Archives for October 2008

Countdown to the Jam Swap!


Less than two weeks to go until my jam swap! There isn’t much to prepare for, but I’m working on a surprise or two for you all; yes, even those of you who can only attend virtually.
Seems like not that along ago that I put out the invitation and now it’s finally happening! I am really looking forward to this little event and meeting a few of my readers.

I had a great initial response; in fact, so many people said they would come that I started getting a little nervous: was I in over my head? But then the summer wore on, people got busy, and the emails started trickling in…cancellations. I had expected as much, though. Folks have good intentions and big plans, but sometimes life has a way of showing us we can’t do everything!
So now with just days to go until the swap, it’s crunch time and of course people are dropping like flies. I am not worried though, (I just had another person cancel as I am writing this) it’s about quality, not quantity!!
I would have thought most everyone would have their canning all wrapped up by now, but I know of a few invitees that have every intention of tackling it this week! That’s dedication for you!

I’ll be contributing three kinds of fruit preserves: a Raspberry-Vanilla Bean Coulis, Spiced Golden Plum Jam, and Spiced Maple Apple Butter(pictured above). I’m all about the spices, as you can see!

Check back in a few weeks to get the full update from the swap and maybe you’ll be inspired to host one in your area next year.

Sugar High Friday: Tonka Bean Spiced Apple-Raspberry Cake


If you’ve ever had an apple cake, you’ll probably agree that it just might be the second-most comforting, soul-satisfying cake out there. (Obviously chocolate cake takes first place, right?)
It works with tea or coffee, brunch or dessert, and can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. Apple cake stands alone; it requires nothing save perhaps a dusting of powdered sugar to spiffy it up, and doesn’t rely on filling and frosting to meet its full potential.


Back in March when I was recovering at home from the birth of my second son, Mateo, my good friend and neighbor, Linda, brought over a box of home cooked food. There were at least three meals worth of hot dinners, warm artichoke dip with pita, a salad and her famous apple cake.
After the hospital food (which I barely survived), her cake tasted like the best thing I had ever eaten. I’ll never forget standing in my kitchen with Danny, eating it from the pan and just looking at each other saying, “Everything is going to be OK now. We have this cake.”
We could have brought home triplets, and I would have felt equipped.

There’s a lot to be said for the benefits of good, home cooked food when you are emotionally and physically low on reserves. Remember that the next time a friend has a baby or an operation or something. Sure flowers or another baby blanket is a nice gesture, but how about a crock pot of Beef Bourguignon…and an apple cake.


I called Linda up a few months later and requested the recipe. She laughed and said it was a ‘very popular’ recipe and got a lot of reactions. I understood why.
Thanks Linda!

OK, so of course I changed a few things, but not much.
My raspberry bush was still yielding fruit when I made this cake, so I tossed in a few handfuls between the layers of batter along with the apples. The recipe originally called for a dusting of cinnamon at this point, but I reached for my microplane and grated Tonka bean over the fruit. You should always use a light hand when working with Tonka bean as ingesting too much of it can be a health hazard.

Tonka-Bean Spiced Apple-Raspberry Cake
(don’t sweat it if you don’t have tonka bean, just use a teaspoon of cinnamon instead)

1 cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature

2/3 cup oil

3/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly

3/4 cup fresh raspberries
1/4 tonka bean, grated superfine

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8 inch round cake tin and line with parchment. Beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in oil and almond extract. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Fold into egg mixture. Spread half of cake batter in tin. Cover with sliced apples and raspberries and sprinkle with tonka bean. Cover apples with the rest of the batter and bake for about 45 minutes.

This is my entry for October’s Sugar High Friday event hosted by Anita over at Dessert First. Anita chose spices as her theme for this event and I originally didn’t have anything to submit, but when I took my first bit of this cake and the tonka bean quietly, yet masterfully, stole the show away from the fruit, I knew I had nailed it!
And my love affair with the tonka bean continues…

Check out Anita’s blog on October 31 for the entire SHF roundup.

Thanksgiving Part 3: Dessert

Why is pie synonymous with Thanksgiving? I have yet to make that connection, but I’ve eaten pie every mid-October for as long as I can remember and I’m mighty thankful for that.

Perhaps it is because the holiday falls right in the middle of apple and pumpkin season and who wants to be baking anything else than gorgeous pies with that fresh, affordable produce?

This has been the most beautiful autumn I can remember. The weekends have been sunny and warm and we’ve been lucky enough to get out and do plenty of our favorite fall activities such as apple picking (twice!), pumpkin harvesting and getting lost in a corn labyrinth.


