Do you remember coming home from trick-or-treating and sorting out your candy?  The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups got a pile, the PayDays got a pile, Heath and Skor bars-special pile, all those miniatures got a pile and then there were those weird things, loose Raisinetes, pennies, obviously last years Christmas mints, stickers and Bit-O-Honeys.  As a kid, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to super sleuth where those lame treats came from.  I didn’t have to because Catherine would come up behind me and say “OOOOHHH, is that a Bit-O-Honey?  I’ll trade you my peanut butter cups for your Bit-O-Honeys and pennies!”  But, now that I’m the one buying the Halloween candy I wonder, who, besides my sister, is buying the Bit-O-Honey?

Here’s a treat for the few Skor and Heath bars that might make it home tonight.  (Tell your kids what I’ve told my kids about these candy bars.  That they are made with the leftover meat parts that can’t be put into hotdogs.)   These cupcakes are really good.  I made them fun sized, especially for Halloween, so that the adults would have a treat until the kids got home with the rest of the candy that we’ll pretend  not to eat while they’re at school.  -Andra

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting  Adapted from Ina Garten

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½  teaspoon baking soda

½  teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½  teaspoon ground ginger

½  teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs

1 cup canned pumpkin purée (8 ounces), not pie filling

½  cup granulated sugar

½  cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

½  cup vegetable oil

Maple Frosting (see recipe below)

½  cup coarsely chopped Heath bars, for serving (2 1.4-ounce bars)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush or spray the top of muffin tins with vegetable oil or  line them with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  In a larger bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin purée, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vegetable oil. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined.

Divide the batter among the prepared tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, for regular sized muffins tins or 10-12 minutes for miniature muffin tins until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Set aside to cool completely.

Spread the cupcakes with the Maple Frosting and sprinkle with the chopped toffee bits.  Makes 10 regular sized cupcakes or 24 miniature cupcakes.

Maple Frosting

6  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

3  tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼  teaspoon Boyajian Natural Maple Flavor

½  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter on low speed until smooth. Stir in the maple flavoring and vanilla extract. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth.

Plants vs. Zombies

“We’re having steak tartar and sweetbreads” is the response I got from my dad when I asked about my parent’s zombie plan.  It was a throw-down, for sure.  I went looking for a way to out-gross my dad in the offal section of Larousse Gastronomique. (Offal not awful.)   I lost my enthusiasm for our zombie plan somewhere between Croquettes of sheep’s trotters and Hot calf’s head with various cold sauces. Ears, kidneys, animellles (testicles), lungs, sweetbreads, palates.  Braised, breaded, fried, sautéed, jellied or served à la vinaigrette.  Eeeewwww.

I studied Mastering the Art of French Cooking for recipes using organ meats with the idea that if Julia Child made French cooking more accessible to the American Housewife she might actually make sweetbreads sound appealing.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.  Her description for preparing sweetbreads and brains, for optimal flavor and texture, lost me:   “Both must be soaked for several hours in cold water before they are cooked, to soften the filament which covers them so that it may be removed, to dissolve their bloody patches, and to whiten them.”  Logically, I know that when the meat had a face it had blood coursing through it’s veins, too.  But I would rather not have to drain, soak, or let the blood from my meal.  Not to mention the fact that I do not want to imagine what the brain that I am eating was imagining just before it met his or her end.   I think that would be like standing between two mirrors at the start of bikini season.

I raised the white flag.  No way my parents would be outdone on this one.  In the end, all I could think about was Hannibal Lecter serving brains to his dinner guests who had unwittingly provided the feast.  (Incidentally,  I don’t remember seeing Hannibal soak the brains prior to the sauté.)   Instead, we went in a whole new direction; we had butternut squash soup served alongside fresh black-eyed peas and swiss chard.  I added 3 strips of bacon to the swiss chard which was all the meat I could muster after my reading.

For our zombie plan this Sunday, I think I might go back to eggplant.


Butternut Squash Soup 

1 3-4 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch dice

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 onion, diced

3 small carrots, peeled and diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger

1 sprig of rosemary

1 teaspoon of sumac

4 cups of low sodium chicken broth

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425°.

