Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Do I look orange yet?

Sometimes, life gives you carrots. The kind of carrots that are encrusted with dirt and still have their tops on, so you know they were grown the right way. The kind of carrots that have to be eaten fresh. The kind of carrots that don't like to sit around in the crisper. 

What do you do when life gives you 2 pounds of carrots that need to be dealt with right this second? You try out all those carrot recipes that you never have time for because it takes so darn long to grate carrots. You do this because you decided it was worth an hour of your Sunday to clean, peel and grate said carrots. And it was definitely worthwhile, let me tell you.

Carrot PanCakes
Although not the fluffiest pancakes I've ever had (that award goes to the gluten free ones made by my grandmother), they are certainly quite risen. Somehow the carrot cooks perfectly on the griddle without any hassle at all.
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 splashes vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
  • raisins, optional
1) Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium-large bowl. Make sure they are incorporated.

2) Beat together egg, extract and yogurt in a smaller bowl, slowly adding milk until it's all the same consistency. Stir in carrots.

3) Heat a griddle. Add wet to dry, mixing just until combined. Pour batter in batches onto pan. If using nuts or raisins, sprinkle a few on top of each puddle.

4) Cook until top looks mostly dry and then flip, cooking more until center is done. Enjoy slathered with cream cheese and drizzled with maple syrup.

Pumpkin Pie Spice
Really it's all about taste. If you don't like cinnamon's overpowering qualities, use less. Sometimes I'll add a little bit of extra ginger to a particular recipe if I feel it needs a little kick. After all, spice mixes exist to avoid more work during the actual cooking.
  • 3 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
Mix all together in a small jar (1/2 pint size would work). Screw on lid tightly and shake to make sure everything is combined evenly. Store in dry cupboard and use as needed.


This is far, far from a true poundcake. It is simply devoid of leavening agents. Why? Because I wrote down the recipe from memory one afternoon while at my grandmother's house. We were making a carrot cake for a very good family friend whose husband had recently died. The cake was beautiful; by some miracle, it exited the tube pan without incident. It was garnished with a thin ring of cream cheese icing and flowers from the garden. I knew I would want to recreate it some day, so, thinking I knew it well enough from having just seen it created, I grabbed my journal and wrote it down. Turns out you can pretty easily forget those less-interesting ingredients that seemed so mundane at the time. 

But it also turns out that you don't need them to make an extravagantly decadent carrot cake. It'll just weigh much, much more than you expect a cake of its size to weigh. 

I thought now would be the appropriate time as I had a birthday of some close friends of mine coming up and a bowl full of grated carrots in the fridge from our produce box (more on this later).

When I put it in the oven I was a little doubtful because the batter didn't seem to be quite as voluminous as I had remembered, especially given that it had filled a tube pan and I was only dealing with two 8-inch rounds. Then, 20 minutes into baking they looked as if they hadn't changed at all, despite the fact that the giant tube pan had only taken 30 minutes to bake in the humidity of the Caribbean. I left it in for another 10 minutes before beginning to get severely worried. Upon sticking in a toothpick, I found that it was done, which was confounding due to its raw appearance on the top. 

It wasn't until that night, lying in bed, that I realized that I hadn't added any baking soda or baking powder. Or even salt. Oops. 

With no time to fix it, I slathered on the cream cheese frosting that I had thoughtfully prepared, hoping the whole thing would satisfy the birthday girls to some extent.

It was a hit. And not just because of the frosting, either.

Carrot {Pound} Cake
from the Joy of Cooking
The first time I saw a tube pan successfully unmold was when my grandmother made this cake two summers ago. It was a sight to be seen adorned with a thin drizzle of white glaze on its crownlike peak and red hyacinths resting delicately in the very center.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
  • 1/2 teasspoon allspice, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups carrots, grated
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 cup raisins, optional
  • 1/2 cup pineapple, crushed
1) Whisk together sugar, flour, spices and salt in a large bowl. 

2) Beat in oil and eggs.

3) Mix in carrots, walnuts, raisins and pineapple, stopping once everything is thoroughly combined.

4) Divide into two greased 8-inch pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Don't worry if it doesn't look done--that's the consequence of not adding leavening. Instead, start checking for doneness at 20 minutes with a toothpick to ensure that the final product is moist.


Just to reassure you, my family didn't solely eat dessert for the few weeks that we had carrots galore in the house. They're healthy, right? So even if we were eating dessert the whole time...

Anyway, I wanted to make something to supplement our dinner. I had been eyeing this recipe ever since the time a few winters ago where I was experimenting with buying only local produce. Turns out the only local produce available in North Carolina December through January is sweet potatoes. I needed some variety from the roasted wedges and spiced mash. 

