The Cake That's Not A Cake – Pumpkin Cake with Honey Frosting

Well, this cake lied to me! It claimed to be a pumpkin cake with honey frosting, but soon after I began working on it I grew skeptical.

The batter was thick, even leveling it out in the pan was a little tricky. But as I tried my first bite it just seemed so familiar. I raced over to my recipe binder and began thumbing through the pumpkin recipes. It turns out this recipe is only one or two ingredients different from my favorite pumpkin BREAD recipe.

Pumpkin Loaf with Honey Frosting, Whisking

This really is a quick bread with frosting. It’s very heavy and dense, so make sure you serve it in small squares! This would actually be an amazing treat to have with your coffee in the morning and would serve that purpose much better than having it after dinner when you’re already full. In fact, I found some incredibly cute photos from someone who used the original Martha Stewart recipe to bake mini cupcakes. Bite size is the way to go here.

Ghost Baker Suggests Proceeding With Caution:

Beware the cook time. I used a square 8 inch pan because I don’t have a 9 inch, and I had a bit of a scare when I peeked into the oven at 55 minutes and the cake looked completely done. It had pulled away from the edges of the pan and was dark brown in the center and edges. I left it in for 5 more minutes but then became worried I was overcooking it. I did the knife test since I didn’t have any toothpicks, and it came out clean. But this time the knife lied to me. I poked at the center and it seemed a little squishy – it turns out the cake was like a pool that has a thick cover over it for the winter and I threw it back in the oven! To avoid this problem I would just try treating it like a bread and using a loaf pan (or, approximately 15 minutes for mini cupcakes and 25 for regular cupcakes).

Pumpkin Loaf with Honey Frosting, Leveling

I also used pumpkin cream cheese for the frosting instead of regular cream cheese. This gives the cake and the frosting some nice continuity, and it worked well with the honey.

And, woo hoo, you can make this recipe without any fancy gadgets – no stand mixers, food processors, pastry knives, etc. Dust off your whisk and wooden spoon!

Pumpkin Loaf with Honey Frosting, Chowing

Pumpkin Loaf with Honey Frosting
adapted from Martha Stewart
Prep: 25 minutes, Cook: Approx 1 hour and 20 minutes (when using a loaf pan)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon each allspice and cloves)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin puree

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1 bar (8 ounces) reduced fat pumpkin cream cheese, very soft (or you can use regular)
1/4 cup honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter your loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, butter (melted), and pumpkin puree until combined. Add the dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and mix gently until smooth.

Turn batter into prepared pan and level the top using a thin spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes while in the pan, then turn out and cool completely (right side up) on a wire rack.

To make the honey frosting – In a medium bowl, whisk softened butter, softened pumpkin cream cheese and honey until smooth and pale orange. Spread over cooled pumpkin loaf. Cut loaf into sliced to serve.

*If you prefer to use a square 9 inch pan, decrease baking time to approximately 50 minutes.

I’ve been experimenting a lot more with my cooking and baking since we started this the awesomeness that is DinnerCakes. Most of these forays in the culinary jungle have been met with limited success. My climbing cake was a dismal failure and my roasted stuffed turnips probably won’t knock any one’s socks off. I recently attempted to craft a red velvet cake for my six inch pans and once again the harsh gods of baking slighted me. Sorry Carly, guess you’ll have to settle on store bought cupcakes for your birthday. But hey, that’s life, right? You learn more through failure than victory. Let’s move on to a success story.

Oh, the possibilities...

There are some really great non-profits in the DC Metro area and I’ve had the opportunity so meet some really great people through them. One of the groups I’ve been working with for a few years is the Capital Hill Community Foundation. They’ve been working to renovate elementary school libraries in the Capital South area of DC. I gotta say, they’ve been doing some amazing work. I’ve been coordinating a few volunteer efforts with them recently and this last Sunday we had a really productive day at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary.

