It’s getting closer to the big day, you know what day I’m talking about, right? Thanksgiving, of course. It’s my most special meal, well it seems every meal is my most special meal, but this one definitely is. In fact, I am so excited I can hardly contain myself. It’s the one day I will eat with reckless abandon. For me it’s a food version of a perfect storm. Every food I consider to be one of my favorites will make an appearance at my Thanksgiving table.
I embrace this holiday not just for the food, but for the fact that I truly am thankful for the food, and for my family.
I was speaking to my sister-in-law, Wanda the other day and she told me about a pie she makes that is my brother’s favorite. Since Apple Pie is a requisite for any Thanksgiving dinner I thought I would try it out before the big day. I was intrigued because this pie was baked in a brown paper grocery bag. She said that the bag kept the crust from over browning and that the apples became soft and tender and stayed juicy. Hmmmm, sounds like Mama needed to give this a try. Well Wanda, I was quite pleased with the results. I used a pre-made crust for this pie, but hey, if you’ve got the energy then go ahead and make your own crust.
Apple Pie in a Bag
- 7 crisp, tart apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 cup sugar – divided
- 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 stick, unsalted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 box pre-made refrigerated pie crust, 2-9″ crusts
- 1 large brown paper grocery bag
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl whisk together 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Peel, core and thinly slice your apples placing them in a large bowl. As you slice them, sprinkle a teaspoon or so of the sugar mixture over the apples to coat them so they won’t turn brown as you slice them. When all the apples are sliced and in the bowl, spoon in the remainder of the sugar mixture and toss to coat all the apples.
- Place one of the 9″ crusts into a 9″ pie dish. You may need to roll it out a little, so you should do that on a piece of parchment paper. Spoon the apple mixture on top of the crust.
- In a small bowl whisk together 1/2 cup of all purpose flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 stick of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Pour this mixture over the apple mixture.
- Place the remaining crust on top of the pie. You may have to roll it out a little so that it fits over the pie. Seal the edges of the 2 crusts together. With a sharp pairing knife, poke 5-6 slits on top of crust so that the steam can escape.
- Place the pie into a large brown paper grocery bag and then staple the ends shut.
- Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Leave pie in bag for 5 minutes after removing from the oven.
I sprinkled my apples with a teaspoon of the sugar mixture as I sliced them. The sugar mixture kept the apples from turning brown.
When pie is done baking, if you like a browner pie crust, remove the pie from bag and bake a few minutes more til browned on top.
Place bagged pie on a cookie sheet to avoid messy spills in the oven while baking.
Life is funny, nothing ever stays the same. Friends, please forgive me for getting all sentimental and philosophical on you, but this time of year brings back lovely memories for me. It doesn’t seem so long ago that by mid-October every year my boys and I would spend hours planning their costumes for Halloween, who they would walk the neighborhood with, and which candy I should buy to give out to the local revelers. But things have changed, my boys have moved on to begin their own lives, and my husband and I have been left here to celebrate Halloween alone, just us and a few bags of mini Snickers bars. I know, so sad.
In fact, things have gotten so bad that the local children will not even walk up my long, steep driveway for a measly mini candy bar anymore. In recent years I’ve had to go stand at the bottom of the driveway with “full sized” candy bars if I wanted to see any action.
Halloween is also that time of year when I can use pumpkin with reckless abandon. I love to use it in muffins, cookies, cakes and pies, and I really can’t understand why it’s not popular all year round. One of my fall favorites is this Pumpkin Streusel Cake with Chocolate Glaze. The cake part is mildly flavored with those traditional autumn spices, and the streusel filling is a perfect little surprise in the middle of the cake. What could be bad about pumpkin, nuts and chocolate.
So, one last thing. Do you think it would be weird if I asked my 25 year-old son to let me dress him up as a Power Ranger so we could go house to house trick-or-treating together? I’m just kidding, kinda’.
Pumpkin Streusel Cake with Chocolate Glaze
Adapted from “Very Best Baking”
- 2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2/3 cup mini chocolate chips
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup pure pumpkin (15 ounce can Libby’s brand)
- 1 – 8 ounce container sour cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 – 3 tablespoons milk
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and using melted butter and a pastry brush, brush the insides of the bundt pan with butter and lightly flour the pan, tapping out the excess flour.
- To make the Streusel: lightly toast your walnuts in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Constantly stir so they don’t burn. Toast just until they become fragrant. Allow to cool. Toss walnuts, cinnamon, brown sugar and mini chips in a medium bowl until all ingredients are incorporated. Set aside.
- For the cake batter, sift the flour, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl, and stir with a whisk to incorporate all ingredients.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the pumpkin, sour cream and vanilla and mix well. With the mixer on medium-low, gradually add the flour mixture.