Cheesy Carrot Crisps
adapted from
I had seen this recipe a long time ago and thought that they must be too good to be true. Sweet potato, cheese and herbs baked for a few minutes into a crisp? (It turns out that carrots work fine too.) The result is a slightly risen, flavorful mouthful that perfectly combines sweet and savory.
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/3 cups carrots, grated
  • 1/3 cup sharp cheddar, grated
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, dried
Beat egg in a medium bowl. Add grated carrots and cheese, stirring thoroughly. Grind in pepper. Macerate the dried rosemary between fingers before sprinkling into bowl.

This is Just the Frosting on the Cookie

It all started when I tried to start making my dad's birthday cake early. Because the frosting that goes on German chocolate cake is very finicky. And the stuff from the store tastes like caramel-scented soap. It's somewhat sudsy and most certainly artificial. Completely, unpalatably, 100% fake.

Usually I can make it work to some extent. The first time there were little pieces of egg yolk suspended in the frosting. The second time, it was beautiful, except that the top cake layer slid off the bottom one because the frosting was still hot. (Someone was in a hurry.) This was the third time. 

I guess it's my fault. I tried to adjust the recipe. And that recipe will not be adjusted. The Joy of Cooking knows best, after all. I should know that. But silly me getting uppity in the kitchen...

Anyway, it didn't work out. So, because I was doing this all a day ahead of time, I threw it all in the fridge (I don't like to waste. Especially not during Earth Week.) and decided to deal with it tomorrow. And that's today now. 

I knew it was at least possible to use cooked eggs in cookies because I saw it on a blog called Cupcake Project. Now, I know that she uses egg whites in those cookies, but, really, who stays with the recipe? (Oh wait, that's what started me on this path in the first place...)

In the end, I decided that adding back the egg whites, which I also saved from last night, to the dough would hopefully save them from being hopelessly dense.

Coconut Pecan "Frosting" Cookies
started by The Joy of Cooking
A flavorful, crunchy play off of the traditional frosting that accompanies German chocolate cake. They remind me a little of macaroons (not to be confused with the French macarons with which my friend Erin is obsessed) because of their low cookie to mix-in ratio.
  1. Cook base.
  2. Add remaining ingredients.
  3. Form cookies.
  4. Bake.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 splash vanilla extract
  • 1 cup coconut flakes, dried and toasted (optional)
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped and toasted (optional)
  • 3 egg white
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1) Combine sugar, butter, milk, egg yolks, and vanilla extract in a small sauce pan. Place on stove over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens slightly. If the yolks poach in the liquid, simply transfer it all into a blender and pulse until no more solids remain. Stir in pecans and coconut. 

2) Allow to cool completely and transfer to a medium-large bowl. 

3) Stir in egg whites thoroughly before adding the flour. Mix until combined and the pecans and coconut are well-distributed. 

4) Place in mounded spoonfuls on a greased baking sheet (they won't spread out at all). Pack them together a little bit if you don't want them to have lots of edges.

5) Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Easter Eggs-travaganza

Eggs are most certainly on the brain at this time of year. Deviled. In a basket. Boiled. Pink shells. Yellow shells. Green shells.

It inspired me to make a quiche.

Most of my egg dishes are free-handed. I don't bother measuring the proportions of milk and mix-ins.

Crustless Quiche
  1. Prepare vegetables.
  2. Cook vegetables.
  3. Mix eggs.
  4. Arrange quiche.
  5. Bake.
  6. Enjoy.
  • 2-4 cups mixed vegetables
  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
1) Heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan. Sauté the vegetables until fully cooked. If using onions, garlic, or peppers, start with those and finish with any greens, cooking just until they are wilted.

2) Place the vegetables in the bottom of a casserole dish, probably no larger than 9x9.

3) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Beat eggs, milk and pepper in a measuring cup and then pour into the casserole dish.

Possible Combinations:

  • Greek - feta cheese, spinach, black olives, Greek seasoning
  • Medley - carrots, onions, peppers, kale, shredded cheddar, sliced provolone

Now for one of my cutest creations yet. They were supposed to be bunnies. But they look more like angry cats who have been thrown in the dryer. 

Bunsies {aka Bunny Buns}
My friend Erin wanted me to make these. Last year I made Cadbury "deviled" eggs as per her request. 
  1. Heat.
  2. Mix.
  3. Knead.
  4. Rise.
  5. Cut and shape.
  6. Rise.
  7. Bake.
  8. Enjoy.
  • 1 cup (8-ounce container) sour cream
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup bread flour


1) Put the sour cream, water and butter in a small saucepan and heat, but do not cook. Cool to room temperature then add the remaining ingredients.

