Whole Wheat Cranberry Bread

When you live in New York City, there is no shortage of good bread available to you. But this did not stop me from wanting to learn to make my own. I thought about this a couple of weeks ago and I knew exactly who to call: my friend Elizabeth, my resident expert on doughs of every kind. I told her I wanted a recipe that used whole wheat flour and would be relatively foolproof in the hands of a novice bread baker. Within a couple of days there was a recipe in my inbox for Whole Wheat Cranberry bread. It seemed easy enough. I picked up the ingredients I was missing at Whole Foods and set aside Sunday for bread baking.

As readers of this blog know, that first attempt was a big fat bust. Namely because I used the wrong yeast. The recipe called for instant but Whole Foods only had active dry yeast. It did cross my mind that this might not be what I needed, but the package didn’t say anything about adding water to it or “proofing” it, so I just went with it. Big mistake. It turns out that when a recipe calls for instant yeast (also known as Perfect Rise) you really need to follow those instructions. And if you do use dry active yeast, apparently you need to mix it with warm water and then subtract that amount of liquid from the total liquid in the recipe. All of which I did not do, leading my loaf to emerge from the oven a dense brick. I tried to salvage it, but truth be told it went into the garbage a few hours later. Very frustrating. Throughout the process, I had a feeling something wasn’t right. When I started mixing the dough it was really tough, almost unkneadable, and though I wasn’t entirely sure what the texture should be, I’ve worked with enough doughs to know that this wasn’t it. But I kept going, despite the fact that my loaf never did rise. (The recipe warned that whole wheat dough wouldn’t double in size the way white dough does, but this didn’t budge an inch). I wasn’t about to let this busted bread get me down though, and since I still had all of the ingredients, I vowed to try this one more time. Trader Joe’s had the perfect rise yeast so I made my second attempt at bread baking yesterday afternoon. And guess what? It worked!

We’d already eaten half the loaf by the time I took these pictures this morning, but you get the idea. I think it’s really tasty, but it is a lot of work. And a lot of time. The sponge (who knew?) has to rest for a minimum of two hours and the dough has to rise twice before it goes into the oven for 45 minutes so this is definitely a project to take on when you know you’re going to be home all day. I wasn’t sure I’d be making bread again any time soon when Elizabeth offered to give me a bread baking lesson in the near future. I happily accepted so stay tuned for more adventures in artisanal bread baking. Until then I think I’ll leave the loaf making to Bread Alone. Their whole wheat sour dough can’t be beat.

Whole Wheat Cranberry Bread

Sponge
1/4 teaspoon dry instant yeast
1/2 cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour-King Arthur Flour
1/2 cup 100% White Whole Wheat Flour-Made by King Arthur Flour
1/3 cup water

Dough
2 1/2 teaspoons dry instant yeast
2 1/2 cups 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup orange juice
½ teaspoon orange zest
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped

Sponge: In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer combine the sponge ingredients; mixing until smooth. Cover the bowl and allow the sponge to rest for a minimum of two hours, not more than eight hours.

Reserve pecans and cranberries in separate bowl. Add all remaining ingredients to the sponge.

Mix until a rough dough forms, then knead (about 10 minutes by hand, 5 to 7 minutes by machine) until the dough is smooth; since this dough is made almost entirely from whole wheat, it will be a rougher dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour. It will not double in bulk, as regular white flour dough will.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and knead in the pecans and cranberries; knead well until all nuts and cranberries are incorporated. Shape the dough into a flattened 6-inch round, place it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, and allow it to rise for 2 hours; should rise, but again, will not be as puffy as white flour bread dough.

Preheat oven to 350°F; bake on middle rack of oven for 45 to 50 minutes. You may need to make a foil tent and cover the loaf midway through the baking time if it appears to be browning too quickly. Check interior temperature; should be between 185°F and 200°F when the bread is done. Remove the bread from the oven, and cool on a wire rack.

