Happy belated blogoversary

I should have posted this on Saturday, but I am bad at remembering important dates. I am well known for forgetting birthdays (sorry Mom!). If Christmas and Thanksgiving didn’t have such great marketing, I would forget them too. I didn’t make a blogoversary post last year or the year before, because…I forgot! By the time I figured it out, it seemed futile to try to fix it. But, I really wanted to celebrate this year. Why? Because of you. I want to say thank you for coming here and spending time with me. It has been so important to me.

As I look at the inner workings of this blog, I see that over three years, I have written 146 posts, some of them memorable, some of them not. I have made 53 categories for these posts and my blog seems to average around 70 hits per day. But the thing that is astonishing to me is that between all of you and I, we have made 956 comments. These comments are not just comments, they have become a conversation, and I thank you for that. This conversation has gotten me through some rough patches in my life and I love you for that.

Now, let‘s stop being so mushy and talk about important things… Let’s talk about cupcakes, because cupcakes are special. My friend Jeanne made Avocado muffins the other day and she set forth her rules about why they were named muffins instead of cupcakes. I like her reasoning but want to add my spin to it:

1. If it tastes like breakfast, it is a muffin. If it tastes like cake, it is a cupcake.

2. If it has frosting it must be a cupcake. Muffins aren’t usually dressed up for special occasions.

3. Cupcakes wear clothes (a paper liner), muffins can and often do go naked.

4. Cupcakes look good wearing candles, candles make muffins feel silly.

I hate to say it, but the whole cupcake craze that has been going on for the past couple of years has been a big failure in my eyes. I have tried cupcakes from cupcakeries and they always leave me underwhelmed. The cake is obviously homemade, but often the cupcakes are dry. The frosting is often interesting but way to sweet. I even had high hopes when one day I visited a small bakery in the middle of wine country where the baker was adding wine to the cupcakes. They were okay, but not scrumptious and if I am going to spend five bucks for a single cupcake, it better be scrumptious. My advice? Keep it simple. Make your own. You won’t regret it. I made homemade cupcakes today and they were scrumptious. I substituted honey for the sugar in the cake recipe and it made for a moist, lightly sweet, spicy cake that was as light as a pillow. The frosting was lightened up with reduced fat cream cheese and the gentle sweetness was wonderful with the spiciness of the cake.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

Cupcakes:

¼ cup salted butter, softened

½ cup honey

½ cup molasses

1 large egg

1 ½ tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp allspice

½ tsp nutmeg

1 ¼ cups unbleached white flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ cup boiling water

Frosting:

2 tbsp salted butter, softened

2 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, softened

2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

¼ tsp pure lemon extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. Line two six cup muffin tins with cupcake liners

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and honey until light and fluffy. Add the egg and molasses.  Beat until smooth. Add the ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and flour. Beat until well blended. In a separate cup, dissolve the baking soda in the hot water. Add this mixture to the batter and beat until smooth.

Ladle the batter evenly into the cupcake liners. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes in the tins for five minutes or until you can safely handle them. Remove the cupcakes from the tins and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting: Cream the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. Add the confectioner’s sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the lemon extract and beat the frosting until smooth. It was hot today and this frosting was pretty runny. If you have the same problem, put the frosting in the refrigerator for fifteen minutes or so to firm it up. Frost the cupcakes. There is just enough frosting for all twelve cupcakes, but you’ll still be able to clean the bowl, if you know what I mean….

An ode to the Frug

Look back. Go ahead and look back in time. Do you remember all of the people, the experiences you had, the books you read, the flavors you tasted. The many influences that make you into the cook you are today? Hell, the person you are today? Look back and smile. Look back and laugh. Enjoy. It’s all been good.

When I was a girl, I loved to bake. I only began to dabble in cooking when I began to stumble onto the many things that would influence what I loved to eat. One person who influenced me was a strange and silly man. A theologian, a historian, he was not a chef. He was a home cook. Endlessly fascinating, clumsy in the kitchen, but knowledgeable and quite possibly the first real foodie I had ever seen. He dubbed himself the Frugal Gourmet and I sat on floor in front of the TV each week to listen to stories, be entertained and watch a man make amazing food in a really nice kitchen with better equipment than I thought I’d ever have access to.

