Pumpkin Apple Bread

I hope it’s not too late to wave the flag for pumpkin spice one more time before we head into peppermint and eggnog season.

yo-dawg-pumpkin

Sounds good to me. 🙂

I recently discovered the joys of making my own pumpkin purée, which has gotten me busy finding new recipes in which to use it. My Pumpkin Spice Bars have gone from excellent to ethereal, and now I have added Pumpkin Apple Bread to my repertoire as well. I have to say, I wish there were a county fair contest going on somewhere that I could enter this bread into because it is surely worthy of a blue ribbon and maybe a grand prize.

This is adapted from Libby’s own recipe, which makes two loaves. I halved the recipe, except for the apple (I had a smallish Golden Delicious on hand so I used the whole thing, cut up into 1/4″ dice), and added more spices. Cardamom is my latest favorite taste, so I had to have that. If you don’t have all these spices on hand, substitute two or three teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice.

Pumpkin Apple Bread

Ingredients
1-1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 c sugar
1 c pumpkin purée
2 large eggs
1/2 c vegetable oil (I used avocado oil)
1/4 c apple juice or water (I used water)
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, spices, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a large mixer bowl, combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil and juice (or water) and beat until just blended.
  4. Add pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Fold in the apple.
  5. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 65 to 70 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely.

I appreciate this recipe for three other reasons besides how wonderfully good it tastes: 1) it requires only two bowls and a whisk, 2) it uses oil instead of butter, which simplifies things because I don’t have to wait for the butter to soften or cream it with the sugar, and 3) it contains both a fruit and a vegetable so that makes it health food in my book. 😉

If you want to make your own pumpkin puree, here’s a quick and somewhat amusing tutorial. The only thing I would add is that the purée will be slightly watery when it’s first made, so place it in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl for a few hours or in the fridge overnight to drain before using. Compared to any canned pumpkin, homemade is the clear winner in both taste and texture, so it is definitely worth the extra effort.

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Mirepoix Soup

Winter seems to have passed us by altogether this year. After a couple of weeks of snow and ice in early November, it’s been pretty much spring ever since. Everything is budding and blooming and greening up earlier than I’ve ever seen it. But today, after several sunny days in a row, was overcast, which put me in a mood for soup.

Inspired by a recipe from Food 52 for Jane Grigson’s Celery Soup, I decided to clean out the last of the hardy veggies from my fridge and counter tops. I had all I needed for mirepoix, plus a few potatoes and some garlic, and that right there is a fine soup base. Add an outrageous amount of butter and soon all will be right with the world.

chopped-veggies

Mirepoix Soup

Ingredients
1 stick butter
3-4 c each onion, carrots, celery and potatoes, cut in 1/2″ dice
6-8 garlic cloves (or to taste), thinly sliced
4 c mushroom or chicken stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)
1 Tbs dried thyme
2 Tbs Tarragon Pepper Blend
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Preparation
  1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion, carrots, celery, potatoes and garlic and stir well to coat.
  3. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook about 10 minutes.
  4. Add stock, herbs, salt and bay leaves and bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove bay leaves and blend to desired level of smoothness with a stick blender.
  6. Just before serving, stir in 1 tsp of any kind of flavored vinegar you like, such as tarragon, golden balsamic, sherry, or apple cider. It only takes a little to add a tremendous depth of flavor.

A bowl or two of that warmed me up nicely, and I shared the rest with my neighbors who are in various stages of a winter cold.

The sun is expected to come out again tomorrow, so I can go back to thinking about washing the car and mowing the lawn.

Food overload

The trash gets picked up on Wednesdays in my neighborhood, so this morning I wheeled my big tote to the curb loaded down with heavy, dripping bags of rotting food from my own refrigerator. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and may Demeter have mercy on my soul. It was a very bad week for wasting food in my house.