I made a lot of pies as a kid. My siblings and I would earn spare cash over the summer by holding a stall at the local farmers market. My mother would sell her bedding plants–fragrant herbs, perky tomatoes and broad-leafed cucumbers; my brother usually had to find a home for a litter of bunnies or young goat, but my older sister and I baked. Apple, strawberry and rhubarb pies, butter tarts, cinnamon buns, bagels and anything else we figured would sell. Those were some lucky customers we supplied; boy we should have charged double!

Those pie-making skills certainly rubbed off on my youngest sister, who brought this towering Spiced Apple Streusel Pie to our Thanksgiving dinner. While Miranda’s true passion is for animals and animal care, she also knows her way around the kitchen, as this gravity-defying deep dish pie demonstrated. I mean, just look at those apples, they are stacked four high! No slouchy sunken apple pie for her.

I knew you had to have this recipe. I’ve already made it again since Thanksgiving and it’s only been a week!

Spiced Streusel Apple Pie

Course: Desserts
Calories: 3435kcal
Author: Aimee

Ingredients

For Streusel Topping

  • 2/3 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup golden brown sugar packed
  • 1/4 cup granola
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter chilled, and cut into small pieces

For Filling

  • 2 1/4 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 6 medium), peeled, quartered, cored, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 Flaky Pie Crust prepared and chilled

Instructions

For Streusel

  • Combine pecans, brown sugar, granola, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in processor.
  • Using on/off turns, process until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and process until small moist clumps form. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate)

For Filling

  • Position rack in centre of oven and preheat to 375°F.
  • Toss apples with sour cream in large bowl to coat.
  • Mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a small bowl. Sprinkle mixture over apples and toss to coat.
  • Transfer filling to prepared crust.
  • Sprinkle streusel over apples, covering completely. Bake until apples are tender and strusel is golden, tenting pie with foil if streusel browns too quickly, about 1 hour.
  • Transfer pie to a wire rack and cool slightly. Serve pie slightly warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition

Calories: 3435kcal | Carbohydrates: 455g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 180g | Saturated Fat: 69g | Cholesterol: 210mg | Sodium: 850mg | Potassium: 1954mg | Fiber: 41g | Sugar: 276g | Vitamin A: 3017IU | Vitamin C: 48mg | Calcium: 446mg | Iron: 12mg

Keeping things seasonal, my awesome sister-in-law, Melanie, seduced us all with the other dessert of the night: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Toffee Sauce.

I swear, we had this bread pudding and the apple pie keeping warm in the oven while we digested our dinner, and when I opened the oven door to take a peek it smelt so good my knees nearly buckled. The combination of apple and pumpkin with all the spices was just too good to be true. If only there was a scented candle that smelled so sweet!

Last fall I created the memorable Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding with Rummy Raisins and Mel’s version only confirmed that I love, love bread pudding. It’s a great do-ahead dessert, the flavors only improve over time, and it’s actually a brilliant dessert to bring to a pot-luck–nothing is going so squish, spill or crack.

I had suggested we whip some cream to top of both the pie and the pudding, but that was deemed to be ‘overdoing it’ and the idea was shot down. (I know, I know, who runs the kitchen anyway, right?) However, it turns out the toffee sauce was really all I needed, and no one noticed that I splashed a little onto my pie as well.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Toffee Sauce

Bread:
5 cups cubed day-old bread, (crusts left on or removed)
1/2 cup golden raisins

Custard:
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin (no spices added)
1 1/2 cups half & half, milk, light cream or a combination thereof
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

Toffee Sauce:
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in the center of the oven. You will need an 8 inch square baking dish.

Custard: In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, half and half, melted butter, sugar, vanilla, spices and salt. Add the bread cubes and raisins and toss to coat, making sure all the bread cubes are coated with the custard.

Transfer the bread pudding to the ungreased pan and bake for about 25 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the bread pudding from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.
Served warm with toffee sauce.

Toffee Sauce:
Place the butter, sugar, and cream in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for about 3 minutes then remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. You can make this sauce in advance and simply reheat.

Makes an 8×8 inch bread pudding (serves 6 people)

I hope you’ve gotten some inspiration from this little Thanksgiving series. It’s been fun!

Missed the rest of the meal?
Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co

Thanksgiving Part 2: Side Dishes

Thanksgiving Part 2: Side Dishes

Guess what arrived in my mailbox yesterday? The Martha Stewart Living November issue with a big, fat, perfect turkey on the front and the title “Thanksgiving Solved!” We’re a little ahead of the game here at UtHC.
I think my side dishes–not to mention my stuffing–were better than the ones she featured, but you can decide for yourself! Let’s continue with our meal.


