Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Very Festive Pumpkin Bread


My, it sure has been a while! Hope everyone out there had a good year!

We're doing well - despite a couple setbacks, every day I realize how lucky I am. The biggest news is that I am unemployed for first time since my teenage years (which was, by the way, a kind of long time ago!) But it was the inevitable result of the sale of a company, one of those things that happens and eventually you just need to deal with it emotionally and move on. So, once I got over the initial shock I decided to twist my attitude in to one of optimism instead of despair.

Believe me, we are by no means wealthy and I simply have to work - no amount of clipping coupons and cutting back will do it for us. But a very wise colleague of mine had a saying about times like this: "There are no problems, just opportunities." And for me, that translates into an opportunity to spend more time with my family this December, as well as an opportunity to explore other careers, other employers, to build my professional network, maybe further my education....oh, and clean my house. Kind of.

Or totally skip cleaning and get right down to baking something yummy!

Say hello to Cherry Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Bread!

So easy, yet sweet/tart dried cherries and hunks of chocolate make this no ordinary pumpkin bread. All I did was take a perfectly lovely pumpkin bread recipe, Pumpkin Cranberry Bread from Allrecipes, and make a few changes - sub cherries for cranberries, add some chocolate chips and instead of canned, I used my own fresh (frozen/thawed) pumpkin from the freezer.
I also used my own Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend.

The original recipe can be found HERE.

First, whisk or sift the dry ingredients together.

Since dried cherries tend to be a bit larger than cranberries, I went ahead and chopped them coarsely. Set them aside with the chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

In a separate bowl, blend together the sugar, eggs, pumpkin and oil. Fold that into the flour mixture until just barely blended, then fold in the cherries, chips and nuts. I sprinkled about a teaspoon of flour over those and tossed them to coat before adding them to the batter. The batter was a bit thin and I was afraid everything would sink to the bottom of each loaf. A dusting of flour will help the bits stay suspended as the bread bakes.

I used three 8" x 4" foil loaf pans - you could certainly use large or smaller pans, just adjust the baking time accordingly.

Bake at 350 F for about 50 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool completely before slicing.

I love this bread - very moist and tender, great balance of flavors and best of all, delicious!

Cherry Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Bread
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup chopped dried cherries
3/4 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 8" x 4" loaf pans.
Whisk or sift together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In another bowl, blend together eggs, sugar, pumpkin and oil.
Pour over flour mixture and stir until just blended. Fold in cherries, chocolate chips and nuts.
Fill loaf pans half way. Bake for about 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and tops are golden brown/
Let cool completely on wire racks (I remove from loaf pans after abut 10 or 15 minutes).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Super Salads: Mango, Spinach And....

I had a GREAT salad for lunch the other day - got the original recipe from the Weight Watchers website, but naturally I had to make changes based upon what I had on hand. The salad part remained the same (plus cucumbers), but I think I inadvertently improved upon the dressing!

The original salad is Chicken, Mango and Spinach Salad - I used leftover baked chicken, seasoned only with salt and crushed red pepper, baked on a bed of vegetables and white wine. (That was another recipe!). This one caught my eye because I just happened to have two bags of baby spinach and two mangos, both looking to become a part of something edible before they became inedible themselves. That and the leftover chicken, along with my addiction to MySpiceSage.com, where I procured Maharajah Curry Powder, lead me to this recipe. The original dressing called for prepared honey-mustard - I had none, so I used 1 tsp. honey and 1 tsp Trader Joe's Dijon Mustard. That wonderful, spicy mustard really put this over the top, and as I sat at my desk at lunchtime, in the midst of a particularly bad, sad week at work, I found that the sweet, spicy, smoky, sour-y salad really hit the spot. Curry in a salad dressing is pretty unusual for me, but I really enjoyed this.

