It feels like fall, y’all! We’ve had major rain here in Lauderdale and the temperature has plummeted to 82°. It’s 3:00p.m. and the street lights are on…as well as the AC. Well, a girl can dream. And when I do, at times it’s of pumpkin. Nothing says autumn like pumpkin. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin cheesecake and, especially, pumpkin fritters. They’re like crunchy and soft bites of warm and sweet pumpkin pie. These fritters are quick, easy and cheap. You probably have all the ingredients in your pantry. It’s a great treat for your family or dessert for the casual drop-by company. There aren’t really any do’s or don’ts. After mixing it all up, letting the batter sit for a while undisturbed does enhance the flavor. And I found using a small melon ball scoop to drop the batter into the hot oil gives consistent size fritters which will cook evenly. They’re best served immediately after dusting with powdered sugar but I haven’t seen any refused the following day after preparing.
Great with a cup of coffee or hot tea, these fritters welcome all the spices you like in your pumpkin pie. Don’t care for cloves? Don’t add them. If you’re not a fan of powdered sugar, roll them in cinnamon sugar. And if you’d like to fancy the fritters up a bit, warm some caramel sauce and drizzle it over the platter as you’re serving them. You might want to try serving them with fresh fruit, such as strawberries or blackberries, which cut the richness and really add to the flavors of the pumpkin pie spices. Hope you enjoy them!
Yay! Fresh figs have hit the grocery stores and I, for one, am thrilled. The season is short so I grab them when I see them. I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with them later. My father’s father, Grandpa, used to put up different jams, though as a child I remember looking at a bubbling pot of figs and being completely grossed out. All those little seeds, millions of them…not going in my mouth! However, now that same memory of the same simmering pot is beautiful. And when sunlight hits those pretty, little jars of jars of jam they sparkle like Burmese rubies. I don’t have Grandpa’s recipe and that’s okay because I’m pretty certain he didn’t use one. Just kind of eyeballed it. This fig jam is gorgeous and easy plus it’s one of those recipes that works well simmering it less time or longer depending on the consistency you want. I enjoy my jam thick and chunky so I simmer it longer.
The white wine brings another fruity note to the pot. I use a Sauvignon Blanc but that’s what I drink. Feel free to use any good white wine you have on hand. The alcohol will burn off after its long simmer so there’s no need to concern yourself there. With the jam I had prepared I served fontina, fig jam and honey panini for dinner…with a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves. OMG. Alongside a big salad of baby greens, my boys were more than happy. Enjoy!
4 pounds fresh figs, stemmed and cut into 1/4″ pieces. I used equal amounts of Brown Turkey and Kadota figs
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white wine, I like a Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup fresh lemon juice
In a large non-reactive pot place the cut figs and both sugars. Toss lightly and let sit for 20-30 minutes so that the fruit will let out its juices.
When the sugar has dissolved in the juices of the figs add the white wine and lemon juice.
Simmer the jam, uncovered, over moderately low heat. You’ll see slow, fat bubbles, you don’t want a furious boil. Cook until the fruit syrup is thick and the figs are soft and have fallen apart, about 60-90 minutes. I go for 2 hours as I like my jam thick.
