Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pumpkin spice beer bread

Hooray for fall! Autumn is my favorite season. The temperatures start to cool down, leaves are changing, my birthday is around the corner, college basketball starts up, and hello - pumpkin! This month's What's Baking challenge is to bake with pumpkin or squash, so I decided to bake some pumpkin bread. Not just any pumpkin bread. No sir-ee! I wanted to bake a pumpkin that incorporated some beer to infuse some additional flavors.

I love baking with pumpkin and appreciate how much moisture it adds to baked goods. We recently had some friends over for dinner, and they gave us a growler full of some local beer. Unfortunately, the beer wasn't pumpkin flavored, but I still added it to the bread and it produced a nice malt-like undertone. The pumpkin pie spices and cinnamon chips gave the bread a fantastic fall flavor as well.

Be sure to check out Carrie's blog to see what everyone else contributed for this fall challenge!

Pumpkin spice beer bread
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree, about 1 cup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 bottle beer, preferably pumpkin flavored
  • 3/4 cup cinnamon chips

Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously grease a standard 9"x5" loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, baking powder, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.

In a separate medium sized bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, egg and beer.

Slowly transfer the beer mixture into the large bowl with the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon,  gently mix everything together. Do not overmix. Before the flour has been completely incorporated, add in the cinnamon chips. Mix until everything is just combined.

Transfer the batter to your prepared loaf pan and smooth the top with your spoon or spatula.

Bake in your preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Bread should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.



Yield: One 9"x5" loaf; about 12-16 slices

Source: Slightly adapted from On Sugar Mountain

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Spiced acorn squash apple muffins

How is it October already? Wasn't it just January a few weeks ago? While fall is my favorite season of the year (hello, pumpkin and apple recipes!), it seems like it arrived way too quickly this year. I knew that fall was here when our CSA delivery included 2 acorn squash. Honestly, I had never cooked with acorn squash before we signed up for the CSA, so I am happy that I have been forced to use this new ingredient.

Last year, I made acorn squash bread, vegan muffins and baked custard. Since 2014 is apparently the year of the muffin around these parts, I chose to bake two different kinds of acorn squash muffins with my gourd stash.  These spiced acorn squash apple muffins were the first recipe.

The squash provided a nice moist texture to these muffins, and they resembled a pumpkin muffin in that aspect. The apples were soft yet crunchy and were a nice contrast to the otherwise soft yet dense muffin. Thankfully, these muffins didn't crumble too easily, which is always a plus when I have a 4 year old snarfing these down (side note: if I had a nickel for every crumb I've had to pick up...). If you are a fan of fall flavors, you may want to dial up the spices a notch in these muffins. I didn't think they came out as prominently as I would have liked. Also, feel free to substitute the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour to make these a tad bit healthier.

 Spiced acorn squash apple muffins
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 4 ounces (8 Tablespoons or ½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup pureed acorn squash (approximately 1 small squash*)
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
* To get pureed acorn squash, cut 1 small acorn squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff from the middle and discard. Place cut side down in a high-sided baking pan and fill with about 1/2 inch of water. Roast in a 350 degree F oven for about 50-60 minutes or until the squash is soft. Scoop out the squash "flesh" after it has cooled slightly and puree in a blender or food processor.

Directions
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Generously grease a standard muffin pan and set aside (I used a silicone muffin pan and did not grease it).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs individually - make sure each egg gets fully incorporated before adding the next.

Turn the mixer off. Add the vanilla, acorn squash and buttermilk by hand (using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula).

Gently fold in the dry ingredients by hand until there are a few flour streaks remaining. Fold in the chopped apples until the apples are evenly mixed in and there are no dry streaks remaining.

Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared muffin pan. Fill each well about 3/4 full.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Allow the muffins to cool completely before serving.

Muffins should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.

Yield: 12 muffins

Source: Savory Simple

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Skating Fridays

New Skates!


My current pair of skates is about 8 or 9 years old. At the time, I drove 2 hours to a small pro shop to get my feet fitted, and I was so excited to have something that actually supported my ankles and wasn't a beginner boot. As the years went by, I would often look down and notice an oddity - the skates looked huge on me. In addition, I often felt like I was tripping on myself. I brushed it off and blamed it on my bad skating technique or lack of confidence, and my coach agreed.

Flash forward to two weeks ago. I asked my other skating friends how much room they had in their skating boots, and nearly all of them said that they had no extra room. Their feet fit snugly in their boots, so they wondered why I would ask such a question. I told them that I felt like I had an inch of room beyond my toes and that I could easily bend my toes downward and probably even fit a golf ball inside.

<Cue gasps and mouths dropping>

I told this to my coach, and she was just as surprised as I was with this discovery. We looked at my blade, and it was the correct length for the boots. But because my boots were already big on me, the blades were too long for my feet. She asked me what size boots I wore, and I told her that my Jacksons were size 7.5. My coach was also wearing size 7.5 boots, but her (street) shoe size is half a size bigger than mine. Uh-oh. How on earth did I skate for so long with incorrectly sized equipment?!

