a muffin of interest

A couple of weeks ago, I was flipping through Baked Explorations and I came across a recipe for Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins. There was no picture accompanying the recipe, but the headnote drew me in with shout outs to every great thing about fall: crackling fires, leaf peeping, pumpkin recipes, and cheddar cheese. (I’m still not sure why cheddar is on that list, but I find myself agreeing that it’s autumnal. The color, perhaps?).  The muffin recipe itself was very unusual.  Cheddar and a good dose of spice made it savory and the pumpkin and dark brown sugar made it sweet. As eager as I was to pull out my mixing bowls and make a fall treat, I thought maybe this was too weird. On the one hand, of course it’s not, because as Jessica reminded us earlier this week, squash and cheese are meant to be. But together in a baked good? It’s weird, right?

Jessica and I texted about these muffins when I was still contemplating whether they’d be a good bet. I told her I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about them and she said, “Doooooo it! Sounds so weird/possibly delish!” And that was my thought, exactly. Continue reading

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podcast cooking–stuffed delicata squash

Last spring one of my awesome students, who knew I was food crazy and blog obsessed, asked me if I read Joy the Baker. I told her I didn’t and she said, “JESSICA. You have to read her blog–she reminds me of you, if you drank in the shower!” Little does she know, I thought to myself, that I consider drinking in the shower one of life’s greatest treats (seriously, try it! champagne will make you feel especially like you’re getting away with something). I started reading, and was quickly hooked. When I told my student, who has a fantastic blog of her own, she urged me to listen to Joy’s podcasts, too.

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tendresse aux pommes

The name of this dessert is as poetic as its taste. Even the exact translation from french sounds lovely and inviting: “tenderness with apples.” The dessert itself is meant to be a humble bread pudding. More precisely, it’s an Alsatian beggar’s bread pudding (a “bettelman”) made with apples and day-old croissants.

The recipe and what I know about tendresse comes from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris, a book I found absolutely indispensable the last time I went to Paris (which was in 2008, sadly). The book not only provides rock solid recommendations for where to eat, but also includes recipes from some of the featured destinations. I suppose the idea is to visit a place, fall in love with a dish, and be able to come home and make it. I did the reverse for this particular recipe. I remember reading the recipe and going to Du Pain et Des Idées specifically for the tendresse aux pommes. And a pistachio escargot (puff pastry rolled with pistachio cream). And a savory croissant. As I was writing this post, I couldn’t remember what kind of croissant I had, so I thumbed through my journal from that Paris trip and found the entry from my second to last day in the city, when I finally made it to the bakery:

All I can say is I’m glad I just discovered this place or even my roomy “travel” jeans wouldn’t fit. I got 3 things because what the heck: (1) tendresse aux pommes (apple bread pudding for which there is a recipe in Clotilde’s book) (2) an “escargot” – swirl pastry w/ pistachio cream and dark choc chips (lawd help me) and (3) a savory mini-pain w/ sesame, feta, & honey. Yes. All three were off the charts. Best I’ve had. The savory thing was such a perfect blend of crunchy and soft, I didn’t know such a wonder could be baked. The escargot was the best. Buttery, soft, yet flaky. Again – a miracle of pastry science. If I could complain, I would say the dark choc was a little overpowering – but that was only due to its high quality. The tendresse was delish also – especially the bites of apple and raisin. I vowed to return every day for the rest of the trip.

Thanks, Mom, for encouraging me to keep a journal when I went to Paris. Really just an old-fashioned food blog.

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betty phillips’ chili

Chili is one of my ultimate fall/winter foods. It wouldn’t feel right to make it in summer, but I start to crave it as soon as the temperature dips. When I was growing up my mother only made one kind, called Betty Phillip’s Chili in our house for the woman who shared the recipe. And now, it’s the only kind I ever make. Maybe I’ll branch out someday–to a white chicken chili, perhaps?–but this one is just so good, and it t tastes like home to me. It’s hearty, spicy, relatively healthy, and such a comfort food. I’ve made it for myself (with tons of leftovers), for my roommates in college, and once for a group of eight on a Catskills vacation when I cooked it in a giant cast iron pot that could accurately be described as a cauldron. It’s a recipe that doubles beautifully and I imagine you could halve it easily as well, but why would you?

This is also a really pleasantly simple recipe. You chop some onion and garlic, fry sausage, open a bunch of cans, measure some spices, and then enjoy 30-45 really good smelling minutes as you pause whatever else you’re doing to occasionally stir and congratulate yourself on making something so tasty. Continue reading

wish for an ice cream cake

I love blog posts that are written with breezy confidence. They encourage me to put my cooking fears aside and fry things, cut butter into flour, and let sugar turn into caramel. I would like to be able to write this post with that kind of confidence, but it wouldn’t really reflect how I felt before I made this cake, how I felt while I was making this cake, or how I felt until my dad took his first bite of this cake. It would only tell you what I know now, having given my dad the exact birthday cake he wished for and having watched 8 people scrape their plates clean (myself included). The cake was a solid baking success, but I was doubtful at every turn (literally).

A little background: this year for his birthday, my dad requested an ice cream cake roll made of chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.  This cake was one he remembered from childhood. It was not one that my grandmother lovingly tucked together, but one that she bought him as a treat from the local convenience store; a novelty. When I asked him for guidance on the cake, he had very specific ideas about what the cake could and could not be. Iced? No. Glazed? No. Layered with chocolate crunchy things like they do at Carvel? No. (Really?!) Just cake and ice cream. Chocolate and vanilla. Continue reading

kitchen ambition–sweet potato & ricotta gnocchi

My friend Molly is one of my favorite people to cook with. We shared a kitchen for three years in college, and our culinary efforts swung from Kraft macaroni and cheese (which we had down to a science) when we were feeling pressed by time and school, to experiments in crab alfredo sauce when we were feeling flush. We ate a lot of pasta.

Molly is one of the most intuitive cooks I know, and she makes it look so easy. We haven’t cooked together a lot since I’ve been in Brooklyn, making us neighbors for the first time since 2003, but we do get to see each other much more (hooray!) and whenever we see each other I want to know what she’s been making and eating lately. I love that she regularly has toad in the hole for breakfast, roasts pans of vegetables on Sundays, and can be counted on to bring a delicious baked something to a party. When she tells me she’s found a great recipe, I listen. And she’s been telling me about how tasty and easy this recipe for sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi is for years, but I’ve hesitated to take the plunge. It sounded like a Molly-easy recipe, which doesn’t always translate to Jess-easy. Continue reading

end of season pasta with…or without sausage

Jessica’s recent post about the deeply satisfying, yet boeuf-less, mushroom bourguignon got me thinking about meatless mains. As a category of entrée, I find them a little risky. Before I try a new vegetarian recipe, I wonder if it’s going to make it across the “satisfying” line. Some lucky people can happily pat their bellies after a heaping helping of gazpacho or pasta al pomodoro. I, and I think a lot of other people, need something more to make a meal without meat satisfying: nuts, cheese, butter, cream, etc. Of course, “meaty” vegetables like eggplants and mushrooms (especially when deep and dark and bourguignon-ed) can often carry a meal across the line.

The threshold for what makes a vegetarian meal satisfying is personal and hard to predict. For example, I thought the pasta I made last week—a creamy, lemony tribute to end of season squash and beans—ran across that satisfying line with flying colors. The walnuts and cream provided richness and there was a lot to crunch and chew. During the recipe development stage (read: me grilling Ed about whether the dish was worthy of the internet), it came to my attention that the pasta was good, but could be great with a “side of sausage.” I was skeptical. I didn’t think it needed sausage.

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