Note: I used King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat flour, but for the all-purpose flour, I used what I had on hand, which is Whole Foods 365 Everyday brand. I also used frozen cranberries. Be sure to thaw them and thoroughly squeeze them of excess moisture before adding them to the dough. They may still tinge your dough a bit pink but it actually looks kind of nice.

Rigatoni with Cauliflower and Prosciutto

I attempted to bake my own bread yesterday. It was a bust. Turns out I bought the wrong yeast (active dry when I needed instant) so though I followed the recipe exactly, my bread not only didn’t rise, but emerged from the oven a dense brick. Into the garbage it went. However, I am undeterred, and after getting my hands on some instant yeast this morning, I am giving it another shot. I’ll fill you in on the full story later this week when I can hopefully post that my second attempt was a success.

Fortunately the dinner I made last night more than made up for my dismal performance as an artisanal bread maker. I came across this recipe combining cauliflower and rigatoni in my Food & Wine cookbook a few weeks ago and marked the page for a later visit. Rigatoni is my favorite pasta and the Greenmarket had big, beautiful heads of cauliflower among their wares last week, which I happily picked up. The time had come to try out this dish.

The recipe calls for heavy cream, but I wanted something a bit lighter. Plus, I had whole milk left over from another recipe and since we don’t drink whole milk, I didn’t want it to go to waste. I wondered if I could somehow substitute this and in my search I came upon this handy list of cooking and baking substitutions from AllRecipes. Turns out I could add 3 tablespoons of butter to 3/4 cup whole milk to make light cream. Sold. (If you want heavy cream add 1/3 cup butter). I also substituted Pecorino Romano for Parmiggiano, because I like Romano better.

This was a delightful dish! The sauce is on the thin side so it doesn’t coat the pasta super well but you don’t really need it to. It has enough flavor on its own. (Heavy cream might thicken a bit better). I also really like that you cook the cauliflower in the same pot as the pasta. Not only does it save you from washing two pots, but the starch from the pasta gives the cauliflower a wonderful texture and flavor. Next time I’d probably use pancetta instead of prosciutto for an added crispiness. But otherwise this is definitely being added to our dinner repertoire!

Rigatoni With Cauliflower and Prosciutto

3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced

1 cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 pound rigatoni

One 1 3/4-pound head of cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets

1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3 ounces sliced prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch-thick ribbons

Preheat the broiler. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and simmer until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the rigatoni until al dente; about 6 minutes before the rigatoni is done, add the cauliflower florets to the pot. Drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss the panko with the Parmigiano cheese and the remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

Return the rigatoni and cauliflower to the pot. Add the garlic cream, the prosciutto and the reserved pasta water and toss until the pasta is coated. Scrape the pasta into a large shallow baking dish and sprinkle the panko mixture evenly over the top. Broil for about 2 minutes, rotating constantly, until the topping is evenly browned. Serve hot.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I had a little bit of fresh pumpkin We puree left over from my pie baking expedition and was in the mood for muffins. No surprise there.  I also happen to love pumpkin and chocolate chips together, as evidenced by the bread I made a few weeks ago. A quick perusal of recipes online yielded one that I liked, but it called for more pumpkin than I had on hand. But given that I had applesauce in the fridge, and that it’s a similar consistency to pumpkin puree, I wondered what would happen if I combined the two to equal the one cup I needed? I decided to find out, especially since this was much more fun than the writing deadline I was supposed to be working toward.

I’m happy to say, my little experiment worked and I had a freshly baked snack to go along with my afternoon coffee (and my completed deadline).

