October 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I used to hate pumpkin with a passion, the same way I now hate raisins, cooked carrots and orange-chocolate (sorry, I was scrounging for a third hatred). Then one year, I went home for Thanksgiving and spent the first night sitting on the kitchen floor with a blender and my little brother, trying to puree roasted pumpkin for my very first pumpkin pie. I’m still not sure what possessed me to do it, given the icky color of pumpkin pie filling, its oftentimes-nauseating texture and the simple fact that I didn’t like pumpkin. But together, we dutifully made this pumpkin pie and — much to my surprise — I actually liked it, so much that I snuck tiny slivers from the fridge for the rest of the weekend.
From that, the next natural step seemed to be to start craving pumpkin spice lattes come fall. To get excited when seasonal pumpkin pie Clif bars finally hit the stores. To roast pumpkin with nutmeg and browned butter. And to start baking other pumpkin items. Cookies, packed with dried cranberries, white chocolate chips and mini marshmallows, to be devoured on the bus post-race. Fragrant, spicy muffins topped with oat strudel. Which is exactly what these are —
I spent this past weekend in New York City with my mother. We went to the theatre. We dined at Prune, where we started with fresh radishes spread with sweet butter and roasted eggplant with tangy yogurt and ended with an exquisite bitter chocolate pot de crème and mascarpone ice cream topped with caramel croutons which soaked up the excess, melting cream.
We sat at tables that were too small for all the plates, and slurped spicy noodles at a communal table to the loud din of East Village bar-life and dishes being thrown in for washing in open-floor kitchens. We stumbled upon lunchtime food-truck markets and weekend farmers markets. We sampled various pumpkin treats, and I found most of them to be too dry and lacking a certain pop of flavor. The last evening, we gathered together the ingredients in the hotel room and I made these pumpkin spice muffins, which were everything I had hoped for flavor-wise from the baked goods at the market, and twice as cute.
Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, via the American club, in Kohler, Wisconsin via Gourmet Magazine
Among the changes I made to this recipe (like adding a topping! and using brown butter!) was making the batter entirely in the small saucepan. Given the minuscule size of the hotel kitchen and the lack of mixing bowls, this made a lot of sense. That said, even if your kitchen is massive, it’s still one less dirty bowl.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 15-ounce can solid-packed pumpkin
1/3 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the topping:
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons vanilla turbinado sugar
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a small saucepan brown the butter until it smells nutty and you see flakes of amber at the bottom of the pan. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the sugar, eggs, salt, pumpkin, spices, baking powder and baking soda. I added the eggs last, in order to give the butter a chance to cool down a bit first. Fold the flour into the wet mixture, being careful not to over mix. Spoon the batter into non-stick or greased muffin tins, filling each mold about 2/3 high.
To make the topping, combine the oats, flour and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Crumble the butter in with your hands until you reach an even consistency and the oats start to stick together. Add the white chocolate chips and stir to distribute evenly. Sprinkle the topping on each muffin.
Bake muffins for 25 to 30 minutes or until a knife stuck in the center of one comes out clean.
October 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’ve never had a Canadian Thanksgiving. The first time I really thought of it was when I started getting emails about the Canadian Club’s Thanksgiving dinner for students in the dining halls here at Princeton. Still, in the rush of schoolwork and daily activities, I never actually made it up-campus to one of those dinners. Now I suppose there are many members of my family for whom Thanksgiving in October is a normalcy, but my Thanksgivings have always been in November, albeit very untraditional food-wise. Still there is something very appealing about getting to have two.
Unfortunately, there is no time today to make pumpkin pie, so I’m just going to have to snatch a slice from the dinner on the way to the gym (to be eaten afterwards, I promise). Fortunately, there are still a variety of treats in our room from the latest baking adventures: Caramelized bacon apple muffins (coined breakfast-in-a-bite) and caramel bacon chocolate chunk cookies. It wasn’t hard to get the boys on board with the idea of bacon in everything and while we originally got a couple of odd faces at brunch when we launched the idea, everyone was sold by the next day at dinner. The muffins weren’t even out of the oven when all the fingers and knives in the room started going for the block of bacon caramel left over.
One of things I like most about Thanksgiving is the work that goes in beforehand, the splitting up of the menu amongst people, the chaos of the kitchen with everyone attempting to do their own thing at once, and then it all, finally, coming together in the end in a complete meal. When I first started baking in the dorm kitchen in my sophomore year, people would come for the eating part. Sometimes they would help with the dishes, and occasionally they would watch. Now, we’re staying in on Saturday nights (it’s tough getting old), have the keys to an always-locked kitchen, and while the number of kitchen appliances and utensils hasn’t changed a bit (think almost zero), baking is quickly becoming a group activity. Which makes me very happy.
Caramelized bacon apple muffins
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen‘s blueberry muffins
For the bacon caramel:
1 c. sugar
6 T. salted butter
6 slices bacon
For the muffins:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 medium sized chopped apples (skin on)
To make the caramel:
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and butter. Crumble the bacon into small pieces and add to the pan. Heat over medium heat until the mixture turns deep, amber brown. Let it simmer just beyond what you feel comfortable with. Remove pan from heat and set aside. The caramel will start to harden while you make the muffin batter; it will likely be very sticky when you start to use it, and if it gets too hard, a sharp knife will do the trick. You will have quite a bit of caramel left over after adding it to the muffins — perfect for making cookies!
