Sunday, October 28, 2012

apple crisp

When it comes to desserts in this country, I feel like there are two opposing camps: those who prefer cake and those who side with pie. Well, I suppose there's the third group, championed by my dad, who will take a slice of both, thank you very much...but we'll just humor them for the moment. ;-) I'm a cake girl myself (though I would never turn down a piece of good peach pie).

That being said, this time of year, members of both dessert parties tend to pay more than a little attention to that great all-American favorite: apple pie. Served warm with an essential side of melty vanilla ice cream, it's the perfect fall treat to break up the pumpkin dessert obsessions of the season. The trouble is, I've had one too many disappointing slices of that particular pie. You know the kind. That pie that looks so pretty on the outside but is little more than soggy crust and watery apples on the inside. Oh, I know there are zillions of recipes for genuinely delicious versions of the dish. But, in my mind, I'd rather just have one of my childhood crisp. Specifically, my mom's apple crisp.

In our home, pie may have reigned supreme during the summer in the form of strawberry, but come fall, it was always pushed aside in favor of our favorite crisp. I'm not sure where my mother got this particular recipe, but it's been our go-to version for as long as I can remember. Try it, and I'm sure you'll understand why.

By the way, when I made this a few weeks ago for some girlfriends in honor of our movie-night-slash-slumber-party at my house (fact: us gals are never too old for slumber parties!), some people who will who will remain nameless snuck into the leftovers to finish it off for breakfast. ;-) No judgement here. It is half fruit...

Note: My mom usually increases the recipe a little to fit in a 9x13 inch baking dish by adding a couple of apples, which spreads them out a little and speeds up the cooking time. I actually wanted a slightly thicker finished product this time around, so I stuck with the smaller dish. If you make it in the larger dish, it should definitely be done by 40 minutes. If you go with the smaller dish, you may have to increase the time by 10-15 minutes. Just keep a close eye on it to make sure the topping doesn't get too dark!

Apple Crisp

6 medium apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

for the topping:
1 cup oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
1 tbsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Place apples in a greased 9x9 inch square pan, spreading evenly.

With a pastry cutter, mix the topping ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over apples. Bake for 40-45 minutes, covering with aluminum foil if the topping starts to darken too much.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

pumpkin chicken chili

There's something about the crisp coolness of Autumn temperatures and the changing of the leaves - which any good current or former Blacksburg resident will quickly use to point out that God clearly shows his college football loyalties by painting the trees in orange and maroon...Hokie colors! - that put me in the mood for chili. In fact, one of my favorite memories from my years in Blacksburg revolves around chili. Eager to enjoy a day off from school as well as the the gorgeous fall weather and mountains of southern Virginia, four of my closest friends and I decided to explore the local chili cook-off featuring a dozen culinary masterpieces from area restaurants, caterers, and college fraternities. Let me assure you, we had no regrets. I wish I could tell you now what our favorite variations were, but the passage of three busy years have sadly dimmed those finer details from the afternoon - though the cherished memory of yummy hot chocolate, a beautiful hay ride, and a less than impressive corn maze resonates eternal in this heart.

So, the sentimental comfort of chili + the goodness of the season's beloved pumpkin? My curiosity compelled me to action. And, I must say, I was pleased. With just the right amount of spice thanks to a heavy dose of chili powder, just the right amount of chunk compliments of cubed chicken and diced bell peppers, and just the right amount of uniqueness due to the addition of pumpkin, cocoa powder, and cinnamon - this dish is all kinds of goodness.

Pumpkin Chicken Chili
Yield: 4-5

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup red onion, diced
1 cup green bell pepper, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced with seeds and membranes removed
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, cubed
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 ounces tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced
1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and jalapenos and saute an additional 5 minutes. Add the chicken and garlic and saute until the chicken is lightly browned on all sides, stirring constantly. Add the chili powder, pumpkin pie spice, coriander, salt, cinnamon, and tomato paste, stirring constantly until all moisture is absorbed, about 30 seconds. Carefully poor in the wine and quickly scrape the bottom of the pan to release all the spices. Stir in the chicken broth and tomatoes with their juice. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes over medium-low heat. Stir in the pumpkin, cilantro, and cocoa powder. Cover, and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Adapted from Civilized Caveman Cooking

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

blueberry banana bread pancakes

We've already established the fact that I love pancakes. What I don't love, though, is having a heavy breakfast first thing in the morning on a regular basis. Special occasions? Good heavens, yes. But not before a 12+ hour day at work. That, my friends, calls for something hearty but healthy to set the tone for such a marathon of responsibilities.

