recipe calls for lots of flour (8 cups), it isn’t explicit in terms of how much you need to add during the kneading process.  This is normal as humidity levels, etc differ from kitchen to kitchen.  However, I found that on a day where temps in the evening were in the low 80’s with humidity below 45%, I had to add far more flour than I do in just about every other bread recipe.  Probably another 2-3 cups.  To be fair, maybe I was distracted by the Blueberry when I was adding in flour and I missed a cup or two, or maybe my kitchen is just ridiculously humid, but in the end I think it’s just what the recipe needed, which sometimes happens.  Also, since this bread calls for eggs, have high quality eggs.  Many of us know exactly where our eggs come from, but for those of you who rely on grocery store eggs, think about spending the extra money for organic.  Since egg is such a star in this bread, you don’t want to skimp with lackluster eggs.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing "...your love babe.  Can't get enough of your love babe" while I was taking this pic?  Yeah.  Probably.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing “…your love babe. Can’t get enough of your love babe” while I was taking this pic? Yeah. Probably.

Also, the recipe calls for braiding the bread.  Hmm…I’m too lazy for that.  I tried it and it kept breaking but I think it’s just lack of practice.  In the end, I created 3 boules and 1 loaf.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but the crust is still shiny and golden, worthy of all it’s praise.  Generally speaking, challah doesn’t rise too much in the oven.  I didn’t try it in bread pans, but I wouldn’t expect a huge fluffy loaf.  But, that’s ok because the flavor is sublime.  Try it with your favorite sandwich.  Use it instead of white bread in french toast.  Let it go a bit stale and then use it for croutons or bread pudding.  Ah, the possibilities are endless!

Happy baking!

A must make recipe for almond junkies: marzipan cupcakes

So, Sheldon is a bit of a marzipan addict. For Christmas, he ordered a big box of those little marzipan fruits just so he (and my Dad) could sit and eat them. Santa didn’t even get cookies put out for him and his reindeer..he got marzipan.

pic courtesy of amazon.com

pic courtesy of amazon.com

As a result, I have been hunting for the perfect marzipan cupcake recipe and thanks to All Recipes, I was able to riff on one of their recipes and create what I think was the perfect almond flavored cupcake for the marzipan junkie in your life:

The crust:

1 Cup AP Flour

3 Tbl White Sugar

7 Tbl room temp butter

1 egg yolk

I used my stand mixer to mix all of these together to form a ball of dough.  From there, knead for a few minutes on a floured surface (or in a wide mouthed bowl if you are lazy like me) until it is smooth.  Wrap in plastic and let sit in fridge for 15 minutes.

The filling:

8-12 oz marzipan or almond paste  cut up (You can get marzipan in big cans.  Recommend that for this recipe)

5 Tbl cold butter, cut up

2 whole eggs

1/2 almond extract

Mix these together until they form a smoothish paste.  The original recipe calls for it to be smooth, but I left mine lumpy (lumps of marzipany goodness) and it was sooo worth it.  More on that in a sec.   Then take the dough and press it into cupcake liners like you are making mini pies.  Go about halfway up the liner.  Pour in the filling about 1/2-2/3’s of the way up the liner.  Then cook in a 400 degree oven for a 20-25 minutes.  Allow to cook on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes (until you can take them out by hand really) and then allow them to cool for another few minutes.  The original recipe called for frosting/glaze but I found that I just didn’t need it.  Because we left the marzipan in chunks inside, it was like having a cupcake with filling and it was awesome.  I would post pics of the finished product here, but frankly they didn’t make it that far.  Yum.  Good luck and happy baking!

Happy 3.14159 day!

Although I guess I should have really wished you a Happy 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 41971 69399 37510 58209 74944 59230 78164 06286 20899 86280 34825 34211 70679∞ Day if I were to be accurate, right?

 

Picture courtesy of University of Iowa

Picture courtesy of University of Iowa

In honor of Pi Day, I thought I would share one of my favorite recipes for Pie Crust along with one of my favorite filling recipes courtesy of AllRecipes.  While I would love to take pictures of me baking it, that ain’t happenin today, so instead, hopefully you will bake it and deliver it to me.  Wait…that was too bossy.  Bake it and deliver it to me please?  🙂  Seriously-I hope you and your family enjoy some geeky math fun today!