Spoon the jam into clean jars, leaving 1/4″ space at the top. Close the lids tightly and allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
Don’t kid yourself for one second about that drink. Don’t put your tankini away and hang onto that cute, little sundress. It’s.Still.Summer. But I know they’re getting a little snug…it may be summer and hot out but we still eat and drink all kinds of no-no’s. Hot wings, lobster mac ‘n cheese, $12.00 designer cheeseburgers with fries, fried chicken and biscuit all washed down with anything from ice cold beer to blender drinks with champagne. We’re all guilty of those indulgences. Except now we’re back from our marvelous vacations and things are getting tight. Even your fat shorts can pinch at this point. I was there and this is why. I’ve always been a bourbon drinker. I adore it. Neat or with rocks I really enjoy my Wild Turkey. Until one evening when I was pouring my second cocktail of the evening (!) and my husband mentioned in passing, “You’re not going to lose any weight if you keep drinking that. You might as well sit down with a bowl of ice cream.” Well. THAT certainly hit home. Right then and there I quit the brown. Several days later I wanted a drink in an awful way. I decided on a glass of wine. I’m not a huge fan; I mean, it’s okay, so my reasoning was if I don’t particularly care for it I won’t drink much. But after a month or so I realized I was downing two glasses a night, sometimes more on weekends. That’s a lot of wine which translates to a lot of sugar. Need we be reminded sugar converts to fat? I might as well have sat down to that bowl of ice cream. I had gotten bigger than ever. Men no longer looked at me when I entered a room. (I had always enjoyed that!) My face was full, my neck was no longer long and graceful and I had the DREADED belly fat. I looked like dump. Realizing I had to make a change was easy and I quietly went about doing so. A few years back I had tried the counting “points” diet and found it worked on me for only about six months. I wasn’t about to start that grind again. We are all fully aware we need a change of diet, practice portion control and exercise. You have to start somewhere and I knew what I had to do. I cleared all grains, ALL, from my diet. Yes, that’s rice, (not easy for this Latina), potatoes, pasta and bread. I cut out dairy which was not a problem since I had already switched from 2% cow’s milk to organic almond milk for my coffee. But the cheese! Oh, how I missed it! Pizza was a double whammy. Then I addressed the alcohol quandary. Bourbon is really not high in calories unless you drink a large amount. I thought I’d try tequila. No, wait! Don’t shut me out! I, too, couldn’t stand tequila and that turned out to be a large part of my solution. Many, many years ago while I was working temporary duty for Delta in San Juan I had the worst experience of my life after drinking waaaaaay too much tequila one night. I puked my guts out. I puked so hard I cracked a rib. And to add to my woes I passed out on top of my glasses and cracked them, too. That was over 35 years ago and I hadn’t had any tequila since that fateful night. I shudder to think. Bleah. Anyway, I figured there was probably some great tequila on the market now, smooth and rich, and maybe, just maybe, I could enjoy a bit with lots of fresh lime juice in a pretty glass packed with ice. And I was right. The key is in measuring. You have to measure whatever you’re drinking. Please believe me when I say you’re pouring a heck of a lot more than you think. You’ll be surprised if you pour then measure the amount you’re having EVERY NIGHT. Have one drink…just one. That’s all you need. And that’s another thing. You don’t need it every night. You don’t. At the end of the day when you’re ready to rip apart the first person who crosses you, well, fine, if that’s what’s going to keep you out of prison. Measure two ounces of tequila or vodka, add the juice of one whole lime or, if you’re having vodka add soda, and enjoy. But if you’re not that stressed remember this. Once you’ve lost any looks you once had, chances are you ain’t gettin’ them back. Don’t be so ready to give them up. Pour yourself a coconut sparkling water, (La Croix is my favorite), and sip on that awhile. Do yourself an enormous favor and stay away from beer, wine and mixers like tonic or coke. Your body will thank you and, come Fall, so will your favorite skinny jeans!
