Monday, October 29, 2018

Pumpkin and Corn Chowder

  Ok, I know I tell this story all the time, but it's a tradition! So, I'll tell it again!
 When I was growing up, my Mom always made a big pot of soup on Halloween. On one hand, she knew all of my siblings would be coming and going at different times, back from chilly trick or treating, and wanting something hearty to warm us. And on the other hand, she knew she'd be answering the door all day, giving out candy to all of the other ghosts and goblins in the town, so she wouldn't be able to spend any time in the kitchen cooking dinner. A big pot of soup was definitely the answer. As she used to tell me, "You just put everything in the pot and let it cook." And then throughout the day, everyone could just come in and fix a bowl. Seriously, I'm not even kidding when I tell you that there was nothing better in the whole world than coming home from trick or treating and knowing that there was a big bowl of hot soup waiting for us. It was sheer heaven!
 So, to keep the Halloween soup tradition alive, I decided to make a rich corn chowder. Actually, I was originally gonna go with something with a broth base, but then my Sis, Cathy, suggested a chowder, and not only that, specifically one with pumpkin and corn. That sounded FABULOUS to me, so I did a bit of looking. I found several versions, many of which are spicy. That wasn't really the vibe I wanted. Then I found a recipe on a blog called Table for Two. Full disclosure, I didn't really follow that recipe, but rather just used it as inspiration to make THIS one. I changed all of the amounts because basically I wanted to make a BIG pot of soup, instead of just for two. I just kept adding things to the pot and I also add some fresh herbs. So, I guess my version is kind of similar but not exactly the same as theirs, but they definitely get the credit for the original inspiration.
And OMG! Can we talk about how delicious it is?????
 I seriously could not stop eating it. It's SO deep with flavor from the aromatics and from the fresh thyme. But the star of the show is definitely the sweet corn. And the pumpkin adds body and creaminess without making it heavy. Serve it up with some fresh warm crusty bread and it's a meal all on its own. You could also use it as a first course for your Thanksgiving feast! It's just that good! Quite frankly, it has to be pretty amazing in order to get the "Thanksgiving worthy" seal of approval, and this one definitely is! It's perfect for any holiday meal. You should definitely keep this one handy! I know you'll love it!

4-5 cloves garlic
1 lb bag carrots
5 large ribs of celery
1 large onion
1 stick butter
1/4 cup flour
4-5 medium potatoes
24oz bag frozen corn
15oz can pumpkin
a bunch of fresh thyme sprigs
2 cups milk
48oz container chicken broth
Salt and pepper
Chopped chives (optional)

 First, mince the garlic and peel and finely dice all of your veggies. You want everything to be about the same size as kernels of corn.
 In a large heavy pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the diced carrots, celery, and onions along with the minced garlic. Saute, stirring frequently, until everything begins to soften. Add the flour, and stir to coat all of the veggies. Continue to cook for another few minutes, and then add the remaining ingredients. Stir to incorporate everything. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, stirring every so often to make sure it's not burning on the bottom. The soup will thicken as it cooks. Add more salt and pepper if you need to. Remove thyme sprigs. Serve chowder with chopped chives sprinkled over the top as a garnish, if desired.

To make it easier to remove the thyme, tie the sprigs into a bundle with cotton string. The leaves will fall off during the cooking, and then you can just fish out the bundle of twigs and discard it. Easy!
Anytime I make soup, I'm always amazed at how much salt it takes. Don't add a ton at once, but just be sure to taste as you go, and adjust the seasoning at the end. It will probably need more salt than you think it will, and a good amount of pepper too!
To add a little smokey note, you can saute some bacon lardons in the pot before adding the veggies, then continue with the recipe as directed. Just reduce the amount of butter if the bacon renders a lot of fat.
If you'd like to make it completely vegetarian, just use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth!
For a little extra splurge, top your bowl of soup with a few roasted jumbo shrimp. That would elevate it to special occasion status!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Soft-Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