- Spoon half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spoon the streusel topping over the batter but don’t allow the topping to touch the sides of the pan. You can choose to only use the streusel inside the cake, or you can also sprinkle some streusel on top of the cake also. Spoon the remaining batter on top making sure the batter layer touches the edge of the pan.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes then turn out to a wire rack. Let the cake cool completely before you top with the glaze.
- To make the glaze: Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Add the vanilla. Add the milk a spoon at a time and whisk until you have the desired drizzling consistency.
Be sure to use the size egg that any recipe calls for when baking. If a recipe calls for “large eggs”, don’t use extra large eggs as it will definitely effect the final product.
You could also use mini bundt pans to make this cake. Just make sure you adjust the baking time accordingly.
The mini paper bundt pans used in this post were purchased from Cost Plus World Market.
My favorite time of the year is the end of September when summertime evaporates into a fond memory and leaves turn golden and the air turns crisp. Oh wait, that was my former life growing up on the east coast. As Jimmy Kimmel said in his monologue last night referring to the autumn in Los Angeles; that it was a “bone-chilling 95 degrees today”. He went on to say, “that we have one season…and it’s the good one!” I’ll be honest with you, since moving to the west coast I definitely do not miss the other three seasons, but I do have a major hankering for the fall. After residing here for three decades I still bring out the heavy sweaters and boots this time of year, and yeah, I’m sweating profusely in my effort to embrace the season.
It’s time to say good bye to the summertime fruity favorites; strawberries, blueberries, peaches and plums and hello to cranberries, apples, pumpkins and pears. I do love the latter as they harken the start of the holiday season, and all the celebratory family meals ahead of me.
My personal favorite fall fruit is pears. In this gluten-free cake, they are paired with almond meal, sliced almonds and fresh pear puree which results in an overly moist and flavorful cake. I think this Almond Pear Cake will become one of your go-to desserts for the upcoming season.
Almond Pear Cake – Gluten Free
Equipment needed: 10″ spring form pan, large food processor or electric mixer
- 4 pears, any kind, 3 for batter 1 for topping
- 1 3/4 cups sugar plus additional 3 teaspoons
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 3 1/4 cups ground almond meal
- 8 large eggs, room temp
- 1 teaspoon, plus additional 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon neutral tasting oil (like canola or grape seed)
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and place the rack in the center position. Spray a 10″ spring form pan with cooking spray. PAM original cooking spray is gluten free, however PAM Spray for Baking is not. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit on the bottom of the spring form pan.
- For my cake, I used Bartlett, Anjou and Bosc pears, but any firm ripe pear will work. Peel and core the three pears and then roughly chop them. Place the chopped pears into a small saucepan and add the lemon juice and 3 teaspoons of sugar. Cook the pears over medium heat in the covered pan for 10 minutes. Let cool. When cooled, mash the pears with a fork into a coarse puree.
- Place the almond meal and 1 3/4 cups sugar in the bowl of a large food processor, and give it 5-6 long pulses. (This makes a large quantity of batter, so you’ll need a large food processor, not the mini kind). Add the eggs one at a time, along with 1 teaspoon of vanilla and the pear puree. Pulse until all ingredients are incorporated. Alternately, if you don’t have a food processor, you can use an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pour the batter into the spring form pan.
- Next, peel and core the fourth pear and slice it into 1/4″ slices. In a medium skillet, heat the oil and the honey stirring until the mixture begins to bubble. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla. Add the pear slices and toss gently to coat.
- Sprinkle the almonds over the top of the cake, and add the pear slices in a pinwheel shape. Spoon the remaining sauce in the pan over the top of the cake. Bake for 55-65 minutes until the cake begins to brown and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. As my cake was starting to brown too much, I placed some foil over the top for the last 10 minutes of baking. Keep in mind that all ovens are different so the baking time is an estimate.
- Let the cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes and then you can remove the sides. Transfer to a serving platter.
An easy way to cleanly remove the core of the pear is to use a melon baller to scoop out the center.
For this Almond Pear Cake you can use any variety or combination of pears you like. In the past, I have used Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc and Comice pears. Just make sure they are ripe yet firm.
…and more Pears.
It’s September, and son #2 is out of the house again living the high-life as a student in Santa Barbara where he’s studying to be an EMT. It’s a hard program, so let’s all pool our positive thoughts together and send them in his direction. Thanks guys! Anyway, he’s been up there about a month, but he’s coming home this Sunday and we’ve decided to have a little brunch in his honor…cause his mama misses him so much! My parents are coming over, because they too miss him a great deal, and his big brother, son #1 is coming, but he won’t admit how much he misses his younger brother. Ah, kids!