These Pumpkin and Dulce de Leche Cinnamon Rolls are the stuff dreams are made of. They are a twice a year indulgence. These are the cinnamon rolls you fantasize about serving Christmas morning but are too exhausted from all the hustle and bustle to actually make them. But I’m going to tell you how you can. Huge, soft clouds of sweet golden dough are perfect to sop up the rich caramel sauce and barely tangy glaze. I don’t know what made me want to make them. I enjoy baking; I love working with dough. But I’ve got to tell ya, I had to make these over and over again. Without thinking I dumped cup after cup of flour into the mixer bowl and suddenly thought, “Wait…how many cups was that?” Into the garbage went butter, egg, sugar and who knows how much flour. Now, you can buy ready-made dulce de leche but let’s at least start out with homemade. Over and over I’d realize mid-way through baking the caramel that I had forgotten to cover the pan tightly with tin foil. Or I forgot to put the pan with the condensed milk into a larger pan filled with water. Or I just plain forgot what time I put the pan in the oven and cooked the milk way too long and, again, had to trash it. I didn’t remember the butter chunks had to be added to the top of the rolled out dough until the pans had been baking for a good 10 minutes. It went on and on like this. What could be so important that I couldn’t count 5 cups of flour? My boy. That’s what. My boy will be 25, twenty-five tomorrow. How did that happen? I’ll tell ya how. We blinked. Yesterday I was yelling at him that if he made me late for work ONE MORE TIME I was going to leave him at home and he would have to take a cab to grade school. A cab. When he was six. As if. Now he leaves for work in Miami and takes the early train, never late for that! Nuh uh. So the years have sped by…flown by actually. I’m certain all parents feel this way but when he was born we knew he was special. And there was nothing, NOTHING, I wouldn’t do for that boy. When it was snack day for us in Pre-K I agonized over what I would bake. Lemon muffins with a key lime topping and seedless grapes? Or would chocolate chip granola bars and apple slices be better? And I know some of his classmates parents thought we were the meanest parnts on the panet. We didn’t take him to Disney World until he was in, I don’t know, first grade? Awful, huh? No video games in our house, either. No, tennis, baseball and friends were priorities. And reading. Jimmy and I would get our cocktails and we took turns reading out loud to James. We read fabulous British and French story books, hooting and hollering all the while at the atrocities committed. Pirate fights, naughty children getting spanked and the odd child losing both parents at sea to be reunited months later in a Paris bistro were our favorites. Jimmy had James surfing the web at two years old. Our boy was expected to participate in the oratorical competitions at church…all of them. As a result he grew up relaxed and comfortable speaking before large groups of people and, to this day, holds his own quite well in all social settings, from the homeless shelter to Harvard’s Kennedy School. James embraced his Greek and Puerto Rican roots even when some of his classmates ridiculed him. As a parent it’s so easy to dismiss any schoolyard taunts by telling your child, “Oh, honey, just let it roll off your back. Don’t pay attention to them.” Now I know that boy’s not perfect but he held his head high and that’s not easy. He never started a fight but he never ran from one. And after all that school ridiculing he speaks Greek and Spanish. Jimmy teases me and says I’m James’ biggest cheerleader and guess what? I AM. I am so proud of him. He gives of himself unconditionally. He gives time to his elders. He respects and appreciates their opinions. He’s curious about the world and wholeheartedly receives other cultures with open arms. We pushed him to discover other countries and off he went. We’re just plain crazy about him. We like him and he likes us. So when my boy wakes up tomorrow, on his 25th birthday, he’s getting these decadent, crazy good cinnamon rolls. Happy birthday, boysie!!!
There’s nothing like the scent of caramel and cinnamon baking to make you smile and be glad you’re alive. These pillows of sweet delight can be almost completely assembled the night before and, while they’re chilling in the fridge and you’re asleep, they’ll also be rising, ready to be baked the following morning.
These rolls can now rise overnight covered in the refrigerator or in a warm corner of your kitchen for 20 minutes. In one of my kitchen drawers I keep a thin, plastic ruler to measure dough, the size of pans etc. This is my favorite ruler because it has measurements on one side and the presidents on the other. I know… geeky. Anyway, mark off your dough so that all the rolls are the same size thus baking evenly. This recipe yields 12 colossal cinnamon rolls or 24 regular servings.
And this is the only way I cut them. With unwaxed, unscented dental floss. Any knife you use, I don’t care how sharp it is, will smash the soft dough and, to add to your woes, force out the dulce de leche filling. After lightly scoring the dough to mark your 12 or 24 portions, slide the dental floss under the dough “log” and align the floss to the first marking on either end. Cross both ends of the floss as if you were going to tie a knot but instead of looping the floss to tie it continue pulling both ends and the floss will slice the dough cleanly and evenly. For the dulce de leche, it may be store-bought but it’s so simple to make that I strongly suggest you try it, if you haven’t already, and then you won’t be giving your family all those chemicals we all like to avoid. A quick recipe is in the archives. Just put in “dulce de leche” in the search box toward the upper right of this page. When the rolls have finished baking and have cooled just slightly, slide them whole, not pulled apart, out of the baking pan onto a large serving tray, preferably on with a lip. Drizzle the glaze all over the hot rolls and let it ooze down the sides. Heaven! To re-heat after they’ve cooled completely 10-15 seconds in the microwave will have them tasting as though they just came out of the oven.
