Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Nod to Halloween

I don't have a whole lot of use for Halloween (as explained here). I usually have to work and the kids only bring home junk candy so as far as I'm concerned there's only one good thing about the day: Spider Web Munch. It's one of those ridiculously cute things that I'm embarrassed to admit to, but it's got the heavenly chocolate-peanut butter combo going on. Made with bittersweet chocolate chips it's almost respectable as desserts go, and you get to play around while decorating. I found the recipe in the newspaper years ago and it's become my one concession to the holiday. It beats an old, stale fun size Snickers bar any day!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pupusa Frenzy

Now that I have a child in school I am beginning to get used to last minute announcements relating to school assignments and projects. The latest was the proyecto cultural for The Dark Lord's Spanish class. I love that his teacher asks the students to think about the language outside the classroom but the announcement came during a very harried day which included a number of hastily changed plans, evening classes, a child care scramble--nothing unusual, but having to come up with an interesting yet simple dish with a little sabor latino was not exactly compelling at 9 pm when everyone was finally back home and The Dark Lord was able to focus on the task at hand.

Given our time frame, most of the delicious Latin American dishes I know were not in the running. Tamales and enchiladas were simply too complicated. My delicious posole verde was out because The Dark Lord doesn't think much of it (I suspect it's too nutritious). Racking my brain I suggested pupusas which require little more than masa harina, water, oil, and a bit of something to tuck inside.
With a fresh bag of masa harina from Bob's Red Mill, we were in business. A little salt and some water, and we had something the consistency of Play-Doh. We pulled out plum-sized balls, put in a bit of filling made of shredded cheddar and roasted green chile, pulled the edges of the dough up around the filling to cover, and flattened them into discs before slipping them into hot oil where they cooked, about 4 minutes per side until golden. We drained the pupusas on paper towels and then gobbled the down. Here you see The Dark Lord attempting to shove a too-hot pupusa into a mouth tender with new orthodontia. Not the recommended technique. Since the pickiest of The Picky Ones was away with a friend all weekend we decided take The Dark Lord out to give professional pupusas a try at El Palenque, Portland's venerable Salvadoran restaurant. We ordered a vegetarian family meal for 4 which included pupusas, fried yuca, a tamal, fried plantains with cream, black beans, rice, and banana empanadas, and the delicious sweet cheese bread Salvadorans call quesadilla which has nothing to do with the Mexican variety. It was a delicious meal but, interestingly, The Dark Lord decided he liked his pupusas better than those made by the little old Salvadoran lady who had no doubt been making them for decades. So last night, another batch, these filled with shredded cheddar and sliced scallions and served alongside the posole verde, which proved to be an ideal combination.

The recipe is here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Return of the Mini Muffin

I've written before about my preference for mini muffin over their full sized counterparts. Back in August I made them with zucchini but now it's fall, there's a fire blazing and we've had lots of wind and rain. It's time for pumpkin mini muffins.
I've made these by the hundreds over the years. Kids love them and adults do, too, often to their surprise. These have fueled many a homeschool co-op morning and many a preschool play date because along with being nutritious and tasty, they're a snap to throw together, even while getting kids up and ready for the day. Thirty minutes, tops, from beginning to end. What could be easier?

You can play around with the spices if you like. Ground cardamom adds a little something exotic, perfect along a warm cup of milky chai tea. These muffins are equally good made with all purpose flour or healthier whole wheat pastry flour, and you'll hardly notice a difference.
The recipe is here. Do give them a try on a chilly fall morning. You'll find that you'll have plenty leftover from the standard can of pumpkin puree. I already have plans to make this in the next few days. And when I write about it I feel sure that I will be breaking some kind of blogged bread pudding record unless there's a blog out there that's all bread pudding all the time. Hmm....maybe I should do a Google search.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Birthday Babka

I have this friend who's all about cupcakes. She loves making cupcakes and brings them to every birthday, every bar/bar mitzvah dessert table, wherever a little something sweet is needed, you can count on her for cupcakes. She's also a knitter and when I came across a pattern for a knitted cupcake, I knew I'd found the perfect gift for her upcoming significant birthday. Some of the other women in our knitting circle also joined in and we were able to present her with a pink bakery box full of knitted cupcakes.