Another beverage that goes nicely with pumpkin treats is mulled apple cider. I’ll be honest: as much as I want to like mulled wines or ciders, I can usually only take a sip or two before moving on to something else. They’re just a little too sweet for me, and if I’m going to have a warm drink, I want it to be coffee or hot chocolate. But last week a package of Simply Organic Mulling Spices arrived in my mailbox courtesy of the good people at Mambo Sprouts. I’ve bought Simply Organic spices, taco and chili seasoning before, and enjoyed them all, so I decided to give the mulling spices a try, especially since I still have apple cider in the fridge from our trip to Lyman Orchards. I was pleasantly surprised! Their version has that clovey, spicy fall feel without being overwhelmingly sticky sweet. Look for Simply Organic products at your local supermarket or order the mulling spices online here. Then head over to Mambo Sprouts where you can enter to win their Spice Is Right contest sponsored by Simply Organic and Frontier Spices (also a fabulous organic brand that I use frequently). One grand prize winner will win a set of over 50 unique spices! Two separate winners will get a 10-pack sampler. Click here to enter!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 2/3 cups flour (I used whole wheat)

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

2  large eggs

1 cup (do not use pumpkin-pie filling) canned solid-pack pumpkin (I combined pumpkin puree and apple sauce to equal one cup)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper muffin cups; spray liners lightly with nonstick cooking spray. In large bowl, mix first six ingredients; add chocolate chips, tossing to coat. In another small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients; add to flour mixture and stir just until combined (do not overmix). Fill each muffin cup about two-thirds full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until muffins spring back when lightly touched. Cool muffins on rack.

Fresh Pumpkin Pie

As soon as pumpkins hit the farmers markets last month, I started thinking about pie and how I’d like to try my hand at making my own pumpkin puree. The instructions seemed simple enough but I wondered if it was worth the effort, since there are plenty of high quality brands of organic canned pumpkin on the market. But when we were at Lyman Orchards a couple of weeks ago for Apple Picking Extravaganza they had a whole field of sugar pumpkins, exactly the kind I needed for baking. I bought three little ones and took them back to New York with me, where they’ve been sitting on my table along with the rest of my fall produce.

Yesterday, I had a totally free Sunday, the best kind for weekend baking. With an afternoon ahead of me, I decided the time had come to turn my pumpkins into pie. There are a couple of different ways to make fresh pumpkin puree—you can either roast the pumpkin or peel it, cut it into pieces and boil it. I tried both methods and roasting is definitely the easier option. It takes a little longer for the pumpkins to soften enough to be scooped out, but you save time and effort on the back end because all you have to do is slice the pumpkin lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, place it cut side down on a greased baking sheet, and then roast it at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes. (Save those seeds for toasting later on!) Peeling and chopping the pumpkin for the boiling method was kind of annoying. OK, really annoying. I started with that method and was tempted to throw in the towel until roasting the pumpkins proved much more efficient.

I had read that fresh pumpkin can be a bit watery so after I pureed the pumpkin pulp in my mini food processor, I lined a strainer with coffee filters and let it drain until cool. Now I was ready to make my pie.

A quick Internet search found that many pumpkin pies called for a pate brisee crust, which is a simple buttery pie dough. If you have a 9-14 cup food processor make it in there, although I used my mini food processor and it fit just fine. I just stopped it a few times when it came time to drizzle in the water since it doesn’t have a food tube.  Here is the recipe I used from Joy of Baking:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/8 to 1/4 cup ice water

In a food processor, place the flour, salt and sugar and process until combines. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds.) Pour 1/8 cup water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 secounds. Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball. Flatter into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour before using.

Once the dough had been rolled out, I flattened it into the pie dish and let it chill, covered in plastic wrap, for another 20 minutes in the fridge. I then made the pumpkin filling, also from Joy of Baking:

3 large eggs

2 cups fresh pumpkin puree or one 15-ounce can pure pumpkin

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl lightly whisk the eggs. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and bake for 45-50 minutes at 375 degrees or until the filling is set and the crust has browned. The center will still look wet but a knife insered about one inch from the side of the pan should come out almost clean.


