CARROT CUPCAKES

In the spirit of starting fresh, and looking towards Spring, I decided to do a little light baking last weekend.  I was craving something very un-holiday-ish… anyone else feeling weighed down by rich chocolatey sweets and just flat out decadence?

Carrot Cake, one of my all time favorites immediately came to mind.  I love the addition of grated vegetables in baked goods as it adds substance but doesn’t dry out a cake or a bread.  Of course, you can’t have Carrot Cake without that classic cream cheese frosting… totally negating any hint of healthy-ness, but just so tasty it’s worth it.  I found theses pretty floral paper cupcake holders, which are perfect for Spring, and got to baking!

 

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For 12 cupcakes you will need…

 

1 cup of flour – I prefer to use cake flour…makes for a better consistency

3/4 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 cups of carrots grated

2/3 cup of vegetable oil

2 eggs beaten

Set oven to 350. Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and powder. Separately in a larger bowl, combine the carrots and oil. Slowly add flour mixture until just mixed. Add the eggs, and stir lightly. Prep your muffin liners in the cupcake pan, and fill each one about 2/3 of the way up with batter. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown and springy to the touch. Let cool, and then frost as directed below.

 

For the Cream Cheese Frosting you will need…

 

4 ounces of cream cheese

4 tablespoons of butter

2 cups of powdered sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Blend the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until nice and smooth. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, and then top your cupcake.  For a slight variation, I sometimes add 1/2 a teaspoon of orange zest, and 2-3 tablespoons of fresh orange juice.  This adds a brightness of flavor, perfect for beating off those Winter blues!

 

 

Image by Kettlewerks

AUTUMN PRODUCE AT IT’S BEST

This transitional time of year is one of my favorites in terms of the produce we see at the markets.  There are still so many options to choose from, so many satisfying recipes to tackle, and beautiful rich color schemes everywhere you look.  We thought a few photos of such bounty would be a good homage to the season.

Eggplants always draw me in with their incredibly shiny purple hues, and various shapes.  I also love how root vegetable are just starting to sit next to items like zucchini and eggplant, signaling the change of the season.

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Produce or art?  I see it as both, and try to approach home cooking with that same philosophy.

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Pears and apples are plentiful, especially in places like Washington State, where we grow some of the very best in the country.  I’m always ready for hot apple cider, or a pear tart with vanilla ice cream.

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After perusing the markets and gathering produce that has caught my eye, the next best part is planning out dishes I can create at home. Last year I received the cookbook, “Vegetable Literacy”, by Deborah Madison as a wedding gift.  I absolutely fell in love with it, as it feels very much like Madison is in my kitchen, teaching me how to look at vegetables in new ways.  She’s a real expert when it comes to vegetarian cooking, with years of experience and so much helpful information to impart.  The recipes feel new and fresh, but the ingredients are simple and quite healthy.

One of my favorite that I’ve tried, is her version of a Gratin.  It literally melts in your mouth, and uses up all the gorgeous eggplants I tend to stockpile this time of year.

 

Eggplant, Tomato, and Zucchini Gratin, from “Vegetable Literacy”

For 2 as a main dish, or 4 as a side dish

Even though these vegetables come into season in mid summer, I think of this an an autumn dish.  It’s a good way to use the last vegetable-fruits before a freeze puts an end to them.  The vegetables are cooked first until they are soft, then they are baked under a cover of bread crumbs.  It’s something of a two-part dish, which has its advantages.  Once you have cooked the vegetables, you can finish the dish when the time is right for you, whether it’s right away or a day later.

Late season vegetables don’t necessarily gain their full size, so you might end up using a few eggplants, rather then just one, and smaller tomatoes – or possibly one last big one.  This recipe isn’t at all about precise amounts.

1 Rosa Bianca or other oval or globe-shaped eggplant (1 pound or larger)

Sea Salt

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the dish

1 large onion, sliced crosswise

3 plump cloves garlic, smashed with a knife

5 tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and quartered

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 teaspoons chopped oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

freshly ground pepper

3 or 4 smallish zucchini (about 12 ounces), sliced on the diagonal about 1/3 inch thick

2 teaspoons tomato paste

 

Finishing Touches

1 large clove garlic

sea salt

2 tablespoons chopped oregano, or a scant teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

 

Quarter the eggplant lengthwise, then cut each quarter crosswise into slices about 1/3 inch thick.  Unless the eggplant is very fresh, salt the slices lightly and set aside while you prepare the other vegetables, then blot dry.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Lightly oil an 8 by 10 inch or 10 inch oval gratin dish.