Ready For The Oven

It’s sometimes hard to get people to sign up for something like a Sunday morning project. I totally understand this. I love sleep. Sleep and I are tight, and on Sunday we try to catch up on all the time we’ve lost over the week. But alas, duty calls sometimes. I try to make sure the projects I organize are enjoyable for everyone and one of the ways I do this is food. People love free food. It’s insane. I mean, anyone can buy muffins at the local grocery store; but if you bring them for people, you’re guaranteed to hook a few.

Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

I got up (way too) early Sunday morning to once again attempt another culinary adventure. There was a lot riding on this one. People need their food. Perusing my ever-growing list of to-do’s I came across a tasty looking dish from the folk’s at Baker’s Banter. This blog will make you want to be a baker, people. One of their more recent posts was for a Cinnamon Streusel Coffeecake (side note: why must something so delicious be tainted with the label “coffee?”). It. Looked. Awesome. I felt the need to make my own modifications, of course (hey, that’s how we roll here at DinnerCakes). It was a big hit. Next time you need some quick and easy (and cheap) to impress, give this baby a shot to save the day.

Interested in service in the DC Metro area? Contact us for more information on how to plug in to the community.

Update: My friend Laurian tried this recipe with powdered buttermilk with no ill effect. In addition, she recommends adding some water to the topping for a more crunchy effect. Thanks, Laurian!

Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake
adapted from Baker’s Banter

1 cup brown sugar; light or dark (I used light)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter; melted
2 tablespoons water

1 cup butter
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar; light or dark (I used light)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups milk; any kind (I used skim)
3 3/4 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x13″ baking pan.

Mix the filling together in a bowl and set aside. Mix together the topping in another bowl until crumbs form. Set aside.

In a large bowl with a stand or hand mixer, beat together butter, salt sugars, baking powder and vanilla until combined and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between until well combined. Be sure to scrape the sides. Combine the milks together in a separate container such as a liquid measuring cup.

Alternate adding the flour and milk to the butter mixture; three times adding the flour, two times adding the milk (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour). Be sure to scrape down the sides to ensure it’s well combined.

Pour half the mixture into your baking pan (since i don’t bother weighing, i tend to put a little more in this half. better on the bottom than the top). Sprinkle the filling evenly on top. Give it a light shake to make sure it’s even and reaching all the corners. Spread the remaining batter on top; evenly. If you have a pastry scraper, I recommend using this to help evenly spread the batter, but a spatula will work as well. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the pan. A bit more light shaking will help.

Bake until golden brown at the edges and passes the toothpick test; approximately 50-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 20 minutes. Service straight from the pan and enjoy.

More Cabbage (Roasted Stuffed Turnips)

It’s a cold wet day here in DinnerCakes land. Perfect for staying indoors to cook; and I use the term ‘perfect’ loosely. I hate the cold. Hate it. People who love winter are nuts to me. It’s only November and I’m counting down the days till May. Yeah the whole snowy landscape looks charming an wondrous; but that’s just until you get outside and you realize you’re freezing and you can’t feel your face. But I digress…

The Lone Turnip

I volunteer at a cooking store in Bethesda every now and then called L’Academie de Cuisine. I’m not “living the dream” of quitting my job and becoming a full time chef (let’s face it people, dreams don’t usually translate well to real life), but working there as an assistant gets me some great exposure to different kinds of cooking along with meeting a wide variety of chefs. Recently I volunteered for a class under Christine Ilich in which we made some really great soups (which I will have to write about some time). She was great to work under and really emphasized variation and adaptation with cooking. We actually didn’t completely follow any recipe passed out to the attendants that day and the soups were still amazingly tasty. A true sign of culinary prowess.

Prepping The Filling

Christine had brought some vegetables from her personal garden for the class and some of them just weren’t used. I, never one to turn down free food, gladly took these off her hands (score). One of the things I took back with me were a couple of turnips. Turnips, it turns out, are part of the cabbage family. So if cabbage is the black sheep of my made-up lettuce family, then turnip is like the uncle that you never call. You never talk about turnip. You know he’s there, but you consider it a good year when you’ve minimized your time with him as much of possible. However, I am not one to waste food. Ever. Unless it is spoiling, by god, I will find a use for it!