These pancakes are most definitely up for that challenge. Gluten-free and speckled with juicy blueberries, they're a guilt free way to start the day. Given the sweetness of the berries, I expected them to take center stage in the flavor department. But oh my, was I in for a surprise. The addition of a pureed banana gives these hotcakes a moist and tender texture and a taste reminiscent of a not-too-sweet banana bread. Topped with a pat of coconut oil or butter and a drizzle of agave nectar, syrup, or honey? I'll take a tall stack, please.

Blueberry Banana Bread Pancakes
Yield: 1-2

1 ripe banana, mashed
1 large egg, scrambled
2 tablespoons almond meal
1 tablespoon almond butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup frozen blueberries

Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Over medium-low heat, melt a pat of butter or coconut oil in a griddle pan. Spoon the batter into individual mounds in the pan, spreading them out to uniform thickness. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the underside is golden brown, and the topside turns from glossy to dull. Carefully flip and cook for an additional 1 minute.

Serve with butter or coconut oil and syrup, agave nectar, or honey of your choosing.

Adapted from Souvlaki for the Soul

Sunday, October 14, 2012

quinoa with moroccan winter squash and carrot stew

In the past few years, trips home to my parents' house during the fall and winter months have almost certainly included time in the kitchen for my mom and I, making this dish together. An absolute favorite of ours, it has become a must-make staple on our menu and often, in fact, gets doubled in quantity just so we can savor it for several days each time. Fortunately for us, the spicy kick is far too much heat for my spice-phobic father, meaning one thing: more for us enjoy...a consequence we're more than willing to deal with. :)

This year, long work hours have me much too busy for any quick trips to my beloved central Virginia until Christmas. Feeling a tad homesick...and eager to savor my first taste of Morocco this season...making this dish wasn't an option. And oh boy, did it hit the spot. I do have to confess, though, that I came to one conclusion: as perfect as the recipe is, the secret ingredient is Mom's Company...because it somehow doesn't taste quite the same without it.

Quinoa with Moroccan Winter Squash and Carrot Stew
Yield: 4 servings

for the stew:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup water or broth (I use chicken broth for added flavor)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
3 cups 1-inch cubes peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2-pound squash)
2 cups 3/4-inch cubes peeled carrots
salt to taste

for the quinoa:
1 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrot
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups water or broth (again, I use broth)
salt to taste

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

for the stew:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and 7 spices, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the water or broth and tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a boil. Add the squash and carrots. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season with salt. (Can be make 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

for the quinoa:
Using a large sieve, rinse the quinoa under cold running water, draining fully. Melt the butter with the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot. Cover and cook until the vegetables begin to brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and turmeric and saute 1 minute. Add the quinoa and stir for 1 minute. Add the water or broth and bring to a boil, reducing the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes.

Rewarm the stew. Stir in half of the cilantro and salt to taste. Spoon the quinoa onto a platter, forming a well in the center. Spoon the stew into the well. Sprinkle the remaining cilantro over the top.

Adapted from The Flavors of Bon Appetit 2007

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

pumpkin bread

Though I don't make them very often - simply because I don't have the willpower to refrain from eating an entire loaf by myself - I really, really love a good sweet, dense, quick bread. In my mind, it's one of those foods that is totally acceptable at the breakfast table even though it probably should be classified as a dessert...along with cinnamon rolls and donuts. What's not to love about that? - they're all winners in my book. But this time of year, the clear winner has to be pumpkin.

A couple of weeks ago, my dear friend Sally came to visit for a couple of days, which gave me the perfect excuse to make a sweet, Autumn treat for breakfast. Deciding on pumpkin bread and wanting to share some of it with my lovely coworkers as well, I decided to make half of the recipe into muffins instead of a second loaf like the recipe called for. With both forms turning out a-mazing, folks, I can confidently say that this recipe is going on my yearly "I.can't.wait.for.fall" baking list.

Of note, since I figured that the muffins had more surface area than the loaf, I increased the topping to 1.5 times the original recipe and used nearly all of it. If making 24 muffins, I would most likely double the topping. After all, isn't that everyone's favorite part, anyway?

