Oct 262016

Pumpkin yeast bread

It’s fall and the pumpkin spice must flow. Only, a person can get tired of all the cloyingly sweet applications. Don’t get me wrong: I love the cookies, the quick-breads, the martinis, and the occasional half-the-syrup latte. And the pie! The pie will soon be upon us! After a while though, I yearn for something more savory.

Enter a bread from Whole Foods that I’ve adored for years. It’s savory, but still spiced like familiarity craves, soft, delicious, and divine — utterly divine — as a vehicle for runny egg yolk. The problems are two-fold: a) being from Whole Foods, it’s exorbitantly expensive, and b) they don’t roll it out until Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving!!! Where is the sense in that, I ask?! No one else waits until Thanksgiving to bring out their pumpkin amazingness!

Clearly, it was time for me to take matters into my own hands.

There were plenty of unknowns (what is the hydration of the loaf? How exactly does pumpkin affect the hydration percentage of a dough?) but enough knowns (thank you, ingredient label) for me to get a good start. And to borrow a phrase from my favorite wild-yeast baker, this is bread, not birth control, so it doesn’t have to be perfect while I figure out how to get the recipe just right. I figured out that one cup of pumpkin puree roughly replaces one cup of flour AND one cup of liquid (that was a surprise!) and looked to Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challah for inspiration for a soft-yet-brown-crusted dairy-free loaf.

After plenty of tweaking and enlisting my family and friends (thank you to the Om-nom-sauce family, my mom, Heather, and Crystal) as test-bakers and guinea pigs, I’ve settled upon a loaf that I’ll proudly serve, and which has served to spawn even more inspiration through the endless possibilities of variations. I hope you love this loaf as much as I do!

Pumpkin yeast bread

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Dec 192012

Mugsy's gingerbread mini-muffins

There are quite a few food associations of mine that are inexorably linked to the holidays: beef burgundy, Danish pastries, sand-tarts (elsewhere called Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cookies), and rum cake all come to mind. These gingerbread mini-muffins are certainly make the list as well. This recipe comes to me by way of my maternal grandmother. Grandma (or Mugsy, to everyone else) had a way with baking and was damn good at it (her pie crusts remain legendary), but honestly, she was such a force of sheer kindness and goodness in this world, that her prowess with the oven has been eclipsed in my mind by the warm and gooey feelings that I remember when I think of her. The recipes that she left behind are all that serve to jog my memory in the baking-department.

So I love when I come across memories that have been written down on her recipes. It’s plain that my mom has been eating these spiced delights on or around Christmas every year since she can remember — and thus, they’ve woven their way into most of my memories as well. Sadly, it had been several years since I made them myself, but I found myself with an excellent excuse to dust off tradition and make them again this year (as holiday pot-lucks are an ideal venue for mini-muffins). And even though The Bun won’t be eating them this year, it’ll be nice to know that I started baking them again the year she joined our family.

So here’s to passing a family tradition down to the next generation: perhaps these can find your way into your own family annals too!

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Nov 062009

By now, you’ve probably been able to tell that I’m having a love affair with Rancho Gordo beans. They’re just so damn good (and good for you) – I can’t help trying to put them into every food imaginable. I love them so much that someone who possibly lives in my house may have possibly placed an order for 45 pounds of beans from them a couple of weeks ago. My thinking was that I was buying a year’s worth of beans, but at the rate I’m finding fantastic recipes, the ten pounds of garbanzos may only last a couple of months. We’re not even going to mention the fifteen pounds of black beans and fifteen pounds of borlottis that arrived in the same shipment. But I digress.

I’ve recently started reading the Rancho Gordo blog and was ecstatic to find this particular recipe on there last week. It sounded so delicious, so healthy, and so satisfying, that I had to hurry up and make some chicken stock post-haste (as we had just run out two days before – like I’ve said before, the stuff burns a hole in my freezer) so that I could put this soup on the table.

Clearly, I hadn’t really been paying attention when I read up on the ingredients – I must have just been skimming for the produce I would need to add to the grocery list. So I didn’t really notice that it called for cinnamon until I was mise en place-ing everything. It was such a pleasant surprise though – we Americans are really missing out by regarding cinnamon as a wholly sweet spice rather than something that can be used to great effect in savory dishes. It brought a whole new dimension to the soup: adding a fullness not otherwise present and bringing to mind the most comforting of comfort foods. Try this on a cold, dreary winter night with a glass of lush cabernet and discover it for yourself!

Chickpea soup with barley and chard

Click for the recipe →

Oct 252009

I’ve never been a big fan of rice. The way Americans do it is just so… blah. Brown rice suffers even more than the typical white rice. Some inspiration is needed, and fast!

Bored with rice?  Bring some new flavors into the mix
Nikon D50

We’re not going to even talk about boxed products like Rice A Roni – all I can taste is chemicals, and if you’re daring enough to face the three-inch list of ingredients, you’ll find MSG or its precursors. Yuck! Many people have tried to liven up rice by adding chicken broth or stock, but this too is problematic. If you use commercial broth, you’re left with something unpalatably salty. If you use homemade stock, the gelatin interacts with the grains somehow, leaving a gross, sticky mess that is incapable of absorbing all of its cooking liquid. I have tried many, many times to find a good water-to-stock ratio that will flavor the rice but won’t leave it gummy and waterlogged but have failed every time. Clearly, another approach is in order.

