Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Recently it occurred to me the importance writing had in my life. I was in Logan airport heading out to the Denver/Boulder area for a quick visit, when I suddenly found myself in a state of panic - I had forgotten to pack a journal in my carry-on bag! I was going to be on a plane for 4 hours with nothing to write on. I had to think quick - was there anything else in my bag I could at least use as scratch paper if I needed to? No. Did I even have a pen in my bag? No. Maybe if I felt the urge, I could just type some notes into my iPhone or iPad. I tried to imagine that. No, that would just not suffice. Before I went through security, I found a bookstore where I purchased a package of 2 pocket-sized turquoise colored Moleskin writing pads and a nice pen and stored them away in my backpack. Aaaaah. Much better.
I began thinking about the role writing played in my life. It's not something I do in a very serious way, nor am I very good at it, but it's hard to think of my life without it. My first diary entry is from December 24, 1977 when I was 8 years old and I've kept some form of a journal ever since. There have been times when I've written more than others, and gaps of time when I haven't recorded much, but it's always been an outlet for me. I use writing to sort things out in my mind. I find I journal more when I'm feeling down, and also when I travel.
Recently, I've considered trying to be a little more disciplined about it, and maybe writing a bit every day, but not just about whatever is going on in my mind. I'd like to try my hand at some fiction. I probably mentioned I took a children's book writing and publishing class that I loved. I still have a manuscript I pull out every so often and make some changes too. I also found a writing class at the local Adult Education program that I almost took this Fall, but decided to hold off til winter.
In the meantime, I recently tried once again to do something I've proven not to be good at - baking. But this time, it wasn't awful. While I was perusing recipes for Thanksgiving ideas, I came across this one for Pumpkin Bread Pudding. Given bread pudding is one dessert that I do like quite a bit, I thought I'd give it a go. I made a few adjustments, but stuck to the recipe the best I could and the results were quite tasty. Vegans and anyone with a heart condition beware - this is not a recipe for you. This may be one of the more fat laden recipes I've ever made. And, as if there wasn't enough dairy already in the recipe, we had leftovers last night topped with some vanilla ice cream. Thank you, cows.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
8 oz of French bread, torn into small pieces, about 5 cups (I used quite a bit more bread - about 80% of a 16 oz loaf)
2 cups half and half, or half milk and half cream
3 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 cup dried cranberries
3 tblspns melted butter
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground nutmeg
1/2 tspn ground ginger
1 tspn vanilla

1. Heat oven to 350. Butter an 11X7 inch baking dish. (I used a bigger baking dish since I used more bread. I also added a little more milk and a tad more sugar and cranberries.)
2. In a bowl, cover the torn bread with the half and half. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, combine eggs, sugars, pumpkin, craberries, melted butter, spices and vanilla. Blend well.
4. Pour egg mixture in with bread mixture and blend.
5. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until set.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Three Grain Pilaf

This morning I tried something new. It's called Nia. I've been wanting to go to the Arlington Center to check out their yoga classes since I can walk there from my house, and my yoga studio doesn't have a class I like on Sunday mornings so it seemed like a good day to venture elsewhere. The schedule just said Nia/Yoga so I went without really knowing what I was getting myself into. Imagine my surprise when I was told I wouldn't really be needing my yoga mat and I could put that aside. It turns out Nia is a combination of dance, martial arts and healing arts. Today's class was to Indian music and it was a lot of fun. Some of the dance moves were reminiscent of the jazz classes I took as a kid. You really have to let any inhibitions go in order to get something out of this kind of class. The focus is on moving and strengthening your body and I don't think there's a part of our body that went unmoved.
This was a good distraction for me since I'm feeling a bit sad about not having raced 'cross this year. I remember feeling similarly at the same time last year after only having had done a few races. It's been a gorgeous autumn - weekend after weekend of pretty Fall days, and as I was putting together the slideshow for tonight's NEBC banquet, I found myself really wanting to jump into the photos to ride my bike on some of those courses.
Last night I did my best to help our friend, Steve, prep for his race today. He came over for dinner equipped with brussel sprouts. In addition to sauteing the sprouts and making some other stuff, I cooked a big pile of grains to help him carbo-load a bit. This is a good basic grain dish that you could add to. It has a nice nutty, buttery flavor on it's own and would be good served with something that has a sauce so it could soak up a bit of that. To use up the leftovers, I sauteed some mushrooms, onions, fresh parsley and peas and added the grains to make a slightly different side dish.
I got this from the Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, and if you're looking for a new cookbook to liven up your collection, I think this is a good one to get. I've cooked a bunch of things from it and haven't been disappointed yet.

Three Grain Pilaf
2 tblsns olive oil or unsalted butter
1/2 cup scallions, white and tender green parts, minced
1 cup white basmati or jasmine rice
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cub quinoa, rinsed
3 cups vegetable stock
3/4 tspn sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. In a 2 to 3-quart ovenproof saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the scallions and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice, millet, and quinoa and continue to saute, stirring, for 3 more minutes, or until the grains are fragrant.
3. Add the stock and salt. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
4. Remove the pilaf from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Butternut Squash and Feta Muffins

Savory muffins are a new and beautiful concept to me. Apparently, they are popular in Australia and New Zealand. I read about this recipe on my favorite cooking blog, 101 Cookbooks, and she got the recipe from a cookbook, Martha Goes Green. I've made the muffins twice and I ordered the cookbook, which I received the other day. I must admit, the first bite is weird. I am so accustomed to sweet muffins, that I was surprised initially by the taste. But, I quickly got over that. These are great accompanying soup. And just imagine all the other possible combinations. A few things to consider:
  • I was so focused on browning the tops that I overcooked them the first time, so they were a bit dry.
  • The second time, trying to avoid them being dry, I added an extra egg, another cup of squash, and I didn't brown them as much. This worked, but I'm not sure if the extra egg was really necessary with less cooking time, but the extra squash can't hurt.
  • I think these are better just cooked or re-warmed. They didn't seem as tasty when eaten cold.
It's always exciting to get mail that is not a bill or some catalog you've never ordered from. So, imagine my delight when I received this adorable cookbook all the way from Australia, complete with a handwritten note. It's a self published cookbook and the illustrations are playful and a little eccentric. I will be making more from this cookbook soon, so I'll keep you posted. In a few hours I'll be boarding a plane to go to one of my favorite places, Boulder, CO, but I didn't want to leave without sharing these with you.

Note: 11/21 I tried freezing the remainder of this batch to see how they'd fare in the freezer, and they did quite well. I just had one on the side of a salad with pears, cranberries and walnuts. It was a nice combination.

Butternut Squash and Feta Muffins
2-3 cups diced butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 large handful baby spinach leaves, chopped fine
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp sunflower seeds
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup feta cheese, in small cubes
2 tsp whole grain mustard
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 cups unbleached flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 405 degrees. Toss squash in oil, salt and pepper, then place in roasting pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cooked through and slightly mushy.
2. Transfer cooked squash to large bowl, add spinach, parsley, sunflower seeds, parmesan, feta and mustard. Mix.
3. In separate bowl, beat eggs and milk together and add to squash mixture. Sift flour and baking powder into mixture, add salt and pepper and fold together, being careful not to over mix.
4. Spoon mixture into a greased 12 hole muffin tray and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.