Pledge to Bake an Apple Cake

bucket full of ripe apples is in the garden grass in the rays of sunset

On my recent trip to Kansas City, one of the non-culinary adventures was a trip to the Escape Room. The concept is fairly simple – you choose a room from which to “escape” by solving the clues. The rooms have varying difficulties, but the task is the same. Find the clues in the room, determine if they are helpful or misleading, and, ideally, you will be among the 20 percent who get out in the allotted time.

We had a choice between prison break, which involved handcuffs, and secret agent, which meant finding a spy. One of our team wasn’t into the handcuffs, so we played secret agent. We didn’t get it solved in time to “win,” but we did have a group of strangers cooperating in what seemed like a team-building exercise.

I left it at that until today. After a meeting with some “teammates” in a women’s networking/mastermind group, the clouds cleared in my head. Thanks Tammy and Linda. The Escape Room seemed more like a metaphor for life. There are clues all around us – and sometimes there is a higher power to gently guide – and it’s up to us to figure out which of them are useful and which can lead us down a dead-end path.

Sometimes the only way to figure out if the clue is relevant is to wander. Some of us have the fortune or clarity to see the clues for what they are, and follow the path to the right job, the right spouse, the right future. Some of us follow what seems to be the right path, only to find ourselves wandering off in a field, distracted somehow along the way. Others walk and walk, only to find the path eventually blocked. Sometimes it can be a wall blocking the way, which can be scaled. Other times it could be a cliff, and your choice is to figure how to bridge the divide. Or you can simply turn around and look for a fork and try a new path. And hope you find the clues to unlock the door to the future.

In March I decided it was time to find a new path. I’ve been picking up little clues along the way. Some have been helpful, like getting my master certification in life coaching. Others took me down a path I’m not sure have much to do with my future – other than to prove I can pass all the criminal clearances to be around children.

What clues are out there? I’m looking to the past – my many years of baking and writing. I am fully embracing my present with the wonderful Coffee Club Divas networking group and the Black Diamonds mastermind group. And what about the future? I’m working on it.

Until then, I do what I have always done when looking for clarity – I bake. Today’s recipe for Grandmother Royce’s California Apple Cake is a tried and true one that my sister-in-law Jenna Mead sent me in 2015. This is a real keeper and perfect for apple season.

I also made it as part of King Arthur Flour’s Bake and Share Initiative in October. For every pledge they receive to bake and share, King Arthur will donate to Feeding America.

Print Recipe
Grandmother Royce's California Apple Cake
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combine apples and sugar. Mix well. Add oil, nuts, eggs, and vanilla and blend. In a separate bowl, blend together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add to apple mixture and blend.
  2. Pour into greased and floured 9x13 baking pan. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Check after 30 minutes.
  3. Note: I made this in a Bundt pan. To make it a little fancier, slice 1/2 of of your apples instead of dicing. Don't put the sliced apple into the cake, instead place the slices and a sprinkle of the walnuts in the bottom of the pan. Then pour the batter on top. Bake. When cool, invert onto a serving plate.
Recipe Notes

Best when eaten soon. Cover very loosely for storage as it can get soggy quickly. Freezes well.

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Squash’s Savory Side

img_4734The change of seasons can be measured by the moon, the landscape (trees turning color), and my furniture. When the sun comes later in the morning and sets earlier in the evening, I spend more time inside. And when I’m inside, I stare at the furniture. And think of ways my home could be more comfortable.

I could spend lazy Sundays reading the New York Times, which I do. But I’m also eyeballing the chair no one sits in, including me. And, instead of contemplating the debate between the two presidential candidates, I am thinking that the leather recliner needs to move to the basement. And I need to call the Erie City Mission to deal with the rest of the rejects that are in the basement.

What I really should be doing is working on a business plan to open a bakery or cafe, but instead I’m procrastinating. If, perhaps, I find the right flow in the house, then, perhaps, the business plan can just be channeled from the universe through my fingers and onto the computer. Failing that, I move furniture. And bake.

I’ve got a few pumpking/squash items yet still to test. I had the most divine pumpkin bread pudding with a maple ice cream in Maine that I am trying to replicate. That recipe will be coming once I finish tasting. But the cooler temps remind me that pumpkin isn’t just for sweets. It can take on savory flavors just as easily as sweet. One of my favorites is to serve chile over roasted sweet potatoes in their jackets or over a pile of roasted and mashed butternut, acorn or pumpkin squash.

