Penchant for Pumpkin

There is little doubt that fall is underway in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  As much as I have held out hope for more warm weather, temperatures this morning dropped to 45 degrees and there is talk that it will get close to freezing overnight.

On the bright side, fall weather gives me ample reason to get a jump on pumpkin season.  Earlier, I dashed to the store to stock up on cans of pumpkin pulp, should the mood strike.  And of course, it did.

I was not happy with my latest tapioca pudding made in the multicooker. As much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, the tapioca had turned unpleasantly gooey.  When you prefer a light creamy tapioca, this is not going to happen when it boils unmercifully under pressure.  Excessive heat breaks down the tapioca and turns it rubbery.

Thus, goaded on by my penchant for pumpkin, I was further compelled to launch into a deeper Tapioca Inquiry.  Armed with pumpkin and an abundance of small tapioca pearls, I was enthusiastically prepared to get to the bottom of this.

I revisited basic tapioca preparation and began by soaking it for 30 minutes to soften. This cuts overall cooking time, too. With that in mind, it doesn’t take long to prepare old-fashioned tapioca on the stove.  The main point is to not let it boil—but allow it to thicken and let the pearls swell.

A couple of eggs helps here.  Early on, the yolks are combined with milk to form a custard base and thicken with the tapioca. The pumpkin pulp and spices are added, and finally, the two egg whites are whipped until thick and folded into the pumpkin tapioca to further lighten it.  The pumpkin tapioca happens in less than a half hour.

It is good warm, cool, or chilled.  Sweet.

Pumpkin-Spiced Tapioca

Ingredients
⅓ cup small pearl tapioca (not quick tapioca)
¾ cup water
2 eggs, room temperature, divided
2¼ cups 2% milk, room temperature, divided
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin pulp
1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger,  ¼ tsp each salt, nutmeg, and allspice
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In advance: soak pearl tapioca in ¾ cup water in 2½ quart pan or larger for 30 minutes to soften.
  2. In a 1 cup measure beat the egg yolks, whisk in the brown sugar until thick and dissolved, then whisk in ¼ cup milk.
  3. Place the pot over medium heat. With a spatula stir egg mixture into the soaking tapioca, then add 2 cups milk.
  4. Bring it to a simmer stirring to keep from sticking on bottom. Once steamy with bubbles beginning to form, reduce heat to low and cook gently for 5 minutes until it thickens and pearls swell.
  5. Combine the pumpkin, spices, salt and stir into the pot. Cook 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally with spatula. Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl beat the egg whites until foamy, slowly add the granulated sugar until thick and peaks form.
  6. Gently stir ½ cup of hot tapioca into the whipped whites to temper, then fold whites into the tapioca. Cook over low heat, folding and stirring with spatula to thoroughly combine the tapioca until it is hot and steamy, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Serve warm or cool.  Cover and chill in refrigerator 3 hours and up to 3 days.  Serves 4 -6

Spoils of Summer

In my latest Imperfect Produce shipment I ordered nectarines. Maybe it’s their catchy name, but I’m still a little apprehensive prior to opening one of their boxes. But, as usual, everything was in great condition.

The two nectarines smelled sweet, they were big, heavy, and deeply burnished.  What a relief, because I had big plans for them.

A stone fruit galette has been drifting through my mind lately.  I’ve visualized a nicely browned, flaky crust encasing a mound of juicy ripe stone fruit.

In preparation, I had  picked up a few plums to round it out the fruit filling, just in case.  Now, everything was in place.

Actually, it was the pastry crust causing the distraction. For years I have been turned off by the idea of cooking with shortening or lard. Recently, I happened to read the label on a can of Crisco, All Vegetable Shortening—and noticed it has 50% less saturated fat than butter, no trans fats, and less calories than butter. Now, that’s interesting. But, it is still hydrogenated.

Whatever. I was armed with just enough information and incentive to move forward with my mission of making pastry without butter. That’s when the galette appeared.

On the pastry front, I have gone with the most basic possible. It is simply flour, ⅓ cup shortening (only), a pinch of salt, and ice water. It could not be easier, and with the well chilled shortening the pastry rolls out like a dream.

The fruit mixture includes a little brown sugar and spice. It is all tossed together and piled into the center of the free-formed pastry. Just enough pastry border is left to bring up over the fruit and contain it all into an attractive package.

