(Becky, the Mama.)
Yesterday, Colorado was cool, misty and alive with Fall color. I snapped this picture out my upstairs bedroom window . Through the window pane and the mist, the photo came out looking like a painting, so beautiful it seemed almost unreal.
On a day like that, what else is there to do but curl up with a book and a blanket, take a long nap, then wake up, pad to the kitchen and bake pumpkin bread?
I searched for what I hoped would be the perfect recipe for pumpkin bread: I wanted it to be moist, spicy and full of tasty surprises. I narrowed it down to six recipes. In the end, I threw elements from all six recipes into the bowl and pans, adding special tweaks of my own. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I’d doubled the spices, used both brown and white sugar plus a tad of maple syrup, folded chopped pecans and dried cherries into the batter. Then I thought, “Why not?” as I plopped dollops of whipped cream cheese in the middle of the batter. Then I wondered, “What could make a nice sweet n’ salty crunchy top crust?” I reached for brown sugar and roasted salted sunflower seed kernels. Then I popped the loaves into the oven and waited. I had created either a masterpiece, or disaster. I worried I might have tweaked this recipe to death.
Well, I am pleased to announce the results are in and they are a 10. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the BEST pumpkin bread I have ever tasted, moist with deep flavor and so many treats-to-the-senses per bite: the sweet tartness of the cherries, the smooth bits of cream cheese and satisfying chew of baked-in-pecans. The crunchy crust… with a hint of salt and sugar..oh. my.
But don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself next time the baking mood hits you on one of these cool fall days that beckon you to the kitchen. And feel free to tweak away and make the recipe even more your own– switch out the dried cherries for any dried fruit you like, or use chocolate chips (hmmm… white chocolate chips? Butterscotch chips?). Use nuts you prefer or have on hand. I never let what’s not in my pantry keep me from making a recipe. Go with what you’ve got, what sounds good… and most of all,have fun.
Becky’s Epic Pumpkin Bread
(Makes 2 loaves)
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. cloves
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. almond extract (optional)
1 1/2 t. salt
3 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
2 T. maple syrup
2 cans (16 oz each) pumpkin
2/3 cup light oil (I used olive oil as it was all I had on hand. Worked beautifully.)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (can use up to 2/3 cup if you love nuts)
1/2 cup roughly dried cherries or cranberries (can use up to 2/3 cup if you prefer more dried-fruit-per-bite)
whipped cream cheese ( I used a light variety that comes in a tub)… about 1/2 to 2/3 cup
1/4 to 1/3 cup brown or turbinado sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup roasted, salted sunflower seed kernels (If you can find fresh roasted pumpkin seeds this are also delicious instead of the sunflower seed kernels, as are sliced almonds.)
Heat oven to 350 degrees
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add eggs, syrup, pumpkin, oil. Whisk the wet ingredients together as you slowly incorporate the dry ingredients as well. Finish stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, slowly folding in pecans and dried cherries.
Grease and flour two loaf pans. Pour (or spoon) 1/4 of the batter into each pan, and spread evenly. Then dollop heaping teaspoons of whipped cream cheese across the surface of the batter in both pans. Pour the remaining batter over the top of the cream cheese, dividing it evenly between the two pans. Smooth with spatula.
Sprinkle the tops of the batter with brown or turbinado sugar and sunflower seeds.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until top is golden and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.
Cool thoroughly before serving. I think the flavors of this bread get better as it sits and cools. Freezes beautifully.
Note: I made this at high altitude with no problem. Many quick breads use more baking soda, but I just hate the after-taste of baking soda. This option rises perfectly, but without that funky soda aftertaste…
(Becky, the Mama) Now that summertime is here in Colorado, it is hard for me to stay away from the perfect weather on our inviting back porch!
We nap, visit and eat outside as much as humanly possible. Yesterday, we hosted a group of young couples and little ones for an outdoor brunch. A friend dropped by last night and we enjoyed a plate of nachos and cool drinks as we rocked and swung and chatted in the evening breeze. Tonight we had some dear friends and their little girls over for an old-fashioned supper-on-the-porch that brought back memories of meals around my own grandmother’s table. I made garlic & lemon roast chicken, baked sweet potatoes, Asian peanut buttery green beans (recipe to come soon!), corn, and my simple rustic, pastry-style cherry-blueberry cobbler (a festive July 4 recipe, by the way, with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and raspberrg sorbet).
But it was the refreshing side-dish that I prepared for tonight’s meal that made me wax nostalgic for potlucks and picnic tables of my childhood: sweet n’ sour refrigerator pickled cucumbers & onions. I updated this beloved Grandma dish by using the small Asian or Persian cucumbers that are often sold in little packages of six to twelve, and becoming increasingly popular in grocery stores everywhere. Sliced a little on the thick side they hold their crunch for days in this pickling liquid. I like to keep a container of these marinated cucumbers and onions hand in the fridge all summer long to add a crisp, cold delightful punch to almost any meal.