Illustration by Alison Seiffer

Illustration by Alison Seiffer

I let my Bountiful Baskets get away from me, faithfully picking one up every week for three weeks in a row even though I still had produce piled all over my counters from the weeks before. I gave some of it to my neighbors and I did prep a lot of it into usable ingredients so I would have them available for cooking … but somehow the cooking part just didn’t come together before things started turning slimy and spotty. Which reminds me why I’ve always been leery of fresh food: It just doesn’t last that long. Not long enough, anyway, for me to 1) figure out how to use it and 2) get motivated to do so.

When I told a friend once that I like to cook, her first question was, “don’t you end up wasting a lot of food because you live alone?” I thought it was an odd query because why would my living alone make any difference? No, I told her, I am pretty good about using what I buy. And I always have been, for the most part. But every so often, my ambitions get ahead of my appetite, and much waste results.

I recently learned that food waste decomposing in landfills is a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is a likely contributor to climate change. I don’t want to participate in that slow-motion catastrophe any more than I absolutely have to (and unfortunately, we all have to), so I’m thinking about getting a composter for my kitchen scraps. Maybe one like this, which is off the ground to keep the dogs from scrounging through it.

compost-bin

Tumbling Composter from Home Depot.

For all the peels, pits, rinds, seeds, soft spots, and other food scraps that I put in the garbage every week, this just might make a difference.

My fridge is now cleared of all but a few hardy veggies with long shelf lives, and my counters are mostly visible again—although I do still have a big jicama bulb and several pounds of blue potatoes from my basket that I am not sure yet what to do with. I didn’t get a basket this week, and won’t get one next week. I’m waiting to go grocery shopping until the last egg, the last carrot, the last drop of milk, and the last piece of bread are all gone. And then I’m going to be more careful about how I stock my kitchen.

food-dont-waste-it

This World War II-era propaganda poster is still good advice today.

 

La cucina dell’amore

Finally, I have found a recipe that I would, without hesitation, employ to seduce someone with a home-cooked meal. Didn’t get the chance to use it this Valentine’s Day, but maybe next year!

Amid all the online clamor about the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie premiere this weekend, I came across a cookbook called “Fifty Shades of Chicken.” Truly, it redefines the “food porn” genre with both its language and its photography. It is intended to be a parody of the best-selling book, so the overwrought writing style is similar (or so I understand; I haven’t read any of the books in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy and don’t plan to see any of the movies made from same).

50-shades-chicken

Its Amazon listing includes a sample recipe for Dripping Thighs (if this and other highly suggestive language offends you, don’t click any of the links in this post and definitely do not watch the video on the book’s website), which I made tonight.

The chicken thighs are baked after being bathed in a sticky, sweet, savory sauce of onions in reduced white wine seasoned with cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, enriched with butter, and sweetened with honey. This unusual flavor combination is an over-the-fence home run. I regret that I had but a single stomach to devote to the meal, it was so very good. My reaction while eating it was not unlike Julia Child’s when she first tasted Sole Meunière.

If you’re nervous about clicking through to Amazon or the book’s website, here is the recipe. We can call it “Seduction Chicken,” if you prefer.

Ingredients
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, patted dry with paper towels
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp plus pinch coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 c white wine
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 Tbs honey

Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the chicken, garlic, 1 tsp salt, and pepper together.
  3. In a small saucepan, simmer together onion, wine, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and a pinch of salt until most of the liquid has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Add honey and butter and stir until butter is melted.
  4. Spoon the mixture over the chicken and toss well. Spread thighs, onion mixture, and any juices onto a baking sheet. Bake until chicken is no longer pink and onions are meltingly tender and caramelized, about 25 minutes.

I had a 2-pound package of chicken thighs, so I doubled the recipe, but otherwise made it as written. I found that “simmering” the sauce on low heat won’t get the job done in 15 or 20 minutes; you’ll need to either raise the temp to medium-high or wait a whole lot longer for the wine to reduce. Also, I was a little worried about the onions burning at 450 degrees, so I turned the oven down to 400 halfway through and they were not really caramelized but were definitely “meltingly tender.”

I’ve made some mighty tasty dishes in my day, but this one is miles ahead of all the rest. I can hardly wait to start working my way through the entire cookbook.

