Saturday, October 27, 2012

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

As I write this Hurricane Sandy is charging up the East coast and headed for a collision with a chilly low pressure system that will drag it westward bringing heavy rains and high winds over a vast area for a sustained duration. By all accounts this is a monster storm, already responsible for taking lives in the Cuba and Haiti.

No one can say how all this will turn out. The word is hope for the best but prepare for the worst. We had a big wind come through the back yard a couple of years ago. It damaged most of our tall trees, two had to be taken down later, and we were without power for a week. But that was a very local event. It seems that was just a hiccup compared to what's headed this way now.  A state of emergency has be declared in 8 states and 50 million people may be effected.

So Kenny installed a new sump pump and cleaned out the gutters. We checked the batteries in the flash light and clock radio; took down the umbrella and stowed the deck chairs. We bought some water and canned goods. And I made banana bread. 

Nothing takes your mind off your troubles like baking and I've got some bananas going brown before my eyes, so why not. We can only do so much. At some point I had to shut off the Weather Channel and turn on the oven. Now I'm going to slice up some bread and put the kettle on. I going to look out the window and admire the beautiful Fall colors and pray everyone stays safe and gets through this as best as possible.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

1/2 cup butter
1 cup raw cane sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 & 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur)
1/2 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed banana 
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate (I used Perugina 70% cocoa) or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 4 X 9 inch bread pan. Combine flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. Combine mashed banana and milk; set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer. Add the egg and vanilla extract; mix well on low. Scrap the bowl. Mix on low and add the flour mixture alternately with the banana mixture until everything is combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. 


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Hello Willow Bird Challenge #4! Can you say cupcakes? 

Everyone looooooooves cupcakes! I'm not breaking any news here when I say there's been a mania for cupcakes for a good many years now. There are bake shops who only sell cupcakes and TV shows devoted solely to cupcakes and books strictly about cupcakes. Cupcakes: the cute, sweet, little sister to the cake. The portable cake that was created for you alone. The staple of birthday parties, baby showers and weddings. The darling of the dessert world who can do no wrong.



Well, I beg to differ. As far as me and loving cupcakes, not so much. Now, I will admit I've said I love cupcakes on this very blog just a few posts ago. But that was different. That was Carrot Cupcakes and they're like an old friend to me. I could make them in my sleep. But honestly, other than that, I've taken a cupcake walk of shame or two in my career. Cupcakes that are so dry no about of filling or frosting could redeem them from the brink of disaster. Or how 'bout cupcakes that sink in the middle. Or the ones that seem fine and then they won't come out of their cupcake papers!

Oh, I know. No one's perfect. We've all had kitchen melt downs. And usually they make us better chefs. But I think I let my cupcake faux pas get in the way of loving cupcakes. And I want to love cupcakes like everyone else.  Or at least, understand what all fuss is about.

So without further ado I present my entry to Challenge #4. Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cranberry Curd and Brown Butter Glaze. The cupcake and glaze were adapted from this recipe. And the curd was adapted from Nigella Lawson's book How to be a Domestic Goddess. I'm feeling OK about them. They're not dry, thanks to the pumpkin, and they didn't sink, yay! They came away from the papers, another yay. I do love how the flavors play off each other; spicy pumpkin, sweet-tart curd and smoky glaze. Especially love the cranberry curd filling. All in all, I'd say I did a decent job! And got myself one step closer to jumping on the cupcake bandwagon. 

Just in time for them to go out of fashion.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cranberry Curd and Brown Butter Glaze

cranberry curd

Start with the curd:

1 & 1/2 cups cranberries
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
rind of one orange
1 tablespoon butter

In a small pot bring cranberries and water to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook for 4-5 minutes until the berries pop and get soft. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve, pressing down on the pulp and getting as much juice as you can. Pour mixture into a medium metal bowl; add sugar, yolks and orange rind and stir to combine. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water. Make sure no steam is escaping from between the pot and the bowl. Stir mixture occasionally until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter. If you want a super velvety curd strain again or transfer to a clean bowl, cover directly with plastic wrap and cool in fridge until you're ready to use.

pumpkin cupcakes

1 & 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice (cinnamon, ginger, cloves)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup raw cane sugar
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
2 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cupcake pan with cupcake papers. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin spice and salt. In a smaller bowl whisk together oil, vanilla, sugar, milk and pumpkin. Whip egg whites, either in a mixer or by hand, to the soft peak stage. Pour liquid mixture into dry mix and stir to combine. Gently fold in egg whites. Scoop mixture into cupcake pans and bake for 20 minutes or until done. Makes 12 cupcakes.

brown butter glaze

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
2-3 tablespoons of milk

In a small, heavy bottom pot melt butter on medium and continue to watch it until it turns light brown in color. (Be careful because it can quickly go from brown to black.) Immediately take it off the heat and stir in the sugar and enough milk to achieve a glaze consistency.


