Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The secret lives of vegetables-Butternut Squash and Applesauce Muffins

I wanted to share a recipe today that is one of my favorites. It is one of our family favorites, just in time for the fall season. These muffins come from a book, given to me by a friend, that teach us as parents to hide vegetables in our children's food. Now, as far as philosophies go, this has its pros and cons. I think its great to incorporate vegetables into everyday eating, like shredding zucchini into meatballs, pasta sauce, or hamburger, to increase our intake of vegetables. Breading foods in egg mixed with veggie puree is also a phenomenal idea, if you have the veggies on hand, etc. There are lots of ways I had honestly never thought of to incorporate fruits and vegetables. The author also encourages us as parents to offer vegetables at dinner, even if there is a hidden veggie in the meal. Its a great idea, and it really gets you thinking on how to get some of the more difficult things into your kids mouths.
That said, these muffins are ridiculously good. I make them for people, let them devour them, and then tell them there is butternut squash in them. There is also applesauce and oatmeal in the muffins, but I think butternut squash is the big surprise. Oh, they also have an oatmeal streusel topping that makes them to die for.
If you like roasted butternut squash soup, these muffins will be your best friend, because you can roast the squash for your soup and then just set aside the squash you aren't going to use for the soup and whip up a batch of these babies. They are incredibly tender, no doubt from the applesauce and butternut squash, and really, the crunchy, brown sugar and oatmeal topping is great. They also have a bit of extra fiber with the oatmeal also in the batter. This also gives the muffins a bit of chewy texture.

Roasted Butternut Squash Muffins
2/3 cup old fashioned oats
1/4 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup pureed butternut squash
1/2 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper baking cups. Make the topping: Stir together the oats, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in the butter.
Make the batter: combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir to mix. In a second bowl, mix the applesauce with the milk, vegetable puree, sugar, oil, and egg with a wooden spoon. Add the flour mixture slowly, stirring until just moistened. Do not over mix-the batter is supposed to be lumpy.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and sprinkle with the streusel topping. Bake until the topping is lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the muffins, 18 to 20 minutes. Turn the muffins out onto a rack to cool.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Oreo Chocolate-Chip Cookie Brownie

I wrote about half of a blog post yesterday. I am not sure how much longer I can do this eating healthy thing.... my husband and I were going for six weeks but I really miss baking, cooking, making chocolate chip pancakes and trying new desserts. I keep trying to tell myself I am gearing up for fall, and this is the perfect time to eat light anyway. Don't get me wrong, I like eating healthy, but I just don't like being this restricted. I usually eat fairly healthy, with a sprinkling of rich desserts and pastries. On that note, here is a recipe from my mom...she loves to taunt me with these recipes.
Oreo Chocolate-Chip Cookie Brownie
Another day….another dessert! I have a real hard time passing up an idea for a new yummy dessert! I was online the other day…minding my own business…not even LOOKING for any recipes. I was actually looking for ideas for my first granddaughters baby shower! Then up scrolls this pic… A 9x13” dish with the ingredients in the pan and these words below: “cookie dough then an Oreo then brownie mix on top.” There were no other instructions, like temperature and time in oven. No exact amounts! (I’m kind-of weird about that…I get real nervous when I have to ‘wing-it’) But I guess they figured if I’m serious enough..I’ll find a way!...and I did!
I bought a roll of pre-made cookie dough, a package of Oreos and a bagged brownie mix. The mixes both required a 350* oven…
1 package Oreos
1 prepared package brownie mix for an 8x8 pan
1 roll chocolate chip cookie dough
I decided to do individual desserts instead of a 9x13 pan because I was concerned the Oreos wouldn’t cut up very neatly when time to serve. So I used a muffin/cupcake pan and lined each with a paper baking cup.
I read on the cookie dough package that it was supposed to make 16 cookies, so I peeled off the entire plastic covering, leaving the cookie dough in a tube shape, cut the dough tube into four equal sections. Each section was then cut into four equal parts. I rolled them up just for ease of placing them in the paper cups and gently pushed them down to form the bottom ‘crust’. Each ball was approximately 1/8 cup, if you decide to make homemade cookie dough.
Next just place an Oreo into each cup, pressing it into place. Cover with 1/8 cup prepared brownie mix. (You may want to use slightly less if you don’t want them oozing over the top.)
Bake in a preheated 350* oven for 12 to 15 minutes. The edges will be firm, but the centers may still seem slightly gooey looking. Cool and eat. ENJOY!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The right one (Sweet Potato Casserole)