 Ok, so, if you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I try to stay with the seasons. Every month's recipes usually have a theme, or are geared toward a forthcoming holiday. In other words, I probably wouldn't post a recipe for a big pot of hot soup in the blistering heat of summer, and I don't think I would post something with fresh summer berries around Christmas time, so forth.
 For this recipe, though, I couldn't decide in which category it should be! October is when I always post pumpkin recipes, and December is when I always post cookie recipes... What to do?
 So, I figured I'd post it for pumpkin month, and now you have the option of trying them in either season! Or both! Did you ever realize this much thought goes into a simple blog post? Well, now you know. Yes, I may or may not be overthinking these things, but what can I say.. this is how I usually roll.
 So let's talk about this cookie recipe, shall we?
They're REALLY easy to make, and they were just the thing when I had a little bit of free time and felt like baking something warm and homey. Once again, I turned to one of my favorite baking blogs, Sally's Baking Addiction, and once again, I was thrilled with the final product. These cookies are chewy like a soft baked cookie should be, but they're not cakey, like other pumpkin cookies. They're perfect for your Halloween bash, and just as perfect for your Christmas cookie swap! Why not bake a double batch now, and then freeze one for the holidays?? How perfect is that??
Hope you like 'em!

2 cups + 1 tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbs ground cinnamon
1 heaping tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup dark molasses
3/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups total add-ins (chocolate chips, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, pecans, white chocolate, or a combination)

 Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt together. Fold in the oats. Set aside.
Melt the butter in the microwave in a medium size bowl. Whisk in the molasses, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Once combined, whisk in the egg. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and whisk until thick and combined completely. Pour into dry ingredients and gently mix. The dough will be very thick, heavy, and sticky. Keep mixing until just combined, no more. Fold in your add-ins.
Scoop cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets. About 2 or 3 Tablespoons of dough per cookie. Slightly flatten to help the cookies spread in the oven. Do not flatten completely. See my photo above for a visual. If desired, press a few of your add-ins onto the top of the cookie dough balls for looks. Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes until very lightly browned on the edges, and still appearing soft in the centers. Allow the cookies to cool completely on the baking sheets.

SBA Tips:
The cookies' flavor is best on day 2. Cookies remain fresh and soft stored in an airtight container for 10 days. Cookies freeze well up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Joey's Tips:
Be sure to measure everything accurately. The required amount of flour is 2 cups plus 1 tbs, so, clearly that indicates that a lot of testing went into developing this recipe, and that THIS was the exact amount needed. I can appreciate that!
The original recipe says that it makes 15-18 large cookies, but I didn't want my cookies to be so large, so I just used a regular cookie scoop for them. I wound up with about 3-4 dozen regular sized cookies. They still baked for about the same time, about 14 minutes. I also didn't cool them completely on the tray. Just let them cool for a few minutes, and then lifted them from parchment to cooling rack, just as I usually do when baking cookies!
I added craisins to mine, but feel free to add anything you like!
Oh, one other thing... whenever I'm baking cookies, I like to just bake one tray at a time. I know it takes longer, but I just can't be bothered with rotating or switching the trays halfway through the baking. And one tray always seems to bake darker than the other. So unless I'm being a cookie factory at Christmas time, it really doesn't take too long to just do one at a time.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Cobbler

