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Slowing Down

The past week has been pretty crazy! Last weekend was the final weekend of yoga teacher training for my group of

Let our powers combine

fellow trainees, therefore it was our testing weekend. We had both a written exam and a practical plus we had to watch our practical back and receive feedback. Ultimately we all successfully graduate on Sunday, but it was a pretty emotional weekend. We’ve all become really close and it is going to be very exciting to see where our paths take us. For me, who knows. I’m participating in a mentorship through the yoga studio that I graduated from, so for me, that is my next step, to continue to hone my teaching skills and hopefully be a successful teacher one day.

 

Also, in case you’ve noticed, I’m trying to include ads in the blog now for recipes and all things food. I was approved through a few affiliate programs and I’m playing around with WordPress to determine what plugins would help me run the ads but it’s so much more difficult than I thought it would be. It’s definitely a learning experience, but having knowledge of scripts and program codes would be extremely beneficial. Bear with me while I work through upgrading the site, it is a constant work in progress as I’m learning so glitches are bound to happen, but such is life. Things happen along the way of improving ourselves, we can’t take it personally, just learn and grow.

Figuring out this advert thing

Since this week has been busy with so much going on, I just wanted to take some time to slow down. I didn’t want to make a difficult recipe with multiple steps in it this week from Back to Basics. I wanted something simple and therapeutic. In the cooking realm, the most calming thing for me is doing something that I know I can do and do well. It isn’t the time to start some crazy endeavor like making croissants from scratch. For me, that is baking cookies. I feel like when you make cookies for years, you tend to learn a pattern that works for you and they just come naturally. Luckily Ina has a recipe for some Oatmeal Raisin Cookies in her Back to Basics book. I have no idea what I would have made otherwise.

Ready to devour

The BEST kind of cookies for me are ones that are thick, chock full of stuff, crisp on the outside, while still retaining some chewiness on the inside. This recipe hits all those marks. I know that the cup and a half of pecans and raisins sounds like overwhelming, but there can be NO such thing as too much. I mean, when making chocolate chip cookies, I don’t even bother with measuring the chips out, I just dump the whole bag in. I don’t have time for that.

If you’re one of those people that are turned off by raisins, you can sub them out for chocolate chips. Honestly though, why do people give serious hate to the raisins in oatmeal raisin cookies? Raisins are dried grapes, grapes make wine, you’re eating dried wine nuggets. Why can possibly be bad about them?

Anyway, the process of making the cookies is relatively simple and honestly is kind of like an assembly line, plus it gives me time to do stuff in between when they are in the oven. Also, there is nothing quite like a cookie that is still slightly warm after being baked. That is when they are the best.

 

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Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten page 214
Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
cookies
Ingredients
Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
cookies
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.
  3. Beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Fold in the oats, raisins, and pecans with a rubber spatula and mix just until combined.
  5. Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.
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Easy Strawberry Jam

Hey everyone! It’s almost the end of January already! I can’t believe it. I’ve been really busy lately and haven’t had a lot of spare time on my hands. I really couldn’t figure out what to make for the blog this week from Back to Basics. I kept flipping through the book and nothing really jumped out at me until I got to the final recipe…
Homemade jam is something that SEEMS daunting but really is quite easy. I love it because you know exactly what is going into the jam and it makes great gifts. I know I’ve made it plenty of times, but I’ve always used sure-jell to get the jam to set. Sure-jell is powdered pectin that you can get from the store and mix with sugar and fruit to create jam. In true Ina style, her recipe in Back to Basics doesn’t call for sure-jell. She mentions that pectin is a natural jelling agent that is found in fruit. According to my research, some fruits have more pectin than others. Firmer fruits like apples, pears, plums, and citrus fruits contain the most pectin while softer fruits like berries contain little. In Ina’s recipe, she includes a little bit of apple to help the fruit gel. You’ll want to dice the apple very finely so most of it will melt into the jam. The finer the better. You could even grate it if you want.