Here is the finished product:
I also made some homemade whipped cream to top it with for the first time, which is super easy (pour heavy cream into bowl, add a bit of sugar, whisk until the cream has thickened) though a bit strenuous on the wrist. We definitely liked this pie. The consistency is excellent and the flavor is light. It’s a little too light for my taste though, so next time I will probably up the spice ratio. I also think using fresh pumpkin is definitely worth the effort, but I won’t judge you if you opt for canned. Another interesting technique I read is that some bakers put a layer of crushed pecans or hazelnuts on top of their pie shell before filling it with the pumpkin mixture. This not only gives it more texture, but helps the crust from getting soggy. I am thinking about trying this. In fact I bought another sugar pumpkin at the Greenmarket this morning. You see, I like to practice some of the new dishes I plan to serve on Thanksgiving ahead of time, so that I know what tweaks I need to make. I hosted my first Thanksgiving two years ago and I made so many versions of stuffing that by the time the actual holiday came, Johnny couldn’t even look at it. However, he never tires of pie, so I don’t think he’ll mind sampling a few more of my efforts.
Do you have a favorite pumpkin pie recipe? Please share it in the comments below!

Butternut Squash Soup

I have an abundance of apples left over from our apple picking extravaganza so don’t be surprised if my upcoming posts share an apple related theme.

I also have a gallon of Lyman Orchards apple cider in my fridge, which can only mean one thing: it’s time to make butternut squash soup. This might seem like a weird connection to make, but I’m always on the lookout for delicious soup recipes that have a creamy texture without actually using heavy cream. I also happen to love butternut squash. Last fall, I discovered a recipe for squash soup in Country Living Holidays that called for apple cider, chicken broth and a Granny Smith apple. I made the recipe shortly after discovering it and I liked the consistency—and that the squash could be boiled right in the pot with the other ingredients rather than having to be roasted separately—but it was a bit too sweet and the apple flavor was overwhelming. So last night I decided to tinker with it, cutting the cider by a half a cup, adding more chicken broth, throwing in a couple of cloves of garlic and finishing it with a swirl of half and half to give it a slightly richer texture. I also got to use my immersion blender, which is fabulous for pureeing soups. You can stick it right in the pot and blend. However, you can also also puree your soup using a blender. Just be sure to work in small batches, since the liquid will be very hot.

I am happy to report that my doctoring worked. This was by far the best batch of butternut squash soup I’ve ever made. It was slightly sweet and had a rich taste, even though I only used a tiny bit of half and half. This is a tasty and healthy alternative to heavier soups. And with butternut squash in abundance this season, why not try it tonight?

Butternut Squash Soup

2 tablespoons butter

2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cubed

1 cup onion

2 cloves garlic

3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup apple cider

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

A swirl of half and half or light cream for finishing (optional)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is softened, about five minutes. Add the squash and apple and cook for five more minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and cider, add the salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the squash is tender. Puree with an immersion blender or, working in small batches, ladle the soup into a blender and puree until desired consistency. Finish by stirring in a swirl of half and half, top with freshly ground pepper, then serve.

Apple Picking Extravaganza

I have wanted to go apple picking for years now. In fact every fall I say I am going to go to Lyman Orchards, pick a bounty of apples and then go home and bake pies with them. And then fall comes and goes and while I’ve no doubt eaten many an apple, I haven’t picked but a one of them. (Or baked a pie for that matter). But this year I decided to get my act in gear early. (Having a blog makes me so much more motivated to do food related activities). I invited Emily, Heather, and their respective husbands to join us, I set a date, October 9, and Apple Picking Extravaganza was on!

Oh how fun it was! Lyman Orchards is an eighth-generation family-owned farm in Middlefield, Connecticut. Their orchards span 350 acres and their market, the Apple Barrel, is the largest indoor farm market in the state. (They also make the best apple cider doughnuts you’ll ever eat. Oh wow). Lyman Orchards grows more than 20 varieties of apples, including my favorite, Granny Smith.  Armed with plastic bags, me, Heather, and Emily set out to pick an assortment of apples, since the best pies are made from a mix of species.