Roasted Stuffed Turnips

Smitten Kitchen has this excellent post for roasted stuffed onions. These things are amazing. I have often just eaten them as the main (and only) dish for dinner. Screw chicken, man, just give me another friggin’ onion. Inspired by Christine Ilich’s excellent soup variations and by Smitten Kitchen’s mouth watering onions, I decided to try my own adaptation.

Looking back, I would have added some more seasoning. These things are good, but nowhere up to the level that is the roasted stuffed onions.

Roasted Stuffed Onions
adapted (loosely) from Smitten Kitchen
3-4 turnips
1 celery stalk; chopped
2 garlic cloves; minced
2 cups roasted bread roughly the size of crutons (or croutons)
1 onion; chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
8oz baby spinach; coarsely chopped
1 cup peas; frozen or fresh
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter; melted

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Prepping the turnips
Scrub the turnips. If old (rough, brown skin), peel them. Cut off the tops and bottoms, about a 1/4 to 1/2 an inch. Core the turnips using a melon baller (it’s really easy). Leave a 1/4 to 1/2 an inch thick wall. Try not to go through the bottom, but don’t lose any sleep over it if you do. Take the “innards” and roughly chop them, then combine with a 2 tablespoons of oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Place on a baking sheet with the hollowed turnips and let roast for 20 minutes.

The filling
Prepare a heat-proof bowl with the spinach, bread, stock and melted butter. Once the turnips are out of the oven, reset the oven to 350°F. Saute the onion, celery, garlic and turnip “innards” until soft; approximately 5 minutes. Add to the prepared bowl and mix together.

Stuff the turnips with the filling. If you have extra, no worries. Throw it in the pan as bedding. It’ll still be quite tasty. Roast the turnips for 20-25 minutes, until the turnips are softened, slightly browned.

Winning Over Skeptics Everywhere – Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers

Without a doubt, this is my favorite dinner in the rotation.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Walnuts about to be Chopped

At first I was skeptical. I’ve never been a crazy lentil-lover like Edwin. And as I’ve hinted, despite my passion for cooking and baking, my palate isn’t terribly adventurous! When Edwin gets excited and exclaims to me that he found green candied cherries for baking Christmas cookies, I respond with, “bleh!” When my husband suggests to me that I make a fajita for lunch using leftovers, I look at him with horror (I don’t really like eating leftover meat… it’s a weird thing, I know).

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Cooked Lentils

So, when searching my favorite, tried and true cookbook for something new and delicious, my eyes only lingered over “Lentil-Walnut Burgers” long enough to conjure images of frozen veggie burgers and strike fear into my heart. The next time I picked the book up I paused over this recipe again, considering it. And so it went like this for a few weeks until I finally found the courage to dive in.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Spices, Salt and Peppers

This story also illustrates a fact about me that friends over the years have found enormous pleasure in teasing me about – apparently, if there’s ever something that I react to immediately with vehement hate, chances are in time I’ll grow to be head over heels in love with it. I’ll never admit this to be true, but I can’t exactly say they’re wrong either…

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Mixing/Mashing

Ghost Baker’s Favorite Dinner, Putting the Spice in Spicy:

I’ve made this recipe several times since the first time, and I’ve even made it for dinner guests. Be warned that my recipe for these little dinner cakes is spicy! I adore spicy food and lots of garlic, but I do like to serve them with milk. I add two more cloves of garlic than the original recipe calls for, as well as more red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Spicy Lentil Walnut BSpicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Just added to the Skillet

I also love the texture – they should be just a tad crumbly and grainy. The second time I made them I mixed the ingredients a little too much and I think you lose something. The recipe says to use a food processor; however I don’t have one and I don’t think one is absolutely necessary (again, you don’t want to over-blend). It also suggests serving with a yogurt-cilantro sauce, but I don’t do cilantro.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, My Husband Stole One...

