Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Some Past Treats

I do a lot of baking. In fact, it is pretty much a form of therapy. I get lost in the process and the challenge of coming up with something "just right" that can't be found anywhere else. Sure, I get inspiration from many places, but I want each result to be special.

Lately, I've had several people ask for a montage of some of the creations I've produced.  So, without any recipes attached for this post, here is a small photo album of some of my favorites...I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed creating them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Girls' Night

One of the things I love most is girls night. As often as can be arranged, with everyone's crazy schedule and such, a group of my girlfriends gather up their favorite snack, their foot-soaker, and their gossip and head over to my place to get together and "dish" over a glass or three of wine and an all-out chick flick. We keep it "no icky boys allowed" which gives boyfriends, husbands, or significant others' a night without us as well.

My little girls get into it, too. They invite their friends, eat pizza, have popcorn and a movie in their room and "entertain" each other with silly stories, funny songs, and crazy dancing. Basically, it's a fun night for all.

Our latest girls night was last Saturday. Long overdue, it was the perfect way to let off some steam and just be "girly". Since the goal is to keep it simple, our "nutritious" dinner consisted of veggies, hummus, guacamole, chips, salsa, monkey bread, and pumpkin mousse with white chocolate whipped cream. Ok, not so nutritious...but there WERE veggies involved, so yeah, I'll go with that...

My contribution was the pumpkin mousse which was hard to put down, but, light enough to be filling once we finally stopped eating!

Pumpkin Mousse with White Chocolate Whipped Cream

Prep Time: 1 hours, 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes


• 1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
• 1 cup plus 2 cups chilled heavy cream
• ¾ cup granulated sugar
• 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

• 2 ounces white chocolate, shaved
Sweetened whipped cream


In a medium saucepan, stir together the pumpkin, 1 cup heavy cream, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Chill for at least 1 hour before preparing the mousse.

Whip the remaining 2 cups chilled cream into peaks. Gently stir ½ cup of the chilled pumpkin mixture into the whipped cream. Once the ½ cup of pumpkin is almost fully incorporated into the cream, fold in the remaining pumpkin.

Serve it in baked puff pastry shells. Top with sweetened whipped cream with white chocolate chunks folded in and then sprinkle additional white chocolate over the top.

It is divine!

Makes 8 servings.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Apple Cranberry Pumpkin Bread with Almond Topping

"Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater"...we all know the rhyme, and this time of year it is ever so true. I love pumpkin and I've been on a quest to make all kinds of comfort foods with it. Two weeks in a row I've made pumpkin bread and this week is clearly the taste winner. The bread is delightfully moist with big chunks of cranberry and apples. The almond crumble topping adds a tender crunch that offsets the cakelike texture of the bread.

I adapted a recipe from The Art and Soul of Baking and am very pleased.  This is a fabulous book for anyone interested in baking. The recipes are direct and most are not too complicated. So far, I've not been disappointed with the resutls. Of course, I can't seem to leave a recipe alone... I made 1 1/2 times the amount (mostly because I didn't want to waste any pumpkin) and fiddled with add-ins and spices.  I got 2 generous loaves out of the recipe...What's here will make one generous loaf.

Apple Cranberry Pumpkin Bread with Almond Crumble

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, room temp
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup neutral flavor vegetable oil (such as canola)
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 gala apple, peeled and cubed
1 generous handful of dried cranberries

Almond Crumble Topping
1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz)
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp pure almond extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 c all purpose flour
1/3 cup almond meal (ground almonds)

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly coat a loaf pan with melted butter or high-heat canola oil spray and line it with a piece of parchment paper that extends 1" beyond the edge of both sides of the pan.

Make the topping: Place the butter and the sugar in the bowl of the mixer and beat on medium speed until very light in color, almost white, about 5 minutes. You may also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, though you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and the salt and bled well. Scrape down the bowl. Add the flour and the alond meal all at once and turn the speed to low. Blend for 15 to 20 seconds until the mixture forms small clumps about the size of small peas. Chill the topping in a bowl, covered, while making the bread.

Bread:  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, and salt until thoroughly blended. Add fruit and toss to coat.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and water. Add the sugar and blend well. Add the pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract and blend well.

Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until blended and smooth. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into prepared loaf pan and level the top.

Drop the almond crumble topping on top of the pumpkin batter, evenly distributing the topping all over. Sprinkle the top with any additional ground almonds (up to a few tablespoons) and a dash of pumpkin pie spice.

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the bread is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. To serve, cut into 1/2" thick slices by sawing gently with a serrated knife. Any leftovers should be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days, or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Dinner in a Pumpkin

This time of year one can't help but think about pumpkins. Most kids look at a pumpkin and see all sorts of fun or scary faces and quickly jump to trick-or-treating. I look at a pumpkin and see possibilities. One of my favorite fall dishes is Dinner in a Pumpkin. Yes, you read that correctly...the dinner is made IN the pumpkin. Besides being a fun serving dish, the pumpkin adds a delicious fall flavor and lots of nutrients. Fortunately for me, my kids LOVE it. In fact, this year when they saw pumpkins at the grocery store, they asked for this dinner instead of "what face are we gonna make?"

