Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Halloween Report

Around 150 trick-or-treaters.
In the creativity dept., no real stand-outs, but some very cute tiny tots: Princess Jasmine, Super Girl, and Minnie Mouse.
Pulled in our pumpkins around 9 pm, when candy was gone.
This was the first year our youngest didn't go trick-or-treating. He didn't seem to feel too sad about it. He watched a football game with my husband while I gave out the candy. Older one is off with some friends. I don't know if they are trick-or-treating or hanging out at his friend's house playing ping-pong or....what. I guess we'll find out. Or not.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pumpkin Bread Ritual

The Pumpkin Bread Ritual is...making pumpkin bread and sharing it with friends. (Not necessarily in the month of October, although I cannot let October pass by without making pumpkin bread. I just barely squeezed it in this year.) My book club is coming over tonight and they will get pumpkin bread. I wrote a post a while ago about my mom's pumpkin bread recipe, and since I saw another blogger do a "rerun" of a past post, I think I'll do that, too! The title of this post was "Everyone's Pumpkin Bread."

I enjoy thinking about this bread almost as much as I do making it, giving it away, and eating it. The recipe is my mom's. She makes it every October and gives a loaf to her friend Liz for her birthday. I hear that Liz starts salivating for her pumpkin bread on Oct. 1. The recipe makes three loaves so I believe my mom keeps one and freezes the other. It freezes well. She used to make it a lot when we were kids and I loved having it in my lunch. I loved how it got even moister and greasier wrapped in plastic in my lunch box. I really savored every bite.

I made pumpkin bread for one of our parent coop nursery school potlucks and it was such a hit I ended up giving away the recipe to a lot of people. One friend of mine serves it for dessert with dulce de leche ice cream--a great innovation. Another now runs her own nursery school and she makes the pumpkin bread every fall and gives it away to her families. She adds chocolate chips (uck to me, but...) and her son demands it as his birthday cake every year. This fall she called me in a panic.
"We remodeled our house...I lost my recipe box...I can't find the pumpkin bread recipe!!!" she said breathlessly. I emailed it to her again. Here's the recipe. I decreased the sugar from my mom's original 4 cups because I prefer it less sweet.

Betsy’s Pumpkin Bread
Makes 3 loaves.

3-1/2 cups sugar
¾ tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. baking soda
2-1/4 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. each ground cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg
5 cups unbleached flour
6 eggs
1-1/2 cups canola oil
3-1/2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin

Line 3 loaf pans with waxed paper. Combine all ingredients and mix just until blended. Bake at 300 degrees F for 1-1/2 hours. Cool for 10 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a rack to cool to room temperature. Wrap in plastic to keep fresh.

You can also make smaller gift loaves and muffins, even a round cake. How will you make yours?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Baked Quinces (Coings au Four)

Quinces are not for everyone. Some quinces can be dull and woody, and they are more firm and fibrous than other fruits even when cooked. I have sometimes found good quinces at the farmer's market or a produce market with a lot of Middle Eastern wares. But home-grown quinces seem to taste the best. These quinces from Karen were particularly robust-flavored and tart. I like how the quinces' tangy, almost resinous, flavor goes with this very sweet caramel sauce. If you don't have a quince tree, or don't know someone with a quince tree, make this recipe with apples or pears.
I started with Jane Grigson's recipe for Coings au Four from Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, but I modified it a bit. Here's my Baked Quinces:
2 large quinces
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. cream
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup water*
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the quinces in half and scrape out the core with a corer. The quinces are very hard so it will take some force to remove all the hard, pithy part at the center. Put the halves in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the halves so they don't brown. Mix together the sugar, butter, cream and cinnamon in a small bowl until it becomes a paste. Divide the paste between the hollows of the 4 halves. Pour 1/4 cup of water around the quinces and cover with aluminum foil (or top of dish if it has one). Put in oven and bake for 1 hour. Remove when quinces are tender. Serve warm, with the caramel sauce from the bottom of the dish spooned over them.
*I actually used some of the quince-flavored syrup I had left over from poaching some other quinces, and reduced the sugar. This made the sauce richly quincey, but I don't think it's necessary. I bet apple juice would be good, too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quince Galette

Two of those lovely quinces made it into this galette. I poached the quince slices in a simple syrup with half a vanilla bean. The delicious syrup, now quince-flavored, I will save for something. I'm still planning to make the Coings au Four...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Winter Greens

I got some greens in the raised bed just before that torrential rainstorm on Monday. This photo is what they looked like before the rainstorm. I know they look a little enervated, especially the spinach on the far left, which is tender and does not at all like to be messed with. I give it a 50-50 chance of survival, but the Toscano kale and mixed lettuces are more hardy and I expect they'll be fine. After the storm they really didn't look any different than this.
My older box of greens is still luxuriant and I expect a couple more salads out of it (see below).

Monday, October 19, 2009

...and slices of quince

This is what was in the surprise seasonal package I received from my friend Karen's farm. Those sensuous yellow fruits are quinces, walnuts in the background, and the mahogany fruits in front of the walnuts are jujubes. Here's what Karen says about the jujubes: "The Jujus are perhaps an acquired taste. Just pop them in your mouth--they do have a pit. They are chewy, with a date-like quality and they are ripe when slightly dry and wrinkled." I've been doing just that--popping them in my mouth--and they are like dates, a little less sweet, with a crispy dry skin.
As for the quinces, with their subtle, appley fragrance--she suggests making quince paste. She enclosed a recipe for cotognata (Italian) that refers to the nuns making it and pressing it into special ceramic dishes. I do love quinces, but not quince paste; it's just a little too medieval for me. Luckily, I have Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, which has some great quince recipes and this wonderful poem about quinces, composed by Shafur ben Utman al-Mushafi, an Arabic-Andalusian poet who died in 982:
It is yellow in color, as if it wore a daffodil
tunic, and it smells like musk, a penetrating smell.

It has the perfume of a loved woman and the same
hardness of heart, but it has the color of the
impassioned and scrawny lover.

Its pallor is borrowed from my pallor; its smell
is my sweetheart's breath.

When it stood fragrant on the bough and the leaves
had woven for it a covering of brocade,

I gently put up my hand to pluck it and to set it
like a censer in the middle of my room.

It had a cloak of ash-colored down hovering over
its smooth golden body,

and when it lay naked in my hand, with nothing more than
its daffodil-colored shift,

it made me think of her I cannot mention, and I feared
the ardor of my breath would shrivel it in my fingers.
This is the kind of thing I adore Jane Grigson for. I think I will make Quinces Baked in the French Style (sort of like baked apples) with them, after I enjoy them for a while in their glass bowl.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Goodbye Gourmet!

I haven't been a Gourmet magazine subscriber for all that long. And I have complained about the ever-increasing number of ad pages. But I definitely have been inspired to cook recipes from it (often food featured on the covers, like this one), written about its recipes on my blog, fantasized about trips to Italy and South Carolina, and generally drooled through its pages. Even my teenage son reads it--the one who likes to cook. So we were sorry to hear of its demise. There was something unique about the inspiration it provided. I don't usually look at recipes online unless I know what I want to cook, and then I search somewhere like epicurious. But for pure browsing pleasure, including the ability to curl up on the sofa and slide the pages by and become enticed by a gorgeous photo of, say, some grilled salmon with yogurt sauce, there was nothing like it. Yeah, the recipe I made above is available online, but what made me think of it and search back in my past issues was the memory of the cover photo. By the way, the dish I made above shares only the fried bread crumbs and red pepper flakes and pasta with the original Gourmet recipe--I added garlic and crumbled bacon, took out the anchovies and onions, and substituted parsley for the dill. It turned out great.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mad Plaid

For the first time, I submitted an apron photo to one of Tie One On's apron themes, and all the submissions are now up for viewing. I love looking at all the ways people interpreted the theme (plaid). And I love getting all the compliments on my apron! Take a look at all the other variations--there are some amazing glamorous, retro, and nutty creations.
About the photo: When I was at SCRAP looking for plaid, I found all this cool plaids that I didn't end up using for the apron. It was as if I had never really looked at the plaids and suddenly I saw tons of them. While doing the apron, I realized that I really like the combination of plaid with flowers or plant-inspired designs. I realized I almost never wear plaid--why is that? In my closet I have one plaid shirt that I only wear camping. I think I need more plaid in my life.