Pasta with Caramelized Onions & Zucchini

I got several plump zucchini in my CSA basket this week and, as some of you know, I cannot abide squash of any kind. I considered whether to give them away or throw them away before deciding to get some use out of them, so I used them for knife practice. I julienned them, then brunoised them. I focused on keeping my fingers away from the blade (100% success), making uniform pieces (eh, not so much, but I’m getting better), and increasing my working speed (really no success at all there; I’m a plodder, but at least I never cut myself).

Once the zucchini were all so nicely (if not perfectly uniformly) diced, I thought that I ought to do something with them. If that something involved butter and garlic, I was pretty sure I would be able to eat it and like it. So I made this, which is the first recipe I have ever created and written, all by myself, from scratch, start to finish.

Rotini Pasta with Caramelized Onions & Zucchini

Pasta with Caramelized Onions & Zucchini

Ingredients
2 Tbs olive or avocado oil
1 Tbs butter
6-8 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 medium zucchini, diced (about 4-5 cups)
1 large sweet onion, diced (about 2-3 cups)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
16 oz rotini pasta, cooked according to package directions
1/2 c basil pesto
1 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c fresh basil chiffonade
 .
Preparation
  1. Preheat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high for 5 minutes. Add oil and butter and heat until butter foams.
  2. Add minced garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds until fragrant but not browned.
  3. Add diced zucchini and onion, stirring well to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring every several minutes and lowering heat as needed to prevent scorching, until all the water evaporates and the mixture begins to brown. You can keep cooking it until it’s dark brown and fully caramelized, or stop when it’s just partially browned. Up to you.
  4. Boil the pasta to your preferred softness. Scoop out a cup or so of the pasta water before draining. Drain the pasta and place in a large warmed serving dish.
  5. Add the zucchini-onion mixture, pesto, Parmesan and basil to the pasta and stir to combine. Add reserved pasta water as needed to loosen the mixture.

I topped this with some small shrimp, which I sautéed in butter for a few minutes and sprinkled with garlic salt while cooking. I poured the leftover butter in the pan into the bowl of pasta before serving, which gave it a nice, glossy finish.

I thought it tasted absolutely amazing—if you cook zucchini long enough, it essentially disappears, and that is fine by me!

New year, same old me

I’ve been living with myself long enough now to know at least one thing for sure: I suck at keeping resolutions. Especially those that involve weight loss and/or dieting and/or exercise. So let’s just dispense with the “new year, new me” nonsense forthwith because that is not happening.

new-year-new-me

However.

I do have some plans for 2015, a few modest ambitions that may redound to my greater good if executed properly. A little determination, a little luck, a lot of persistence, and possibly by this time next year I’ll be able to pat myself on the back for all I’ve accomplished.

On the professional front, my single goal for the year is to grow my existing revenue streams and develop new ones. Business Management 101, in other words. I figure I need between 6 and 10 new steady clients to keep me in the black. I know that doesn’t sound like very many, but real estate photography is kind of a big-ticket item. The key word here is steady; I need clients who can consistently give me three or four jobs a month. I have some ideas about how to find them. We’ll see how it goes.

On the personal front, I am leaning toward leaving Weight Watchers soon because it makes no sense for me to pay $42 a month and not follow their plan. I don’t have a backup plan, though, and I don’t like what I’m seeing in the mirror lately.

watching-my-figure

On the domestic front, I gave myself a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated for Christmas and my plans mostly involve cooking: using my new KitchenAid stand mixer, developing my knife skills to the point that I can make a decent tournée, learning how to make the five “mother sauces” of classic French cuisine (Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, tomate and velouté), and perhaps figuring out how to make decent beef and chicken stock (I’m not interested in ever making veal or fish stock). I would also like to try making bread, although for some reason the whole yeast thing kind of intimidates me. I definitely plan to keep getting my CSA box every week and sharing it with my neighbors because the only thing I enjoy more than eating is feeding other people—which is really saying something, considering how much I do love to eat. 😉

If I were going to make a resolution, it might be to figure out how to balance my passion for cooking with my desire to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. I’ve heard rumors that such a thing is possible, but I remain skeptical.

never_trust_a_skinny_cook

And finally, on the spiritual front, I plan to appreciate my life, exactly as it is right now, and remember that every day is a gift. As my boy dog ages into his teens and my parents pass the midpoint of their 70s, I realize that we don’t have all the time in the world ahead of us anymore. No one does, of course. This world and this life deserve my attention and my appreciation minute by minute and day by day. That’s the only way to make the passing years mean anything at all.