Cool the cupcakes and take them out of the cupcake pan. Using a pastry bag with a small round tip fill each cupcake with about 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of cranberry curd. Once filled, top each cupcake with glaze.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Anita's Chili

I learned to make chili from my old boss Anita. She and her husband Charlie ran the best lunch spot in the universe, Taylor's Country Store. It was the real deal. Anita had an eye for funky odd items and collectibles so there were ever changing displays of interesting things everywhere, on the walls, on the counters, in the bathrooms. There were three floors of tables and a skylight that leaked when it rained. A semi-retired lawyer came in and played the piano for two hours and got paid in sandwiches. Listen, I couldn't make this stuff up. Practically everyone I know worked there at one time or another. And if any of you are reading this you know who you are and please, please leave a comment with your story about working at Taylor's!

Anyway, about the chili. One of my jobs there was to make the chili and Anita taught me how to do it. She was not like anyone I'd ever worked for, before or since. She was a great cook, an artist, a mother to four exceptional children, I could go on and on. But I'll give you a small example of her character. One morning I was working away and she pulled me over to a table and sat me down. She walked off and I remember thinking I did something wrong and I was going to get a talking to, or worse, fired. She came back and presented me with a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. And so everyone else was working their tails off and she and I were just sitting and eating breakfast and talking. Maybe she just wanted someone to have breakfast with, but I gotta tell you I felt a little special. For Anita work was not about work, it was about people. 

Oh, right, the chili. So this chili is not exactly the chili I learned from Anita, but it does derive most of the basics from that chili. Anita's chili had ground meat and red kidney beans; and she used Wick Fowler's Two Alarm Chili mix. We served it with shredded cheese, minced onion, sour cream and a buttered roll. It was kinda kick ass, and a huge seller. Jeez, I made it everyday!

After Anita and her husband sold the restaurant it lived on for a bit under new management. But without that special something that Anita and Charlie brought to the table it didn't last long. I continued to make the chili at home. At first, just like Anita's, with ground beef, kidney beans and Wick Fowler's. And later with ground turkey and my own blend of herbs and spices I found from reading the ingredient list on the Wick Fowlers' box. And later still just with black beans and no meat. I made that version of it countless times and it even got published in Bon Appetit magazine and lives on here. As you can see this chili is very adaptable. In fact I encourage you to create your own spin on it.

Here's yet another version I'll share with you now. It's meaty in the sense that it's a vegetarian chili with a lot of heft to it. It may be only a distant relative to Anita's chili, but for me it's still Anita's chili. And I love making it, in whatever version, especially on cold nights. Not just because it's delicious but because it reminds me of Anita and the restaurant and those days gone by.  

Anita's Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion chopped
1 red pepper chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon corn flour
2 cans (15 ounces) tomato sauce
2 cans (15 ounces) kidney beans
1 can (15 ounces) corn
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

toppings (optional)
sour cream
shredded Farm House cheddar cheese
minced onion
hot sauce 

In a large pot or Dutch oven add olive oil and heat on medium. Add onions, peppers, garlic and all the spices, oregano, corn flour.  Cook for 10-15 minutes until your onions and peppers are soft. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for another 15-30 minutes for everything to come together.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Caramel Cookies

I am so up for Willow Bird Challenge #3, because, can I make a confession, I've never made a stuffed cookie before. Yes, I've been baking for well over thirty years and not one stuffed cookie! 

With Halloween less than two weeks away I wanted to take my cue from all the candy I'm seeing everywhere. Chocolate, caramel and peanut butter first came to mind. But do I do a vanilla cookie and fill it with chocolate and peanut butter? Or a peanut butter cookie filled with caramel and chocolate. Or, maybe, a chocolate cookie filled with peanut butter and caramel!? I could only try.