Obviously, I needed to make an appointment to get properly fitted. I called a different pro shop that was located 2 hours away and made the time to go up there for a fitting. I pretty much did this on a whim and was not at all expecting to buy new equipment anytime soon (especially since I just replaced my blades this spring).

After 5 hours (!) of trying on different boots and discussing new blades, I finally decided on a pair of Edea Ice Fly boots with MK Professional blades. And get this - my new blades are a full 3/4" shorter than my old pair. And my new boots? They are a 1.5 sizes smaller than what I was wearing previously. Check out this comparison:

Left: Old skates (Jackson Competitor/Coronation Ace); Right: New skates (Edea Ice Fly/MK Professional)
My new equipment will take a while to get used to, so it might be a while before I start feeling comfortable on the ice. It's going to be so weird to be skating in a boot that actually fits my feet correctly!


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

S'mores cupcakes

Who doesn't love a cupcake? Weird people, obviously. Ha ha! I made these cupcakes for our end-of-summer cookout, and they received rave reviews. It mean, come on, it's a s'mores treat in cupcake form. The only thing I didn't get to do was toast the marshmallow frosting (I seem to have misplaced my kitchen torch - does anybody know where it is?).

The chocolate cupcakes have a fantastic graham cracker base and is topping with a homemade marshmallow frosting. I was thrilled that the frosting did not use any of the canned marshmallow fluff because that stuff is really hard to get out of the container. Instead, you melt egg whites and sugar over a simmering saucepan and heat it up like a Swiss meringue buttercream.

I garnished my cupcakes with some shaved chocolate, but you don't have to do that. If you can find your kitchen torch, you can use it on the frosting to give it a classic s'mores look. And if you want to be extra fancy, you can sprinkle on some crushed graham crackers too.

However you decide to decorate these cupcakes, they will be fabulous. I brought the leftover cupcakes to work one day and they were devoured. Yes, these cupcakes are a bit more time-consuming than others, but they are worth it.

S'mores cupcakes
Graham cracker crust:
  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (you can use a rolling pin, food processor or blender to make graham cracker crumbs)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 and 1/3 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
Cupcake:
  • ½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
  • ½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon hot water
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 and 2/3 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 TBSP vanilla extract
  • 1 (5.3 oz) container plain Greek yogurt (I used 0% Chobani) 
Marshmallow frosting:
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Shaved chocolate, optional
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Line two standard cupcake pans with paper liners and set aside (note: since the recipe makes about 28 cupcakes, you may need a third cupcake pan).

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs,sugar and melted butter. The mixture will resemble wet sand. Evenly distribute the crumbs into the paper liners and spoon about 1 Tablespoon in each. Use the bottom of a cup or bottle to press down on the crumbs. Bake in your preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly. Keep the oven on.

In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water. Mix until smooth and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small saucepan set over low to medium heat, warm the butter and sugar until the butter has completely melted.

Transfer the butter/sugar mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer. Mix together on medium speed until the mixture has cooled down, about 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla, and then the cocoa/water mixture.

Alternatively add the flour mixture and the Greek yogurt in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Do not overmix the batter.

Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared cupcake liners, filling each one about 3/4 full.

Bake in your preheated oven for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, set a large heatproof bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) over a pot of simmering water. Add the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar and continuously whisk the mixture until it comes to 160 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Once the mixture has reached 160 degrees F, take it off the heat and transfer to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or to a handheld mixer. Whisk the mixture on medium speed and continue to increase the speed until the frosting is stiff and glossy and holds a peak. Add in the vanilla and continue to beat until it is fully incorporated.

Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip and pipe it onto the cooled cupcakes. If desired, you can sprinkle shaved chocolate and/or graham cracker crumbs on top for a completed look.

Cupcakes should be stored in an airtight container and will keep for about 3 days. The frosting will deflate a bit after the first day, so keep that in mind if you are preparing these for an event.

Yield: About 28 cupcakes (the frosting may not be enough to frost every cupcake)

Source: Barely adapted from Annie's Eats

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Apple pie bars

Is there anything more American than apple pie? Maybe, but apple pie is such a classic dessert, but it can be daunting to bake. The crust can be finicky and end up too dry or too mushy, and the filling can end up running all over the place. I love a good apple pie, but sometimes I just don't have the time to bake one.

Enter these apple pie bars. They are all the flavor of a classic apple pie, but in bar form. You start off with a cookie layer on the bottom, top it with an apple filling and finish it off with a nice crumb topping. Oh, and did I mention that you don't have to make a crust or crimp any edges?

I served these apple pie bars at our annual cookout, and they were a big hit. Our guests commented that they tasted just like apple pie, but it was easier to eat and easier to serve. If you want to share with more friends, feel free to make a double batch.