  In my never ending search for pumpkin recipes, I happened to find this one, which also falls right in line with my love of slow cookers. I was looking for recipes that could be deemed "Thanksgiving worthy", and I found this on a blog called The Gunny Sack. First and foremost, it's absolutely delicious. And as an added bonus, it uses the slow cooker, which frees up your oven for other things. That certainly sounds Thanksgiving worthy to me! And it's also so easy that any cooking novice can make it. The blog described it as "pumpkin pie without the crust", but I think it's so more than that. It's rich and decadent and screams for vanilla ice cream and/or caramel sauce. You should definitely consider this for your next holiday meal!
Ok so lets talk about the recipe for a hot sec.
I've listed the recipe and directions as I found them on the blog. But here's the thing.. Just like with many "Dump Cake" recipes, the dry cake mix is supposed to be just sprinkled over the top, and NOT stirred in. However, it's been my experience that sometimes the butter doesn't reach all of the cake mix and I'm left with powdery pockets of dry cake mix on top. My solution is to mix the cake mix with the melted butter to form a dough, chill it for a quick 10 minutes so it firms up a bit, and then crumble the dough over the top. Problem solved!

3 eggs 
29 oz can of pumpkin puree   
12 oz evaporated milk 
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger 
1/2 tsp salt  
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 box butter pecan cake mix  
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup melted butter

Beat the eggs slightly. Add the pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, sugars, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla. Pour the mixture into a greased slow cooker. Top with the powdered cake mix and sprinkle with brown sugar. Drizzle melted butter evenly over the top. Cook on low for 3-4 hours.

 When I served this, it was still piping hot, and therefore very soupy (which was not altogether a bad thing). It will set up more as it cools, just like any other custard. I think the sweet spot is where it's not piping hot, but still a bit warm. Then it's set up a little, but still good with ice cream!
I couldn't find butter pecan cake mix, so I just used a regular butter cake mix, and then topped it with a couple handfuls of chopped pecans. Use any kind of cake mix you like! Spice cake, white, yellow, even carrot. Btw, the added texture of the pecans was just the perfect thing! Just sayin'!
Also, I just used 2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice blend instead of the cinnamon and ginger. All good! 
Side note, I think I may cut back on the butter just a bit next time. Maybe cut it to just 1/2 cup.

Here's a tip from 365 Days of Slow Cooking, which was passed on by The Gunny Sack
To keep the top of the cobbler from becoming too soggy, place a tea towel or a couple pieces of paper towel over the slow cooker, and then place the lid on top. This prevents any condensation from dripping back into the cobbler!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream

 So, I was looking for a recipe for pumpkin cupcakes. Yes, yes, I know I already have a recipe for Pumpkin Cupcakes on my website, but I figured, more is more, right? And like the other recipe, many recipes use cream cheese frosting for their pumpkin cakes, so I was thinking, maybe I'd try doing a cinnamon Swiss Meringue, instead. Mmmm... good idea. This CLEARLY falls squarely into the "how can this not be good?" column.
 I did my usual search, trying to find just the right recipe, and as usual, there were several criteria I needed to meet. Well, for one thing, I wanted 24 cupcakes. I was making it for my fabulous group of theater friends, and 12 was just not gonna cut it.  Also, whenever I bake something pumpkin, I want a recipe that uses the whole can of pumpkin. Don't you hate when a recipe just calls for 1/2 cup? What are you supposed to do with the rest of the can of pumpkin? Yes, I know, put it in the fridge, and save it for something else, right? Only it's usually a science experiment in my fridge by the time I get back to it. For me, it's better to just use the whole can on the first go. Great. Ok, so I happened to see a recipe for cupcakes on a website called Live Well, Bake Often. The recipe only made 12 cupcakes, which made me wonder if doubling the whole recipe was an option. As I scrolled through the comments section at the bottom of the recipe, a baker asked if it could be doubled. Danielle, who is the blogger, responded that making THIS cake recipe would be better for 24 cupcakes, so that's how I happened to find it. (Did all of that make sense?) Anyway, as my Dad would have said "It was like going around my ass to get to my elbow, but I got finally got there."
 Anyway, the recipe is PERFECT. You literally just throw all of the wet ingredients into a bowl, mix them up, and then stir in the sifted dry ingredients. It's just that easy. It also bakes up to become the most perfect cupcakes you've ever seen and I think this is now my go-to recipe!
See? More really IS more! And topping them with the cinnamon Swiss meringue buttercream turns them from great cupcakes into OMG Cupcakes. Like, seriously.
 So, thank you, Danielle over at Live Well, Bake Often, for the fabulous recipe. And thank you to the reader who left the comment. Funny how things work out sometimes, isn't it?

