Pumpkin, Cranberry, and Pecan Pie

Are you ready?

Are the gifts wrapped, the cookies baked, the halls decked? 

Me?  Nope.  I pretty prepared, I'll admit, thanks to a lot of online shopping (the result of our little ice storm a few weeks back) and a bit of proactive holiday decorating before the season kicked into full swing.  But no sweet treats have been made in my kitchen yet (I'm currently tackling about a thousand plus cookies every morning at the bakery so baking anything at home right now isn't exactly making it to the top of my to-do list), however, I fully intend to bring a few dozen on our upcoming vacation. 

But today I must share with you this pie.  I made it for Thanksgiving (ok, Nathan made it for Thanksgiving- I fetched ingredients and told him what to do.  I'm good at that.), but it would suit any holiday meal just fine.  It's essentially your classic pumpkin pie doused with a cranberry pecan crumble and it's a nice twist on the traditional version.  And it's easy as...pie, so you can tell someone else to make it. 

Pumpkin, Cranberry, and Pecan Pie

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
3 slightly beaten eggs
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 single pie crust

For the Cranberry Pecan Topping
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 teaspoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold butter
4 ounces fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup chopped pecans

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, zest, salt, and all of the spices (nutmeg through cardamom). In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, eggs, cream, and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and lightly beat by hand until well combined. Pour the pumpkin mixture into a pie shell. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the brown sugar, flour, and salt, and butter to a small food processor and chop until it resembles a coarse mixture. Stir in the chopped cranberries and pecans.

Remove pie from the oven and sprinkle the cranberry mixture on top. Return the tart to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pie is set, topping is golden and bubbly, and the crust is golden. If the crust starts getting too brown, you can add strips of foil around the edges.  Cool on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate within 2 hours.

Adapted from Beantown Baker.

Banana Butterscotch Pudding Cakes

We've decided to have children.

Whoa whoa whoa, we're not having kids yet, ....mom, we just broached the subject at lunch today.  (heck we're not even married yet (officially, anyway)).  Truth be told, we've never really had this conversation.  Yes, in five and a half years we haven't exactly talked about having kids (we've talked more about not having kids), but then my sister went and got knocked up fours years ago by my brother-in-law and now I want one too (thanks Mel, thanks). 

So today, over tacos the topic came up.  I'm not exactly sure how... somewhere in between chips and salsa we landed on talking about our house- what we like (location, location, location) and what we dislike (two-story, layout, floors), and what we'd like in a future home.  This is the part where I [casually] mentioned I still want the three bed/two bath plan- two extra rooms- one for a guest, one for an office-later-turned-children's-bedroom.  Oh yes I went there, and we had The Talk. 

Later when we got home, I was checking email and saw I had a comment on a blog post.  This is HUGE people.  I had an actual comment from an actual stranger who actually made a recipe and took time out of her day to tell me how wonderful it was.  (comments on my blog usually take form during my weekly Sunday night phone call with my parents where my mom then tells me she enjoyed my blog post the other day.  Thanks mom, thanks).  Anyway, this little comment put me on a little high and I decided to come back from my blog vacation and share something I've had stashed away.  I have tried to write many posts but sometimes I have trouble with my words- I have a lot I want to say, but at the same time I feel I have nothing to say- and end up hitting "delete" before I hit "publish".  So today I said screw it.  I will ramble today.  About tacos, and children, and Sunday night phone calls, and comments from strangers.

And I will probably ramble later this week too.

Oh, and another reason for my absence?  I blame Dexter.

Banana Butterscotch Pudding Cakes

Serves 4

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk
1 banana, mashed
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/3 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Add the sugar.  In another bowl, mix together the egg yolk, mashed banana, milk, vanilla extract and melted butter. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Pour into four small ramekins with enough room to pour the sauce over top.  These pudding cakes have a habit of overflowing their goodness so place the dish on a baking sheet. 

To make the sauce, place the brown sugar, corn syrup and boiling water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil then drizzle over the cake (this could also be done in the microwave, just cook until boiling).  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until slightly firm in the center.  Allow the cake to sit for 5 to 10 minutes then serve.

Adapted from Anecdotes and Apple Cores.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

It's time for my [belated] annual post on resolutions...