Ideas for teaching kids about pi:

http://www.teachpi.org/

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/exploring-pi

 

And my favorite “Pi” recipe:

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 Cups AP Flour
  • 1/2 Cup butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 tea salt (mix it into the flour in advance)
  • 1/4 tea to 1/2 tea freshly grated nutmeg (can also substitute cinnamon)
  • 1 Cup ice water

Measure everything out in bowls and then stick EVERYTHING (including your mixing implements-I use a stand mixer with dough attachment for this) in the fridge for an hour.  Get it all nice and cold after you have prepped it.

After it is all chilled, begin to mix the butter into the flour a piece at a time.  Basically, you are looking for your flour to begin to look like clumpy sand.  It doesn’t have to be uniform and the butter doesn’t have to be all broken up, but it should be at least semi evenly distributed.  Try not to work it with your hands-let the butter stay cool so if you can’t use a mixer, use a fork to cut in the butter.  If you see the butter is starting to melt while you are working it, stick the whole thing back in the fridge.

Once the butter is mixed in, start to work in your water 1 TEASPOON AT A TIME!  I can’t stress this enough.  I don’t pay any attention to recipes when it tells me how much water you need because there are so many variables when working with crust.  If you live in South Florida, chances are you are going to need a heck of a lot less water than someone who lives in Tucson.  Humidity, heat, environment, drafts-they all matter, so just get to know your dough.  You can always add more, but honey-I haven’t ever seen a pie crust that can be saved when you add too much, so start slow.  When you start to see your dough come together, slow down on your water.  It should be able to hold together in a ball when you smoosh it with your hand.  If it crumbles still, you need more water.

Once mixed, let it rest in your fridge covered for another hour.  After the hour, you should be able to roll it out (wax paper on both sides of it helps) into crust for 2-3 pies depending on whether they are covered pies and how big your pie plates are.  Again-try to handle with your hot little hands as little as possible.

One of our favorite all time fillings is for Buttermilk Pie.  Allrecipes has some great ones in their collection, including this one.  But, I would love to hear from y’all…what is your favorite pie?  Happy Pi Day!

 

 

Vous dorloter vos oeufs? Or Alternate title: Eggs should not be hockey pucks

For many years, I labored under the assumption that all cooked eggs were rubbery, gross and sometimes a little slimey. I think it was a good solid decade in which I did not order eggs in restaurants at all because of a few bad experiences (normally had at a Village Inn/Dennys-like place at 2:00 am to be fair.)

But then I started watching the geeky goodness of America’s Test Kitchen and realized that eggs don’t have to have the hockey puck mouth feel to be done!

Classic American and French cooking techniques can differ wildly.  Many French cookbooks and blogs will lead you down the path to coddled eggs but yet the methods seem to vary from cooking them over a double boiler to cooking in boiled water (seems like poaching to me) to cooking in an oven.  I personally am itching to try the recipe that I found on I am a food blog.  It’s a Thomas Keller recipe and we totally crush on him in this house.  Sometimes we just read this for fun y’all….

nom nom nom, oh and pic courtesy of B&N

nom nom nom, oh and pic courtesy of B&N

But enough fun stuff.  How do I cook my eggs?  Well, Sheldon prefers a high heat pan where he ultimately begins to brown the proteins.  By doing this, he often removes most of the moisture and produces firm but still very pleasing eggs.  Often these little beauties are cooked in bacon fat with mushrooms and onions, so it’s all good.

For me, I prefer a riff on the coddling method where I cook them low and slow in a fat pat of butter….oh yeah…and bacon:

Presentation is not my gift, but these tasted soooo good anyway!

Presentation is not my gift, but these tasted soooo good anyway!

It takes me longer to get there, but that end result is so pleasing to my picky palate.  I have also made breakfast pizza and found it to be an awesome use of eggs that doesn’t require quite so much fat to cook.

But…I’m curious on how you all prepare your eggs?  As our chicken population is currently on the upswing, I’m sure we’re going to have more eggs than we know what to do with!   If you get a chance, respond with your favorite egg recipe!

