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the urban baker

the urban baker: November 2010

the urban baker

The Urban Baker is deliciously photographed blog about nourishing your family's soul through life in the kitchen. The recipes for fabulous savories and sweets are easily replicated and will inspire you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Truffle Brownie Pumpkin Cheesecake Bites

Thanksgiving is around the corner, and I can honestly say, I am still a little obsessed with pumpkin.  I cannot wait for pumpkin pie, I am making my pumpkin soup as I write this, and I am thinking about attempting some sort of pumpkin macaroon (have lots of egg whites on hand).

My Thanksgiving menu is already set and organized and I am not planning on adding to it.  However, my kids are off from school this week and later today, we are meeting friends for a hike.  Our plan is to go out for lunch after the hike, yet I knew everyone is going to end up back at our house to play for a bit.  I wanted to have some snacks on hand.  I whipped up these truffle brownie pumpkin cheesecake bites as I had some left over pumpkin puree in the fridge.  Rather than making them in a 9x9" pan, I opted to make individuals in my silicone baking muffin pans.  These are going to be the perfect compliment to a big bowl of pomegranate seeds and a white bean dip with roasted pita chips.  Maybe, we will skip lunch all together and simply come home for the snacks!

Truffle Brownie + Pumpkin Cheesecake Bites
yield: 28 mini bites

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 stick of butter, cubed
2 Tbls. unsweetened cocoa
1 Tbls. espresso powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 cup flour
8 oz. cream cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbls. flour
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

• preheat oven to 350*
for the brownie layer:
• melt chocolate, butter, cocoa, and espresso powder in a bowl over simmering water.
• remove bowl from the heat and add the sugar, vanilla, and salt.  add the egg and mix until smooth.
• fold in the flour.
• using a small ice cream scoop, scoop batter into individual muffin tins. set aside while you make the cheesecake
for the cheesecake layer:
• in the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth.
• add the sugar and combine
• add the egg and the vanilla and mix to combine
• mix in the remaining ingredients until fully incorporated.
• using the same ice cream scooper(cleaned, of course), scoop over brownie mixture and fill muffin cups almost to the top.
• using a toothpick or small skewer swirl the cheesecake mixture slightly to form a pattern with the brownie mixture.
• bake 20-25 minutes, rotating pans back to front mid through.  brownie bites are done when the top of the cheesecake feels slightly firm to the touch.
• let cool on a wire rack.  once cool, stick in the fridge for about 45 minutes.  once totally firm, pop the brownie bites out of the muffin cups and enjoy!!

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Apple Slab Pie

Raise your hand if you have an over abundance of apples right now.  I thought so!  There are many things I want to do with my apples; make apple challah, apple sauce, apple cake, and an apple slab pie.  Well, 1 out of 4 isn't so bad now, is it?

This past summer I made a cherry slab pie and it was so good.  I shared it with my friends and, without tooting my own horn, we are still talking about it.  So, why not an apple slab pie?  The pastry from the cherry slab pie was near perfect.  I made another batch of the dough and then simply switched out the fruit. Apples cook differently than cherries, so I adapted the filling from a recipe from The Cook's Country Cookbook.  Slab pies are great for a crowd.  And this pie fed a huge crowd.  It was demolished in about 15 minutes.  I had one teeny tiny bite.  That teeny tiny bite was really good.  I am going to make this many times over throughout out the next few months.  Next time I will pair my apples with some fresh pomegranate seeds!

Think about this apple slab pie for your Thanksgiving Dessert Table. Maybe add some cranberries or some pomegranate seeds! Your guests will thank you later!!

