Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Wall of Maps

It's the third day of our four-day weekend, and we're enjoying second cups of coffee while just getting into a Lord of the Rings marathon.  I might also give myself a much needed pedicure and start a book.  Just a quiet day at home.  My favorite kind of day.

Today I'm varying from my usual recipe post with just a few photos of the map wall I created over our bed.  In our 4 1/2 years together, Jamie and I have taken a lot of trips together, mostly road trips around Colorado, up through the Dakotas, and a few to California, too.

I've been collecting maps from our trips, and have been wanting to do something with them, I just wasn't sure what until the day at work when, as luck would have it, a little redecorating of the office walls resulted in a stack of fabric-covered framed canvases that were free for the taking.

Under the dusty, ugly fabric, the canvases were perfectly good, so I wrapped the biggest of my maps around the frames, glueing the edges at the back.  Some of the maps were too small to cover the canvas completely, so I pieced those together.  Maps are generally in the same color palette, so they all coordinated really nicely together.

I also put up a few frames that I had bought last year at Pier 1, and printed some photos from our trips to intersperse between the maps.  I just love how it turned out.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I'm thankful for the electric fireplace in our condo - even though I would love a real, wood-burning fireplace - because I have a warm home to come home to at night.

I'm thankful for stress at work, because it means that I have a secure job and I know when my next paycheck is coming.

I'm thankful for quirky tires that lose air too quickly, because it reminds me that I can afford to have a car.

I'm thankful for my curly hair - even the 5 or 6 gray ones I found the other day.  Some days I love it, some days I hate it, but I'm grateful I have a full head of it.

I'm thankful for technology.

I'm thankful I get to play with dogs every day at work.

I'm thankful my parents gave me a name that I love.

I'm thankful for messes in the kitchen, because I have the time and energy to spend hours baking and making messes.

I'm thankful that a year and a half ago my company shut down my department, resulting in a severance package that paid off bills and contributed to our wedding savings account, as well as gave me the push I needed to find a job I love that's so much closer to home.

I'm thankful I get to see my family this Christmas.

I'm thankful for the love, kindness and generosity Jamie shows me each and every day, and the future we're planning together.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cornbread Pecan Bread Pudding

Since we will be having Thanksgiving dinner with friends this year, and my contribution will be the sweet potato casserole with pecan streusel topping and an apple pie, we cooked a small turkey last Friday night, so that we would have some turkey leftovers for the chilly weekend, as well as the makings for turkey stock.

It was cold out, too cold for Jamie to do any work on his car, so we snuggled up on the couch in our pj's and watched movies all day long.  One movie right after the other.  It was such a relaxing day.  We haven't had a day like that in months.

The only thing that would have made the day better would have been not discovering that we were all out of coffee...  but neither of us felt like making a trip to the grocery store, so we drank hot tea instead, wrapped up in blankets, and enjoyed the warmth of the fireplace.

After the turkey bones had bubbled away on the stove for hours, I strained the stock and made soup for dinner, as well as a batch of cornbread pecan muffins.  I like to make cornbread barely sweetened, so that it's more savory than sweet, but the pecans added a nice natural sweetness and crunch to the hearty muffins.  Dried cranberries, or fresh corn sliced off the cob would be a good addition, too.

We each only ate one muffin with dinner, which meant there were ten leftover, and as much as I love cornbread, it does tend to get a little dry the next day.  But that actually makes it perfect for other recipes that are better with day-old bread.

So for breakfast on Sunday, I crumbled up a few of the muffins in a custard of eggs and milk, seasoned with vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, for a bread pudding.  After baking the puddings, I topped each with a freshly cracked egg yolk and a drizzle of syrup.

Breaking into a fresh egg yolk and watching the creamy yolk drizzle over everything is one of life's small pleasures.

One Year Ago:   A Winter Wonderland Birthday Party
Two Years AgoCookies 'n' Cream Bark

Cornbread Pecan Muffins

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line a muffin pan with 12 paper liners.

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the buttermilk, melted butter and eggs and whisk just until moistened.  Stir in the pecans.  Divide the batter between the liners, filling them nearly full.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.  Serve warm.

Yields 12 muffins

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Cornbread Pecan Bread Pudding

  • 4 day-old cornbread pecan muffins, crumbled into chunks
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2-4 egg yolks (optional)
  • maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray four 4-ounce or two 8-ounce ramekins with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, whisk together the milk, whole eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Stir in the muffins and let stand for a few minutes until the custard is absorbed.  Divide between the ramekins, using a spoon to make a small well in the center of each (if you're planning to use the egg yolks).

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and the custard is set.  Separate the egg yolks from the whites and and carefully place the raw egg yolks in the center of each pudding.  Serve with maple syrup.

