Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pumpkin apple streusel muffins

Although both apples and pumpkin--canned, at least--are available year-round, I never use them as much the rest of the year as I do in the fall. In October, I start getting a hankering for pumpkin bread and apple crisps. There are other things, too--I've been dreaming of this upside-down pear cake since last November (though I'll have to be sneaky, since the husband doesn't like maple--what's wrong with him?) and this gorgeous applesauce cake. All of these recipes have the sultriness of autumn: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg. If summer can be summed up in a perfect juicy tomato, I'd argue that the essence of fall can be found in a rich, dark gingerbread, full of molasses and spice.

Coming in at close second are these pumpkin apple streusel muffins I made last Sunday. Not only was the day hopelessly grey, but a light, steady rain drizzled from start to finish. It was the kind of morning that needs a cozy, homey breakfast, preferably something with a little sweetness to balance out the dreary world outside.

I found the recipe for these pumpkin apple streusel muffins and decided they looked just right--with a few adjustments, of course!  Since I did not have pumpkin pie spice, I substituted cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. I also skipped the raisins, because I think raisins both look and taste hideous, and I shortened the baking time to 27 minutes. Also, I would consider using a different streusel topping. This one was fine, but melted a bit into the muffin. I prefer a distinct crumbly topping. Ina Garten has a great recipe for blueberry streusel muffins from which I'll steal the streusel next time.

The muffins were a hit with the husband and other hungry dog, who has developed a strong preference for baked goods. It's become apparent that coaxing her to eat dog food is pointless; we have accepted that she will live the rest of her days feasting on roast chicken, plain hamburgers, muffins, and snack cake. She eats like a toddler. It's a terrible model for dog-raising, I know. But when your pup is on the verge of turning 15 and has survived two bouts of cancer, you do what keeps a spring in her step and hope that someday, when you, too, are old and and must rely on someone to balance being kind with what is best for you, they will do the same.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Roasted chicken with bacon, figs, almonds, and thyme

Some of my best ideas I've stolen from other people.

Take this chicken I made the other night. I cobbled together two recipes other people made up, added a few of my own twists--and ta da! a Hungry Dog classic enters the repertoire. Cribbed, but a classic.

Like so many dinners, this one emerged out of necessity, and leftovers. I had some chicken to use. I also had a few random figs lying around, some thyme, and a couple slices of bacon. It didn't take long for my pea brain to realize these ingredients could be dynamite together, especially since they reminded me of two other recipes I'd recently made.

Here's the source material: there's this recipe--a classic I've been making for years, which provided me with the method. And then there was a recipe I made a few weeks ago from Melissa Clark's new book, for chicken roasted with figs and bacon, which I mostly liked but didn't love. (I do, however, love the book, and recommend you check it out.) I decided to combine the cooking method of the first recipe with some of the ingredients of the second, throw in some thyme and sliced almonds and see what happened.

What happened was delicious. Bacon, figs, honey, and almonds are a divine combination, almost dessert-like, except for the bacon. Although, who am I kidding? I wouldn't run from a bacon dessert. Anyhow, I'd really like you to try this one--I think you'll like it--but you'll have to do it fast as figs won't be in season much longer. Feel free to add your own twist and say you invented the whole thing--who am I to judge?

Roasted chicken with bacon, figs, almonds, and thyme

2 chicken breasts, boneless but with skin
2 T. olive oil
1 T. honey
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 figs, quartered
2 slices bacon, chopped
2 sprigs thyme
2 T. sliced almonds
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425.

While the oven is heating, turn the chicken breasts skin-side down, drizzle half the honey over them and season with salt and pepper.

When the oven is hot, place the garlic slices in a shallow baking pan that can later accommodate the chicken and toss with 1 T. olive oil. Roast until the garlic just begins to sizzle, about 5 minutes.

Remove pan from oven, push the garlic to the sides, add the chicken, skin side up, and drizzle with remaining honey, salt, and pepper. Scatter bacon, figs, and thyme in pan, and drizzle last tablespoon of olive over the top. Return to oven and roast for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, scatter sliced almonds over the top and return to oven for 10 more minutes. 

Serve with mashed potatoes or polenta.

Serves 2.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Raspberry almond snack cakes

What's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? Sugar content? Delicacy of crumb? The time of day you enjoy it?

Compelling arguments can be made for each of those points, but I say a cupcake absolutely must have frosting, icing, or, in a pinch, a little glaze dribbled on top. Without any such enhancement,  a small, individually-wrapped, even rather sweet baked good might be able to squeak by calling itself a muffin. It could absolutely call itself a snack cake, and snack cakes can be eaten whenever, wherever.

That was my reasoning behind these raspberry almond snack cakes I made recently, when I was looking for something to make for breakfast using some raspberries I had on hand. I was originally thinking about raspberry muffins, but when I found this recipe for Raspberry-Yogurt Cake, I thought with a few adjustments, it could make charming little snack cakes. That way I could get away with eating them in the morning.

So I halved the recipe and dropped the batter into the tins. The cakes seemed to need some kind of dressing up, and since I had already decided to skip the glaze, instead I sprinkled some sliced almonds  on each one. Into the hot box they went.

Small things are cute, aren't they?

In addition to being cute, they were soft, delicious, and super moist, perfumed with almond extract and dotted with sweet-tart raspberries. The almonds added a perfect crunch.

So what makes a snack cake a snack cake, and not a muffin or a cupcake? According to me, it should be sweeter than a muffin, but you must be able to consume it without lamenting its lack of frosting.  It should be simple to throw together--nothing requiring layers or sifting--but slightly more refined than the plain old muffin. And, perhaps most importantly, you must be able to be eat it any time of day: in the morning with coffee, after dinner as a humble dessert, or in the middle of the afternoon, when no one is around to see you eat one, or two.