Pumpkin and Dulce de Leche Cinnamon Rolls
Servings: 12 colossal rolls or 24 smaller single portions
Place yeast and warm water in a small bowl and allow yeast to bloom or “foam”, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl or stand-up mixer cream the 1/2 cup butter and pumpkin until light and fluffy.
Add the sugar and beat well.
Add the yeast mixture and mix well.
Add the salt to the flour and mix well then add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture. Beat well.
Knead the dough with a dough hook or by hand until it’s smooth and satiny, about 5 minutes.
Lightly butter a large bowl, place the dough in it, cover and allow to rise in a warm corner of your kitchen for 1 hour or until double in bulk.
Punch down the dough and, on a lightly floured counter, gently roll the dough into a 24″X12″ rectangle. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you do want the height to be even and flat.
Spread the dulce de leche evenly over the dough leaving a 1″ border around the rectangle.
Sprinkle the cinnamon evenly over the dulce de leche followed by the cold cubes of butter.
Working from the long side, tightly roll up the dough. Pinch the dough to make a seam along the loose length.
Measure and mark your dough. Cut with floss into even pieces; either 12 or 24.
Place in a buttered 9″X13″ pan, 2 buttered 9″X13″ pans if you’re making 24 rolls.
Loosely cover pan/pans with wax paper and allow to rise in a warm corner for 20 minutes or place, covered, in the refrigerator to rise overnight. Let the dough warm up outside the refrigerator 15 minutes or so prior to baking.
Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until they are golden brown on top and fully baked.
Remove from oven and, in pan, cool on rack for 10-15 minutes.
Transfer from baking pan to serving tray and pour glaze over the tops of the rolls allowing to spill down the sides.
1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 cup confectioners sugar
With a whisk, combine cream cheese, butter, milk, vanilla extract and salt.
Add confectioners sugar and whisk until completely smooth.
I started working on the recipe for this cake after dreaming of the spice sheet cake of my youth. And the creamy icing that topped the perfectly cut cake square the nice cafeteria lady handed me. But I wanted the cake updated…steeped in a syrup of some sort…something denser than my grade school fluff cake…with hints of rum…and orange. No easy feat for me. My projects, culinary or otherwise, are typically crazy great or resounding, flat-out failures. And if the project was too involved there was a good chance I might lose interest and walk away. That happened often when I decided to rearrange my bedroom during those difficult teen years. I couldn’t move my furniture around until I had separated the mountains of clothes into ‘these are to be hung up and put away’ and ‘these are dirty’. They had to be addressed; there was no manner of walking through my room without shuffling through clothes up to your knees. That in itself was project and took the better part of a couple of hours. But let’s pretend I did tackle that portion of redecoration. Because after that labour books, shoes, plates, record albums, tennis racquets and tennis balls all had to be dragged out from under my bed and also put away. I know I drove my mother cray-cray. By then I was exhausted and the bedroom truly looked as though a bomb went off. There was a good chance my “new look” would take a day or two. Dust bunnies the size of grape fruit were not uncommon. Eventually I would finish because I had to sleep somewhere. What a mess. And Mama always, without fail, instructed our housekeeper, Frankie, NOT to help me in any way. Well, sometimes my recipes are kind of like that. I add this, I take out that. I go back to the grocery store for the third time that day. I forget to take out my butter…or eggs. I spend a fortune on quality ingredients and the end result turns out to be disappointingly mediocre…at best. But every now and again I come up with something even I like. And this is one of those recipes. It was a spiced rum cake steeped in a brown cane sugar syrup until my son, James, had a taste. “This isn’t new.” Me, “Yes, it is! I just made it for the first time.” James, “Mama! C’mon. You make this all the time.” And that’s when I realized why the cake tasted so familiar. The ingredients are somewhat similar to the celebrated Greek honey and spice cookie, the Melomakarona. Except my cake doesn’t call for honey. Rum, baby. It calls for rum…not much, just enough to make its mark. Hope you enjoy it!