Yields 2-4 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cranberry Raspberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce has always been one of my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes, and as a kid, I always begged to have the honor of opening the can, sliding that bright red cylinder of jellied sauce with a juicy plop onto a plate, and slicing it into circles, which I'd arrange as artfully as I could.

A few years ago, I began making my own homemade sauce, and for the past two Thanksgivings, I've made a Cranberry Orange Compote which my family has loved.  It's on the sweeter side, with orange juice, sticky orange marmalade and sugar sweetening up the tart cranberries.  My dad especially loves my homemade version.

This year I thought I would try a more tart than sweet recipe, and paired the cranberries with raspberries instead of orange.  Since fresh raspberries are not at their best in the winter, I added seedless raspberry jam to the cranberries, along with some cranberry juice (I could not find raspberry juice), and my favorite winter spices, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

And not to betray my original, and still-very-loved cranberry orange compote recipe, but I may like this raspberry version even better...

One Year Ago:     Cranberry Orange Chocolate Chip Muffins
Two Years Ago:    Sweet Potato Casserole

Cranberry Raspberry Sauce

  • 1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 1/2 cup cranberry or raspberry juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium/low heat for about 30 minutes until the berries have begun to burst and the sauce thickens.  Serve warm.

Yields about 2 1/2 - 3 cups

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, November 22, 2013

The First Snow and a Mulled Cider Rum Cocktail

Our first real snow of the season - not counting a few scattered flakes here and there throughout the fall that all but melted by afternoon - came late Wednesday night while we were sleeping, and we awoke Thursday to the soft silence of a snow-blanketed morning.  Only the occasional sound of the snow plows, scraping along the streets, interrupted the tranquility.

When I left work that day, the freezing cold air - only 12 degrees - shocked my nose and fingertips.  My boots crunched loudly on the ice underfoot.

Such a cold evening was perfectly suited for cozy pajamas, decorating for Thanksgiving, listening to Christmas music, and sipping a warm cocktail.

With cider, mulling spices, vanilla and rum simmering cheerfully on the stove, and the fireplace warming up the living room, I put out a few Thanksgiving decorations while listening to Christmas music and waiting for Jamie to get home.

I remember a time when I was 7 or 8, and I was supposed to spend the night at a friend's house.  My mom took me over to their house, and stayed for a while, working on some sewing projects with the other mom.  But when it came time for her to leave, I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and couldn't stop the tears that threatened to spill over.  I wanted to go back home with her.  I loved being home.

When we got home, the house was so warm, a fire crackling in the dusty, black wood stove.  My brother and sister were in the living room with my dad, reading on the couch under a snuggly blanket.  It never occurred to me how disappointed my friend was that I had left; all I knew was that I was happy.

This little brown and white tea set is one that my mom gave me a few years ago, a pattern that was popular in the 80s, and that I loved when I was a kid.  The old fashioned scenery on the dishes is so comforting, and reminds me of that long-ago-evening.  I don't actually have any cups to go with the set, just the teapot, a cream pitcher and another small pitcher, so I drank my cider from the little pitcher.

It made me happy.  There's so much to be thankful for this winter.

Mulled Cider Rum Cocktail

  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons mulling spices
  • 1 vanilla bean pod (leftover after using the seeds for another recipe)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup spiced rum
  • cinnamon sticks

Combine the cider, spices, vanilla bean and rum in a saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, then strain out the spices.  Serve each cup with a cinnamon stick.

Yields 4 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Story of a Pumpkin Pie

The first time I made a pumpkin pie was about seven or eight years ago, and I was living alone in a creepy, mouse-infested little farmhouse.  It was a house-sitting job that lasted about a year, so my motivation in living there was all the rent money I was able to save.

The house was blazing hot in summer with no AC or ventilation, and my white Persian cat would lie on the couch, panting under her blanket of long hair.  And in the winter, the poorly sealed windows whistled as the freezing wind tried to seep through the cracks.

With no internet or cable (I don’t think I knew that satellite was an option then), and only a few Spanish channels on TV that came through clearly, I did a lot of reading and knitting that winter to keep busy, and knitted more scarves than I could ever have hoped to use.

At night, I’d lie in bed, fearful of the mice that were chewing through the walls, certain that they would find their way into my bed and make a nest in my hair while I was sleeping.  I used poison, traps, and even one of those things you plug in that’s supposed to emit sound waves to drive them out…  but nothing worked.  A couple times a week, I gathered up all the mouse traps, dumped them in the dried up cornfield out back and set new ones.  And let me tell you, dealing with a live mouse caught in a trap was much, much worse than a dead one.  If only I could be as good-hearted as Cinderella and see mice as our friends.  They might have kept my cat and me company that winter in that lonely house.