I’m preparing all his favorites; homemade waffles, fresh fruit and crispy bacon. He has requested that I bake this Chocolate Chip Cornbread which he likes toasted and topped with a big slab of butter. I’ve made cornbread a million different ways, but I particularly like this one for breakfast because it’s a little bit sweet and a little bit savory. If you can, it’s a treat to serve it right out of the oven.
Chocolate Chip Cornbread
From Bon Appetit
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 3/4 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 2 large eggs
- Place the oven rack in the middle position, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9″ x 5″ metal loaf pan with cooking spray, or you can use mini loaf pans or muffins tins if you wish. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the chocolate chips. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the milk, oil and eggs. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir just until all the ingredients are incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).
- Bake the cornbread until the top starts to turn a little golden, and when a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. For the 9″ x 5″ pan, bake about 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. The cornbread is best served warm with a little butter.
As with all batters, mix this one just until all ingredients are incorporated. Do not over mix.
I was invited to attend a tasting and book signing, for Chef Fabio Viviani who’s promoting his new book “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen”, at the culinary school I graduated from. I thought it would be a pleasant evening involving a dish of pasta and an opportunity for him to sell a few books, but I was wrong because it was more than that. For those of you who may not know him, Fabio Viviani was a contestant on Top Chef Season 5 as well as several other Top Chef spin-offs. He’s also the owner of two very successful restaurants in the Los Angeles area, his own cooking show, and of course, a cookbook author.
When Fabio entered the room he was like a whirling dervish, full of energy, his arms constantly moving, so much so that I was unable to get barely one photo of him that wasn’t blurred. When he came to this country in 2005, he spoke not a word of English. He has great command of the language now, but speaks it in an Italian accent so adorable that Sophia Loren would find it endearing. The guy is so funny that if his day job as a successful chef doesn’t work out, he could definitely try his hand at stand up comedy.
But enough of that. Besides his European charm and perfect plates of pasta that he turned out that evening without breaking a sweat, he had a more meaningful message that he shared with us. He spoke at great length about charity and the importance of giving back. He also shared with us a very funny story about being contacted by the First Lady, Michelle Obama to work along side her on one of her causes. I like that he’s not just a guy who talks the talk, but he also walks the walk. He donated all of the proceeds from this evening’s event to Chef Cecilia DeCastro to fund a scholarship for a worthy student to attend her Academy of Culinary Education. Man, what this guy packed into 2 1/2 hours was amazing and certainly explains why he was voted “fan’s favorite” on his season of Top Chef.
Okay, so back to the food. There’s so many mouth-watering recipes in this book accompanied by stunning photographs that I couldn’t even decide where to begin. Since Mama loves to bake, I chose to start with his “Fabio’s Cake” , and I was thrilled with the result. It’s a moist and rustic cake abounding with chunks of apple and and fresh orange zest. Very fresh and very Italian.
Questo e un dolce molto gustoso.
- 2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- zest of 1 orange
- 3 cups apples, peeled, cored and crushed
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- confectioner’s sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a tablespoon of melted butter and a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of a 9″ springform pan, then lightly dust with flour and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until foamy. With the mixer on low, add the rest of the ingredients and mix just until incorporated.
- Pour the batter evenly in the pan and then sprinkle the top lightly with the brown sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden and when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then unmold. When cake is cooled, dust with some powdered sugar.
To crush the apples: peel, core and chop the apples into chunks, and toss with some lemon juice so they won’t discolor. Place the chopped apples in a large ziplock bag and then wallop with a rolling pin til nicely crushed.
It’s 12 o’clock at night, and here I stand in the dark over the kitchen sink eating hunks of this Cinnamon Chocolate Coffee Cake. Suddenly the lights flick on, and my son Michael looks at me in surprise or horror, I’m not sure which one and asks “Mom, what in the world are you doing?” Oh, the shame I felt. Yes, caught in the act of scarfing down light and airy cake laced with nuts, chocolate and cinnamon. Since having this cake at my sister-in-law’s house I’ve been obsessed with it, so much so that my family has considered planning an intervention. Okay, I’ll try and get a hold of myself.
As you can see from the picture below, you need not restrict yourself to baking this in a 10-inch tube pan. If you’re feeling wild and crazy, you might want to try baking this cake in mini loaf pans or in mini bundt pans. The choice is up to you. Either way I think you’re gonna love this cake as much as I do. I just hope that if you do get up in the middle of the night to eat it over the kitchen sink, that no one catches you. It’s very embarrassing. Trust me.
