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Fall is officially here, along with that crisp cool breeze I just can’t get enough of. I’ve been on an everything-autumn kick for the past week or so, and it has no signs of disappearing anytime soon. This includes, of course, sampling all sorts of pumpkin-flavored beers, baking and consuming lots of apple-crumbly goodness, a new pumpkin-yellow purse, and purchasing the mother of all rich fall meals: The CrockPot.

This item has been on my kitchen must-haves list for a while, but simply not having the storage space to stow it always put me off. But finally, this fall, inspired by an un-used Bed Bath and Beyond gift card, I caved and made the purchase. And so far, the pros have far outweighed the cons.

Along with these other fall staples is pumpkin butter. What can I say? I love the stuff. One spoonful of this amber goodness adds the flavor of fall to anything from sweet potatoes to oatmeal to plain old toast. The idea to make homemade pumpkin butter derives simply from the fact that purchasing prepared pumpkin butter will set you back a pretty penny. You could spend $7 or more on a tiny jar of the pre-made stuff, or for the same cost and a few hours of your time, you can make your own pumpkin butter and end up with cups upon cups of the stuff. I’m not kidding. In fact, I’ll be spreading pumpkin butter on everything from now until Christmas, and guess what? Not sorry. It’s just so.good.

Homemade Pumpkin Butter – Makes about 6 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sugar pumpkin, about 7-8 lbs (available at your local grocery store in the fall), peeled, cored and cubed
  • 1 cup of all-natural 100% juice apple juice or cider
  • 1 cup of packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp of ground ginger

You will also need a crock-pot or slow-cooker and a blender.

Method

1. To prepare your sugar pumpkin, begin by turning the pumpkin on its side and carefully removing the stem (use a very sharp knife to make this easier). Then, place the pumpkin right-side up and cut it in half. Using a large spoon, scrape out the seeds and pulp from the core (you can rinse and save the seeds for roasting too).

2. To peel the pumpkin, use either a heavy-duty vegetable peeler or a chefs knife. If using a knife, slowly trim away all orange skin and green pith from top to bottom. Be sure to remove all skin and pith as that won’t taste good in the pumpkin butter.

3. Once all of the skin is removed, cut the pumpkin into 1 inch chunks and toss in the crockpot. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Cook on high for 4 hours, or until the pumpkin is soft and darker in color, stirring occasionally if desired.

4. Once the pumpkin is very soft, remove the cinnamon sticks from the mixture and puree until smooth using an immersion or upright blender. Return to the slow-cooker and continue to cook on low, uncovered for another 30 minutes to thicken slightly.

Enjoy on toast with peanut butter, on muffins, or in oatmeal! Also a great topping for pancakes or filling for cookies!

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A few months back, we picked up a couple of scones from the Clinton Street Baking Company for breakfast. Adam has brought some of these scones to a work meeting a few days earlier, and couldn’t stop talking about how fantastic they were. As a fan of any sort of baked good, I was more than happy to be an accomplice to his revisit.

I went with a fairly standard scone that was speckled with some sort of fruit – raspberries, I believe – and it was, sure enough, delicious. But the scone that Adam couldn’t stop talking about was this chive and goat cheese scone. To me, it sounded contrary of what a good scone should be – sweet! – but Clinton Street had never steered me wrong before, so I gave it a nibble.

And boy, was I blown away! The natural crumbly, slightly sweet nature of the scone was amped up by the fragrant earthiness of the chives, and the goat cheese added just a hint of tangy flavor. The overall layers of flavor were off the wall, and I made a mental note to revisit them in the future.

Enter this weekend – Mother’s Day! Since I wasn’t making a homemade brunch for my mom this year (instead, we went out to eat), I wanted to incorporated a bit of that “breakfast in bed” sentiment into my gift to her. Since both of my parents loves scones (you should see them around those Starbucks scones!), I decided that would be my baked good of choice. Then I remembered Clinton Street, and as I mused about herbs, sage popped into my mind. Quickly followed by browned butter. I think you can see where this is going.

A rustic, soft, creamy vanilla scone perfumed with the flavor of fresh sage leaves, topped with a thick, gooey brown butter glaze. Some of my favorite tastes, all wrapped up in one old-fashioned confection. Working with these flavors in a new way as I was, I just needed to set aside one scone as a taste tester – but one bite in, I realized that all the remaining scones were now in danger – these were that good! I’ve said at least three times this weekend that these are the best thing to ever come out of my kitchen – and this may very well be true. Just ask my mom!

Oh yes… and I even got carried away and candied the left over sage leaves as a bit of decoration – a simple step that adds a really lovely, quaint touch to the scones. These scones are perfection with sage and vanilla and lightly browned butter, but the essential recipe can be customized with any of your favorite mix ins. They come together in 10 minutes and take just 10 more to bake, which means they can be on your table for brunch (or dessert) in no time at all.

