Friday, October 29, 2010

Pumpkin-Feta Muffins

This weekend I am baking Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting for a Rally to Restore Sanity Cousin's Party. I am also making a Pumpkin-Black Bean Chili for Saturday night dinner. And now I'm using pumpkin to make savory muffins instead of sweet ones. It's safe to say that no one in my household is going to have a Vitamin A deficiency.
(I also made these muffins with butternut squash, but I think the pumpkin is much better.  The photos are of the butternut muffins.)
This recipe comes from the Martha Goes Green cookbook and was featured on 101 Cookbooks. The cookbook was written by Rosie and Ruth, two vegetarians from Australia. I figured if I didn't change my recipe sources soon, I was in danger of becoming Julie-and-Julia, but more like Batya-and-Ina. So here we go, mixing things up a bit.
Post-baking note: These came out a little bit more dense than I thought they would be.  They are more scone-like.  I adapted the recipe (less flour and more squash/pumpkin) and next time I will add 1 tablespoon of olive oil or melted butter and a bit more salt.
I really like the originality of the ingredient combination.  I hadn't thought to put pumpkin with feta and spinach or to use sunflower seeds in a savory muffin.  If you are able to figure out how to make these a wee-bit more fluffy and moist, do let me know.  Until then, happy baking and have a great Halloween weekend!

Post-post baking note: Okay, I spoke with someone who bakes quite often.  She said that if you sift the flour (as per instructions) that will help with the 'lightness' and will make the muffins less dense.  I didn't do this.  Instead, I slowly introduced the flour using a fork (from a measuring cup). I don't have a sifter, but I'm going to get one this week.  Next time I will sift!

Pumpkin-Feta Muffins
(Adapted from the Martha Goes Green cookbook by Rosie Percival and Ruth Friedlander)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups  cubed pumpkin, diced into 1/2-inch cubes (as an alternative, use butternut squash)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large handful of baby spinach, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds (kernels)
3/4 cup / 1 oz  freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup/ 3.5 oz cubed feta
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup  milk
1 3/4 cups flour (The original recipe has 2 cups of flour, but I thought that made it a bit too dense.)
4 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
Preheat oven to 405F, with rack in the top third.  Butter (grease) a 12-hole muffin pan and set aside.
Sprinkle the olive oil and some salt and pepper over the squash. Toss well and turn onto a baking sheet or roasting pan. Arrange in a single layer and bake for 25 - 35 minutes or until cooked through entirely (my oven heat isn't great, so it took me 40 minutes). Set aside to cool.
Transfer two-thirds of the squash to a large mixing bowl along with the spinach, parsley, sunflower seeds, Parmesan, the feta, and the mustard. Gently fold together. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and milk together and add to the squash mix. Sift the flour and baking powder onto the squash mix.  Then add the salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Fold together just until the batter comes together, be careful not to over mix.
Spoon the mixture into a greased 12 hole muffin tray.  Top each muffin with a few cubes of squash (it looks really nice).  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops and sides of the muffins are golden, and the muffins have set up completely. Let cool for a couple minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.
You can serve as is or with a little pat of butter.
Makes 12 muffins.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Martha's Macaroni and Cheese

This is the best macaroni and cheese I've ever made.  I love it.  I make it once a month or so.  It's absolutely perfect for a chilly, late-autumn night and you know those are coming...
Thanks Martha!

Martha's Macaroni and Cheese (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (plus)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces grated sharp white cheddar cheese (I like to use a Dubliner Irish)
1 cups (about 4 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1/2 cups (about 2 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3/4 to 1 cup of Panko or bread crumbs (enough to cover top layer)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. 
In a high-sided skillet, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat.  When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cheddar cheese, and  Gruyère (or Pecorino Romano)*; set the cheese sauce aside. 
[*Save some of the hard cheese (let's say 1/2 cup) for the top layer.  Sprinkle it on right before you add the panko or bread crumbs.]
Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well.  Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
Pour the mixture into the prepared dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes (time may vary depending on your oven heat). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Serves 6 (double recipe for 12)

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Storm King (Revisited) and Italian Caesar Salad Polenta Croutons

Once again, the Northeast had an incredible autumn weekend.  This season we've gone apple picking and leaf picking. We had plans to go pumpkin picking (or is it gathering) at a local patch, but our friends wanted to go to Storm King and I was more than happy to go back even though I was there last weekend.  I only got to see half of the sculpture garden on my original trip (it is hundreds of acres) and knowing that the leaves change colors from week-to-week, I was looking forward to another visit...

It was a beautiful afternoon and perfect weather for a picnic. We purchased sandwiches at the Storm King Cafe (very reasonably priced) and I made French Potato Salad and an Italian Caesar Salad with Polenta Croutons. This recipe is from Giada de Laurentiis, though I was first introduced to it when we went to Jenni and Ori's place for dinner.
While I normally do not go gaga for sundried tomatoes, in this salad they are delicious and essential. I love the flavor from the toasted pinenuts and the originality of using polenta as croutons instead of bread. It's more labor intensive than your average salad, but I had a bit of time and I wanted to try something new. I made the polenta and vinaigrette the night before. I toasted the pinenuts in advance too and put them in a small container with the shredded parmesan.  The romaine was washed, spun and chopped the night before as well. All I had to do prior to our departure for Storm King was sliver some sundried tomatoes and lightly panfry the polenta.
I adapted this recipe slightly and made it vegetarian by omitting the anchovy fillets. I also skipped the step that required me to grill the lettuce. It was fine without this method of preparation, but try it both ways if you have the right equipment.
Unless you are having company, you can cut this recipe in half.  It will still make 4 salad apps. Enjoy!
Italian Caesar Salad with Polenta Croutons 
(Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis)



  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Polenta Croutons: 

