Monday, October 27, 2008

I'm back! How 'bout some pumpkin?

Oh, hello again dear ones. I've missed you.

I've been back to school, back in California for a bit, back into the busy world of Portland in Fall. The leaves are amazing right now, and I've found myself more than a few times walking through the leaf-strewn parking lot at school thinking about Lemonbasil and how I've missed writing for all of you. I'm not going to make this a big sad post full of excuses for my absence, but let's just say I'm happy to back in the kitchen, cooking with all the amazing things this season has to offer.

I'd like to take the next few weeks to highlight some special recipes that will be featured at the Taste the Place booth at the Portland Farmers Market - I've been asked to gather some recipes to print so market-goers can make their own fall recipe books - we'll provide the binding, covers, and the recipes, and anyone can gather around and compile their books to their own taste preferences, and hopefully come across something new. I'm trying to craft some of my own recipes, in addition to sharing my favorites from my cookbook collection and, of course, all the blogs I worship. I hope you enjoy my spins on classic fall flavors!

First up, the pumpkin! This week is all about the orange guy - acorn, butternut, and delicata will all have their turns, but Halloween is coming this Friday and I'm going to make the most of the October-est of squashes.

Yes, fall means the smells of pumpkin pie, complete with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and chocolate. Wait. Chocolate? Yes. Chocolate. I've had some pumpkin puree sitting in the fridge for a bit, and was craving something chocolate-y. You know what I mean. So I opened the cupboards and found some odds and ends that might make a yummy, healthy treat. These Pumpkin Pecan Cocoa Muffins are made with 100% whole wheat flour, sweetened (partly) with honey, and are ready in no time. The pumpkin puree keeps them so amazingly moist - I even stirred them a bit too much (or, rather, let my lovely stand mixer, Julia, stir them a bit too much) and they still came out tender and delicious.

Thanks for reading, and come back soon for more of the best of this season's best ingredients. Eat well!

Pumpkin Pecan Cocoa Muffins
(makes 12-15 full sized muffins, depending on size - and how much of the batter you eat)
1/2 cup Pecan Halves or Pieces
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup organic sugar (white or brown, whatever you have) plus a bit more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree (more or less - I used a bit more - find out how to make your own here)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecans on baking sheet and set in warming oven - don't forget them! They'll be toasted by the time you need to mix them in. Spray your muffin pans, use paper liners, or those fancy silicone baking cups (love them - they're reusable and theres much less cleanup!)

In the bowl of your stand mixer or with a large bowl with a whisk, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt, and cocoa. Add pumpkin, eggs, oil, honey into the same bowl (you could beat them separately - but I just threw them into the mix and it worked really well). Mix until just combined, and stir in pecans. Spoon into muffin cups to your preferred amount - I like mine almost full. Sprinkle with a bit of sugar - it won't seem to do much to the look of the uncooked batter, but when their baked they look so pretty - you can really see a difference.

Bake for about 20 minutes - they should spring back when lightly pressed in the tops. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Shana Tovah!

Happy New Year! And, woah! Hello October!

Monday night, I got together with a bunch of friends from school for a rockin' Rosh Hashanah party - and I was asked to make dessert! Ah, yes. Long gone are the days of simple invitations, a kindly "won't you stop by?" Nope. Now it's, hey, Oakley, what sweet thing can you whip up for this event?

Ah, I kid. I love love love special occasion baking, especially when I get to research traditional dishes and put my spin on them. Rosh Hashana is all about sweetness, epitomized by apples and honey. I decided to make two cakes, a twist on a traditional Rosh Hashana honey cake with cocoa and lots of spice, and a simple apple cake with some of the best local apples I could find. Both were gobbled up with thanks and praise, signaling the official start of the holiday season.

Oh, holiday baking. You have been missed. All of a sudden, I'm having dreams of the twenty-five vegan apple pies I made for Thanksgiving last year, and the tons of pomegranate scones, not to mention gingerbread cookie bakes and shortbread wedges that are IMPOSSIBLE to stop eating. I'm looking forward to some interesting concoctions this year (Can I bake with Winter Squash? What else can I throw beets into? Will I finally tackle the quince?), but this month is all about the harvest. Sukkot's coming up, gotta make some goodies to break the fast next week, and traditional High Holiday foods are taking up a lot of my mental counter space.

My spiced chocolate honey cake and apple cake went really well with the hostess' AMAZING brisket, fresh apples and honey, some of the BEST challah I've ever had (complete with lemon honey butter - yum!) and some really great sides - beet salad with beef, pomegranates, hummus and pita, and good olives.

Ah, what a meal. Made all the better because it was shared with friends and tradition.

Enjoy the onset of fall, the holiday season, and have a sweet new year! Shana Tovah!

The recipe for the Spiced Chocolate Honey cake can be found here and the Apple Cake is here.