We filled our bags with Granny Smith, Mutsu-Crispin, Empire and Rome apples. We wanted to pick  Macoun too, but we didn’t see those until we were driving out of the orchard and by that point, we had a bushel of fruit and a couple of sweet pumpkins too. (Stay tuned for a fresh pumpkin pie post).

Once we were back at my house, we set to work baking pies. I wanted our pastry to be completely from scratch so I made the dough the day before the extravaganza. It was surprisingly easy thanks to my 11-cup Cuisinart food processor. If you have one, I highly recommend making pie dough in it. It took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it—probably because this was the first time I had taken my food processor out of the box— but by the third batch my dough was the perfect consistency for rolling out. I used Food & Wine’s recipe:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed

1/2 cup ice water (the first time I actually threw the ice into the mix. I don’t recommend this. Simply use really cold water.)

In a food processor, pulse flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of peas. Drizzle on the ice water and pulse until evenly moistened crumbs form; turn out onto a surface and form into a ball. Divide the dough in half. Flatten the disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm.

I decided we’d make two different kinds of pies: Dutch apple, which has a delightful crumb topping, and then traditional double-crust apple pie. I had Food & Wine’s recipe for apple pie and Heather had her mom’s recipe, so we decided to make both to see how different ratios of ingredients affected the taste. Both recipes called for six large apples, but I think we must have been using jumbo-sized ones, because we had enough filling for two and a half pies from one recipe. (Granted some of the pie plates we used were more shallow then others). The main difference between the two recipes was that my filling called for lemon juice and a 1/4 cup of flour and Heather’s omitted the lemon juice and also required 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of flour.  (We also consulted Emily’s mom, who doesn’t use any flour in her filling). And speaking of Emily, that girl’s skills in rolling out pie dough are far superior to mine. Look at how perfect her circle is:

All told, we made six pies—two crumb top and four double-crust—using a mix of Granny Smith, Empire and Mutsu-Crispin. Here, three of the pies that we cut into shortly after this picture was taken:

While all of the pies were incredibly tasty, the Food & Wine version was more tart, less sweet, while Heather’s version, adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, had a sweeter, richer taste. The double-crust pies were a bit watery, whereas the Dutch apple was not. I suspect that adding that 1/4 cup of flour helps cut the wateriness. So my advice would be to use the Food & Wine recipe for a more tart pie, and the Fannie Farmer if you like your slice on the sweeter side. Below are both recipes, including the ingredients for the crumb topping.

Double-Crust Apple Pie

6 large apples—peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks or thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter, cubed

Note: We upped the cinnamon to 1/2 teaspoon and also added 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Set a baking sheet on the bottom rack. In a bowl, toss the apples, lemon juice, sugar, flour and the cinnamon. On a floured surface, roll a disk of the dough to a 13-inch round and fit it into a deep 10-inch pie plate. Spoon in the apples and top with the cubed butter. Roll out the second disk of dough of a 12 inch round and center it over the filling. Press the edges of the dough together and trim the overhanf to 1-inch; fold the overlay under itself and crimp. Cut a few slits in the top crust for steam to escape. Bake the pie for 1 hour, until the crust is golden. Cover the edge of the pie if it begins to darken. Let the pie cool for at least 4 hours before serving.

Cathy Hutchins’s Apple Pie (adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 tablespoon flour

6 large apples, cut into chunks

2 tablespoons butter, cubed

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the dough and place in a pie plate. Toss the apples with the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Spoon into the dish, then top with the butter. Cover with a second disk of rolled out dough and proceed as in the above recipe. Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 425, then reduce heat to 350 and continue to bake for another 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Dutch Apple Pie

Assemble the pie with bottom crust only; crimp the dough. Whisk 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add 6 tablespoons softened butter and rub the mixture until sandy. Press the mixture into clumps and sprinkle over the pie. Bake as directed.