Bored with rice?  Bring some new flavors into the mix
Nikon D50

First off, I gave up any hope in making plain brown rice interesting. I needed to infuse some other flavors, and fast. So one day at a local health food store, I parked myself in front of the bulk bins and started picking and choosing some different grains to make my rice more interesting and more textured. I was very happy with my chosen blend – brown rice, wild rice, wheat berries, and rye berries – because it definitely had more flavor and it had a marvelous toothiness to it, but I still wanted more.

To find something suitable, I took my cue from a land where rice is actually a staple grain, figuring that they, of all people, would know how to make it interesting. I settled upon some inspiration from spiced Indian rice dishes that I love so well and opted for a pilaf that begins with whole spices. This, too, was better, but it still needed something more. Little by little, I whittled my way down to the solution, adding and subtracting things, until last night, I finally hit upon a solution I loved. Even The Hubs liked it! At long last, rice – and most especially, healthy brown rice – has been delivered from tasteless purgatory.

The finished pilaf: flavorful rice,at last!
Nikon D50

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May 192008

If you’ve yet to foray into the world of Indian cuisine, chicken tikka masala is a good guide for first-timers. There are many aspects of it that are familiar and comfortable to a Western palate (like chicken and rice) but with a decidedly Eastern bent. And by Eastern bent, I mean wonderfully aromatic and fragrant rice, and a richly spiced, yet not spicy, warm sauce for the chicken. It’s a small wonder that this is the most popular Indian dish in the world, even if it’s not, well, strictly authentic Indian.

A handwritten recipe
Nikon D50

Another fantastic thing about chicken tikka masala is that it requires no special equipment. It would be nice to have a tandoor, but a broiler make an acceptable stand-in. Now if only I could find a good tandoor substitute when making naan… But that’s another story of a less successful foray. For now, stick with the chicken tikka masala and really start using some spices in your cooking!

Chicken tikka masala served atop fragrant basmati rice
Nikon D50

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Jan 302008

There are some days at work that are just way too hectic for me to break away for a bit, drive home, and prepare a delicious meal.

Luckily, I have this recipe, and I can make a delicious, healthy meal at work.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one who’s occasionally too busy to get the much needed lunch respite, so in honor of all of us eat-at-our-deskers, I present this, a throughly modern, healthy, and delicious version of the typical American baked potato.

Rosemary and cumin: the major flavor players
Nikon D50

If you’re like me, that previously mentioned russet potato (a starchy root whose super-nutritious skins are largely discarded), piled high with butter (artery clogger #1), cheese (A.C. #2), sour cream (A.C. #3), bacon (A.C. #4) and chives (woah, an innocuous one managed to get in there) is pretty unappealing. Try this take instead: a yam (not candied, but left in its pure fiber- and vitamin-rich form), piled with tangy plain yogurt (pretty healthy, especially when compared to sour cream), cumin (a wonderful spice), and rosemary (another fantastic flavor). See, the beauty of this lunch is that not only is it as easy and quick to prepare as the four-fold artery clogger, it’s much more flavorful because you use herbs and spices and not lots of animal fat on a root veggie that already has plenty of flavor on its own. (Quick note: yes, that is a jar of ground cumin – I buy most of my spices whole but I go through cumin so fast that I don’t take issue with buying it ground. I do keep whole cumin on hand, but for a quick, easy recipe like this it’s just easier to take the shortcut.)

And I must admit it: I’m a sucker for the yogurt, cumin, and rosemary blend. I first ran across it in middle eastern lamb spread I make around Easter and for some reason it just works with the yam. And really, with fresh, flavorful ingredients like this, what’s not to love? Unless, of course, you count the glares of envy that your Lean Cuisine-reheating office-mates will be shooting you when they smell the lunch you’re walking around with.

Healthy, delicious, and ready to eat in minutes
Nikon D50

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Oct 092007

Pumpkin spice cookies

This recipe is one that’s been near and dear to me for nearly my whole life. My Mom originally clipped it out of a newspaper and it’s grown up with me, going through different changes as I changed too.

Originally we made these cookies huge and round with little pumpkin stems and lavished icing and sprinkles upon them like festive, sweet, sticky jack-o-lanterns. Needless to say, they never lasted long.

My copy of the beloved recipeYears later as my brother and I grew out of the whole Halloween thing, these cookies stuck around (of course!) Now that having a good smooth icing canvas was no longer necessary, chocolate chips made their way into the cookies. They marred the formerly glasslike (well, for a cookie) surface but dude, it was chocolate. Yum! My parents would send these cookies to me in my care packages at college, and they brought back memories of childhood the way that only really good comfort foods can do.

They just might be the best cookie ever.

Click for the recipe →

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