I settled on a chocolate cookie using a recipe I've been making for ions. We used to make them with white chocolate chips and called them Penguin cookies. And later I dusted them with powdered sugar before baking and they were Chocolate Crackle cookies. I added just a little more flour to help the dough stand up to the filling. Kraft caramels were a no brainer seeing as time was a factor, but when I make these again I'll definitely make my own caramel, as per my husbands wishes. For the peanut butter part, that was just equal parts organic creamy peanut butter and confectioners sugar. I think they turned out pretty darn good. In fact I will go as far as to say they are stupid delicious, in that I was stupid to never make them before!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Caramel Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons white whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
1/4 cup cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 ounces melted dark chocolate, cooled
 7-8 Kraft caramels
1/2 cup organic peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
Demarara sugar to put on top before baking 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars. Scrap the bowl to make sure everything is mixed well. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa and make sure the salt and baking powder get totally mixed in. Add dry mix to butter mixture and beat on low, scraping the bowl once or twice to make sure everything is incorporated. Add the melted chocolate and beat on low just until everything is comes together.

In a small bowl mix peanut butter and confectioners sugar. Unwarp the caramels and cut them in half. For each cookie scoop out about 2 tablespoons of dough (I used a 1/2 ounce ice cream scoop), one for the bottom and one for the top. Make two balls and flatten them to a disk about 1 and 3/4 inches in diameter. Put one disk on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Top with half a caramel and a 1/4 teaspoon of peanut butter mixture. Place the second disk on top and press it down around the filling and into the bottom dough. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Sprinkle with Demarara sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, spinning the tray midway through. Makes 15 cookies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Julie's Coconut Almond Morning Rolls

I should be working on Challenge #3, but ever since entering the Willow Bird Baking Challenge #1, I sort of can't stop making these wonderful "Morning Rolls". The challenge brought out some unique flavors I would have never thought of. See for yourself. And now that I've seen them I want to try them! Starting with Julie's original version- Almond Coconut.

I only changed a couple of things in Julie's dough. Number 1. I added an egg. and number 2. I used butter instead of shortening. I wasn't all that happy with how my dough proofed the first time, although the flavor was out of this world, so I added a little more yeast as well. And as for the filling, it was very close to Julie's. I used a mixture of almond meal and sugar instead of almond paste 'cause that's what I had on hand. Otherwise I followed Julie's recipe and the results were phenomenal! The rolls were totally scrumdillyumtious! Sweet, tender, buttery, I want them for breakfast every morning! But then again, I'm a grown up and I want to fit into my pants, maybe every weekend.

OK, next time I want to try Eric's Ricotta Honey Dill buns and then LeAndra's Orange Cranberry Cardamon and then...
Coconut Almond Morning Rolls
(adapted from Willow Bird Baking)


1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
pinch sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 cups milk minus 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup butter, cut into small pieces
5 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
2 tablespoons melted butter, for after baking


1 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups almond meal or almond flour
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut


1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3-4 tablespoons milk

In a small bowl combine warm water, yeast and sugar. Mix and set aside in a warm place to proof. Combine milk and vinegar, set aside. In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With a pastry cutter or your hands, cut in the butter until you have pea sized pieces. Combine yeast mixture, milk and egg. Add to flour mixture and mix until your dough forms. Knead a few times and then transfer dough to a large buttered bowl. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and put in to the fridge to rise overnight. 

Butter 2 9X13 inch baking dishes. Turn out dough on a floured board. (Unless you have a really big board you may want to roll half the dough at a time). Roll dough into a rectangle about 1/4 of an inch thick. Brush the dough with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar, coconut and almond meal. Starting at the long end roll the dough away from you to create a big log. Cut the log in half and and cut each half in half again. Cut each section into thirds to get 12 fairly even rolls. Repeat for the other half of the dough. Place the rolls in the prepared baking dishes, cover with plastic wrap and a clean dish towel. Let the rolls rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until they double in bulk. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees shortly before your rolls are ready to go in. Bake for 15-20 minutes until rolls are golden brown. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter. Return to oven for another minute. Mix confectioners sugar with milk and pour over warm rolls.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Raspberry Crumb Bars

My friend Marc has been bugging me for a long time to make Raspberry Bars. About 3 years. I think it's high time I obliged. Besides, the weather turned a little frosty and I need an excuse to turn the oven on. The thing I love about these bars is they taste like something you spent hours laboring over, like something super fancy you'd be served at high tea at the Four Seasons, when in reality you couldn't find an easier recipe.

The secret, of course, is to use the best raspberry preserves you can find. In my case it's Bonne Maman. Not super pricey but definitely the best tasting in my book. Maybe I just love the drinking-glass-like jar or the writing on the label, but I always have a jar or two around, not to mention empties for leftovers and flower arrangements. 

