28 October 2009

Cocktail Eyeballs and Sakétinis


I really don't do a lot to celebrate Halloween. I hardly ever dress up or go to a party. Usually I just stay at home and hand out candy to the ghouls and boys that ring my doorbell dressed in their cute little costumes. Then I answer it some more as the older kids come by in makeshift costumes taking the rest of the candy off my hands so I don't end up eating it all myself.

Sometimes I watch a Halloween movie though that is generally on the tame side too. No absurdly gory movies for me. I prefer classics like "Dracula" or "Young Frankenstein", possibly "The Birds," or even an old episode or two of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Last year I was on my own with my husband out of town and my son out with friends. The waves of trick-or-treaters at my door were intermittent and I was fairly bored. What to do? Like any good food blogger I pulled out a recipe I had just discovered on the Internet and tried to recreate it.

This is a fairly easy recipe but has tremendous impact. I think it was the fuzzy little root of the radish, intact and looking all quivery, that convinced me to try it. I am not all that fond of radishes and green olives are not my favorite garnish but all the same these are totally edible and so worthwhile for a Halloween party or even for an evening at home. These are definitely worthy of a smile, or a grimace, as a garnish for Martinis, Sakétinis, or Bloody Marys. They can also be frozen individually in ice cubes and served in a clear beverage. Or just serve them as is. Arranged on a serving dish and drizzled with a red sauce these are very eye catching.


Cocktail Eyeballs
I think I first saw them at Show Me Vegan

2 bunches of fresh radishes
1 jar small green pimiento stuffed olives

Carefully wash the radishes in cold water and pat dry.

Using a vegetable peeler or small paring knife create stripes by carefully peeling a radish from top to root, leaving small streaks of red between the peeled stripes of white, and being careful to leave the root intact.


Slice away approximately 1/3 of the stem end of the radish. Using the coring tip of a vegetable peeler scoop out the interior of the radish, being careful not to break the sides.


Push one pimiento stuffed green olive into the cavity you created. The olive should fit snugly and protrude above the surface of the radish less than half way with the pimiento stuffed end facing outward.


Slice away the protruding end of the olive so that it is flush with the radish.

Use as a garnish for Sakétinis or other Halloween cocktails.


Or arrange stuffed radishes in a serving dish and drizzle with cocktail sauce or a red salad dressing (I used Pomegranate Dressing), enough to pool slightly in the bottom of the dish. Serve with toothpicks.


Sakétini
From “the sakétini” booklet distributed by Saké One

2 oz. Momokawa Silver or other dry Saké
1 oz. vodka or gin

Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lime curl, olives or other festive garnish.

24 October 2009

Pumpkin Spice Latte Muffins with POMx Iced Coffee

Iced Coffee from POM Wonderful?

The folks at POM Wonderful recently sent me another great product to try: their new POMx Iced Coffee. I got bottles in two flavors, Café au Lait and Chocolate. When it first arrived I have to admit I was curious. What would it taste like? Would it have some hint of fruitiness?

The answer is no. As Pom says itself, in an ad with googly-eyed talking sheep, “that would just be weird.”

While these coffee drinks are made by POM Wonderful, the pomegranate juice people, and while it has all of those great nutritional benefits found in pomegranate juice, those benefits come from “a super-pure, super-concentrated, 100% natural blend of polyphenal antioxidants” rather than pomegranate juice itself. This concentrate contains all of the benefits of an 8 ounce bottle of pomegranate juice…. except the exotic flavor. Instead POMx iced coffee, especially the Café au Lait flavor, actually tastes like, well, an iced coffee drink.


For me that’s a good thing. Because of the antioxidant boost in these POMx beverages I would buy them over other brands of bottled coffee drinks given a choice. And from the energy drink angle, well coffee is my energy drink of choice so that works too.

Choc-ola Remembered

I will have to say I found the chocolate flavor interesting too. I suppose, in the world of coffee drinks, it is similar to a mocha. Oddly though, what came to my mind when I first tasted the chocolate flavored POMx Iced Coffee was a chocolate beverage I remember fondly from my childhood: Choc-ola. (Does anyone else remember those?)

Choc-ola came in a glass bottle, like many other soft drinks of its day, and had to be shaken to fully mix the chocolate you could see at the bottom of the bottle. Icy cold on a summer’s day, they were fantastic. Sometimes they were available in coke machines of that era and if I could find one I would choose it over Coca-Cola every time.

