Pumpkin Spice…So Very Nice!

Fall means pumpkins, and so when we planned the Sweet Station for my daughter Natalie’s wedding in September, it went without saying that something pumpkin had to be on the table. But I wanted to jazz it up, and what better way to do that than with a little streusel    topping sprinkled on the cupcake…just under a lovely dollop of Maple Cream Cheese Frosting?  They were delicious, and lent that certain : “je ne sais quoi” to the dessert selections.

The cupcake recipe is adapted slightly from the Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes in Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes:

  • Preheat your oven to 350F and line muffin tins with cupcake papers. 
  • Sift together: 4 cups cake flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 generous Tbsp.pumpkin pie spice, 1 Tbsp. ground ginger, and 1 tsp. salt.
  • With your mixer on medium-high, cream together 1 cup sweet butter (at room temperature) and 2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add 4 eggs ~ one egg at a time ~ beating until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with two additions of 1/2 cup buttermilk (for a total of 1 cup).  Mix just until combined.  Add 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling) and beat just until combined.
  • Use a 1/4 cup measure or scoop to fill your cupcake cups about 3/4 full.  Top with a spoonful of Streusel Topping: with a pastry cutter (or two butter knives) combine 1/2 cup cold butter, 1/2 cup quick cooking oats or chopped walnuts or pecans (your choice), 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar and 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice.  You will have leftover topping, which is delicious on a loaf of pumpkin bread or on top of a fresh coffee cake.
  • Bake the cupcakes until they are golden brown and spring back lightly when you touch them in the center, approximately 18 minutes.  Cool n the pan 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
  • For the Maple Cream Cheese Frosting: combine 2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened, with 1/2 cup room temperature sweet butter.  Mix at medium-high speed until smooth and creamy.  Add a tsp. of Maple Extract and mix just until combined.  Add in 4 cups (1 lb.) powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  Add in a few tablespoons of heavy whipping cream and mix at high speed until the frosting lightens and becomes fluffy.  (It won’t be as light as whipped cream, of course, but you will notice a definite difference in the texture.)  *NOTE: I usually make the frosting the night before so it has a chance to set up; this way it will hold it’s shape if you use a pastry bag and tip to frost. 
  • When the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost them with a pastry bag and tip or an offset spatula.  Decorate as you wish. Store them in the refrigerator; take them out about a half hour before you plan to serve them.

It’s okay to eat Pumpkin Streusel Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting during any season…but I do especially crave them in the fall.  And our wedding guests enjoyed them too.  
Bon appetit!

Fabulous Photos courtesy of Cory McCune Photography

Fall Comfort Food

Although I try to eat a reasonably balanced diet without too much meat, I have to admit that I love short ribs.  Something about their rich flavor and tender texture is so comforting.  It was challenging to find a great recipe though ~ since they are tougher cuts of meat they require long cooking times ~ and just throwing them into the slow cooker with various and sundry liquid braising mixtures had not yielded the flavor or texture I hoped for.  But I recently found this recipe on www.evilshenanigans.com, adapted from the short ribs served at the wonderful Roy’s Restaurant (which are fabulous).

These ribs are exactly what I was looking for ~ a tasty, caramelized and saucy crust, and a texture that is fall off the bone tender but still juicy and flavorful…not dry at all.  I adapted the low setting cook time and a couple of the quantities, and added a step (de-glazing the pan) to suit my tastes.  Give yourself a little time to get them into the slow cooker, but I think you’ll agree, these are top notch!

Slow-Cooker Braised Short Ribs with Honey Garlic Glaze   Serves 4-6
Adapted from Roy Yamaguchi and www.evilshenanigans.com
For the short ribs:
2 pounds bone-in beef short ribs (don’t substitute bonless)
Salt and pepper
2 ounces canola oil
Beef stock, enough to fully cover the short ribs (about 4 cups)
8 cloves garlic, sliced thick
1 large onion, sliced into 1 inch rings
3 stalks celery, sliced thick
2 carrots, sliced thick
2 bay leaves
1 stalk lemongrass, cut in half and bruised
1 inch piece of peeled ginger
Honey Garlic Glaze:
3/4 cup dijon mustard
1/2 cup honey
1 clove garlic, minced fine
1/4 cup sliced green onions, both white and green, or use chives if you prefer

