Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuscan Bean & Kale Soup and Cornbread with a Honey/Butter Glaze

It's a gray, rainy evening in the Pacific Northwest and soup just seem the right choice for dinner tonight; actually, I could eat soup every night:)  Even when I was in 7th grade on a school trip to Washington, D.C. visiting Congress and the Smithsonian, I had bean soup.  "Senate Bean Soup" was my  favorite soup when I was growing up and my mother would use a big ham hock and white navy beans to cook a large pot of soup that would feed our big family at least a couple of nights.  In fact, the joke around our house was that this soup seemed to "grow." LOL

Another good reason for soup is that this soup costs about $5.00 to make!  That's a great deal in this economy; then, add this moist, sweet cornbread and a salad and you have a complete meal.

Tuscan Bean & Kale Soup

3 T Olive Oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 cans (15 oz) Cannellini Beans (White Kidney Beans)
1 bunch of Kale
6 cups vegetable stock (or you can use 3 Vegetable bouillon cubes and 6 cups of water)
2 T Sundried Tomato Paste
1 tsp. dried Sage, crushed
2 T. cornmeal
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste

Use a 6 quart sauce pan and heat the olive oil on medium heat for several minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes.  Let this sit for 30 minutes so flavors are enhanced.
(I did this step while I was mixing up the Banana Pumpkin Bread.)

Return the garlic/red pepper flake oil to the stove.  Next, drain and rinse three cans of cannellini beans, then, add to the saucepan, stirring to incorporate.  Add the vegetable broth (or water and bouillon cubes) and stir again.  Add the sundried tomato paste and sage, stir well and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat to low and cover.  Cook 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the spines of the kale, then, rinse well.
Chop into bite size pieces.
Use an emulsion blender to puree the bean mixture.  (If you don't have an emulsion blender, puree, in small batches, in a blender).
Add the kale and cover once again to cook thoroughly--about 15 minutes.  Remove lid and add the 4th can of cannellini beans and heat for another 5-7 minutes.  Finally, to thicken the soup, mix the 2 tablespoons of cornmeal with the juice of half of a lemon.  To make a thinner paste, add a few tablespoons of the soup broth.  Add this cornmeal paste to the soup and cook another 10 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Cornbread with a Honey/Butter Glaze
 4 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup golden brown sugar
6 T unsalted butter, melted, plus 4 T butter for the skillet
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
2 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1-2 T fresh chives, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Place a 12-inch iron skillet in the oven to heat.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs.  Add the sugars and whisk to combine, then, add the melted butter and oil and whisk again.  Add the flours, baking powder, salt and chives, alternately with the buttermilk.  Stir well to combine completely.  Meanwhile, add the 4 tablespoons of butter to the hot skillet.  Return to the oven and heat until melted.
Pour the cornbread mixture into the hot/buttered skillet.
Return to the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  While the cornbread is baking, make the glaze.

Honey/Butter Glaze
4 T unsalted butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water

Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan.  After the butter melts, stir well and keep mixture on low.

After 25 minutes of baking, open the oven and pull the rack out with the skillet.  Poke several holes in the top of the cornbread and slowly pour the honey/butter over top.  Return to the oven and bake an additional 5-7 minutes.  The top of the cornbread should be lightly browned and shimmering with the glaze.
Let cool 15 minutes, then cut into wedges.
The cornbread is moist and sweet, but more importantly, it goes so well with a great soup or even chili.
Make this meal an autumn special for your family.  Enjoy!

Autumn Banana~Pumpkin Bread with Cranberries & Walnuts

My husband loves bananas on his cereal, but not everyday, and I'm always finding myself with one, two or like today, three bananas that I just can't let go to waste.  I know, I could make a smoothie and say, "be done with it" or freeze them for later use, but today is rainy and temperatures aren't suppose to reach much above the upper 60s, so baking is my choice.

I love experimenting with ingredients and today I thought about how I could make this more fitting to the season [that's fast approaching:)] and have decided to incorporate my two favorite symbols of autumn--pumpkins and cranberries.

Mom made lots of banana bread when I was growing up, but her recipe, which I cherish, was the standard with bananas and walnuts.  Kelly loved to bake banana bread to give as gifts and stock her freezer for later treats.  One of the first things I baked with Ari was banana bread (and muffins) when I was there in May to distract him from all the sadness.  I still remember his face when he bit into his first baking creations and wished I had a camera to capture that look of pure enjoyment!

Wrapped in beautiful cellophane for gifts or just to have with your morning coffee or tea, this autumnal version is sure to be a hit with your family.

