A sweeter spin on scalloped potatoes

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Some vegetables stump me when it comes to figuring out new ways to prepare them. Sweet potatoes are one I struggle with. Outside of baking them or cutting them up into small pieces and frying them, I didn’t really know what else to do with them — that is, until I saw a recipe for Pumpkin Scalloped Potatoes on Pinterest.

The sauce for this recipe is sweet, and the thyme lends a really nice flavor to it. The first time I made this, I used both Yukon Gold potatoes and yams, but the combination of the sweeter sauce and the Yukon Gold potatoes didn’t taste quite right to me. I liked the idea of making a pumpkin cream sauce with herbs for the potatoes, so I made the dish a second time only using yams. It was much better.

I used a mandolin slicer to cut the potatoes, and it was really nice to have all the pieces cut uniformly. I used cheddar and Parmesan, since that’s what I had in the fridge. The cheese added a much-needed savory flavor to the dish, which helps balance the overall taste.

This dish is a great way to make the most of fall flavors. It’s a nice comfort food for cold days, too. I may consider making it for Thanksgiving this year.

1scallopedsweetpotatoes111013Ingredients
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1/3 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)
2 large yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces Fontina, Havarti or cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with nonstick spray.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, pumpkin, thyme, garlic and nutmeg and heat over medium-low heat. While the cream sauce is warming, prepare the potatoes.

Create three rows of potatoes along the bottom of the dish, overlapping slightly and alternating the two types of potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove the cream from heat (fishing out the thyme and garlic and discarding those) and spoon 1/3 of the cream sauce over the potatoes. Combine the two cheeses in a medium bowl. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheeses over the potatoes too. Create a second layer of potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with 1/3 more of the sauce and 1/3 more of the cheese. Create a third layer of potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with the remainder of the sauce.

Bake the potatoes, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly browned and bubbly.

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Seasonal cake worth celebrating

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It’s time to jump on the pumpkin bandwagon. Pinterest is exploding with fall recipes and Starbucks has its Pumpkin Spice Latte back in stores. Two occasions at the end of October provided a good reason to bust out my cans of pumpkin puree. The first was my sports editor’s last day. The second is my dad’s birthday, which falls on Halloween.

My sports editor loves pumpkin-flavored things, so the week before she left I started brainstorming about what to make for her. I came across this recipe for pumpkin-spice cake and knew it would fit the bill. The problem was that I hadn’t yet successfully made cupcakes at high altitude. Every time I previously tried, the tops sank in or didn’t rise, or I had to cook them longer to see if they would get there, and then the outside would be overcooked. But, it was about time to give it another go, so I put on my apron and got to it.

I only wanted to make a dozen cupcakes, so I cut the original recipe in half. I made all the alterations based on the adjustments that I’ve learned work at high altitude. I used a bit more flour, less of the leaveners and more salt. It worked. The cupcakes had a beautiful crumb and rose exactly as they should. They are, by far, the best cupcakes I’ve made at high altitude, and definitely make the top five of all time.

Since the cupcakes were such a hit with my staff on my sports editor’s last day on the job, I decided to also use the recipe to make my dad’s birthday cake. A while ago, I saw an idea on Pinterest for a pumpkin cake. Upon closer examination, I realized they used a pumpkin pan, but I decided to play off that creation by making two smaller bundt cakes and turning one on top of the other. It is one of the best cakes I’ve ever made — though, to give credit where it’s due, my best friend came up with the idea on how to create the pumpkin-like ridges in the frosting, and he drew the leaves. Decorating is not my thing, but it can be fun to learn a trick or two.

This dessert has a double dose of pumpkin, as both the cake and frosting contain it. But it isn’t overwhelming, and neither are the spices in the cake. The flavor is balanced, which is why I enjoyed them so much.

I’ve provided the cupcake recipe at high altitude and the cake recipe at regular altitude. However, if you want to make a cake at high altitude, double the cupcake recipe below. If you want to make one dozen cupcakes at regular altitude, cut the cake recipe in half. Or, if you want to make two dozen, leave it as is.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Happy birthday, dad!

2pumpkincake102713One dozen cupcakes (at high altitude)
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more as needed
2 large eggs
1/2 of a (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line a 12-muffin pan with paper liners and coat the liners with vegetable oil or cooking spray; set aside.

Place the sugar and measured oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the sugar is incorporated, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Return the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 1 1/2 minutes total mixing time. Reduce the speed to medium low, add the pumpkin, and beat until just combined, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and salt and beat slowly until almost completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in any unincorporated flour at the edges with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrape to the bottom of the bowl.

Fill the muffin wells three-quarters of the way (about a heaping 1/4 cup per well). Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in a cupcake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make a half batch of frosting (recipe below).

Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and cool completely on the racks. Frost.

