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The Spices of Life

26 Nov

Literally. They are all here, see? Signs don’t lie.

Recently, I visited a little spice shop in CO that reminded me of places in Paris, in the sense that it is dedicated to offering a wide selection of a specific item. An entire store dedicated to either just bread (yum), just cheese (double yum), just meat, just vegetables…oh Paris. So, I was excited to go check out a local spice shop that does exactly that – offer every spice known to man and only spices.

I ventured to this little place, Penzeys Spices. Walking in, you get overwhelmed with the smells. It was set up with wood boxes lining the walls and being scattered around the center of the store, showcasing all the seasonings they had. You can get various individual spices, or use one of the mixes/blends they create, or get real crazy and pick up a grouping of related spices.

Or you can be like me and be over-excited and start taking lots of pictures so that the people working there think you are quite strange for taking lots of pictures from all angles of the little glass jars. Not the first time I’ve gotten that look, won’t be the last, I’m afraid…

I loved all the names of the blends…especially this little guy.

Here was the baking section, dedicated to the classic baking flavors. I thought it was adorable that it was set up like a grandma’s kitchen. Kind of made me want to put on a checkered apron and make some oatmeal cookies. Normal response, right?

They had 5 different types of cinnamon. I was in love. They also had rather unnecessary but very pretty baking boxes. I was tempted, but I went with just some cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and vanilla instead. For now.

I’ve been on a salt kick lately too. I love all the flavors, colors, size of grains…everything. It was so fun to find a place that offers more than just plain table salt and kosher salt, after being spoiled with all the colors of the rainbow fleur de sel (though they did have plain table salt and kosher salt, too…).

A little décor to remind you why you are there in case your nose stops working. (These boxes reminded me of one of my friends from school who would adore them. It was one of the little touches they had that made it feel very welcoming and cozy inside.)

After I had smelled everything in the store and took a lot of pictures, I grabbed a few of the little jars to play with flavors back at home.

Fresh, high quality spices really do enhance the flavor of what you are baking. Plus, they had a variety of flavors not available everywhere! I had so much fun playing with my new ingredients. All in all, a very successful trip! Might have to return soon to get a few new tastes for Christmas…

Happy Thanksgiving!

26 Nov

Hope all my US friends and family had a great Thanksgiving. I certainly did!

My contributions: bourbon bread pudding, butterscotch and bourbon sauce, mi cuit with white chocolate ganache, peppermint macarons, orange and clove butter cookies, pumpkin pie and pecan pie. Lots of fun!

Happy holidays!

Carnivale!

11 Nov

With a squash!

What, not what you were thinking? Hold up, peeps, it’s a carnivale in your mouth…wait, that sounds wrong too. I’ll stop, and just say its just good, so try it out.

So, if you find a little guy like this at a grocer, market, field, whatever, grab it.

Then, grab a great big knife and attempt to cut it open. I do have to say, its kind of hard. Check it.

That one got stuck, so I had to use another…it worked!

Looked very similar to an acorn squash, to be honest. Just a lot tougher to cut up. Ehn, gots nothing on me…

Macro. You know the drill.

So scraped that nasty inside stuff out and gridded the inside.

From here, there were a few options. Some said, turn it upside down in a roasting pan and ¼ inch of water at 400°F for about an hour. Me, not enough flavor. So I rubbed it with butter (ok, a lot of butter), threw some sugar and cinnamon on…

…put it in a roasting pan, put a bit of water in the bottom and threw it in the oven to get yummy.

Every once in awhile, I basted the guys with the melted delicious butter and cinnamon/sugar mix. Keep it soft and yummy. And I like the stuff. Anyway, while that was baking, I toasted up some almond slivers in a skillet for about 5 minutes.

When the squash halves were done, I sprinkled (or doused, depending on your love of cheese) goat cheese and the toasted almond slivers on top.

