About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Caramel Icing

It's almost Halloween and I got the pumpkin urge.  These cupcakes use pumpkin pie spice, which is available this time of year, and is a little easier than measuring out the individual cinnamon, ginger, clove and allspice ingredients.  The batter also uses buttermilk which I think always makes for a better cake.  The icing incorporated a bit of the leftover caramel sauce I made for Apple Walnut Cake posted 9/15/2013.  That stuff would make fish eyeballs tasty. For an extra bit of panache, I decorated with Cracker Jacks. 

Happy Halloween!

For the Cupcakes:

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin

for the Caramel Icing:

12 tbls unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup caramel sauce (see 9/15/2013 blog post)
in a pinch, store bought will work

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer, beat the butter and sugars until fluffy.  In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.  Add the eggs one at a time with mixer running on medium speed.  Mix the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately, starting and finishing with the dry.  Add the pumpkin and mix until just smooth. Line muffin tin with paper liners. Using and ice cream scoop fill each cup 3/4 full. Sit muffin tin on a baking sheet. Bake 20-25 mins until tooth pick comes out clean.
Cool completely.

In a mixer, beat the room temperature butter until fluffy then add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Drizzle in 1/2 cup of caramel. Ice each cup cake and decorate at desired. I used Cracker Jack for fun.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cherry Tomato Jam

I know tomato season is over but I found these incredibly sweet yellow cherry tomatos.  They were sitting around a tad too long so I decided to turn them into jam.  Good stuff to go with meat loaf, chicken or a curry.  This is really an easy way to dress up your dinner plate.

1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes
1 cup diced Vidalia or sweet onion
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
a pinch of salt

Blanch and slip off the tomato skins. it's a little extra work but worth the effort.  Put in a nonreactive sauce pan and add the chopped onion, brown sugar, vinegar and thyme.  Cook over medium heat and bring the mixture just to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook, stirring frequently for 45 minutes until thickened.  Add the chopped basil and stir until whilted.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ina's Inspiration

I was in the audience last night to see Ina Garten in person as her Conversations with Ina road show came to town.  It was a blast as my friend and I sipped wine and listened to the warm and friendly celebrity chef chat about her career and answer questions.  I'm sorry I didn't prepare for the question part but I knew I couldn't come up with anything that only took 30 seconds for her to answer.  I would have loved to have a heart to heart with her over something complex like why she uses fennel in her chicken stock or why she prefers pears instead of cherries in her clafouti.  We could have talked for hours about the correct internal temperature of various meats.  I just know we're simpatico given the opportunity. Right?

I was first introduced to her food at a luncheon some years ago.  It was delicious and there was a new sophistication about it. I sincerely complemented the hostess on the meal and she told me her recipes had come from the Barefoot Contessa. Who?  I headed straight to the bookstore and was captivated by the photos and text. Her television series is my favorite of that genre where she instructs and shares in the setting of her lovely home.  That kitchen and lifestyle sells well.

I've been thinking about doing a video for this little blog and decided I'd pretend the cameras where rolling while I was making my grandson's birthday cake today.  It was kind of like a game I used to play with my next door neighbor when we where young; "let's pretend we in a commercial".  Could I explain what I was doing and be charming and friendly at the same time. No body's watching so why not?  Well, let me tell you, not everyone is cut out to multitask.  I seem to always make faces, bite my lower lip while chopping and  lick fingers instead of smiling.  Ina said she turned the Food Network down a number of times before agreeing to film the first 13 episodes.  She's more than just a good cook and now I have to admire her overcoming camera shyness as well.

As much as we all love and admire Julia Child, she turned up her nose and dismissed Ina as ordinary.
She didn't recognize the time had come for a new wave of cooking and timing is everything.  I have all the original French Chef series and still can't deal with Julia pounding a nail through an eel's head in preparation for bouillabaisse.  Ina Garten is among the best of the new generation of cooks to guide our palates and domestic conscience from processed mass to stylish, doable cooking for busy people who prefer to enjoy their meals with friends and family.  The  term "home cook" has replaced "home cookin" implying a more worldly fare.

If there's anything I took away from her program last night, it was respect for her intelligence and her work ethic.  Notably absent from her resume is any formal cooking education but she has an MBA and worked in the White House as a budget specialist.  Then fate took a hand and she turned to her love of cooking. She ran a highly successful specialty food store for 20 years, is the top selling cookbook author in the country and hosts a highly rated TV cooking show.   She is one smart lady who has worked her tail off and deserves all the success she has achieved.

Today, I did a version of the 3 tiered birthday cake she made on her show for a little girl.  Thanks, Ina!

Happy Birthday to my precious Whit!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rotisserie Revelation

It was an "Ah Ha" moment.  A dust covered box on a high shelf in my garage for 15 years ignored and forgotten until I was watched Steven Raichlen's Primal Grill about rotisserie.  His technique caught my attenion so I wandered out to the garage and looked up at the words Weber Rotisserie barely visible under the dust.  I got the step ladder and with a bit of effort and lots of dust, dirt and cob webs all over me, I pulled it down.  Inside the box, it was all in plastic and ready to go.  I plugged it in and the motor worked. I've been trying to resist any new cooking gadgets, I've got my share, but this was already in my possession, just undiscovered.  Rostisserie always seemed a bit too passe' or dangerous - like the fried turkey thing.

Now I admit to buying a rotisserie kitchen at the store in a pinch but this was a new food experiment I couldn't resist.  I'm all about DIY in the kitchen so I took my new toy to the patio.  I'd caught the $1.99/lb whole chicken sale and the rest is history.  I rotated those chickens for a week getting the technique and temp down.  Not easy when you've just got a basic Weber and a bag of charcoal but the result was extra special really, really great chicken.   Rostisserie chicken went over well for my Dad's 92nd birthday and dinner for a friend with a newborn.  I've got several favorite ways of roasting a chicken, but this may be the best yet.  I'm looking for more ways to use my latest cooking passion.

Most grills have a rotisserie device now as a extra.  I highly recommend it for tender, juicey and favorful meats.