Sunday, January 20, 2013

No Holds Barred

There's room in my life for sugars of all kinds. I have a very real sweet tooth, and a low amount of self discipline. Just the mention of a dessert tray puts a twinkle in my eye. I have planned entire days off around the almond croissants at Patisserie 46. And if there are treats at work, I generally go a-runnin'. Life is short; don't get in my way.

I have just one exception to my no-holds-barred rule about sweets - muffins. I generally will not waste my time. I have met few muffins that aren't too greasy, too sweet, or too many calories - and just not tasty enough - to justify the indulgence. Just give me a cupcake, please.

I do, however, love having quick, homemade things I can grab for breakfast, so I like the idea of a healthy muffin. I do what I can to avoid processed foods in general - and at breakfast time, this can really be a challenge, unless I stick to fruit (which is not enough) or have my act together enough to cook some eggs (never happens). When I found this recipe for what appeared to be very healthy butternut squash muffins, with no added fats and just a tad of honey as a sweetener, I was intrigued.

I could really use a food photography lesson.

The first time I made the muffins, I thought they were great - they are moist but not greasy, and the sweetness of the squash shines through. I also love that they are made with almond flour, which adds a bit of protein. I used the base of this recipe to also create a banana chocolate chip version (I know, chocolate! now we're talking), assuming smashed banana could work in place of the squash puree. I was right - it worked like a charm. I included the recipe for the banana version here as well.

I brought these to work with a little trepidation - not sure if my coworkers would be open to a less traditional texture for a muffin. Somehow, they were a hit! Or, my coworkers are very nice. You can be the judge.

Butternut Squash Muffins
Adapted from Roost

Note: You'll want to puree your butternut squash until it's very smooth for this recipe; I used my food processor. I was working with squash that I had previously roasted and frozen (when making this recipe), and thawed it to make these muffins. The squash seemed a tad dry, so I added a splash of water to help it along in the food processor.

Also, I would like to say that this recipe makes an even dozen muffins, but after making these three different times, I have consistently come out with 11 muffins - so I'm going to go ahead and say this yields 11.

2 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1/4 cup honey
1 cup roasted butternut squash, pureed
Handful of walnuts, toasted (instructions below)

To toast the walnuts: 
Put your walnuts into a dry skillet (no oil needed) over medium heat. Heat, pushing them around occasionally, until they become fragrant - this only takes a few minutes. Keep a close eye on them. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl until ready to use. Don't leave them in the hot skillet or they might burn.

For the muffins:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, stir together all ingredients (except walnuts). Be sure to stir and scrape well - the honey has way of hanging on to clumps of flour at the bottom of the bowl.

Divide the batter evenly among the 11 muffin liners - the batter will fill the liner about 3/4 of the way up. Top each muffin with a few toasted walnuts.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Replace the 1 cup of butternut squash puree with 1 cup mashed very ripe banana (approx 3 large or 4 smaller bananas). Stir in 1/3 cup of dark chocolate chips to the batter. I also added 1/2 tsp of allspice, which was nice, but optional.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


We had a heat wave last week in Minnesota. Blue skies and a hint of warmth surprised me each morning I headed out to the bus stop, tethered in my wool scarf and hat, puffy down jacket. I even heard a little chickadee singing that sweet little two-note, high-low song while I was waiting outside. I pictured the little guy as a lone fluff on the tree branch, standing his ground against winter, stretching his feet in the warm day. I always forget how much I miss the little birds by the time the dead of winter rolls around! He was back for a few mornings - I think he showed up three days in a row. Just the tease of spring I needed as January pushes on through.

On Friday, we had a high somewhere around 40 degrees - and rain, rain, rain. I swear the clouds were touching the ground for most of the day.

Call me crazy, but I love this stuff. A day of dreariness and gray just lights me up sometimes. Maybe it's nostalgia for the two years I lived in Seattle. Or maybe I'm just lazy! But I love the feeling that there's nothing more for me to do than be inside, in blankets, with a pile of movies or books at my side. Or a baking project to futz with, or a pot of soup to be stirred.

It's been a soupy month for us so far. I worked through my first attempt at borscht (pretty good, but needs work; also, kitchen looked like a scene from Dexter after grating the raw beets). And, I finally perfected my recipe for butternut squash soup. I've been making this soup for quite some time - I love it because it's a savory, not sweet, version of butternut squash soup. There are no apples or ciders or sweeteners of any kind here. Instead, the sweetness comes only from the squash, which is mellowed with the earthy taste of rosemary and thyme. A touch of cream rounds it all out, giving you soft, silky spoonfuls.

What's even better - butternut squash and blue cheese pair like a match made in funky heaven. I always serve this soup with toasted baguette slices spread with a soft blue cheese. And any dish that serves as a reason to pull out the blue cheese is a winner to me.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Rosemary
2 lbs butternut squash
2 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp dried rosemary (crush with mortar and pestle if you have one)
3-4 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

To roast the squash:
Preheat oven to 375. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Set the squash cut side down onto a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for approx 45 minutes, until the squash is very soft when poked with a fork (the peel may start to blister). Remove from oven and let cool until you can scoop out the flesh. Set aside.