Hmmm, spices…

Super simple and super delicious. For me, this was dinner. Add in some rice or meats or something, but I say, eat this with a spoon and love it. Regardless, carnival squash is super yummy. Woohoo, Carnivale!

A surprisingly lovely pumpkin treat…

23 Oct

As Pumpkin Month starts to wind down, I have to say, somehow I’m not sick of pumpkin. To be perfectly honest here, I haven’t been the best on making something pumpkin everyday – some days, well, I just wanted chocolate. It happens. But I did stumble upon a rather delicious pumpkin idea, if I may say so myself, when this little guy was created.

I made pumpkin éclairs, peeps.

Since last Christmas, I have had a few near and dear family members gently suggest I make them éclairs everyday. So one night, with a lovely glass of wine, I decided to make pumpkin crème éclairs.

First up, I made pumpkin pastry cream. Very similar to normal pastry cream, just add pumpkin and spices with the egg yolks. See?

Yum. I also added a touch of butter at the end, to make it richer tasting. Because that is needed with pastry cream, of course.

At this point, I spread it out to cool in the fridge (macro! Looks sort of not so good, I know, but it is, trust) and drank another glass of wine. Pumpkin brings that out in me. Must be the Fall air.

I might have had a little bite first to make sure the crème would be ok…

With the crème made and cooling off and a nice glass of red wine nearby, I started in with the pâte a choux. And I had a couple issues with the choux. It just wouldn’t rise right, though I tried two different recipes. Must be the altitude… oh well, I had my choux for the éclairs and a few puffs, regardless of their ending shape. Here’s a picture of better looking pâte a choux than the ones I made that day. A sort of sad statement, I know.

After piped out, I baked the choux up and let them cool. Then I poked two holes on the bottom (usually 3 holes, I know, but mine were smaller than normal this round). While I was filling the choux with the crème, I realized I had no food coloring for the glaze. Truly, this was a thought out process, no?

A little thing like that didn’t stop me, though. Course not. I made some simple syrup and melted up the fondant. While I was missing the coloring, I at least had right temp for the glacage so it was shiny! Score one for me. Downside – white glacage is boring. It just is, no other way to describe it. So I plopped a walnut on top and called it decorated. Super fancy, I know.

I then took strategic pictures of the final product so it looked better than reality. Not bad, right?

Infinity shot of an éclair.

I also made a few puffs, for smaller bites.

It was such a little bite, I tested it to make sure it was ok before I gave some of them away to others. I don’t particularly like éclairs, but for the sake of others, I ate it up.

Final verdict: Pumpkin éclairs, not a bad thing at all. So far, my favorite kind of éclair. Not saying much, as they are low on my list of preferred desserts personally, but pretty delish. The magic of pumpkin crème.

So you too can partake in the magic, here’s the pumpkin pastry cream recipe. Seriously, make this. Its yummy.

Pumpkin Pastry Cream
*I suggest doubling the amount…because its good. But all amounts listed here are for 1 recipe.

1 cup whole milk (or a combo of skim and half and half – because that makes it whole, no?)

3 egg yolks

¼ cup pumpkin puree

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

        1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

        ½ teaspoon ground cloves

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla beans

1 tablespoon butter

In a small saucepan, warm the milk, half the sugar and vanilla over low heat until boiling.

While the milk is warming, whisk together the egg yolks, pumpkin, sugar, flour, spices, and cornstarch.

Once the milk is boiling, add at least half of it, whisking constantly, to the pumpkin mixture to temper.

Add the milk and pumpkin back into the hot milk, constantly stirring, and continue to cook it while it boils for 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat, and mix in the butter. Chill in a shallow dish with cling wrap touching it until ready to use.

What’s orange and white and yummy?

11 Oct

These!

That right there are pumpkin and cream cheese muffins. I just ate one and can, without hesitation, say I think they are quite yummy.