You can get creative and add some diced fresh tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts or any kind of cooked beans and a handful of fresh chopped herbs to this basic dish to create a quick, pretty, refreshing marinated salad for potlucks, picnics and summertime side-dishes. Crunch on and enjoy!
Crunchy, Easy, Refrigerator Pickled Cucumbers & Red Onions
6 to 8 small Asian or Persian cucumbers, sliced about 3/4 inch (leave peel on)
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced thin, pulled apart in strands
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
1 T. sea salt
T. dried dill (or 2 T. fresh chopped dill)
1 T. celery seed
1 T. black sesame seeds (optional)
Directions: Mix all of the above together in a dish with a lid. Let the mixture sit on the counter , with lid on top, at room temperature for about an hour and then put in fridge to chill until ready to serve. (Let the veggies marinate at least 3 hours for the best flavor through-out.) Will keep in fridge up to a week, maintaining its crunch.
When I worked at the Olive Garden in college, the biggest temptation was the bread drawer, the place where the fresh-out-of-the-oven garlicky bread sticks keep warm until they are to be swaddled in cloth like little dough baby Jesuses and placed in a basket, then delivered to anxious guests alongside a family-sized salad with large clumsy tongs.
Here’s a little server secret: to maximize your salad and breadstick dining pleasure, don’t bother asking for extra dressing or scooping up the last bit swimming at the bottom of the salad bowl. The real indulgence comes in dipping them into a boat of alfredo sauce, it’s a combination you won’t long forget. And the only thing it will cost you is $2.50, 380 calories and 35 grams of fat! Yeah sorry….total buzz kill. But good news is ahead.
This morning, an idea for a simple garlic cream sauce recipe popped into my head. It sounded so easy that right there at 10am, I whipped it up in my Vitamix. And when I opened the blender top ten minutes later, the steaming creamy sauce brought me right back to my shifts at the OG. The smell of garlic filling the air as you opened the bread drawer and winked to the cook for a little ramekin of alfredo. The combination so naughty, yet so irresistible. Hungry servers gathered around to share the quick indulgence, all the while looking out of the corner of our eyes to make sure a manager wasn’t swinging through the kitchen door or the skinny girl with self-control wasn’t looking down on us with judgement.
Somehow this sauce captures that naughty thrilling indulgence – the taste of garlic and cream dancing on your tastebud – but it’s oh so right in so many ways. No oil, no dairy, no cholestorol, just healthy fats from cashews. And with a rich creamy sauce like this, who really needs a refined white flour breadstick to dunk in it? Serve it over whole wheat pasta or vegetables or dip your favorite toasted whole grain baguette in it and you’ll be every bit as satisfied. It’s mind blowingly delicious and the easiest cream sauce I’ve made yet. I see many spin-offs of this in my future. Add a little cayenne for some heat, roast the garlic, garnish with some basil to brighten it up for spring, maybe even add some spinach and artichokes and cook it down to a thick appetizer dip. Oh the potential!
Note: I did not pre-saute the garlic, so it has a little bit of that raw garlic bite…that will stay the evening with you. I am a sucker for garlic, but if you like your garlic a little more milder and not as an overnight guest, then you may want to mince and saute it in a touch of water or olive oil before adding it in.
Garlic Cashew Cream Sauce
Recipe from http://www.laughcrycook.com
Makes enough for 16 ounces of cooked pasta (about four large servings)
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (available at health markets)
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large or 3-4 small garlic cloves
2 teaspoons cornstarch (flour will probably work too, but you’ll probably need 3-4 teaspoons)
2 cups milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
4 teaspoons lemon juice
Vitamix or High-Speed Blender Directions
1. Blend cashews, nutritional yeast, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a powder. Scrape corners down.
2. Add garlic, cornstarch, 1/2 of milk. Blend until combined.
3. Add remaining milk and blend on high speed until hot and steamy (about five to seven minutes) and to the thickness desired.
4. Blend in lemon juice and check for seasoning. Add more salt if desired.
5. Serve over pasta or vegetables or as a dipping sauce for bread. Sprinkle individual servings with a touch of pepper.
Vitamix is having a sale on their reconditioned models this month (January 2014). I bought the standard reconditioned model in November when they had the same sale and have officially fallen into the “How did I ever live without it?!” camp. You can use the code 06-009318 at Vitamix.com to get free shipping and to help support Laugh, Cry, Cook.
Food Processor/Stove Top Instructions
1. In a food processor blend cashews, nutritional yeast, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a powder. Scrape down sides as needed.