 

I followed Ina’s instructions and utilized a candy thermometer to know when the jam would be done cooking. However, there is a great and easy way to test the “doneness” of your jam. Simply place a plate in the freezer while the jam is cooking. Once you get to around the 30 minute mark, it’ll look thick. Take the plate out of the freezer and drop a little bit of jam in the center. Let it sit for a few seconds and run your finger right through the middle of it. If you can turn the plate on its side and the jam doesn’t run down through where you ran your finger through it – it’s done! If not, let it go for another fiveish minutes and try again.

All done!

To add to the pectin level of the jam, I substituted the grand mariner in the recipe with freshly squeezed orange juice and added a little bit of the orange zest to add more flavor.

The best part of this recipe – it’s totally interchangeable. You can add/substitute really any berries in this and it will turn out great. Cut it in half if you want to only make a little bit. And for storage, you can seal them following canning instructions OR something I grew up on, just place them in the freezer. We called it freezer jam. It will stay good for months. Just take it out and let it to thaw in the refrigerator. It’s a great way to make the most of summer fruit or even seconds that you can get at a serious discount at the farmer’s market. They’re usually overripe and are perfect for jam. It’s also a great way to use up under-ripe store-bought fruit. Cooking it down concentrates the flavor.

The perfect vehicle for this is a homemade roll with a little dot of butter.

I encourage you to try making your own homemade jam, it is foolproof. You can totally do it!

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Easy Strawberry Jam
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 250.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place the strawberries in a colander and rinse them under cold water. Drain and hull the strawberries, cutting larger ones in half. Place the strawberries in a dutch oven or soup pot. Add the sugar and orange juice.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Add the blueberries and continue to keep the mixture at a rolling boil and allow to reach 220 degrees. This will take about 30-35 minutes.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool for at least one hour and then store covered in jars in the refrigerator. It will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge. You can also place them in jars and place in the freezer and they will last for months!
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That Pumpkin Roll

Howdy folks! Glad to see there was a lot of interest in the salad that was posted last week. I hope for those of you that tried it, you loved it. Or if you decided to try Winc and get some wine, I hope you enjoy it as well. If there are any kinds that you have questions about, let me know, I’ve had my fair share of them so far so I can give you some pointers on those that I have tried. 🙂

So many of us know that Thanksgiving is coming up next week. Unless you rely upon the retail industry to tell you, then you’ll likely think that next week is Christmas. Anyway Thanksgiving is here – a joyous holiday that celebrates eating! Whether you’re celebrating with your family, friends, coworkers, pets, whomever, there is usually one staple that pops up after the turkey and sides and that is something pumpkin. 😀 I, along with the throngs of fervent fans, have been lining up for some pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks since September. Now it’s time to glorify our love of it and make it into something edible. Traditionally, the pumpkin dessert comes in the form of pie. However, leave it to Ina to take her pumpkin spice to another level for Turkey Day….a Pumpkin Roulade.

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So, I’ve totally made this before – not Ina’s, but I think it was just a generic recipe that I had found. I’ve also grown up with what we called Pumpkin Roll, so this wasn’t too new to me when I saw the recipe. I did note a few differences though. First, Ina adds more spice to her cake which adds a lot more flavor as I’ve discovered. Second, her filling is made with mascarpone cheese. Think of this as the Italian version of cream cheese and can be found in the grocery store either in the specialty cheese case (where the brie and smoked gouda are) or it’ll be with the cream cheese. It’s not quite as dense as American cream cheese and it has more of a ricotta consistency. Lastly, she rolls hers differently than I’ve seen/done it in the past, which I’ll get into in a second.  Let me talk about a few other things first.