The Italians pair pumpkin and sausage, or zucca e salsiccia, with pasta. The faint sweetness of the squash with the Italian sausage is perfectly complementary. It’s a fall favorite around our house. You can make it will canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie) or roast a pie pumpkin, acorn squash, or butternut squash. Or bake all three if you have them courtesy of your CSA, scoop, and stash in a container in the fridge. This way I have plenty of roasted squash on hand for any of my culinary needs because whether I’m baking one or three, it takes the same amount of time and cleanup (very little if you use a nonstick pan or foil).

Mangiamo!!

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold the sauce and the pasta, heat olive oil and add sausage. Saute over medium to medium-high heat until it is browned.
  2. Remove sausage from pan, leaving enough oil in to saute the onion and the garlic. If there is too much grease, just drain until you have about 2 tablespoons again. Add the onion and cook until translucent, then add the garlic, cinnamon, and sage. Cook until fragrant.
  3. Return sausage to the pan of medium heat. Add the chicken stock and stir to get up any of the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. If the stock cooks down too quickly, add additional stock.
  4. Stir in pumpkin puree and cream. Stir until combined. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasonings for salt and pepper. This should sit for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle.
  5. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. With about 2 to 3 minutes left of the pasta cooking time, add the kale to the pot with the boiling water and pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water before draining. Drain pasta.
  6. Return sauce pot to the stove over medium-low heat. Add pasta and stir to combine. If sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water.
  7. Serve in bowls. Pass cheese and pepper flakes. This will serve 4-6, depending on appetites.
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Pumped for Pumpkin Season

img_4703I am unabashedly a fan of pumpkin in all things except hot drinks (PSL). I’ve made pumpkin brownies, cakes, pies, scones, cookies and chili.

My love affair began years and years ago when I baked my first pumpkin to make a pie. I wondered why I couldn’t just use a regular pumpkin to make pumpkin pie. I was young and there was no Internet then, so I used a regular pumpkin – the type you carve for jack-o-lanterns. Those carving pumpkins, however, aren’t for pies. They have a high water content and not much flavor.

As my baking experience developed, I learned about sugar pumpkin. This is smaller pumpkin with much more flavor than your Halloween variety. But, for reasons I didn’t understand, it didn’t match the flavor of what is in the can of pure “pumpkin.” Plus, I adore the fall Italian specialty of a pumpkin sauce, used over pasta and to make lasagna. But the Italian pumpkin I’ve tasted is much more flavorful than American pumpkin.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that Italian pumpkin isn’t the same as the American variety. It looks more like a Hubbard squash than a pumpkin.

And, it turns out that what’s in those cans of Libby’s pumpkin is actually Dickinson squash, according to various foodie news outlets. Indeed, according to the FDA’s own regulations,  any type of golden-fleshed orange-type squash may be labeled as pumpkin. This would explain why, even if you cook at sugar pumpkin, it still doesn’t have the taste and consistency of canned pumpkin. Anyone who has eaten a butternut squash, a close relative of the Dickinson squash, can tell you that it is sweeter than even a sugar pumpkin.

img_4685
Roasted butternut squash, bottom, and pumpkin, top.

So when my CSA includes both a sugar pumpkin and butternut squash, you can bet I cook them both up (cut in half, scoop out seeds and bake at 375 degrees for about 90 minutes to 2 hours or until a knife can easily pierce the squash). When they are cool enough, I scoop both out into a bowl and allow to finish cooking. You will find some water in the bottom (that’s usually from the sugar pumpkin), which I drain out. I then puree the two together and use that as my squash mixture for baking. If that sounds like too much work, just buy the canned pumpkin, but not the canned pumpkin pie mix. Why not the blend? Because I like to control the sugar and the spices that go into my food.

If you have a taste for pumpkin, you are probably craving those sweeter squashes, such as the Hubbard, Kabocha, or butternut.

The cooking times for these squash may make working with them tiresome, but you could also cook them in your slow cooker instead of the oven. I just discovered this for a butternut squash. There is no peeling, piercing, or attempting to split lengthwise while taking one of your fingers off.

Just put a whole butternut in your slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 8 hours. Allow to cool, slice in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and scoop out the flesh. It’s never been so easy or so good.

 

Enjoy squash season.