2. Mince garlic finely or use microplaner to grate into food processor.
3. Stir cornstarch into 1cup of milk. Add to food processor and blend until well combined.
3. Add remaining milk. Blend again.
4. Transfer to stovetop sauce pan and heat on medium to medium high, stirring often until it is heated through and reached the desired consistency (like a thick alfredo sauce).
4. Stir in lemon juice and check for seasoning. Add more salt if desired.
5. Serve over pasta or vegetables or as a dipping sauce for bread. Sprinkle individual servings with a touch of pepper.
Teachers around the U.S are counting down those last few days of school. Christmas break is just a couple of days away. They made it. And you know what they deserve? To CELEBRATE!
My son is 2 1/2. His Mother’s Day Out teachers may not have to deal with testing or teenage attitudes…but they help potty train eleven children…and they are better at it than I am with one child. They do pinterest worthy activities EVERY class day. They taught my child his colors, when all summer long EVERYTHING was blue. I seriously thought he was color blind…but no. They text me pictures of my son at sensory stations and my mother-guilt for not doing enough of these activites at home is lessened. They are my Pinterest arms and legs. My son will not grow up in a generation of Pin Kids and be the only one who never played in a “sensory bin.” Thank you Mrs. H and Mrs. T!
So cheers to teachers everywhere. If you are a teacher, I hope someone is celebrating you this week…and if not, I raise my glass to you. Here’s what my son’s teachers and his school’s director are getting from The Randolphs this year. It’s not expensive, but I hope it expresses how grateful we are for them…because we totally are!
The makings of pomegranate spritzers and some delicious dark chocolate covered almonds (I bought the Archer’s brand from Target. They are dairy-free and dangerously tasty). I had these little gratitude stones from one of my old clients Michele Wahlder. She had them made up to go with her book Alphatudes: The Alphabet of Gratitude, which also makes an absolutely beautiful gift or addition to a gift basket.
Homemade Simple Syrup is so easy and CHEAP, but adds a nice homemade touch to this gift. Simply boil equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves. I did one cup of each and filled three medium sized baby food jars. (If I’d thought ahead, I’d have bought small mason jars–so much cuter–but I went with what I had). You can sweeten any drink (iced tea, cocktails, coffee) with simple syrup without leaving undissolved granules of sugar in the bottom. It’s also the perfect stocking stuffer for the sweet tea lovers in your life.
You can also make all sorts of flavored simple syrups for a special touch by adding things like peeled ginger, jalapeno, orange peel, mint, or basil. Unflavored syrups will keep for about a month in the refrigerator. Most flavored will keep for 2-3 weeks. Just toss it when it gets cloudy.
Makes one drink
2 ounces pomegranate juice
2 ounces sparkling water
.5 – 1 ounce simple syrup (see below for recipe)
Optional: 1.5 ounces of white rum or vodka
Wedge of Lemon
Pour all ingredients into a martini glass. Squeeze in lemon wedge. Give it a gentle stir. Add some ice cubes if needed. Serve. (You can shake the pomegranate juice, optional rum or vodka, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice and then top with sparkling water and lemon if you’re bothered by a few cubes of ice in your martini glass.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Put sugar and water in a pan. Bring to boil. Boil until the sugar dissolves. Only takes a few seconds. Remove from heat. Let cool. (You can also just put sugar and water in a jar and shake, shake, shake until it dissolves.) Store in refrigerator for up to one month or until it gets cloudy.
I’ve been mulling over this year’s Christmas Dinner Menu for our big blended family. My goal is always to use recipes that are delicious, tasty, and pretty — but are no-brainers to make and serve.
For the main dishes, I decided on my never0fail, always juicy slices of Tri-Tip roast in au jus; and a nice center cut of grilled Norwegian salmon from Whole Foods, our favorite cut of fish. This should please the beef eaters and the fish eaters alike.
I recently discovered some delicate, amazing-tasting fresh “pasta purses” stuffed with cheeses and truffles at, of all places, Sam’s Club. After cooking them in boiling water, I gently ladled them into a quick rich sauce made of cream, a little garlic, Parmesan cheese and basil. To. Die. For. And silly easy. I now have my perfect fancy-but-simple Christmas side dish to put on the menu.
Finally, to add some freshness and crunch to round out the meal, I thought I’d make a salad. But I didn’t want an old boring salad. Then – faster than a speeding reindeer it came to me! I’d make a Christmas Wreath Salad. I’d arrange the greens on a plate like a wreath, dot it with red berries, both fresh and dried, sprinkle with nuts and top with feta cheese “snow” and tuck a bow at the bottom of the plate. Then, what could be more festive to drizzle on this pretty salad than a vinaigrette inspired by my favorite cranberry-orange relish?