Apple Slab Pie
crust adapted from here
yield: 16 servings

7 lbs apples (3 1/2 lbs tart apples, 3 1/2 lbs. sweet apples) peeled, cored + cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 Tbls. unsalted butter, melted
4 Tbls. cornstarch
3 Tbls. fresh lemon juice
zest of two lemons
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt

• roll out dough according to this.
• preheat oven to 350* and butter + flour a 10" x 15" jelly roll pan
• toss the apples with 1 cup of sugar and place in a colander set over a bowl (to catch the juices). reserve the "apple juice".  in a large bowl, mix the apples, cornstarch, lemon juice, zest, cinnamon, and salt.  add 2 tablespoons of the reserved juice.
• spread the apple mixture over the bottom layer of crust.  place the second dough over the apples and with the overlap of the bottom layer of crust, seal the top and bottom crust together.
• brush the entire surface with an egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon of water, whisked) and then sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
• with a knife, make a few slits in the top of the crust so the steam can release during baking.
• bake the pie until the juices are bubbling, and the crust is golden brown, about 1 hour.  Let the pie cool on a wire rack!
• cut into 3" squares and serve!

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Thanksgiving Round-Up

I think I have mentioned that I love the holidays.  Valentine's day we make lots and lots of candy, Easter, we decorate eggs and love a good Easter egg hunt, Passover we become a macaroon factory, Fourth of July it's all about the red, white and blue accents, New Years it' all about the cocktail, and Thanksgiving - it's all about the sides, the table decorations, and the annual Salzman family turkey "football" bowl.

I started collecting Thanksgiving recipes all the way back in the late 70's.  Even before Miguel and I were married (25 years ago!), I enjoyed making Thanksgiving dinner.  The more guests, the merrier.  I love to feed a crowd and Thanksgiving is that one holiday that makes feeding a crowd really fun.  I love to mix the flavors, the colors, the savory with the sweet.  And I especially love Thanksgiving because it is that one holiday where nothing is expected.  No gifts, no candy, no gestures.  It is just a way to get everyone together, be grateful, and simply say "thanks".

This year, I am sticking with some old favorites, but introducing some new hopefuls!

Family Favorites
My mac 'n cheese coins
Parmesan -White Cheddar Straws
Artichoke-Olive dip
Cranberry-Raspberry Sauce
Squash Gratin
Mom's Turkey
Mom's Gravy

New Additions:

Rustic Apple Galette
Brussels Sprout Salad

The balance of the meal; sweet potatoes, more veggies,etc, will be made by other family members.  I promise to share a recap of our holiday feast, after I have digested this meal.  Which may take a few days.  So be patient!

This cranberry recipe was my dad's favorite.  He would eat it with a spoon.  Now, my son-Eli, has taken on that role and requests this cranberry sauce all year around. I always made a double recipe, one for our table and one for my dad to take home.  I will set a place for him this Thanksgiving holiday and be grateful for the 46 years that he was in my life.  

Cranberry-Raspberry Sauce
yield: 4 cups

1 lb. fresh cranberries
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1/2  cup sugar
10 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed and drained
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon

• throw all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  pulse until chunky.
• refrigerate.  can stay for about 1 month.

Brussels Sprout Salad

There is a restaurant in my neighborhood (The Six) that is a great place to grab lunch or eat an early dinner before a movie.  The menu constantly changes and uses mostly seasonal, fresh ingredients.  I look forward to their shaved brussels sprout salad and am always disappointed when it is not on the menu.  Inspired by The Six, I decided to create one of my own.  It's delicious, if I do say so myself!

1/4 cup grainy Dijon mustard
2 Tbls. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbls. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbls. sugar
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

candied pecans:
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tbls. unsalted butter
3/4 cup pecans, chopped + toasted

1 1/2 lbs brussels sprouts, trimmed
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

• preheat oven to 325*
• bring a pot of water to boil
for the candied pecans
• in a heavy duty pan, melt butter with sugar.  bring to a boil.  boil for one minute.
• remove from heat and add the pecans.
• spread mixture onto a silpat lined baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes.
• cool completely
for the dressing
• make dressing, combine all ingredients and mix well.  taste for seasoning. set aside
• once the water has boiled, add 1 tablespoon kosher salt.  add brussels sprouts and cook for
5 minutes or until tender.
• drain, rinse with cold water.  cool on paper towels.
• using a food processor fitted with the 1/8 or 1/4" slicing disc, slice brussels sprouts.  transfer to a large bowl.  cover and chill.
when ready to assemble
• toss brussels sprouts with enough dressing to coat.  let marinate for 30 minutes.
• top with candied pecans and pomegranate seeds.