Chocolate Flavored Drink Weirdness

What's more, I have this indelible memory from sometime before I was six years old of buying a Choc-ola at a roadside souvenir stand in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and giving it to a big black bear that was chained beside the building. He sat up on his hind legs and promptly downed the whole thing.


Does the Pomx Chocolate flavor iced coffee taste like that? Well something brought Choc-ola to mind when I tasted it. Maybe it was a weird association between the bear and the sheep. Or maybe there was some similarity in the silky smooth chocolate flavor that reminded me of that retro soft drink I favored of as a child. Actually I think both flavors of the POMx Iced Coffee were really good.

....and Muffins

What else can you do with these drinks? I got to thinking that what other coffee drinks might have over the POMx Iced Coffee is a seasonal spin. I also started thinking, as I drank my Café au Lait, that what I was missing here was a muffin. After a little recipe tampering I came up with these tasty Pumpkin Spice Latte Muffins. This recipe is adapted from my recipe for Java Monkey Muffins. It includes some pumpkin that was leftover in my refrigerator, a bottle of Pomx Café au Lait flavored iced coffee (you can substitute coffee and milk if you prefer) and some pumpkin pie spice. Then they are topped with an espresso/pumpkin pie spice glaze that really gives it that pumpkin latte flavor.

These muffins are soft and luscious, low in fat and sugar (at least before the topping) and are made with wholesome oatmeal and mashed pumpkin, not to mention the added nutritional boost of the POMx antioxidant concentrate. Tasty, nutritious and maybe just a little bit weird, these muffins make a terrific, and seasonally sensitive, breakfast treat.

Give them a try to add an energy boost to your morning and a little seasonal stimulation to your table.


Pumpkin Spice Latte Muffins

1 cup old fashioned oats, uncooked
1 cup POMx Café au Lait Iced Coffee (or ½ cup coffee + 1 teaspoon espresso powder + ½ cup milk)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

Mix oats and coffee drink in a medium bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

Add egg whites, butter, pumpkin and vanilla mixing until well blended.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice in a large bowl and mix well.

Stir dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture, just until moistened.

Fill muffin cups nearly full. Bake 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees or until golden brown. Cool muffins in tins on a wire rack. After 5 minutes remove from pan. Drizzle with Pumpkin Spice Latte Glaze.

Yield: 12 muffins

Pumpkin Spice Latte Glaze

1 teaspoon espresso powder
½ -1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 ½ Tablespoons hot water
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Dissolve the espresso powder in the hot water. Add ¼ teaspoon vanilla and mix gently.

In a small bowl, mix 1 Tablespoon of the espresso mixture into the confectioners’ sugar. Add more of the espresso mixture, one teaspoon at a time, until it is a nice consistency for a glaze.

When thoroughly mixed drizzle from a spoon over cooled muffins, or put the glaze in a quart sized ziplock bag, seal the bag, snip of ¼ inch of a lower corner, and squeeze the glaze in a random pattern over the muffins.

Serve and enjoy!

20 October 2009

Homemade Apple Butter



More Than a Recipe

Apple Butter is one of those recipes that is about so much more than the apples. What makes my ears perk up at the mention of Apple Butter has little to do with the flavor of autumn or with preserving the harvest. It is not about an interest in canning. That is something I have never tried. It’s not even about having a low fat spread to smear on hot biscuits or toast. While these are all good reasons to pursue the ultimate recipe for Apple Butter they are not mine. What causes me to smile at the thought of Apple Butter is my great great uncle Hal.



Uncle Hal

Uncle Hal grew up in the rural hills of southern Indiana over a century ago. His father died when he was young and his education was spotty after the fourth grade. From that point on he was needed at home to work the farm. Even so he was a keen observer. He had a quick wit and he told a good story.
Despite his lack of formal education Uncle Hal was inspired by his daughters to write a memoir. What he wrote for them was a beautiful legacy. He penned 162 handwritten pages. Reading them for the first time I was mesmerized by the vivid pictures his words evoked. I could see the dapper young man riding the streetcar in Louisville wearing a new suit of clothes. I matched that image to the portrait I found in a family album of this handsome young man coming of age a century ago.
Uncle Hal had a beautiful way of describing the landscapes of his life. Whether the streets of Louisville, the farmland of Wisconsin or Minnesota where he eventually settled, or the gently rolling knobs of Indiana, his boyhood home, he drew a picture in his careful handwriting of the wonder and humor and providential nature of the world he knew.