2) Place dough into the bowl of a stand mixer or turn out onto the counter if kneading by hand. Knead for approximately 7 minutes until the dough is silky but not overly sticky to the touch. Rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

3) Cut into 16 equal parts. Shape into small ovals. Place on a large baking tray. Cut out the ears with scissors. Poke in eyes with a chopstick. Allow to rest for 20 minutes while preheating oven to 375 degrees.

4) Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

{You can also par cook them for 10 minutes and finish them in the oven when it's 10 minutes out from serving time.}

A mandolin would make this much easier, as I found out. Make sure you allot at least 45 minutes to preparing the potatoes if you don't have one.

  1. Prepare potatoes.
  2. Layer.
  3. Bake.
  4. Enjoy.

  • 1 1/3 cups cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thinly
  • Black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup half and half

1) Measure and mix cheeses in a 2-cup measure. Arrange half of potatoes in a prepared 9x13-inch glass baking pan. Sprinkle with half of cheese mixture, pepper and flour.

2) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Top with remaining potatoes. Pour milk over potatoes (milk will not cover potatoes completely). Layer with remaining cheese.

3) Cover baking dish tightly with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Uncover dish. Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender and cheese is deep golden brown, about 40 minutes longer. Remove from oven; let stand 15 minutes before serving.

{Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Cover and rewarm in 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.}

It's Never too Late for Pumpkin

Pumpkin and oats, oats and pumpkin. 

It's been a cold, rainy day in North Cackalacky. Pumpkin is so comforting and warming that I couldn't resist bringing it back out, even though it's April. Since I'm on spring break, I had the luxury of baking a hot breakfast and a crunchy afternoon snack.

Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal
I've been wanting to try this for a long time, and honestly, I shouldn't have put it off. I'm thinking that it might even work to assemble this the night before for a more porridge-like consistency once baked. Remember that it shouldn't be completely dry when you take it out of the oven: it is oatmeal after all!
  1. Mix.
  2. Bake.
  3. Enjoy.

  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon maple extract
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • 1/4 cup whole pecans

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix together dry ingredients, except flax meal and pecans, in a medium bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients in a large measuring cup. Add wet to dry.

2) Pour into a greased pan, approximately the volume of an 8x8. Sprinkle with flax seed and arrange pecans over the top. Bake for 30 minutes.

Serve by itself or with a bit of milk poured over it, if you like a soupier texture.


Pumpkin Granola Clusters
It is crunchy, solid and pumpkin-y without apology. Not for the faint of heart or those with preconceptions of cookie-like granola. 
  1. Mix.
  2. Bake.
  3. Cool.
  4. Enjoy.
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tablespoon flax meal
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree, heaping
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Spread on a baking sheet. Cook for 30-40 minutes until browned. 

2) Add in nuts, if using, before the last 10 minutes of baking. It probably won't be completely crunchy at this point--it has to cool first. 

Serve over yogurt or in milk. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Waking up to Baking

Most people I interact with on a regular basis know that I'm in the Global Poverty Reading Group at my school. We wake up early on Wednesdays to start our meetings at 7:00 sharp. We've read:
  • Why Nations Fail
  • It's Our Turn to Eat by Michaela Wrong
  • The {Honest} Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
  • Arrival City by Doug Saunders
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  • The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow
  • Poor Economics
  • The Big Truck that Went By by Jonathan Katz
And some combination of:
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  • It Happened on the Way to War by Rye Barcott
  • Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
All in all they're pretty much worth reading, except, perhaps, Why Nations Fail, which is highly technical with only a few interesting trivia points.

Anyway, since we started up again after winter break at the end of January, I volunteered to bring my share. I made one breakfast bread plus one "breakfast" bread, heavy on the quotes.

I always enjoy making quickbreads, and am forever trying to minimize my dishes (this is a priority because usually I'm making them on weeknights when I have no time and dad has no inclination because he will not be consuming the goods). My other interest is in experimentation, as many of you have already discovered. I try using honey, applesauce, white chocolate chips, avocados, butternut squash and oats.

These two are thus relatively mundane combinations, though of course they are expandable, depending on the crowd you are serving (which obviously includes yourself and your tastes).

I'm reprinting this in essentially the same form in which it was published in my school newspaper.