To tell you the truth, I think I enjoyed watching his antics more than cooking out of his books. I loved to watch him. His show made me happy. His recipes were unfortunately inconsistent and he made me into a better cook because I often had to make changes to the recipes to get them to work.

But… I miss the Frug. I was so happy to stumble onto the fact that other people loved him enough to keep recordings of his show and post them on YouTube. I have a treat for you. Here is a quintessential example of why I was mesmerized by his show. Please spend the next half hour watching the Frugal Gourmet bake with sourdough. You won’t regret it. Please keep reading after the show. I baked up one of his other loaves of bread and you won’t want to miss that!

Even after all of these years, I still use my Frugal Gourmet cookbooks. The other day, I whipped out my copy of The Frugal Gourmet on our Immigrant Ancestors. I have to admit that out of the three books of his I own, this isn’t my favorite, and I haven’t really looked at it with fresh eyes in quite awhile. After I made some enchiladas verde con queso using the recipe from the Mexico chapter as a rough guideline (I have completely changed this recipe over the years to be much more healthy), I began to page through this book. There are so many bread recipes. I didn’t know. At the time I got these books, I wouldn’t have dared bake bread. When I got to the chapter on Germany, I became very curious about the pumpernickel bread recipe. It sounded so delicious!

I finally had the chance to bake up a loaf of this wonderful bread today. I’m happy I never tried to bake this bread years ago because I would have been frustrated. The recipe called for over half a cup more white flour than necessary and the bread needed to bake for fifteen minutes longer than the recipe called for which are errors I never would have caught before I became a seasoned bread baker. But, I have to say, I was so happy with this bread. The Frug wrote in his book about this bread: “It is simple to do and the results are better than those of most bakeries that you know” Comparing this to the sourdough rye I made awhile back, it took a third of the time, a third of the kneading and the bread was just as delicious as that much more complex loaf. My boyfriend thinks it is better than the pumpernickel bread we get at a favorite restaurant which comes from a respected bakery. I have to say this is a very close second to that bread too!

If you love pumpernickel bread and want an simple recipe, this is for you! This loaf is going to YeastSpotting, a showcase of fine bread across the Blogosphere.

Pumpernickel bread

Adapted from The Frugal Gourmet on our Immigrant Ancestors by Jeff Smith

4 ½ tsp active yeast

1 ¼ cup tepid water (between 105 – 110 degrees, F.)

1 cup whole grain rye flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

¼ cup molasses

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp whole caraway seeds

1 ½ tsp salt

1 cup unbleached white flour (possibly more if needed)

Cornmeal for dusting your peel

In a large bowl, combine yeast and water. Allow to proof for 10 minutes. It should be nice and frothy. Add rye flour, whole wheat flour, molasses, cocoa, caraway seeds and salt. Mix well. Add white flour and mix with a heavy spoon or spatula until well combined. Turn out onto a floured board. This makes a very dense dough. The original recipe called for over a half cup more white flour which could be added if the dough is sticky. If your dough is sticky, add a tablespoon of flour at a time if needed. Knead the dough for 5 – 7 minutes. It will become smooth and elastic and the outside will feel soft like your earlobe. (This dough will not be elastic enough to do a window pane test).

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with a heavy cloth and allow to rise until doubled, about an hour.

Punch the dough down. Knead for a minute and then form into a ball. Sprinkle a peel or a rimless cookie sheet with a liberal amount of cornmeal. Lay the dough ball on the cornmeal. Cover the dough with the cloth and allow to rise until doubled again, about an hour.

Put a pizza stone on the top rack in the oven. Also place a metal pan on the lower rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using the peel or a rimless baking sheet, transfer the dough to the hot stone. Pour about a cup of water into the metal pan to create steam. Bake the bread for 45 minutes. The bread is ready when it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom and/or an instant read thermometer reads an internal temperature of 190 degrees F. when poked into the bread.