Learn a language, get more sleep, organize my family recipe album, refinish the office desk, invest in a new computer, read every day, exercise, create wall photo collage, blog more, pray more, love more, call home more, hold hands more, travel more, laugh more. 

Now I didn't exactly make any resolutions, per se.  I made more of a long (and on-going) list of things to change and improve within myself.  Projects I want to tackle, purchases I need to make, emotions I need to express.  Just a hodge podge of self-improvements.  I've always been a list-maker, goal-setter, go-getter  (although, sometimes I wish I could forgo the pen and paper reminders and allow myself the spontaneity and freedom away from the post-it), however, that will never be me, and that's ok.  I'm a planner.  I am who I am- yes, this phrase came from a much loved quotes list stored in my phone.  And this recipe came from a much neglected goals list stored on my blog. 

I've had Flourless Chocolate Cake on my Kitchen Bucket List for quite some time now, and what better reason to bake this sinful chocolate beauty than for Valentine's Day (or simply for a chocolate lover, if nothing else).  It's rich and fudgy and gooey with a delightfully simple list of only five ingredients.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Makes one 8-inch round

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 20 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate  Dust cake with additional cocoa powder or powdered sugar.

Adapted from Epicurious.

Sour Cream Chocolate Bit Cake

Nathan loves this cake.

So much that when I first confronted him a couple weeks back about what kind of cake he would like for his big birthday, he replied "hmmm I don't know".  Then, the day before The Day, I asked once more and was yet again met with the same response. 

Now how does this prove that he loves this cake?  After making it my mission and pondering over and perusing through a couple of mouth-watering baker cookbooks to come up with something creative that I know he would love, I suddenly recalled this cake- a tried and true and previously requested almost weekly sweet treat that hasn't been made in far too long.  So after last years banana cake with maple cinnamon icing, and the marbled gooey butter cake I made the year before, both of which he obligingly ate the evening of his birthday and which I proceeded to polish off in the following nights single-handedly, I opted for this safe cake- a tender cinnamon cake sprinkled with chocolate chips and sugar.  Not exactly what you'd call a traditional birthday cake but once you stick some candles in it no one will ever know the difference.

Happy birthday, Nathan!

Sour Cream Chocolate Bit Cake

Makes one 8x8-inch pan

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 tablespoon sugar

Mix butter with 1/2 cup sugar until blended, then beat in the egg.  Stir flour with baking powder, soda, and cinnamon, then blend with creamed mixture.  Mix in the sour cream.

Pour batter into a greased 8x8-inch baking pan.  Scatter the chocolate bits evenly over the batter, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until cake just begins to pull away from sides of pan. 

Adapted from my mom's 80's Sunset cookbook. 

Fire Roasted Tomato Black Bean Soup

All this valentines stuff gets me a little relationship reminiscent.

So I decided to open up my Nathan Box.  Do other couples do this?  I assumed so until I spoke with a friend at work the other day who seemed surprised by my little collection of all things Nathan- love notes, football tickets, a random rock, birthday cards.  It's tempting to say the idea was all mine (my older sister had a boyfriend when she was in high school and I distinctly remember a flower-covered box containing all things Tim), however, I'm pretty sure Nathan was the one who got the ball rolling to preserve our love mementos (he was the uber mushy one in our first few months together- [this is a good thing!].  and yes, Nathan has his own box for me, too.)

As I browsed through old Chinese takeout fortunes (he who loves you will follow you) and handmade coupons (Car Wash- only 20 kisses *limited time only),  I came across a thoughtful bookmark he had left between two pages of a novel I was reading: And then the heroic Nathan, God of Love, rescued the most beautiful Princess in the history of the world!  And they lived happily ever after.  The End.  I also had to laugh at the Valentine envelope with the label It took 1,000 kisses to seal this envelope.  And the note that read I love your toosh.  and toes and nose and arms and teeth and hair and how you talk!  I love you.

And yes, I was sweetly greeted Friday afternoon with flowers and chocolates, but even after this month of love is over it's always nice for the random acts of affection.  Like with this soup.  Nathan loves this soup. It's slightly spicy and super easy and so delicious and has been requested so often over the last month that I make sure to always have a can of beans on hand.  And while it's not exactly something you can keep in a box, it's just another way to say I love you.