Toss the diced butternut squash with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes until tender.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large dutch oven, over medium high heat.  Add the onion, carrots, celery and rosemary.  Stir and cook until the onions are translucent and the carrots are tender.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce to simmer.

Remove the sprig of rosemary.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.  (Or, puree in a blender with the round stopper removed and dish cloth placed over the lid of the blender. Return the soup to the pot.)   Add the sumac and salt and pepper to taste.

Black Eye Peas and Swiss Chard 

1 pound of fresh black eyed peas, rinsed and cleaned

1 small onion, diced

1 clove of garlic, crushed

3 strips of bacon, diced

1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

1 large bunch of swiss chard, tough stems removed and leaves chopped into bite sized pieces

salt and pepper

Place the beans in a medium saucepan of water that covers the beans by one inch.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until tender.  Drain the beans and set aside.

In a large shallow pan, cook the diced bacon.  Once crisp, remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate and reserve.  Drain all but two tablespoons of bacon fat from the pan and add the diced onion.  Cook until translucent and then add the garlic until fragrant.  Add the swiss chard and cook until wilted, tossing and stirring frequently.  Add the black eyed peas to the pan along with the apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper and reserved diced bacon.  Serve immediately.

Chinese Five Spice Pork Fried Rice

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ll tell you what I know about fried rice.  There’s a common tenet that French cooking and successful fried rice share:  don’t crowd the pan.  Better to cook your ingredients in shifts than to have soggy fried rice.  The  basic fried rice recipe is more a sequence of events using what you have on hand.  First the protein, then the onion and vegetables, then the egg and finally, the rice.

Growing up, my Mom made fried rice often.  The best was her Bacon Fried Rice, which was in the refrigerator when we came home recently after my parents watched our kids for a week.  I don’t know if I was happier to see my kids or those leftovers.

Last night I had leftover Chinese Five Spice Braised Pork, so that’s what I used.

Chinese Five Spice Pork Fried Rice

1 cup chopped braised Chinese Five Spice pork (or deli ham, bacon or ground pork)

1 onion, chopped

1 bunch scallions, white and green parts separated

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger

2 carrots, diced

1 cup frozen peas

3 eggs, beaten

3 Tbsp soy sauce

4-5 cups cold cooked rice (I use Jasmine rice)

In a wok over high heat, add vegetable oil (I use canola) until hot but not smoking.  Add pork and cook until heated through.  Dump pork onto a large platter large enough to hold all of your ingredients.  Add a little more oil and add the onion and cook for a minute or two until translucent.  Add the white portions of the scallions, garlic, ginger, carrots and peas and cook until the vegetables are cooked through, making sure not to let the onions burn.  Empty the vegetables onto the platter with the pork.  Add a little more oil to the wok and then add the beaten eggs, swirling and lifting to ensure they cook through (same technique as an omelet).  When eggs are cooked, break them up with your wooden spoon and dump them onto the platter with the other ingredients.  Add a couple of tablespoons more oil to the pan and then add the rice, breaking up the larger clumps with your wooden spoon and then letting it cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes.  Stir and then let sit for a couple minutes more, ensuring all the rice gets direct heat on the bottom of the pan.  When the rice has crispy pieces throughout, add the chopped green scallions and the soy sauce and the rest of the previous ingredients.  Stir until combined and all ingredients are hot.  Serve at the table with more soy sauce and Sriracha for the adults.

– Catherine

A Fail and A Recovery.

My husband, who travels for his job often, was gone last week, on another hunt for a city not ruined by the internet.  When he’s gone, I don’t make a full “dinner” for myself and my girls.  When it’s just us, dinner is usually scrambled eggs with toast, chips and guacamole with ramekins of black beans, or our all-time favorite, pancakes.

I feel badly about what happened the night before my husband got home from this most recent trip.  I told my girls we were having pancakes, which they were obviously excited about.  But then I pulled what turned out to be a very uncool move by making ZUCCHINI pancakes.  These were such a good idea in theory, but turned out to be a terrible mistake, one which may have cost me my credibility with my kids for a long time.