This cake has the density of a pound cake and, like pound cake, the flavor is markedly better, fuller, a day or two after baking. The syrup is rich and earthy due to the base of panela, also known as piloncillo, a minimally processed product of cane juice boiled down to a thick syrup which is then hardened into a hard-as-a-rock brick or cone-shaped “pilon”.
Panela is pure and clean with deep notes of earth and smoke…an almost scorched flavor. It speaks of rum and caramel and butter. Rock hard, it can be grated into baked goods, BBQ sauce, rum and tequila drinks or, as in this recipe, melted stove top. It can be found in the Hispanic section of your grocery store or in any Latin American market. Easy to find, it puts the standard, one-dimensional brown sugar to shame. This stuff is cheap, stores well and is downright magical. You’ll love it!
3 tablespoons fresh orange zest, about 1 large navel orange
1 cup milk
1/3 cup spiced rum
2 cups water
1 pound Panela or Piloncillo
2 tablespoons spiced rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
Cover the inside of a 10″X3 1/2″, or 12-cup, bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Scatter the pecans evenly over the bottom of the sprayed bundt pan and set aside.
In a medium size bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients until all are completely combined. Set aside.
In a large bowl cream butter until light and fluffy.
Add the brown sugar to the butter and mix well.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat the batter at each addition only until you no longer see the yolk.
Add the orange zest and mix just to combine.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternating with the milk and 1/3 cup of spiced rum. Begin and end with the flour. Mix only until ingredients are incorporated to avoid a tough cake.
Pour batter into bundt pan and smooth the top of the batter.
Bake for one hour or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Cool on a rack
While the cake is cooling, pour into a medium saucepan 2 cups water. Add the panela and simmer, stirring occasionally to help break up the panela.
Simmer until the syrup thickens and coats the back of the spoon.
Remove from heat and stir in the 2 tablespoons of spiced rum and vanilla extract.
Spoon evenly over the top and sides of the warm cake, cover with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit in the bundt pan over night.
So as not to scratch the pan, use a plastic knife to loosen the inner and outer edges of the cake.
Here’s a little quickie to help you take a stand against temptation this weekend. Wait. Are you really going to pretend you’re not going to be tempted? C’mon. We’re all going to brunch. We’ll all have a couple of mimosas at home then maybe move on to bloodies once we arrive at the restaurant. Oftentimes it’s downhill from there. Plates appear dripping with crunchy, smokey bacon shyly peaking out from under the heavy drip of a lemony hollandaise and a small mountain of crispy, oniony hash browned potatoes…who can resist? And then there’s that guy. You know the one. He orders the thick-cut, maple, cinnamon, praline, cream cheese stuffed french toast. With extra butter and syrup on the side. Ugh. Kill me now! It’s got to taste beyond heavenly. But guess what? I didn’t work all week at feeling good and looking good to blow it all BEFORE I get to brunch. I exercise five days a week. And I try hard to have my cocktails only on the weekend. Yes, I watch what I eat but I indulge myself regularly with healthful treats. So no. I won’t be blowing it at brunch either. Preparation is half the battle and I, for one, will.be.prepared. Oh, yes. I think treating yourself well during the week makes a huge difference in health, weight loss and mind-set and that includes breakfast Saturday mornings. If brunch is on Sunday then errands are on Saturday, meaning fuel up for another long day. My family LOVES roasted spaghetti squash so I typically have it on hand. What better way to make “hash browns” than with leftover, roasted spaghetti squash? Great texture and mild taste make it the perfect side. Simple as A-B-C and topped with a fresh, organic egg, Saturday’s looking better already. A little tomato or leftover vegetables on the side and you may find yourself looking forward to “errand day”. And by having this luxurious breakfast I find I have more resolve at Sunday brunch. The frittata of the day with an extra side of salad sounds really good to me…why, yes, please, I’d love another bloody!