My husband enjoys these burgers with the same accoutrements you would add to a hamburger, I like mine plain on the bun, and one of my dinner guests once asked for cheese on his – so have fun with it! We typically accompany these with a side of Szechuan green beans or couscous.

Spicy Lentil Walnut Burgers, Ready to Eat

*Note – I would have taken a photo of all four burgers together with some toppings and sides, but when I turned around I caught a glimpse of my husband running into the other room with a burger in one hand yelling, “Take a photo of THIS!” and stuffing it into his mouth…

Spicy Lentil-Walnut Burgers
adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

Makes 4 burgers (serves 4), Prep time about 40 min, Cook time about 20 min

3/4 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
5 garlic cloves, minced (or use a garlic press)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large egg
4 Hamburger buns

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Place lentils in a small saucepan, cover with an inch of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover, and cook until the lentils are tender but holding their shape, 15 to 20 minutes (it’s important that you don’t overcook them and make lentil-mush). Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, spread the chopped walnuts on a baking sheet to toast in the oven for about 10 minutes. They should be a little darker and very fragrant. Set the walnuts aside to cool.

When the walnuts have cooled I like to chop them a little more finely. Then combine them in a large bowl along with the breadcrumbs, garlic, cumin, coriander (if you have whole instead of ground, just put them in a plastic bag and crush with the flat side of a meat tenderizer or even a can), red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Mix with a wooden spoon. It should appear finely ground except for some pieces of walnut.

Add the lentils and 1 tablespoons of the oil. Don’t be afraid to be a little rough in your mixing – the contents of the bowl should appear chopped and fully incorporated but with some lentils remaining whole.

Whisk the egg in a small bowl and add it to the lentil mixture. Mix well, but be careful here not to mix it into mush. Divide it into 4 equal-size parts and roll into balls; flatten with the palm of your hand into 3/4-inch-thick patties.

Heat a large nonstick skillet and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the burgers and cook over medium-low heat until crisp and browned, turning carefully with a thin-edged spatula, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Do not turn more frequently or else they will start to crumble. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.

Add to your bun and serve!

The Wonder of the Wok (Sorta Simple Chick Stir Fry)

Growing up in a German and Italian family (and being quite “American”), we never did Chinese food at home much. Maybe this is why it always seemed so special, so exotic, so friggin’ tasty. Nowadays in my kitchen the ethnic variety is subject only to my cravings. Yes, nowadays, the Asian cuisine is much more prolific. I love my wok, but oh it was a journey (and still is). First there was the frozen stir fry in a bag phase, the half frozen, half vegetable phase (worse. idea. ever.), the non-stick wok routine…. you get the idea.

Wok's Got Character

Much more refined these days, but still much to learn. I really enjoy Tigers & Strawberries as a resource to not only learn recipes of all kinds of Asian cultures, but also the fundamental cooking techniques of those cultures. I do find her stuff to be a bit challenging at times and her recipes will definitely tax the supply of your local non-international grocery store. This recipe, with a marinade and custom sauce, isn’t the simplest of choices; but won’t overly tax your skill set or ingredient needs.

Stir Frying Step One

Couple things worth noting for stir fries. First, don’t go non-stick on the wok. Woks are an exception to the “you get what you pay for” rule. The simple cheap woks are often the best. Carbon steal is a nice choice. Second, uniform size. You want all your pieces of a particular vegetable to be of the same size (roughly. this doesn’t have to be exact) so it all cooks in the same amount of time. Third, HEAT. Wok cooking is fast cooking. Using fresh ingredients and a hot wok, the time from when the first ingredient hits the oil to the time it’s ready to serve is in the span of 10 minutes. There is much much more to learn about wok cooking, and I strongly recommend Wok Words at Tigers & Strawberries as a good starting point. Now on to the recipe!