Heat the oil in a wide skillet with a lid over medium high heat.  Add the onion, garlic, eggplan, tomatoes, parsley, and oregano and season with salt and pepper.  Cover the pan, turn the heat to high, and when the vegetables begin to sizzle, turn the heat to low.  Lay the zucchini over the top of the vegetables, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.  By this time, the vegetables should be soft.  Using a slotted spoon, turn them into the prepared gratin dish.  Stir the tomato paste into the liquid remaining in the skillet, then pour the liquid over the vegetables.

To finish the gratin, pound the garlic with a few pinches of salt in a mortar until smooth.  Add the basil, oregano, and oil, and work together, forming a paste.  Spoon the paste over the vegetables, and then intersperse the cheese among them.  Cover the surface with the bread crumbs.

Bake until the bread crumbs have browned and the vegetables are hot and bubbling, about 35 minutes.  Let the gratin settle for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

 

All photos by Carlton Canary, styled by me.

AN EARLY THANKSGIVING…

Last week I hosted a Thanksgiving meal!

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Not really…Carlton and I shot a Thanksgiving campaign for work, and I roasted a turkey, made stuffing, dished up cranberry sauce, baked a pecan pie…you know the drill.  Both husband and dog were completely mystified by the chaos and delicious wintery smells eminating from the kitchen, that’s for sure.  It felt too early, but then again, every magazine out there is touting their “new and improved” turkey recipe on this month’s cover.  Perhaps I’m a bit of a purist, but my belief is that as long as you know how to properly roast a bird, the old stand by recipes always do the trick.  Since it only comes once a year, I generally prefer to forgoe kitchen experiments on this occasion, and stick with what works best.

And, when it comes to the best, Alice Waters is who I continually turn to.  Her cookbook, “The Art of Simple Food”, has been a kitchen standby of mine since it came out in 2007.  Of Chez Panisse fame, Waters is the woman who pioneered organic, farm to table eating, long before it was mainstream.  Her take on food has always been to buy locally and sustainably.  Her dishes reflect that, and the food speaks for itself, by actually tasting like that food.  Her recipes are a solid foundation for any home chef, wishing to nurture friends and family through tasty and healthy cooking.  So, once again, I pulled down my favorite cookbook, and got to work.

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Roast Turkey Recipe from “The Art of Simple Food”, by Alice Waters

“Turkeys in the 12-18 pound range are easier to handle than larger birds, and will feed 8 to 12 people, allowing for some leftovers.

Season the bird generously with salt and pepper, inside and out, at least a day ahead, preferably two or three.  Turkeys can also be made tastier by being submerged in a seasoned saltwater brine for a day or two, but I no longer bother with brining, especially since more flavorful heritage breeds of turkey have become available again.  Flavor the turkey with herbs, if you like; stuff the cavity with herb branches, rub the skin with chopped herb leaves, or work sprigs under the skin of the breast and thighs.

Make sure the turkey is at room temperature when it goes into the oven, and rub it first with softened butter, both outside and under the skin.  If you stuff it, do so at the last minute, with freshly made stuffing, also at room temperature.  Fill the cavity loosely so the bird will cook evenly.  Extra stuffing can be cooked separately in an ovenproof dish.

Put the bird in a heavy roasting pan, breast up, preferably on a rack or cushioned by a bed of herb branches, in a preheated 400 degree F oven.  Figure roughly 12 minutes per pound for a 15 pound unstuffed turkey (less for a bigger one).  If the turkey is stuffed, allow about 5 minutes more per pound.

After about one third of the total cooking time, lower the heat to 350 degrees F and turn the turkey over.  Roast it breast down for the middle third, and turn it back breast up for the final third.  Baste it once or twice while it roasts after the final turn.  Check for doneness at the leg joint as you would a chicken.  Cook it to a temperature of no more then 160 degrees F at its thickest points, at the fattest part of its breast and deep in its inner thigh.  Take it out of the oven and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before you carve it (its internal temperature will continue to climb).  The pan juices make wonderful gravy.”

 

 

Do you have a favorite roast turkey recipe?  A holiday standby that pleases year after year?  Please share with us if so!

 

Photos by Carlton Canary, styled by me.