Tuesday, November 13, 2012

First Snow of the Season!

I woke up today to find that we had been graced with the presence of the first dusting of snow this season!

Chilly morning snow

Yesterday, on my way to campus I saw Evanston's Christmas tree on its way into town on the back of a City of Evanston truck. Then it was snowing that light, swirling kind of snow on my way home from work. Could it be that the making of merry isn't far away?

Stay warm, friends!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pumpkin Bonanza!

Well, folks, it was a late night in the lab yesterday. I had to run a long furnace experiment (and had to go into lab today to finish it blah), and while I waited, I decided that I should tell you good people about all of the delicious fall baking I've been doing lately. I noticed that even though I included cupcakes in the title, my blog is definitely lacking in baked goods. Worry not...this sad fact will change in the coming chilly months.

My research group had coffee hour last week, which I always use as an excuse to go a little crazy with the baking. I made some apple cinnamon muffins (not as interesting) as well as a few pumpkin dishes (more interesting).

These pumpkin pie bars are a fun, easy twist on pumpkin pie. They're sort of halfway between pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake. The only modification I made was to decrease the amount of the topping/crust to 3/4 of the original recipe. Since they turned out so well, I made another bunch for a "practice Thanksgiving" that my friends Lauren and Kellie had at their place on Saturday. Our lovely hosts made the turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, and everyone else brought sides, desserts, and appetizers. There were great friends, great food, and great times all around. :)

Even though the bars were well received, the star of the show was something I made on a whim: pumpkin spice puppy chow. No, not like the stuff by Purina. This kind of puppy chow (aka muddy buddies in some places). If you haven't had it before, a very important piece of your childhood is missing, so go make yourself some. Right now. I'll wait.

The recipe for the pumpkin spice version replaces the peanut butter with Biscoff spread. However, since I couldn't find that, I used Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter, which is basically heaven in a jar. Seriously, the clouds will open up and angels with trumpets will appear when you first taste it. Couple that with some white chocolate and pumpkin pie spice, and you have a deliciously addictive snack. (I may or may not have eaten all of the puppy chow left over from coffee hour...but you have no evidence of this, do you? Mwahaha.) Puppy chow is super easy, and this version really seemed to be a crowd pleaser. Try it at home!

A little bowl of heaven

Also, not quite as heavenly as speculoos butter but still quite delicious is Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter. (I swear I'm not paid by TJ's in any way) It's like apple butter...but with pumpkin. I'm really digging it stirred into Greek yogurt with some granola.

The triumvirate

Once I discovered exactly how nutritionally sparse the PSL from Starbucks is, I've tried to avoid them (sigh). Thus, I sought to make my own. This recipe from Skinnytaste is an excellent substitute which uses the pumpkin butter...and it's super easy! Also, I can make mine more pumpkin-y if I want to without having to learn the language of Starbucks to get my order across. Be your own barista!

Starbucks, eat your heart out!

To use up the last of my pumpkin as well as some walnuts and applesauce I had lying around, I made a small batch of pumpkin nut muffins. They are moist and delicious and a festive way to use up any extraneous gourd you may have hanging out in your fridge.

As much as I love pumpkin, I'm super excited for the next season in line: peppermint! I think I saw some seasonal items popping up on menus already, so it's just around the corner! What's your favorite seasonal flavor?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weddings and Kale & Quinoa Cakes

Happy November, friends! Hope the new month is treating you well so far.

I've been busy the past few weeks with school, work, and travel in addition to some cooking/baking. Andy and I traveled to PA last weekend for the wedding of Jake, our good friend from college. Andy was a groomsman, and I just got to sit and enjoy the ride. It was really great to see some of our friends from college as well as to meet the families of both Jake and his new wife(!) Audrey. They seem like a great match for each other.

I also loved to have a chance to get back to my home state for a few days. There is nothing better than Pennsylvania in the fall. For real. Illinois just doesn't have the same rolling-hills-forested-area beauty that Pennsylvania does. It made me happy just to be around it for a short time.

In addition to all the usual delicious wedding things, there was something especially unique here: cookies. THOUSANDS of cookies. If you're not familiar with the tradition of a cookie table, you're not alone. It's kind of like the phrase "firehall wedding reception." You don't realize that not everyone knows what this is until you say it in mixed company, and people look at you like you have three heads. Anyway, every time I walked by the table there were new types of cookies appearing. Maybe there will be some cookies in the future on S&C as a result. :)

In order to recover from post-wedding gorging, I've decided that I need to cook more healthy things this week. I was in Whole Foods last week and bought some red quinoa on a whim. I've cooked with quinoa before, but never the red variety. Why is a grain that has been around for thousands of years all of a sudden super popular? Not that I'm arguing with deliciousness...

I served the cakes with the "Hot Pepper Mustard" that we received as a favor at Jake and Audrey's wedding. It was sort of like a spicy version of honey mustard, and it went really well with the cakes. Such a cute idea!

Kale and Quinoa Cakes

From Joy the Baker (recipe adapted from Super Natural Every Day)
1 1/2 cups raw quinoa
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 bunch (about 3 cups) chopped dino kale
splash of apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup coarsely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes (I did half and half)
1 tablespoon water (I used a little less)
2 tablespoon olive oil (or cooking spray) for frying, add a bit more as necessary
lemon wedges, olives or capers, spicy mustard, and greens for serving

Place dry quinoa in a fine mesh strainer.  Wash under cool water for a few minutes.  Quinoa needs to be rinsed or it tastes dirty.
In a medium saucepan place rinsed quinoa, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Place over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Cover, decrease the heat, and simmer for about 25 t0 30 minutes, until the quinoa is tender.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  We’ll need about 3 cups of cooked quinoa for the recipe.
In a small bowl, whisk eggs and set aside.
In a medium sauté man, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.  Add kale and toss until just slightly wilted, about 1 minutes.  Remove from heat and add a splash of vinegar.  Place kale mixture in a large bowl with prepared quinoa.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  You can speed up this process in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Add cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, break crumbs, salt, and pepper.  Add beaten eggs and stir until all of the quinoa mixture is moistened.  Add water to thoroughly moisten mixture.  Quinoa should be slightly wet so it doesn’t dry out during cooking.
Scoop out mixture by the 2 tablespoonful.  (I used a small ice cream scoop to scoop the mixture right into the hot pan.)  Use clean, moist fingers to form into a patty.  Create as many patties as you’d like.  (Rinse your hands after every few patties… it makes making patties easier.)
In a large skillet over medium low heat, heat olive oil.  If you pan is large enough, add four to six patties to the hot pan.  You’ll need a bit of room to successfully flip them.
Cook on each side until beautifully browned, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side.  Low heat helps the quinoa cakes cook slowly. Brown on each side then remove to a paper towel lined plate.
Serve warm with a lemon wedge, mustard, fresh spinach, and salty capers.  It’s like a deconstructed salad.  Serve them any way you’d like. Makes about two dozen small cakes.