For the cupcakes:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder 
1 tsp baking soda 
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1 tsp salt 
1 (15oz) can pumpkin puree 
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
4 large eggs 
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place cupcake papers into 2 cupcake pans to make a total of 24 cupcakes. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, ground cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla until fully combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
Using a 2 oz ice cream scoop, fill each of the cupcakes evenly. Place pans in oven. Bake for about 20-22 minutes, switching pans about halfway through (to insure even baking). The cupcakes are done when the tops spring back when lightly tapped, or when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

For the Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream;

5 large egg whites
pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tbs granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 lb (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).
Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla and cinnamon. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day. If not, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
The cupcake recipe should make EXACTLY 24 cupcakes. When you're filling up the cupcake pans, if you come up a little short, just take a little from this one and a little from that one until all are filled evenly. They bake up to the perfect dome over the top, and they don't spread out to stick to your pan, which I greatly appreciate. 

The buttercream recipe is Martha Stewart's, and it's my go-to for Swiss Meringue. There are MANY versions of Swiss Meringue, ranging from just 2 or 3 egg whites all the way up to as many as 9 or more. This one is my favorite because it always turns out perfectly, you can tweak it to make it new (adding the cinnamon was my extra little twist!) and most importantly, it has the smoothest creamiest texture, and as much as I hate the expression, it has the perfect mouth feel. Some recipes have what I call a sort of plastic texture, and that's just not my favorite thing at all. This one wins.

Of course, if you don't want to do this buttercream, you can choose any other favorite frosting, or just swirl some regular Cream Cheese Frosting onto your cupcakes. It's just that sometimes I feel like that's what everyone uses on EVERYTHING and I was going for something a little different.
But you do you!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Pumpkin Dream Cake

Ok, so, you may be wondering "what is a Dream Cake?" Honestly, I have no idea, so basically I'm asking the same question. At first, I guessed that it's a cake that uses Dream Whip, which is a brand of whipped topping mix. But then I saw many recipes (like this one from a website called The Novice Chef) that don't include it. So that made me wonder what exactly constitutes a "Dream Cake." Is it the structure? or maybe the amount of layers? Nope. Some dream cakes have two layers, some have three, some have four, or even more. Some are baked in a 9x13 pan, and some are baked in a tube or Bundt pan. Is it the frosting? Nope. The frostings vary too.. some are whipped toppings, some are cream cheese, some are chocolate, and on and on.
Not the structure, not the layers, not the frosting. Hmm..
 So I guess the only thing that makes it a Dream Cake is the fact that you love it so much that it could be described as "dreamy." I know. I know. It's a little bit weak, but actually, do we really care? I mean, all we really care about is how good it is, am I right??? And yes, let me tell you, this cake is good enough to be described as dreamy! I mean, we're not talking Zac Efron Dreamy or anything, but still... this cake is pretty darned dreamy. And it's perfect enough for your next special occasion. Add this one to your holiday repertoire! And in the meantime, if you find out what a Dream Cake is, please let me know, OK? Great then.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk

12 oz (1 1/2 packages) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
6 cups powdered sugar

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Grease 3 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl/stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla, pumpkin and vegetable oil. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk. Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely or chill before frosting.

For the frosting:
In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon. Add confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until frosting is smooth. Assemble the 3 layers with a thick layer of frosting in between each layer. Then apply a thin crumb coat on the top and sides. Pop back in the freezer to harden the crumb coat for about 10 minutes. Apply one final thick and even layer around the outside of the cake. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

 I'm sure you can bake this in 2 9" layer pans instead of 3 8" pans. I would just keep an eye on it while it's baking, just to be sure!