Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Latte Muffins





I know. Enough with the Pumpkin Spice Latte already. It’s sooooo mainstream.

Maybe the PSL is too trendy to be cool, but I no longer care! Just hear me out. There will be good muffins in the end.

Because, you see, I’m quite certain that pumpkin and the lovely blend of spices that compliments it so well made it into muffins together long before they made it into coffee together. If a hefty dose of espresso powder comes along for the ride, since, oh, I don’t know, people like coffee with their muffins and muffins with their coffee, I can’t be called a hack because I let it happen.


I suppose that’s open to debate, but these muffins are really delicious nonetheless. I won’t say they taste like a commercially available pumpkin spice latte beverage, because they aren’t quite as sweet. What they are, however, is a good blend of pumpkin, the dusty, nutty bitterness of espresso, and plenty of potent spice. I like this homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice blend, but use whatever you like or have time for. In fact, having only cinnamon in cupboard will get you satisfactory muffins.

It’s really not too late in the season to still enjoy the flavors of pumpkin and spices and coffee together. In fact, these muffins might be a great transitional treat as we head into winter (there’s snow on the ground as I’m typing this, so denial is out of the question), since their dark spiciness and slightly dense texture reminded me a bit of gingerbread. I plan on using whatever maneuvers I can to keep making and eating these. Even if it makes me look like I’m trying to be trendy.


Pumpkin Spice Latte Muffins

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup milk
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin puree, canned is good
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray the cups of a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or line them with paper liners.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan on the stove over medium-low heat, or in the microwave if you prefer. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat just until the milk begins to bubble around the edges. Remove from the heat and whisk in the instant espresso. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and Pumpkin Pie Spice. Whisk together to combine well.

5. In another medium-size bowl, whisk the egg and the cooled melted butter together. Whisk in the milk mixture. Whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla, stirring until very smooth. Pour into the flour mixture and stir just until there are no dry spots in the batter.

6. Portion the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Bake at 400 F for about 18 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into a muffin comes out free of wet batter. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely (or until cool enough to eat, anyway.)

Makes 12 muffins



One year ago: Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Archive Recipe: Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon


When my husband talks about the meals I’ve made for him, he usually emphasizes the bitter-sweet realization that even if something is really good, it could be months before he gets to enjoy it again, because I’m always moving on to something new. Since he’s such a satisfying person to cook for, I decided I was being unfair. Recently, I started trying to find ways to cook dishes he particularly likes more often. For example, last month, I cooked Peanutty Noodles once a week. Since I enjoy this dish as much as he does, this was really a win-win scenario.

 
Another thing I’m trying to do is go back over recipes that we tried and liked, but that I never seem to get around to making more often. Or, as in the case of this Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon, ever again. That’s right. I don’t think I ever made this tart again after posting the recipe here. Why? WHY!?! Only a full investigation would answer that question.

Well, I never really got an answer because after finally making this again, I still don’t know why! Okay, so making a pie crust takes some extra preparation time, and I’ve been cooking on the simpler side lately, but I’m not too proud to use store-bought pie crust. There is no excuse for not making this dish regularly. Sure it’s a little better with fresh corn, which has a fleeting season, but I freeze fresh corn in the summer, and the result is almost as good. No excuses! No excuses!

  
Yes, after all these years I still love this dish and really, really want to make it more often. The sweet corn contrasts nicely with the salty, smoky bacon and nutty Swiss cheese. There’s just the right proportion of egg, milk and cheese to for this to hold together in a nice wedge. I serve this as a main dish for supper, but, since we don’t wait longer than the next morning’s breakfast to devour the leftovers, I’m sure it’s equally suited to a morning meal.

 
If you wanted to make this vegetarian (or just don’t like bacon), you could leave it out and perhaps play with some other flavors. I think some roasted chile peppers would be nice, or even roasted red bell peppers, especially with some smoked paprika added. You could also use different cheeses. I’m thinking of trying cheddar, or a smoked cheese, say, cheddar, Gouda or mozzarella, if I make it without the bacon.

Of course, those ideas for variations imply the hope that I’ll be making this more often. Wish me luck!


Single Crust Pastry Dough
This recipe can be doubled to make two crusts. You will need just one for this tart.

You can replace the whole wheat flour with more all-purpose flour if you prefer.

This method uses a food processor to make pastry. You can make it by hand by cutting in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork.