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Roulade is a fancy French term for anything that is rolled as it comes from the French root word meaning “to roll”. It doesn’t have to be a dessert, in fact Ina’s got a nice recipe for a Turkey Roulade in Back to Basics that I’ll get to try later. I think that the idea of rolling the cake is a bit daunting. I remember I had to have my mom help me out the first time I made one because I didn’t understand how just roll a cake up. The batter has a higher ratio of eggs to flour than most typical cakes which makes it more spongy and pliable. You also bake it on a half sheet pan so it is long and thin which aids in the rollage process. The most important aspects I’ve learned of making a roll cake is that you have to use a liberally confection sugar dusted kitchen towel (and when I say liberal I mean it, think Bernie Sanders liberal, as the sugar keeps the cake from sticking) AND you have to do the rolling while the cake is hot. If you wait to let it cool, it’ll just break apart. So have your kitchen towel dusted completely with confection sugar on the ready and flip that cake out as soon as it comes out of the oven, and roll it up.

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Speaking of rolling, let’s get to what I wanted to mention earlier. I didn’t follow Ina’s recipe exactly on this. She recommends rolling from the short side so you get several layers and albeit a more dramatic presentation. The end result is a taller cake, but shorter cake so when you slice it, you get more per slice but less slices if that makes sense. The roll that I’m used to, I’m going to call the West Virginia Roll because that is how I learned to do it. This is the exact opposite of Ina’s method. You roll from the long end so it is longer, there aren’t as many layers but you get more slices out of it. As I decided I wanted to take this to work, this was great because I easily got about 16-18 slices out of it. It really just depends on how you prefer to do it. It’ll taste the same, trust me on that.

Pre-roll

Pre-roll

I also made a minor change to the filling as well. I used half cream cheese and half mascarpone. I just think that the cream cheese is a bit thicker so it holds up when slicing better. You can totally use all cream cheese if you can’t find mascarpone or just don’t feel like using it. Your choice. Oh! Ina also has you put crystallized ginger in the filling. Never heard of it or had it? It’s basically ginger root that has been sliced and cooked in sugar syrup until it get’s really chewy. It’s SO good. OMG. It still has the spice from the ginger but the sweetness makes it more palatable. You can find this easily in the grocery store with the dried fruits.

Sweet AND Spicy - I like

Sweet AND Spicy – I like

Now, let’s talk about wine. Winc gave me a little lesson in wine, specifically European wines that have to be “declassified”.  I know that this gives the perception that there is something wrong with the wine or it is low quality.

De "Classy"!

De “Classy”!

Winc assures us otherwise. In fact, they pointed out that high profile vineyard in Europe often have to declassify wines due to other countries’ wine laws. An example: the vineyard’s yield exceeded its yearly allowance. So they bottle those that are allowed under their vineyard and the remaining wine is bottled under seperate cover and sold below market value. Sooooo essentially, declassified wines are my jam. High-end delicious wines for cheap! Sign me up. Now, Winc won’t tell us what kind of wine it is or where it is from – so we are left guessing. They did give a clue that the grape grows really well in and is native to Piedmont, Italy. From my research, the king grape of Peidmont is Nebbiolo, so that’s what my guess will be. The tasting notes of this wine are cherries, vanilla, and rosemary. SO GOOD! This wine would pair well with some turkey and dressing, not to mention a ginger filled Pumpkin Roulade. You still have a few days to order if you want some in time for Thanksgiving, the shipping is SUPER fast, so if you want some and want to get a discount on your first order, use my link and give Winc a try: https://hi.winc.com/2lhy61q4ll7.

Happy Thanksgiving! Take some time to reflect on what you are Thankful for and enjoy your time with family and friends. 😀