Fire Roasted Tomato Black Bean Soup

Serves 2 (with leftovers)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 of a yellow onion, chopped
pinch of salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can fire roasted tomatoes (do not drain)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
Juice of half a lime
Salt to taste

Heat oil in medium pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion with a pinch of salt and pepper and saute until golden, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook one minute.  Stir in chicken broth, black beans, tomatoes and cumin.  Bring to a boil.  Stir in lime juice and salt, if necessary (I often add about 1/4 teaspoon). Puree about two-thirds of soup using an immersion blender or in batches using a blender or food processor.  Let simmer in pot until ready to serve.

Chelsea Original :)

Cornmeal Pound Cake with Maple Honey Glaze

I've had my fair share of kitchen fails lately.

It started a little over a week ago with raspberry muffins sprinkled with lemon sugar: the taste was delightful, the appearance was dreadful.  Two days later I attempted peanut butter cookies topped with peanut brittle: once again, ugly mess.  Four days later, I tried again.  This time chocolate/red velvet marble cake.  Trash.  I was starting to get tired of wasting my butter and eggs.  

But this morning my creativity struck again.  I apprehensively  made my way into the kitchen and started pulling ingredients.  I had just enough butter left.  I felt good about this one.  I took my time.  I lined up my flour and cornmeal and sugar and began whipping egg whites.  I snuck a few bites of batter and let the oven do its thing.  At last, I had success.  Not only did this cake fill the entire house with an amazing maple aroma, it came out tender and soft and sweet.  I've still got it.

Cornmeal Pound Cake with Maple Honey Glaze

Makes one 6-cup bundt cake (double recipe for 10-inch bundt or tube pan)

for the cornmeal pound cake:
1/2 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
1 cup sugar, divided
3 large egg whites
5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Coat a 6-cup bundt pan generously with cooking spray, using a brush to get in the cracks; sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon cornmeal.

In bowl of mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at high speed until foamy.  Gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.  Transfer egg white mixture to small bowl.

Rinse out mixing bowl.  Use paddle to beat butter and remaining sugar (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream.  Add flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda to sugar mixture, stirring to combine. Gently fold in egg white mixture.  Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes (this will take more like 50 minutes if you double the batch and bake in a larger pan), or until wooden pick inserted in cake comes out clean.  During last five minutes of baking, prepare the glaze.

for the maple honey glaze:
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon maple extract

Combine the glaze ingredients in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a simmer.  Remove from heat.

Once cake is removed from the oven, poke holes into the bottom of the cake.  Gently spoon glaze over warm cake.  Let cool in pan for 20 minutes on wire rack before removing from pan to cool completely.

Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, October 2002.

Buttermilk Biscuits

I have been knocking stuff off my to-do list left and right.

I think it's just the slow pace that January and February lend after the holiday frenzy.  It's a welcome pace, and it gets me in the mood to cook and clean and craft.  I've also been on a bit of a home decor kick, brainstorming and researching potential changes to make to our little abode, and I fully intend to give the master and office a much needed facelift over the next few months, starting with this table (to be delivered by next Friday!).

But in between the furniture shopping and floor mopping, I've been able to enjoy a little more kitchen time and had the urge this afternoon to bake a batch of biscuits.  Why it took so long to do this is beyond me.  It was fun, almost therapeutic, and the buttery smell and golden crust left me itching to stay in the kitchen just a while longer (hence a couple more posts I've got lined up for you over the next few days), but today I simply give you buttermilk biscuits.

Another thing to cross off my list!

Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes 20 2-inch biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into thin slices
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
2 tablespoons buttermilk for brushing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl. Pour flour mixture into food processor and add cold, sliced butter.  Pulse together until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (this can also be done in the large bowl using a pastry blender or two knives).

Pour mixture back into large bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in 3/4 cup buttermilk.  Stir until just combined.

Turn dough onto a floured work surface and pat into a rectangle.  Fold rectangle in thirds.  Turn dough a half turn, gather any crumbs, and flatten back into a rectangle.  Repeat twice more, folding and pressing dough a total of three times.

Roll dough on a floured surface to about 1/2-inch thick (I just pressed with my hands, no roller needed!). Cut out biscuits using a 2-inch round biscuit cutter.  Transfer biscuits to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Press indent into the top of each biscuit with your thumb.  Brush the tops with 2 tablespoons buttermilk.  Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Adapted from AllRecipes.

Orange Bread Pudding with Cinnamon Sugar Biscuits

Biscuits: day three.