 

Turning the page

We here at Going Forward (meaning: me) are pleased to be finally turning the page over from 2014, leaving behind us a difficult year stuck in the doldrums, so to speak, with high hopes for fair winds and following seas to support all our efforts in the coming year.

One thing I’ve been remiss in over the past 12 months is my blogging, and I hope to be better about that. I will tell you that I’ve been having my share of struggles, large and small, but I won’t tell you all the details because, you know, the internet. My focus on surviving and resolving those struggles has taken up a lot of my time and emotional energy, leaving little left over to talk about it all here. 

I completed my certification as a nursing assistant in February, and decided not to pursue any job opportunities in that field for several reasons. I have found the knowledge I gained very helpful in assisting my parents, however, and that is the whole reason I took the course so I consider the time well spent.

My weight has been bobbing up and down all year, gradually trending upward. I pay a handsome fee to participate in Weight Watchers each month, but can’t seem to motivate myself to follow the program. Not sure what I’m going to do about that, although I think my options are, essentially, to fish or cut bait. I’ve determined that part of why I am not feeling so great right now physically is my higher weight, and that I definitely feel better when I am about 20 lbs. lighter. It’s just a matter of finding the mojo to get myself there.

My darling doggies are, as ever, the lights of my life. Rudy had a tumor on his foot this summer that required the removal of a toe, but he’s fully recovered from that now as if nothing ever happened. Reggie has maintained perfect health and excellent behavior all year, and I’m very pleased with and proud of both of them.

My parents have been holding pretty steady, with a few mishaps here and there but generally okay. I had hoped my mother would be walking on her own again by last spring, but she took a fall in her garage a few months ago that has slowed her way down and it looks like the wheelchair might be here to stay.

On the business front, I branched out from product photography into real estate photography over the summer, and got a crash course in how to light a room properly (which is much trickier than you might think). This endeavor proved profitable and allowed me to acquire a bunch of new photography equipment, including lenses and lights, that have expanded my repertoire considerably. I hope to substantially increase this service in 2015.

At home, I have invested considerable time and treasure in my cooking practice, and that has been tremendously rewarding for me emotionally. I have been creating my own recipes and riffing with confidence on others’ recipes to create dishes that delight me—and as we know, I am a huge fan of my own cooking. 😉 I spent 10 days with my folks over Christmas and cooked many meals for them that they immensely enjoyed as well, so I seem to be doing it right! I recently finished reading Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, and gifted it to my mom and my brother-in-law for Christmas. My sister and mom have read it and they both say that it has changed their lives. I had the same reaction. Highly recommended.

Like 2013, 2014 ended on an unexpected, expensive and stressful note. In 2013, it was Rudy’s mysterious illness over Christmas vacation, and the keying damage to my car while I was visiting my parents. This year, we hit a deer on our way to my parents’ house, which disabled my car with a busted radiator but fortunately did no harm to us. The accident occurred roughly midway between my house and theirs, so I had to leave my car in the nearest town for 10 days to be repaired and got to drive a brand-new rented Hyundai Santa Fe in the meantime, which was actually a rather nice consolation. When we came through to retrieve my car on our way back to our home this week, the icy roads and snowy weather were so treacherous that we had to stay overnight there. I have never seen such horrendous driving conditions in 12 years of going back and forth over that road, and have never in 30 years of driving hit a deer. I am hoping my deer-strike clock will now reset and I’ll have another 30 years of no trouble!

And so we begin another fresh year. I am really hopeful that the hard times are behind me and I am so very ready to move forward on so many fronts. Rev the engine, pop the clutch, let’s blow this popsicle stand!

Happy New Year, everyone, and best wishes to all of you for a healthy and happy 2015!

the-time-is-now-lets-do-this