I had just been to the farm stand and the zucchini looked so good, and I figured it was my last chance until next summer, so I made the first move in a sad chain of events and bought three.  I used a box grater to shred one of the zucchini and added one beaten egg, a few tablespoons of flour, some grated parmesan and panko breadcrumbs and then sautéed the pancakes with olive oil and butter until brown.  I gave the girls ramekins of marinara sauce to dip them in and I put mine on top of a pool of marinara.  With all those ingredients, you’d think they’d be great.  But you’d be wrong.

The happy ending of this story is that my husband was due back the next day (yesterday).  I think I recovered by making a family favorite, Chinese Five Spice Pork Lettuce Wraps.

Forgive this photo. My kids were so hungry from not eating the night before, I couldn’t get anyone to stop long enough to get a better shot.

Chinese Five Spice Braised Pork (adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Five Spice Pork Wraps)

1 2-3 lb boneless pork loin

2 tsp Chinese Five Spice seasoning

1/2 Tbsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger (I use a microplane and frozen ginger)

1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/3 cup hoisin sauce

1 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cover pork with chinese five spice seasoning, salt and pepper.  In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, sear pork with canola oil on all sides until lightly brown, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove pork.  Add a little more oil and sauté the onions until soft, about three minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook until fragrant, about one minute.  Add the pork back into the pot with the soy sauce, hoisin sauce and chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Cover and continue cooking in the oven for 3 hours or until tender.  Use tongs to shred the pork and serve with lettuce, rice, cilantro, scallions and more hoisin sauce at the table.

– Catherine

What’s your zombie plan?

After waiting a full year for the new season of The Walking Dead to start,  the question “what’s our zombie plan?” now refers to what we’ll eat for dinner on Sunday night rather than what we’ll do during an actual zombie apocalypse.  (For the record, we have a plan for that too.)  With a little more than 24 hours to go until the next episode, I’m finalizing our zombie plan for tomorrow night.  I can hardly wait.

Our zombie plan last Sunday night was an eggplant lasagna.  Eggplant is a hard sell around here because both my husband and Catherine’s husband say that eating eggplant feels a lot like eating skin.  Both guys have said that the skin of the eggplant has a rubbery consistency and a toothsome bite that feels like gnawing on live flesh.  I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the evening than to a create meal around this epidermis-like-vegetable.  The lasagna was delicious and Tim didn’t feel like a cannibal, even though that was what I going for.    I encourage you to try this recipe, zombie fan or not.  But, you know what they say, there are two types of people, those that love The Walking Dead and liars.  -Andra

Eggplant Lasagna

2 eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices

8 ounces of  sliced mushrooms

1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef

2 onions, chopped

1  1/2 – 2 cups of freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce

1/2 cup red wine

olive oil

salt & pepper

Béchamel Sauce

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of flour

1 cup of milk

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350° degrees.

Lay the slices of eggplant on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 20 minutes to draw out the moisture. Lightly oil a pan and brown the eggplant on both sides. Set aside.

In a large skillet  set over high heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and brown the ground beef with the onions and garlic salt and pepper.  Once the onions are translucent and ground beef is cooked through,  add the cinnamon, nutmeg and herbs.  Cook for 1 minute, until fragrant and then add the tomato sauce and wine.  Combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Once boiling,  lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Taste for seasoning and set aside in a large bowl to cool.

While the beef is cooking, sauté the mushrooms until lightly browned over medium high heat.  Set aside to cool.

In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Once melted,  whisk the flour into the butter until light brown.  Slowly add the milk and continue to whisk until thick.  Add the cheese and stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce has become smooth and thick.  Add the ground nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Grease a 9” x 13” baking dish and layer the bottom of the pan with the cooled eggplant, overlapping slightly.  Spread half of the meat mixture over the eggplant. Sprinkle about a 1/2 cup of grated cheese over the meat mixture and then spread half of the sautéed mushrooms over the cheese. Repeat again with another layer of eggplant, meat, mushrooms and cheese. Finally, top the lasagna with one last layer of eggplant and then spread the béchamel sauce over the top.

Bake for 60 minutes. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.

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