3pumpkincake102713Cake (at regular altitude)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil, plus more as needed
4 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pie filling; about 1 3/4 cups)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle. Grease and flour one regular-size bundt pan — or two, if you have them.

Place the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to aerate and break up any lumps; set aside.

Place the sugar and measured oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the sugar is incorporated, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Return the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 1 1/2 minutes total mixing time. Reduce the speed to medium low, add the pumpkin, and beat until just combined, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Turn the mixer to low speed, slowly add the flour mixture, and beat until almost completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in any unincorporated flour at the edges with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrape to the bottom of the bowl.

Put half of the batter into the bundt pan. Bake the cake for 40-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 5-10 minutes, or until you are able to remove the cake from the pan cleanly. Let cake cool on a plate or wire rack. Leave the oven on and let pan sit for another 5 minutes, then grease and flour pan again and put remaining half of batter in it. Bake the cake for 40-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make frosting (recipe below).

Once cakes have cooled, turn so the part of the cake that was facing up when it was baked is once again facing up. Using a bread knife, cut convex part off, so top becomes flat. Set cake scraps aside. Repeat on other bundt.

Put frosting on the flat side of one bundt. Top by turning over the other bundt and placing it on top. Fill the hole in the middle with the scraps. Spread frosting all over cake. To achieve effect shown in photo, drag the back of a spoon from the bottom to the top of the cake. Repeat around entire cake. To create leaves, add about 10 drops of green food coloring to remaining frosting. Use a knife to make leaves. Use a piping bag or plastic bag filled with frosting to draw tendrils.

Pumpkin-and-Cream-Cheese Frosting
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1/3 cup pumpkin purée (not pie filling)

Place the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and whisk to combine; set aside.

Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until fully combined and smooth, about 1 minute.

Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the powdered sugar mixture, and beat until fully incorporated and smooth, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Turn the mixer to medium speed, add the pumpkin, and mix until fully incorporated and smooth, about 1 minute. Use immediately.

A fall twist on French toast

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Pinterest is exploding with recipes for fall. Most of them involve pumpkin or apples or are for pie crust or soup. About a month ago, I pinned a recipe for Single-serving Pumpkin Pie French Toast, but I didn’t want to open a whole can of pumpkin for a couple tablespoons. Weeks later, I had leftover pumpkin that needed to be used, but I didn’t have enough to make another loaf of pumpkin bread. That’s when I remembered this recipe.

I’ve never made anything but traditional French toast, and this seemed simple enough. I used slices of challah, which wasn’t the best choice — it was too dry for this recipe. Choose a softer bread to absorb as much liquid as possible. The original recipe didn’t call for salt, but after digging in, I realized I should have added some. It needed it. If you don’t have pumpkin pie spice, you can add a dash each of allspice, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it makes a single serving. There are no leftovers to contend with, and it’s easy to make if you still have more of the ingredients on hand. If you want to make enough for more than one person, do the math.

Ingredients
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 slices bread
A dash of salt
Butter
Syrup

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together egg, milk, pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin, brown sugar and salt until well mixed. Mixture will be thick.

Carefully dip bread, one slice at a time, into the mixture, turning to coat. Let each slice soak for 1-2 minutes. Be careful turning the bread, as it absorbs the liquid it will start to fall apart if handled roughly.

Heat a medium-size pan over medium-low heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan. Place bread in pan. Any leftover mixture can be poured over the bread.

Cook over medium-low heat until bottom side is a dark, golden brown. If cooked on high heat, it will cook improperly — the outside will burn and the inside will be squishy. Using a spatula, carefully flip bread over. Continue cooking until both sides are dark, golden brown and outside of toast is a bit crisp.

Serve hot with butter and syrup.

Playing with pumpkin

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Fall is the season for warm flavors. At this time of year, I find myself using cinnamon, nutmeg, apples and pumpkin more often than any other season.

Pumpkin is one of my favorite ingredients to play with. It can be used in sweet dishes such as pies and muffins or turned into something savory such as pumpkin soup. Since I haven’t had a lot of time to bake lately, I went with another quick bread this week. Pumpkin-chocolate chip bread, to be exact.

The original recipe made two loaves, but I only had enough pumpkin for one. Just as I was about to put it in the oven, I remembered I had a small amount of coconut left that needed to be used, so I threw it on top of the batter in the pan. I liked the texture it gave the top.

If you let this bread cool for the time the recipe recommends, you’ll end up with a moist loaf that is easy to cut through. I’ve found that cutting certain breads right after they come out of the oven can cause them to break apart. Let this one cool. It’s worth the wait.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
(Optional: 1 tablespoon coconut, brown sugar or oats)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan.

Combine flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, pumpkin and oil. Stir into dry ingredients until just moistened. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour into loaf pan. Top with coconut, brown sugar or oats. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan and placing on wire rack.