October 23, 2011

A Nutmeg House, Some Course Sea Salt, and a Pumpkin Spice Cake

I relive an embarrassing moment every time I grate fresh nutmeg, which I did today when making this cake.

My mom has always called the little nutmeg grater thing a “nutmeg house.” Being so literal, I never picked up on the fact that she completely made up the name and that isn’t actually called a nutmeg house. In retrospect, I should have known that the “here, little nutmeg, let’s get you out of your little nutmeg house” in a high-pitched voice wasn’t my mom being serious. (And no, despite the fact that she actually does this every time she grates nutmeg, she’s not crazy. I promise.) But nonetheless, a few years ago when I decided to buy myself my own nutmeg house, I actually to be shown where the nutmeg houses were. To which the sales clerk looked at me blankly.

But whatevs.

I quickly forgot about the embarrassment as I made the batter for this Pumpkin Spice Cake with Chocolate Chips today and relished in how easy and quick it was (and of the fact that I cleaned up as I went for a change).

I love moist pumpkin cakes, especially when they are studded with chocolate chips. I thought I had a winner of a recipe, until my mom started talking about this version, which she saw on Martha Stewart’s show Friday and promptly made herself. This version packs two lovely punches vs. the one I usually make every Fall (and that one is damn good, too). Course sea salt and a crème fraiche glaze.

Most simple pumpkin cakes are unfrosted, unglazed. But this. This tangy version adds a little something nice and unexpected with its thin layer of crème fraiche and confectioners’ sugar dripping down the sides. Note: I had to use sour cream because Byerly’s wasn’t stocked per usual, and it worked just fine.

The salt, though, I think it the real show-stopper. Using course vs fine makes so that you actually get little hits of salty with your pumpkin-y sweet. And it’s brilliant. I will for sure start pondering this swap more often in my baking. I’ve also had great success with it in chocolate chip cookies.

This cake is pretty. It’s super moist. Super flavorful. Not cloyingly sweet. A little bit tangy from the glaze. A little bit salty from the salt. A little bit chocolaty from the chips. And very much Fall from the pumpkin and warm spices (nutmeg, cloves, ginger).

We had a piece while waiting for dinner tonight because we just couldn’t wait. And I’m guessing we’ll have another before we go to bed.

You can find the recipe here.

Note: I took this cake out of the oven at 65 minutes (a little early). My oven runs true—and this was perfectly done at that point.

October 17, 2011

To Each Their Own Bark

My mom was in town this weekend, and this was our small cooking project: Halloween bark.

Well, let me back up. I should probably claim this bark as my small cooking project. I’m not sure she wants to be associated with it.

I wanted something easy, something festive. I think I was in more of an chop and assemble mood vs anything more involved. This bark seemed to fit the bill. It’s hard, you know, to fit in larger kitchen projects when constantly moving from restaurant to restaurant to stuff your face.

When I started talking about this Halloween bark, my mom immediately had other ideas. She loves bark. (Side note: she HATES all bars, but she likes bark. Interesting.) So she immediately started talking about the bark she was going to make: white chocolate with pistachios, dried apricots, and cranberries. She was much more excited about her bark than she was about my bark.

She started describing her bark, and we all stared blankly. Dried fruits and nuts vs Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Heath Bars, Peanut M&Ms, Butterfingers, and Reese’s Pieces. Why would it be that we would actually choose the former vs the latter, we all silently wondered.

Wisely sensing an extreme lack of interest, she didn’t make her bark. I think she’s saving it for a group that will be more appreciative. Makes sense.

I put this bark in the fun to make but requires very little time camp. And you can use the leftover candy for trick or treaters (if you hide it well from yourself in your basement and don’t remember it’s there).

It’s actually really smart bark, if you ask me. In one bite you can have 5 different kinds of candy and 2 different kinds of chocolate. Um, yes please.

Halloween Peanut Butter & Toffee Candy Bark, Adapted slightly from October 2010 issue of Bon Appetit

1 lb semisweet chocolate chips
3 mini Butterfingers, chopped into 1-inch pieces
4 Heath bars, chopped into 1-inch pieces
8 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, cut into 8 wedges each
¼ c dry roasted peanuts
3 oz white chocolate chips
Reese’s Pieces and / or Peanut M&Ms (orange, yellow, and brown only)

Line baking sheet with foil.

In microwave, heat chocolate chips until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Spread melted chocolate onto baking sheet, spreading it out to be ¼ inch thick.

Scatter all of the candies on top of the melted chocolate.

Melt white chocolate chips until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Drizzle over the top of the bark.

Let set; then break apart into shards.

October 9, 2011

File Under: For When it Gets Cold Again

A few weekends ago when it really felt like Fall (and I’m not complaining that it doesn’t now), I was craving the usual suspects: chili, mac & cheese, soup, homemade cookies, pumpkin everything.

I have really particular requirements when it comes to mac & cheese, just like I do with grilled cheese sandwiches (and maybe everything, to be honest). I’ve probably made 20 versions of different macs,  and I always come back to my old standby. The fancier the cheese, the less likely that I will like it (no thanks, Gruyere, Fontina, Tallegio). Some things should be left basic, and Mac & Cheese is one of them.

Okay, about to contradict myself. Sorta.

I like the base of my mac & cheese basic.

What goes on top is a different story.

For those rare occasions when mac & cheese on its own just won’t do it—or maybe when you just want to be over the top—let me suggest a mac & cheese BAR.

It goes like this:

Lots of caramelized onions…

Slow-roasted cherry tomatoes…

Crumbled  bacon…

Steamed broccoli for sensibility…

And everyone goes down the assembly line and customizes to their liking.

I couldn’t help but think tonight that the pulled pork I made would have also been delicious on it.

I won’t go on and on—you know this is a good idea. I will leave you drool over your own toppings.