To make the muffins:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt to the bowl, folding the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. It’s important to not over mix, mix just until the flour disappears. Fold in apples and small pieces of the bacon caramel. Spoon the batter into greased muffin pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a knife stuck in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
This recipe makes 8-10 standard-size muffins.
October 6, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This morning, I didn’t hit the snooze button. The air was still frosty when I stepped out the door and when I stopped at the light, running down to the lake, I noticed that I could see my breath. There were just a couple of people out on the path this morning—a few middle-aged women, one of the cross country boys, an elderly man sitting on the side of the canal, bike parked. He was fishing in the green canal behind the lake and passing him the first time, I briefly wondered what exactly he was hoping to catch in the mucky water. When I passed him for a second time on my return, he was pulling a tiny fish from the water and dropping it in a plastic bucket. Call me overly sensitive maybe, but it was a sad moment, though he was perfectly cheerful as he waved hello. The fish was so minuscule that it couldn’t possibly have more than a bite of meat on its skeleton and the hooking and dumping of it in the bucket seemed so needless, so arbitrary, and I couldn’t help but think about how awful it would be to start one’s day by purposely killing something.
That said, I kept running. It was a beautiful, chilly morning — the sun was out, crisp leaves crunched underfoot and to top it all off, the Canucks’ season opener is tonight. I was planning on getting into the kitchen sometime this weekend, but events seem to be getting in the way. Things are starting to catch up to me, both running and school-wise. My first 20 miler of this training round is this weekend (P.S. if you have any Philadelphia eating recommendations, please shoot them my way!) and I need to finally make my way through the Faulkner novel that will make up most of my junior paper. In my room, I’ve flipped the 2012 calendar I recently bought to October 2012 and started using it anyway, just to keep myself organized. Sure, the dates are two days off, but it was a necessary move.
If I could be in the kitchen right now, I would be making something like this cornbread. I started with this recipe, but quickly flew in all different directions. I used half quinoa flour and half white flour instead of whole wheat flour. Sweetened ricotta from the local Italian grocery replaced the pour-over cream. A couple of handfuls of flax seeds added a whole lot of chew. I omitted the cooked quinoa. I halved the sugar, but if I were to make it again, I would add it all back. I ate it from the skillet, with a healthy drizzle of wildflower honey.
October 3, 2011 § 1 Comment
Below my feet, the yellowed leaves crunch, and the air is crisp, fresh, reminding me of that scent one gets standing on top of a tall mountain. The heavy last summer heat has slowly melded into fall. I was writing a short story the other day for my fiction writing course this term, the first work of fiction I have started in a very long time, when I realized just how much timing and setting changes a series of events. I was piecing together a character out of bits and pieces of interactions I had had with various people in the past year; it felt more natural to pull from memory. There was something terrifying about the thought of people reading my fictional story, even though I lay a lot of things out to complete strangers on this blog weekly. There is still a knot in my stomach when I think about going over the story in workshop tomorrow afternoon, in a room high up on the 6th floor with glass walls, allowing you to look out over the entire campus when you’re supposed to be paying attention in class. The mind wanders — perhaps that is expected in a creative writing class.
We’ve been talking a lot about loneliness in class, how it is easier to feel sympathy for a schoolteacher in Russia, taking a trip through the mud in a cart and longing for her superior to notice her, than it is to feel sympathy for the 30something divorcee who muddles about at home, unknowingly in love with her best friend who is busy chasing after young actresses. We’ve also been talking a lot about vapidity, superficiality and, on the flip side of things, interiority. It kind of makes me wonder if people are as generally unhappy as they are made out to be in novels. And then I think about the very little things that make me happy and I think that it cannot be possible that everyone is drying up out of loneliness inside, maybe just the writers of the world.
Note: As it turns out, I needn’t have worried so much about the story. We made black tea and the professor brought in a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts from the train station. And then we sat around and talked writing styles and the necessity of placing yourself firmly in time, all the while looking out of the window, feeling on top of the world.
Spiced Nut Snack Mix
Adapted from David Lebovitz
This recipe is infinitely adaptable. I tried this version with pistachios and broken pieces of waffle cone, but you can literally throw almost anything in the bowl and it will come out delicious. I served the mix as a topping for homemade chocolate and hazelnut ice cream.
2 cups mixed raw nuts (I used a combination of cashews, almonds and pistachios)
1 tablespoon (15 g) butter, salted or unsalted, browned
3 tablespoons (45 g) dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
2 cups (100 g) small pretzel twists (for a saltier mix) or butter cookies, broken into small pieces (for a richer mix)
Spread out the nuts on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, flipping once. In a mixing bowl, stir together the browned, melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, chili pepper and maple syrup. Once the nuts are toasted, add them to the liquid sugar mixture and stir until they are completely coated. Stir in the salt. Then mix in the cookie pieces or pretzels. Spread the nut mixture back on the baking sheet and roast for 12-18 minutes, flipping or shaking every couple of minutes to ensure even toasting and that the sugar is not clumping. Remove the tray from the oven and let cool completely.