The Last Harvest of the Year

And that brings me back to Apple Butter. One of Uncle Hal’s most beautiful portraits described the harvest season in southern Indiana when he was a boy.
He wrote:

The apple harvest was another occasion for busy, happy excitement. It came in October when the corn was in the shock and summer’s work was almost finished. The apple harvest was the last harvest of the year and we had ample time to enjoy it. It was lots of work too but it was the kind of work that is more like fun, especially to an eight year old boy. The apples had to be picked and brought in; then came the job of peeling them and taking out the cores. The neighbors usually helped. Apple peelings were quite common and something of a social event. Anyone who wished to get the job done and have a lot of fun at the same time would invite as many neighbors – usually in the evening – as the house would accommodate and a great deal could be accomplished in one evening. Preparations took about two days.

With the kettle in place and wood stacked nearby, we would roll out of bed before daylight and get the fire going and Mother would come with apples. From there on the procedure was the same as with peach butter, Mother adding more apples from time to time as the apples boiled down. We changed about, each one taking a turn with the stirrer. Sugar and cinnamon were added when the apple butter was brown and thick and the fire was allowed to burn out. Apple butter took longer to make than peach butter, due to the higher juice content of the apples. Sometimes night would fall before the job was finished. Remember, my dear girls, that we made apple butter in October when the days were shorter than they were in the peach season.

I wish I could give you a clear picture of the apple harvest in Southern Indiana when I was a “kid”. I wish you could see those beautiful October days when the autumn colors were on the trees and Indian Summer came and spread its lavender mantle over the good earth. I wish you could see the sun going down in a sea of lavender and gold and a spiral of wood smoke rising from a small fire and disappearing in the purple twilight. If you look closely, you may see a boy stirring apple butter in a farmyard and a Mother coming out of the house to see if all is well. If I could make the picture as clear to you as it is to me I’m sure it would remain in your memories as long as it has in mine.



Sweet Surprises

Since reading Uncle Hal's story I have become fascinated by recipes for Apple Butter. Personally I am not a huge fan of jams, jellies and other preserves since they are often too sweet for my taste. I prefer most fruit fresh, if possible, and with very little sugar added. But, as I said, Apple Butter is about so much more than the apples. It's about history and family. It's about what's wholesome and homemade. It's about making the most of the abundance God has blessed us with here and now.
I have continued to collect recipes and search fro a less-sweet version of Apple Butter. Considering those recipes I have learned that sugar has a preservative quality that adds shelf life to canned fruits. I think that's the main reason most traditional Apple Butter recipes call for far more sugar than I find palatable. Yet, in the past few years I have found that Apple Butter can be made with much less sugar and stored in ways that weren't available to my great great grandmother and Uncle Hal a century ago. Today Apple Butter can be stored for several weeks in the refrigerator, or longer in the freezer, without much concern for the amount of sugar added.

New Ideas

Finally, last year I found a post about Apple Butter that really appealed to me. Lelo in NoPo wrote about a wonderful, forgiving way to make Apple Butter in a slow cooker. Lelo fills a slow cooker with apples then lets them cook overnight. By morning the fragrance of apples will be wafting through the house greeting you as you begin to stir and tugging on your sleeve, urging you to get out of bed and make pancakes for breakfast. Just puree the apples using a stick blender, add a little ground cinnamon and you have fresh flavorful homemade applesauce to serve with those pancakes.
After Breakfast, add sweetener to your own taste. Set the lid of the slow cooker ajar and let the apples continue to cook, stirring occasionally for the rest of the day, or until the apple mixture reaches a thick buttery consistency. What you have now is Homemade Apple Butter made by a process that is so simple and rewarding it just might turn into a new family tradition.

A Sensory Indulgence

This apple butter is a wonderful treat on cool autumn days! As it cooks I think of Uncle Hal's sea of lavender and gold in the purple twilight. I can almost see the smoke rising from his small wood fire as I breathe in the fragrance of the apples and spices cooking down in my slow cooker. The aroma alone is worth the small amount of effort it takes to prepare this recipe. Better yet the resulting Apple Butter can be spread on biscuits, toast, cornbread, even a saltine cracker, or it can be added to a variety of recipes for cakes or muffins. Though this recipe makes only a few jars of apple butter rather than the 30 gallon copper kettle full that my great great grandmother canned during the autumns a century ago, it is enough for our tastes and circumstances and worth far more in the places it is able to take me than in the contribution it makes to my pantry.
This recipe, using Lelo’s method, includes a taste of real maple syrup and a little ground cardamon and allspice to supplement the traditional ground cinnamon. The resulting Apple Butter is mildly sweet but still lets the crisp tartness of the apple flavor shine through.