Banana~Pumpkin Bread with  Cranberries & Walnuts
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup golden brown sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 T Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 tsp. Banana flavoring
3 medium bananas, peeled & mashed
1 1/2 cups (15 oz can) pumpkin (not pie filling)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup walnuts, toasted and broken into pieces
 2 - 5" x 9" loaf pans, sprayed with a non-stick baking spray
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees. Toast walnuts for 8 minutes and set aside.
In the KitchenAid, using a paddle attachment, beat butter, oil and sugars together.  Add eggs and combine.  Add the bananas and canned pumpkin and beat to combine. 
Make sure the bananas do have some spots on them, otherwise wait to make this bread
Don't worry, the mixture will look curdled!  Remove bowl from the mixer and stir in flour, baking soda, and salt.  Stir, just to combine.  Fold in the cranberries and walnuts.  Pour into the prepared loaf pans.
Bake at 350F-degrees for 30 minutes, then, lower the temperature to 325F-degrees and bake an additional 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan about 15 minutes.  Turn out to cool completely before slicing.
 Your temperatures may not be dropping like ours, but this is a yummy bread that tastes good on any night and it makes a wonderful gift to give.  Also, with two loaves you could easily wrap up one and freeze it for a cold morning .  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Back to School Brownie~Peanut Butter Bars

Summer hasn't even ended, but in some parts of the country, kids have already started back to school. 
 Ari has his backpack ready!

However, for the majority of the kids, the day after Labor Day is the usual.  Our daughters, Erin and Kelly, looked forward to this day; new books, new supplies, and their uniform pressed and laying out.  I loved planning a special treat to put in their lunch box for the first day, adding a little note to "have a good day!"

My mother baked special treats too.  Cookies and brownies, homemade, always made looking forward to lunch that much more enjoyable.  I remember sharing these treats with my best friends while talking about our new teacher(s) and what our favorite subjects were. 

So, whether your children are off to school or are home schooled, these brownie treats are sure to be a hit for the start of a new year of learning.

Brownie~Peanut Butter Bars
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
5 oz. chocolate, bittersweet or semi-sweet, chopped
1/3 cup cocoa
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 T Vanilla Extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter (homemade or bought)

Prepare either a  12" x 17" sheet pan or a 9" x 13" baking pan by brushing with melted butters.  Add a sheet of parchment paper, fitted to the pan, and brush again with melted butter.
In a double boiler, add the chocolate, cocoa and butter.
Melt completely.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Meanwhile in the KitchenAid, using the whisk attachment, beat eggs until thick and lemony.
Add the sugar while the mixer is running and incorporate completely.  Add the cooled chocolate mixture and beat thoroughly.  While the mixer is running, add the vanilla.  Finally add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir into the mixture.  Pour and spread into prepared pan.  (I used the 12 x 17 sheet pan to speed up the baking time, but for a "thicker" brownie bar, use the 9 x 13 pan)
Add dollops of peanut butter and use a fork to "marble" it through the brownie mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven.  For the 12" x 17" sheet pan--12-14 minutes;  For the 9" x 13" baking pan--20-22 minutes.  Let cool completely, then cut into bars.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pumpkin, Honey, Peanut Brittle...Oh My!

My husband, Chuck and his colleagues have a meeting tomorrow and I was asked to bake something:)  I'd have to be sick to turn down the chance to bake, so happily the wheels of creativity started to churn.  I had just finished a SKYPE call with our grandson, Ari, and I was feeling happy thinking about for his first birthday I made a pumpkin cupcake that he just devoured!

Ari, like his mama, Kelly loves pumpkin! 

I decided to start with that pumpkin cupcake, but kicked up the flavor with some ginger chips, then, topped it with a honey butter cream and as a final piece de resistance, homemade peanut brittle garnish.  I guess I was still in an autumn mood choosing pumpkin and maybe, like the retail stores I'm pushing the season, but like my mother would say, "Ah Pshaw! Pumpkin is good for you anytime!!"

Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with Honey Butter Cream
  & Homemade Peanut Brittle garnish

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups golden brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
1-15oz can of Pumpkin (not pie filling)-approx. 1 1/2 cups
4 cups Cake Flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup Cake Enhancer (optional, but helps make a tender, light cake)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cardamon
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup ginger chips

Preheat oven 350F-degrees.  Line muffin tins with paper cups.
In a KitchenAid, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter until fluffy.  Add the brown sugar and beat for 3-5 minutes until thoroughly combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the cake enhancer (if using) and beat well.  Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Add alternately with the buttermilk and beat well until combined.  Stir in the ginger chips.
Use a scoop to place batter into the paper-lined tins.  This recipe makes 24 large cupcakes.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until done.  Rotating the pans helps to uniformly bake the cupcakes.
Let cool completely.  Meanwhile, make the peanut brittle.

Peanut Brittle:

This recipe was given to me by my sister Barbara over 20 years ago.  I make it every Halloween and package it to give as gifts.  It's done in the microwave, so there's no need for excuses about watching the candy thermometer for 10 minutes!