So this afternoon, I decided to have another helping for lunch - I was out of chicken so I used chick peas instead, and found that not only is this a super salad, it's a marvelous meatless light meal, too! So I think I'll be seeing more of this.... I do like it better with chicken, though, and I think next time I'll glaze it with some of the dressing before baking/broiling/grilling the chicken. This wonderful blend of flavors would also compliment a number of proteins - thinly sliced steak, grilled shrimp, tuna or salmon.

Here's the recipe (chicken version) with my tweaks:

Mango, Chicken and Spinach Salad with Mango-Curry Dressing

4 cups baby spinach
2 small mangoes, diced
1 cup diced English cucumber
2 chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces (or beef, or chick peas, or shrimp...)

Whisk together:
1/3 cup mango nectar (or puree half a mango with a little water)
1 tsp honey
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp grapeseed or canola oil
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt

Arrange salad on plate and pour dressing over top.


(Chick pea version!)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Marvelous Meatless Meals - Potato and Tofu Vindaloo

It seems I have a little problem....

I have a thing for exotic spices in neat little resealable plastic bags....

Especially when the company that sells them offers free Madagascar Vanilla Beans with your order one month, then free Applewood Smoked Sea Salt the next. And when said company also happens to stock exotic or unusual items like Jalapeno Powder, Za'atar, Honey Powder and numerous varieties of curry powders, cinnamon, and cocoa, all reasonably priced and available in a variety of sizes, free shipping over $40....well, I just can't resist!

And so began my love affair with MySpiceSage.com. I think it's the "free shipping for orders over $40" that gets me. Regular shipping charges are pretty reasonable to begin with, but when I just need one more little nudge to buy items I gaze lovingly at on-line, that's usually the clincher for me!

And unlike some other promotions, I don't feel suckered when I do it (although, I have been on my BEST behavior lately - I refuse to buy anything new until I've opened at least a few more packages of spices!) I have actually delved into my stash and tried many new things, although a few of the more exotics have kind of scared me a little.

Since some of this stuff is a little "out there" for me, I've been kind winging it to find uses for some of these spices. So tonight, inspired by the "Meatless Mondays" craze (and the fact that my Meat-and-Potatoes husband, whose idea of spices is "salt" - not Kosher, not sea, and certainly not applewood smoked....just "salt") is not home tonight, I decided to open my overflowing spice cupboard and use whatever item fell out as part of a meatless meal....and the winner is:

Vindaloo Curry Spice! A fragrant blend of coriander, cumin, red pepper, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and turmeric.

I had heard of the term Vindaloo before - I think in an interview with Bon Appetit, actor Sir Anthony Hopkins listed his favorite dish as Chicken Vindaloo, an Indian dish but with the influence of those worldy sea-faring Portuguese. From Wikipedia: "The name Vindaloo is derived from the Portuguese dish "Carne de Vinha d' Alhos", which is a dish of meat, usually pork, with wine and garlic. The dish was originally modified in Mumbai by the substitution of vinegar for the wine, and the addition of red Kashmir chillies (not as spicy but abundant in colour). The dish evolved into the vindaloo curry dish in Goa, with the addition of plentiful amounts of traditional spice and using palm vinegar instead of red wine. Alternate terms are vindalho or vindallo."

I think there's so many reasons why even just the name appeals to me - Sir Anthony Hopkins is one of my favorite actors. Howard's End, World's Fastest Indian, Remains of The Day, Legends of The Fall...all movies I could watch over and over again. He's been in TWO movies that also starred a certain actor I (sigh) admire, Benicio Del Toro. Celebrity stalking (in my dreams) aside, I've always been intrigued by India, probably since my Dad served in the China-Burma-India theater of WWII. And Portugal has always been another obsession of mine - the food, the country, the culture, the music, the people....wrap all those things together and it seems only natural that the vindaloo curry powder would be the one to jump out at me!

So, after browsing around on-line, here's what I came up with for tonight's Marvelous Meatless Meal....