½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

1. Place the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour and the salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine.

2. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse several times or until the butter is cut up into small, flour-coated pieces.

3. Slowly add the cold water through the feed chute of the processor and process just until the dough begins to come together. Add more water if needed to make this happen.

4. Remove the dough from the processor and press together into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or until ready to use. Dough can also be frozen for even later use.

Makes pastry for a single-crust pie.



Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon
If you do not wish to make a homemade pastry, you can use a store-bought one to make this tart.

For more on blind-baking pie crusts, see this post.

You can begin preparing the tart filling while the crust is blind baking.

Prepared pastry for a single-crust pie, such as the recipe above
3 slices bacon
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (thawed if frozen)
½ cup chopped green onions (scallions)
½ cup milk
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup grated Swiss cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 375 F. Roll out the pastry dough into a circle about 12-inches in diameter. Carefully drape the pastry into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Gently press the crust to the sides of the pan.  Avoid stretching the crust, as that will cause it to shrink when it bakes. Trim the crust to the edges of the pan.

2. Prick the crust all over with a fork (don’t poke all the way through the crust to the pan).  Cover the crust with aluminum foil.  Place pie weights (or pebbles, dry beans, etc., anything that will hold the crust down) on top of the foil.  Bake at 375 F for 10 minutes.  Remove the foil and weights.  Bake another 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

3. While the crust is blind baking, begin preparing the remaining ingredients. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat until crisp.  Remove the bacon from the pan and drain.  Reserve 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat in the pan and discard the rest.

4.  Add the corn and green onions to the pan and sauté over medium heat for 3 minutes.

5.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, salt and pepper until well-blended.  Add the corn mixture. Crumble the bacon and add to the corn and egg mixture.  Add the cheese and stir until well-blended.

6.  Pour the filling mixture into the baked tart shell.  Return to the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until set.  Remove the outer ring from the pan. (Use something like an inverted bowl as a platform to hold the pan bottom while slipping off the ring.)  Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 side dish or 4 main dish servings.  Leftovers can be reheated, and while the crust isn’t as crisp, it’s still good!


One year ago: Pumpkin Waffles

Monday, November 3, 2014

Savory Pumpkin Focaccia



I blame the apples. They’re supposed to keep the doctor away, but this year, the apple recipes I got excited about also kept the pumpkin recipes away. I must admit, I have no regrets. And I also must admit that I could happily continue on with apple recipes for another month or so. I do miss my friends the pumpkins (and other winter squash), however, and so it’s time to visit them again.


I also missed this savory pumpkin bread that I used to make every year, but have somehow neglected for quite some time. I did base a Sweet Pumpkin Focaccia on the savory version that I got from Cooking Light magazine, and told you about that, but where, oh where, has my savory bread gone? Since the days have become good ones for enjoying hot soup, and this bread helps make a meal out of those soups, it’s time to bring it out again.


This recipe makes two flat, round loaves of soft, fluffy bread flavored with pumpkin that has been spiced with just a pinch of nutmeg and kept savory with some Swiss cheese (you could use something fancier like Gruyere if you like) and chopped walnuts. Some of that cheese and those nuts are also sprinkled on the top of each loaf to give it a slight pizza-like appearance. It’s all quite delicious. Okay, really delicious. I love this stuff.

 
I made this bread in a stand mixer using the dough hook to knead, which I recommend since the pumpkin in the dough makes it very wet and sticky. This doesn’t mean you can’t knead it by hand, but be warned about that stickiness. I like this made into two round loaves, since I usually wrap and freeze one immediately, but I think you could stretch and press the dough into a large baking sheet like I did with the Sweet Pumpkin Focaccia (so many years ago!)

Of course, you could leave out the walnuts or try a different cheese or add some herbs or spices, and I suppose I’ll get around to trying such things someday. Until then, I’m still enjoying this bread as I’ve presented it here, which is pretty close to the original (I added more cheese and walnuts). And this, along with recipes for some delicious-looking pumpkin-laced sweets, should keep me in a pumpkin state of mind for a couple months to come.
 

Pumpkin Focaccia with Walnuts and Swiss
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, October 2005

I use a heavy-duty stand mixer to mix and knead bread dough, but you could mix and knead by hand. If kneading by hand, be sure to flour your kneading surface well, since this dough is quite sticky.