But worse than the mice were the middle-of-the-night break-ins in the barn out back – the owners had left a stash of cars and car parts that someone seemed determined to steal.  When I think back on it all, the whole setup seemed a little shady, but all I knew was that I got to live there for free.  After the second break-in and the second police report, I bought myself a gun to keep in my nightstand and took a gun safety class to learn how to shoot it.  And in spite of the money I was saving, I was relieved when the mortgage checks stopped coming, mysteriously, with no word from the owners, so I moved out.

All of this brings me back to pumpkin pie.  I actually starting writing this post almost a year ago, but then the holidays were over and I still hadn't posted it, so I've been waiting now for nearly a year to get to share this story and recipe with you.

For starters, I’ll say that pumpkin pie is my least favorite way to eat pumpkin, and it’s always been my “last resort” pie, if all the double-crust apple pie, blueberry streusel pie and chocolate bourbon pecan pie is gone.  It’s not that I dislike it all that much, it’s just not my first choice.

That winter in the farmhouse, though, for whatever reason, maybe just to pass the time on a chilly evening, I decided to make a pumpkin pie from a real, roasted pumpkin, instead of canned pumpkin.  So I brought a pumpkin home, cleaned out the seeds and stringy stuff,  roasted it in the oven, and pureed it for my pie.  I proudly took my creation over to my parents' house the next day so we could all have a piece (I hadn’t tasted it yet), and to my disappointment, it was completely horrible.  Not at all what I had expected after all that time and work.  Although, as my mom nicely put it, it just tasted a little “earthy”.

I had no idea what I’d done wrong – I’d followed a recipe precisely – until years later I learned there was such a thing called a “pie pumpkin”, and that I’d used a regular one for carving, which was not intended for eating.  Who knew they didn’t all taste as good as the next one!

With that experience behind me, I actually have no desire to spend time roasting and mashing a pie pumpkin either (they’re rarely available at the store anyway), and feel that the perfectly smooth and creamy pumpkin that comes in cans is already pretty perfect.  Not something I want to spend time trying to improve upon.

So, with all this said, and pumpkin pie still not being my first choice, I have wanted to make one this fall anyway, because I know other people like it, and it’s a recipe that I need to have in my recipe repertoire.  To make it more exciting though, I made a Pumpkin Turtle Pie, with chocolate, caramel and pecans between the crust and the filling.  Then I topped it with a whipped cream cheese.  Because everyone knows that pumpkin and cream cheese are the very best of friends.

One Year Ago:   Shepherd's Pie with Lamb and Roasted Butternut Squash
Two Years AgoA Holiday Cranberry Cocktail and Cranberry Orange Compote

Pumpkin Turtle Pie with Whipped Cream Cheese
  • 1 pie crust, unbaked
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce (or you can substitute 8 soft caramel candies, cut into 4ths)
  • 1 can (14 ounces) pumpkin
  • 1 can (12 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold

Preheat the oven to 425.  Roll out the pie crust and fit it into a deep-dish pie pan.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips, pecans and caramel over the bottom of the pie crust.

In a bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt until smooth.  Pour into the crust.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 30 minutes until set, slightly puffed and cracked.  Cool completely.

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth.  Gradually add the whipping cream, and beat until thick and fluffy.  Spread the whipped cream cheese over the cooled pie (or you can pipe it in swirls, a lattice pattern, etc.).  If you like, you can also garnish the top of the pie with more chocolate chips, pecans and caramel sauce.

Refrigerate until ready to serve, and refrigerate leftovers, covered with plastic wrap.

Yields 8-10 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, November 16, 2013

German Chocolate Cake

When I was little, we had a birthday tradition that the birthday girl (or boy) would get to take the first bite of cake, right from the edge of cake, before it had even been cut.  And from looking through old photos, I remember that German chocolate cake made a frequent appearance at our birthdays.  That first bite of sweet coconut and pecan caramel was always the best bite.

I don't think I've eaten German chocolate cake since I was a kid, and it occurred to me the other day that I'd never actually tasted anything but the canned filling.  So from that moment I felt that I had to create a recipe from scratch and remember what I've been missing all these years.

German chocolate cake isn't even German at all, it's an American cake named after Sam German who developed the baking chocolate that was used in the original recipe.  Now, I have to make a point of saying that what I like most about German chocolate cake is the coconut pecan filling, and not the cake itself, since the traditional cake recipe is too light for my taste when it comes to chocolate cake.

So I baked my favorite dark chocolate cake, with a little bittersweet chocolate melted and mixed into the batter for extra chocolateyness.  With the cake cooling, I cooked the caramel, a simple mixture of cream, brown sugar and egg yolks, and then stirred in the coconut, pecans, vanilla and a pinch of salt.  I even added a little Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, which made it even better.

I could have stopped at that point, with just cake and filling, and many people do.  But I also whipped some fluffy chocolate buttercream which I piped into swirls all around the sides.

