Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Perplexed About Pumpkin...

Anyone that knows me will confirm that I get really excited about food, and I get really excited about the fall.  It's by far my favorite time of year.  There is however, nothing that excites me more than to see the seasonal food shelves in grocery stores empty of pumpkin spice products and fill with the decidedly wintery flavors of peppermint and gingerbread.  Why, you might ask?  Because gingerbread and peppermint flavors know their place in the world of seasonal treats, and pumpkin spice has simply gotten too big for it's britches.  How can this be?  If I love fall, and I love food, do I not love the foods of fall? Oh I sure do!  

Give me Brussels sprouts, give me kale, give me squash or give me pumpkin and I'm excited.  Make a pesto out of kale, sneak some squash into mac and cheese, put some pumpkin in your chili...you name it and I’ve done it, but start filling my everyday foods with pumpkin pie spice and I'm not a happy camper.  

What's my beef with pumpkin spice?  Quite frankly, it’s just not very good outside of a few select baked goods, and those baked goods generally contain pumpkin, the natural partner to pumpkin spice.  For reasons I can't explain, Americans have gone gaga over pumpkin spice, and I just can't get on board with the trend.  

I honestly never gave it much thought until recently.  I’ve always liked pumpkin pie just fine, in fact, I usually save a piece post Thanksgiving dinner to have for breakfast the next day (don’t tell anyone!) I have also indulged in the occasional pumpkin bread, or pumpkin muffin, I kind of enjoy pumpkin beer, and I’ve even tried the beloved pumpkin spice latte (of which I'm not a huge fan) but that's pretty much where I draw the line for acceptable places pumpkin spice should be showing up.  I'm just plain over it being everywhere, and this year, it was EVERYWHERE.  

This season stores carried a particularly diverse, and in my opinion bizarre, selection of products calling themselves “pumpkin pie spice flavored.” People seem to have been drawn to them like zombies, dying to try whatever new food could now be found flavored with what should be cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cloves, but was more likely to contain a chemical concoction that aims to taste like this mix.  My question to you is why?  Why must absolutely everything form late September to mid-November be trying to taste like pumpkin pie?

You can keep your bread and muffins, your pumpkin beer, and even your beloved PSL if you wish, but it is my hope that with the release of absolutely absurd products like this year’s failed pumpkin pie spiced M&M’s, Pringles, coffee creamer, marshmallows, Hershey’s kisses, pop tarts, and soymilk, maybe, just maybe we can go back to keeping pumpkin pie spice where it belongs…in the pie!

If you must have your spice, at least try to buy products that actually contain spices, not chemicals claiming to taste like them.  Better yet, you could always be adventurous and try to make a few things on our own.  Here’s a pumpkin granola recipe I came up with that’s just sweet enough, and makes a great breakfast with plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream topper for dessert.  To keep it extra healthy you can skip the white chocolate chips. Either way, if you’re craving pumpkin pie spice this is a much better option than a handful of Pringles any day!  Maybe this is what’s for breakfast on Thanksgiving day?

Pumpkin Pie Granola:

3 Cups Rolled Oats
1 Cup Chopped Pecans
1 Cup Pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1/3 Cup Ground Flax Seeds
1/2 Cup Canned Pumpkin Puree
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider
1/2 Cup Apple Sauce
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Allspice
Pinch Salt
1/2 Cup White Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 275 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 

In a large bowl combine: Rolled oats, pecans, pepitas, and ground flax seed.  In a smaller bowl whisk together all remaining ingredients EXCEPT white chocolate chips. Pour wet mixture onto dry mixture and mix well to coat oat mixture with pumpkin spice mixture.  

Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet at 275 degrees for 20 minutes then gently mix to turn granola and bake another 10 minutes.  Cool completely and toss with chocolate chips.  Store in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks.  

Monday, October 14, 2013


My grandfather makes a mean apple pie, and always enjoys a slice with a few chunks of the sharpest Vermont cheddar cheese he can find.  It may sound strange, and is indeed an acquired taste, but trust me, Gramps is onto something...it's delicious!

I've had quite a few apple pie slices in my day, and though Gramp's pie has always been decent, quite good in fact, the pie to which all others are judged against my my book will always be Shirley Lawrence's apple pie.  Shirley is my life-long friend Kylee's mother, and this lady can bake!  When you experience Shirley's pie you remember it, forever.

I had my chance to learn a bit of pie lingo in high school when an entire Home Ec. class was devoted to the life skills one would need to make an apple pie.  Truth.  Unfortunately, moments into the lecture, I got a little careless with my peeler and spent the rest of the class in the nurses office trying to stop my thumb from bleeding.  Yes, this really happened.  The morale of the story?  I have too much history with pie, too many expectations, and pie has too many moving parts for me to master.  The crust, the filling, the type of apples you choose...everyone has their way of doing it, so I don't.  I don't make apple pie.  Period.

I do, however love apples, and I have an allergy to eating them raw, so I've overcome my fear of peelers and learned a few (non-pie) baked apple recipes, and I've gotten pretty good at them.

A couple of dietitian friends and I found time to go apple picking last week at Brooksby Farm in Peabody, Ma, and it seemed like a great idea to use my bounty to get back to blogging!  I made one old favorite and one new healthy snack that I found of Foodily, a recipe sharing site.  I hope you find them "A-peeling!"  Sorry, I couldn't resist!

