Welcome to fall weather!

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I know. Autumn doesn’t officially start for another 2.5 weeks. But Saturday was the first day since back-to-school and football season started where the temperature in Chicago was below 70 degrees! Many of my friends could not dread this more, but I absolutely love cooler weather. The combination of bright sunshine, vibrant blue sky, and a chill in the air gets me in the mood to bake! That, and to wear sweaters and scarves again…

Anyway, I recently recorded an episode of America’s Test Kitchen, and while I don’t particularly care for the pointless Chris Kimball and his obnoxious demeanor, I do find the female hosts rather entertaining. The episode I recorded featured this walnut pumpkin bread. I wasn’t planning on baking this for myself since I’m not down with pumpkin, but I was going to visit my friend who LOVES pumpkin bread. Seriously. She would buy this stuff so frequently at Starbucks that she could tell when they changed the recipe. (She wrote a letter of complaint and received a ton of free Starbucks coupons. Though, I don’t think they changed the recipe back to the original.)

Back to the bread. This is a pretty simple recipe, and you end up combining all the ingredients in the same pot where you cook the canned pumpkin. The smells from all the spices give your house a heavily scented, home-y aroma. And, the streusel topping is a fun twist. Although I usually don’t care for ATK recipes (they seem a bit joyless from the meticulous amount of testing done), this recipe was right on the money as the bread was a hit with my friend and her family! That being said, I’ll eschew my displeasure of ATK recipes when it’s one I don’t normally make, like pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Bread
(from America’s Test Kitchen)

Makes 2 loaves (or 1 lg loaf and 3 mini loaves)

Topping
5 tbsp packed (2 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt

Bread
2 c (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 c (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 c packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
4 oz cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces
4 lg eggs
1/4 c buttermilk
1 c walnuts, toasted and chopped fine

Instructions
1. FOR THE TOPPING: Using fingers, mix all ingredients together in bowl until well combined and topping resembles wet sand; set aside.
2. FOR THE BREAD: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Whisk flour, baking powder, and baking soda together in bowl.
3. Combine pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in large saucepan over medium heat. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1½ cups, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pot from heat; stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese until combined. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until no visible pieces of cream cheese remain and mixture is homogeneous.
4. Whisk together eggs and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine. Fold flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until combined (some small lumps of flour are OK). Fold walnuts into batter. Scrape batter into prepared pans. Sprinkle topping evenly over top of each loaf. Bake until skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let breads cool in pans on wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove breads from pans and let cool for at least 1½ hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

TwD: Baking Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes with Julia

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It’s good to be back with Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia. I’ve missed a few recipes, but luckily, we’ve got a rewind week coming up! Anyway, I really enjoyed making these oven-roasted plum cakes. They were very tasty. The cake was just sweet enough where it didn’t overpower the juicy plum or its wonderfully thick syrup. These were amazing warm, and I can only imagine how great they would be with ice cream. Am I wrong, or are these cakes similar to a fruit buckle made in a cast iron skillet?

My only qualm with the recipe is that I think I should have let the cakes cool longer than the recipe’s suggested 10 minutes because I tried unearthing one from its mold, and it fell apart! I tried to unmold one more, and getting the same result, I figured my friends could just eat the cakes in their own individual ramekin/custard cup. As you can see, I got varied amounts of cake coverage baked over the halved plum, with none of the cakes actually showing the full sliced surface. However, it was kind of a cool surprise spooning out the purple-skinned fruit from underneath the golden cake.

If you’d like to try your hand at these oven-roasted plum cakes, pick up a copy of Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers and join the bi-monthly baking group, Tuesdays with Dorie, where we choose recipes to collectively bake each month!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Bourbon-Peach Barbecue Sauce

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So, I looked up from the craziness of life and realized, “Oops…summer is almost over!” This means that the lazy days of outdoor barbecues, freshly prepared summer salads, and picnic lunches are slowly giving way to food blog posts featuring hefty tailgate snacks, school lunch ideas, and super-quick weeknight dinner recipes.

However, one item that segues nicely from season to season is the slow cooker. And, what better way to use the slow cooker than to make flavorful and extremely tender pulled pork! The sweet and spicy bourbon-peach barbecue sauce keeps the summer flavors around a little longer while the slow cooker gives you more time outside to enjoy these last few summer weeks. As an added bonus, this recipe is from Cooking Light, so the pork and the sauce are calorie-friendly!

Find the recipe here or in the June 2014 issue of Cooking Light.

TwD: Baking Vanilla Pound Cake with Julia (A little late…)

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So, I actually made this cake and had it taste-tested by my new co-workers in time for the July 15th posting deadline. However, I got caught up with other matters and totally forgot about posting on the 15th. My bad. Regardless, the reviews are in and my co-workers loved this pound cake! They found it buttery and delicious. One co-worker indicated she needed another slice because she ate the first slice “whole” and didn’t really get to savor the flavors. That’s a pretty strong compliment!