Although it takes a bit of a time commitment to make, it is VERY easy. I promise, you won't be disappointed!

Dinner in a Pumpkin

1 small to medium sized pumpkin

1/2 onion, chopped
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 zucchini
1 cup carrots cut
1 cup frozen corn

• Preheat oven to 375*

• Wash then remove the top from the pumpkin as if you were going to carve it for Halloween. Clean out all the "goopy stuff" and rinse the inside. Set aside.

• In a medium sauté pan, brown the ground beef, onion, and garlic.

• Chop zucchini into bite size pieces and mix with carrots, corn and soup in a large bowl.

• Add the beef mixture to the vegetable mixture and stir until well blended.

• Add everything to the inside of the pumpkin and replace the lid.

• Place the pumpkin on a jelly roll pan and bake for approximately 1 to 1-1/2 hrs. The pumpkin should be soft on the inside and all the veggies cooked well.

• Stir to incorporate the juices.

• Serve. Be sure to scoop some of the pumpkin with the filling!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fruity Tarts

I've been on a puff pastry kick and decided it was time to make a dessert. What is better for dessert than fruit? Fruit flavors with chocolate!  Of course, we love dessert in our family, so anytime I start to experiment with something new, I have 2 little noses at my side and a plethera of questions as to the readiness of said experiment and whether or not they get to "lick the spoon, the bowl, and the beaters."  This time, they got to sample all the parts and were very excited to jump into the finished product. Banana, stawberry and chocolate topped with whipped cream and served in a tender, flakey, edible bowl--what could be bad about that?!?

Fruity Tarts

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

Roll puff pastry until even and about 18" x 12". Cut into 6 equal squares, 6" x 6". Remove 1/2" edge from each square and apply the strips to the remaining smaller square, adhering with a little water, creating a dam of sorts.  Poke several holes in the center of each  tart so the middle doesn't rise. Place each tart on a baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper.
Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden brown. Remove from oven and poke the center of each tart if it has risen. Let cool.

1 1/2 c heavy cream
3 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
12 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/2 tsp pure vanilla

Bring cream and sugar to just boiling, stirring often. Put the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl and pour hot cream over, let sit for 2 minutes before stirring. Stir gently, being careful not to incorporate too much air, and continue stirring until smooth. Set aside.

Easy Strawberry Filling
1 12 oz pkg frozen strawberries
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c water
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 c water
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine strawberries, sugar and water in a medium saucepan and boil until liquid begins to reduce and thicken, stirring often. If needed, add cornstarch while stirring vigorously. Boil an additiona 1-2 minutes until very thick. Remove from heat and cool. When nearly cool, add vanilla and stir to combine.
Set aside.

Banana Custard
1/4 c unsalted butter
2/3 c sugar
2 eggs
2 c milk
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
1 tbsp  banana flavoring

In a saucepan over very low heat, mix the butter and sugar and cook for 3 minutes. Beat the eggs into 1 3/4 cups of milk and slowly add to the butter/sugar mixture, stirring all the time.
Blend the flour with 1/4 c of milk and add to the hot mixture and cook until thick. Let cool and add salt and flavorings. Cover tightly with plastic wrap to avoid a skin from forming. When cold, custard will be very thick. Add a little milk, if necessary, to thin.

Whipped Cream
1 c heavy cream
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Whip cream in a medium bowl until frothy. Add vanilla and sugar slowly while continuing to whip until medium stiff peaks form. Keep cold.

 Assemble the tarts: Pour a layer of ganache on the bottom of each tart. Add a layer of banana custard and then strawberry. Top with a generous spoonful of whipped cream. Dip a fork in the ganache and drizzle over whipped cream. Serve immediately...as if anyone would be willing to wait!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Onion Tarts

I remembered I had a box of frozen puff pastry in my freezer when my friend asked me to make puff pastry with her over the weekend. I wasn't able to participate in that challenge because purging my crap room, I mean craft room, and my daughter's clothing was much more pressing.  So, I decided to use that box of puff pastry and make something. On Saturday, my girls had seen an episode of 5 Fix on the food channel and one of the featured items was an onion tart. They didn't forget it. So, guess what I made? Yep, Onion Tart. Carmelized onions get sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender; mixed with the buttery flakiness of puff pastry and you can't help but have a bite of sweet ectasy.

Onion Tart

Makes 4-6 tarts

6 small to medium white onions
2 tbsp olive oil
Course Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper
1 roll of Puff Pastry, thawed

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Cut onions into small rings. Heat oil in medium sized saute pan and add onions. Stir occassionally until onions are carmelized, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut pastry with firm and even downward pressure into 6" squares. Slice 1/2" off of each edge and stack on the sides of each square, securing each piece with a little water. Place each tart on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or Silpat. Poke holes in the middle of each tart. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until tarts are puffed and golden.
Remove from baking sheet and place on a serving plate. Fill each tart with hot carmelized onion mixture.