Rustic Herbed Stuffing
adapted from Bon Appetit
yield: 8-10 servings

Stuffing is never my department.  My mom has always made the stuffing (another one of my dad's favorites) and she ALWAYS stuffs it in the bird.  It happens to be really delicious and really moist and has a very distinct flavor.  But as my mom gets older, it becomes harder and harder for her to do tasks such as these.  So, this year, we are veering off of tradition, just a little, and I am making this rustic herbed stuffing.  We did a trial run.  Eli ate half the pan and gave it two thumbs up!

11 cups (16oz.) country style french bread, cut into 1" cubes
10 Tbls. unsalted butter
2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped celery
3/4 cups chopped, fresh italian parsley
1 Tbls. chopped, fresh oregano
1 Tbls. chopped, fresh sage
1 Tbls. chopped fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 large bunch of Swiss chard, stems removed, chopped coarse (12 cups)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup chicken stock (I used homemade)
3 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
2 oz. grated Gruyere cheese

• preheat oven to 375*.  butter a large casserole dish.
• spread bread cubes on a large sheet pan.  bake until very dry, 15 minutes.  cool.
• melt butter in a heavy large skillet over high heat.  add green onions and next 8 ingredients.  saute until celery is tender, 6-8 minutes.
• add Swiss chard and saute for 3 minutes.
• place bread crumbs in a very large bowl.  add warm veggies and toss to coat.
• whisk eggs and 3/4 cups broth(i used a 1/2 cup more) and add this to the bread mixture. mix in Parmesan.
• transfer to prepared dish. cover with buttered foil and bake for 30 minutes.  remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until golden.

*will post photos and recipes after Thanksgiving

I wish Thanksgiving was a week long holiday.  If it were, I could then make all the dishes that I desire. Here are some amazing recipes that have inspired me:

Spiced-Mulled-Cider by Organic Spark

Chestnut Soup by The Italian Dish

Bacon-Sweet Potato-Spinach Salad by Family Fresh Cooking

Pumpkin Scones by The Little Teochew

Gluten Free Stuffing by Gluten Free Girl

Carmelized Onion Cornbread Stuffing by Organically Delicious

Pumpkin, Quinoa + Hazelnut Gnocchi by Cannelle et Vanilla

Roasted Turkey Breast by What's Gaby Cooking

Thankful Cookies + Blessings by I am Mommy

Spiced Pear + Cranberry Pocket Pies by The Cilantropist

Pumpkin Crumble Cake by Indigo's Sugar Spectrum

Pear-Frangipani Galette by The Wives with Knives

How to make Pie Crust by Brown Eyed Baker

for more great recipes and inspiration, check out Tastespotting and Foodgawker.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

gluten-free crackers + my new book crush

I had the great pleasure of meeting and chatting with Shauna James Ahern a.k.a. "the gluten free girl", last month, at Blogher Food.  She is warm, honest, engaging and gluten free.  We chatted about our kids, food, parenting and life.  Although the conversation was short, it felt comfortable and I knew it wasn't going to be the last time that she and I chatted about everyday stuff.

Hence, when I received an email from her (at the suggestion of my favorite gal), to participate in a gluten free baking challenge, I accepted immediately.  I had purchased her book, gluten-free girl and the chef, right after meeting her and I had tagged many recipes I wanted to make. While I have been working on my Thanksgiving menu for the past week, crackers and dips are part of that menu. Although I have already made and frozen my "mac 'n cheese coins" as well as my "Parmesan spicy straws", I thought, what the heck, another cracker wouldn't hurt anyone.  Plus, these crackers would compliment my roasted ratatouille dip so well!

