Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pear Berry Crisp

Not everything that comes out of my kitchen is a well formulated recipe. Some days, a craving takes me and the next thing I know I am elbow deep into a dish without realizing it. This happened to me a few weeks back as I found myself with an abundance of pears from the yard, berries from the blackberry brambles, and a sweet tooth to boot.

By and large, making a crisp is easy. Insanely easy. Cut up some fresh fruit. Line the bottom of a baking dish with it. Throw some oats and spices on top. Bake until bubbly. Easy as pie...err, crisp I mean.

Let's call this my hodgepodge recipe. I have been making crisps for so many years, I no longer have a true recipe. However, like all good chefs I had to start somewhere so I listed one below for your pleasure. Enjoy!

Pear Berry Crisp

  • 3-4 large pears, cored and sliced
  • 1 cup berries of your selection, frozen or fresh
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar 
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats 
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3-4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. Use a 8'x8' square baking dish or similar.

Toss the pears with the lemon juice. Next add berries, brown sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and cinnamon. Mix until everything is thoroughly coated.

Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, lining the bottom of the pan in one even layer.

For the topping - two methods are available. First option is to use a food processor to pulse together all of the topping ingredients. Second option is to mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, and spices together for the topping, then sprinkle evenly over the fruit, followed by sprinkling the butter pieces over the top. Either method works, the first simply incorporates the ingredients better. This time around I used the second method (call it laziness and less to clean).

Bake the crisp for about 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the pears are tender. The crisp should be nice and bubbly at this point. Let things cool a bit before serving. Vanilla yogurt tastes amazing on top of a warm plate of this!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Carrot Cake Muffins with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Baking requests are always welcome, and if the person gets lucky I will actually whip up a batch of whatever was requested pronto. This week I received a request for a healthy version of carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Sounds insanely delicious, right?

Upon digging around I unearthed a healthier version of carrot cake cupcakes from Healthy Food for Living. The lovely Lauren over there at Healthy Food for Living had taken a typical carrot cake cupcake recipe and toned down the amount of fat as well as sugar.

Now before you get all sore thinking we killed the sweetness of these little babies, just wait to taste a batch. You really won't notice much other than the taste of delicious in your mouth.

As this week's request is likely to end up as bribery in the local university office, I decided to make a double batch, mixing mini cupcakes with normal sized ones. As I ended up with a little extra left over, I had these mini bundt pans I recently picked up and decided to make a few for kicks.

One thing you will notice is that I call these muffins as opposed to cupcakes. To me, they taste and feel like muffins, especially with the lessened sweetness. However, the beauty of this recipe is that you can add more sugar to the batter or make the cream cheese frosting sweeter. My modifications to the recipe included adding walnuts, using olive oil as it was all I had on hand, using cinnamon applesauce as opposed to natural, using maple flavor as opposed to extract, and using more maple syrup for the cream cheese frosting. Enjoy!

Carrot Cake Muffins with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

yields about 12 normal muffins

  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil, such as canola
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (use 1/4 cup more for added sweetness)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp cinnamon applesauce
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup finely grated peeled carrots, about 2 medium (A microplane grater works best)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 
  • 4 oz 1/3-less-fat neufchatel cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3-4 Tbsp pure maple syrup (personal taste)
  • 1/8 tsp pure maple extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or coat with canola oil cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the first 7 ingredients (through ground ginger).

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, brown sugar, and eggs. Whisk in the applesauce and vanilla extract.

Stir in the grated carrots.

Add the dry ingredients into the wet and stir just until fully incorporated.

Using a large spoon, divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups.

Bake in preheated oven for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin  comes out clean.


Allow muffins to cool in muffin tin for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, maple syrup, and maple extract using an electric mixer, until smooth.

Frost muffins once they have completely cooled. Store any uneaten muffins in the fridge.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wish List

It is with great joy I report that baking season is almost upon us. Yippie! And yes, there is definitely a baking season in my life. While I probably do more baking than most folks, come cold season I spend as much time as I can in front of the stove...primarily to stay warm. Oregon fall and winter lend themselves to darker days, cooler temps, and a cup of hot buttered rum in front of an oven baking some delicious treats. Equate it to my version of the holiday season = baking season!

While December will bring the annual (massive) cookie tray spread, I have some time to fill before then. Below is a short list of recipes that have recently caught my eye, not to mention taste buds, and deserve some attention this coming season:
However, next up... Carrot Cake Cupcakes by personal request. Mmmm, I just may have to start those now.

If you have a recipe you haven't tried or have been eyeballing for a while, please share and maybe I can whip up a batch. If you live near my neck of the woods, maybe you will even get a taste test. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Banana Bread

Every so often, after an excessive trip to the grocery store, my kitchen reveals its over abundance of food. Almost like I am hoarding delicious treats in the unlikely event I am visited by a troupe of circus performers with insatiable appetites. Usually some bananas fall into this extra stock, over ripe and in desperate need of use. 

This week I decided to make some traditional banana bread (again to help in the weight gain attempts... which is failing thus far). With the help of Joy of Baking's recipe as my starting point, I managed to create a loaf of some of the tastiest banana bread to enter my mouth in a long time. The only major change I made to the recipe was using both dark brown sugar and white sugar to give the bread more flavor. Enjoy!