 

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

Print Recipe
Pumpkin Gingerbread
Cook Time 55 minutes
Servings
loafs
Ingredients
Glaze
Cook Time 55 minutes
Servings
loafs
Ingredients
Glaze
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans.
  2. To make the cake, cream butter, vegetable oil and sugar together in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and crystalized ginger.
  4. In another bowl, combine eggs, molasses, pumpkin and pie spice.
  5. Mix in the flour and the squash into the creamed butter, alternating in thirds. So first, add one-third of flour mixture to creamed butter and combine until incorporated, Stir in one-third of pumpkin. Repeat with flour and pumpkin until all are mixed.
  6. Pour into loaf pans. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. If you make muffins, this will be about 17 to 20 minutes baking time.
  7. In the meantime, make the glaze by mixing the powdered sugar, butter, orange extract, cream, and salt.
  8. Remove pumpkin gingerbread from oven. Brush with glaze while still warm if you want a shiny finish. Allow to cool and drizzle over top for a white finish.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Maine Trip Brings Local Tastes Home

img_4606Last week I packed my bags and headed north to the land of lobster and L.L. Bean. This is the state my great-grandmother, grandmother, and my mother all spent their summer vacations. As a graduate of a New England college, I am a fan of the fall  – with its bracing walks by the wind-swept sea and evenings in front of a fire.

The idea to head to Maine wasn’t mine originally. My beau has fond memories of summers with his family in Maine and points north. This was an opportunity for him to relive those childhood escapes with an adult spin. I researched and settled on the Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit, Maine, for its waterfront vista, fireplaces, and access to the Marginal Way, a 1-mile path gifted to Ogunquit in 1925 that runs between Ogunquit and Perkins Cove.

The weather gifted us with a mix of sun, rain and wind. We were able to take a swim, walk the Marginal Way, visit two lighthouses and eat lobster rolls and/or chowder every day. We were not able to whale watch due to winds out of the northeast at 20 mph on our designated trip day. No matter, we did get to Freeport to see the home of L.L. Bean (and quite a few other outlets),

We plotted out, using Trip Advisor, Yelp, and various food websites, the top lobster roll locations in our part of Maine, which extended from Kittery up to Freeport. We never had a bad lobster roll, starting with Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery (our first), to the Lobster Shack in Perkins Cove, to Bite Into Maine in Cape Elizabeth. To me, the most interesting was Bite Into Main because it was:

1. A food truck and not a restaurant and

2. It was located in a park overlooking the Portland Head Light, a still-operating lighthouse that dates to 1791. Plus they had pumpkin whoopie pies, a delicious variation on the chocolate whoopie pie and a wonderfully Maine thing.

 

Maine is not all lobster rolls, although that would not be a bad thing. We enjoyed much fine dining along the way, as well. By far the favorite was Joshua’s Restaurant in Wells, Maine. The restaurant, located in a 230-year-old Colonial home (with newer additions), is owned by Chef Joshua Mather together with his parents, Mort and Barbara. Chef Mather gives credit to his parents, who were self-described “back-to-the-landers” whose income was derived from selling organic vegetables from the family’s 1-acre garden and a home-baking business.

Those principals guide Chef Mather today, whose restaurant is 6 miles from his family’s farm, which is today a certified organic farm that supplies the restaurant with eggs, vegetables, herbs, pears and apples. The seasonal menu is outstanding from the beet salad with spinach and goat cheese right down to the maple walnut pie with homemade maple ice cream for dessert. My beau enjoyed a heavenly appetizer of beef tenderloin skewered with rosemary and grilled and lobster pie.

Returning home again, refreshed and exhausted at the same time, I was inspired by the local sourcing. I adapted a recipe I saw in YouTube. I had apples from Post Apples CSA; along with onions from Hunter Farms CSA; a bone-in pork loin roast from McDonald’s Meat 10445 Ridge Road, Girard, local honey, purchased at Urbaniak Brothers in Erie, but also at Hunter Farms; and cinnamon. This would be good with roasted potatoes.

Hope you enjoy

 

XOXOXO

Marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Pork Loin Roast with Apples and Onions
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Rub salt and pepper all over the pork roast. Cut slices into the top of the fat cap, about 2 inches deep and about 1 to 1 1/2 inches apart. In a large skillet over medium high heat (or use your Ninja slow cooker on the stovetop setting), sear the exterior of the pork.
  2. Place pork into a slow cooker with the fat cap facing upward. Insert apple slices into cuts into the pork. Add onions around the bottom of the pork roast. Sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle honey on top. Cover and cook for 3 hours on low.
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