To prevent the edges from burning, we covered them with The Pampered Chef Pie Crust Shield and good old-fashioned tin foil.

And while baking six pies was both exhilarating and exhausting–Emily and I plopped down on the couch at the end of the evening and promptly fell asleep—we didn’t stop there. No, we also made spiked apple cider, apple chutney, roasted chicken with carrots, onions, and potatoes, spicy pumpkin soup and homemade vanilla bean ice cream.  It was the perfect way to cap a day at the farm.

And of course we saved room for pie!

Hot Spiked Apple Cider

Recipe by Stephania Stanley of ThursdayNightDinner.org

½ gallon apple cider

12 cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

1 cup orange juice

½ cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 ¼ cups dark rum or brandy (or add to taste)

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over medium heat until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove and discard cinnamon sticks and cloves using a slotted spoon. Stir in rum. Cook over medium heat until thoroughly heated (do not boil). Pour into mugs. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and orange slices if you’re feeling festive. Extra cider or apple punch can be refrigerated for a week in an air tight container.

Apple Chutney

recipe from SimplyRecipes.com

2 large tart cooking apples (such as green Granny Smith) peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir well. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 50 minutes. Uncover and simmer over low heat for a few minutes more to cook off excess liquid; let cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 2 cups.

Cute Caps

While these days I mostly blog about the creations that come from my kitchen—stay tuned for my sparkly new blog and logo, which I will hopefully be unveiling next month—I’m still doing quite a bit of knitting, especially since I have a lot of pregnant women in my life right now. And I love when new moms send me pictures of their babies wearing their MBM accessories. Just the other day my cousin Heather sent me a picture of her son, Will, wearing the hat I made for him.

How cute is he?! As you can see these hats make great gifts and I am happy to make one for the babies in your life. The hats are made from Mission Falls 1824 Wool and are super soft. They’re $25 each. Email me at madebymichellec@gmail.com or leave a comment if you are interested in purchasing one.

Pappardelle with Shrimp and Vegetables

I love many things about being a freelance writer, but on cold, rainy days I am especially thankful that going to work doesn’t involve leaving my apartment. Such was the case yesterday. Walking to Whole Foods was not something I wanted to do either, so I decided to make a meal out of what I had in the house—or what could be procured from a nearby shop. I had plenty of vegetables—broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, peas—some homemade marinara sauce in my freezer and shrimp. Fresh pasta could be bought from Russo’s, a mere 3 blocks away and my corner Korean market always has fresh lettuce for salad. Dinner accomplished.

As I pondered how I would prepare this meal, I remembered that pasta with veggies was the first meal I made for Johnny when we started dating. I used fettuccine that night, or maybe even linguine, and only learned much later that he isn’t a huge fan of stringy pasta. (Like a good dinner guest, he ate every bite). And when I made it again last night—this time with pappardelle, a wide, ribbon-like pasta that’s thick enough not to be construed as stringy—I remembered why I chose it for my debut dish. Not only is it relatively easy to make, but it’s filling and satisfying, all of the things a meal, and a relationship, should be.

Another great thing about this dish is that you can virtually use any combination of vegetables that you have in the fridge. I steamed my leftover broccoli and cauliflower and then I put a swirl of olive oil and some chopped garlic in a saute pan and cooked the carrots and zucchini until they were soft. The peas were frozen, so I added those in at the end.

I boiled some shrimp, cooked the pasta and then mixed everything together in a big bowl before topping it with my sauce and freshly grated Pecorino Romano. A salad, eggplant meatballs and a bottle of red wine rounded out the meal.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

It’s the first weekend of October and fall has finally arrived in the Northeast!  The air is crisp, the sun is shining and the famers markets are brimming with butternut squash, apples and pumpkins. Once October rolls around, I automatically start thinking about baking with pumpkins. Muffins, breads, and of course, pies. Last year, Christie shared this recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip bread with me. An aunt of one of her former students had passed it along years before. Her family loves it and she makes several loaves every October and November. I tried making it many times last fall but for some reason I couldn’t get the consistency right. It always tasted slightly raw—though still edible—and I could never figure out why. Alas, I wasn’t sure if it was worth another go around.

