Friday, November 18, 2011

mini Pumpkin Bread muffins

This is what 32 mini pumpkin bread muffins look like when they are frosted and ready to go to my daughter's 1st grade class. Whew!
Although I obviously need some practice piping frosting I thought they turned out pretty cute! And they are quite delicious.

This is my most favorite type of recipe to receive. A recipe that was hand written on a little sheet of yellow paper - almost no directions for procedure - given to the daughter - then her daughter - then me - because I tasted the bread that was brought to a party then begged and begged for the recipe!
Love it! Only a couple adjustments made and some creativity to make the frosting. These turned out very tasty and will be very fun for twenty four six year old kids.

Thank you Karen and Susan for sharing this with me.


3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2/3 cups water
1 29oz can of pure pumpkin

for the frosting:

2 sticks cream cheese (must be at room temperature)
2 sticks butter (must also be at room temperature)
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
splash of pure vanilla extract (this might be around 1 teaspoon)
pumpkin puree (most of the rest of the above mentioned can)
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice


oven to 350
prepare your baking tins
set aside

in a large bowl - whisk together the flour,baking soda,baking powder and salt
set aside

in your stand mixer (or in another large bowl) cream together the sugar and pumpkin puree - about 5 minutes
add the vegetable oil
add the eggs - one at a time
making sure the mixture is well mixed after each addition
add the water
add cinnamon and nutmeg
mix another five minutes or so
slowly add the dry ingredients
mix just until everything is blended and there are no white streaks
scrape the sides of the bowl and mix another couple minutes

fill the muffin tin - each cup almost to the top
bake 8 or 9 minutes - remember i was making mini muffins - adjust this time if you are making regular sized muffins or a couple loaves ( an average loaf will need almost an hour in the oven)

note: i did not use muffin liners - so i let these cool about 5 minutes before i removed each one to a clean baking sheet

let muffins cool completely before frosting.

note: i thought these cakes were wonderful with no frosting - but my daughter said "we HAVE to have frosting" 
so i frosted


cream together the cream cheese and butter and 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree
add the pumpkin pie spice
slowly add sugar
mix well
add more of pumpkin puree if desired - i think i added almost all the rest of the can

frost the little muffins and enjoy

by the way - the easiest way to transport these across town is to place each muffin back in the tins - cover - drive away 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

butternut squash risotto

I've decided risotto is my high maintenance child (dish). It is the one that needs the constant, 'consume every second of your life' attention along with perfect temperature and perfect amount of liquid and just the right amount of salt and then the stars and planets have to line up in just the exact formation of a single grain of rice and then - and only then - do I produce perfect risotto! Not really. But this week it felt like it since I made three different risottos. And it's only Thursday!
Risotto really only takes about twenty minutes. But, the secret? stir, stir, stir, stir, get the idea. If you can dedicate twenty minutes of your undivided attention to one pot it will yield you a perfectly delectable and satisfying dish. This one has the sweetness of the butternut squash married to the saltiness of the parmesan cheese with the earthiness of the fresh sage and thyme. Truly delicious. I hope you can give it a try. 

note: my apologies for the lack of photos - having some technical difficulties with the camera.


dutch oven
other pot to warm chicken broth
baking sheet 
1 medium butternut squash
olive oil
1 1/2 cups risotto
around 6 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 a small onion
2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage (or about that)
1 tablespoon thyme (maybe 2)
1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese plus more for serving


oven to 400
peel the squash
evenly chop into small pieces - about the size of dice - maybe a tad bigger
place all the squash in a bowl
toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil
salt and pepper
stir well
spread out onto baking sheet
roast about 15 - 20 minutes
until fork tender
when done - set aside until ready to use

note here: i did not use the entire squash - the rest of it i served as a side dish at dinner 


in a small pot bring the chicken broth to a simmer - turn to low and keep warm.
in a dutch oven melt the one tablespoon of butter - medium heat.
add two tablespoons of olive oil.
add the chopped onion.
cook 3 or 4 minutes until onion is translucent.
add garlic.
cook another couple minutes.
add rice.
stir well - make sure all the rice is coated. 
add three cups of the warm chicken broth.

when it starts looking like you are running out of liquid add another cup of broth.
in another three minutes or so add another cup of broth.
stir some more.
taste for doneness.
you want the rice to be soft but still have a little bite in the center.
you do NOT want it to go the route of baby food.
if rice still seems too hard add a little more broth and keep stirring.

when the rice is ready add two cups of butternut squash and the herbs.
you may want to add more of the squash or adjust the amount of sage and thyme - i'm sure it will still taste great
add the 1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese
stir well

serve immediately - garnished with more cheese

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

steak au poivre

What is it?
Very simply put - it's a steak, with a crust of salt and peppercorns accompanied by a rich, luscious sauce. That's about it. I guarantee you've seen it on a hundred different menus. Sometimes simply called 'steak with peppercorn sauce' or 'black peppered steak' or several other names, but this traditional French favorite is technically called 'steak au poivre' (yes - pronounce the V) For us, it was the sauce that put this dish into the "favorite dinner requests" list.  
Much simpler than I anticipated with tremendous flavor. I highly recommend you try to make this at home. 