Homemade Apple Butter

6 - 8 pounds of apples (enough to fill the bowl of your slow cooker)
½ cup water
½ - 1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup maple syrup
½ to 1 cup sugar (I used brown)
¼ teaspoon cardamon
¼ teaspoon allspice

The juice and zest of one small lemon


Before Going to Bed:

Fill a slow cooker with apples that have been peeled, cored and sliced.

Pour ½ cup water over the apples.

Cover and let cook on low overnight.

(Mix the batter for Overnight Pancakes, if desired, and store in the refrigerator)


In the Morning:

Add ½ teaspoon cinnamon to the apples.

Using a stick blender, blend the cooked apples until smooth.

Now you have applesauce. Fill a bowl with enough to serve your family as a sidedish with pancakes for breakfast.

(Make pancakes using the prepared batter for Overnight Pancakes or try Swedish Pancakes or Wheat Germ Griddle Cakes if you prefer.)


After Breakfast:

Leave the remainder of the blended apples in the slow cooker. Stir in the maple syrup, sugar, cardamon and allspice, lemon juice and zest. Add more cinnamon and/or sugar to taste. Prop the lid open or set it ajar so that steam will escape.

Every hour or so stir the apple mixture scraping down the sides of the slow cooker well each time.

Continue for most of the day, until the apples have thickened to a buttery paste, or until they reach the consistency you are looking for.

Store the finished Apple Butter in clean glass jars or in freezer containers. The Apple Butter should keep several weeks in the refrigerator and several months in the freezer.

Enjoy!

17 October 2009

Roasted Delicata Squash


One of the things I love most about fall is that it is so abundantly pretty. When the autumn sky is blue it is so exquisitely stark it feels almost fragile as if it might crack open. The light falls bluer and the sky is a perfect backdrop for looking up at spiderwebs and crimson tinged golden leaves barely hanging from thinning branches as they let go to ride the wind. In time the ground is covered with shades of bronze, mustard, russet, and vermillion. The gargantuan leaves of pumpkin vines wither revealing fields dotted with festive globes in shades of orange. Apples, gourds and squash are stacked high at the grocery with decorations for our kitchen and holiday tables.

I love to look through the piles of winter squash reading the clever names on the stickers: Butternut, Acorn, Ambercup, Carnival, Kabocha, Turban and, my favorite, Delicata. These winter staples are beautiful arranged in piles with Indian corn and fall leaves. There is a practical appeal in the fact that they are edible but how to cook with them can be a mystery.

For years I barely used the squash I decorated with in the fall. They were hard to cut and I wasn’t sure how to cook them. But then I realized how good they were. Finding the flesh of some varieties to be as creamy as mashed potatoes and so slightly sweet and satisfying I began to simply roast them in the oven until they were easily pierced with a fork.

Last week I went to the grocery to pick up a few more Delicata squash from the produce isle. Picking through for the prettiest shapes and colors I gathered my favorites in my arm. Before I got out of the store several people stopped to ask me what I planned to do with them. It seems I'm not the only one who has wondered how to use these beautiful winter squash. So here’s what I told them...



Roasted Delicata Squash

Wash the squash and cut it in half lengthwise with a sharp knife.


Scrape the seeds and fiber out with a spoon. (Wash and separate the seeds from the fiber and reserve them to roast if you desire.)


Lay the squash cut side down on a baking sheet.


Bake at 400 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes or until the squash is tender when pricked with a fork. (Or if you have something else in the oven at a different temperature roast the squash at that temperature adjusting the time accordingly.)

Remove from the oven.


Serve and enjoy!

Note: This is a simple cooking method but I find the Delicata squash is sweet and flavorful enough that it needs no dressing up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and some herbs if you like. Top with a smidgeon of butter and brown sugar if you want something sweeter. Really though, it is delicious as is.

Roasting Herbs: I do like to add sprigs of fresh herbs to the roasting pan. If you have fresh herbs growing in the garden, or left over from another use, this is a great way to release their fragrance and make the kitchen smell wonderful. I especially like to add rosemary, thyme and sage to the roasting pan. When the pan is removed from the oven and the herbs have cooled, they can easily be crumbled onto your squash or other dishes. Or simply discard and enjoy the lingering aroma.


Roasting Squash Seeds: To roast squash seeds toss with a little oil and your choice of seasoning. You can use herbs or spices or simply salt.( I shook the seeds from my Delicata squash in a Ziploc baggie, along with a teaspoon or two of olive oil and a teaspoon of madras hot curry powder.) Spread them on a pan and roast along with the squash, stirring every 10 minutes or so until they begin to brown. If roasting separately, try a low temperature, approximately 250 degrees.

13 October 2009

Spider Cupcakes


I seem to have a fascination with spiders. I can't say I like them. In fact as a girl I was terrified of them. I would lie awake at night worrying that one would crawl up the side of my bed in the darkness, slip under my sheet and bite me while I slept.

As an adult I could no longer afford to be squeamish. It did me no good to stand on a chair and scream when I saw a spider as I found that was a reaction that came naturally to others in my household too. Now it was my turn to get a paper towel or broom and dispose of the offending creature.

Over time we have come to a sort of truce, spiders and me. Outdoor spiders I work around and leave alone to do their own thing. Indoor spiders still have to go but I toss them outside if I can, depending on a few factors like size, resemblance to poisonous spiders I have just seen pictures of on the Internet and whether or not anyone is standing on a chair and screaming.

These days I might even say I find spiders intriguing. I am amazed by their webs, so perfectly intricate and defined by glistening jewels of dew in the morning light. The garden spiders that spin them are often bold and beautiful while other smaller outdoor spiders are pale and delicate, almost fragile, crawling among the flowers. I have done several portraits of both kinds of spiders for Pixel Pearls. I enjoy capturing and working with the image of spiders I find in the garden.

These days I decorate with spiders for Halloween. I have one that hangs from the front door and drops when the door is opened only to climb back to the top of his web with eyes flashing. This year I even made spiders the theme of my Halloween cake. These cupcakes make a fun addition to a Halloween party and they aren't too complicated, especially if you enjoy working with chocolate.


Spider Cupcakes
These are made in three relatively easy steps: 
  1. bake the cupcakes 
  2. make the legs 
  3. frost and assemble the spiders
1. Cupcakes

Bake cupcakes using your favorite recipe. (I used muffins I had baked for another use. That was not the best idea since the muffins were dense and it was difficult to push the pretzel legs into them. I recommend a cake with a finer and moister consistency like Midnight Chocolate Cake or a boxed cake mix.)

When the cupcakes are ready make the legs.

2. Spider Legs
(enough for 3 cupcakes)

48 matchstick pretzels
24 chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips because they are a little wider and flatter than some other brands.
1/2 cup chocolate chips


Arrange the matchstick pretzels on a parchment lined baking sheet in groups with two pretzels forming a V and one chocolate chip balanced on top where they join.

Carefully place baking sheet in preheated 350 degree oven for 5 minutes or until chips begin to melt over the joint. Remove from oven and adjust chocolate that has not covered the joining of the pretzels with a butter knife (not your finger. Ouch!)

Melt the 1/2 cup of chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler and scrape it into a decorating bag with a writing tip attached, or into a ziplock bag with ¼ inch of the lower corner clipped off, or just drizzle the chocolate over the pretzels in a random design, being careful to get most of the chocolate on the pretzels.


Place the baking sheet with the spider legs on it in the refrigerator until ready to use.

3. Frosting

While the legs are setting make the frosting. I used my favorite Modified Mexican Hot Chocolate Frosting because I had some left over from another project. I rewhipped the leftover frosting and added more cocoa powder and a little powdered black food coloring to get a deep brown color.

I like this frosting but the cream cheese can make it tricky to work with so if you are new to cake decorating it might be easier to use a standard Buttercream Icing recipe like this one from Wilton. If you make white buttercream icing you can set some aside for fangs or to make into other decorator colors. If you want to make fangs like I did, using white candy melts or white chocolate (See the note at the bottom), then go ahead and make Chocolate Buttercream Icing to begin with. These Wilton recipes are optimal for cake decorating.


Once the frosting is ready fill a pastry bag fitted with a #233 ( used for grass or hair) decorating tip, or use a Ziploc freezer bag with the lower corner snipped off and fit with a coupler and the decorating tip. I recommend using a gallon sized Ziploc bag as it is easier to work with than the smaller one I used here.

Set a cupcake on a serving plate or foil covered cardboard circle that is at least 8 inches in diameter. Begin frosting the cupcake using the #233 decorating tip at the base and work your way up the side. When the sides are covered in frosting set the decorating bag aside.


Remove the chocolate pretzel spider legs from the refrigerator. Using a skewer make eight holes around the edge of the cupcake, angling in toward the center, just above the frosting line. Carefully lift eight of the spider legs from the parchment paper and insert them into the cupcake where it was pierced with the skewer. Position the legs so that the chocolate coating faces the front on both sides.

Now finish frosting the top of the cupcake with the decorating tip. The cupcake should look fuzzy. (Don't be too particular since fanged spiders are bound to have bad hair issues.)

Position two Mini M&Ms, Reese's Pieces, other candies, dots of colored frosting, or these great edible googly eyes on the spider's face for eyes.

Put a bit of reserved white frosting (if you have it) in a small Ziploc bag and snip off a small piece of a lower corner. Using the bag, pipe fangs into position on the spider.

Share with family and friends. Enjoy!

Note: If you have no white frosting you can make fangs by melting a small amount of candy melts or white chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler. When smooth, place the white candy in a Ziploc bag and trim a small bit from a lower corner. Pipe fangs onto a small piece of parchment paper or wax paper. Place in the refrigerator for a few minutes. When firm, peel the fangs from the paper and position them on the spider. If this part sounds like a lot of bother, skip the fangs. The spider will look good anyway.

09 October 2009

Maple Huckleberry Loaf


The kitchen is a great place to spend time when autumn arrives. Cooler days often find me there baking. When the temperature drops it is nice to turn the oven on and find new ways to use the fall produce decorating my countertops.

I found this beautiful quick bread/coffee cake recipe at 101 Cookbooks. It has a wonderfully crumbly crust layer, full of crunchy nuts and the flavor of maple sugar. Here I used the rest of my huckleberries according to the recipe as posted. The only change I made for my first attempt was to use hazelnuts instead of pecans in the crumb for a wholly northwest take on this wholesome huckleberry creation. The huckleberries were gathered at nearby Mt. St. Helen’s. The hazelnuts are a product of the Pacific Northwest as well.

This recipe turned out to be fantastic, a really nice change of pace from my normal repertoire of fall quick breads. It is made with whole wheat pastry flour and real maple syrup. What really intrigued me and begged me to try the recipe ws the addition of fresh chopped rosemary and thyme. I would have never thought to include those herbs in a quick bread studded with fresh fruit but reading the recipe this earthy combination of ingredients struck me as an inspired synergy of fall flavors.

The outcome was even better than expected, a beautiful crumb topped loaf that disappeared quickly. The hint of savory herbs gives a subtle depth to the powerful top notes of rich maple sweetness and the tart wildness of fresh huckleberries. I will be making this again. In fact I already have, in several different harvest flavored variations.


Maple Huckleberry Loaf
adapted slightly from "Maple Huckleberry Coffee Cake" at 101 Cookbooks

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
¼ cup rolled oats
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
¼ teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
4 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 large egg
zest of one lemon
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cups fresh berries

Crumb Topping:
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
4 Tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup maple sugar (or brown sugar)
¼ teaspoon fresh thyme
½ cup chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl thoroughly combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, thyme and rosemary. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add the maple syrup while beating. Continue mixing until well incorporated. Add the egg, lemon zest and vanilla. Continue beating until well mixed.

Stir in the flour mixture a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk. Mix until barely combined.

Fold in 1 cup of the huckleberries.

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and set aside.

To prepare the crumb topping:

Combine the flour, sugar and thyme thoroughly in a medium bowl. Cut in the chunks of butter using a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles course crumbs. (Or place topping ingredients in a food processor and pulse 20 to 30 times, or until quite crumbly.) Stir in the chopped hazelnuts.

Scatter 2/3 of the crumb topping over the batter in the loaf pan. Add the remaining 1/3 cup of huckleberries evenly across the topping, then cover with the remaining 1/3 of the crumb mixture. Press the topping down onto the batter lightly, using your fingertips.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 -55 minutes, or until golden on top and the loaf tests done using a toothpick or when it springs back when pressed lightly with a fingertip. Remove to cool on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes. Remove from pan and let the loaf rest on the wire rack until completely cooled.

Variations: I made several loaves in mini loaf pans. The pan size reduced the baking time needed only a little. I think mine took about 40 minutes to bake but pan sizes and materials vary so start checking sooner and bake until the loaf tests done.

If huckleberries are hard to find try using frozen or fresh berries as a substitution. Blueberries are the closest choice but what about cranberries?


Maple Apple Loaf

Omit the lemon zest. Reduce the amount of maple syrup to 1/4 cup and add 1/2 cup apple butter or appplesauce to the wet ingredients along with the egg. Use 1 1/3 cups diced peeled apple chunks in place of the huckleberries.


Maple Pumpkin Loaf

Omit the lemon zest and add 1 cup of mashed pumpkin or squash (I used canned pumpkin), to the wet ingredients along with the egg. You might also like to add 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice.

Enjoy!

06 October 2009

Huckleberry Thyme Sauce


Last week at the farmer’s market I found something extra special – huckleberries. These tiny tasty berries are my idea of wonderful. Their dark rich flavor is related to, but a little more intense and tart than, the generous juicy sweetness of my favorite summer blueberries.

Reading about huckleberries I learned that there has been a bumper crop this season growing along trails at upper elevations in the Cascade mountains. If you have the opportunity to collect or buy huckleberries don’t miss out. They are a sumptuous treat that slip easily into early fall menus.

I used some of the huckleberries I bought at the market last week in a wonderful huckleberry sauce. This sauce is quite similar to the Summer Berry Basil Sauce I use in a variety of simple desserts. Where it varies is that instead of basil I pair the wild tartness of the huckleberries with the earthy notes of thyme and nutmeg while adding a little balsamic vinegar and red wine.

As an accompaniment to an entree, like Herb Roasted Chicken, Huckleberry Thyme Sauce adds complexity and interest to an ordinary fall dinner. As a topping for meringue cookies, maple walnut ice cream or fresh ripe fruit it adds earthy sweetness and dramatic fall color to a simple light dessert.

A perfectly ripe peach half topped with Huckleberry Thyme Sauce, sweetened whipped cream, a sprinkle of maple sugar and a sprig of fresh thyme

Huckleberry Thyme Sauce

approximately 2 cups huckleberries
2 Tablespoons honey
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 four-inch sprigs fresh thyme
3 Tablespoons red wine
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

In a small saucepan stir together half of the huckleberries, honey, lemon juice, nutmeg, cinnamon, thyme sprigs, red wine and vinegar.

Cook gently, over medium heat, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes, or until berries have softened and released their juice. With the back of a spoon squash some of the berries against the side of the pan while cooking.

Remove from heat. With a spoon, remove the thyme sprigs and discard.

Stir in the rest of the fresh huckleberries.

Serve with roast chicken or pork, or spooned over fresh peaches, pears, meringue cookies or ice cream.

01 October 2009

Farmers Market Inspirations


Yesterday was the last day of the 2009 Camas Farmer's Market. It has been a great year, tasting delicious food, listening to good music, visiting with friends and talking to vendors on Wednesday afternoons. I have been inspired this season by tips and techniques I picked up at the cooking demonstrations and by the enthusiasm of vendors and shoppers over some great discoveries.

One discovery was this beautiful flatbread creation from Truly Scrumptious, a boutique bakery based in Camas. As you can see, this flatbread is topped with an appealing combination of caramelized red onion, gorgonzola cheese, sliced figs, rosemary and crushed red pepper. I have tasted similar combinations before without being all that impressed but this flatbread was extraordinary.

Maybe it is the change of seasons that make these earthy flavors so appealing to me this week. Or maybe it is the balance of quantities and seasoning as the savory flecks of rosemary and red pepper, along with the caramelized onion, ground the tension between the sweet figs and the tangy cheese. Whatever it is, I found this lovely combination of flavor and texture inspiring. If you can find fresh figs this is definitely worth trying at home.


Another great find at the market were these wild huckleberries gathered on Mt. St. Helen's. I had never even eaten a huckleberry before. Tasting one yesterday was a thrill and a revelation. When I got home and looked them up I discovered that the huckleberry is a relative of the blueberry. It grows only in the wild and at high elevation. I learned that it is a favorite fall treat of hikers and grizzly bears and is another unique culinary asset of the Pacific Northwest. Now that I have a small stash of my own I look forward to finding a great way to use them in the coming week.

It's been a fantastic season at the Camas Farmer's Market. I'm already looking forward to what it will bring next year!