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cups Basic Polenta, recipe follows
  • Vegetable oil, for deep frying


  • 3 small heads (or 2 large heads) romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 1/2 ounces shaved Parmesan


To make the dressing: Finely chop the garlic.  Using a blender or food processor (I used the whisk attached to my immersion blender) mix in the lemon juice and mustard. With the machine running, gradually blend in the oil. Season the dressing, to taste, with salt and pepper.
To make the croutons (How to make Polenta? See below "Basic Polenta"): Spread the olive oil over a small baking sheet or oven-safe baking dish. Transfer the hot polenta to the baking sheet, spreading evenly to form an 8 by 5 by 3/4-inch-thick rectangle. Cover and refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.
Cut the polenta into 3/4-inch cubes. Pat the polenta cubes dry with paper towels. Add vegetable oil to a heavy large frying pan so that it coats the pan. Heat the oil over high heat. Working in batches of 10, carefully add the polenta cubes to the oil 1 at a time and fry until golden brown, stirring to keep the cubes separate, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the polenta croutons to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.
(If you make the croutons and have leftovers, you can refrigerate them and then rewarm them on a baking sheet in a 350 degrees F oven before serving.)
To make the salad:  Cut the lettuce into bite-size pieces.
On a serving platter, mound the grilled chopped lettuce. Decoratively scatter the sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. Drizzle with enough dressing to evenly coat. Sprinkle Parmesan and scatter the warm polenta croutons over and serve immediately.

Basic Polenta
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 12 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted.
Lightly oil a half sheet pan. Transfer the hot polenta to the prepared baking dish, spreading evenly to 3/4-inch thick. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.
Yield: 2 cups polenta
CookTime: 15 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 2 hours

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Rum (Just a Pinch)!

This is a very simple concept: 
Bananas + Chocolate + A Splash (or two) of Rum = Deliciousness.
I asked Debbie, a wonderful baker and girlfriend of my cousin-in-law, for one of her favorite dessert recipes. She suggested the 'Jacked Up Banana Bread' from Smitten Kitchen. The recipe looked very familiar. It wasn't long before I realized that this was a souped-up version of Elise's recipe from Simply Recipes and that I had made, like, a million times (though I added chocolate and nuts). Is it too presumptuous to say, "Great minds think alike?" 
Banana Bread is perfect for an early morning snack, a mid-afternoon treat, or at the end of the day...with a little bit of coffee, wine or rum!
Jacked Up, Souped Up Banana Bread  
(Adapted from Elise and Deb-- with thanks to Debbie for reminding me about this bread.)
3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted salted butter (5 tablespoons)
1 cup light brown sugar (can easily be reduced to 3/4 cup)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons of rum (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cup of flour
3/4 cup of chopped chocolate - a 3.5 ounce bar  (or large chips)
1 small handful of walnuts (optional if you like nuts)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and rum, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in.  Add the flour, mix.  Now add your chopped chocolate.  Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October Surprise: Ina Garten's Panzanella

I know what you're thinking. Panzanella? In October? Yup! For some reason I thought that tomato season would be over by summer's end. But our CSA pick-up last week contained gorgeous beefsteak, heirloom and golden tomatoes. We also got basil leaves, red onions and red this was kind of a no-brainer.
Originally I was thinking about making a salsa or using the tomatoes in a soup, but after I unintentionally left a baguette unwrapped the night before, I knew it was time for some panzanella.
Panzanella comes from the Latin word panis, or "bread." Like most crouton and bread crumb recipes, you really have to use stale (hard) bread.  Fresh bread can't absorb all the flavors from the panzanella vinaigrette- and if left for a short while, it will turn into mush.  In contrast, days-old bread can stand up to the liquid and maintain its integrity. And this way, even that old bread is put to good use (what's that saying, "waste not, want not..."
Panzanella (Courtesy of Ina Garten)
You can mix and match tomato sizes and varieties.  
Adjust seasoning accordingly.

1 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of a French Baguette or Boule bread (about 3 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large, red, ripe tomato, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small, red, ripe tomato, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small golden tomato, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (you could also use yellow pepper)
1/2 of a small red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
10 basil leaves, chiffonade or coursely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:
1 small clove of finely minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan.  Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned.  Add more oil as needed.
For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.
In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, red pepper, red onion, basil, and capers.  Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Allow the salad to sit for at least an hour at room temperature.

and without capers...(and a nice little bowl).
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Storm King Art Center and Fall Foliage

The Storm King Art Center has a really special place in my heart since it's where my husband proposed to me (yes, I was very surprised!). This amazing sculpture garden is situated on 500-acres of rolling hills in the Hudson Valley. The collection includes the work of some extremely influential 20th century artists such as Calder, Smith, Serra, Lichtenstein, Lewitt, Moore and di Suvero. If you're a fan of the documentary Rivers & Tides, Storm King also showcases the installation work of Andy Goldsworthy.  
Goldsworthy is known for using natural objects such as twigs, leaves, wood, stone, and ice. His piece Storm King Wall is a wall of Field Stone that seamlessly weaves through the woodlands before ending at a small pond on the property. It's simple and it's brilliant. There's also the Lichtenstein Mermaid Hull. Serra's triangle jutting out of the grass. And the bright orange Calder pieces from the 1970s. 
Storm King is gorgeous in the spring and summer, but it is absolutely spectacular this time of year due to the fall foliage--which is kind of legendary in the Northeast. 
I visited Storm King this past weekend with Baby Otis, my best friend Nader and another man whom I adore, Richard. We all had a wonderful afternoon.
{If you are interested in visiting the Art Center this fall, please note that the grounds are closed from November 14th till March 31, 2011.}
Thanks Storm King! See you next Spring! Follow Me on Pinterest