Sorta Simple Chicken Stir Fry (with curried rice)

Sorta Simple Chicken Stir Fry

1/2 pound chicken breast; cut and sliced into thin strips.
1 celery stalk; cut into thin strips
1 head of broccoli; stalk optional. Cut the heads in halve and the stalks in thin strips.
1 inch ginger; minced
4 tablespoons oil (peanut, canola, vegetable)

1 egg white
1 teaspoon corn starch
2 teaspoons rice seasoning (or rice wine)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon chili oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon corn starch
3 tablespoons water or stock (chicken, preferably)
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Prep: Mix the marinade together and combine with chicken. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Be sure to mix the seasoning as well before moving on.

Parboil the celery and broccoli in a pot of water for about 30 seconds. Drain and set aside.

Wok Action: Heat the wok to high (if you’ve got a non-gas stove, you’ll probably never lower the temp). Once hot, add two tablespoons of oil and swish around (carefully!) until wok is coated approximately 2/3 of the way up. Add the chicken and “stir fry” (toss) for about 2 minutes, until the chicken is firm. Remove to a plate.

Let the wok reheat and throw in another two tablespoons of oil. Recoat and throw in the veggies, chicken and seasoning. Combine until everything is coated with a light glaze; a few minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Hints and Pinches, Fried Apples

Apples and Cinnamon

If you went apple picking this season like Edwin, then you may have a few extra apples in your kitchen. Apple pie is delicious, but many people don’t have the time to wrestle with dough and pie crust (and some don’t want to be tempted to eat a whole pie by themselves). Of course, this is sad for me because my favorite part is the crust! But most people, my husband included, just love the taste and smell of warm apples.

Apples and Cinnamon, Bag of Apples

This weekend my in-laws gave us a bag of leftover apples. The apples are on their way to going bad, and they’re really too mealy to eat by themselves. But Morgan’s father offered that he thought they would be perfect for frying – and he was right!

Apples and Cinnamon, Peeling and Slicing

Fried apples are difficult to get wrong, but you should decide how you want them before you start. I like a crispier apple, my husband likes mushy. I like my apples peeled and thinly sliced, and he prefers non-peeled chunks. We decided to experiment separately.

Apples and Cinnamon, Adding Spices

She said, Fried Apples (Crispy and Thin)

Apples and Cinnamon, with Cool Whip

I chose a medium size apple, washed and peeled it. Use an apple slicer to cut it into 8 pieces, removing the core. Use a small knife to make thinner slices.

Heat up a small skillet and add 2 tablespoons of butter when hot. After about 30 seconds, add the apple slices to the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring and turning the slices once or twice.

Sprinkle a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar over the apples. Stir one or twice to coat both sides of the apples.

Remove immediately from heat so that they’re still crispy. Serve with a side of fat-free cool whip.

He said, Fried Apples (Mushy and Thick)

Apples and Cinnamon, Morgan's Apples

Morgan washed two medium size apples and used an apple slice to cut into 16 pieces total (skins on). He added butter to a hot skillet, and then included the apples.

After cooking for about 1 minute, add cinnamon, brown sugar (about 1/4 cup), nutmeg and allspice. Continue to cook the apples, stirring occasionally, for about 4-5 minutes.

Morgan served his fried apples without cool whip (a tragedy, it’s true).

Apples and Cinnamon, Morgan's Apples Served

An Adventure In Cabbage (Cabbage Rolls)

Good. Lord. it’sbeenalongexhaustingweek. Sometimes I think I’m too awesome; that I have too much amazing for even me to contain.  Then I laugh and remember who we’re talking about here.  But I digress.  In short, this was a long work week with a lot going on and not a whole lot of time.  No cooking, no baking.  Just salads, leftovers, and take out (once).  Sadness.

Friday was well received.  No plans.  No commitments.  No obligations.  No nothing.