This dish usually calls for filet mignon. Given the price of that cut of beef I needed to find something a little more within my budget. Rib-eye is apparently also acceptable but I went with sirloin. Delicious. Whichever cut you choose I'm sure will be wonderful. Just be sure to not over-cook the meat.

Also, I was only cooking for two people since my daughter - at six years old - has decided she will not eat meat. And my husband loves his au jus so this recipe has a bit more sauce than most recipes call for.
I made four different sauces the other night and an extra the next morning just to make sure I had one we loved. The one I am posting here was definitely the favorite and includes a little brown mustard and then honey for balance (in addition to the brandy - never would I skip adding the booze!) I added the additional ingredients to the sauce because the sauces with only cream added to the pan gave me nothing but cream flavor - was not happy with this. Therefore some experimenting needed to be done. Hope you give this a go.


2 steaks 
about a 1/4 cup fresh, whole black peppercorns - crushed using a mortar and pestle or a cast iron skillet - then spread out onto a plate
little olive oil
2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup brandy or cognac plus 2 tablespoons for later
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon brown mustard
almost 2 tablespoons honey


oven to 400

prepare a baking/casserole dish so you can finish the steaks in the oven.
set aside.

rinse and pat dry the steaks.
generously salt one side.
place the salted side onto the plate with the crushed peppercorns.

salt the top side then flip the steaks to cover this side in pepper.

press down a little bit to ensure good coverage of pepper.

add butter and couple tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet.
warm on medium heat.
when the butter is just starting to brown, carefully add the steaks.  
cook 4 or 5 minutes each side.
keep an eye on this because you do not want to completely burn the crust - just blacken it a bit.
once both sides are done I used a pair of large tongs to hold the steaks and cook a little around the edges
(sorry - no photo)
place into the prepared baking dish.
cover with foil.

my husband does not like his steaks 'mooing' so I cooked them in the oven about 10 minutes.
most often this dish is served rare
cook how you prefer.

while the steaks are in the oven make your sauce.

drain the excess fat and oil out of the pan but keep as much of the fond and pepper and beef bits as possible.
turn the stove OFF.
add the brandy.
IF you are daring - CAREFULLY light this with the longest fire starter you have.
i do recommend you light it and let all the alcohol burn off - giving the pan a few swishes to make sure the flames reach all sides.
it does make a difference in the flavor.
But if you do not light the pan (and do not nearly burn the house down like I did) skip adding the 2 tablespoons of brandy at the end.

once the flames have subsided and you are breathing normally again - turn the stove back on to a medium high heat.
add cream.  
cook for a couple minutes.
add mustard and honey and salt.
cook five more minutes.
add 2 tablespoons of brandy (or cognac - whichever you have)
cook until sauce thickens - whisking continuously.
salt to taste.
maybe just a few turns of the pepper grinder as well.

keep warm until ready to serve.

steaks should be done by now.

serve each individual or slice each steak.

husband likes the slice method so that there is more surface area for sauce.

I served this with steamed vegetables and mashed red potatoes.

Great dinner.

Friday, November 11, 2011

chicken pot pie

Confession time - I usually have these made for the family by my good friend Marie (yes...THAT Marie - whose last name begins with a 'C' - and who also makes 'Pies')
But I was scanning through Sacramento Connect and came across this site called 'a girl and her fork' (how great is that name? a girl and her fork)
And one of her recent recipe postings was Chicken Pot Pie. While I have often thought about making these from scratch, it just didn't seem necessary to fix something that wasn't broken. The family has been perfectly happy having pies from my friend Marie so why bother?
Of course I had to bother! (you're surprised?) we go ... 
I've decided to make my own chicken pot pie.

I did have to make a few changes to her recipe. Either I didn't have what was called for. Or I just didn't put it in my pie. Or I just didn't feel like making pastry dough from scratch ( i know i know...the box from the grocery...shameful)
So I am posting this the way I made it last night.

D E L I C I O U S ! 
One of my guests today said "eating that was like crawling into the lap of my mother"
Quite a compliment I would say.

I hope you can try it soon.


1 box Puff Pastry
4 whole chicken breasts
little olive oil
salt pepper
4 cups chicken stock (i DID have this homemade)
1 cup white wine
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 1/2 sticks butter
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups chopped sweet onion
2 cloves garlic - minced
2 cups chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped celery 
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
2 cups mushrooms (i had button mushrooms - and after chopping it came to 2 cups so that's what i'm posting here)


oven to 350

lay those chicken breasts on a baking sheet
rub both sides with olive oil
add salt and pepper to both sides
bake about 35 minutes
let get cool enough to handle
chop into big chunks
set aside

in a saucepan put your chicken broth,the white wine and the bouillon cubes
bring to a simmer
stir to make sure the cubes are dissolved
keep warm

in a dutch oven add the butter (yes..all of it)
let melt then add the chopped onion
cook till translucent then add the garlic
cook another couple minutes
add flour - stir constantly
cook 2 or 3 minutes then add the chicken broth mixture
cook about 5 minutes then add some salt and pepper and the heavy cream

stir well

add chicken
cook couple minutes to make sure all the pieces are coated
add all the other vegetables
cook another 5 minutes or so
taste for seasoning
resist the urge to continue tasting

it really could be served at this point with some great rustic bread - but we're making pies remember?