1 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Light Karo Syrup
1 cup dry roasted, salted Peanuts
1 T butter
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. Baking Soda

Butter a baking sheet and set aside.
In a 1 1/2 quart glass casserole, stir together sugar and Karo syrup.  Microwave on high 3 min. 30 sec.
Stir in the peanuts and microwave another 2 min. 30 sec.
Add the butter and vanilla to the hot syrup, blending well.  Microwave 45 seconds.  Peanuts will be lightly browned and syrup, very hot.
Finally, add the baking soda and gently stir until light and foamy.  Quickly pour mixture onto the lightly buttered cookie sheet.  Let cool 30 minutes to 1 hour.  When cool, break into small pieces and store in an airtight container.

Honey Butter Cream:

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup honey
1 T Vanilla Extract

In the KitchenAid, using the whisk attachment, beat butter until fluffy.  Add the honey and beat well to combine.  Add half of the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat well.  Gradually add the last 3 cups of confectioners' sugar and whisk for 1-2 minutes to combine thoroughly.

Fill a pastry bag with a large plain or fluted tip.  Frost the cupcakes and add the peanut brittle garnish.
These cupcakes will taste good anytime, but great at Halloween.  Enjoy!


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Apple of My Eye Pound Cake

The air is crisp, it's overcast with the threat of rain, and some leaves have started to fall...Autumn is just around the corner.

Also, the early apples are showing up at the Farmer's Markets and chrysanthemums are in the nursery, which here in Washington, is a sure sign!

So, my baking today reflected, not only the weather, but the harvesting of apples to inspire a cake to warm your heart, as well as your belly.  I started with my mother's brown sugar pound cake and made some changes.   First, I added an apple filling, with a crisp, tart apple and my favorite spices then, I topped off the finished cake with a rich caramel sauce.  There's nothing like it on an autumn evening and even if your weather hasn't turned, like ours has, keep this one in mind for a special dessert to welcome your first signs of fall.

Apple of My Eye Pound Cake with Caramel Sauce
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
5 large eggs
1 tsp. apple flavoring
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup pecans, chopped (optional, but really good)

Apple Filling:
2 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples
2 T Boiled Cider
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamon
1/2 tsp. freshly, grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325F-degrees.  Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with a non-stick flour/oil spray.
In a medium bowl, combine all the filling ingredients and set aside.
In the KitchenAid, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter until fluffy.  Add the sugars and beat for 3-5 minutes to combine completely.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the flavorings.  Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, then, alternately add these dry ingredients with the milk to the butter mixture.  Beat well to combine.  Stir in the pecans, if using.

Spoon half of the batter into the prepared Bundt pan.  Carefully place the apple mixture on top, keeping the apples away from the sides of the pan.
Spoon the remaining batter on top of the apples.  
Place into the preheated oven and bake 65-75 minutes or until the top of the cake springs bake when you touch it with your fingers.  Remove from the oven and cool in the pan at least 15 minutes.  Invert pan onto a serving plate and cool completely.  Meanwhile, make the caramel sauce.

The caramel sauce I made today is a recipe from King Arthur Flour

Caramel Sauce:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 T cold water
6 T butter, melted
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. Vanilla or Vanilla/Butternut, or 1/4 tsp. Butter-Rum or Butterscotch flavor, or 1 T Rum

In a 2-quart saucepan, mix the sugar and water and stir to combine.  Place on medium/high heat and bring to a boil--resist stirring.  When it comes to a boil, lower heat to medium and watch the syrup carefully, shaking or swirling the pan to keep the syrup moving.  
After a couple of minutes, the syrup will begin to darken. 

When it reaches a rich amber color, remove it from the heat and stir in the melted butter.  Once the butter has been absorbed, add the heavy cream and your choice of flavoring.  Cool to room temperature.  Store in the refrigerator, reheat in the microwave before serving.  Enjoy!


Friday, August 20, 2010


My post today has several inspirations.  First, continuing to follow Elizabeth Gilbert's travels in Eat, Pray, Love to India, where she hoped to find the power of prayer and self-discovery. After an arduous week, where I fell short of my expectations to finish up projects, I am desiring some meditation and peace, as well.  One of my favorite books, which was introduced to me by my yoga instructor, Sara, is Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison.  They take you through the "Eight-Limb Path of Yoga" and it truly has helped me become more focus as to my path in life, good and bad.  On "Day 187" I think this is one of my favorite quotes..."Both yoga and art aim at the same thing, that is, to re-establish our personal connection with the world around us according to our own inner creativity.  To render body and mind a conduit through which the creative energy can flow freely, unimpeded by outer restrictions, in the trust that this energy, being a part of the universal energy, is ultimately "pure" and joyful."~Dona Hollemann

 This is a quilt I did for Sara's studio in 2006--I hand dyed the fabrics and designed the quilt to reflect Sara'a personality and the calmness I felt practicing with her.