Personally, I liked the pound cake better the next day. The flavors and the texture of the cake seemed to settle more after a day. But, that could just be me. This is definitely a repeater!

If you’d like to try your hand at this vanilla pound cake, pick up a copy of Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers and join the bi-monthly baking group, Tuesdays with Dorie, where we choose recipes to collectively bake each month!

ffwD: Tomatoes Provençal

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I’m excited to get back into cooking and baking with French Fridays with Dorie! It’s been too long since I’ve even been in town on a Friday, so it was nice to come back to an easier recipe. However, what I didn’t realize was that I just posted a tomato recipe last week for my first post back after my hiatus. Oh, well. Tomatoes are so good right now, I can’t complain.

This method of roasting tomatoes was easy and open to interpretation. Halving tomatoes and topping them with a mixture of minced garlic and your choice of herbs (in my case, thyme) then drizzling olive oil on top was pretty delicious. Though, I’m not used to eating roasted tomatoes as halves, as they were pretty thick. Then again, I probably didn’t follow Dorie’s suggestion of using 4 oz. tomatoes. I just grabbed ones that looked good. Anyway, this recipe makes for a simple side or even a lighter main dish, if you prefer. I ate my tomatoes with toasted sourdough slices.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

These tomatoes provençal were made for French Fridays with Dorie, a group of bloggers who are cooking their way through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours.

I’m back! (For real this time)

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I cannot believe it’s been two months since I last posted! For those who read my blog regularly, you may remember that I got a new job back in April. Well, I thought I was back on track with food blogging after I first started, but the work load was a bit more voluminous than I had expected, so I was staying late just about every night for the first month, meaning way more take out for dinner.

But, what you didn’t know was that my weekends were crazy as well, considering I went to Las Vegas for five days (with all the great restaurants!), watched the Duke men’s lacrosse team win back-to-back national championships over Memorial Day, and did a ton of traveling for the NBA Playoffs. Right around the time I started my new job, I was presented with a pretty amazing opportunity to write for the NBA during the final weeks of the regular season and during the playoffs, which meant I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina for the first round, covered the Chicago Bulls during the second round, went to Indianapolis for the third round, and was capped off by a stint in San Antonio for Games 1 and 2 of the Finals! So, again, no opportunity to cook but ample means for dining out and take out meals.

Now that basketball season is over, I’m pretty much settled for the rest of the summer in Chicago. However, I needed something to get me excited about cooking at home again. And what better motivator than the produce at farmers markets! Oh, the smell of the strawberries and the tomatoes! I just couldn’t resist. Especially since my Cooking Light magazine introduced a fun way to enjoy the season’s juicy beefsteak tomatoes: by frying the skins! It was a simple little step that made these tomatoes even better. And, it got me excited about cooking again! I’m so glad to be back.

Beefsteak Tomato Salad with Fried Tomato Skins
(from Cooking Light June 2014)

2 1/2 pounds beefsteak tomatoes in assorted colors (about 4)
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups baby arugula

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Core tomatoes; discard cores. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 15 seconds. Plunge tomatoes into ice water; drain. Peel; arrange skins flat on a jelly-roll pan. Cut peeled tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices; arrange on a platter.
2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of skins to oil; cook 2 minutes or until crisp, turning occasionally. Drain on a paper towel; repeat procedure with remaining skins. Discard oil in pan. Sprinkle skins with 1/8 teaspoon salt.
3. Drizzle tomatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Top with tomato skins and arugula.

ffwD: Baby Bok Choy, Sugar Snaps and Garlic en Papillote

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This week’s assignment, baby bok choy, sugar snaps and garlic en papillote, combined the popular French steaming method with traditional Chinese veggies and Asian flavors. Seeing as I grew up eating bok choy, sugar snaps, and garlic in a myriad of dishes, this side dish was right up my alley.

I didn’t have mint or a lemon on hand, but I did have lime-infused olive oil which worked in a pinch. I also couldn’t find baby white onions so I just tossed in a few frozen pearl onions into each packet. I was working out during the oven-steaming process, so when the timer went off, I just kept the veggies in the oven. Sure, the extra 10 minutes did wilt the veggies a bit more than Dorie would approve of, but I didn’t mind it. Especially since the aroma when opening the foil packets was pretty amazing. This method was a quick and fuss-free way of preparing the delicate baby bok choy while softening the sugar snaps and the sliced garlic!

This baby bok choy, sugar snaps and garlic en papillote was made for French Fridays with Dorie, a group of bloggers who are cooking their way through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours.

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