I’ve been doing ok with my October challenge, though people-who-shall-remain-nameless started requesting things less sweet in an effort to not eat an entire cake with her sister in 2 days. Which means I made some pumpkin bread, some pumpkin pancakes, even a “pumpkin” chai (that one was a bit of a stretch, I admit…). I figured I could push the less sweet thing with a muffin, though. Hey, there’s no icing at least.

In an effort to improve my recipe blogging abilities, I need practice. So – here we go! Here are the ingredients sitting on my mom’s pretty counter.

Pictured would be (you might notice I hadn’t measured yet. If you didn’t notice, awesome. My recipe blogging is totally helping):

1 ½ cups of flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 heaping tsp cinnamon (…heaping is fun to say…)

½ heaping tsp nutmeg (…still fun to say…)

½ heaping tsp ground cloves (…starting to sound odd now…)

½ tsp salt

2 eggs

1 ¼ cup sugar (separate 1 cup out for the muffins, and ¼ cup out for cream cheese goodness)

1 cup pumpkin puree

¾ cup vegetable oil

4 ounces cream cheese (I used fat free because I’m healthy like that)

1 cupcake pan, pretty pink cupcake papers optional

Begin by turning on your oven to 400°F. Again, baked goods, baking…turning on the oven helps.

Up next, put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Notice the pretty spices and their artistic array…

Now mix them together (did I mention this wasn’t a hard recipe?). Here’s another helpful photo for you, so you know what to do.

In a different bowl, mix the eggs, pumpkin puree and oil. This is not a yummy looking photo since I began to mix before I remembered to take a photo, but I am a dedicated blogger, so I’m showing you. And I took the picture, so look at it please. Don’t judge it, but look at it. I made it small, so you really can just glance and keep going.

After those wet ingredients are mixed up, add in the sugar. Again, a helpful photo.

Now get crazy. Introduce the pumpkin mix to the flour mix.

After they meet, pour the pumpkin on the flour. There is a lot of pumpkin, so the flour sort of floats around as islands in the pumpkin ocean. See?

Its cool though, don’t worry that the pumpkin ocean seems large. Mix it up. This happens when you do, a normal muffin batter. Hmmm, spices.

Muffin batter – check; its now time to make the cream cheese portion of these delectable treats. Its super easy – mix the cream cheese and the sugar. To add a little drama to this simple task, here’s my Hitchcock inspired interpretation.

The mixer is scary looking, no?

Moving on…

Throw the cream cheese mix into a pastry bag. I couldn’t decide if I wanted the cream cheese to be on top of the muffins or as a surprise in the middle. So I did half and half. Still can’t decide which I prefer, so I’ll keep eating all the muffins as research, but until then, do what you please. Which means either filling the muffin tins ⅔’s full and piping the cream cheese on top, or filling the tins half full, piping the cream cheese and then covering with some more batter. Here’s a visual aid for those who don’t understand when I ramble. The ones in the back have the hidden cream cheese, so you can’t see the cream cheese. Again, I’m helpful.

Pop these babies into the oven and wait.

15 minutes on the timer and its on. Bake on, little muffins, bake on.

When the extremely long feeling 15 minutes are over, take them out of the oven. They should be cooked, but since they have cream cheese mix in there, you can’t do the toothpick trick. I suggest testing the top of the muffin by pushing it. It should be stubborn and pop back up if done. If its not done, it will be wussy and stay down. Bake it longer then.

Here’s what they look like as they mock you by being too hot to eat.

Let them cool a bit in the pan, then take them out to finish cooling on a rack, much like this. Now I know you what taking a muffin out of a muffin tin and placing them on a rack looks like. But look how pretty and orange and white they are! They needed their own picture. Be thankful I haven’t included all the other pictures of these muffins I took, though I thought they were pretty too…

Just look at this muffin…yum. SO, now you’re done! Eat one and celebrate!

Let me know if you think cream cheese on top is better or in the middle is better…I’m still eating to figure it out…