This is it.  I hope you're not sick of the word biscuit, but this is the last day of my biscuit blurb.  The grand biscuit finale, per se.

Bread pudding has always intrigued me.  I've only had it about twice in my life and both times it was pretty darn good, but it's just not really something I consider baking at home when I'm in the mood for a sweet treat (usually the term "cookie" comes to mind).  But I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to make; however, it also helped that I started Saturday afternoon with the intention to simply make buttermilk biscuits, which turned into cinnamon sugar biscuits, which turned into this bread pudding.  I was just having too much fun and my creative baking juices kept flowing, so I kept going, and this was the end result: chopped cinnamon sugar biscuits drizzled with an orange sauce and baked until puffed and golden.  I really need to make these puddings more often.

Orange Bread Pudding with Cinnamon Sugar Biscuits

Makes one 9x13-inch pan

4 cups cinnamon sugar biscuits, cut into small cubes
2 eggs
2 cups milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, combine eggs, milk, melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and orange zest.  Pour mixture over biscuit cubes and let sit about five minutes.  Pour into greased 9x13-inch baking pan and bake, uncovered for 50 minutes until puffed and golden on top.

Adapted from Mikey's In My Kitchen.

Mini Lemon(ade) Muffins

Spring has arrived.

I think it's safe to say we're finally in the clear of any reappearance of old man winter (he was stubborn this year!!)  I'm in love with this time of year: open windows, green lawns, blooming flowers.  Jackets get tucked away, shorts replace sweaters on closet shelves, "Boy Meets Grill" gets pulled from the kitchen cabinet, late night ice cream runs get made.

Mango salsa starts to sound good again, homemade salsa in general starts to sound good again (when doesn't it though, really?), even a fresh, crisp salad begins to tempt me (ok, I'm not one to order salad when dining out, but Panera's BBQ Chopped Chicken Salad could make me a convert).

Today I want to spread a little springtime lovin' with these little lemon muffins.  With just the right amount of citrus, and a super moist crumb, they are probably the best muffin I've ever put in my mouth.  Consider this my love muffin.

Mini Lemon(ade) Muffins

Makes approximately 36 mini muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon lemon rind (about half a lemon)
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk

Prepare 36 mini muffin tins with liners or spray with cooking spray.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, lemon rind, and sugar.

In a separate, small bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, lemon juice, vanilla, and milk.  Slowly add the oil mixture with the mixer on low speed until blended and smooth.

Fill each muffin cup about two-thirds full and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden and center of muffin springs back with lightly pressed. 

Chicken Fajita Mac and Cheese

Remember that righteous mac and cheese from January?

[see this video-- at 3:30]

Well Nathan happened to request it this weekend [and I responded a lot like Monica at 3:43], but I decided to kick it up mexican style in honor of Cinco de Mayo.  Lucky for us, this version didn't end in wicker shoes and the Psycho theme song.  Instead, we got cheesy shells with a fajita flare. 

Think noodles tossed with onions, bell pepper, chicken, green chiles, cumin, paprika, pepper jack, and sour cream.  If that doesn't scream the Fifth of May, I don't know what does.  So lose the tortilla and pull out a bowl because mac and cheese just got loco!


Chicken Fajita Mac and Cheese

Serves 4

6 ounces pasta shapes, such as shells
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 (7 ounce) can diced green chiles
1 cup cooked, chopped chicken
1/4 cup sour cream
3 ounces shredded (or finely diced) sharp cheddar cheese*
3 ounces shredded (or finely diced) pepper jack cheese*

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook pasta according to the package directions just until al dente.  Drain well and keep warm.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in another large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, red bell, and salt and pepper and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Mix in the garlic, and saute 1 minute more.  Stir in the cumin, paprika, and green chilies.  Toss to coat and heated through.  Remove from heat and add the chicken, sour cream, hot pasta, and cheeses.  Mix until well combined. 

Transfer to a lightly greased 7x11-inch baking dish (8x8 is good too! or I opted for four of my Le Creuset Soup Bowls).  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes until slightly browned and bubbling.  Let cool briefly before serving.

*For the cheeses involved in the recipe I head to the grocery deli.  They will kindly slice you the ounce amount you need (in a quality brand nonetheless!), which means it's already measured come cooking time and no waste!!

Adapted from Annie's Eats.