The connection between babka and cupcakes? Only this--I'm not a baker of cupcakes, but I knew this friend was a fan of my chocolate babka and I wanted to bring something along to share at yesterday's knitting circle. There are a number of food allergies among our members and I try to keep those in mind when I bring food, but yesterday was a birthday celebration after all so wheat and dairy sensitivities were ignored as I started baking.

Babka is a sweet, rich , almost cakey bread wrapped around some kind of delicious filling which may include dried fruit, nuts, and spices. This is the simplest babka I know, but the fragrant combination of cocoa and cinnamon flavors in the filling is always enchanting. I make the dough in my trusty old bread machine, but it isn't a challenging dough and could as easily be made by hand or with a heavy duty mixer, I'm sure.

Once the dough has risen, it's divided and rolled out, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with a cinnamon-sugar-cocoa filling. Everything gets rolled up and tucked inside. There's a second rise in the pan and then into the oven, emerging 45 minutes later looking plain as can be. Once cut, the bread slices will show attractive spirals of filling which I can't show you because I didn't bring my camera (although a photo was snapped by cameraphone---I'll share that when it arrives).

This is one of those breads that fills the house with delicious aromas and you'd be hard pressed to find something better to serve with coffee. And yet sometimes I will simply forget this recipe, for months on end and then find myself delighted to bump into this old friend again. Give it a try and see what you think. The recipe is here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two Winners

I haven't been cooking anything very exciting of late. Lots of the same old standbys which are seen again and again in effort to nourish picky kids: pasta with red sauce, burrritos, scrambled eggs, potatoes and the ever-popular boxed cereal with milk. Yikes. Where did I go wrong?

Fridays have become schlepping hell for me as my kids need to be all over the city throughout the day. It's been nearly impossible to make a proper Shabbat dinner when kids need to be picked up after 4 pm. Last week, however, a friend offered to pick the boy up before joining us for dinner which actually gave me time to cook. Hooray! We had homemade challah, a green salad with pears, toasted hazelnuts, and crumbled feta cheese, a fruit salad, Elizabeth's vegetarian pastitsio and peanut butter brownies from Smitten Kitchen.

Both of the borrowed recipes were splendid. The Spouse and I actually argued over who deserved the leftover serving of pastitsio more. It was a second try on the brownies which I now know need to come out of the oven when they look slightly undercooked. And better chocolate for the ganache made all the difference. Normally I wouldn't bother frosting brownies, but it's crucial here. Just make sure you use something dark and not too sweet--Trader Joe's bittersweet pound plus made magic here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


We went apple picking recently and came home with 37 pounds of Gravensteins from an orchard with the rather worrisome name of GM Farms. The bushel basket has been sitting in the kitchen where it's slowly being emptied by hungry kids . Before they all disappeared I wanted to make sure to make an apple pancake or two, just like my dad used to make for us. One of the things I always loved about this dish was the slightly salty crust that forms. I rarely buy salted butter, but it's what takes this dish right back to my childhood. The flavor is just like my father's version but we differ in technique. I saute the apples and cook the pancake in the same pan. He likes to preheat the pan in the oven, melting a stick of butter at the same time and sautee the apples separately on the stove. Then he puts the batter in the preheated pan and places the apples on top. I've done it both ways and haven't noticed much of a difference except my way uses less butter and saves the washing of a pan. Sorry, Daddy--I hate to be more efficient than you are!Another nice thing about this one: you probably always have the ingredients on hand so you can make up an apple pancake at a moment's notice. The recipe is here. Let me know how it goes.