I had recently signed up for produce delivery service from Washington’s Green Grocer. Sadly, I had to cancel their service. The produce was great, but with demanding schedule a few too many items were spoiling before I could get to them. Alas. Perhaps some day in the future…

Boiling Cabbage

My last delivery with them included a large head of cabbage. I’ve never done much with cabbage, considering it to be the disappointing child of some kind of lettuce family (“Your brother Romaine made an excellent salad today. Why can’t you be more like him?”). This is probably heavily biased from my childhood when my mother would cook red cabbage in traditional German style. There was no escape from the horrid smell emanating from the kitchen. Guh.

Stuffing The Cabbage

Doing a little research on cabbage I eventually came across a dish called dolma; a rolled or stuffed cabbage. Remembering my recent discovery of the awesomeness that are stuffed grape leaves, I found my Friday plans. I decided to prepare a quasi-indian meal and create a rolled cabbage recipe from scratch (with a little inspiration from the wonder that is the internet).

Overall, I was pretty happy with the results of my concoction. The filling seemed weak until I added the lemon sauce; so that is something I will definitely explore in the future (and encourage you to as well). This recipe does not make full use of a head of cabbage, so either double/triple the recipe or save the cabbage for a soup or stew (I know I will).

Rolled Cabbage

Rolled Cabbage, quasi-indian style, with lemon sauce
Makes about five rolls of cabbage.

1 head of cabbage
1/2 cup red lentils, cooked and drained
1/2 cup curried rice, cooked
1 large carrot; chopped
1 large shallot; chopped (onion would work too)
2 cloves of garlic; minced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
salt to taste
2 eggs
3 teaspoons of corn starch
1/4 cup of lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Core the hard part of the cabbage (the stem mostly) from the base. Boil in a large pot of boiling, salted water. In about 5-10 minutes, when the leaves begin separating, remove from the pot, saving a one cup of the water. Let cool.

Sweat the the carrots, shallots, garlic and celery in a medium sized pot; about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, rice, lentils and spices. For lack of a better word, let “mingle” for 5 minutes on low heat then remove from heat.

Place approximately two heaping spoonfuls of the filling onto one end of a cabbage leaf. Roll, following the length of the stem, then fold over the other sides. Please the roll onto the baking pan. Repeat until no more filling.

Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes; until the leaves are tender. While roasting, prepare the lemon sauce.

Lemon Sauce:
Whisk/mix the lemon juice and corn starch together. Bring the reserved water to a boil. Reduce the water to the lowest heat and add the lemon slurry. Beat the eggs in a small heatproof bowl and mix in the almost-lemon-sauce. Use this as a dressing. Enjoy

Zucchini Bread, A Fall Treat

Gold of a ripe oat straw, gold of a southwest moon,
Canada thistle blue and flimmering larkspur blue,
Tomatoes shining in the October sun with red hearts,
— Carl Sandburg, “Cornhuskers,” Falltime (1918)

I never had zucchini bread until last fall, but it was love at first sight. Zucchini and pumpkin are brothers.

Zucchini Bread

Though I’ve noticed many people seem to make bread to get rid of extra zucchini, I really just love the taste of zucchini bread! Despite being a summer squash it’s a perfect complement to fall recipes including butternut squash, stew, or turkey. And I appreciate any opportunity I have to combine cinnamon and cloves!

Everyone has their own taste as to how they like their quick bread – moist, nutty, rich, etc., but you want something that won’t dry out immediately. I have two recipes that I like to work with, the first one is a Betty Crocker zucchini bread (which can also easily serve as pumpkin bread by substituting 1 can of solid packed pumpkin for the zucchini), and the second one is a more adventurous recipe from 101 Cookbooks.