I had most of the ingredients in the house as I have been experimenting (unsuccessfully) with alternative flours, slowly altering some of my most favorite recipes.  So, creating these crackers wasn't much of a challenge at all.  In the recipe instructions, Shauna mentions that the dough isn't as easy to work with as a dough made with gluten.  However, I did not have that experience.  I found the dough so incredibly easy to use.  I followed the recipe almost exact, except for a slight alteration, adding a sprinkling of Parmesan to the top of the crackers(prior to baking).  These are delicious.  I enlisted my friend's daughter, whom is 12 and has been gluten free for half her life, to be the taste tester.  She highly approved.  And I know you will, too!

Whether you are gluten-free or not, this book is worth adding to your library.  There are tons of recipes that inspire healthy eating without using white flours and white sugars.  I cannot wait to make the multi grain waffles!
Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

Buy this book, to get the recipe for these crackers and make one of your favorite dips to compliment them.  Here's mine:

Roasted Ratatouille Dip
yield: 1 1/2 cups

1 very large eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 red bell pepper, cored and cubed
1 orange bell pepper, cored and cubed
1 small zucchini, cubed
1 purple onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbls. olive oil
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 Tbls. tomato paste
splash of red wine vinegar

• preheat oven to 400*.  line a sheet pan with heavy duty foil and spray with cooking spray.
• throw all the veggies on the sheet pan and toss with olive oil. sprinkle with salt and pepper. mix with your hands.
• roast for 45 minutes, rotating pan half way through.
• let cool.  once cooled put roasted veggies in the bowl of a food processor.  pulse, but don't puree.  add tomato paste and splash of red wine vinegar.
• serve room temperature. store the leftovers in the fridge for 3-5 days.

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Sour Cream Pumpkin Bundt for National Bundt Day

Today is National Bundt Day.  Duty calls.  I made a bundt.  I am trying to stay seasonal, so what would make the most sense?  You guessed it, pumpkin!  When I want to make a bundt, my first stop on the internet is always Mary's blog.  She could be considered the queen of bundts and boy does she love pretty much all things bundt related.

She recently posted this recipe for Sour Cream Pumpkin Bundt which she got off of the Libby's website.  I would never in a million years think to pull something off of a branded website.  Since reading Mary's post, I have actually perused a few of the sites, just to see what their ideas are for the holidays.  Some interesting, some not so interesting.  Yet, none the less, good info and always inspires new ideas.

Regardless, this cake is a winner.  And as I have mentioned in the past, bundts are easy and they are always a crowd pleaser.  This one certainly pleased a crowd.  I made three minor alterations to the recipe.  I added dried cranberries to the streusel, cut back a little on the streusel ingredients, and replaced sucanat with white sugar.

We are having friends for brunch Thanksgiving weekend.  I may just have to make this again!

Sour Cream Pumpkin Bundt
adapted from here

2 tsp. butter, cold
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbls. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar (I used sucanat)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp.
4 large eggs, room temp.
1 cup pumpkin puree
8 oz. sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract

• preheat oven to 350*.  butter & flour a 12 cup bundt pan
for the streusel
• combine all dry ingredients and whisk.  cut butter into dry mixture until crumbly.  add dried cranberries. set aside.
for the cake
• whisk flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. set aside
• cream sugar and butter together in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy.
• add eggs one at a time.
• add pumpkin, sour cream, and vanilla.  scrape sides of bowl and mix again until incorporated.
• spoon half the batter into the prepared pan
• top with streusel mixture. don't let streusel hit the side of the pan.
• cover with remaining batter.
• bake 55-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
• cool for 30 minutes in pan, then remove from the pan and cool completely.
for the glaze
• combine 1 1/2 - 2 cups sifted powdered sugar with 2-3 tablespoons of milk.  mix completely.
• spoon over cake and let drip down the sides.


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Friday, November 12, 2010

Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake = French Friday's with Dorie

I am so glad it is Friday.  I am happy because I have two days off from packing lunches, I don't have to rush the kids out the door as the sun is coming up, begging them to eat breakfast, no rushing from here there and everywhere and I can relax, just a little.