This tale might be a bit graphic for some of you. My family and I went fishing the other day, and I have to say it was a lot of fun. I caught a little fish, that I probably should have thrown back but I was really excited to clean and cook it. I feel like fish is a fairly easy step to take in my goal to be more self-sufficient, and I think it wouldn't have mattered how small it was I would have taken it home to eat. I caught a large mouth bass, much to the delight of my two oldest sons, and they couldn't wait to get it home either.
Upon arriving at the house, I consulted my copy of John Seymour's
The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, and decided I would try to skin the fish, since that seemed like the easiest option. After boning, skinning, and gutting it, I dredged its remains in flour, salt, and pepper, and lightly sauteed it in butter. I added a bit more butter to the hot pan and a squeeze of lemon and made a simplified mueniere. It was great. The fish was very tender and of course didn't taste fishy at all. My son and husband proudly sampled our reward from the hours of trying to find the right fishing spot.
I can't wait to try again next week.

Since Thanksgiving is almost here I decided I should write about one of our favorite Turkey Day dishes. Ok, maybe I am a little premature, but I saw a fall wreath at Costco yesterday and I'm getting ready for Autumn! Probably, before this month is over I will be listening to Christmas music and gearing up for fall and winter. I love these cooler months of the year and I can't wait to be able to bake comfortably again! Here is a wonderful recipe from Saveur. I spotted it in a magazine a few years back and it has been a Thanksgiving/Easter/Special Event staple since. I have had a few people who claim they don't like sweet potatoes tell me how much they love this recipe. I made a few slight changes. One being the original recipe from Saveur, depicted by the photo below, called for topping half with marshmallows, and half with salted cashews. I do all marshmallows, and honestly I just haven't tried cashews. It would probably be delicious, though.

Sweet Potato Casserole

4 lbs. sweet potatoes
1⁄2 cup evaporated milk
1⁄2 cup sugar
6 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice 
2 eggs, beaten
3⁄4 cup roasted salted cashews
1⁄2 cup light brown sugar
3 tbsp. flour
2 cups mini marshmallows

1. Heat oven to 400°. Place sweet potatoes on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet; bake until soft, about 1 1⁄2 hours. Let cool.
2. Reduce oven temperature to 350°. Peel potatoes; pass them through a food mill into a bowl. Whisk in evaporated milk, sugar, 4 tbsp. of the butter, vanilla extract, salt, allspice, and eggs. Transfer to a 2-qt. oval baking dish.
3. In a food processor, pulse together cashews, brown sugar, flour, and remaining 2 tbsp. of butter until coarsely ground. Crumble cashew mixture over half of casserole; top other half with marshmallows. Bake until marshmallows are golden brown, about 30 minutes.
SERVES 8 – 10

Monday, August 15, 2011


I am one of those people that, while I love to have and participate in traditions, loves to do things out-of-season. I don't like to be confined to certain times of the year. Of course, not a lot of people want to make a turkey in the middle of July, not because they don't like turkey, but because your house would feel like a sweltering jungle. But there are definite times that I get an urge to make something, like sweet potatoes, in the middle of spring or summer, while that is traditionally our Thanksgiving day treat. And why not? I remember I think it was our first year of marriage, I was making a ham for Easter and I asked my husband what sides he wanted. He asked me if I could make my sweet potatoes. I thought it was kind of funny because he was so excited about it. That's what is so wonderful about food! One simple thing, like that, can make your whole day great. Think about when you bring cookies to someone, or a cake or pie. You made their day. Food is powerful. It is one way I really love spoiling my husband and children. Like making chocolate chip pancakes, or oatmeal cookies. It's not that big of a deal but the gift of food communicates love, care, hospitality, and thoughtfulness.
Food takes us back to our childhood. Close your eyes and you are five years old, sitting at your grandma's kitchen table. A sip of spiced cider or hot chocolate and it's Christmas time. Stuffing and gravy- Thanksgiving day. It reminds us of people, places, and special days. It not only sustains our life, it brings comfort, familiarity, and fond memories.
I wanted to share this recipe, even though summer is half-way over, you may decide to do some out of season grilling, or just make these to accompany steak. The cookbook author these are adopted from, Nigella Lawson, says these onion rings are for people that don't like onions. And truly, when you try these, you will know why. The onion practically melts away, due to the buttermilk bath, and all you taste is the crispy, crunchy, fried batter that has a slight onion flavor. Which is all we really want, right? These are delicious on a bacon burger (homemade, of course) or just by themselves. A lot of times I make these as a side, and put them on a burger, etc.

