Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Two Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I don't know about your house, but around here, it's canning time.  This past weekend we made our yearly batch of seasoned tomato sauce, I'm getting ready to do salsa, and tomorrow I need to buy some peaches to try out jam or possibly peach butter.  I'm totally inspired now that we have (and I know how to use) a pressure canner.  We've actually had it for about a year, but I'm not gonna lie, I was scared of it.  Steam is a scary thing.  Steam inside of a closed vessel building up pressure is much scarier still.  When I worked at the military academy at West Point, for our mechanical engineering program we had a steam lab that filled up an entire room and powered light bulbs, and I didn't even like walking in that room when the thing was running.  I always envisioned it blowing up without warning, shards of light bulbs and steaming pipes flying.  Same deal with the pressure canner.  It doesn't matter that the thing has multiple safety mechanisms and redundancies, an exploding pot with burning hot jar fragments slicing through the air was all I could think of.  Luckily my husband is very brave.  Maybe because he has been shot at and I never have.  Or maybe because he has 3 older sisters who tormented the hell out of him growing up.  (My money's on the latter.)  Whatever the reason, he fearlessly took on the pressure canner, and he won.  And you know what?  It was pretty anti climactic.  But now I know how to use it, and I'ma be a canning fool.

I figured old timey books would be filled with preserves, jams, jellies and the like.  They were, but while flipping through one of them, an old, yellowed newspaper clipping fell out and landed in my lap.  It said Two Spice Cake, and I said, hells yeah.  It had been quite a while since I sent any goodies with Marc to work, so I decided to put the canning adventures on momentary hold.  After all, cake goes over better for a meeting than jars of peach butter.  

This recipe was tucked inside the pages of one of the books I got from my grandma Marguerite, and was dated December, 1964.  The only spices it had were cinnamon and ground cloves, both of which I love, so I was instantly intrigued.  Spice cake that relies on the "everything but the kitchen sink" mixture of spices can be delicious too, but I liked the idea of letting those two basic ingredients take center stage.  The recipe at its core seemed sound, so the only tweaking I did was to add salt and vanilla and adjust the mixing method a bit.  The 1964 version was also baked in a tube pan and then dusted with powdered sugar.  I opted for adapting it to cupcakes and then crowned them with a delicious (and lovely) cinnamon flecked cream cheese frosting.  

Ok, enough slacking off with cake.  Time to work on that salsa....

Two Spice Cupcakes

This recipe makes 24 cupcakes.  I used a #24 portion scoop heaping full of batter to fill the pan.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup butter (2 sticks), well softened
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
5 eggs, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers, or grease and flour the pans very well, if you're so inclined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.  Whisk the vanilla into the buttermilk and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until very fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add in the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition.  Add in about 1/3 of the flour mixture with your mixer on low speed.  Mix in half of the buttermilk mixture, followed by another 1/3 of the flour, the remaining buttermilk and then the remaining flour, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Keep your mixer at low speed or you may get a flour facial.

Evenly divide the batter amongst the 24 cups in the pans; you will be filling them fairly full, close to the top of the cupcake paper.  As I mentioned above, a portion scoop is nice here.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs attached, rotating the pans about halfway through baking.  Cool cupcakes in the pans for about 10 minutes, then remove them and put them on a cooling rack.  Once they are completely cool a few hours later, you can finish them with the cream cheese frosting or frosting of your choice.

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 oz. cream cheese, well softened (this is 1 1/2 of the traditional block size)
6 Tbs. butter, well softened (3/4 of a stick)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together and then mix in the vanilla.  With your mixer on low speed, mix in the sugar and cinnamon until creamy and slightly fluffy.  Try not to eat the entire bowl before you can get it on the cupcakes.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cream of Tomato Soup

Remember when I said I would revisit the idea of cream of tomato soup in the near future?  Yeah, neither do I, because it's been that long ago.  Well, I'm finally revisiting it, and what better time than now, when many of us home gardeners are in full tomato harvesting mode.

This summer has been very kind to my garden.  Last year by this time I think we had already had at least a dozen days over 100 degrees and were in the middle of a drought that made the corn field behind my house look drier than last season's bird's nest.  This year, however, cool, wet weather has made it so easy to tend my garden that I have barely had to water it myself at all.  The hardest part has been keeping the weeds under control.  And the crop has been fabulous, with plenty more green fruit hanging on and just waiting to ripen and be picked.  If grape tomatoes could be an investment, Marc could probably drop his retirement paperwork today.  There are so many, it's laughable.

Speaking of laughable, you should see how many roma tomatoes I planted.  I was so happy with the tomato sauce that I canned last year that I went all out for maximum sauce making production.  It ought to be comical because the bulk of that harvest will probably come in right around the time that I am having our first baby and learning how to be a new mom.  I hope Marc is up for making sauce without me.  I can just imagine me sitting on the couch feeding the baby while I yell across the room to him, "Ok, now peel the garlic, the papery part.  No, that's an onion, not garlic."  I kid, he's not that bad.  And actually, he does most of the work on canning day.  He just prefers not to prepare the product itself that is being canned.

But back to cream of tomato soup....

Our ancestors loved cream of fill-in-the-blank soup.  You name it, they ate cream of it.  And from what I can tell, "cream of" whatever just means that they made a soup out of the whatever and then added cream or milk.  Seems like an odd use of syntax to me, but what do I know?  There are numerous recipes for cream of tomato in my ancient books.  One called for "sifting" the tomatoes, which still has me scratching my head.  I took suggestions from some of them, but many were SO heavy on the dairy that it seemed to me the tomato flavor would be completely dull.  So for the most part this is another one of those recipes where I pretty much did my own thing and put lots of ideas together.  It turned out great on the first try, which ranks it right up there with peach pandowdy as one of the recipes I am most proud of.  Topped with some homemade croutons, it is the perfect little summer meal, and will make you so glad you grew those tomatoes.  Or at least bought some from the farmer who did.

Cream of Tomato Soup

Use a traditional pot, not nonstick, so you can develop some good fond.  Or an enameled Dutch oven, which is what I usually use.  Scoop the seeds out of the tomatoes and then weigh them; this is very important or you will be short on tomatoes.  (Unless you don't mind seeds in your soup!)  Leave the skins on, because when you blend it all up it will make a nice consistency.  As written this makes about 4 very hearty servings or maybe 6 servings if you're pairing it with a salad or a grilled cheese or something, but it's very easy to double as well.

2 lbs. tomatoes, cored, cut into quarters and seeds removed
4 Tbs. butter
2 tsp. oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1 (32 oz.) box vegetable broth--I like Swanson brand best
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. brandy, optional but delicious!

Melt the butter in a heavy pot until the foaming settles down.  Add tomatoes to the hot butter and make sure one of the cut sides is down, not the skin side.  They will not all fit in one layer, so make sure to rotate them around so all of them are cut down side on the bottom of the pot for a while.  Cook for quite a while until tomatoes are fairly dry and you have a nice fond in your pot.  This took me about 20 minutes, as I recall.  And pay attention to your stove.  Mine has a really high output so I needed a fairly low heat to keep from burning the fond.  Remove tomatoes and set aside.

Add oil to the pot and heat until the oil is shimmering.  Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery and a sprinkling of salt.  Cook until the vegetables are well softened, scraping up fond as the veggies release their moisture.  This will take about 5 minutes or so over medium heat.

Add garlic and tomato paste and cook until tomato paste has darkened slightly, about 2 minutes.  Add flour and sugar and cook about another 2 minutes.  If there is still a lot of fond on the bottom of the pot, pour in a little bit of broth and deglaze the pan, scraping up the fond with a wooden spoon.  Slowly pour in the remaining broth while stirring to keep the flour from getting lumpy (I actually prefer to do this part with a whisk, not a spoon).   Add bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf and add back the tomatoes.  Use an immersion (stick) blender to blend the soup completely, then add the cream and gently heat through.  Off heat, stir in brandy and season to taste with salt and pepper.  I garnished mine with chives and homemade croutons.


4 slices hearty sandwich bread, cubed
2 Tbs. butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the bread in the melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes, stirring a time or two.  Remove from the oven and let cool so they can crisp up.  Also remember that things tend to brown slightly more after you remove them from the oven.  You could also add other seasonings as desired, like garlic powder, or Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle works great.  Let cool so they can crisp up.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gumbo Z’herbes

In but a few short months, it will be spring in Chicago (no I am not kidding with that). Time to start thinking about how big your ass has gotten over the winter and maybe dream about a place that is actually warm at this time of year. So we're going to New Orleans for some gumbo. I know, gumbo doesn't normally strike one as being healthy, but despite the butter this one comes in at around 300 calories a serving. And it's delicious.
I put chicken thighs in pretty much everything I cook, so if you want the original, vegetarian recipe, head over to Chow. Also I have issues with green peppers so I use red, but you can pick your own poison there. A nice scoop of rice on top is heavenly, but completely optional.
Gumbo Z’herbes
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red peppers, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 lb chicken thighs
  • 1 large bunch of kale, chopped
  • 1 package frozen spinach (10 oz)
  • 1.5 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, OR
    • .5 tablespoon paprika
    • .5 teaspoons black pepper
    • .5 teaspoons white pepper
    • .75 teaspoons garlic powder
    • .75 teaspoons onion powder
    • pinch teaspoon thyme
    • cayenne to taste
  1. Melt butter in a thick-bottomed pot and add flour to form a roux.  Stir until darkened, about the color of peanut butter. Don't leave this unattended or you will be sorry.
  2. Add the onions, peppers, and celery.  Cook until vegetables begin to soften.  Add garlic and spices and cook an additional few minutes. I usually give the onions a head start because I can not abide the slightest bit of crunch in an onion.
  3. Add chicken and 2 cups water.  Add the kale a handful at a time, waiting until the last handful wilts down to add more.  Depending on how cooked you want your kale to be, cook the chicken for an hour before adding the kale.
  4. Simmer until the chicken starts to fall apart, about 2 hours.  Stir spinach in before serving. Add salt to taste (premixed Cajun seasoning will contain salt).
Serves 4-5, appx  300 calories.
Adapted from Chow. Also seen on Go Go Go.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Molasses Cookies

I've been trying to cut down on sweet things lately.  I'm not necessarily what you would call a sweet tooth, but there are still plenty of places I could cut back on sugary empty calories.  The first thing to get the axe (well, almost) was soda.  I LOVE a cold, frosty coke.  If there is anything I could call a craving, that would be it.  When I haven't had one for a while, I feel like I would punch somebody in the face to get one.  I used to drink as much as one a day, but now I'm trying to limit myself to one or two a week.  It's been tough, I'm not gonna lie.  I used to also enjoy an occasional sweet treat after dinner--a cookie, a piece of fudge that is still left in the fridge from Christmas candy making time, a small scoop of ice cream....  No more.  At least, not as often.  Now those indulgences need to be much more occasional, which means I need to make them count even more when they do happen.  Let me tell you, molasses cookies were a worthy choice.  Besides, what sounds more old timey than molasses cookies?  Possibly something containing the word mutton, but I think we could all pass on that.

This was a recipe from my mom's archive that she has had for as long as I can remember rifling through her recipe box.  It came from her godmother, Ginny, and when I made them recently, my mom admitted to me that she had never personally made them herself.  So here was this little gem, sitting undiscovered and unappreciated for all these years.  I'm glad I revived it.  On my first try I did my best to replace the shortening in the recipe with butter because, well, it's butter.  I will say only this: it did not work and was sort of comical.  Now let us never speak of it again.  Then I decided that Ginny probably knew a thing or two about molasses cookies or the recipe would never have been requested in the first place and made them her way.  I tinkered a bit with the spices but otherwise followed the original recipe.  They turned out wonderful.  My dad pointed out that they actually taste a little like a pumpkin pie in the form of a cookie.  Given that there is no pumpkin, that might seem odd, but because there are a lot of similar spices in the two, it really is true.  This makes a fairly thin cookie; you don't get a super high rise because they spread out quite a lot.  But if you bake them right, you'll get a slightly crunchy edge and a nice, soft center that will stay chewy for days.  If you manage to have any left by then....


Ginny's Molasses Cookies

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cups shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
4 Tbs. molasses

Preheat the oven to 350.  Whisk the flour, soda, spices and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

Cream the shortening and sugar together until fluffy.  Beat in the egg, and then the molasses until well combined.  Add in the dry ingredients either by stirring them in by hand, or mixing them in with your mixer on the lowest speed.

Make balls of dough using about 1 Tbs. of dough at a time.  I used a #50 portion scoop.  Roll the dough balls in sugar and place on a baking sheet.  I put no more than 8 on a baking sheet at a time because they spread out a lot.  Bake for 8 or 9 minutes, then let them rest on the sheet pan for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the sheet pan and allow them to cool for a minute or 2 longer before you dig in.  I will admit that I forgot to count, but I think this made a few dozen cookies.