Basic Applesauce Muffins
Although there is a substantial amount of applesauce in these muffins, they don’t taste like apples to start with. They are perfect to add in anything you like, from chocolate to nuts to dried fruit. Be careful not to over bake, as they dry out quickly. Remember that they generally tend to continue cooking a bit after being taken out of the oven, so the toothpick should still have a few crumbs clinging to it when tested.

  • 1 ¼ cups unsweetened applesauce, ~3 4-oz individual-sized containers
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
1) In a large bowl, beat together the applesauce, egg, butter, honey, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and spices, if using. Add dry to wet, stirring just to moisten. The batter will be fairly thick. 

2) Stir in any dried fruits, chocolate chips or nuts and divide the batter among 13 muffin cups coated with nonstick cooking spray. 

3) Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes. Check for doneness at this point. If a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean, remove from oven. If not, bake for another 2 minutes before testing again. Flip muffins onto a cooling rack immediately after baking to avoid them steaming and becoming soggy.

Mix-In Combinations:
  • Autumnal Equinox: ½ cup chopped pecans, 1 small finely diced apple, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Ginger Lover: ½ cup chopped crystallized ginger, 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Chocoholic: ½ cup chocolate chips, substitute ¼ cup all-purpose flour for ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • Thinking of Thanksgiving: ½ cup dried cranberries, substitute vanilla extract for maple extract, substitute ½ whole wheat flour for ½ cup cornmeal
  • Other Options: chopped walnuts/almonds/pistachios, diced dried apricots, raisins, white chocolate/butterscotch/peanut butter chips


Next up is from my recent favorite, Moosewood's Cooking for Health. As Molly Weizenberg once wrote on her beauteous blog, Orangette, "The universe does not need another recipe for a banana baked something. And yet." In my defense, I did not conceive the recipe, only the product. So I can't be accused of bringing it into being.

Whole Wheat Banana Bread
This bread is conducive to most mix-ins you could desire. I tried white chocolate chips for an out-of-the-ordinary experience, but unfortunately even the ones labeled "baking" melted into the batter, creating a doughy, half-baked product, which is desirable to some and not to others.
  • 1 1/2 cups overripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a loaf pan.

2) In a mixing bowl, stir together the wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add dry to wet and stir just until combined. 

3) Pour batter into pan. Bake for at least 30 minutes, maybe more, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning loaf out onto a wire rack.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Layer it On

The Moosewood cookbooks are some of my all-time favorites in the genre of culinary literature. There are no brilliant photographs: humble sketches enhance the older versions and single-color illustrations featuring the main ingredient adorn the newer copies. The best aspect is there simplicity and practicality. In other words, these aren't restaurant recipes adapted for the home cook, but rather instructions for how to make real, delicious food.

Elaine, the librarian at Duke School and a good friend of mine, and a phenomenal cook, gave me Moosewood's Cooking for Health for my birthday and I've now had the opportunity to actually make something from it. Generally I don't see them as quick recipes, but some of them are suitable to make ahead.

Recently I've been interested in trying out one-pot meals for fewer dishes to deal with, so for this week I thought I'd test out a casserole. It's a little unorthodox, but it's beautifully layered and showcases the best produce of this time of year: vibrantly orange squash and dark leafy greens.

Polenta Casserole with Winter Squash and Greens
  1. Steam squash.
  2. Saute greens.
  3. Boil polenta.
  4. Assemble layers.
  5. Bake.
  • Polenta
    • 2 1/3 cups water
    • 2/3 cup whole grain cornmeal, not quick-cooking
    • 2 sundried tomatoes, chopped
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • Greens
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 8-10 cups collards, stemmed and chopped
    • 1/4 cup water
  • Squash
    • 1 1/2 cups mashed winter squash
    • 1 egg
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • Fresh ground pepper
    • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
    • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, optional


1) Steam a few cups of diced butternut squash in a medium saucepan for ~12 minutes or until very tender.

2) Remove from pan, drain water and set aside. Reheat the pan with the olive oil in it. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the chopped greens and water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are tender but still bright green.

3) Transfer to a glass bowl or measuring cup to cool. Bring the water for the polenta to a boil.

4) Whisk in the cornmeal. Add the sundried tomatoes, salt and thyme, and cook on low heat, stirring often, until the polenta is thick and creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Pour into a lightly oiled 8-inch square baking pan.

5) Place the cooked greens on top of the polenta in the pan. If not serving the same day, cover with foil at this point and place in the refrigerator. If you are, continue process now.

6) Mash the squash in a bowl. Stir in egg, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of the cheese. 

7) Spread the squash mixture on top of the greens. Sprinkle the cheese and breadcrumbs, if using, across.

8) Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, covered with foil. Uncover and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, until golden. For easier cutting, allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.