Onion Rings
1 large onion
1 cup buttermilk
1 lb vegetable shortening
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Peel the onion, chop off the root ends and slice the onion. I prefer the thinnest slices I can get, but the cookbook author suggests 1/2 inch thick rings. Carefully separate the rings from the cut circles to keep them in tact. Put them in a bowl with the buttermilk, and turn them carefully to coat them all. Cover with plastic wrap and place them in the fridge for 2-3 hours, but preferably over night.
Melt the shortening in a deep 10 inch pan over medium heat. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, paprika and cayenne in a shallow bowl. Take the marinated rings out of the fridge, shake off the excess buttermilk and dip them a few at a time into the flour mixture before laying them to dry on a cooling rack. Once you have dipped all the rings in flour, go back to the first ones you coated and give them another layer of seasoned flour, coating them all again.
Cook the onion rings in the hot fat until darkly golden and crispy, flipping them over after a couple of minutes to cook on both sides. Drain them on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Summery days

I am sad to say (and in some ways happy) that my husband and I have been trying to drop a few extra pounds that have taken up residence. It has been going rather well, but unfortunately, I haven't been making a lot of things worth writing about. I mean its good, but  nothing exciting. So, I am reaching back into my arsenal of recipes I have been intending to write about, but get tossed to the curb when something else comes along and steals my attention. I guess I am just getting a chance to catch up! I have to say, though, there is no better time to eat light. I don't have that strong urge to bake when it is 110 degrees outside and humid. Fruit and salads sound lovely and I return to the kitchen with a renewed desire to bake and cook.
In these summery days of diets and tank-tops, I was thinking I should write about a lovely snack I read about in Women's Health. It's simple and my children love it. Just freeze a few light yogurts. Pack them to take on a picnic, or just set them in the fridge the day you want to eat them. By the afternoon they are the texture of sorbet. My kids think its 'yogurt ice-cream', but in reality they are getting a healthy snack.
I win! What more could I ask for?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's in the Details

I am a firm believer that it's the small things that count. All the tiny details, compiled, make something great. Sure one amazing ingredient can really make a difference, but more often than not, it is the combination of delicious flavors and simple ingredients that really make an entire meal or even just one dish really come together. Fresh herbs, bacon grease, butter, salt, freshly ground pepper, and freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice add amazing dimensions to foods that otherwise would be just so-so without them.
You always hear or read tips from chefs that tell you to keep fresh herbs on hand, and it truly does liven up a ho-hum dish. Rubbing olive oil or bacon grease on the outside of a baked potato and sprinkling it with coarse salt sends it sky rocketing above the ordinary dry potato. Grinding fresh salt and pepper over your naked salad greens before topping with dressing gives every bite flavor. Take any ordinary steamed veggie (broccoli, carrots, asparagus, green beans, etc), add browned butter and freshly grated pecorino romano; or melted butter, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and some freshly chopped tarragon or thyme; or a sprinkling of chopped bacon or prosciutto and some balsamic salad dressing; or, one my grandma showed me, melted butter, minced garlic, salt and pepper.
All of those take a few fresh ingredients, usually things I happen to have on hand, and turn your side dish into something worth talking about. Those are the tips and tricks I like to incorporate.
I also like these principles applied to desserts. I don't indulge every meal, but if I am going to, I want it to be totally worth it. There is nothing more disappointing than spending the money (and calories) on a dessert that just doesn't do it for you. I would rather eat three bites of an amazing, decadent, rich dessert, than ten bites of something ordinary. When I read about croquembouche, that french wedding dessert that consists of a tower of cream puffs with spun sugar, I thought to myself, "I will make that." Not, "I want to make that", but, "I will make that." An event came up and I needed some height on a table. Perfect. I used a cream puff recipe from my amazing Art and Soul of Baking cookbook. Instead of spun sugar, I wanted to drizzle it with my caramel sauce, and I filled the puffs with lightly sweetened whipped cream. If I had more time I would have filled them with vanilla custard, one of my favorites. My only regret was that I should have made the puffs smaller, so I could fit the whole thing in my mouth.
(or something like it)
Make the caramel sauce ahead and store in the fridge until just before using
Profiteroles (sounds like prof fitter rolls) i.e. Cream Puffs
First, you will make the pate a choux, which is a dough that can be used for eclairs, cream puffs, or gougeres (savory profiteroles made with cheese, mustard, and black pepper...sounds delicious, right?)