So really, how can you resist?

Vanilla Sage Scones with Brown Butter Glaze – Makes 8 scones

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Ingredients

For the scones

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of minced fresh sage
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze

  • 1 stick (4 ounces) of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

For the candied sage leaves

  • Sage leaves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 tablespoon of water

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and adjust rack to center.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Whisk for a few seconds to combine.

3. Add in cold, cubed butter and using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, work quickly to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles course cornmeal with some larger bits (note – if using a food processor, pulse 12 times to combine butter and flour). Add minced sage and toss to combine.

4. Using a rubber spatula, fold in heavy cream and vanilla extract until dough is just combined. Turn out onto a surface and knead by hand for a few seconds until the dough comes together into a sticky ball.

5. Shape the ball into a large disk, about 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut the disk into 8 triangular slices (like a pie). Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Bake until the scones are lightly browned, about 10 – 12 minutes. Remove from pan immediately and cool.

6. While scones cool, make the browned butter glaze. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and cook until it bubbles and just begins to brown. Remove from heat and swirl in hot pot until a golden brown color is achieved. Remove from pan immediately and place in large bowl. Add vanilla extract and sifted powdered sugar to butter, and stir to combine.

7. Once scones have cooled, gently dip the top of each in the brown butter glaze. Allow thirty minutes for glaze to set.

8. To make candied sage leaves, add sage leaves, sugar, and water to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar begins to boil and large bubbles form. Remove from heat and stir to ensure leaves are fully coated. Transfer leaves to parchment paper and lay flat. Sprinkle with more sugar and allow to harden in the refrigerator. Top each scone with one leaf.

Now I’m left thinking – how good would these be with chocolate chips and a chocolate-brown butter glaze?! Too crazy – or just the right amount of crazy? 🙂
What do you think – do you love scones? Or do you have a different breakfast baked good of choice?

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There’s something about Mother’s Day that makes the meal of brunch take on a more meaningful, magical quality. I have all of these memories from my childhood of waking up super early, while my mom was still asleep (or pretending to be) on Mother’s Day morning to find my dad silently whisking away in the kitchen, whipping pancake batter into perfection while bacon gently sizzled on the stove top. All ready to go on the kitchen table would be a shining tray with perhaps a bowl of berries or cup of orange juice or steaming mug of coffee, depending on the year. Sometimes there was even a special note or a flower. To my childhood self, it all had a sense of mystical beauty to it.

During our earliest years, my dad always made the actual Mother’s Day meal, and my brother and I would be delegated the task of leading the parade up to the bedroom so we could deliver her breakfast in bed with proper fanfare and flourish. Then we’d all snuggle in while she (and we) ate and helped her opened her cards and gifts.

Clearly, as we got older, the prospect of us all eating breakfast together in a double bed lost some of its appeal. But Mother’s Day Brunch has remained an institution, and over most of the past 25 years, we’ve either cooked or taken my mom out for a splendid mother’s day brunch to celebrate.

This year, there are lots of young moms in my family – most of my cousins have several adorable young children, so we’re all going out to a big Mother’s Day brunch at a restaurant so we can all celebrate together. But still, there’s some wistful sense about me that I can’t shake, knowing it will feel a little strange for one of us to not wake up before  mom and cook her a meal all our own.

From what I’ve heard and seen, the tradition of  a home-cooked with lots-of-love breakfast or brunch is something many families join together to do on Mother’s Day morning. With that, here are some of the best breakfast and brunch recipes from the blog that are fit to serve to the most important woman in your life, to show her how much you love her this Mother’s Day!

Sweet Breakfast Eats:

 
Savory Brunch Munches:

Late Lunch Dishes:
Happy Mother’s Day – and Happy Cooking!

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I came across this mouthwatering recipe for “Skinny Coconut Cupcakes” a few weeks ago while perusing my blogroll, which Skinny Taste has become a new addition too. I love Gina’s ability to create lightened up, “healthified” versions of normally high calorie dishes, something I try to do about 95% of the time I cook myself. Lightened up recipes come in particular handy around the holidays, when food is typically loaded up with tons of extra butter, sugar and cream with the rationale that it’s a “special occasion,” so why  not?Personally, I love to indulge on special occasions, but I also hate the sugar and carb withdrawal that usually comes after consuming so many special treats. And this time of year, with the sun shining and the warm weather approaching, special occassions seem to pop up left and right, which means we’re all finding excuses to indulge on things like cupcakes even more.

That why I love these bad boys. These cupcakes are the perfect compromise. Made partially with Pilsbury boxed cake mix, they have that classic cake taste we all know and love – but, they use actual healthy ingredients like light coconut milk, egg whites, and apple sauce in the mix to replace some of the oil and egg yolks. And of course, there’s a healthy dose of sugar and fat in there for good measure. Like I said, a compromise.