First up we have Maple Glazed Baby Carrots, harvested from the earth the same day they were served. They were so naturally sweet, the syrup was an unnecessary, but lavish touch. Wondering why they are a funny color? These are my purple carrots, which look almost black when they are cooked.


I’ve enjoyed brussel sprouts every time I’ve had them; I can’t understand why they have such a bad rap. They brought such gorgeous color to our Thanksgiving table and were far more elegant than the common green bean (and don’t even get me started on canned peas!). Just a head’s up for the mama’s reading: there were plenty of brussel sprouts rolling around under the high chair as these were not a hit with the little ones. More for us grown-ups, that’s all!

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Walnuts and Lemon

Brussel Sprouts
Butter

Lemon,
zested
Walnuts, lightly toasted

Salt and Pepper

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Prepare brussel sprouts by peeling away one layer of outer leaves and scoring an ‘X’ in the bottoms, about 1/8th of an inch deep. Drop brussel sprouts into the boiling water and blanch for about 3 minutes, less if they are really small. A sharp knife poked into the center should still meet with some resistance. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a tray. (This part can be done well before the meal)
Just before serving, melt butter in a sauce pan and toss in a pinch of the lemon zest. Add
brussel sprouts and pan roast until they start to get some golden patches. Some people prefer to slice them in half and brown the cut side generously. Mine were very small, about the size of a grape, so I chose to leave them whole. Toss in the rest of the lemon zest and a handful of walnuts. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
This dish held up well in a warm oven for about 15 minutes while I brought the rest of the meal together.


Lest I lead you to believe I cooked this entire Thanksgiving dinner on my own, let me assure you that I didn’t! It was a joint effort, a well-executed pot-luck, I would go so far as to say, and that made all the difference. How else would I have been able to photograph every dish for your viewing pleasure?!
The best part of a pot-luck is getting to try new dishes that you may not necessarily have made on your own. My brother-in-law, Kevin (of the Egg McMuffin) contributed this amazing Butternut Squash Gratin, which was so light, it reminded me of a soufflé. I am not accustomed to cooking with Miracle Whip–I’ve never purchased it in my 30 years–but this gratin just might make me a believer. Maybe.
If you have family members who protest when you serve squash, try this dish and see if any one is complaining! I don’t think you’ll hear a peep.

Butternut Squash Casserole

3 cups chopped butternut squash
1 onion, chopped

2/3 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

15 crackers (Ritz like), crushed

1 egg, beaten

2 Tbsp. Miracle Whip dressing

Heat oven to 350F. Cook squash in boiling water in covered saucepan 15min. or until tender. Rinse under cold water; drain. Mix squash and remaining ingredients; spoon into 8-inch square baking dish.
Bake 1 hour or until heated through.
Enjoy!

Dinner is served! Clockwise from top center: Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Onion Buttermilk Rolls, Apple & Fruit Stuffing, Maple Glazed Purple Carrots.



My sister contributed these Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes; comfort food at it’s best. She also found time between volunteering at the SPCA and writing an essay to whip up a gravity-defying deep-dish Apple Streusel Pie, but I’m saving that for the next post! Stay tuned.

Click here for Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co

Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co.


This was my first time cooking turkey dinner at home since…I can’t remember, and I got off to a terrible start. Do these things happen just to me? Read on.

Normally I am a big planner; life with two babies is just much more negotiable when I am organized and able to plan ahead for event such as holidays. However, when plans to dine elsewhere for our Thanksgiving dinner went awry, I decided to host it here–with five days to go.
I managed to hunt down a fresh turkey and get some Sweet Onion Dinner Rolls in the freezer, but that was the full extent of my dinner prep, due to an especially jam-packed weekend.

With Thanksgiving dinner planned for 3 PM Monday afternoon, I found myself in my kitchen around 10:30 PM on Sunday with every intention of getting started on the preparations.

My ears were still ringing from a lively and thoroughly enjoyable Indian engagement party we had just returned from and my shoulders ached from that wedding I photographed on Saturday (who knew that six hours of continuous shooting could take their toll?). I should have listened to my body and hit the sack, but as many of you know, I can be rather hard-headed, and it seemed perfectly logical to start cooking at that time of night. I at least wanted to get my cranberry sauce made so it could set all night in the fridge, so I juiced a few oranges, tossed the ingredients in a small pot, cranked my stove and went to check my blog feeds. (Can you see where this is going?)

A minute or two later I was squealing with excitement upon discovering that I had won a giveaway from the fabulous Michele over at Fine Furious Life. You would be excited too! All thoughts of cranberry sauce evaporated rapidly from my brain as I lost myself in the fun of discovering what I had won. It turns out the cranberry sauce evaporated too.