But when I made zucchini bread last week, and then sliced it up and gave it to the friends and family we saw over the weekend, I thought about how homemade bread makes for a great gift. It’s relatively simple to prepare, doesn’t cost much and is almost always a crowd pleaser. Think about it: how many people do you know who don’t like bread? And if you have a couple of mini loaf pans, the presentation is even better. I put these petite pans on my mental list of kitchen tools that I want and then yesterday, my sister-in-law and I were in Michaels and we came upon mini ceramic loaf pans—in appropriately fall colors—for a dollar each. One dollar! I promptly scooped up one in every color and started thinking about what I would make with them. Given that it’s October, Christie’s pumpkin bread came to mind.

I dug out the recipe this morning and when I saw that it called for vegetable oil I decided that not only would I try to get this bread right, but I’d also put coconut oil to the baking test. To learn more about cooking with coconut oil, click here.

Since coconut oil is sweeter than vegetable, I cut the sugar in the recipe down to 1 1/4 cups rather than 1 1/2 cups. I made the batter and was able to get four mini loaves out of it. I baked the mini loaves for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

I am pleased to report that the loaves emerged from the oven just right! Not too raw, not overcooked and pleasantly sweet.  I may even cut the sugar back to just 1 cup next time to see how that affects the taste. In the meantime, I am about to enjoy a slice (or probably two) with my afternoon coffee. Happy Fall!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

1 and 2/3 cups flour

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1  1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 cup canned plain pumpkin

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pan with cooking spray. Mix first nine ingredients together and blend well with a spoon.

In a separate bowl, beat sugar, oil and eggs until well blended. Stir in pumpkin and 1/3 cup water. Add dry mixture until well blended. Add in chocolate chips and nuts. Bake for 70 minutes.

Note: This recipe makes one regular sized loaf, which Christie has never had a problem baking to perfection. I still don’t know why mine never came out right but since the minis are so cute,  I will be sticking with them. However, you should try the full loaf if that strikes your fancy.

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash

I discovered this recipe in the October issue of Country Living a few weeks ago and I marked the page as a recipe I wanted to come back to once fall was in full swing. While I’m not sure fall has truly arrived weather wise (it was 90 degrees last Saturday) I did have a nice big butternut squash from our trip to the Berkshires sitting on my counter. And a request from my husband to make risotto again soon. So out came this recipe for a trial run.

As with the oat risotto I made a few months back, this risotto recipe isn’t made with rice, but rather with pearled barley, which has 50 percent more protein. Love that! I also really enjoy barley and had some in my pantry. This may come as a surprise to readers of this blog, but I actually followed this recipe exactly as it was written. I can’t remember the last time I did that, but risotto is a bit tempermental so I didn’t want to go messing with the quantities. The only add I made at the end was throwing some grilled chicken into the risotto for a little extra protein.

The risotto was a huge hit. The squash and lemon zest add a light sweetness to the barley. It was hard to stop eating it!

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash

Serves 4

2 1/2 cup peeled, chopped butternut squash

2 tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

5 cups  low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups pearled barley

3/4 cups dry white wine

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus more for garnish

1  lemon, zested

3/4 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking pan and roast until tender, about 25 minutes, turning once halfway through. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium- high heat, bring broth to a gentle boil; then reduce heat to low. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add barley and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add wine and stir constantly until absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup broth, 1 teaspoon thyme, and lemon zest; stir frequently until liquid is absorbed.

Repeat with remaining broth, adding 1/2 cup at a time, until barley is tender yet al dente, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper if needed. Gently fold in squash and garnish with thyme.

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