I also love Friday's because I get to take myself to Dorie's virtual cooking school. I get to share my cooking experience with people who live all around the globe and we talk to each other, via the Internet, as if we have been friends since childhood.  I have only known these people for a little under a month, but we all share a common passion; food, cooking, Dorie, and her new book; around my french table.

What I really love most about this book is that it puts "french food" into perspective.  It is not intimidating and it is Americanized just enough for it still feel very, very french.  Before joining French Friday's with Dorie, I had earmarked so many pages in the book.  This cake was earmarked.  I was overjoyed when I saw that this cake made the list of  November challenges.

The semolina in this recipe is plain old, Cream of Wheat cereal. Growing up, I was a HUGE cream of wheat fan.  I liked it with a little pat of butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar.  I have not eaten it for over 30 years and obviously did not have any in the house.  However, I did have a bag of Bob's Red Mill Organic Brown Rice Cereal.  You ask why?  Can't tell you!  So, I opted to use what was on hand.  The recipe calls for golden raisins, which I was out of.  Yet, I did have some dried, black mission figs.  Rather than making a special trip the grocery store, I swapped out the raisins and added the figs.  Mmmmmmm.

The texture of this cake reminds me of a cross between a flan and a clafoutis.  It is somewhat custard like and then  cake is topped with a caramel sauce.  I think that is why I originally earmarked the page.  Caramel anything is my friend.  This cake is my new friend!  It got the thumbs up from everyone in my house!

Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake
page 438-439

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pecan Bars - bite size!

Thanksgiving is around the corner and I always bake, among many other things, my "famous" pecan pie.  My mother-in-law LOVES pecan pie and Thanksgiving, generally, falls on or around her birthday. Pecan pie usually adorns our dessert table - with a candle in it while nine adoring grandchildren, sing happy birthday to their "nana"!

I have been making this recipe for about 20 years and it just gets better with age.  Originally, I followed the recipe, exactly.  Then, as the years went on, I realized that I didn't like the crust and worked really hard to find the right balance between the dry ingredients, the fats, and the wet ingredients.  I now have one basic pie crust that I use pretty much for all pies and tarts. And the filling evolved as well.  I now make it more like a tart rather than a pie.  Makes eating a small slice much more friendly.

I wanted to experiment a little this year and had an idea to make bite sized pecan bars.  I reinvented the filling for my pecan pie and made these in a 13" x 9" pan.  These bars have a shortbread crust and I replaced the white sugar with sucanat.  This is not my original pie filling, but it is a pretty good version of it.

I loved these bars. I am going to make them one more time before Thanksgiving and make them in mini muffin tins.  They will be more like a "tassie" rather than a bar. I think I am going to wrap these up, in little individual boxes and give to all the kids teachers as a little pre-Thanksgiving treat!

Pecan "Pie" Bars
yields: 32 mini bites

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sucanat (or white sugar)
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 cup organic butter, cut into cubes
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 3/4 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
1/4 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

for the shortbread:
• preheat oven to 350*
• butter a 13" x 9" metal pan.  line with parchment and butter the parchment.
• combine flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your food processor.  pulse a few times.  add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
• press dough evenly into prepared pan.
• bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the edges of the dough are light brown.
for the filling:
• while the crust is baking, combine the sucanat, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup of butter in a heavy bottom pan.  bring to a boil over low to medium heat.  Once boiled, immediately remove from heat.
• beat eggs in a medium bowl.
• ladle a small amount of the mixture into the beaten eggs.  do this a few times to temper the eggs (so they don't scramble and cook on you).  once tempered add the rest of the hot mixture to the eggs and combine.
• stir in the pecans, salt, and the vanilla.  mix thoroughly.
• pour over cooked shortbread
• bake for 32-35 minutes or until the filling no longer jiggles when you shake the pan.
• cool completely on a wire rack.  once cooled set in fridge for about an hour.  this makes cutting them a bit easier.  cut into desired size bars or bites.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Dulce de Leche

This past weekend a friend of ours had a huge party.  They asked me to bake.  A few restrictions; no nuts, mini bite sized - everything, and keep it simple.  No problem.  I made lemon squares, gooey, fudgy brownies, whole wheat-oat chocolate chunk cookies, and a vanilla bean cupcake with dulce de leche butter cream.