These are super rich and buttery and sweet. I went with demerara sugar. Light brown sugar would work as well if you don't like the of sandy crunch of  the demerara. You can also switch out the whole wheat pastry for AP. They were a big hit with the family and I had to squirrel a few away so I would have some to give to Marc!

Raspberry Crumb Bars

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 
1/2 cup demerara sugar (or light brown sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup butter (cut up)
1 egg, beaten

topping and filling

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup demerara sugar (or light brown sugar)
1/2 cup butter (cut up)
1 & 1/2 cups raspberry preserves 
confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour and 9X13 inch baking pan. In a large bowl combine flour, sugar and baking powder. Cut in butter until crumbly and toss in beaten egg; mix just enough to combine. Press the mixture into the baking pan and bake for 10-15 minutes. Cool before filling. While the crust is baking combine the topping ingredients (except preserves and confectioners sugar) in a similar fashion and set aside. 

Spread cooled crust with raspberry preserves and top with oatmeal crumbles. Bake another 20-25 minutes or until filling is bubbly. Cool before slicing. Dust with confectioners sugar. Makes 20 servings. 


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mock Cherry Braid

Well, I had so much fun in the Willow Bird Baking Challenge #1 that I couldn't wait to start on Challenge #2. Julie again provided another stellar dough recipe. And this time I went with a Mock Cherry filling. I've been hankering to make a mock cherry pie anyway so I was excited to see how it would work in Julie's cream cheese pastry.

Ah yea, delicious! This dough is so easy to make you would never guess that it bakes up super flaky. I did deviate slightly from the recipe by using half whole wheat pastry flour and half AP; also added a wee bit of sugar. The sweet-tart filling was the perfect compliment to the cream cheese dough. All in all it was a great experience and I'm looking forward to making this again with all kinds of different fillings! 

Mock Cherry Braid


1 1/2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup raw cane sugar
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients, except the vanilla, in a medium pot and stir to mix. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Set aside to cool.
dough (adapted from Julie's recipe)

1 cup AP flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons raw cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter (cut into small pieces)
3 ounces cream cheese (cut into pieces)
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 beaten egg (for brushing)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt in food processor. Add butter and cream cheese and give it a few quick pulses to cut it in. Add the milk and vanilla extract and mix just until you have a loose dough. Knead the dough very lightly on a floured surface just enough to bring it all together, DO NOT OVERWORK! Roll dough between sheets of waxed paper into a 8 x 12 inch rectangle. Transfer dough to a baking sheet. Spread the filling down the center. Make 3 inch diagonal cuts at 1 inch intervals along each of the long sides. Fold the strips into the center, alternating sides as you go along. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.


1 ounce cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 cup confectioners sugar
2-3 tablespoons melted butter

Beat cream cheese and add sugar. Pour in melted butter to achieve a drizzly consistency. Transfer to a pastry bag with a small round tip and drizzle onto cooled pastry.  


Monday, October 8, 2012

Tomato Carrot Bisque Redo

Speaking of the restaurant, we made a mean Tomato Carrot Bisque there. This soup has a huge fan base, people can not get enough of it. And for good reason. It possesses a velvety texture, a smooth mouth-feel and in addition to the eponymous ingredients, the soup also contains cheddar cheese and heavy cream. It was almost like pizza in a bowl, only better.

I decided to make a less guilt inducing cousin to this soup as a way of using up some more of the volunteer grape tomatoes which I'm still harvesting. If you're not lucky enough to have any garden fresh tomatoes, use an equal amount of canned crushed tomatoes. I replaced a lot of the cheese and heavy cream with just a tablespoon of grated Parmesan and a cup of whole milk. If you want to make this vegan, skip those two items altogether. The soup has enough flavor from everything else in it to make up for the lack of dairy.

BTW if you want the full on version of the soup (in addition to other deliciousness, including home made ravioli), hop on over to Roberto's Trattoria.

Tomato Carrot Bisque

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups chopped carrots (about 4 medium)
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon whole wheat pastry flour (or AP flour)
1 cup vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (or crushed canned tomatoes)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese 
sour cream (optional)
chili garlic sauce (optional) 

 Heat oil in a large pot on medium. Add onions, carrots, garlic and herbs; cook for 10-15 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the flour and stir to combine. Add vegetable stock, stir to combine and turn the heat on high. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium, add the water, tomatoes and tomato paste; cook for 15-20 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Take off the heat and add cheese and milk. 

Transfer the soup to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and blend until smooth. Pour back into the pot and heat on medium before serving. Serve topped with a spoonful of sour cream and a bit of chili garlic sauce, if you want. Makes four servings.