Apple pie bars
Cookie base
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 and 1/2 sticks), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Apple filling
  • 3 and 1/2 Tablepoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced into 1/4" cubes (about 2 cups) 
  • A squeeze of fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • Dash of salt

Crumb topping
  • 1/2 cup of reserved dough from the cookie base recipe above
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously grease and/or line a standard 9"x9" square baking pan (an 8"x8" one works too) with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add in the vanilla and egg yolk until fully incorporated. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add in the flour and salt until fully mixed.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the dough and set aside. You do not need to clean the bowl - you will use it again in a bit so just set it aside.

Transfer the remaining dough to your prepared baking pan and evenly spread it out. Press down on the dough with a spatula or by using your fingers. Bake for 16-22 minutes or until the middle is set and the edges turn a light golden color. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Toss the apples in a bowl and squeeze some lemon juice over the tops and mix.

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Sprinkle this over the apples and toss to coat. Add the apples to the melted butter and bring the mixture to a simmer. Keep cooking until the apple mixture gets thick and syrupy (about 4 minutes). Take off the stove and set aside.

To make the topping, add the reserved dough back into the stand mixer bowl and add the 1/4 cup plus 1 TBSP of flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix on medium speed (using the same paddle attachment) until small crumbs form.

Pour the apple mixture over the cooled pie base and spread the apples evenly. Sprinkle on the crumb topping over the apples and bake for 32-37 minutes or until the crumb topping becomes golden in color.

All the bars to cool completely before serving.

Bars should be stored in an airtight container and stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator. They will keep for several days.

Yield: One 9"x9" pan; about 16 bars

Source: Home...is Where the Cookies Are

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Skating Fridays

Counter-Clockwise

For those of you who have followed me on this blog for a while (or who know me in real life), you know that I am a "lefty" skater. I am in the minority where I spin and jump clockwise. I attribute it to my gymnastics training where we were taught to do cartwheels, roundoffs and all other elements in the clockwise direction. Naturally, it translated to the same direction on ice. Little did I know that clockwise skaters were not the norm in the world of figure skating.

A coach told us that our rink's Famous Russian Coach visited another rink one day and was asked to observe a certain skater. When the Russian Coach saw the skater, he had just landed a double axel. Russian Coach was unimpressed until the skater subsequently landed a beautiful triple axel IN THE OTHER DIRECTION. Um, yeah. My jaw just about hit the floor when I heard this story.

So, I guess it's totally possible to be able to jump and spin in both directions, and do it very well. We sometimes like to practice this in the adult group classes, and it's always a challenge. One added incentive in the IJS scoring system is that a skater can earn a "feature" for properly executing a spin (sit, layback or camel) in both directions. They have to be done one right after another, so you cannot have an intermediate position during the transition or in between.

I'd love to be able to do this correctly one day, but until then, here is my humble attempt.  Obviously, I am not spinning that well in the counter-clockwise direction quite yet, but it's not a bad start. I'll tell you what though - this spinning in the other direction thing really makes me appreciate "righty" skaters because I don't know how they do it (go the other way). I just get really dizzy.


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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mac and cheese bites

Last summer, we hosted a cookout during the middle of summer. It was hot, humid, and an all-around miserable day. The food, however, was awesome. We decided to host another cookout this year but pushed the date out so the weather was cooler. Luckily for us, we had the perfect day. It was in the 70s with no humidity and a slight breeze. Perfect party weather.

One of the most popular items at last year's party were these mac and cheese bites. I made a double batch last year, and they were pretty much all gone. Although we had fewer people attend our party this year, my double batch also disappeared pretty quickly. They are perfect for adult and kids alike, and one neighbor commented that they were more sophisticated because of the herbs in the cheese.

Remember to allow these appetizers to cool or else your crust will fall apart. I made that mistake a few times and got crumbs all over the floor and counter. Otherwise, the crust will hold up pretty well and is a nice textural contrast to the herb-flavored mac and cheese. I doubt you'll be able to eat just one of these because they are so addictive.

Mac and cheese bites
  • 12 oz. elbow macaroni noodles
  • 2 cups Ritz cracker crumbs (do this in a food processor or blender)
  • 3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 (5.2 oz.) package Boursin garlic herb cheese
  • 2 TBSP cold unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¼ cup Greek yogurt
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • Pepper to taste
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease 2 standard muffin pans and set aside.

Cook the noodles according to the package directions and drain.

While the noodles are cooking, prepare the crust. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the Ritz cracker crumbs, 1/2 cup of the shredded cheddar cheese and melted butter. Transfer about 1 TBSP of the mixture to the bottom of each muffin well. Using the bottom of a glass or a bottle, press down on the crumb mixture to flatten it.

Once the pasta has been cooked and drained, transfer it to a large bowl. Add in the Boursin cheese and cold butter and mix well.

In a small bowl or a measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk and Greek yogurt. Transfer this to the bowl with the pasta and mix well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the macaroni into the muffin wells and fill each one to the top. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden. Allow the mac and cheese bites to cool for 10-15 minutes before removing them from the pan (otherwise they might fall apart).

Any leftover mac and cheese bites can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and reheated as needed.

Yield: About 18 servings

Source: Barely adapted from Annie's Eats

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