Besides, they’re downright adorable. Lightly golden coconut flakes surrounding the pastel Cadbury eggs looks just like a dreamy Easter egg nest, making these cupcakes sure to add a festive touch to your Easter dessert spread this year. Plus, they’re delicious – you’d never know they’ve been “lightened up” – and they come together in less than an hour!

Give these a whirl this holiday, and enjoy the knowledge that you can indulge in a sweet cupcake (or two, or three) while still making a slightly healthier choice. Happy Easter to all!

Toasted Coconut Cupcake Nests – Makes 24 cupcakes

Barely adapted from SkinnyTaste.com

Ingredients:

For Frosting:

  • 8 oz 1/3 less fat Philadelphia Cream Cheese
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp natural coconut extract

For Cupcakes:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 cup canned light coconut milk (Thai Kitchen)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 2 tsp natural coconut extract
  • 18.25 oz yellow box cake mix (like Pillsbury)
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • 72 Cadbury mini chocolate eggs (1 large  bag)

Method:

1. In a medium bowl combine the cream cheese with the powdered sugar and coconut extract with a mixer. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

2. Preheat oven to 350°. Line 24 cupcake tins with liners.

3. In a large bowl combine egg whites, coconut milk, apple sauce and remaining coconut extract. Mix well, then add cake mix and mix until combined. Pour batter into lined cupcake tins about halfway and bake 22-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool to room temperature.

4. While cupcakes are baking, toast shredded coconut at 325º in a toaster oven or regular oven, until lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.

5. Top each cupcake with 1/2 tablespoon of cream cheese, then roll the top of each in toasted coconut flakes, tapping off the excess. Top each cupcake with 3 mini chocolate eggs, using a bit of extra frosting to secure.

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This morning, a good friend asked me if I could recommend a delicious appetizer recipe that she could make to impress her soon-to-be in-laws. One recipe immediately came to mind, so I suggested it, but when she asked if she could find it on my blog, I realized it wasn’t here!
 
French Onion Tartlettes are one of those great go-to appetizers; they’re easy, you can make parts of them ahead of time, and they’re always decadent and delicious. I was first introduced to these when Adam made them for me two years ago for our “French” themed Valentine’s dinner, and have been going back to them ever since. Since these are such a staple in my cooking repertoire, I wanted to share them with you – these would make a great starter for Easter, or any other special occasion you have coming up this Spring!
 
After you read the recipe, you’ll see that the puff pastry base for these tartlettes can be topped with just about anything – from brie and Bartlett pears, to gorgonzola, figs and bacon, or sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella. This recipe is super easy to adapt and customize – you could even make a spread of several different types of tartlettes for one occasion!   Enjoy 🙂
 
 
French Onion Tartlettes – Makes 24 3″ Tartlettes
 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 package frozen puff pastry (available in Freezer Section), thawed in refrigerator
  • 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 large Vidalia onions or other sweet variety, thinly sliced
  • 4 thyme sprigs, plus more for garnish
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/3 cup good quality beef stock
  • 1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.

2. Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and thyme sprigs and season well with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown. Add the stock, a tablespoon at a time, as the pan gets dry, scraping and stirring the brown bits that are stuck to the bottom oft the pan. When the onions are caramelized to a dark golden color, remove from the heat and discard the leafless thyme sprigs (the leaves fall off while cooking).

3. While onions are caramelizing (or afterwards) roll out two sheets of puff pastry to 1/8 inch thickness (or a 10″ x 16″ square). Using a glass or a round cookie cutter, cut out 3″ – 4″ circles in the dough. Discard the scraps. With a fork, pierce the center of each circle to prevent rising; do not pierce the  edges. Bake until the outer edges have puffed and are very lightly golden in color (slightly UNDERCOOKED); about 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside.

4. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a small heap of the caramelized onions in the center of each  pastry shell, top with some grated gruyere and bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Serve immediately and enjoy!

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Lucky Duck

I hope everyone had a lovely evening, whether you were celebrating or not 🙂 This year, my valentine’s gift to me was an elegant, delectable home cooked meal – even more of a gift than this may appear to be since I’m usually the one cooking, whether for work or for myself. As I walked into that building on Rivington street, I could already smell delicious aromas wafting down the stairs, and my excitement grew. Entering the apartment to find the lights dimmed, and tons of tiny twinkling tea lights surrounding me, as matching glasses of deep red wine breathed aside a steaming plate of shrimp on the table, I knew I was in for a real treat. Undeniable romance, delicious wine, and a three course meal? What more could this foodie ask for!

We started off with some herbed, sauteed shrimp that we dunked in a spicy citrusy dipping sauce. The spiciness of the sauce encouraged plenty of wine drinking, which was just fine with me. Though the plate was loaded with shrimp, it disappeared quickly as we devoured them – that dipping sauce was addicting!