Good news. Once cooled and set, the pasty cut nicely and the fruit set up juicy and delicious. Ah, the spoils of Summer!

Stone Fruit Galette

Ingredients
1 recipe Hand Formed Pastry
1½ pound stone fruit, pit and cut ½” slices: peaches, nectarines, plums (5-6 medium, 4-5 cups)
⅓ cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbsp salted butter, cubed
1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water
1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Prepare the pastry and chill at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.
  2. For the filling: Combine cut up fruit with brown sugar. Coat with flour and spices.
  3. Roll out pastry on floured parchment into a 12” free formed round.
  4. Mound filling on pastry with slotted spoon, piling higher in the center leaving a 2” border. Bring the pastry up and fold over the fruit to contain it, but leave the center open.
  5. Dot bits of butter over the fruit. Brush the pastry with egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water and sprinkle it with granulated sugar.
  6. Bake at 375°F for 35 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Rotate as needed to brown evenly. Cool on rack.

Hand Formed Pastry
(Suitable for 1- 9″ pie crust)
⅓ cup vegetable shortening, spread ½” thick, freeze 15 minutes
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp ice water

Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl.
Dice the cold shortening into 1/2″ cubes and cut into flour with 2 knives or pastry blender, until pieces are the size of small peas.
Add 3 Tbsp ice water and stir a fork until the flour is moistened and it begins to hold together.  Add a few more drops water to bottom of bowl if needed. Gather up dough and gently shape into 1 ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill up to 2 days.

A question of quinoa

I hope we have gotten past quinoa’s trendy phase and can settle down and fully accept it for how great it really is—stellar nutritional virtues and all.  Judging from most market shelves, quinoa has definitely secured a presence and has moved from novelty to staple status.

We know quinoa is incredibly versatile; its slight nuttiness blends well with just about anything. I’ve gotten in the habit of cooking up a batch and incorporating it in meals during the week.  It works in a salad, maybe a grain bowl, part of a dinner, and even for breakfast.

Another personal motive is to hold back enough for my precious Quinoa Bars, an old favorite. I’m always glad to have them in the fridge. There will be times in the course of a week that I’ll be in a wild rush, and know I can reach in and grab one without missing a  beat.

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Quinoa Fruit Bars

The moisture from the pre-cooked quinoa seems to keep these bars moist but not soggy—they hold very well without drying out after a few days, and the slight nuttiness blends well with the oat flakes and dried fruits. This last time, I went for a combo of dates and dried cranberries then topped them with bits of sliced candied oranges stashed away from a Trader Joe’s offering.

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There’s still a lot of discussion about rinsing quinoa to remove a natural bitter coating from the seeds. I buy mine in bulk and have no idea whether this has been done. I usually forget to rinse, but as or yet have not noticed any pervasive off taste.

So here is the latest “new and improved” version of Quinoa Fruit Bars. They are even easier to make and enjoy!

Quinoa Fruit Bars  

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, or half whole wheat or other flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp each allspice and dried ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup quick oats flakes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 cup agave or honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cooked white quinoa
  • 3/4 cup dried fruit: chopped dates, dried cranberries, raisins, apricots or candied ginger

Garnish: 1 Tbsp Demerara or other coarse sugar or candied fruit garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 8”x8″ pan with non-stick foil or spray with non-stick oil.
  2. In medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt.  Mix in the oats. Add the dried fruit.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg, then stir in yogurt, agave, vanilla, and cooked quinoa.
  4. With spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet just to incorporate.  Spread evenly into pan and sprinkle Demerara sugar over the top.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top begins to brown.  Cool on rack and slice. Yield: 16-18 bars

One Mug, One Serving

As a follow up to the previous Small Batch, One Bowl, today’s post further down-sizes.

Think of this small personal cake the next time the need hits for a minimal-mess-quick-fix.  You can’t go wrong with the satisfying combination of sweet ripe banana and quick hearty oats. If time permits finish it with a honey-oat topping.

Simply mix all the ingredients in a microwaveable mug and pop it into a microwave oven for 1½ minutes. It’s just that easy.

But wait!  If you haven’t used the microwave for baking before, there are a few things to keep in mind.  In small scale baking such as this, details matter and every second counts.

