Easy, Crunchy, Spicy, Asian Slaw

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(Becky, the Mama)
It was only four years ago that I discovered  that I am, in fact, a wee bit Irish! My great-grandmother,  who died when my paternal grandfather was just sixteen years old , was named Mary Kathryn McNally.  My grandfather loved her fiercely and my Aunt Ann told me that  his mother’s passing would remain, for most of his years, the saddest day of his life.  Saint Patrick’s Day took on new meaning once I realized I was part of the Irish clan.
Of course, like most Americans I am my own walking Melting Pot:  a Dash of Irish, a Sprinkle of  Spanish, a dollop of English  and who knows what other ingredients are mixing around in my gene pool?
To celebrate diversity, I decided to share my recipe for an Irish-Asian-Cajun fusion slaw today.   How’s that for eclectic?  It’s base is shredded cabbage and carrots — a nod to the Irish.  But it’s quickly marinated in an Asian-sesame dressing with hints of Cajun red pepper spice for added kick.
My son popped in the other day, found a large bowl of this slaw in my fridge and ate nearly the whole thing!  He loved it and asked for the recipe, a high compliment since he is a talented cook and foodie. This crunchy, refreshing slaw is a perfect Spring and Summer side-dish, a nice alternative to a lettuce salad and even easier to throw together.
Some of you may be stumped on how to decorate your table for tonight’s meal or event.  So I wanted to suggest this green themed table decoration for your Saint Patrick Day’s Party:
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(If you’ve not already heard us shout it from the mountain tops:  our newest book, Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night’s Sleep is out and available everywhere books are sold, in stores and online!)
And now, an Irish blessin’ for all our beloved readers!
May your hearth be warm, your holidays grand, and the Good Lord hold you in the palm of his hand. 
Crunchy, Spicy, St. Patty’s Day Slaw 
1 lb ready-shredded cabbage slaw (green and purple cabbage and carrots)
1/3 cup rice vinegar (or any mild white vinegar)
3 T. sugar
1 T. water
1 t. salt 
1/2 t. Cajun seasoned salt (I like Tony’s Cajun Seasoning)
1 /2 t. pepper 
1/2 t. celery seed (optional)
2 T. sesame oil
1 T. black sesame seeds
2 T. sliced almonds or sunflower seeds 
Optional for added heat: few shakes of Tabasco or other pepper sauce
Directions:
Whisk all the ingredients above, except for the coleslaw and almonds (or sunflower seeds).  Pour over coleslaw in a big roomy bowl, and toss with tongs, turning until the dressing has coated the slaw.  (The slaw will absorb the dressing and get a bit softer and juicier as it sits a few minutes).  Just before serving,  toss in the almonds or sunflower seeds. Check seasonings and add a few shakes of Tabasco if you want more heat.
Store leftovers in an air tight container.
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Ultimate, Everything Pumpkin Bread (with cherries, nuts, sunflower seeds and cream cheese)

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(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.
Room with an Autumn View

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.

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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

4 eggs

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

For Topping:  

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.)

 

Directions:

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…

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