The main course, the one with the enticing aroma, was a complete surprise. I could see a large pot on the stove, and occassionally, when Adam would remove the cover to check it, I could see something sticking up out of it. I couldn’t tell what it was though – maybe crab legs? Or some sort of bone-in chop? Eventually I gave up on my snooping and decided I would actually allow myself to be surprised – not the easiest thing for me, I’ll admit.

Well, it was completely worth it. A short while later, a steaming plate was placed before me. “What do we have here?” I asked curiously as I examined the bone-in crispy wing and breast meat on my plate. It was about the size and shape of roast chicken, and smelled even better. But then! Then Adam proceeded to tell me that it was Long Island duck – not chicken – and I was in awe over the generous portion.

Then, like any good boyfriend of a culinary school graduate would do, he proceeded to tell me exactly how he cooked everything on the plate as I gobbled up the information and ate with my eyes. The kale and shallot sauteed in duck fat, and the red potatoes steamed in the duck drippings and  tossed in more duck fat (and butter) should have been enough. And he even Frenched the duck bones!

But the method used to cook the duck is what really impressed me – a method we’d never used in culinary school, but produced such a succulent, moist duck with crispy, slightly sweet potato-chip-skin. I’ve eaten a lot of duck in my time – even the duck that rotates on and off the menu at the restaurant I’m doing my externship at – but this was by far the best duck I’ve ever had.

The recipe– and method – comes from Alton Brown, who frankly, can do no wrong. The process is genius: brine the duck meat for three hours in a sweet, herbaceous mixture of orange and pineapple juices, garlic, herbs, and peppercorns so that the moisture and flavors permeate the meat and skin. Then, steam the duck in a large pot for forty-five minutes, so that the skin tightens, the meat becomes impeccably moist, and some of the fat melts away over the skin, imparting even more flavor. Finally, place the duck meat, skin side down, into a searing hot pan you’ve been preheating in the oven, and roast for the final minutes to caramelize the sweetened skin and achieve that oh-so-desirable crispness that duck skin is lost without.

Every bite of this duck was pure joy. Even for me, someone who doesn’t love very fatty cuts of meat (I can often be found trimming the chewy, fatty parts off of my steak), devoured every last piece of duck skin, as it literally melted in my mouth. I even ate the legs and wings with my hands, sucking each last bit of meat off the bone, thinking that my mom would be proud. The sautéed kale with balsamic provided a necessary contrast or greenery and crispness, and the potatoes crisped up in the duck fat… well, how can you go wrong?

Thankfully there was no option for seconds because I don’t think it would have fit, plus I needed any remaining room for these.

Chocolate souffle. My one true dessert love. How appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

Adam first made these rich chocolate souffles for me last year, and clearly, I was impressed by the effort. But I was even more impressed by how wonderfully delicious they came out – and this year, I think we may have topped them! They were still the same standard, puffy, fluffy and rich chocolate cakes, but we added some extra melted butter and sugar at the bottom of each ramekin, which wound up creating a bit of a salted caramel sauce  at the bottom of each cake. Chocolate souffle with salted caramel? YES! We were both scraping at the bottom of our ramekins and licking our spoons for a while after the puffy souffle had been devoured. You need to try this.

So that’s it! Another wonderful, food filled holiday has come and gone, and the nerd in me is giddy at the fact that not only did I get super spoiled this time around, but I actually learned something new about cooking!  I find myself continually amazed at how lucky I am to have such great people and adventures in my life. Cheers to that!

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Cooking with Cupid

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This year, we’re opting to do something a little bit more low key and intimate than the standard Valentine’s night dinner out. Now that I’m working in the restaurant industry, I can fully understand the craze that occurs not only in the dining room, but behind closed kitchen doors on this night of all nights. With three seatings, the kitchen and wait staff in a marathon frenzy, and sitting elbow to elbow with other couples who you did not plan to have an intimate conversation with…. it’s all the more encouraging to stay in and have a romantic evening at home this year!

What about you? Whether you’re spending this day with your significant other, friends, family, or riding solo, why not express your love for yourself and others by indulging in a home cooked meal? Not only will making a meal from scratch show your loved one how much you care, but you’re guaranteed a more relaxing and most likely, less expensive evening. Plus, cooking is good for your soul – and Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to show yourself some love, too!

If you need some last minute ideas for your Valentine’s dinner tonight, check out these tried and true recipes – they’re elegant, and look more complex than they are – which means they’re sure to impress. Happy lovin’!

Coq Au Vin (Classic French Chicken in Red Wine)

Chicken Tikka Masala

Creamy Leek Risotto with Scallops

Sauteed Chicken with Fennel Butter

Orzo Salad with Cherry Tomatoes 

Eggplant and Cheese Timbale

Rich Chocolate Souffle

Tarte Aux Fruites

Zabaglione with Berries


 

 

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