To make soup:
In a large pot, heat the butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh and dried rosemary, cook for a minute more. Add the butternut squash, stir to incorporate with the other ingredients; cook a minute or two. Add 3 cups of the chicken stock (reserve one cup) and salt and stir. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Blend the soup in small batches until it is very, very smooth; add additional chicken stock if needed. Be careful not to fill the blender more than 1/3 full when working with hot liquids. A trick I like - remove the plastic cap part of the blender lid, and cover the hole with a kitchen towel to relieve the pressure and let steam escape a bit when you turn the blender on.

Return the blended soup to a pot over low heat; stir in the cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed - you may want to add more rosemary or thyme.

To serve: Pair with a sliced baguette, lightly toasted, spread with blue cheese.

Monday, January 7, 2013

This is it!


I have spent a lot of time thinking about starting this blog. And kicking around different ideas for what it should look like, sound like, what types of things I will write about. But here we are - it's 2013! I'm 28 years old! Hiya! Where does the time go? After much thinking and little writing, I've decided to jump in and figure out the details later. The design, the photography skills, maybe even the name of this blog - there will be time to mess with all of that. Let's go right to something sweet instead.

I'm going to start off by sharing the recipe for a dessert I love. While most people are talking about lighter recipes in the first few days of the new year, here I am to give you a dessert of cream, eggs and two kinds of sugar - one of the best things to ever come out of my kitchen. Butterscotch Pots de Creme.

This dessert is truly my go-to for dinner parties, because it is simply that good. The complexity of the sugars makes it rich but not too sweet, and it's intensely creamy. It's the type of dessert that makes people pause after the first bite, and point at the dessert with their spoon with a look of surprise on their face. As my friend Emily said, mid-spoonful - I don't want this to end.

And - it's simple to make. It involves little more than heating some cream and sugar on the stove and separating a few eggs. Anyone can make this. The one thing I will say is that you'll have to buy two kinds of sugars - dark mucovado and demerara. They're not cheap (I think mine were $7/ea per pound ((my mom would be appalled))), but I swear, they're worth every penny. I made these desserts once with a good quality dark brown sugar in place of the muscovado, and they were nice, but the muscovado sugar puts them in an entirely different class. And, after dropping the $14 on sugars one time, I made this dessert probably five more times over the course of the year before having to replenish my fancy sugar supply.

I brought these little "pots of gold" most recently to a dinner party hosted by friends on New Years Eve - a night of debauchery, of beef wellington!, some serious NFL trash talk, arrangements (and bets) made for a future half marathon race, champagne wine gin beer, dancing in the basement, some high kicks (believe me, it was a good looking dance move), and a very unproductive January 1. And if you ask me, that's the way to send off a year - heavy-handedly, letting it all out, with cream, sugar and eggs.

And now, here we are. A whole new year looking at us. As I declared, more than once, on New Years Eve - this is our year!

Here's to
taking more risks,
visiting a new place,
hitting my fastest marathon time,
keeping the kitchen ledge free of junk,
trying new recipes,
creating some of my own,
more books,
more writing,
one roof,
dancing at the end of the night,
dancing otherwise,
more adventure,
more order,
not worrying about perfection,
seeing what happens,
being thankful,
finally, starting this blog.

This is it! Cheers.

Butterscotch Pots de Creme
Recipe from Gourmet, 2003, by way of Orangette

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 Tbsp dark muscovado sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp demerara sugar
4 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Prepare a baking dish (I use a 9x13 cake pan) by lining the bottom with a folded kitchen towel - this will help protect the bottom of the custards from the heat.

Put the cream, muscovado sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat to just a simmer, stirring to dissolve all of the sugar. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, heat the water and demerara sugar over medium high heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until the sugar water becomes a nice dark brown. Remove from heat. Slowly whisk the cream and sugar mixture into the sugar-water mixture.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the vanilla. Slowly whisk in the cream mixture until combined. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a two cup glass measuring cup. Skim off any foam at the top (this will make your custards look impossibly smooth on the top when they're finished). Finally, pour the mixture evenly into four ramekins or teacups. Seal the top of each ramekin with a small piece of aluminum foil.

Place the ramekins into the prepared cake pan, and carefully pour hot tap water into the cake pan until it comes half to two-thirds of the way up side of the ramekins.

Bake 40-50 minutes (in teacups, this takes closer to 40 minutes for me - in ramekins, it has taken me 50 minutes or longer). To test the doneness, remove the tin foil from one ramekin - the custards are done when the edges are set, and the center is still a bit giggly, like a firm jello. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and cool to room temperature; then, refrigerate for at least a few hours, until ready to serve.

To serve: top with barely sweetened whipped cream.