Happy Christmas!

I woke up before dawn, like a proper baker, with a sudden yearning to make a surprise banana bread for my mom’s Christmas morning breakfast. Luckily, I had all the ingredients on hand (it’s wonderful when recipes are so uncomplicated), even the ripe bananas. It’s in the oven at the moment, we’ll see how this impromptu experiment turns out.

and…

Banana Bread success! My mom was so surprised to wake up and find fresh banana bread coming out of the oven 😀

Banana Bread Yummies

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Christmas Cookies

I was forced to keep the baking light this Christmas. My mom’s Christmas Eve roast feast is going to take a good long time to make, so I was ordered out of the kitchen this morning. Luckily, I’ve had this batch of cookie dough waiting in the freezer since I made the mix in November, so it was only a matter of slicing, rolling, and sprinkling.

I think the time spent in the freezer actually improved the flavor of the dough, these almost taste like Royal Dansk cookies 🙂

Christmas cometh 026 Christmas cometh 035
Christmas cometh 028

A feast for three

My little Cornish hens are roasting away alongside a pair of sweet potatoes. Much less involved than roasting a turkey. While I like turkey, I didn’t really want to give in to the frenzy of preparing one. This will be a different, simple sort of meal, but flavorful. Plus, it’s just me, my mom, and my gran, a whole turkey (even a small one) lasts for days when we do make one. I’ll consider one for Christmas, but I fear we may very well be having a Cuban Christmas this year–pork is not my favorite, but my dad (and the rest of my relatives) love having it when he comes over on Christmas day; my mom makes roast pork sandwiches with Cuban bread, swiss cheese, and green tomatoes, and they are indeed tasty.

I made a pair of pumpkin pies yesterday, and a bunch of pumpkin cup-pies with the extra filling that was left after the crusts had been filled; I can’t wait to have a slice of pie 🙂 it’s my favorite and this is the first time I make it all by myself. Pictures later.

pumpkin bread to start the celebration

I decided that baking in batches is the way to go, so I made pumpkin bread today, will make pumpkin pie tomorrow, and the actual feast (Cornish hens, not turkey) on Thanksgiving Day. This will save a lot of time scrambling in the kitchen and will keep the house from spontaneously combusting as the heat from the oven becomes unbearable. All in all, a good plan 🙂

This is my first time making pumpkin bread and I wanted a recipe that featured oats, so I was more than pleased when I found this one on MyRecipes: Kim’s Best Pumpkin Bread Recipe (from Cooking Light).

I made a few adjustments to the original, so this is my version of the recipe:

Yield: 2 loaves, 12 servings per loaf (serving size: 1 slice)

Ingredients

  • 1/3  cup  fat-free milk
  • 2   tablespoons  vegetable oil *reduced the oil (next time I’ll try apple sauce, but I was all out)
  • 2  large eggs
  • 2  large egg whites
  • 1  (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • 2  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1  cup  quick-cooking oats
  • 1  cup  brown sugar * replaced white with brown sugar
  • 2  teaspoons  baking powder
  • 2  teaspoons  ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg * the original didn’t call for it, but I like the extra spice
  • 1/2  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  cup  raisins
  • 1/4  cup  chopped pecans * no pecans, my gran can’t eat nuts
  • Cooking spray

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl; stir well with a whisk.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in raisins and pecans.

Spoon batter into 2 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on rack.

I haven’t had a slice yet–I’m waiting for breakfast–but it was wonderfully fragrant 🙂

This is what it looks like…

On a completely unrelated note, I bought a lovely spray of roses to dress up the table (and my room) on Thanksgiving.

pretty tea roses

sugary sweet

Yesterday was my b-chan’s birthday so I made him a batch of fresh-baked lemon sugar cookies as a sweet birthday treat 🙂 . It’s been a while since I’ve baked cookies and I wanted to try something different, so I look for a recipe with a lemon twist and found this one on myrecipes.com, lemon sugar cookies from Sunset magazine.

sugarcookies

I decided to make the dough a day in advance, so that I would have plenty of time to shape, bake, and ice the cookies before having to pack them up. At first, the recipe seemed simple enough… sugar, check, butter, check, eggs, check… until I got to the part where I had to mix the dry ingredients. This recipe calls for two cups of sugar (I used turbinado instead of refined), so I assumed there would need to be a lot of butter and flour to bring it all together. What I did not anticipate was the reality of 5 cups of flour. Have you seen what five cups of flour looks like? Apparently, I had not or I would not have had a mild panic attack wherein I jumped to the conclusion that I must have printed a faulty copy. Surely, the recipe could not call for 5 cups of flour? But it did. I double checked and forged ahead, hoping that I wouldn’t have to scrap the whole thing and buy a box of sugar cookie mix (for shame, think of all that wasted butter, sugar, and flour).

Mixing all that stuff proved to be harder than I thought it would be. I’m a poor baker, no fancy kitchenaid mixer here. I have to rely on my handheld and pray that the baking fairies are on my side (and that I won’t burn out the motor again, had that happen once). Well, my mixer couldn’t take it, this required physical labor to mix. I had to press my mom into mixing service, but between the two of us we managed to get something that resembled semi-solid concrete.

Wrapping it up, I waited til the next day.

This dough is dense. It’s hard and solid when chilled. Let’s not get into how hard it was to roll out.

Suffice it to say, the cookies were more work than a cake would have been.