  • The microwave draws moisture out of food. 
    With our small cake, the size and ripeness of the banana become a key factor. To lighten the cake and provide additional liquid, use either one beaten egg white or 1 egg yolk plus 1-2 teaspoons liquid. When all ingredients have been combined, if the batter is quite heavy adjust by adding a dash at a time of additional liquid to reach a thick cake-like batter.
  • For the optional honey-oat topping Old fashioned oats provide an interesting nut-like quality. Because they are very dry, a bit of milk or water added to the oats will help to moisturize them before adding the honey.  (The honey will soak into the dry oats and become a sticky mess without moisturizing the oats first.)
  • For the cake to rise evenly, turn the cup once half way through baking.
    It is cooked when the cake begins to shrink away from the edges of the mug.
  • When done, let the cake rest for 5 minutes.
    The cake will continue to cook and release moisture.
  • Unmold by running a knife around the edge of the cake.
    If pretty is important, dress it up with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, a dollop of whipped cream, or a drizzle of warmed local honey.
  • Enjoy!
    For breakfast, snacking, or individual dessert.

Banana Oat Mug Cake with Honey-Oat Topping

Inspired by Quaker Oats Banana Oat Mug Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ tablespoons quick oats
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ ripe banana, well mashed
  • 1 egg white lightly beaten; or 1 egg yolk + 2 tsp milk, water or other liquid, lightly beaten
  • Topping
  • 1½ teaspoons old fashioned oats moistened with 1 tsp milk or other liquid
  • 1 teaspoon honey, agave or syrup
  • Pinch each cinnamon and salt

Instructions

  1. In microwaveable mug, blend together oats, flour, baking powder, sugar and nutmeg.
  2. Add the banana and egg white or egg yolk mixture and combine evenly to form a batter. If quite thick, thin with a dash of milk or water.  Scrape bottom and sides with a spatula.
  3. Combine the topping mixture and distribute over the top.
  4. Microwave on HIGH 80 to 90 seconds until risen and just firm to the touch. Half way through, stop and rotate the mug. Let stand 3 to 5 minutes to further cook and set up before serving.  Yield: 1 serving

Small Batch, One Bowl

My mom was an experienced cook, gifted with a natural sense of timing and flavors. For years her prize appliance was a stainless steel state-of-the-art Thermador range with grill top and convection oven. Later, she frequently preferred to fire up a huge countertop toaster oven instead.

A highly practical, early environmentalist, Mom viewed the larger oven as wasteful and inefficient for her smaller jobs.  On my visits I viewed this as odd—I figured that somehow her food would taste better cooked in the bigger, fancier unit.

Since we are our parent’s children, I eventually ‘evolved’ and came around to her way of thinking. I had shifted in my cooking, too.  I rarely needed big pans of food. (In fact, my current convection toaster oven is even smaller than hers.)

This caused a whole chain of events to occur. I was in the market for smaller pans and down-sized recipes.  I was on the look-out for one-bowl recipes with fewer ingredients, all which help move the process along.

My food portions went down, too:  it’s either that or eat the whole thing.  I learned about small batch baking:  food is ready fast.  I can be in and out of the kitchen with a plateful of goodies in very little time.

I knew I was on the right path when a small funky cookie jar happened across my path.

Although fewer cookies fill up the tiny jar in a hurry, typically a batch lasts well beyond a week or two.  Even better, cookies on display are a warm welcome for drop-in friends.

Tahini Cookies, Small Batch

Ingredients

  • ½ cup tahini
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.  Line a baking sheet with silpat or parchment.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together tahini and sugar.  Whisk in 1 egg to lighten, then stir in the vanilla and salt.
  3. Combine the flour and baking soda and stir into the mix, blending until smooth.
  4. Using tablespoon scoop, drop onto baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with sesame seeds.
  5. Bake 15-16 minutes until set and edges begin to brown. Transfer to rack to cool.  Yield 1½ dozen cookies.

The Case of Sinking Grapes

Who doesn’t like grapes?  In most markets we are lucky to have fresh, juicy grapes available year round. So, in the dark days of winter, an attractive bowl of grapes set out on a counter can be a nourishing and welcome site.  

courtesy Pixabay

For easy snacking, I like to rinse, drain, and cut up large bunches and place smaller portions in a covered container.  Stored in the fridge, the grapes are reach-in ready and will hold for a week or longer.   

We tend to overlook grapes as a handy option in baked desserts. Here’s a happy idea that makes perfect sense: a lemon-scented cake laced with polenta and grapes. What’s not to like?  Polenta provides flavor and structure and the grapes add entertaining pockets of sweet juiciness.