Dried Apple Chips ~ Slightly adapted from a recipe found on Foodily - Posted by Bijouxs

Makes about 30 chips

1 medium apple
1 cup raw or regular cane sugar 
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick (optional)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a medium size sauce pan bring the sugar and the water to a boil and stir to dissolve; add the cinnamon stick and adjust the heat to a very low setting.

Using a handheld mandoline, slice the unpeeled apple lengthwise as thin as possible, turning over after slicing half of the apple and using care by keeping the cutting guard in at all times.  If you do not have a mandoline use a very sharp knife to make the thinest and most consistently thin apple slices that you can.  

Gently drop the apple slices one by one into the hot syrup and cook until the slices are almost transparent, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the cinnamon stick and allow the apple slices to cool to room temperature in the syrup.

Carefully remove the apple slices from the syrup and gently blot between two paper towels to remove excess syrup and lay the slices on the baking sheets.

Place the baking sheets in the middle racks of the oven and dry for about 30-45 minutes, or until crisp. To test, carefully remove a chip from the sheet pan and cool, if it is not crisp continue to bake the slices a little longer.  If you sliced the apples with a knife rather than mandoline you may find that you need to turn them over after 30 minutes and cook for a total of 60 minutes due to the slight variance in thickness.

Remove from the oven and let cool and store in an airtight container up to one day ahead.

Apple Bread ~
Slightly adapted from a Penzey's Spice catalogue recipe 

Makes 1 loaf

For the Bread:
2 Cups apples, peeled, cored and chopped (about 2-3 apples)
2 Large eggs
1/2 Cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Cup white sugar

For the topping:
1/4 plus 2 Tbsp. All purpose flour
2 Tbsp. White sugar
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 Stick of butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 1 standard loaf pan.  Peel, core and slice the apples into chunks (about 1/2 inch pieces).  In a large bowl beat the eggs, with an electric hand mixer until fluffy. Add the oil and beat until combined.  Add the vanilla extract, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and beat until thoroughly mixed.  Next, add the flour and sugar and mix on low just until combined.  The batter will be very thick.  Mix the apples into the batter by hand with a spoon.  Spoon the thick batter into the loaf pan.

To prepare the topping combine flour, sugar and cinnamon.  Add butter and cut into the flour with a fork or pastry cutter until the mixture is crumbly.  It is sometimes faster and easier to use your hands for this if you don't mind getting a little sticky!

Sprinkle the topping over the bread batter in the pan.

Bake for 1 hour in the center fact of the oven.  The loaf should feel firm when lightly pressed in the middle.  If is sinks, bake for another 5-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.  The cooler the bread, the easier it is to slice.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chowder Challenged

For a while now, like months to be honest, I've felt like I've lost my way in a few of areas of my life and tonight it finally happened, I hit rock bottom.  I lost my way in the kitchen.

One of my Christmas presents from Matt was a CSF (Community Supported Fishery) share from Cape Ann Fresh Catch, a local, sustainable fishery out of Gloucester, MA.  If you know me at all, you know this was a perfect gift for me!  It's been so exciting picking up our fresh fish every other week and trying to figure out what to do with it.  We've learned a ton so far, and ate really well in the process.  Week 1 was kind of rough.  Our first fish was a whole pollock, about 4 lbs.  We did our best to fillet it, made a quick easy dinner and froze the rest of the fish for later use.  Since that day, 6 weeks ago now, I've been dreaming of the fish chowder I planned to make from the leftovers.  I even made some fish stock last week in preparation.  Tonight was finally chowder night...and my dream kind of became a kitchen nightmare.

Having never made chowder before of any kind, I did my home work, or so I thought.  I sought out recipes that were seemingly easy to make and also kind of healthy.  When I finally settled on one I was optimistic.

Tonight I was reminded of a few grounding, and humbling, truths about my life.  I am not a chef.  I have some culinary limitations that I tend to wildly underestimate.  Sometimes this gets the best of me.  I also have absolutely no idea how to use a food mill, or quite frankly why I own one.  It would seem that I have been under the impression for years now that my food mill is capable of tasks that I now know it is not.

My chowder, which I thought would turn out to be a smooth, rich, flavorful soul-warming treat on a cold night, after a ton of calorie-burning shoveling this weekend, actually was quite the opposite in every way.  It was a runny, lumpy, watery and a pain in the ass to make.  I'll spare you the truly ugly details, but as it turns out, a food mill will not separate cooked fish from it's skin, bones and scales like I assumed it would.  Fail.

Like any epic oops in my life, I've already found a silver lining in this kitchen calamity.  Here I am blogging about it.  I've been searching for my voice lately, and for a reminder of why I started writing this in the first place.  Bingo!  Consider me reminded!

I started this blog because I wanted to reach out to people who have felt like I am feeling know, who have wasted time and ingredients on dishes that turned out to be, shall we say, "less than wow."  I want this blog to be a place where I can share my culinary successes and slips, and for anyone who reads it to realize that if I can hitch up my skirt time and time again and get back in the kitchen, so can they!  I'm not going to let fish chowder get me down!  I'm going to get back to basics tomorrow night and make something I know I am good at.  Once my fragile kitchen ego recovers from tonight's bruises I'm gonna give fish chowder another try.  God only knows we have enough fish, and I now I sure know what not to do!  Sometimes you have to get a thing or two wrong before you can appreciate how good it feels to get them right!