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Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Buttercream
From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 212.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pumpkin Cake
Ginger Buttercream
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pumpkin Cake
Ginger Buttercream
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Liberally grease and flour a half sheet pan (13x18x1 inch). If you wish, line the pan with parchment paper and grease and flour the paper.
  2. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt and stir to combine. Place the eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Alternatively you can use a hand-mixer. Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. The batter should be pale yellow and thickened. Add the pumpkin and mix. Slowly add the flour mixture until incorporated. Finish mixing with a rubber spatula. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly. The batter will be thin. Bake the cake for 10-12 minutes, until the top springs back when gently touched.
  3. While the cake is baking, lay out a clean, thin cotton kitchen towel on a flat surface and sift the entire 1/4 cup of confectioner's sugar evenly over it. (This prevents the cake from sticking to it). As soon as you remove the cake from the oven, loosen it around the edges and invert it squarely onto the prepared towel (don't be scared). Peel away the parchment paper if you used it. Lightly roll the warm cake and the towel together (don't press), starting at the short end (or long end if you're going for the WV roll). Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling. Mix the mascarpone cheese, confectioner's sugar, and cream together for about a minute. (Make sure that the cheese is at room temperature otherwise it won't mix together well at all). Stir in the crystallized ginger and salt.
  5. To assemble, carefully unroll the cake onto a board with the towel underneath. Spread the filling evenly onto the cake. Reroll the cake in a spiral using the towel to guide it. Remove the towel and trim the ends to make a neat edge. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve sliced.
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Pumpkin Spice Up Your Life

Alright – I know…it’s not an Ina Garten recipe like I said I’d be doing way back when this first started. However, today is the Autumnal Equinox, which means it is officially Fall! Also – these muffins turned out amazing. I know it seems daunting with all the steps and parts, but trust me, it’s not that bad.

Mixing up the batter with this Jimmy Kimmel spatula from Williams-Sonoma

Mixing up the batter with this Jimmy Kimmel spatula from Williams Sonoma

I adapted this recipe from King Arthur Flour and I tried to make the process a little bit easier by just measuring out the muffin with a regular tablespoon. The original recipe called for a heaping tablespoon at one point and level for another. That’s too much to think about when you are assembling muffins – so just go with the tablespoon and it will all work out. Also, instead of using a tablespoon to get the cream cheese filling in there, I instructed to just put it in a zip-top bag and snip the corner off of one end. Then you can easily pipe the filling right into the center of each one.

Streusel Everywhere

Streusel Everywhere

Anyway, lastly I added cinnamon to the streusel topping for the same reason I added it to Ina’s plum crunch a few weeks ago. IT’S NECESSARY. The addition of the pepitas adds color and some extra flavor to the topping. Pepita is a Spanish term commonly used for pumpkin seeds. They are green and are inside the white flat pumpkin seeds we are used to seeing in America. You can find them in the bulk section of pretty much any grocery store that has one. If you’re in the mood this weekend, I say give these a go.

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If you’re in the mood this weekend, I say give these a go. They are a great dessert but would be even better on a crisp Autumn morning with a dark cup of coffee along side it.

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Cream-Cheese Filled Pumpkin Muffins
Get ready for Fall with these spiced pumpkin muffins with a streusel topping and a cream cheese filling that are perfect as a morning treat with some coffee. Adapted from King Arthur Flour.
Course Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Streusel Topping
Cream Cheese Filling
Pumpkin Muffins
Course Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
muffins
Ingredients
Streusel Topping
Cream Cheese Filling
Pumpkin Muffins
Instructions
For the Streusel
  1. Cut up the butter into small chunks. Mix all ingredients in a bowl until it is crumbly and looks kind of like sand.
For the Cream Cheese Filling
  1. Beat all ingredients in a bowl until thoroughly combined. It is important to have the cream cheese at room temperature otherwise it won't incorporate well at all. Place into a zip-top bag and place in the refrigerator.
For the Muffins
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix everything except the flour into a large bowl, until thoroughly combined. Slowly add in the 1 and 1/2 cups of flour mixing until it is just combined. (Don't over-mix or the muffins will be tough!).
Assembly
  1. Line a 12 count muffin tin with paper liners and lightly spray them with non-stick cooking spray. Scoop in 2 tablespoons of the pumpkin batter into each muffin tin. Be sure to spread it out with a spoon to make sure it covers the entire bottom of each tin.
  2. Snip a tiny corner off of the zip-top bag with the cream cheese filling in it. Pipe about 1 tablespoon (eyeball it) into the center of each tin right on top of the pumpkin. You can always go back and add a little bit more if you were modest at adding it at first.
  3. Scoop 2 more tablespoons of the pumpkin batter on top of each muffin lightly spreading it around so it encompasses the cream cheese. Top each muffin with the streusel topping, covering them liberally.
  4. Bake for about 18-20 minutes until puffed and a toothpick comes out clean when poked down through the side (not the center because of the cream cheese). Allow to cool before enjoying!
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Farmer’s Market Find