Banana Bread Recipe

1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 ripe large bananas, mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place oven rack to middle position. Butter and flour (or spray with a non stick vegetable/flour spray) the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5 x 3 inch bread loaf pan. Set aside.   

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nuts. Set aside. 

In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. 

With a wooden spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients (banana mixture) into the dry ingredients just until combined and the batter is thick and chunky. (The important thing is not to over mix the batter. You do not want it smooth. Over mixing the batter will yield tough, rubbery bread.) Scrape batter into prepared pan. 

Bake until bread is golden brown and a  toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55-60 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove the bread from the pan. I suggest serving it warm, then eating more of it shortly thereafter. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Swanky Gnocchi Mac N' Cheese

I call this my triumphant comeback. It is insanely delicious. Remember how I lost a few pounds recently? Well this is my attempt to regain it. Fast.

A friend of mine is a lover of mac n' cheese. Especially the more gourmet style of the dish. When I discovered this recipe from Noble Pig, I spent days planning how I would like to attempt this gem. Just talking about this recipe has me salivating. Must stay away from the leftovers in the fridge.

I made a few changes to the Noble Pig's version by swapping the fontina cheese for smoked gouda, trading regular milk for hazelnut milk, using spicy mustard, and changing the pasta to include two difference types. Seriously, go make a batch... you will thank me. Enjoy!

Swanky Gnocchi Mac n' Cheese

8 oz. package frozen gnocchi (garlic & basil are yummy)
8 oz. fusilli pasta
2 Tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup hazelnut milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (spicy mustard also works)
1/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup shredded Smoked Gouda cheese
Salt and white pepper to taste
1/3 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
Chopped fresh thyme, oregano, and basil
Basil leaves for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 375o F. Prepare gnocchi and fusilli pastas according to package directions. Drain and place gnocchi in a single-layer in a 1-1/2 quart shallow baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick spray.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in flour until it thickens and bubbles, then whisk in milk and Dijon. Continue to whisk mixture and cook until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.

Combine gruyere and smoked gouda cheeses, then add by the handful to milk mixture, stirring until melted before adding the next handful. Once all cheese is melted, season sauce with salt and pepper.


Pour sauce over pasta and sprinkle with parmigiano over the top. Sprinkle chopped herbs over the top (this is also a good time to make additions like flaked red pepper, etc.). Bake gnocchi fusilli mixture until it puffs and the cheese is golden and bubbly, about 25 minutes. Let dish rest for 5 minutes before serving.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Garlic Cheese Pinwheel Rolls

Always try to find the silver lining, right? The positive in a negative situation. The sweet taste amongst the bitter. This is exactly what I am trying to do with my prolonged illness - find the good point to it all. One good thing is that all this weight loss means I need to start eating, pronto!

And what better thing to eat than garlicky, cheesy bread??

I stumbled across this very easy recipe from The Hungry Mouse and figured well hell, I should get in on some of this action. My local grocery store has a really tasty pre-made rosemary pizza dough and with the few staples I constantly keep in my kitchen, this recipe was a snap. My suggestion - make lots! I ate the majority of these bad boys before I could get a picture or two in. Sorry for the poor quality pics; blame the illness. Enjoy!

Garlic Cheese Pinwheel Rolls
  • 1 ball pizza dough
  • 2 tbls. butter (melted) or olive oil 
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese
  • Parmesan cheese, grated (or others, I used a 4 cheese blend)
  • fresh garlic, chopped (I used 3-4 cloves) 
  • fresh basil, chopped (1-3 tbsp.)
  • kosher salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • garlic powder

Makes about a dozen rolls.

Lightly grease an 8-inch x 8-inch glass baking pan. Set it aside.

Lightly flour a large cutting board and roll out the store bought pizza dough. Remember to rotate the dough a quarter and flip it occasionally as you roll it into a large rectangle.

Pour the melted butter or olive oil into the center of the rectangle. Lightly spread it over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle the cheese over the entire area of the oiled dough. Again, I like a mixture of cheese. Another option is to use a pesto blend for some flavor (you can really get creative with these babies). Sprinkle the remainder of your toppings evenly across the dough (herbs, spices, salt, pepper, etc.).

Start to roll the dough in one long tube, beginning with the long side furthest from you. Roll it towards you, tucking the dough in on itself, as if it were a giant spring roll. You should end up with a very large, very long dough roll (with all the toppings safely nested inside, like a jelly roll).

Next, as evenly as possible, chop the dough roll into 12 pieces. Make them about an inch or so wide. If the end pieces don't quite match up in size to the rest, you can mush them together to form one roll in the pan.

Very carefully, take each dough roll and place it in your pre-oiled pan. Begin at the corner of the pan and nestle each roll in next to each other like you would with a batch of cinnamon rolls (you will want one cut side facing up). Continue doing so until all the rolls are wedged into the pan, one happy nestled family.

Cover with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm spot for 30 minutes to rise. Pre-heat your oven to 350 F.

Once the rolls have risen, pop them in the oven for 20 minutes or so. You will know they are done when the dough is lightly browned, and the cheese has bubbled up and formed a nice, golden brown crust.

Let them cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes, then scoop out and enjoy hot from the oven. My gosh, they are good!