Pate a Choux
Line two baking sheets with parchment and trace 1" circles on the parchment
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
4 large eggs

Cook the butter, water, and salt in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally until the butter melts evenly. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Beat vigorously with the wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a mass around the spoon. Place the pan back over the medium heat and continue to cook, beating, for another minute or so to dry out the dough-the pan will have a thin film of dough on the bottom.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute to slightly cool the dough and develop the gluten. In the medium bowl, beat the eggs together until you can't distinguish the yellow from the white. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs a couple of tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to blend completely into the dough before continuing. When all the eggs are incorporated, the mixture should be shiny and elastic and stick to the side of the bowl. It should also pass the "string test": Place a bit of dough between your thumb and forefinger and pull them apart. The dough should form a stretchy string about 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches long. If the dough has not reached this stage, beat another egg and continue adding it, a little at a time, until the dough is finished.
Pipe the dough onto the prepared baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F, switch the sheets between the racks, rotating the pans from front to back, and bake for 20 minutes longer. Reduce the oven temperature again, to 300 F, and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer. The profiteroles should be a deep golden brown.

When cool, fill with lightly sweetened whipped cream, stack into a tower, and drizzle with caramel sauce.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Its my (Pirate) Party

As some of you may know I have recently launched my catering business. I have been unofficially doing it on the side for a few years now, but hadn't taken the plunge until recently. I dubbed it 'Eat. Drink. Live. Catering'. This is the same name as the line of jams, jellies, and salsas I have been selling at craft shows and local stores, so it seemed appropriate to keep it simple.
I have some lovely pictures on my site, thanks to my husband's cousin's wife, who is an amazing photographer. She also helped me with the design, etc, and without her I doubt I would have started up the company at all. Yet another idea she gave me was to have some themed menus dedicated to children's parties. So I did. One of those was a pirate party. She also introduced me to this lovely website, which I will be scouring frequently for birthday party, baby shower, and themed party ideas. She did a pirate party, and gave me quite a bit of inspiration for mine.
I decided to throw a pirate party for my 3 year old, who had his birthday on July 17th. I wanted to try out my recipes, and figure out some pricing. I found an incredible amount of pirate stuff at Hobby Lobby (you poor CA people don't know what that is) and I saw lots of other things that gave me ideas.
So here is my 'Seawater Punch'. I suppose you could use it for a Harry Potter party, also, or anything that requires something that looks a bit unappetizing.
This looks amazing in a large, clear glass container, but you could also use a regular punch bowl. Just don't stir it after you add the ice cream....

Seawater Punch
(serves about 50, or 30 very thirsty people)

5 2-litres of lemon-lime soda (7up or Sprite)
1 cup milk
1 quart vanilla ice cream (get the square one, if you can find it.)
1 container green liquid food color, or 1/4 teaspoon of gel paste
1 container blue liquid food color, or 1/4 teaspoon of gel paste
1 bunch kale

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add kale and cook for 4 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Pour cold soda into the punch bowl or container. Add food coloring and stir until dissolved. Add milk and stir. Add kale and push to the bottom. Run ice cream container under hot water, slide it out and cut it up into 2 inch pieces. Add to punch. DO NOT STIR. Your counter will become a tie-dyed mess right before your guests arrive.

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