Monkeying around with my bread

Ever since I started baking bread, I’ve wanted a monkey bread pan. There was this gorgeous brown ceramic pan at a luxury kitchenware store. It was $24.95. That’s not a lot of money, but I didn’t want it that bad. Why? I had never eaten monkey bread and I wasn’t sure I would like it. I couldn’t see paying a lot of money for a pan that could easily end up taking up space and collecting dust. But every time I saw that pan, I had an irrational lust for it. That lust became especially painful now that I have been pinching my pennies so hard. A couple of weeks ago, I walked into that luxury kitchenware store to kill time. They were having a huge sale and what did I see? Monkey bread pans! The tag said $14.95. Ten bucks off!! How could I resist? I scooped one up with some pretty dish towels, got home and realized that I was actually charged $9.95 instead, woohoo!!

For some time, I’ve been thinking that I wanted to do a savory instead of sweet monkey bread loaf. A local restaurant used to serve up rolls that were drenched in a thick pesto of sorts which was mostly garlic. I loved those rolls so much. Another favorite restaurant tops there black bean stew with an amazing cilantro pesto. What if I made pull apart rolls covered in cilantro pesto. Mmmmmm!! What a great idea.

The ants are winning so I still don’t have sourdough. I did however pick this up:

Who in their right mind buys 2 pounds of yeast?? I hear it freezes well….  😀

The cilantro pesto I whipped together turned out amazingly well. Earthy and spicy, I look forward to figuring out what to do with the leftovers. It also made one mean loaf of monkey bread!!

This fabulous monkey bread is being submitted to YeastSpotting.

Cilantro Pesto

4 large cloves garlic

¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds

2 packed cups cilantro, stems and leaves, chopped

1 packed cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped

½ cup sliced sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained

1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and chopped

¼ tsp salt

¾ cup grated parmesano reggiano

¾ cup olive oil

Fresh ground pepper to taste

Put garlic cloves into the container of either a blender or a food processor. Chop. Add pumpkin seeds and chop some more. Add the rest of the ingredients. Process until the sauce is a smooth paste. A food processor works better for this task. If using a blender, you may have to stop the motor of the blender and mix the ingredients a few times in between blending to get a nice smooth paste.

This pesto recipe makes way more sauce than you will use on the monkey bread. Pour a little olive oil over the surface of the pesto to keep it from browning and then store air tight in the refrigerator until ready to use. This pesto can be used as pasta sauce or as a garnish for meals like black bean stew.

Cilantro Pesto & Cheddar Monkey Bread

1 – 2 tbsp butter, softened (for greasing the pan)

¾ cup buttermilk

½ cup water

4 tbsp evaporated cane juice, divided

2 ½ tsp active yeast

2 tbsp butter, melted

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 cups unbleached white flour (plus more for dusting the kneading board)

1 ¼ cups stone ground whole wheat flour

2 tsp salt

½ – 1 cup cilantro pesto (see recipe above)

1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

In a small sauce pan, combine water and buttermilk. Warm to between 95 and 110 degrees F. Mix in 2 tbsp evaporated cane juice and the yeast. Let stand ten minutes until the mixture is bubbly.

In a large bowl. Mix together white flour, whole wheat flour and salt. In another large bowl, combine the yeast mixture, butter, and the egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing until well combined.

Turn the dough out onto a well floured kneading surface. Knead the dough for 5 – 7 minutes adding a little bit more flour if the dough is too tacky. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for one hour or until doubled.

Turn the dough out onto the floured kneading surface and flatten it out into an 8” square. Cut the square into six even ropes. Cut each rope into eight even pieces. Butter the monkey bread pan generously with the softened butter. This is going to get dirty… be prepared… Take each piece of dough and roll it into a little ball. With a spoon put a little cilantro pesto in the palm of your hand and roll the ball of dough in the pesto. Be generous! Transfer the dough balls as they are sauced to the prepared monkey bread pan. Each time you complete a layer of dough balls, toss a few pinches of cheddar over the dough. Keep layering until the pan is full, ending with a sprinkle of cheese.

Let the bread rise covered for 45 minutes. You want the dough to rise to near the top of the pan, try not to let it rise above the pan. While bread is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. and position the rack in the lower third of the oven. Bake the bread uncovered for 20 minutes. Cover the bread with a sheet of foil and continue baking for 25 to 35 minutes. Check the bread after 25 minutes, if the rolls near the tube spring back when touched, the loaf is ready. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Invert the pan over a plate (careful, it will still be hot) and turn the loaf out onto the plate. Let cool for ten more minutes and then enjoy warm!