About a week before the party I started collecting provisions.  My first stop was Surfas.  I have talked about Surfas in the past and I am always overjoyed to have an excuse to shop there. After collecting most of what I needed, I simply could not find the dulce de leche.  They were out of it.  I knew I could make my own, but sometimes, when baking for a crowd, I do look for shortcuts. No problem, I said to myself, I will just make it.  How hard could it be?  I soon found out, not hard at all.

I will never buy pre-made, store bought Dulce de Leche, every again.  This is one of the easiest things I have every made and I am kicking myself for not doing it sooner.  Dulce de leche will be lining my refrigerator shelves along side my homemade caramel and my homemade hot fudge sauce.  I just adore finding new discoveries!

Dulce de Leche
make a little or make a ton!

• remove all the paper from several cans of sweetened condensed milk (14 oz. cans)
• put 2 - 4 cans in a dutch oven.  fill with water.  the water should cover the cans of milk.
• bring to a boil.  once boiled, turn down to simmer, cover slightly, with a lid and let simmer for 2-4 hours.  the longer it simmers, the thicker the caramel becomes.  I simmered mine for 3 hours.
• remove the cans from the water and let cool for one hour.  
• once cooled open the cans and transfer the thick caramel to a glass jar (I used ball jars).  let cool completely before attaching the lid.  
• this will store in the fridge for ever!


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Friday, November 5, 2010

French Friday's with Dorie: pommes dauphinois

I have a serious problem with this dish.  I am embarrassed to say that I ate 25% of it  before dinner was served last night.  I am scared to put on my jeans.  Instead of walking my usual 2.5 miles today, I am going to have to double that!  What was I thinking?

The real problem here is that these are so utterly good, that one cannot just take a small portion. With that said,,  eating 25% of the pan, isn't all that unreasonable.  Is it?  In the past, I have always made Patricia Well's recipe, Gratin Dauphinois from her book At Home in Provence.  I adore her books and have made many of her recipes, but her particular dish requires one to cook the potatoes in the cream and milk mixture, on the stove, before layering the pan, etc.  An unnecessary step.  Dorie's recipe beats out any other potato dish of this kind and this is my new "go-to" dish for those nights when I just don't have time to mess in the kitchen.

Potatoes au Gratin or "scalloped potatoes" as my dad endearingly referred to them as, was one of my dad's favorite dishes.  He loved his food.  And he loved his restaurants. He was a carbs kind of guy. Happily I admit, I am as well.  As I tempered the cream and sliced the potatoes, all I could really think about was my dad.  He would have loved these potatoes.  And he would have told all his friends about them and he would have talked about them for weeks!

I  got my passion for food from my dad.  I can remember, even at 10 years old, a huge desire to go to the best restaurant I could find.  If someone had mentioned something being the "best", I would make a mental note and hint a little hint to my dad. Growing up we were in no position to eat in these types of restaurants.  But, there were those rare occasions when he'd step out and indulge.

I felt such pride the first time I ate at Scandia, Chasens, The Bel-Air Hotel, Spago, The Palm, Musso and Franks, and countless others.  And as much as I enjoyed putting on my best outfit, my dad enjoyed it even more.  He looked so good in a suit and the smile that stretched from ear to ear, knowing how excited I was, is a memory etched in the back of my brain.  I know, if he could have, he would have done it a lot more than he had.  Yet, just as much as my dad and I loved dressing up and going to the finest, we also loved a good burger at The Apple Pan, the fried eggs and salami at Nate 'n Als, the fried zucchini circles at The Hamburger Hamlet and the french onion soup at La Frite.