September is in full swing and it is time for the fall fruit to being showing up the local farmer’s market. This past weekend I stumbled upon some Italian prune plums which are the variety that are dried to make the prunes that you purchase at the store (hence the name).

Beautiful Italian Prune Plums from the local Farmer's Market

Beautiful Italian Prune Plums from the local Farmer’s Market

This particular variety is only available for a very short period in early September and as soon as I found them I knew I had to make Ina Garten’s Plum Crunch recipe. One of her core tenants is to use in season fruits and veggies. This is when they have the most flavor and often times, are most affordable since they are so abundant.

I decided to stock up on extras and freeze some for later. If you want to do the same, there are several steps you should follow:

  1. Wash and dry them thoroughly and prep them while you’re at it. I sliced these in half and removed the pit from the middle.
  2. Lay them out in a single layer on a tray or plate to freeze them for about 4-5 hours. Freezing them this way first ensures that won’t stick together later on. Do this step no matter what kind of fruit your are freezing – it really does work.
  3. Place them in an air tight container or zip-top bag and place in the freezer for storage. They will stay good for months and you can have Italian plums in the middle of winter!

Since I was basically making this for myself, I decided to use a small ramekin to bake it in which held about 10 ounces of plums (about 6). I cut the crisp part into fourths, and froze  what I didn’t use so I can make another one later on with the frozen plums from above.

Sliced Plums

Ina is all about adding ingredients to bring out the flavor of the main ingredient(s) in a dish. In this recipe, she recommends creme de cassis which is a black currant liqueur. I’m sure it does add great flavor to the dish but I’m not about to go out and buy a whole bottle of liqueur just to utilize in one recipe – albeit that Ina does recommend that you can mix the liqueur with white wine or champagne to make kir or kir royale (sounds super fancy – right?). However, I just used lemon juice with a tiny bit of vanilla. The acidity from the lemon will bring out the flavor of the plums just fine and also mix with the flour and sugar to create the “goo” that is a staple for any good crisp recipe. I also added my own twist to this by adding cinnamon to the topping. Just about a quarter of a teaspoon adds a little warmth and it totally appropriate for the start of fall.

Pre-bake!

Pre-bake!

Lastly, just something to keep in mind – when baking or even cooking using fruit, try to choose fruit that are not quite ripe yet. If the fruit is overripe, it will turn to mush when cooked whereas when under ripe, it will soften and still hold its shape.

P.S. – I don’t think anyone would mind if you served this with some ice cream… 🙂

Plum Crunch with Ice cream

Enjoy!

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B2B #9: Plum Crunch
A new take on a crisp using seasonal Italian Prune Plums. From Back to Basics by Ina Garten, page 205
Servings
people
Ingredients
Filling
Topping
Servings
people
Ingredients
Filling
Topping
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. For the fruit - in a large bowl, combine the plums, brown sugar, flour and cassis (or lemon juice and vanilla). Pour the mixture into a shallow baking dish, pie plate, or individual ramekins.
  3. For the topping - combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, oatmeal, walnuts, cinnamon, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the plum mixture.
  4. Bake the plum crunch for 40 to 45 minutes. I recommend that you place the dish on a baking sheet with either foil or parchment paper because it will bake over and will catch the drippings. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream.
Recipe Notes

Plums not your thing? You can use peaches that are in season - just make sure they are under ripe so they don't cook to mush.

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