note :  Last night I used large mugs. But I felt the ratio of chicken mixture to pastry top was a bit off - too much of one in comparison to the other. I wanted to make sure there was pastry topping all the way to the last bite of chicken goodness. So today I decided to use a bunch of my little ramekins to see if everybody finished the race to the bottom together. Success.


lightly flour a work surface and roll out your pastry dough - just enough to get 4 or 5 lids - you don't want to roll this out too thin
using a cookie cutter or a knife and a bowl bigger than your ramekin (that's what I used)
cut out your 'lids'

back to the mixture

place all your ramekins (or mugs) onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper
spoon filling to the tops of each ramekin
(i only needed to make six - so there is quite a bit of mixture left over right now)

using your finger - dip into the broth and rub it around the edge of the ramekin to create your glue for the pastry top

place all your lids
using a knife or fork make vent holes (must do this)

into the oven it goes for about 20 minutes - or until the tops are golden brown  and crispy
and beautiful

let cool for a few minutes before serving


endive spears

There really isn't much of a recipe to post here. Just more of an idea - or a suggestion for your next party.
My girlfriend had a beautiful birthday party last weekend and served something like this so, of course, I had to come home and make my own.

What is endive?
It's that white cigar looking thing you always see in the produce section of the grocery store. Pretty in their little section of the case and you always wonder 'what is that' but move on to broccoli? It's also usually priced way higher than most want to pay for a tiny vegetable. 
Many people call it fancy lettuce. This is somewhat true but it's actually part of the chicory family (think radicchio - the sort of bitter red stuff everybody puts in salads) I used the broad-leaved variety - more commonly known as Belgian Endive - it's less bitter - it's perfect for holding 'things' - and can be eaten cooked or raw
Here's a little link for some history (Belgian Endive)
And another link just because it was interesting (another Endive link)

So I bought one of those tiny, white, cigar looking things and put these together.
Perfect for an appetizer.

Here's a few photos of the ones I made.

You must toast those pecans. Yes - must.

oven to 350
chop the pecans
spread out on a baking sheet
toast about 5 or 6 minutes

set aside while you wash and dry all the endive spears

lay all your spears on a serving platter
spread a little homemade blue cheese dressing on each piece
(or crumbled Gorgonzola)
on top of the dressing lay a couple thinly sliced pieces of pear
(her's were poached - mine were recently canned)
sprinkle with the toasted pecans


serve and enjoy

Thursday, November 10, 2011

monte cristo sandwiches

A classic Monte Cristo? a glorified sandwich..... is. 
A ham and cheese sandwich - sometimes fried, sometimes baked, sometimes made with left over french toast! (i'm probably going to have to try that one soon) almost always delicious and one of those menu items that some people consider a "treat" when out for brunch or lunch.
Could I make this at home and have it retain it's "treat" status?
Would it be worth my time and effort?
Or should I leave it on the list of foods that we eat "only when out"?
(i.e.....lobster, filet mignon, nine layer chocolate cake with an inch of chocolate frosting and chocolate shavings, that sort of thing)

I decided to give it a go.
It was delicious.
Grilled cheese meets great slices of ham meets crispy outside meets warm salty inside.
It was totally worth it.
Now I did finally decide on two different ways I like this. One is just dipped in an egg and milk mixture, then fried. That was also yummy - here is a link to a not very good photo of it, but you get the idea - 'the other monte cristo'

The recipe I'm posting today has a few more ingredients in the batter but was just as good and just as easy.

I hope you give it a go.


good bread - sliced
good ham - preferably deli sliced
swiss cheese - this is the traditional cheese used - i'm sure you can use whatever is your favorite

vegetable oil for frying

1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup flour
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sugar

(the cinnamon and sugar are optional - i tried it this way because of the idea to make this with french toast)

mayonnaise if desired (i did not use)

confectioners sugar for dusting if you like it sweet (also did not use)


mix all the above ingredients together - just a couple turns of salt and pepper - the cheese seemed to give just the right amount of saltiness to each bite
mix well 

it should look and feel like a thin pancake batter - if it seems too thick add a little water and mix well again

next, assemble your sandwiches
lay your bread slices side by side
place a small piece of cheese on each slice - this is going to kind of act like your glue so your ham and bread pieces don't slide around

layer more ham and cheese in there

close up the sandwich - also important is to NOT take a bite at this point!

get your skillet warmed and ready - add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil

using a pair of tongs (or your hands)
dip in the batter

flip and dip again
note : most recipes call for getting batter all the way around the sides as well. Then the sandwich is usually deep fried.
I was not deep frying this sandwich so I only did the sides and then placed it in my skillet

fry at around a medium heat - you want the sandwich to warm through but you do not want the outside getting too dark.

flip and cook the other side

plate and slice in half
sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top if using

serve immediately