Regardless, they taste great, though not as lemony as I would have liked. No matter, half the dough was enough to make 18 shaped cookies and 5 sample drop cookies for taste testing. I’ve frozen the rest of the dough for Thanksgiving and Christmas. This recipe can certainly go a long way.

Next time, I’ll add more lemon… and take over auntie Em’s mixer.

Recipe: Sugar and Spice Pumpkin seeds

pumpkinseedsThey’re done! And they taste fantastic! I wish I had more seeds to roast, but this was an incidental sort of experiment, so that’s it for this batch.

I reviewed a bunch of recipes and just combined what I liked from each of them to come up with this one.

Here is my take on this fall classic:

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 to 1 cup fresh pumpkin seeds (our pumpkin yielded about 3/4 of a cup.) Note: these should be washed and dried beforehand. I let them dry overnight after getting all the pumpkin goo off.
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted.
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp pumpkin spice
  • a dash of cinnamon (if you like it as much as I do 🙂 )

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, and spices until well-coated.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spread seeds in a single layer.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring the seeds about halfway.

That’s it. Quick and easy.

a sweet ending

The b-chan’s mom is returning home from her stay in the motherland… no, not Mother England. Colombia. Anywho, he bought a box of cake mix to bake a “welcome back” cake, and I offered to help him bake it after I got home from work. After all, I might as well share the sugar.

bchan_cakesHe was very pleased with himself for having bought a box of organic cake mix: Dr. Oetker’s Organic Vanilla Cake Mix. And, as I had some apple sauce from my mom’s recent bundt cake experiment, I was able to awe him with my oil-substitution know-how.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the cakes. The flavor is light and not over sweet, which is a nice change from the usual box mix. We used half the batter to make little heart-shaped cakes (courtesy of the handy heart-shaped cupcake pan that I bought for my Valentine’s Day gift baking) and poured the rest into a round pan for a medium-sized sheet cake. Then we covered them with vanilla frosting and used decorating gel and red sugar to tart them up (yes, another Valentine leftover, but red is such a seasonal color! It works for so many occasions).

Yes, that is a cat drawn on the heart to the left. It’s my b-chan’s attempt to sweeten up his mom; we don’t know how she’ll react to Lucky Cat’s bouncy presence in her home.

autumn is here and so are the flavors

I love autumn. Even though autumn in South Florida doesn’t come with all the trappings of gold and russet leaves, I always look forward to the season.

Today I went out to find that the temperature has becoming wonderfully brisk and breezy, and though I know it will only last a few days at best, or until the next cold front slides on down from Canada, it makes for a nice change from the dreadful heat that we’ve had all summer long.

One of the things that I always associate with autumn is the smell of pumpkin spice and nutmeg. I love the taste of sweet spice. I’ve yet to give in to the allure of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice latte, but once the weather cools down and it gets cold in the library, I know I will succumb to the temptation (having a Starbuck’s in the library is quite a distraction, especially on those early Saturday mornings when it’s my turn to work the weekend).

oats_and_nutmegNutmeg and cinnamon are an essential part of my spice rack, so in a toast to the season, I’ve started playing with them. Yesterday, I had some very tasty steel cut oats with apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey. Very warming and filling 🙂 and just the right sort of apple pie flavor.

Of course, pumpkins are one of those foods that I can’t get enough of from October to December. I’ve been browsing sites and recipe books during the last few days in my eagerness.

IMG_8313My b-chan lives in an area that is very small-town-America, and every year the local Methodist church hosts a pumpkin patch. This is definitely not the sort of thing that you see in my area, so it’s quite a treat for me to see so many fanciful looking pumpkins, and all the delicious home-baked goods on sale (now that is some real temptation). There are hundreds of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, some that look very much like something out of Cinderella, and others that look a bit unorthodox.

IMG_8318I bought a loaf of fresh nut and raisin pumpkin bread that tastes deliciously spicy, and a smallish sort of pumpkin that will serve as decoration until I decide what to do with it. That’s the thing, pumpkins are so versatile, I can’t decide whether I want to make something sweet or savory, a bread or a cake, cheesecake or flan, or just something like a casserole. I do know what I’m going to do with the seeds, those are going to be roasted with some cinnamon sugar 😀 .

Meanwhile, I have one medium-sized pumpkin in my care. The b-chan wants to make a jack-o-lantern, and I get to harvest all the pulp and seeds.

Didy_pumpkinDidymus has a playmate until I figure out how I’m going to store that stuff until I have time to bake/cook something.  Now I have two pumpkin heads.

Playing with food: Leftovers

In an effort to waste-not want-not, I’ve been trying to get creative with leftovers.

little mac!
little mac!

Tonight’s experiment: The Littlest Macaroni Bake. And it really was little, baked in a very small glass baking dish, but quite hearty.

I had some of my grandma’s picadillo (Spanish-style ground beef… well, Cuban-style in this case) left over from Sunday night’s dinner, so I thought I’d give it a try. I don’t eat much meat anymore, but I’m a bit of a flexitarian, so I will have the occasional beefy meal. After last week’s of tofu-based meals, and several days worth of soup and toast, this was a nice change.

I boiled up half a cup of macaroni, then mixed it with about 1/4 cup tomato & basil pasta sauce, the picadillo, and a few pieces of chopped mozarrella (er… string cheese, it was all I had in the fridge but it served its purpose) and tomato. Then I baked it at 300 for about 30 minutes–the dish was so small, I didn’t want to burn it.

Overall, a nice, quick meal and enough to share with mum and gran.