As I write this, it seems the whole country is blanketed with snow and ice. Here in Denver it is a balmly… 1 degree. Our front yard proved to be the perfect place to chill the salad and snap some photos. Let me assure, I didn’t dawdle with the camera outside for long. In fact this was probably the fastest — and coldest – food photography session I’ve ever done. Greg and I sampled this trial-run salad as a one bowl supper tonight by topping it with some warm, sliced deli roast chicken. Big, Holly Jolly win.
By the way, if you are looking for an uplifting, fun gift for teachers, girlfriends, moms, grandmas or cooks in your family … may we suggest copies of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook?
Our memoir is truly one of those perfect, generic, happy gifts that anyone on your list will enjoy. The recipes at the end of each chapter add extra value. The book is available online everywhere, and in most bookstores; but if you would like an autographed, wrapped copy check out Rachel’s last blog post with instructions on how to contact us.
Christmas Wreath Salad with Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette
About 4 to 5 cups of salad greens (I used chopped romaine and arranged spinach leaves on top of the “wreath mounds)
½ cup of whole nuts (I used pecans and pistachios)
¼ cup of dried red berries – cherries or cranberries
½ cup of fresh red berries – slice strawberries or pitted fresh cherries
1/3 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese (or if you prefer, grated white cheddar, parmesan, swiss or other white cheese)
On a large round plate, put a small bowl for the salad dressing in the middle. Arrange salad greens around the bowl to make a “wreath”, then dot the wreath with nuts, dried berries and fresh betters. Finally sprinkle with feta “snow”. Fill the bowl in the middle with the following vinaigrette and serve chilled.
Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 medium navel orange or 2-3 clementines, peeled and broken apart
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon grated onion or dried minced onion
½ t. garlic powder
2/3 cup olive oil
Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth, and turns a gorgeous raspberry red. Keep in fridge until ready to serve.
People often ask me how I cook with Jackson around. In We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, I wrote about how cooking with him was kind of like cooking on an obstacle course. For a long time, that was what it felt like. But recently, I realized at this stage–the two’s–cooking with him is one of the easiest things on my to-do list to accomplish with him around. Not easy…but it’s something he’s come to feel at ease around. It’s kind of “our” thing.
I left him with a friend the other day for a few minutes and when I returned she shared this little conversation they had.
Sarah: Do you have a dog?
Jackson: No, I have a mommy.
Sarah: Oh, well that’s almost as good as a dog.
Jackson: Yeth, I cook with mommy.
Well, there you have it. Dogs don’t make very good cooking companions for kids, but mommies are very good for that.
My other to-dos don’t have the same smiley affect on him. Writing with him around. Yeah right. Phone calls. Let’s just say, the last conference call I was on with our editor, I had to muffle the phone while I hollered, “Jackson, don’t stick your head through the fence” and then again while he hollered, “Noooooo! Don’t wipe meeee!” as I was trying to discreetly potty train mid-call.
Cooking is mostly a piece of cake…because he can participate, he can be a helper. And even when he can’t help with something like chopping onions, he’s still content because we’re together and I’m talking to him, not somebody else on the phone or looking at a computer screen.
And with a little creativity, there’s almost always a way to get a child involved in the cooking if they want to be.
I don’t cook every day, but the days I do, the moments we are in the kitchen together, are often the moments we enjoy the most. The kitchen is a place where our lives intersect, where my almost 30-year old female joys and interests cross with my two-year old little boy’s interests. I don’t have to pretend that the lego tower we just built is the tallest most amazing piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to be patient with me as I make a quick call or pick up groceries. The smells of cloves and cinnamon, the colorful block puzzle from butternut squash, the sound of the blender engine purring excite us both. We don’t have to pretend. We just have to be. Together.
Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas
5 cups diced butternut squash
1 tablespoon oil (canola, olive, grapeseed)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
8-10 corn tortillas
1/2 cup raisins, soaked for 10 minutes in warm water and drained (optional)
2 cups Mole Sauce (I used this easy recipe from Vegetarian Times)*
Preheat oven to 400. Toss butternut sqaush with canola oil, brown sugar, chili powder, and cinnamon. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until tender and cooked through. Resist temptation to eat all the squash now.
Reduce oven temp to 350. Ladle 1/2 cup mole sauce into bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish. Wrap corn tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat in microwave for about 30 seconds, just enough to warm them up and make them pliable. Dip corn tortilla into mole sauce. Fill with about two tablespoons of butternut squash and a sprinkle of raisins. Roll up. Repeat. Ladle a generous amount of sauce on top. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Serve with black or wild rice. The nuttiness from the black rice went perfectly with this dish.
*I blended half of the sauce this time. I think I’d leave it unblended next time though, because it was a lot prettier unblended.