It was everything I remembered, but so much better, and seeing as how I planned to take the cake in to work, I refrained from taking a bite out of the side...

One Year Ago:   Mini Pumpkin Pie Tartlets
Two Years AgoMassaman Curry with Chicken and Jasmine Rice

German Chocolate Cake

chocolate cake:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, special dark cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
pecan coconut filling:
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons spiced rum (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
chocolate buttercream:
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons milk or cream

Bake the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, oil, vanilla and melted chocolate and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Divide batter between the pans.

Bake for 25-27 minutes, until the center springs back and a toothpick comes out clean.  Set the pans on wire racks, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely.

Cook the Filling:
In a saucepan, whisk together the cream, brown sugar and egg yolks.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture gets thick and bubbly.  Remove from the heat.  Whisk in the butter until melted, and stir in the pecans, coconut, vanilla, rum and salt.  Set aside to cool completely to room temperature.

Make the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute.  In a bowl, combine the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and meringue powder.  With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients by spoonfuls.  Add the vanilla and milk and whip on medium high for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.

Turn the cakes out of the pans.  Place one cake on a cake board or serving pedestal.  Fit a piping bag with a large open star tip and fill the bag with chocolate buttercream.  Pipe a border of buttercream around the edge of the cake to serve as a "dam" for the filling.  Spoon 1/3 of the pecan coconut filling onto the cake.  Repeat with the 2nd and 3rd layers.

Spread a thin crumb coat around the sides of the cake and pipe the remainder of the buttercream in roses around the sides of the cake (or leave the sides of the cake unfrosted).

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Spiced Yogurt and Pecans

We eat sweet potatoes at least once a week, and with only so many ways to cook them - not including my favorite sweet potato casserole - we generally rotate between roasted, baked or mashed.  To keep them from getting too mundane, I'm always trying to think of new ways to make them a little more interesting, while also maintaining their intrinsically healthy properties.

I've been looking forward to making sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving, and I make it like my mom always has, with a buttery, brown sugar pecan streusel topping.  It's a dish I look forward to all November long.

So for a nutritious weeknight meal that was reminiscent of the flavors of my favorite casserole, I baked the sweet potatoes until tender, then topped them with a lightly sweetened dollop of Greek yogurt that I spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, then sprinkled each potato with a handful of toasted pecans.

One Year Ago:   Blueberry Crumb Pie for a Wintry Weekend
Two Years Ago:  Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Spiced Yogurt and Pecans

  • 4 small sweet potatoes
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (preferably Fage)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375.  Rub the potatoes all over with the olive oil and wrap each in foil.  Bake for one hour, or until tender enough to pierce with a fork.

In a bowl, combine the yogurt, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.  Refrigerate until needed.  Top the baked potatoes with a spoonful of the yogurt, and sprinkle with the pecans and salt.

Yields 4 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake Ice Cream

Every slice of fruit pie needs a scoop of cold ice cream, so as I thought about the blueberry pie I was going to make for Jamie last weekend, I decided to make homemade ice cream to go along with it.

There were a few ice cream flavors that my dad routinely bought when I was a kid, a lemon sorbet and a raspberry blueberry swirl ice cream he really liked, until, to his disappointment, they discontinued the flavor.  He has always liked the fruity ice creams, while my mom loves the decadent, fudgey chocolate, nutty, espresso bean, full of chunks of deliciousness varieties, so they have a hard time agreeing on what to stock their freezer with.

I like them all.

So to eat with the blueberry pie, I made a raspberry swirl cheesecake ice cream which reminded me quite a bit of that favorite of my dad's, only better.  Creamy vanilla cheesecake ice cream, swirled with seedless raspberry jam, it was smooth and rich with a nice tartness from the jam.

On Saturday when it was almost dark, Jamie came upstairs from working on his car, tired and hungry.  I had baked the pie that morning, and it sat temptingly on the counter, the scent of blueberries, butter, cinnamon and sugar wafting through the house.  He leaned over the pie and stared at it longingly.

"Should we just have pie and ice cream for dinner tonight?"

And we did.

One Year Ago:   Crabby Mac 'n' Cheese
Two Years AgoSoups, Stews and Sweet Potatoes...

Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake Ice Cream

  • 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup seedless raspberry jam
Pour the cream into a saucepan.  Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.  Whisk 1 cup of the hot cream into the egg yolks, then scrape the eggs into the saucepan.  Cook the custard over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Pour through a mesh strainer to strain out any bits of cooked egg.

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and vanilla until smooth.  Gradually beat in the hot custard, mixing until very smooth.  Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap resting against the surface of the custard, and chill overnight.

Churn the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.  When the ice cream is soft-serve consistency, spread into a container.  Dollop with the raspberry jam and swirl into the ice cream.  Freeze until firm, about 4-6 hours.

Yields about 1 1/2 quarts.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen