Growing up here, I feel the almost imperceptible California shift from late summer into fall. Newbies to this state, especially from the East, think I’m crazy.
Yesterday, I left my home, stepping into a darkening evening full of clouds and chill. Defiantly, I put the top down on my car but resigned to wrap myself in a scarf as a buffer to the cold. When did these days begin to shorten? Weeks ago, but I only noticed yesterday. Autumn is my favorite season. To me, it’s a “renewal” – a description usually left for spring. Fat pumpkins and squash almost magically appear on the ground – they’ve been there, growing for months, but only now say, “Look at me.” Trees explode in a riot of color – plum, gold, orange and russet. Yes, some of our trees actually do change color. The sky feels alive with a fresh chill or, alternately, the warm Santa Ana winds. Fall gives me reason again to simmer rich stews and comforting soups for hours, filling the house with superb smells. My long-dusty fireplace again crackles with burning logs.
Autumn is the time to draw within, to take stock of ourselves and to contemplate. It’s a time to close our doors and windows to our neighbors and snuggle in with ourselves. It’s a perfect time to prune back our over-extended commitments, to focus on our essence, to become cozy with who we are. Autumn is not a sad dying, but its own living – an insular living that renews in its own way – a quiet Yin to spring’s Yang. Autumn is a time to reconnect with ourselves.
Pumpkin-spice mania has had its run – while I love pumpkin anything, this is my last autumnal pumpkin recipe for this year…
This is my go-to recipe for using up leftover canned pureed pumpkin. Instead of making one large loaf, I like baking mini loaves so I can eat one now and freeze the rest for a rainy day…or tomorrow.
7.5 oz. pumpkin puree
½ cup vegetable oil
⅓ cup buttermilk
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¾ all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ginger
Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter and flour 3 mini loaf pans (or one standard size loaf pan). In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, eggs, oil, buttermilk, sugar and vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, Chinese 5-spice, nutmeg and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until combined (don’t over-mix).
Pour batter evenly into the tins. Don’t overfill. Bake 35-45 minutes (longer for a standard loaf pan) or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool and enjoy. I smother my bread with maple cream cheese frosting and maple walnuts.
Dating someone new entails navigating a precarious route – not unlike those rickety rope bridges suspended above Amazonian rivers. Say the wrong thing, show too much interest – or not enough – and the entire contraption and both of you plunge into the abyss below. Sheer disaster. I’ve learned to tread slowly and deliberately along that path.
Last week, I baked 200 cookies for two catering jobs. On Wednesday, I was also going out with a new guy. My initial thought was to grab a few cookies, pop them in a decorative bag tied with raffia and give them to him as a little gift. Why not? Baking is what I do and I was already in it for over 16 dozen. What’s a few more cookies? Yet dating caution overrode these initial innocuous intentions. How would he interpret the gesture? Would he think I spent all day baking exclusively for HIM? Would I be accused of moving too quickly? I could hear him tell a friend:
“Shit, dude, it was our second date and she was already baking me cookies! Psycho!”
So, I decided against the cookies. I’ll save my talents for now. If we manage to survive a few more dates, then maybe I’ll break out my baking prowess.
This is my favorite cookie dough when faced with a large baking project. The dough can be shaped and flavored in myriad ways limited only by imagination.
Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Cream butter and sugars in a stand mixture until light and fluffy. Slowly add beaten egg and vanilla until incorporated. Add salt to flour and gently stir in. Don’t overmix. Your dough is ready to use!
To make Cherry Streusel Triangles: Cover 9×9” pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang. Butter foil well. Press 9 oz. of Basic Butter cookie dough into pan. Deck dough with fork and bake for about 15 minutes until just beginning to brown. Cool for about 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix cherry jam with zest and set aside. Mix an additional 2 oz. of Basic Butter Cookie dough with 3 Tablespoons brown sugar, 1 Tablespoon flour and ¾ teaspoon cinnamon.
Spread jam evenly over baked dough, leaving a ¼” rim and sprinkle with streusel. Bake until cherry filling is bubbly, 20-25 minutes. Cool cookies completely. Cut in 16 squares, cut each square in two triangles. Mix powdered sugar with enough water to make a glaze. Drizzle glaze over cookies. Makes 32 cookies.
Certain weeks, this week for example, I struggle to post even once. I’m typically not confounded by the culinary piece (although I can get frustrated when a day-long recipe results in an inedible flop), but by this part – the header, the “intro”, the story behind the recipe. Often, I’ve cooked (and eaten) my creation days, if not weeks, before I hit upon a header for the recipe, if ever. Many dishes never make it to publication.
Last night, “D” and I were batting around fictional “intro” ideas for these scones (baked last Sunday) that included a faux picnic featuring these scones at last night’s Hollywood Bowl concert (à la Sunset Magazine) and another story involving Jared Kushner, Russia meetings and his desire for sweet scones vs. savory.
Unfortunately, in my world, the truth behind the recipe is never that compelling.
I baked these savory scones for no other reason than I wanted kitchen time. The flavor combination idea (a classic) resulted from watching a rerun of The Great British Baking Show. Originally, I was imagining a yeasty swirl bread, loaded with a filling of bacon-cheesy goodness when I hit upon the idea of scones instead. Using my favorite sweet scone recipe as a base, I decreased the sugar, swapped sweet ingredients for savory and, voila – buttery, savory scones.
Granted, the Kushner-Russia connection would have been more interesting.
I’ve taken my favorite American scone recipe and turned it savory and loaded with flavor. With three sticks of butter in the dough, no additional butter is needed on these babies.
8 strips bacon, cubed
1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts only, sliced
3 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 ¼ cup buttermilk, divided
1 whole egg
flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove bacon from pan. Add green onions to bacon grease in pan and sauté until softened. Add onions to bacon and cool both. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicon mats.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the cold butter. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until butter is pea-sized.
In a liquid measuring cup, measure 1 cup buttermilk. Beat in whole egg until well combined. Pour buttermilk into dry ingredients and gently combine with your hands until dough barely comes together. Add bacon, green onion, and cheddar and gently combine. The secret to flaky scones is not to overwork the dough.
On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into two disks about 1 ½ inches high. Cut each disk into 8 wedges. Place the wedges on the baking sheets. Brush scones with remaining ¼ cup buttermilk and lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 35-40 minutes until scone are golden brown. These scones are best served slightly warm.
“This is right up your alley” was all her email said. She included this link. She was right – and I haven’t stopped dreaming of it since.
I’m sidelined by the enormity of it. It’s not easy to buy a business in the UK when you’re not a citizen. Yet, a similar cottage in New England doesn’t hold any appeal. And what would I do with my two “boys?” Sending them across the ocean followed by quarantine is more than their little pampered hearts could take, I’m afraid. What to do with my typical American superfluous “stuff” that couldn’t make the trip? Finally, there’s the brisk and rainy Yorkshire weather – a 66⁰ F. June summer HIGH. Brrrrr!!
And yet, I can’t shake it from my mind.
I’d have to learn to make a proper cuppa – and traditional High Street pastries like this one:
Eggnog fans rejoice – all that creamy nutmeg-gy flavor wrapped in a pastry crust. This recipe uses a forgiving pâté sucrée dough rather than brisee which requires cutting in the butter.
3 ¾ oz. butter, softened
1 ½ oz. sugar
1 ½ oz. egg, beaten
½ teaspoon salt
6 oz. All-purpose flour
6 oz. heavy whipping cream
6 oz. whole milk
4 egg yolks, beaten
3 ¼ oz. sugar
Freshly ground nutmeg
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until pale. Add egg, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together salt and flour and stir into sugar mixture. Flatten dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate about 30 minutes.
Roll the dough on a well-floured surface into a large enough circle to cover the bottom and sides of a 9” tart pan. Ease the dough into the pan, nudging the dough into the sides of the pan. Trim excess dough and return to the refrigerator for about 30 more minutes.
For the filling, warm the heavy whipping cream and milk in a saucepan. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg mixture stirring constantly to avoid scrambling the eggs. Stir well until all sugar has melted. Transfer to a liquid measuring cup for easy pouring.
Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Blind bake the pastry for about 30 minutes. Remove the parchment or foil and pie weights and bake for another 10 minutes until bottom of pastry is light brown.
Fill the pastry with custard mixture. The mixture is very runny so I recommend filling as close as possible to the oven to avoid splashes. Grate fresh nutmeg over the top and bake for 30-40 minutes until the edges look set but the center still wobbles. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy slightly warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers.
I like a soup that’s substantial enough to be served as an entrée. Black beans, corn and shredded chicken transform pumpkin soup into a nourishing meal – almost a pumpkin chili.
½ onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon coriander
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
4 cups chicken broth
1 can pumpkin puree
1 can diced tomatoes and green chilies (such as Rotel)
1 ½ cups shredded rotisserie chicken
15 oz. can black beans, drained
½ cup frozen corn kernels
½ bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Sauté onion, celery and red bell pepper in a large saucepan until softened. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Stir in cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, coriander and nutmeg until fragrant. Add chicken stock, pumpkin puree, and diced tomatoes and green chilies. Simmer for 45 minutes until vegetables are soft.
Add chicken, black beans and corn. Heat through for 10 minutes. Stir in half the cilantro and season with salt. Garnish with remaining cilantro.