My life today, centers around food, the home, and my kitchen.  At age 7, when I whipped up that first cake, from scratch, for my dad's birthday - the feeling was no different.  So as I take another bite of these delicious potatoes, I say thank you to my dad for sharing his passion with me and I also say thank you to Dorie for bringing me back to a place in my life that I hold very, very near and dear to me.

around my french table
potato gratin (pommes dauphinois)
page 360-361

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

Pumpkin is going to be with us for the next two months and I want to capitalize on all that it has to offer.  As I start to plan my Thanksgiving feast, in my head, I take into consideration all the wonderful flavors of the season; pumpkin, chestnuts, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberries, brussel sprouts, citrus, apples, pears, pecans, baby squash, beets, and so much more.

I like my Thanksgiving table to be colorful, festive and tasty.  I have my trusty favorites;

cranberry-raspberry sauce
beet-pear puree
roasted brussel sprouts
pecan pie
pumpkin praline pie

However, each year, I try to create new dishes.  Right after Halloween (like now), I start to mull through magazines (new and old), cook books, the Internet, and my friend's blogs. Each year, I like to try new potato dishes, vegetables, biscuits, savory puddings, breads, and quick breads.  I came across this recipe on Molly's blog,  Orangette, and ironically I had this recipe earmarked in one of my books, The New Joy of Cooking.  It was a sign.  I had to try it.

I had a bit of left over pumpkin puree in the fridge and this was a great way for it to not go to waste.  I love making quick breads and muffins.  Generally, when making both of these, one could easily use things found in your very own pantry.  It is a great way to whip up an after school snack, a quick early morning breakfast for the kids and both really take no time at all.

I love this bread.  The original recipe called for golden raisins, but I immediately knew I wanted to replace the raisins with cranberries. The pumpkin flavor is not overwhelming, the cranberries add just the right tartness and the hazelnuts add the perfect crunch.  This is not only going to be a staple in our home this holiday season, but I already see it wrapped and packaged as gifts for friends and neighbors.  

Pumpkin Bread with Hazelnuts + Cranberries
1 9" loaf 

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp. vanilla
6 Tbls. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cup succanat
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup pumpkin puree, room temperature
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1/2 cup fresh cranberries

• preheat oven to 350*.  Butter a 9 x 5" loaf pan(I used an 8 x 4" loaf pan and two small paper loaf pans).
• whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, baking powder. set aside.
• in another bowl, mix the water and the vanilla.  
• in a the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy. beat in the sugar until combined and just blended.  add the eggs, one at a time.  add the pumpkin puree and beat on low speed until blended.
• add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the water/vanilla mixture in the two parts.
• scrape down the sides of the bowl and then fold in the hazelnuts and the cranberries.
• pour batter into the prepared pans.
• bake the 8" loaf for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.
• bake the mini loaves for about 22-28 minutes.
• let cool on rack for about 15 minutes.
• turn the loaves out onto the wire rack and let cool completely.

I actually made several of these and froze them, individually.  Next week I have a breakfast meeting to go to and I plan on taking one of these out of the freezer the night before and reheating, slightly the following morning.  This beats dunkin doughnuts any day of the week!

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Marie-helen's Apple Cake

I know, I know, I am a couple days late in posting this, but it was a very busy and hectic weekend.  Halloween is fun yet daunting all at the same time.

I did make this cake on Friday morning and had nothing but good intentions in posting on Friday. But, between pumpkin carving, an international pot luck at Eli's middle school and making Friday night dinner, I ran out of time.  Then the weekend came...and went!

So, here I am, on Monday morning to tell you how much I love this cake. I have so many plans for this cake.  I want to make it again, this week (have tons of apples) and make them bite size.  I love bite size anything and I have a feeling that this cake would be great as little cakelettes!

Friday morning was wet and rainy.  As this cake baked in the oven, my house smelled so good. I could not wait to dig into it.  All I wanted to do was cut a huge slice, get under my favorite blanket and catch up on Oprah. But I held out.  I restrained.  I exercised my skills in will power.  Glad I waited.  I had some homemade caramel sauce in the fridge.  Drizzled a little warm caramel sauce over the cake and it was like eating a caramel apple.  