P.S. Thanks for the pics, Sally! :)

Pumpkin Bread
Yield: 2 loaves or 1 loaf and 12 muffins or 24 muffins

For the topping:
5 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
4 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into 12 pieces
4 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine

For the topping:
Using fingers, mix all ingredients together in a bowl until well combined and topping resembles wet sand. Set aside.

For the bread:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans (or standard muffin pans). Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda together in a bowl. Set aside.

In a large saucepan set over medium heat, combine the pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 6-8 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese until combined. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes then whisk until no visible signs of cream cheese remain and mixture is homogenous. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk. Add the egg mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine. Fold the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture until combined (some small lumps of flour are alright). Fold the walnuts into the batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of each loaf. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 40-50 minutes (20-25 minutes for muffins). Let breads cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove breads from pans and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Slightly adapted from Cook's Illustrated September/October 2012. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

red curry with chicken, sweet potato, and baby bok choy

This dish wasn't supposed to be high maintenance. Boasting a reasonable number of ingredients and a very simple cooking method, it was supposed to come together with ease. And yet, somehow, the grocery shopping for it turned into the ultimate treasure hunt. With two Asian grocery stores mere miles from my house and a Whole Foods just a little further down the way, I would have never imagined how much effort I would have to put into finding one solitary ingredient: kaffir lime leaves. Ultimately, they became my Holy Grail, my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And after visiting four stores and calling three others? Success! Victory is sweet indeed...or, in this case, curry-flavored.

So was the craziness worth it? Absolutely. Balancing the sweetness of the coconut milk with the saltiness of the fish sauce and the lovely spice of the red curry paste, I have no doubt that those little leaves made the dish. ;-) Could I have simply skipped that one ingredient? Probably. But I wanted authentic, people! And after tasting the finished product, and can assure you: I would do it all again.

Note: this dish was made as a contribution to ONE's ongoing sweet potato campaign. Be sure to check out their tumblr.

Red Curry with Chicken, Sweet Potato, and Baby Bok Choy
Yield: 2-4 servings

1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 large sweet potato, cut into bite-size chunks
1-2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon palm sugar or dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 cup roasted chicken, shredded
6 kaffir lime leaves
1 red or green chili pepper, minced
1 bunch baby bok choy, chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2 - 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro or Thai basil (or a combination of the two)
fresh lime juice to taste, optional
Srirachi or your favorite hot sauce to taste, optional

cooked rice

Combine coconut milk and red curry paste in a wok or deep saucepan. Stir well to combine and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add sweet potato, simmering for 10 minutes or until slightly tender.

Add 1 cup of stock, sugar, fish sauce, chicken, lime leaves, and pepper. Stir together and continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until the sweet potato is fork-tender.

Add the baby bok choy and cilantro and reduce heat to medium-low, simmering for 3-4 minutes or until greens are wilted.

Adjust taste and thickness as desired by adding up to a cup of additional stock.

Serve over rice with optional toppings.

Adapted from Savoring Southeast Asia: Recipes and Reflections of Southeast Asian Cooking via Healthy Green Kitchen

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

gingerbread cookies with pumpkin spice dip

If your home was anything like mine growing up, there are certain foods that immediately jump to mind when thinking about certain seasons, holidays, and/or events. In our family, Christmas requires homemade cinnamon roll 'wreaths', summer equals strawberry pie, my birthday can't be celebrated without German chocolate cake, and fall calls for gingerbread cookies with pumpkin dip. (Sidenote: Contrary to reasonable misconception, we do, indeed, eat foods other than dessert. I promise.)

When I made these cookies as a special treat for my coworkers, my roommate walked into the kitchen and exclaimed, "It smells like fall in here!" Then she took a bite of one and said, "They're the perfect combination of soft and chewy." I'm not sure I need to say anything more. Chewy gingerbread cookie + pumpkin cream cheese dip = success.

Gingerbread Cookies with Pumpkin Spice Dip
Yield: enough to help a whooole lot of people celebrate fall

For the cookies:
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt
additional sugar

For the dip:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup canned pumpkin pie mix
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger

Preheat the oven to 375°F. 

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the molasses; mix well. In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Chill overnight.

Shape into 1/2 inch balls and roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 6 mintues or until the edges begin to brown. Cool for 2 mintues before removing to a wire rack.

For the dip, beat the cream cheese in a mixing bowl until smooth. Add the pumpkin, mixing well. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and ginger, beating until smooth. Serve with the cookies, storing any leftover dip in the refrigerator.

From Taste of Home