Potato and Tofu Vindaloo

Inspired by THIS recipe, here's the one I came up with, and it was wonderful! I made some changes based on what I had on hand as well as healthier, Weight Watchers-friendly substitutions and a weeknight-friendly process.

1 14 oz. package firm or extra firm tofu
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp canola oil, separated
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp Vindaloo Curry Spice
About 2 tsp water plus 1 cup water
4 tbsp white vinegar
1 large sweet potato (about 1 1/2 c, diced small)
1 cup garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed if using canned
1 cup tomato sauce

Slice block of tofu horizontally. Press between paper towels to remove excess liquid. (I place a pan on it for about 20 minutes to help squeeze the liquid out.) Cut into cubes. Mix garlic and onion powder with flour; toss with tofu cubes. Set aside.

In large skillet, heat 1 tbsp. oil. Add onions, garlic and ginger and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove to a blender or small food processor. Add pepper, salt, brown sugar and curry powder with about 2 tsp water. Blend into a paste. Add vinegar and set aside.

Add remaining tbsp of oil to skillet and increase heat to medium-high. Stir fry tofu until browned, about 5 minutes. Add diced sweet potatoes and cook another 4 or 5 minutes. Stir in vindaloo paste, tomato sauce, 1 cup water and garbanzo beans. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until potatoes are thoroughly cooked.

Recipe notes:

First, this is not a "true" vindaloo paste - for authenticity, use whole spice seeds, toast them in a pan and grind yourself (MySpiceSage has a lot of whole spices and seeds, too!) Then cook the paste mixture with the tomato sauce and additional oil until fragrant and reduced. But for a quick weeknight meal, I'm all for shortcuts!

This could be served with rice...but I'm saving my carbs for things like chocolate cake or brownies. So I opted to serve mine over steamed spinach. As is, the above recipe is more like 4 servings, but over spinach I can get 6 servings out of one skillet, at only 6 PointsPlus per serving (far anyone following Weight Watchers).

The Verdict: This was delicious! And very mild, as far as curries go. The Vindaloo Curry Spice is more along the lines of Garam Masala - fragrant, warm, exotic, with just a hint of heat, really. I could totally see myself adding some dried chili powder to this to make it more of a traditional spicy vindaloo. And I'm a wimp when it comes to spiciness!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday In My City - Road Trip, Auburn NY

Unknown Mami

This weekend, for Unknown Mami's Sunday In My City, we took a trip back in time.

Sort of.

Even though Auburn, NY is a bit of a hike from where I live, the ride really didn't seem that long. Perhaps it was because after the multiple snowstorms we've experienced over the past several weeks since Christmas, it felt good to finally get out and just relax, enjoy the scenery without having to shovel a path to it. The roads were clear, the sun was shining and the snow was slowly melting, the 8-foot bank at the edge of my driveway is down to about 5 feet. It almost makes me want to put on some shorts!


The first thing I thought as we approached Auburn was how it looked like we were stepping back in time. Check out this old image from the late 1940's or early 1950's...

And this one....

The Auburn of today is remarkably unchanged. They've left a lot of the historic buildings intact, lending charm to the city.

And they didn't get as much snow as we've gotten, and the weather was unseasonably warm. Warm enough for that crew to be out painting that old bridge...

Well actually .......

We only made it as far as Springfield, MA to the Eastern States Exposition where every January they hold the Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show!

Here are the "colorized" versions of those photos!

And photos do not do it justice...as the wife of a sometimes model railroad hobbyist, I can assure you, A LOT of work went into these displays.

The detail is just amazing.

And a special thanks to the Pepperell Siding Model Railroad Club for taking me "home" every year....

Part of their display includes a model of Pepperell, MA where I was born and my Dad's family lived for generations.
(Pepperell photos are is from the 2010 Model Railroad show...because I can't find the cord to download photos from my daughter's camera...)

Maybe next Sunday in My City I'll take you to the real Pepperell!