Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shaker Squash Rolls

Since my dad’s chemo treatments have knocked him for a loop (and messed up his taste buds, so most food tastes bad to him), my parents decided not to host Thanksgiving this year. On the flip side, my sister-in-law is busy in Ukraine adopting three teenage girls, so she isn't hosting my husband’s family either. The result: Instead of trying to juggle two family gatherings, my sweetheart and I decided to have a Thanksgiving dinner made for two.

We’re having a pretty traditional meal, including the turkey (I’m putting herb butter under the skin for the first time, using Ina Garten’s recipe), dressing (a sausage recipe from my former neighbor John in New Hampshire), mashed potatoes and gravy (a must!), green bean casserole (The Picky Eater insists we have this dish), cranberry sauce (a Martha Stewart recipe from years ago), rolls and pumpkin pie.

Does your menu include those crescent rolls that come in the blue can? Or maybe some other heat-and-serve rolls? May I make a suggestion? Pick up an extra can of pumpkin and try these Shaker Squash Rolls.

I got this recipe while working as a tour guide for the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire and shared it in a pumpkin article I wrote for the Topeka Capital-Journal. The Shakers were a Christian group that came from England in 1774. Shaker communities existed from the east coast to Ohio. They were peaceful people who lived in a communal setting and showed their love of God through hard work. They were also celibate and lived as brothers and sisters, which may explain why their membership has declined to just a handful that now live in Maine.

Working at the village was one of my favorite jobs. It’s a beautiful place, and a sense of peace always came over me when I stepped onto the grounds. (Be sure to visit there any time you’re in New England.)

These rolls can be made with any type of squash puree and are somewhat sweet, similar to Hawaiian rolls. What I like about the recipe is you cut the rolls out like you would biscuits. To make ahead, you can either freeze or refrigerate the unbaked rolls and then bake when ready. (Do this after they are cut out and placed in the baking pan, but before the final rise.)  Just give them time to warm-up and rise before you

Believe me, these rolls are worth the time. I plan to make mine the day before. They will also taste great along side a warm bowl of soup, stew or chili throughout the winter.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Cider Donut Muffins

I adore cider donuts. I first had these luscious treats at an apple orchard in Massachusetts. In fact, I made trips to that orchard just to get the donuts! I was thrilled when I discovered Rees Fruit Farm here in Topeka also makes them. The donuts are available all year, but I crave them in the fall when the apples and cider are fresh.

Recently I saw a Facebook post about donut muffins, and I thought, “Why not make cider donut muffins?”

Oh my, am I in trouble. These muffins are so delicious and easy to make I will be making them a lot! (The Picky Eater even tasted one and asked me to be sure and save him a couple.) The crunchy cinnamon sugar on the outside makes a nice contrast to the soft, moist interior. Unlike the typical sturdy breakfast muffin, these are more cake-like…in other words, like a donut. They taste best warm, so if you need to warm them up, just zap them for 20 seconds in the microwave or put them in a 350-degree oven for a minute or two.

On a personal note, three years ago today I went to a local grocery store parking lot to meet a man I connected with on Match.com. Little did I know I was meeting my future husband and the love of my life. Happy first-date anniversary to the Picky Eater.

Cider Donut Muffins
Adapted from a recipe on Serious Eats
Makes 12

For muffins:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup apple cider
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, cooled

For topping:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Add the brown sugar and then, using your fingers, mix in the sugar while breaking up an sugar clumps.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cider, egg, vanilla and melted butter. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and then pour the wet ingredients into the well. Gently fold the ingredients together just until all the streaks of flour disappear.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, dividing evenly between the cups. Each cup will be about 2/3 full. Bake the muffins for 15 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Prepare the topping while the muffins are baking: In a small bowl, whisk together the cinnamon and sugar. (Or mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a paper or plastic bag.) Put the melted butter into another small bowl. When the muffins are done, remove them immediately from the muffin tin. While still warm, roll the muffins in the melted butter and then toss them in the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Place them on a rack to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nutty Shortbread

November has arrived, which means the approach of autumn's end. Here in Kansas the leaves have just reached their peak and are now beginning to fall until the trees are bare and dormant for winter. The last farmer’s market of the season was this past Saturday, on a chilly, windy, sunny morning. Now thoughts turn from tricks and treats to the ultimate celebration of the season in Thanksgiving.

However, before I start to post about America’s day of thankfulness and feasting, I wanted to share a wonderful book that honors all that autumn offers. I discovered Country Harvest: A Celebration of Autumn by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson on the wonderful blog, Months of Edible Celebrations. When I saw the post last month, I knew I had to find the book.

Country Harvest was published by Prentice Hall Press in 1990 and has a distinct British feel. It is full of beautiful seasonal images and a unique collection of recipes and tips for preserving the late summer/early autumn harvest. There are recipes for jams, jellies, chutneys, conserves, vinegars, and sauces for the pantry, plus breads, pies, cookies and cakes to enjoy now, with cordials, country wines, and teas to go with them. Readers can also learn how to preserve late-summer flowers, ornamental gourds, leaves, seedheads, and herbs. If autumn is your favorite season, this book belongs on your shelf.

I chose to make the Nutty Shortbread recipe because it sounded perfect served with a cup of tea on a chilly autumn afternoon. They were perfect—slightly sweet and full of nutty goodness.

The recipe called for walnuts or hazelnuts. I though pecans would work well, too. As luck would have it, I didn't have enough pecans or walnuts for the recipe, so I combined the two and it worked very well. Also, instead of baking the shortbread in a one-pound loaf pan as the recipe recommended, I used my smallest (9-inch) springform pan. The result was wedges of shortbread instead of strips.

I’m looking forward to tea with nutty shortbread cookies to bring autumn's afternoons to a relaxing and delicious end.

Nutty Shortbread

Adapted from Country Harvest: A Celebration of Autumn by Linda Burgess and Rosamond Richardson

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 cup pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts (or a mixture), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and grease a 1-pound (8.5” x 4.5”) loaf pan or a 9-inch springform pan. (I used cooking spray.) Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until combined and fluffy. Add in the flour mixture and chopped nuts, mixing until combined. The mixture will look crumbly, like sand, but when you squeeze a handful, it will hold together.

Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes depending on your pan size. Remove from the oven and sit on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Using a sharp knife (I used the sharp edge of a bench scraper), mark the baked shortbread into strips or wedges. Leave the shortbread in the pan until completely cooled, then remove and finish cutting the shortbread into individual cookies.