Zucchini Bread

Moist and Aromatic Zucchini Bread – Because For Ghost Baker, Fall is just Beginning:

You can find thousands of versions online and in cookbooks of certain dishes, so when I find two that I like I try to see how I can combine them and what I can learn from each. The Betty Crocker recipe is great because of its similarity to pumpkin bread, using cinnamon and cloves, and it’s versatility. However the cook time is a little off. I baked my loaves for 60 minutes as suggested and they came out just a little too done. 101 Cookbooks suggests slightly undercooking the loaves because they will continue to cook while cooling after being taken out of the oven. As with anything you bake, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on things towards the end of the cook time (If you click on our Flickr photo stream, the first photo in the zucchini bread series is from the time I used just the 101 Cookbooks recipe; you’ll see it comes out dense and the cook time was perfect).

I also like to grate my zucchini, including the skins, a little more finely. Make sure you drain them so that your loaves don’t get to watery. You want your batter to be relatively thick.

And if you think I enjoy Zucchini Bread, just wait for my Aunt Sue’s Pumpkin Bread recipe!

Zucchini Bread

Zucchini Loaves
adapted from Betty Crocker and 101 Cookbooks

3 cups grated zucchini, including skins
1 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Move oven rack to the low position so that tops of pans will be in the center of the oven. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Grease two 8×4 inch loaf pans and sprinkle lightly with flour.

In a large bowl, combine zucchini, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs and mix. Stir in remaining ingredients leaving out nuts. Once incorporated, add the nuts leaving out a handful to be sprinkled on at the end – do not overmix your batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Use a rubber spatula to level the batter. Sprinkle remaining nuts on top of the batter.

Bake for approximately 40-45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in the pans on a wire rack. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

Loosen sides of the loaves from the pans and remove from pans, placing the loaves top side up on a wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before wrapping tightly (if you wrap your loaves before they cool completely, you’ll get mold!). After wrapping, store at room temperature up to 4 days, or refrigerate up to 10 days.

Prep: 15-20 minutes, Bake: 45 minutes, Cool: 2 hours
Makes 2 loaves, or about 24 slices each.

Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

Next week my husband is beginning a new career that he’s very excited about, and he asked me to bake something to take in to his office as he says his good byes. I sent him a few recipes to choose from, including 101 Cookbooks’ Amazing Black Bean Brownie Recipe that I’ve been dying to try, but Morgan wasn’t having any of it. He said he wouldn’t want them to think, “Who’s this crazy guy bringing in brownies made of beans? We’re glad he’s leaving!

Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies, Chopped Chocolate

Back to the drawing board!

I can’t really argue with him – office culture is not the most welcoming environment for exotic new recipes. In fact, people in general can be incredibly wary of trying new things (I should be looking in the mirror as I say this; I’m sure Morgan will be incredulous that I’m even suggesting that I’m outside this category).

Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies, Adding Cream Cheese to the Chocolate Batter

I remember a number of birthday parties growing up where my mom would amass enough food to feed an army, an assortment of all my favorite things including an amazing sherbert punch. But the sherbert punch contained a lot of different ingredients along with scoops of rainbow-flavored sherbert that would float to the top – this was clearly not Kool-Aid. And so the punch would go untouched. Hmpf, kids!

But I just couldn’t bring myself to make a chocolate chip cookie or basic brownie recipe this week. This week is different! Historic and amazing things have happened in my home state of Virginia and across the country. Electricity is in the air. If anything is possible, then maybe Morgan’s office will accept something ever so slightly off the beaten path?

Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies, Fresh out of the Oven

I kept coming back to two recipes: Chocolate-Pumpkin Brownies from and Pumpkin Swirl Brownies from Smitten Kitchen (though I have to be honest, even I am almost pumpkined out for the season). The RecipeGirl brownies looked more chocolatey and had less pumpkin and pumpkin spices, and the Smitten Kitchen recipe looked great but Deb seemed a little unsatisfied. I decided to compromise and try to incorporate the best of both pumpkin brownie worlds.

Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

Ghost Baker’s verdict and suggestions for an irresistible medley of chocolate and pumpkin:

Deb at Smitten Kitchen said she kept wishing her brownies were either all chocolate or all pumpkin and the RecipeGirl brownies looked more chocolate than pumpkin. I tried to change the recipes so that one taste might slightly overpower the other. Being that I love pumpkin, I added a whole can of pumpkin along with cloves and more nutmeg. Sometimes I think brownies run the risk of being a little bland, but adding the extra spices really kicked them up a bit. I liked them even better after they set overnight.

Deb also described her chocolate batter as being too thick. To smooth it out and make it more pourable I included 1/2 cup of cream cheese. It was certainly not as thin as the pumpkin batter, but it did help.

I also used a 13×9 pan to keep the brownies from being too enormous and thick.

Update – Success! Morgan said these brownies were scarfed down at his office in no time.

Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies, Chow Down

Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Recipe Girl

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 can solid-pack pumpkin

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13×9 baking pan and line the bottom and two sides with parchment paper. Grease the paper as well.

Melt chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl for 50 seconds; stir to incorporate fully.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside. Combine sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand held mixer if you don’t have one). Beat until fluffy and pale yellow, approximately 3 minutes. Beat in flour mixture in two parts.

Pour half of your batter(about two cups) into a separate bowl and stir in the chocolate mixture. Add the softened cream cheese and stir unti combined.

In the other bowl, stir together pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Transfer half of your chocolate batter to the prepared pan and smooth and level with a rubber spatula. It will be relatively thin. Top with half of the pumpkin batter. Repeat with another layer of the chocolate batter followed by the last layer of pumpkin. You have to work relatively quickly to keep the batter from setting.

With a butter knife, marble your two batters – make sure you take the knife all the way down to the bottom of the pan.

Bake approximately 27-30 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, then remove brownies by lifting parchment paper and cool completely on your wire rack.

Makes about 36 brownies.

Hooray For Soup

Soup. Is. Awesome. That’s right, I said it. I am no longer the reckless youth I once was. I no longer eat what can be barely considered food. I no longer leave a pot of Campbell’s Soup sitting on the stove over night only to eat it the next day. No, today I am mature. Sophisticated. And sophisticated, mature people (read: OLD) eat mature things, like soup.

The Essential Mir Poix

It’s safe to say there is rarely a week that I don’t eat some kind of soup. It’s delicious (when done right), it’s healthy (when done right) and if you prepare a big enough pot it can last you the whole week (or you could freeze it, depending on the soup). This is usually want I do. Come the weekend I cook a pot of soup for lunch throughout the week. It’s also nice for a quick last minute dinner, but when you’re already eating the stuff once a day for a week already, the addition of it on the dinner menu gets old.

Sweating Our Mix Poix

One of my staples is lentil soup. Legumes (beans) are an excellent source of protein and lentils are the second highest source in the legume family (soy takes first). Lentils are also great because you can buy them dried (cheap) and don’t have to worry about softening them prior to cooking. This dish also demonstrates another great thing about soups: their flexibility and versatility. You can really do a lot to vary this recipe and chances are it’ll still come out delicious (unless you do something wacky like add peanut butter or cheese or something. i offer no guarantees if you go all “mad scientist” on this thing). This can really be considered a “base” recipe. I often up the veggie ratio. Go nuts with this one. And better yet, let us know how it turns out!

And yes, I totally acknowledge how visually unappealing this soup is.

Lentil Soup

Simple (Healthy!) Lentil Soup
adapted from Alton Brown

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion; chopped
1 carrot; chopped
1 celery stalk; chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
8 cups of water or broth (I normally use eight cups of water and some frozen stock, but bouillon cubes could also work)
10 oz of lentils; picked over, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (whole or stewed could also work in a pinch)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp pepper
salt to taste

Sweat the onions, carrots, celery and garlic with the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot for about 10 minutes. The onion should start appearing translucent.

Add everything but the salt (simple, huh?). Let simmer for 45 minutes. Add salt to taste. Done. Eat. Be full.