Welcome to fall weather!


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)

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

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

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.

Clementine Bundt Cake


Last weekend, my sister and her friends left behind half a bag of clementines. I didn’t want them to go to waste, so I scoured the Interwebs for a clementine cake recipe. I found this one on the Cooking Light community message board site. The cake looked and smelled wonderful, but it definitely needed the icing to add moisture and break up this dense cake.

2 teaspoons clementine zest
2 tablespoons clementine juice (from 1 clementine)
2 tablespoons softened butter
1 1/3 cups icing sugar
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (optional)

Grate rind and squeeze juice from clementine. In food processor, combine zest and juice, then add butter, icing sugar, liqueur. Process until smooth.

3 medium clementines
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup softened butter
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-cup bundt pan. Wash and remove stems of clementines, cut into quarters. Process clementines with sugar in food processor until smooth. Add butter, then eggs, processing after each addition until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, process until combined. Spoon into pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until golden and top springs back when touched. Cool on rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool on rack. Drizzle icing over cake.

Tarragon Honey-Glazed Chicken

One of my friends recently received a promotion at work, and I wanted to prepare a celebratory meal for the occasion. I also wanted to try out a new roasted chicken recipe I saw in the April issue of Better Homes and Gardens. What attracted me to the recipe was the honey glaze, but I was slightly weary of the tarragon, as it’s known to have a rather licorice-y taste which I find unpleasant. My hope was to give the tarragon a whirl but to have my friend there to help me eat it if the licorice taste was too commanding.

On the contrary, the licorice flavor wasn’t overpowering but rather subtle instead. The tarragon was only added during the last five minutes of roasting. And, the tarragon was subdued by the honey as well. I was quite pleased with the overall taste of this chicken. The recipe includes a sauce that is made from the chicken’s pan drippings with shallots, champagne, and peas. However, we devoured the chicken so quickly that photographing the sauce never entered my mind. I highly recommend this dish for those who want to dip a toe into the licorice-flavored pool without diving in headfirst.

*Honey Roast Chicken with Spring Peas and Shallots (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

1 3.5 to 4-lb. chicken
2 tbsp. butter, melted
1/2 tsp. each salt and black pepper
3/4 c. honey
2 tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
1 c. peeled and sliced shallots
1 c. champagne
1/2 c. chicken broth
1&1/2 c. frozen peas
1 small lemon, thinly sliced (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse chicken cavity; pat dry with paper towels. Tie legs together with kitchen string or a strip of cheesecloth. Place in shallow roasting pan. Brush with melted butter; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast uncovered for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes until chicken is no longer pink (180 degrees internal temperature).

2. Brush chicken with half the honey and half the tarragon, and roast for an additional five minutes until honey forms a golden brown glaze.

3. Remove chicken from pan and tent with foil. Transfer pan drippings into large saucepan on stove top. Add shallots, champagne, broth, and remaining honey. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes until sauce is thickened and shallots are tender. Add frozen peas and lemon slices (if using), and simmer an additional five minutes.

4. To serve, slice chicken into pieces, ladle slices with sauce, and sprinkle with remaining tarragon. (Better Homes and Gardens suggests topping with additional honey, but I don’t think it needs anymore.)

Roasted Potatoes

My eating has been a bit erratic lately due mainly to my hectic work schedule. Most of my meals have consisted of a smoothie for breakfast, no lunch, and then take-out for a late dinner, meaning my kitchen time this week has been severely limited. So, this weekend, I just wanted to prepare something “homey” yet simple. Enter roasted potatoes with caramelized onions. I didn’t make full-on caramelized onions, but I did cook them enough to reach a soft, translucent state. After eating a small saucer of the spuds, I was set right again.


1-2 baking potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
kosher salt, to taste
rosemary, chopped to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place potatoes in a shallow roasting pan. (I used a small Le Creuset casserole.) Set aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter with the olive oil and then add the chopped onion. Cook on medium heat till the onion becomes soft and translucent. Pour the entire mixture over the potatoes, sprinkle with salt and rosemary, and give the potatoes a quick stir to coat. Place the pan in the oven and roast for approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how crispy you like your onions to get.

Yeah, I did that…

For today’s post, I took two delicious foods that I previously blogged about and “sandwiched” them together to make one incredible, super treat. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the king cake cookie ice cream sandwich!

By sheer coincidence, I made purple ube ice cream within days of making shamrock green and pot ‘o gold sables. And, since I’ve never made an actual king cake, these little frozen bites were a colorful, fun, and foodie way to celebrate Fat Tuesday (almost two weeks later)! Now, do I really need to wedge a tiny, plastic, toy baby in one of the sandwiches?

Truffled Mac & Cheese

Ever since I bought black truffle oil, I’ve been on the hunt for recipes that would highlight this aromatic accoutrement. Of course, I can always depend on Cooking Light to actually feature a recipe using truffle oil in a baked mac & cheese recipe. As a kid, I grew up eating the “blue box” variety, but I’ve been more willing to make the authentic baked version as an adult. Using truffle oil really suits this dish, and serving the flavorful pasta alongside a simple mixed greens salad balances out the pasta’s richness quite nicely. Cooking Light’s recipe can be found in the January/February 2012 issue, here, or below.