Prepare the ribs: Set the meat out at room temperature for thirty minutes.  Then, pat the ribs dry* with a paper towel and season all sides well with salt and pepper. (*The ribs will not brown and develop a nice crust if they are not dry.)
Heat one ounce of the canola oil in a medium skillet over high heat.  Working in two batches, brown the ribs well on all sides, about two minutes per side.  Don’t crowd them.  Once the first batch is browned drain the fat and add the second ounce of oil and brown the remaining ribs.  *Be patient; this step is worth the time since the caramelized crust that develops on the meat adds lots of great flavor to the finished product. 
While the ribs are browning, make a bed in your slow cooker with the garlic,  onions, carrots, celery, lemon grass, bay leaves and ginger.  Place the browned ribs on top.  Drain the fat from the pan and de-glaze it by pouring in 1/2-3/4 cup of the beef stock (be careful, it will bubble and steam when you first add it) and using a wooden spoon to scrape up all the yummy bits of caramelized meat.  Pour this over the ribs in the slow cooker (this will add even more flavor), then add enough beef stock to just cover.
Cook on low for about seven hours, or on high for four.  The meat will be very tender and will probably fall off the bones (this is perfect).  Leave the ribs in the slow cooker while you prepare the glaze.
Mix the ingredients for the glaze together.  Remove the ribs from the slow cooker and, while still warm, pour the glaze over the ribs, making sure they are well coated.  Allow the ribs to sit for at least thirty minutes, or store in the refrigerator overnight.
When you’re ready to finish them off, heat your grill or a skillet to medium high.  Grill or sear the ribs for about a minute per side until the glaze sets and the ribs are brown and crusty.

Although I cooked and finished these in one day, this is a great recipe to prepare on the weekend if you’re short on time during the week.  It takes a little time to get the ribs into the slow cooker, but once they’re there, you’ve got the rest of the day to get other things done.  Marinating them in the glaze overnight means you only have to finish them on the grill or stove the next day, which doesn’t take much time at all (next time, I think I’ll see how finishing the ribs under the broiler works).  Throw together a salad or veggie dish and rice or potatoes and you’re set.  And, thanks to inspiration from a friend who is serving short rib sliders at a football party today, I know exactly what I’ll be doing with my leftovers this week!

Comfort food is always so…well…comforting…and it’s okay to treat yourself to it~ chilly weather or not.  
Bon appetit!

It’s Autumn…isn’t it?!?!?

So it’s officially the second day of Autumn  ~ my very favorite season! Pumpkins, football, back-to-school, changing colors, Halloween, Thanksgiving, holiday preparations…all combine to make such sweet times full of traditions that encourage us to slow down and enjoy our families and friends, even as we return to more structured days. More wonderful tradition was added to our family calendar this year with the joyous occasion of my daughter’s wedding to her high school sweetheart ~ a dessert adventure that merits it’s own write-up ~ making September an even sweeter month.

Living in Southern California presents a challenge for us “Fall Fanatics”, since September typically brings the hottest, most humid days of the year. This weekend was no exception…temperatures in the 90’s and humidity that made my hair curl…but I still am compelled to bake! I did make something delicious that provided a wonderful compromise, though: Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream. Adapting a recipe I had for a peanut butter-based ice cream, the frozen result was an irresistible, silky smooth, gelato-like treat that tastes of cinnamon and Gingerbread (in short, Fall!). I can tell that this recipe will be a keeper!

If you haven’t tried the Speculoos Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s (Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter) you should do so as soon as possible. The taste is a bit reminiscent of Gingerbread, but not quite so strong, with undertones of cinnamon.  You can’t go wrong with that combination. It’s delicious on bagels and toast, bananas, or all by itself ~ but my first thought upon tasting it was, “I wonder if I can make ice cream with this!”

I searched through my favorite ice cream cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home, and found a recipe for The Buckeye State Ice Cream.  Since it’s a peanut butter ice cream, I guessed it would suit my purposes.  And so it did!  There are a few steps, but I guarantee it is well worth the effort!  Here’s my recipe for Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream (this recipe makes about 1 quart):

1 cup low fat Milk
1 cup Half and Half
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. Cornstarch
3 Tbsp. Cream Cheese
1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter
1/4 tsp. fine Sea Salt
1 1/4 cups Heavy Cream
2/3 cup Sugar
3 Tbsp.Molasses
2 Tbsp. Dark Corn Syrup
1 tsp. Vanilla Bean Paste (or pure Vanilla Extract)
2 tsp. ground Cinnamon

In a small cup, mix 2 Tbsp. milk with the cornstarch until smooth and set aside.

In a large bowl (or ideally, an 8 cup measuring glass with a pour spout), place the cream cheese and cookie butter and microwave at 50% power just to soften.  Whisk together until smooth and add the salt.