Cookie day and a lesson on captivity

We have a friend of Sheldon’s staying with us right now as his family makes the move from DFW to this part of the country.  He’s a very nice guy and we’re enjoying his company although The Blueberry is under the impression that we invited him here to be her exclusive entertainment provider.  How do I know?  Well, this was the convo in her bedroom the other night:

“Blueberry-it’s time to get ready for bed.”

“Where are the boys mama?  I want to go hang out with them.”

“Well, Daddy is outside putting up the animals for the night and Mr. C is downstairs.”

“What is Mr. C doing?”

“I don’t know-maybe talking to Mrs. C?  Why?”

“Because I want him up here.”

“Blueberry..he is our guest, not our captive.  We can’t make him do everything we want.  It’s not polite.”

“Captive?  What’s a captive?”

“Well, it’s someone who is held against his will and forced to do what the people holding him want him to do.”

“Mama…I think I’m a captive.”

So, begins day 3 of her captivity because of the ice storm.  It’s not terribly bad here but if I don’t have to take her out on the roads, I just figure why bother.  Sheldon went into work this morning and because we park our cars outside it took no joke-30 minutes of scraping to get all of the ice off his truck.  I think it was between 1-2 inches thick.  That is good times!

To pass the time, we have done some sledding down one of the hills (who needs snow when you have faster ice?!), we’ve played Kinect games and now we’re currently enjoying Mary Poppins…

WP_001884

Someone call Amnesty International…look at the deplorable conditions our captive is facing…

…but in a few minutes we are going to begin making reduced fat oatmeal raisin cookies.  These cookies are one of Sheldon’s very favorite and they always satisfy my need to bake when the weather gets cold like this:

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/4-1/2 cup applesauce (I give a broad range here because you just need to watch your mix.  Start with the smaller measurement and add more if you notice the mix is too dry)

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

2 teaspoons cinnamon (we are cinnamon junkies in this house)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups uncooked oats

1 1/2 cups AP flour

1 cup raisins

Parts that I have riffed on:

I’ve made these many times omitting the butter completely.  In that case, just increase your applesauce to one cup.  The cookies will have more of a cakelike texture but they are still awesome.

I’ve also substituted 1 cup of dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, etc for the raisins

I’ve successfully included chia and/or flax seeds without any complaints from The Blueberry…In fact, I think we’ll be adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flax seeds today.  Because I’m adding the flax seeds, I’ve decreased the oats by about 1/2 cup.   If you haven’t yet discovered either of these seeds, I STRONGLY recommend that you check them out.  The health benefits for these seeds are just phenomenal and they can be snuck into all kinds of baked goods.  The chia seeds have a bit of a slimey texture in some wet applications, so I probably wouldn’t add them to eggs, but hiding them in cookies, cakes and crackers-super genius!

Preheat your oven to 350.  Cream together butter and sugar until it looks fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time and then add vanilla-this becomes your wet mixture.

That's not dirt on my mixer, I forgot and added the cinnamon early while the mixer was on.  Not. Genius.

That’s not dirt on my mixer, I forgot and added the cinnamon early while the mixer was on. Not. Genius.

In a separate bowl, mix together your flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.  Then incorporate this into the wet mixture one cup at a time.  You don’t want to overmix it because flour will begin to form gluten which can make cookies a bit too tough.

Once your flour mixture is in, mix in your oats and dried fruit by hand until incorporated.  I then use the 2 spoon method to drop them on to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat.

I like big cookies and I cannot lie..

I like big cookies and I cannot lie..

They don’t spread out, so pretty much how you plop them onto your sheet is how they come out.  Bake for 8-12 minutes depending on oven.  If you omit the butter, they won’t get terribly brown, so try a small first batch to see how long you really need to cook.  Let cool on a rack and then stuff them in your face.

nom nom nom nom

nom nom nom nom

According to Calorie Count, it’s about 41 calories per cookie with sugars and fats both under 9 grams respectively (fat under 2 grams)  Adding in the flax seeds adds some fat but it also adds a very nice amount of protein and fiber, so while it is not quite like eating a celery stick,  it’s still healthier than eating a full fat cookie.  At any rate, I can’t blog any more because I need both hands free to shove em in.  Happy baking!