2 1/4 c. 1% low-fat milk, divided (I used skim)
2 c. sliced onion (about 1 medium)
1 bay leaf
12 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni (I used the macaroni from a Kraft box I wasn’t ever going to use!)
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 c. (3 ounces) shredded fontina cheese (I used an Italian blend I had on hand)
1/2 c. (2 ounces) shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese
1 1/2 tsp. white truffle oil (I used black truffle oil)
2 oz. French bread baguette, torn (I used pre-made breadcrumbs)
2 tbsp. grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp. olive oil

1. Heat 1 3/4 c. milk, onion, and bay leaf in a large saucepan to 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edges (do not boil). Cover and remove from heat; let stand 15 minutes.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.
3. Strain milk mixture through a colander over a bowl; discard solids. Return milk to saucepan over medium heat. Combine remaining 1/2 c. milk and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Gradually stir flour mixture and salt into warm milk, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; let stand 6 minutes or until mixture cools to 155°. Gradually add fontina and Gruyere cheeses, stirring until cheeses melt. Stir in pasta and truffle oil. Spoon mixture into a 2-quart broiler-safe glass or ceramic baking dish.
4. Preheat broiler.
5. Place bread, Parmesan cheese, and garlic in a food processor; process until coarse crumbs form. Drizzle with olive oil; pulse until fine crumbs form. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over pasta. Place dish on middle rack in oven; broil 2 minutes or until golden brown.

Chicken & Rice with Mushrooms

As part of our Christmas party each year, my law firm has a holiday grab bag event where everyone lists three gifts they’d like to receive. The lists are collected, put in a bag, and then everyone pulls another person’s list and selects one item from that list to give them. For instance, my three “wishes” were 1) a two-year subscription to Cooking Light magazine; 2) a Williams-Sonoma mandoline and chip tray; or 3) a gift certificate to Macy’s. One of the paralegals (Codename: Chanclas) pulled my name and chose to give me the Cooking Light subscription. I think this was the best choice because I literally get a gift each month for the next two years!

Anyway, this chicken & rice with mushrooms recipe was featured in the January issue of Cooking Light. What made this dish extremely tasty was the intense flavor of the reconstituted porcini mushrooms themselves, with their soaking liquid being used to cook and infuse the brown rice with the same mushroom-y flavor. The green peas also added a nice pop of color and texture against the hearty brown rice and tender chicken. Overall, this was a filling and delicious main course!

If you’d like to try this recipe, it can be found here or below.

2 c. boiling water
1/4 c. dried porcini mushrooms (about 1/4 ounce)
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used breasts)
1 tsp. sweet paprika
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
3/4 c. chopped onion
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced (I used button mushrooms)
3/4 c. uncooked brown basmati rice
2 c. frozen green peas, thawed
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme

1. Combine 2 cups boiling water and porcini mushrooms; let stand for 20 minutes. Drain through a sieve over a bowl, reserving soaking liquid. Finely chop mushrooms.
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle chicken evenly with paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken mixture to pan; sauté for 5 minutes or until chicken is browned, stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from pan.
3. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and cremini mushrooms; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper; sauté 4 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in reserved porcini liquid, chopped porcini, and rice; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for 35 minutes. Stir in the reserved chicken, peas, and thyme. Cover and cook 10 minutes or until rice is tender and chicken is done.

Nigella’s Red Pepper Hummus

When I met Nigella Lawson at an afternoon tea event a few years ago, her Nigella Express cookbook had just been released, and the tea menu included her red pepper hummus from the cookbook. It was served on little rectangles of soft pita bread, which was probably intentional since that was also the way it was photographed in her cookbook.

Even though I’ve owned the book for years, I’ve never made this red pepper hummus until now, and I could kick myself for not making it sooner! The hummus has a touch of creaminess from the cream cheese, great flavor from the roasted red peppers, and a luscious smoothness from the garlic oil, which I also drizzled on top of each bite. Although I ate mine with triangles of flour tortillas, I bet this would work great as a healthy dip for chips and veggies at next week’s multitude of Super Bowl parties. You can find the recipe here or in Nigella Express.

Jam Shortbread Cookies

Before heading out Saturday night, I spent Saturday afternoon in the kitchen on a marathon cooking and baking spree, catching up on recipes that I’ve had tagged for some time. One of those recipes was Beti Vanilla’s peach cookie recipe, which looked delicious. Since I’d already done my grocery shopping for the week, there was no way I was heading to the store just for a dried peach, so I left it out. But, I knew the shortbread would be tasty enough without it. As for the jam filling, I used the blackberry and strawberry jams given to me by my sorority sister (Codename: GPL) for Christmas! These were fun to make, especially since I hadn’t made any cookies requiring cookie cutters in awhile.

Cinnamon-Apple Cake

After having so much fun baking and cooking in my new kitchen, I was itching to get back in there and try a new, healthy recipe with ingredients I had on hand. After a quick search on CookingLight.com, I found a recipe for cinnamon-apple cake, which was perfect since I had Gala apples and fat-free cream cheese that were quickly nearing their “use by” dates.

I must admit that I enjoyed baking with cream cheese. It really gave this cake a pillowy-soft texture and a nice tang to balance out the sweetness from the cinnamon apples.

As you can see from my photos, I didn’t let the cake cool long enough before cutting into it so some of the apples tumbled away from the slice. But, the smell was too enticing to wait!

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