¾ cup warm water (100 to 110 F)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons yeast (1 envelope)
3 ½ cups bread flour, divided
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup pureed pumpkin (canned is good)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Swiss (or even Gruyere) cheese, divided
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, divided

1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or another large bowl) combine the water, brown sugar and yeast. Let stand about 5 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

2. Add 1 cup of the flour and the butter to the yeast mixture. Stir with the paddle attachment (or with a spoon if working by hand) to make a wet batter. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand 15-30 minutes. (30 minutes is great, but 15 will do.)

3. Add the pumpkin, salt, and nutmeg. Stir on low speed with the paddle attachment until well combined. Add 2 ¼ cups of the flour and ½ cup grated Swiss cheese. Stir on low speed until a soft dough forms.

4. Switch to the dough hook attachment for the mixer (or turn the dough out on a well-floured surface if kneading by hand). Knead about 10 minutes, gradually adding the remaining flour. Knead in ½ cup walnuts. The dough will still be quite sticky, but you should still be able to handle and shape it.

5. Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray or grease it as desired. Shape the dough as well as you can into a rough ball. Place the dough in the greased bowl. Spray or grease the top of the dough. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let stand about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

6. Preheat oven to 400 F. Gently deflate the risen dough and shape into 2 equal balls. Let stand about 5 minutes. Spray or grease a large baking sheet (you may need 2 baking sheets if yours isn’t large enough for 2 loaves) or line it with a silicone baking mat. Stretch each dough ball to shape into a circle about 8-10 inches in diameter. Place the dough circles on the prepared baking sheet.

7. Sprinkle half the remaining cheese and remaining walnuts on top of each dough circle. Press gently into the dough. Cover with a towel and let rise 20 minutes (dough will not double in size).

8. Uncover and bake at 400 F for 30 minutes or until the loaves are brown on the bottom. Shield the loaves with foil about halfway through baking to prevent over-browning on top if necessary. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Cut into wedges to serve.

Makes 2 round, flat loaves; 8 servings each


Other recipes like this one: Sweet Pumpkin Focaccia, Walnut Buttermilk Bread

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pasta with Sausage, Peppers and Olives



 
I often wonder how I was able, in some deep, dark past, to put together relatively elaborate meals on any given week night. Of course, it has a lot to do with not working full time back then. Now quicker, simpler things have a much better chance getting on the table, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not even so much a matter of not having enough time for bigger spreads as it is not having enough energy. Something tells me that other busy folks, especially parents of young children, feel similarly.

That’s where this delicious but easy dish comes in. While I don’t think it would be an quick sell to hungry kids, especially if you use a spicy Italian sausage, it’s got a good chance of keeping us drained adults going, while not taking that much time and energy. This is simply pasta with sausage and peppers, but with some big flavor boost from olives (any kind will do, but I like Kalamata or other “fancy” olives) and feta cheese.


This is one of those recipes for which you don’t really need a recipe. In fact, last time I made it, I could not find any printed or electronic version of what I had always done and, though it had been a long time since I made it, I remembered the recipe pretty well. (I did eventually find a battered printout and my memory got me pretty close to the original!) And once you’ve made it a few times, you’ll know what you want to add and/or take away to make it more suited to your tastes or to what you tend to have on hand.

Really, I just need this kind of thing in front of me in recipe form to remind myself of the idea that spicy sausage, bell peppers, briny olives and funky feta are a great combination. And that they take just a little of my precious time and energy to throw together with pasta for a simple but satisfying supper.



Pasta with Sausage, Peppers and Olives
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2003

8 ounces uncooked short pasta, such as orecchiette, farfalle, penne or shells
8 ounces spicy Italian sausage (remove from casing if not purchased in bulk)
olive oil, if needed
3 cups bell pepper (any color; a mix is nice), cut into short, ¼ wide strips
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup chopped pitted olives
¾ cup feta cheese, crumbled

1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions until al dente. Drain, reserving a cup or so of cooking water, and keep warm.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking apart, until just browned. Add the peppers and continue cooking until the peppers are lightly browned and tender-crisp and the sausage is fully cooked. If the sausage has little fat and the pan is getting too dry to keep the sausage and peppers from sticking, add some olive oil as needed.

3. Stir in the garlic, oregano and olives. Cook about 2 minutes. Add the hot cooked pasta and feta cheese. Pour in some of the reserved pasta cooking water if desired to moisten. Toss together and cook until warmed through.

Makes about 4 servings.



One year ago: Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce