Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice season is well underway. Every year our obsession with the ‘flavor of fall’ continues to grow with weirder, more unique, pumpkin themed products invading the bakeries, grocery stores, coffee shops, you name it—
It all started with the introduction of the famous Starbucks ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte’ in 2003. Strangely enough, as a kid, I wasn’t crazy about pumpkin at all. But that was then, now I’m one of those who loves everything pumpkin.
Some time ago, Brion had picked up a bottle of Pumpkin Cream Liqueur. It has a wonderful taste on its own but of course it only seems fitting that I would want to bake with it.
I believe one of the secrets of having incredible flavors in both savory and baked goods is with the use of alcohol. You can’t help but notice, over the last number of years how the humble little cupcake has been elevated to a whole new level. Many of these specialty cupcake stores that have popped up are featuring alcohol-inspired, adult-friendly options.
Now, today, I’m back to ‘recipe development’ to see what I can come up with.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper cups.
In a small bowl, combine all topping ingredients & set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt & spices. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.
In another bowl, whisk together egg, liqueur, milk & pumpkin puree. Stir into flour mixture JUST until moistened. Place a small scoop of batter in each cup. Divide topping. Using half of topping, divide evenly between cupcakes, creating the 'filling' for the cupcakes. Divide remaining batter between cups; top with remaining topping. Bake 15-20 minutes or until they test done. Remove from pan & cool on a wire rack.
Technically, pepitas and pumpkin seeds are the same thing. But pepitas (which mean “little seeds of squash” in Spanish) don’t have a shell and are found in only select pumpkin varieties.
Until Brion and I had spent time living in Ecuador, I had never paid any attention to plantains. Really more of a vegetable than a fruit, plantains are larger and firmer than their banana relative but not sweet. They must be cooked to become palatable. With their bland, starchy, somewhat potato-like flavor, plantains take well to many cooking methods.
On one of the first meals we ate in a restaurant in Ecuador, I experienced the flavor of ‘patacones’. I had ordered an Ecuadorian ceviche and they were served as a side dish. The taste was like a potato chip but had almost a corn flavor. At the time I didn’t know what they were but the taste was definitely one that stayed with me.
In regions that compete for its origin, this specialty appears under two distinct names depending on the country. They are called patacones in Ecuador, Columbia, Costa Rica and Peru. In Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Haiti they are called tostones and in West Africa, just simply plantain chips.
The unripe plantain is traditionally prepared with a deep-frying method. The frying is done twice to ensure a crispy chip. You first peel the green plantains and slice them. Then the chips are fried on both sides, removed from the oil and blotted on paper towel. The tostones or patacones are now flattened somewhat and re-fried to provide extra crispiness. Salt may be used to add flavor to the chips. The thicker version (patacones) should be served hot or warm and are nice eaten with guacamole, garlic sauce, grated cheese or as a side dish.
As always, in my quest to bake rather than deep fry, I decided to make some patacones in the oven today. To add some guacamole = yum!!
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Slice plantain into 1-inch thick slices. Place on baking sheet & drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven & with the end of a glass, 'squash' each piece down flat. Thinner = crispier. Place back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until crispy to your liking. Serve with guacamole.
In a small bowl, mash avocados. Add minced red onion, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Combine thoroughly & serve.
Just for interest, the special or tradional tool used to flatten plantain slices is called a 'tostonera'.
Figs, another symbol of Autumn, begin to ripen in late summer. Native to European and Middle Eastern regions but today are widely available around the world. This tear-drop shaped fruit is singular in appearance and flavor. From their characteristic perfumed fragrance to their fragile skin, that is often slit from ripeness, revealing drops of honeyed nectar.
I love the sweet earthiness of figs with all their little seeds, whether they are fresh or dried. Any recipe that calls for peaches, pears, prunes or dates can be substituted successfully with figs. Pairing them with the aromatic anise flavor of fennel is a great compliment to salmon as well as other entrees or baking.
Fennel has been a favorite of Italians for many years due to its mild sweet anise flavor. All parts of the fennel plant, including the bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are edible.
This recipe is simple but has a wonderful flavor. We enjoyed it served over Jasmine rice.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut outer leaves of fennel off & discard. Remove stalks, reserving a few fronds for garnish if you wish. Cut the fennel into quarters leaving root in tact. Place a large oven-proof pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil & allow to heat. Place fennel into the pan ; cook & sear to a golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt & pepper & add the chicken broth. Place in preheated oven & roast for about 10 minutes or until slightly soft but still holding quite a bit of firmness in center.
In a small saucepan, combine honey, vinegar & chili powder. Heat & simmer for 3 minutes. Quarter figs & place them on a baking sheet. Drizzle figs with the honey mixture. Place in the oven & roast for 4 minutes or until warm, bubbly & caramelized but still holding their shape.
Season salmon fillets with salt & pepper. In a large non-stick skillet, add vegetable oil & heat. Place salmon in skillet & fry on each side until flesh is opaque & translucent in the center. Do not overcook. Serve immediately with the roasted caramelized figs.
That great little cherry tree of ours just keeps on giving. Since we have a water fountain in our yard, the birds are definitely around but there seems to be well enough cherries for them and us. As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, this fruit is not the sweetness of the well-known Bing cherry but more a semi-sweet flavor. It is just perfect for baking, jams, jellies or in a cherry liqueur.
Over the years, I have come to really enjoy the flavor of chutneys. I realize it gets a little murky when you bring up the subject of salsa, relish or chutneys. Here’s a mini clarification just for interest.
Salsa is usually mixtures of raw vegetables and/or fruits. Sometimes they contain onions, herbs and chili peppers or with just fruit and various seasonings.
Relish has the ingredients usually cut finer and are cooked with a good quantity of sweetness.
Chutney is almost always cooked and can contain fruit and vegetables. They most often are made with aromatics like ginger root, cinnamon, cloves, chilies and herbs.
All are served cold or at room temperature. Their uses are endless such as an accompaniment to grilled foods, fillings in burritos, toppings for salads or served with cheese, corn chips, pitas or crisp breads.
The flavor and gorgeous color of the cherries made a real nice chutney for these grilled chicken breasts.
We thought it might be nice to share some of the seasonal beauty we enjoyed in our yard this season. I hope you will enjoy looking at our pics. You can also view them in a larger size by going to our Facebook site: Good Food And Treasured Memories.
In a saucepan, combine cherries, red onion, basil, balsamic vinegar, honey & salt. Bring to a gentle simmer & cook for about 3-5 minutes. Stir in cornstarch/juice mixture & simmer until slightly thickened. Remove from heat & set aside.
Between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, gently pound chicken breasts to uniform thickness. Brush both sides of breasts with olive oil; season with salt & pepper. Grill on BBQ or in a saucepan on the stove until nicely browned on each side & cooked through. Serve with Cherry Chutney.
According to legend, the Cornish game hen was actually ‘invented’. The original breeder was a woman by the name of ‘Tea’ Makowsky. At the age of 15, she moved to Paris, France finding work at both a milliner’s shop and a cheese shop. It was here she met her husband and they married in 1933. Fleeing from the Nazis, they settled in the USA. After fire destroyed their farm in 1949. the Makowskis, began experimenting and came up with a cross breed of Cornish game cocks and Plymouth Rock hens. The result was a plump little bird that matured quickly with all-white meat. In less than 5 weeks, the chicken was ready to be sold.
By the 1950’s, the Cornish Game Hen was fabulously popular. The usual weight is about 500-700 grams, which makes it ample for an individual serving. I remember in the 1970’s, Cornish game hens were considered to be a very upscale or exotic dinner and quite expensive.
I haven’t made any of these little ‘birds’ for a long time. Since its that time of year for that wonderful rhubarb, I’m pairing some Cornish hens with a rhubarb chutney. Yum!
Preheat oven to 400 F. Wash & dry hens thoroughly, Divide herb pkg between hens & place inside. Rub each hen with butter or mayo. Place breast side up in a roasting pan. Roast until juices run clear & meat thermometer reads 165 F. when inserted into the thickest part of the chicken, about an hour. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
In a small, heavy saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover & simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick but still has a small amount of liquid. Serve warm or cold with Cornish game hens.
From what I have read, today August 9th, is national rice pudding day in the USA. I’m not sure how these holidays are figured out but who needs a special date to have rice pudding?! In Canada & the USA, most rice pudding recipes were brought by European immigrants. The basic version contained long grain rice, milk, sugar, raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg.
This food traces its roots to the grain pottage’s made by Middle Eastern cooks. Almost every region of the world has its own take on rice pudding. Some versions are sweet, while others are savory and some are thick while others are thin.
Summer rice puddings put a fresh twist on an this old classic comfort food. There is so much fresh summer fruit to choose from and combinations of flavors just waiting to be explored.
I remember my mother’s rice pudding with fondness. I wasn’t big on raisins at the time and always thought it would be perfect if they would be omitted, but it was still wonderful.
Today’s showy little dessert makes use of the season’s nice fresh raspberries.
In a large saucepan, combine rice, sugar, milk & butter; bring to a boil. Reduce heat & simmer for 30-35 minutes until rice is cooked. While rice is cooking toast almonds in a skillet.
When rice is cooked, allow to cool THEN add almonds & extract, lifting as you stir. Divide rice between dessert cups & refrigerate 30 minutes.
Make raspberry jell-o according to package instructions. Once the jell-o is made allow to cool until slightly set. Top each dessert cup with 1/6 of the jello & refrigerate for at least 4 hours or until jell-o has set.
Decorate desserts with fresh raspberries, crushed amaretti biscuits, sliced almonds & a sprig of mint if desired.
It seems that the exact origin of five-spice powder is unknown but there is some speculation that the blend was created in traditional Chinese medicine. A very unique spice blend that represents a wide range of flavors from sweet, salty and bitter to pungent and sour. Rumor has it that the Chinese were trying to create a ‘miracle powder’ that was representative of all the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Then again, its possible that a cook accidentally stumbled upon this particular combination of spices and realized its power to improve on a bland dish. In any case, it is very versatile and can be used not only in cooking but also adds a unique flavor to baked goods.
Many recipes for five-spice powder exist but there is no one traditional recipe. Often the ingredients and amounts can vary from region to region and are different depending on the household and individual tastes. The original blend contained star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seed, cinnamon and cloves. A staple in Chinese cuisine but has also found its way into other international cuisines such as Vietnamese and Hawaiian food.
This is an interesting recipe combining pork with a spicy rhubarb sauce. Definitely a keeper!
In a saucepan, combine rhubarb, water, honey, hoisin, garlic, ginger, 5-spice powder & crushed red pepper. Bring to a simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced & the rhubarb is very soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in soy sauce & lemon juice. Transfer 2 TABLESPOONS of the sauce to a saucer; set aside the remaining sauce until serving time.
In a resealable large plastic bag, combine soy sauce, honey, oil, 5-spice powder, salt, pepper & the 2 Tbsp of reserved 'rhubarb sauce'. Place ribs in the bag; seal & marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 275 F. Place ribs & marinade in a baking dish. Place in oven to SLOW roast for about 1 1/2 hours until VERY tender. Remove from oven, garnish with sliced green onion & serve with remaining rhubarb sauce.
Kumquats are believed to have originated in China with their earliest historical mention being around the 12th century. Orange in color, this small bite-sized fruit can be eaten skin and all. The peel is the sweetest part of the fruit and the sourness comes from the pulp, seeds and juice.
Unlike it’s citrus kin, kumquats are able to withstand low temperatures and frost. A small evergreen shrub that can also be hydrophytic, which means they can grow in aquatic environments, and the fruits will drift towards the shore during harvest season. Kumquats are in season January thru April.
Commonly cultivated in Asia, the Middle East, parts of Europe and the southern United States. They can be used in every imaginable combination including pies, cookies, smoothies, ice cream, marmalade, marinades, salsa and vinaigrette. My choice today is in a stuffing for chicken breast. The combination of kumquats and orange tastes very unique.
Wash & chop kumquats (do not peel). In a small bowl, combine with walnuts, onion & pepper.
Between two pieces of plastic wrap, pound chicken breasts to an even thickness. Spoon half of the filling on each breast. Fold over to encase filling; secure with picks if necessary. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Set out 3 shallow dishes. In one combine bread crumbs, orange zest & parsley; fill another with orange juice & in third beat the egg with water. Dip each stuffed breast carefully in orange juice, then in bread crumb mixture to coat, then in beaten egg & again in bread crumbs. Place coated breasts, seam side down, on a lightly buttered baking pan. Drizzle with melted butter.
Bake, covered, 30 minutes. Uncover & bake 10 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
Many people believe Mother’s Day was developed as a commercial holiday to sell cards, candy and flowers or to celebrate the domestic role of women in the home and family. Really, this day is more about women’s commitment to the past, present and the future. Most often, mother’s take the lead in passing down family stories, life lessons and traditions.
Mother’s Day isn’t a new holiday with some of its earliest celebrations being traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. Here in Canada, we set aside the second Sunday in May to honor our mother’s with expressions of love and gratitude.
Although my mother is no longer on this earth, her wonderful memory will live on forever. It is also with love, Brion and I celebrate his mother, Dolores, for her loving and kind ways.
I was trying to come up with something special to bake for the blog recipe today. Lately I have enjoyed using rose & orange water in my cooking. Sweet and fragrant rose water is an elegant steam distillate of rose petals. The key is to use it sparingly as a little goes a long way. Used raw, the flavor is very floral and aromatic. When baked or roasted, that flowery essence mellows out, imparting notes similar to vanilla, with a fruity, more subtle aroma. There are a variety of ways to use rose water from cake and cookies to cocktails and even in roast chicken.
This flavor combination definitely takes the meaning of ‘special’ to a whole new level. Just what I was looking for.
Pistachio Cardamom Cupcakes with Rosewater Frosting
Preheat oven to 325 F. Line muffin tin with paper liners & set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together flour baking powder, soda, cardamom & salt. Set aside. In another bowl, beat together softened butter, oil & sugar; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg is added. Slowly add sour cream & vanilla. Fold in flour mixture being careful not to over mix batter.
Divide batter between the muffin cups. Bake 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven & place the individual muffins on a cooling rack.
In a large bowl, combine powdered sugar, butter & 1 Tbsp milk. With an electric mixer, beat on low until sugar is incorporated then move to medium-high speed. Add rosewater a 1/4 tsp at a time (taste to prevent it becoming to strong for your liking) then food color. If the icing is not the proper consistency add another Tbsp of milk.
When the cupcakes are cool, frost each one using a large angled star tip. Top off each cupcake with a sprinkle of the reserved chopped pistachios.
To make your cupcakes real special, decorate with some dried rosebuds.
I was able to find rosewater easily in the ethnic section of the grocery store.
If you are not accustomed to using chutneys it is well worth revisiting the idea. Chutney is similar to salsa or a sweet ‘relish’. The perfect balance of sweet, sour and spicy are critical elements for most chutneys. The sweetness coming from fresh or dried fruits, the sour element from vinegar, lemon or lime and the spiciness from a variety of whole spices.
There is no right or wrong recipe, just a preferred flavor or two. They can be cooked or fresh and are made from a wide variety of ingredient combinations of fruits and/ or vegetables and spices. Ground spices tend to make chutney cloudy so it is best to use whole ones.
In the majority of chutney recipes one ingredient tends to dominate the flavor. The sweet and sour ones work well with beef, pork and chicken, whereas sweeter versions are great on cheese and crackers, bagels and toast.
I have made numerous chutneys over the years. Some were served with warm Brie cheese but very often I’ve used mango chutney when cooking pork. This particular recipe can be made with either purchased chutney or just make a recipe of your own. It creates a unique flavor along with nice tender ribs.
In a saucepan, combine honey & vinegar, Bring to a boil & simmer until honey dissolves. Add remaining ingredients & simmer, uncovered until mixture becomes slightly thickened. Pour into a glass dish & set aside until needed. Refrigerate any remaining chutney that you don't use in making ribs.
Ribs / Sauce
In a saucepan, Brown ribs & set aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Add all 'sauce' ingredients to saucepan except for the 1 fresh mango. Bring to a boil, cooking for about 15 minutes, gently mashing tomatoes with a fork, until sauce is reduced to about 1 1/4 cups.
Preheat oven to 300 F. Place ribs in a baking dish; pour sauce over ribs, cover & bake for about 1-1 1/2 hours until ribs are very tender. Serve with sauce & top with remaining diced fresh mango.