Bonus: Tiny test corners

But what to do about those errant grapes that stubbornly sink to the bottom of the cake?  Trust Martha Stewart to come up with a clever solution for the irritating dilemma of sinking grapes. She begins by scattering only half of the grapes on top of the batter before placing it in oven.  When the cake is partially set, the remaining grapes are strewn about the top and baked until golden brown.   

Remember to use seedless grapes—red is pretty, but any color that strikes your fancy will work.

Serve the cake warm with a light dusting of confections’ sugar and perhaps a dollop of whipped cream.  Should you have left-overs, the cake will hold well for two or three days at room temperature.  After that, store what’s left in the fridge. 

Polenta-Grape Cake

Inspired by Martha Stewart’s Olive Oil Cake with Red Grapes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup polenta or coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup olive oil or a combo with melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups red or green grapes, washed and dried

Directions

  1. Line an 8” round or square pan with parchment and then spray with baking spray.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a larger mixing bowl, beat the eggs until light. Gradually add the sugar and lemon zest, beating until fluffy. 
  4. Slowly beat in the oil. In 3 additions mix in the flour alternately with the milk and 2 portions of the dry ingredients, ending with dry mixture. 
  5. Spoon the batter into the baking dish. Scatter ½ of the grapes over the top and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and top the cake with the remaining grapes, bake 25 minutes longer.  Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes then turn out and cut into portions.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve. If desired accompany with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.  Serves 6-8. 

 

A Few of My Favorite Things

When it comes to tasty baking combinations, these days it’s hard to beat buckwheat groats, tahini, and honey. And here we have a cookie with all three—plus a surprise crunch factor thrown in for entertainment value!

This idea comes from a gluten-free cookie re-engineered from Gluten Free Girl – an excellent site for all things gluten-free.  These soft, moist, fiber rich cookies are the perfect purveyor for any of your favorite additions: perhaps a handful of trail mix or a combo of dried fruit, seeds & nuts, and/or white or dark chocolate.

In this case, the star is roasted buckwheat groats, well known for its characteristically earthy, nutty taste. I’m partial to its toasty/tobacco flavor that’s reminiscent of cooler seasons. Buckwheat’s hard outer hull must be removed for it to become fully edible. Since it has no gluten, buckwheat flour is often used as a substitute for wheat flour.

Although it is frequently associated with grains, buckwheat is a seed related to sorrel and rhubarb. That’s welcome news since seeds are literally jam-packed with minerals and antioxidants. Once toasted the buckwheat groats are called kasha. If the roasted variety is too strong, try the milder, unroasted buckwheat as a delicious rice substitute.

Even though these cookies are effortless to whip up, they do require a little advance planning. Allow a 30-minute soak for the groats to achieve their iconic texture, and one-hour chill time to firm-up the dough before baking.

So fond am I of these cookies, I have taken to making two different sizes. In a 10”x10” pan I portion out nine large 3-tablespoon/scoops—large enough for on-the-run happy meals.  In an 11” round pan, I layout approximately ten rounded tablespoon-sized cookies—ideal for a mid-morning or afternoon snack.  Or, for a slightly more logical solution you could make about 20 cookies, but that’s just how I roll…

All-Occasion Buckwheat Cookies

Greatly reworked from a gluten free concept, 3:30PM Cookies at Gluten-free Girl.

Ingredients
¾ cup buckwheat groats
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg or ½ tsp ground ginger
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
¼ cup tahini
½ cup honey
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup spelt or whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup favorite fruit/nut mix (or ¼ cup each nuts/seeds, dried cranberries, white chocolate)

Instructions

  1. To soak the buckwheat groats: melt the coconut oil in microwave for 30-40 seconds. Stir in the tahini to combine, then add the honey.  In a small mixing bowl, measure ¾ cup groats along with the cinnamon and nutmeg or ginger. Pour the warm coconut oil mixture over the groats. Stir well and let soak for at least 30 minutes.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together.  Pour the soaked buckwheat mixture over it. Add the egg and stir with a spatula to combine. Add the trail mix and blend.
  3. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  5. Using 3 Tbsp scoop, place 9 on baking sheet. Shape into flat cylinders. Bake 17-18 minutes until golden brown and set on edges.
  6. Cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet, then move to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat making 1 pan of smaller rounded tablespoon cookies. Yield: @ 20 2-1/2 to 3” cookies.