In a 4 quart sauce pan, combine the remaining milk, half and half, cream, molasses, corn syrup, vanilla and cinnamon.  Whisking over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the cornstarch mixture slowly.  Keep whisking so you don’t have any lumps.  Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture back to a boil, whisking constantly, for about 1 minute, until the mixture thickens.  Remove from the heat, and gradually pour the hot liquid into the cream cheese-cookie butter mixture, whisking until smooth.

At this point you can cover the mixture by putting saran wrap directly on top and refrigerating until cool, but Jeni’s quick-cool method is better:  Fill a large bowl with ice and water.  Pour the hot mixture into a zip-top freezer bag (I double-bag it), and seal.  Remember, the mixture is very hot; be careful.  Place the mixture into the ice water bath and let it sit for about 30 minutes, at which time the mixture will be cool enough to pour into your ice cream maker (resist the urge to pour some of the mixture into a cup to drink on the spot!).  Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions, then place into a freezer-safe container and place a piece of parchment paper directly on top of the ice cream, then cover with an airtight lid.  Definitely reward yourself with a taste of  “soft-serve” ice cream from the ice cream freezer bowl now!  Freeze until firm, at least a few hours; overnight is best.  Serve plain or with crunchy cinnamon topping…either way, it’s divine!

I know, I know…there’s a lot of “good stuff” in here…cream, half and half, sugar, molasses…but since it’s very rich, a little scoop goes a long way.  So it’s definitely okay to eat this treat, anytime, but especially on an unbelievably hot and humid September day when you’re looking to escape the heat with a little taste of fall.  Bon appetit!


From Paris with Love

At long last, I am in France! Munich, Salzburg and Dachau filled our first days with so many sights, sounds and sensations…and then we arrived in Paris yesterday…for me, a much anticipated return to my favorite city in the world. I can barely keep up with the many thoughts and descriptions in my head ~ the lovely city of Munich with its wonderful open air market and friendly people, the beauty of Salzburg and the thrill of seeing places long dreamed of since watching The Sound of Music as a little girl, the intense emotion that cannot be described when walking through the grounds of Dachau, haunted by the train tracks outside the main gate and feeling the powerful spirit and strength around me of the people who endured the atrocities that occurred there. The beautiful, tiny white flowers growing in the grass at Dachau lifted my spirit and reminded me that beauty returns, and that we all have the opportunity to make our world better by treating others with kindness and respect.

Being in Paris brings intense emotions
of a different sort. As the train pulled into the station happiness filled my heart…although it had been 28 years since my last visit, I felt like I had never left. A whirlwind afternoon of touring around the city that included the Cathedral of Notre Dame and a delicious slice of Quiche Lorraine from a street cart planted my feet firmly on French soil; seeing the reactions of others who are here for the first time was such fun too. It is an amazing privilege to watch young people fall in love with the city and it’s history and charm. Today we visited the chateau of Versailles, so overwhelming in its splendor that it brought tears to my eyes more than once. The opulent and striking architecture, amazing gardens and gorgeous and historic interior are almost too much to take in…but I savored every moment. Climbing the stairs to the first level of the Eiffel Tower brought more emotions of a bittersweet nature as I took in the sights and sounds of the city from high above, and felt my mom’s presence.

I think I could write all night ~ but tomorrow is another wonderful day in the city…more experiences to treasure before we travel to Giverny and other destinations in beautiful France. So
much more to share in the coming days and weeks ~ I’ve hardly started talking about the food yet! I will be a little sad to leave Paris but I’ve promised myself that it won’t be another 28 years before I return.

For now, bon nuit! We’ll talk recipes
for Quiche Lorraine very soon…Bon appetit!

Testing 1-2-3!

Happy Summer! After two years of planning and a year of counting down, Europe awaits! This week I return to Paris, the City of Lights, love, and fabulous food. My inner French girl and cooking goddess are eager to return after too many years, excited to visit destinations across France that I have always wanted to see. Traveling with my son (a high school senior) on this school trip is going to be an amazing experience; I can’t wait to hear his perspectives and his impressions of the places we will visit: Salzburg, Munich, Dachau and then France ~ Paris, Versailles, the D-Day Beaches in Normandy, Provence, Cannes, Monaco and Nice…the joy of sharing this time with him is not something I can adequately describe in words. And that’s how I ended up here…trying to learn how to blog from a Kindle Fire. I can keep in touch from across the pond and post some pictures of our excellent adventure. Thanks to a very patient friend who answered lots of my questions about blogging from here, it looks like I’ve made it through my first off-the-computer post! Have a virtual cake pop to celebrate with me…here’s to lots of available wi-fi for blogging, lots of happy times in the Old World, and lots of recipes and tips to share in the coming months. Now I just have to pack…always a challenge…a girl’s gotta have choices, right? A votre sante et bon appetit!