Okay, I have to make an admission here. The reason the photo above doesn’t really show the squash hash browns is because I ate it all before I realized I hadn’t taken any final shots. I’m crazy about this stuff. Spaghetti squash is the healthful, fabulous, take-on-any-flavor food of the year. Already roasted and added to a hot pan with a little oil? Well, you’re just about to have a bit of heaven on earth! One pan. Quick and easy. Fried, poached, scrambled or hard-boiled, eggs pair beautifully with it. If you don’t do eggs heat up those leftover vegetables from the night before, in the same pan with the squash, add another touch of oil and you’ll have a meal from an elegant restaurant. These breakfast hacks will help keep your waistline intact and leaving you feeling good. GOOD. How many times have you felt light AND full after eating a plateful of potatoes?
Morning comes awfully early when one has a commute. And I don’t know anyone who wants to sit down to a hearty breakfast the minute they open their sleepy little eyes. It seems we all hit the floor running and don’t stop until we literally run out of gas. My son, James, has never been a lover of the too-soon breakfast and we’ve tangled with this since he was in kindergarten. At the tender age of five I struggled to offer him something healthful AND tasty. While he was in school I drove way out on Powerline Road to a roadside stand and bought just picked produce. Money was tight and I could little afford to waste a thin dime but I was determined that James would have the best I could give him. I bought a little of this and little of that. Zucchini, tomatoes, green beans and strawberries were staples. Dawn broke and I would schlep to the kitchen trying to put together a breakfast that would interest James while, at the same time, hold him in good stead. What a struggle! “Mama, I can’t!”, was typically his response when he brought his plates to the kitchen. We still laugh about this but one day I exploded. Yes. I popped. I’ve been told, after the fact, that I’m a little scary when I get mad. I ranted and raved and carried on, “What? What is it I can fix for you that you’ll eat? WHAT?”. That sweet, little boy looked up at me and earnestly answered, “Coffee and a pretzel?” Can you even? Lord, I laughed so hard I probably tinkled in my pants. And those strawberries I could ill afford? They were found a long time later when I found the strength to move the sofa in order to clean. Though we all know a good breakfast is crucial for a productive day the struggle continues. I know my boy is NOT going to lose a precious five minutes of sleep in order to throw together a breakfast he can eat on the train or in his office. And that’s where Mama comes in. That boy is going to be moving out, and soon, but until then I can pack a pretty and healthful breakfast….one that will keep him fueled until 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon.
These egg cups are easy, versatile, healthful and filling. Paired with fresh fruit, your family will thank you. Truly. You’re going to start hearing, “Thanks, Mom!” more and more. They can be made with fresh eggs, egg whites or Egg Beaters. I use fresh eggs and always, always organic. The recipe I’m posting calls for sausage and vegetables but any and all may be substituted for any other filling. Cubed ham, chorizo, spinach, kale, chopped tomatoes, scallions, cheddar, parmesan and mozzarella are just a few ideas. Leftover crab or shrimp are also tasty morsels. So go crazy. Your family will love them!
Spray a non-stick spray all over the top of a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
In a large, non-stick skillet brown the sausage, breaking up any large clumps with the back of a spoon. You don’t want any large pieces as they’re too big for the muffin cups. If you’re using pork sausage drain it well.
To the turkey add the scallions, zucchini, basil and spinach. Mix well and continue to cook until the vegetables have wilted. Remove from heat to cool.
While the sausage mixture cools pour the eggs evenly into the sprayed muffin cups. I find using a 1/4 measuring cup makes this quick and simple.
Taste the sausage/vegetable mixture for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings. I find the sausage adds plenty of salt so I add only pepper.
Divide the sausage mixture evenly between the muffin cups, gently pressing the filling down.
Place one tomato in the center of each egg cup.
If using cheese, sprinkle over each egg cup.
Bake egg cups for 20-25 minutes or until puffy and golden on the edges.
Allow to cool completely before refrigerating. I store each one in individual plastic bags. To re-heat I place as many egg cups as needed on a plate and zap in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. If you’re heating just one for the road, 15 seconds on a plate is perfect then drop it back in the bag it lived in when in the refrigerator and you’re good to go.