Monday, October 11, 2010

And the winner is...

Simran, who said her go-to quick dinner was Curried Chicken Drumsticks with Carrots--which I am totally going to make. I especially like the lime zest and juice to brighten up the rice.

Congratulations, Simran--don't forget to send me your email address, so I can get you the prize info. And thanks to everyone else for playing!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cowboy cookies

Next time I'm in New York, I would really like to go to this bakery.

My obsession started a few weeks ago when I received a copy of the new cookbook from the guys behind Baked, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. Once the book arrived, I disappeared. I poured over every page. I pictured myself making every recipe. Salt 'n' Pepper Sandwich Cookies. Orange Creamsicle Tart. And the piece de resistance: Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake with Caramel Rum Frosting. I'd like to bake myself right into that cake and eat my way out.

The husband would wave his hand in front of my eyes, looking for signs of life.  Then he gave up when he realized he could watch baseball without me trying to change the channel. I was focused, but oblivious.

I decided to start small, with the humble Cowboy Cookie. They sound a little junky but I figured everything would work in harmony. They have chocolate. And pretzels. And brown sugar, coffee, oats, and vanilla. The only thing they don't have that I think could make them even more crazy-good would be toffee. But then, I'm a toffee fiend.

The day I planned to make the cookies, I got all the ingredients ready. I whisked the dry ingredients; creamed the butter with the sugars; blended in the egg and vanilla, the chocolate and pretzels.

"Cowboy cookies coming up shortly!" I shouted to the husband, who was blissfully watching a game, having decided I was a lost cause, and to the other hungry dog, who sniffed the air approvingly.

Then I noticed this sly line: Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate the dough for at least four hours.

Come on, now! Don't sneak game changers into recipes like that. When I make a drop cookie, I expect to eat it within 20 minutes. I like burning my mouth on chocolate chips.

I figured that chilling the dough was an important step, though, and I decided to play by the rules.

Unfortunately, because of the way the day worked out, it was a full 24 hours before I got around to baking these little buggers.

The wait was worth it, though. The cookies are sweet, salty, soft and chewy, with a little crunch. I think chilling the dough for that long softened the pretzels too much--it would have been better to bake them earlier. In any case, the cookies were awesome. I suggest you wrangle some up for yourselves. May as well buy the book while you're at it.

Cowboy cookies 
From Baked Explorations

1 3/4 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 c. rolled oats
14 T. unsalted butter, cool but not cold, cut into 1-inch cubes**
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 c. firmly-packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. espresso powder
2 c. semisweet chocolate chunks (about 12 oz)
3/4 c. thin salty pretzels (about 1 1/2 oz), broken into tiny pieces but not crushed into dust

**About the "cool but not cold butter," the authors recommend removing the butter from the refrigerator, cutting it up in cubes, and using it within 15-20 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the oats and stir to combine.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together until smooth and creamy. Add the egg and egg yolk, beating until the mixture looks light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the vanilla, and beat for 5 seconds. Dissolve the espresso powder in 1/4 c. hot water and add it to the bowl, mixing until combined.

Add half of the dry ingredients and mix for 15 seconds. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and fold in the chocolate chunks and 1/2 c. of the pretzel pieces.

Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Use a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to scoop out dough in 2-tablespoon-size balls (or use a tablespoon measure, which is what I did) and place the dough balls onto the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the remaining pretzel pieces over the dough balls. Use the palm of your hand to press the dough down lightly; don't smash the cookie--you just want to slightly flatten the ball and push the pretzel pieces into the dough.

Bake for 11-13 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until the edges of the cookies are golden brown or just start to darken.

Set the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely. They can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. 

Makes about 36 cookies.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Roasted salmon on a heap of veggies and, oh yes, another giveaway

The funny thing about these giveaways is that you often have an odd phrase to work with. The point is to drive traffic to the sponsoring website, of course, and I'm sure they have a calculated way of determining what the magic words are. But it takes a little effort to gracefully work in something about floor lamps or organic cotton comforters or upholstered dining chairs.

Hm, like how I did that? I'm not sure what CSN will say about that one. This just might be my last giveaway. But I hope not, because I think they're fun to do, plus I think you guys like them. I mean, free stuff? And CSN owns a bunch of websites, including Tell me you couldn't find something there to spend some of your not hard-earned dollars on!

Since I like to make you work a little bit for it, to enter to win a $65 gift certificate to any of CSN's websites, tell me what your go-to, speedy dinner is. And don't say something like a bowl of cereal and a martini. I mean real food, that you cook, that takes little time but satisfies in a big way.

Mine is roasted salmon on a heap of vegetables.

Here's my method:

Heat oven to 425. In a small oven-proof frying pan, heat a little canola oil. Salt and pepper a fillet of salmon. Place skin-side down and let cook for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to the oven and cook until your liking--for me, about 4-5 minutes, for the husband, about 7-8.

While the salmon is roasting, heat some olive oil in another pan over medium-high heat. Add a smashed clove of garlic and let sizzle. Quickly rinse and tear up some leafy greens, preferably some that wilt rapidly, like swiss chard or spinach. But you can use any vegetables you like, as long as they cook fast. Snap peas work nicely, as does does zucchini. If you have a carrot, skip the peeling, chop it up, and toss it in, just for variety. Everything will be done by the time your salmon is ready. Place the fish artfully over the heap of veggies, pour yourself a large wine, and enjoy.

Deadline is Friday, October 8, with the winner announced Monday the 11th.