I didn’t smell the smoke, and I really don’t know what ejected me from my chair with a smothered shriek, but as I skidded into the kitchen I could see the smoke billowing from the pot.
I yanked the pot from the stove and like a true die-hard, thrust my finger into the molten mass and tasted it. That motion was enough to confirm what I feared, this wasn’t just a first-degree burn, where the top can be scraped off and used, this was scorched through and through. I’d be lucky if the pot survived.

Update: It didn’t.


Time to talk turkey! I had so much fun cooking this dinner and the burnt cranberry sauce–which I blame entirely on Michele–was the only bad part of the menu. As you can see from the photo at the top of the post, I had some cranberries reserved and was able to use them for a second batch of sauce.

Now, recipes you want and recipes you shall have. I am giving you this menu in three parts: 1) Turkey & Co, 2) Les à’côtés (or sides) and 3) Desserts, to give myself a chance to write up the recipes and remember what I did for each dish.

OK, the turkey is obviously the star of the show, although I admit, mine looks a bit like a washed-up has-been. How do they get them to look so great on those magazine covers?
In the past I’ve done it all to try and keep the turkey moist: the 24 hour brine bath, the wine-soaked cheese cloth wrap, and the heavy butter basting. This time I just kept in simple and was happy with the results. This isn’t a recipe, per-se, but here’s the method I used.

Basic Roast Turkey
Note: this is for an unstuffed, 10-12 Lb fresh turkey.

Remove turkey from it’s wrap and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels and place on a wire rack in a roasting pan. Allow to sit for about 2 hours to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350F. Season the bird inside and out with plenty of salt and pepper and place in the oven. Roast for about 2 hours, turning as needed to allow for even coloring.

In a small heat-proof bowl, melt 1/4 cup of butter and combine with 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Brush over turkey to coat completely and continue to roast another half an hour or so until an instant-read thermometer reads 165F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove from oven and let stand, covered loosely with foil for a half an hour before carving.
Reserve the drippings in the pan for your gravy.


Ah, la farce or stuffing. I was drooling over different recipes featuring chestnuts, fennel, sausages and other tantalizing ingredients, but didn’t have time to get out shopping and so this one came together at the last minute out of items I already hand on hand. Surprisingly it was fabulous and a lovely balance between old-fashioned heavy-on-the-savory stuffing and an updated, fruity stuffing. Fresh thyme, sage and parsley from the garden certainly worked their magic in this dish, while several apples from our apple picking outing sweetened up this stuffing.

Aimée’s Fruit & Herb Stuffing

1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups celery, chopped

2 cups sweet onions, chopped

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 large loaf of crusty Italian-style bread, cubed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons, chopped fresh sage, loosely packed

1/2 teaspoon dried savory, ground

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

2 cups chopped apple

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

In a large skillet, melt 3/4 of a cup of butter over medium heat. Add onions and celery, stirring often to sweat. Add thyme, sage, savory, salt and pepper and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Add apples and cook gently for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with bread cubes. Plump cranberries and raisins in hot water for about ten minutes. Drain and add to bread mixture. Add parsley and toss well. Melt remaining 1/4 cup of butter and pour over stuffing. Mix well to combine. Butter an ovenproof dish and pack stuffing into it. Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes of until golden brown on top. Serve hot. Stuffing can be assembled the day before and baked off with the turkey.


The last item to be included in Part One of this series is my favorite: the cranberry sauce. You already know how the first batch turned out, but the second fared a little better! Of course you don’t have to make it in a mold and I even wonder why I did… AsI was serving dinner I made the mistake of setting the pretty cranberry sauce, pink plate and all, in front of Noah. I turned my back to get something and–chop, chop, chop–with three swift motions of his spoon, he had flattened the entire thing. Oh well, I had to laugh.

Orange-Anise Cranberry Sauce
serves 6

2 cups fresh cranberries
1 orange, in suprêmes
1 whole star anise

3/4 cup sugar

1 leaf of gelatin

Roughly chop orange suprêmes and combine in a small pot with cranberries, star anise, sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring often (do not leave the stove and go check your email!). Reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until berries have ‘popped’. In a small bowl of cold water, soften gelatin until limp. Whisk into hot cranberry sauce. Line a small bowl with plastic wrap and fill to the brim with sauce. Allow to chill thoroughly in the fridge. Just before serving, place plate on top of the bowl and swiftly invert. Remove bowl from on top of the cranberry sauce and peel away the plastic wrap. Garnish with another star anise, fresh cranberries or whatever you desire.


Stay tuned for Thanksgiving Part 2 and see some wonderful recipes for side dishes!