Cinnamon Chocolate Coffee Cake
From My Sister-In-Law “Wanda”
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup walnuts
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2/3 cup mini chocolate chips
- Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10-inch tube pan by melting some butter and using a pastry brush, lightly coat the entire pan and set aside.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add the vanilla extract. Alternately, add the flour mixture and the sour cream mixing on medium-low speed until ingredients are incorporated.
- Spoon 1/2 the mixture into the greased 10-inch tube pan. Sprinkle half the topping mixture over the batter being careful not to touch the edge of the batter. Next, spoon the remaining batter over and sprinkle the remaining topping over the cake.
- Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes or until tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake. Cool cake in the pan for 15 minutes and then remove from pan to finish cooling on a rack.
- Because most ovens have “hot spots”, I rotate my cakes half-way through baking so that the cake will bake evenly.
- Be careful not to overmix your batter as it will result in a dense cake. Mix on medium-low speed and mix just until all ingredients are incorporated.
- For cakes, butter and eggs should be room temperature. I usually take mine out about 2 hours before baking. However, if you cut your butter into small chunks it will warm up faster. To bring eggs to room temp quicker, place them in a bowl of warm water…that will do the trick.
- For baking purposes, use the best pure vanilla extract you can afford. Avoid using anything with artificial flavors.
It’s practically summertime here in Southern California and there’s beautiful berries everywhere. Everywhere I look from supermarkets, to farmer’s markets and roadside stands all I see are berries. It’s my personal observation that strawberries always seem to get top billing with blueberries and raspberries coming in at a close second. It appears to me that the blackberry just doesn’t get the same notoriety as it’s cohorts. Since today was designated as a baking day, I thought I would show the blackberry a little love and make it the star of this particular baking project.
I found that this cake tasted even better when I added a nice dollop of freshly whipped cream to it and then sprinkled it with a few juicy blackberries. This rustic, homey dessert is best when served warm from the oven.
From Baking by Emma Patmore
- 1 pound blackberries
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup light brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a pastry brush and a tablespoon of melted butter, lightly grease a 8″ cake pan or a 9″ pie plate and set aside.
- Place the blackberries and the sugar together in a medium bowl and gently toss until the blackberries are totally covered in the sugar. The berries are very tart (usually) so make sure they’re completely coated.
- Place the coated berries in the pan you set aside. Spread them around so they evenly cover the bottom of the pan.
- Beat the egg and brown sugar together in a large bowl until well combined. Stir in the melted butter and milk. Sift the flour into the egg/butter mixture and blend until the flour is incorporated.
- Blend until you have a smooth batter then spread the batter over the blackberries in the pan.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until the cake is firm and golden around the edges.
- Dust the top of the cake with some powdered sugar and serve warm.
- You can also bake this cake in individual ramekins, just adjust the time accordingly.
As I started to write this post I realized that not everyone would be familiar with polenta, or realize that you could actually use it in a cake. Polenta, a ground cornmeal which can be white or yellow in color, has its origins in Italy. This humble “peasant” food has been a staple of Italian cooking for hundreds, and hundreds of years. And need I remind you that the best food comes from Italy.
This “Mama” is a lover of comfort food and rustic desserts, and that’s exactly what this Polenta Cake is…rustic. It’s simple and straight forward. It’s not overly sweet, and almost gritty in texture, and that’s what I love about it. Imagine if you will that you’re sitting in the hills of Tuscany under an olive tree having a picnic lunch of bread, cheese, olives and wine. This Polenta Cake would be the perfect ending to that meal. I like to top mine with a huge dollop of freshly made whipped cream and my homemade strawberry sauce. As we head into the summer months, I find myself serving this dish quite often at my backyard barbeques’.
Polenta Cake with Citrus
From Women’s Health Magazine
- 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 2 cups almond flour
- 3/4 cup fine polenta
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- zest of one whole lemon
- zest of one whole orange
- strawberry sauce and whipped cream garnish
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place the oven rack in the center position. Melt some butter, and using a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of the pan and then dust the pan with some almond flour. Tap out the excess.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy for about two minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and then the applesauce, and beat just until ingredients are incorporated.
- In another bowl, combine the flour, polenta and baking powder. Add the flour mixture along with the orange and lemon zest to the bowl on the electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed just until ingredients are incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. I used a small off-set spatula to spread it evenly in the pan. Bake the cake for 35-40 minutes until the edges are golden and when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- I topped this cake (as you can see) with freshly whipped cream and a fresh strawberry sauce once the cake was completely cooled.
Fresh Strawberry Sauce
- 4 cups strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Place the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice into a medium saucepan.
- Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar.
- Cook for about 5-8 minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved and the berries have softened. Transfer to a bowl and chill. If there’s too much liquid in the mixture, then just spoon some off.