The other inspiration, which resulted in these cookies, was from an article I read in the September 2010--Bon appetit entitled, "Flour Child."  The article centers around Christina Tosi, a pastry chef at New York's Momofuku Milk Bar and a kindred spirit; meaning when I read her bio, she talks about, as a little girl she loved eating lima beans with ranch dressing, Doritos sandwiches with Miracle Whip, and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese mixed with SpaghettiOs, none of which I've eaten, but then I have a few combinations that would surprise her (and others) as well.  One being my love of peanut butter & pickle sandwiches with Sandwich Spread. LOL

She shares three recipes with the readers and I was inspired with her concept of Milk Crumbs to add to a chocolate chip cookie that I do.  I wanted to do cookies today, thinking about how Kelly and Erin would tell me of their nightly M & Cs  (milk & cookies) at Mount Holyoke College, enjoying sharing their day with each other and waiting for the weekend to come home.

Milk Crumb Chocolate Chip Cookies

Milk Crumbs: (my version)
3/4 cup nonfat dry milk
1/4 cup malt powder
3T sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/2 tsp. cardamon
3/4 tsp. salt
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven 275F-degree.  In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients and pour the melted butter over them.  Use a fork to combine.  Spread the mixture evenly onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.
Bake 10 minutes until a pale, golden color.  Let milk crumbs cool completely on the pan.
Meanwhile, you can start the cookie mixture and raise the oven temperature to 350F-degrees.

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup Agave nectar (amber)
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk crumbs 
1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips

In the KitchenAid, using the paddle attachment, (or a large bowl and hand mixer) beat the butter until fluffy.  Add the sugars, Agave, and vanilla.  Combine thoroughly.  Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well.  Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Whisk the dry ingredients, then add this mixture to the butter/sugar mixture and beat to combine. Add the milk crumbs and mix well.  Finally, stir in the mini chocolate chips.  
Use a 1/4-cup scoop to drop the dough onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Bake cookies 10 minutes or until a golden brown.
Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to cool completely.  For my friend, Elizabeth, who has asked for a soft cookie...this is it.  Bake up some and enjoy M & Cs with your favorite people.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


The inspiration for today's post is the book Eat Love Pray by Elizabeth Gilbert.  She steps away from a life that she thought she dreamed of; a husband, a home and a successful career to embark on a quest of self-discovery.  Liz travels to Italy, discovering the pleasures of eating, tradition, and family; to India, finding the power of prayer and self discipline; and finally to Bali, where she finds not only true love, but a balance of peace with that love.

Starting with Italy, I decided to bake a traditional Semolina Cake.  Desserts in Italy, although very much a part of the meal, are often more simple and never overly sweet.  The semolina is a grainy yellow flour made from durum wheat and makes this cake's texture soft with a very tender crumb.  Adding the caramelized almonds on top contrasts the light, airy interior of the cake.

We may not take off on a journey like Elizabeth Gilbert did in this best selling memoir, but with this cake we can start our own journey of finding the pleasure of eating with our family

Semolina Cake with Caramelized Almonds
8 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup almond paste
1 1/2 granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup semolina flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Caramelized Almonds
1 cup sliced almonds
3 T light brown sugar
1 egg white, whisked until foamy

Preheat oven 350F-degree.  Prepare a 9-inch spring form pan by brushing the bottom and sides with melted butter.  Cut a piece of parchment in a circle to fit the bottom of the pan and brush with additional butter.  Set aside.
In the bowl of the KitchenAid, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and almond paste until fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.  Add  1 1/4 cups of sugar (remaining 1/4 cup of sugar will be beaten into the separated egg whites).  Add the egg yolks, one at a time and incorporated into the batter, then the vanilla and almond flavorings and beat well.  Sift the flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir in the semolina flour.  Add to the batter, alternately with the milk, beating until the ingredients are all incorporated.

Use a hand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Gradually add the remaining 1/4 sugar beating until soft peaks form.
Use a rubber spatula, fold in half of the egg white mixture into the semolina batter.  Once the batter is "lighten" fold the remaining egg whites, being careful not to deflate your batter.

Gently spread the batter into the prepared pan. 
Bake 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare the caramelized almonds.  In a small bowl, mix the almonds, the light brown sugar, and 2 teaspoons of the foamy egg white.
Take the cake out of the oven; the middle should still be a bit "jiggly".  Add the almond mixture on top of the cake.
 Return to the oven and bake another 25-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  If the top is browning too much, tent it with a piece of aluminum foil.
Let cake cool completely in the pan.  Transfer the cool cake to a serving platter; having the parchment on the bottom helps this transfer.  This cake will keep at room temperature for up to 4 days.  Enjoy!