I have committed or possibly over committed to French Friday's with Dorie.  But, I love all things Dorie, so I am treating this like an education.  Some days you just don't want to wake up and get up and go to class, but you really don't have a choice in the matter.  I have made the commitment and I want to see it through.

I am anxiously waiting for the November "assignments" to come my way.  If anyone of you want to do this with me, I would welcome the company!  It's fun and it forces you to do things you wouldn't normally include in your weekly meal plans.  Come on, people, buy the book and let's do this together!

Mmmmmmmmm.  Can't wait until the next time I make this cake!

Marie-Helen's Apple Cake
page 432-433

Make it and enjoy a slice for me!

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Pumpkin Soup + Halloween Traditions

We had a weekend filled with Halloween celebrations and traditions.  The week started out with a visit to the pumpkin patch   The farm that we traditionally visit is about an hour away and it is well worth the drive.  It is a huge farm with old fashion fun and games; a huge corn maze, tomato shooting, hay rides, shaved ice, and acres of pumpkins to choose from.  Eli is 12 and he still looks forward to our yearly tradition of spending an afternoon simply having fun.

When Eli was very young, my mom started a tradition of carving pumpkins with the kids. We try to do carve as close to Halloween as possible.  If we do it too far in advance, the bugs take over and it is not such a pretty site. It's our job to get the pumpkins but it is mom's job to purchase the kits.  She and the kids mull over the pages in the book and decide which pattern to recreate.  In the past, our pumpkins could have won prizes.  This year...not the case.  They actually sucked.  They were so bad, they were funny.  The kids didn't have the patience this year and I think mom was simply tired.  None the less, we still set them out on the porch, lit a candle and enjoyed the light!

The day of Halloween was filled with anticipation, parties and dressing up.  Isaac went to his friend Gaby's for a pre-dinner extravaganza.  His friend's costumes were amazing and it turned out to be a great group of adults.  We both thoroughly enjoyed!

"the joker", banana head, the devil, and Darth Vader

After that, Eli was off to his friend, Jamie's.  Jamie and her dad create this amazing haunted house.  My friend Joanne had commented that "Halloween had thrown up on their lawn".  However, I totally disagreed.  It was fabulous.  I was a tad jealous (unfortunately, I did not get a photo).  It was the grave yard of all grave yards and it was super festive.  I loved it.  Eli ended up going trick or treating with all his "gal pals".  When he came home he was happy, happy, happy.  And then his molar tooth fell out.  I decided to peek through his candy bag.  I saw all the OPEN WRAPPERS!  He easily could have eaten a pound of candy!  No wonder, his tooth fell out!

In the past years, we have always entertained the neighborhood.  Some years I would make huge vats of chili with all the fix ins, other years it would be pulled turkey sandwiches, and then there were those years of baked ziti and lasagna.  Whatever worked for a crowd, I did it.  Yet, this year, since the kids were going to be spread out a bit on Halloween night, I choose to create something quiet, that we adults could eat at our leisure.  I made a pot of pumpkin soup (usually ends up on our Thanksgiving table), a huge salad, a hunk of bread and and apple cake (post to follow).  I love this soup.  It isn't heavy, it could be vegan (replace the butter with coconut oil) and it is hearty.  I have been making this soup for over 20 years and to this day, I still look forward to eating it.

Puree of Pumpkin Soup
yield: 1 quart

4 Tbls. unsalted butter or coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
1 medium leek, white part only, chopped
1 pound canned pumpkin puree
4 cups homemade veggie stock
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 bay leaf

• in a large stock pot, melt the butter.  saute onion and leeks until soft.  stir occasionally to avoid burning.
• stir in pumpkin puree, stock, all the spices, and the bay leaf.  bring to a boil.
• lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes.
• remove the bay leaf and puree the mixture in batches in a blender.

if you desire a creamer soup, add some half and half after it is pureed and cook for a few minutes over low heat.

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