We decided not to go to a pumpkin patch this year. I have some regrets, but mostly we wanted to spend our time doing things other than driving half an hour to a patch just to pick a pumpkin, something we easily could have done at our local grocery store. I’ve been really impressed by the homes in our new neighborhood. There’s one down the street that has no fewer than seven of those large inflatable, light up creatures: two spiders on their roof, one weiner dog with a mask, a couple pumpkins, and more. They even hung a little ghost from the telephone wire! There are pumpkins galore, gravestones, lights, and those faux cobwebs everywhere. I like how Halloween has really been embraced and so many people decorate and get in the holiday spirit. I like that it has such a sense of humor about it, a lightheartedness.
What did we do instead of the pumpkin patch? Well, we did get pumpkins, and we carved them. We got a skeleton named Gary who looks like he’s emerging from our garden beds. We threw a murder mystery dinner party. And tomorrow we hope to be handing out a lot of candy (seriously, we have two very large bags) to kiddos dressed up in costume, hauling pillowcases or plastic pumpkins or whatever the kids use these days. And as for the adults? We’ll likely be munching on this cake (if there’s any left by then), sipping mulled wine or mulled cider spiked with rum, maybe watching Stranger Things (if we don’t finish that by then too) or The Nightmare Before Christmas or some other movie that is equal parts Halloween and nostalgia. Sometimes certain holidays can be weird as adults, but I’m feeling pretty good about this one.
Ah, the holiday season. The time of year when we are surrounded by twinkling lights, ugly sweaters, and sweets. Oh the sweets! I love and hate it at the same time. Rather than a big Christmas dinner, my family opted for the age old Jewish tradition of Chinese food and movies. Don’t be fooled though, we did do a few Christmas-y things. My mom, sisters and I would usually spend an entire day in the kitchen making Christmas cookies for the mailman and the neighbors, but we didn’t make any really for ourselves (ok, that’s kind of a lie, we definitely ate a few during the packaging process).
The one thing that really sticks out in my mind as something we made during the holiday season was gingerbread. And I’m not talking about the houses made of stale candy, or the too-crunchy cookies. I’m talking about the almost-savory snacking gingerbread cake: gingery, perfectly spiced, moist, and a little bit sticky. In a season full of too-sweet cookies and candy, this cake is perfectly the opposite kind of treat. My mom used to make it, and I always remember her in her pajamas, eating it late at night between the dessert and midnight snack hours, usually dolloped with cream cheese and accompanied by a mug of tea. I love this cake because it takes me back to those nights when it was cold outside, but it was so warm in our kitchen, and full of the smells of holiday baking. When I told Jonah I wanted to make some of my own (which I had never done before), he said he’d never had this kind of gingerbread. I think this recipe convinced him.
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks (plus some more for greasing the pan)
1 cup water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup blackstrap molasses
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups AP flour (plus some for dusting the pan)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (ground will work, but fresh is better)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
Optional: powdered sugar, whipped cream, or cream cheese for serving
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line a 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper, and butter and flour the parchment and sides of the pan.
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat and add baking soda (it will foam! don’t be scared!). Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir in the butter until melted. Next add the brown sugar, molasses, and ginger and mix until combined. Set aside until no warmer and lukewarm.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder. Whisk in the eggs and then the molasses mixture, mixing until the ingredients are combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared 9×13 pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick (or skewer or knife or whatever you’re using) inserted comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack and, once cooled, cut around the edges and invert the cake onto the rack, and then onto a serving plate, where you can cut into whatever shapes you’d like and enjoy it alongside some tea or coffee.
Almost a year ago, there was a piece in the New York Times. I’m not sure where I found it – most likely someone posted it on Facebook – but it struck a chord. It’s called “When a Food Writer Can’t Taste,” by Marlena Spieler, a James Beard Award winning food writer. In the article, she writes about how a car accident, in which she broke both arms and sustained a concussion, completely demolished her ability to taste and smell.
Now, that sounds horrible no matter who you are. But when a food writer loses the senses that bring her the most joy and allow her to work, it’s devastating. Her descriptions of tasting what had once been some of her favorite foods are heartbreaking: “Cinnamon drops, a childhood favorite, were bitter, horrible.” “Bananas tasted like parsnips and smelled like nail polish remover.” “Gently sautéed mushrooms seemed like scorched bits of sponge.” Luckily, the nerves were only damaged, not severed, meaning that she would, in time, recover. She created her own rehabilitation plan, eating and tasting a huge range of foods, forcing herself to taste things like chocolate over and over again, starting with milk chocolate and slowly upping the cocoa content. Things she hadn’t particularly loved before – fish, especially – became a daily craving.
In the end, she recovered most of the way, and though her senses still occasionally go haywire, she can enjoy food to an incredible extent. But I’d like to focus on a specific part of this story: about halfway through the article, she tells us how, though she used to “lack a sweet tooth,” her sweet tooth now couldn’t be ignored. She lists a few things she baked, and they all sound delicious, but one jumped out at me: miso sticky toffee pudding.
When I studied abroad in London, I became a fan of sticky toffee pudding. It’s not pudding like we think of in the states. It’s a cake that is sweet but not too sweet, drenched in a warm toffee sauce that seeps into the cake, resulting in a moist, warm, absolutely fantastic dessert. Now I have looked for a recipe for Spieler’s mystical dish, and I am not the only one. The day after the article was published, someone tweeted at Spieler asking for the recipe. There’s a Chowhound thread asking if the recipe can be found anywhere (yes, I commented). But I couldn’t find it, and it seems, neither could anyone else. There are recipes for miso toffee, and for sticky toffee pudding with miso ice cream, but not this exact dessert. So, after talking with my baker friend Caitlyn, we decided to make one ourselves.
We decided to adapt David Lebovitz’s sticky toffee pudding recipe, and really, there were only a couple simple changes to be made. (In retrospect, I should’ve used Spieler’s sticky toffee pudding recipe, but I never happened upon it until I was sitting down to write this.) The resulting dessert is sweet, salty, caramelized, strong, and unique. Its flavors are perhaps a bit confusing at first, but I think the way they swirl around your tongue, combining to create a balance of sweet and savory is a fun adventure.
Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding
Note: I have made this recipe now with both red and white miso paste. While I personally liked the white miso better, Caitlyn, Jonah, and Caitlyn’s boyfriend Dylan liked the red. On one hand, I think the deeper, more caramelized flavor of the red miso was nice, and on the other, the white provided a little more brightness, while bringing the same level of saltiness. Both are good, so it’s up to you which you use.
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup muscovado sugar (if you don’t have that, demerera or dark brown sugar will do)
2 1/2 Tbl molasses (we used Blackstrap)
2-3 tsp miso paste (start with two teaspoons, and add up to another teaspoon to taste)
1-2 Tbl toasted sesame seeds
6 ounces pitted dates, snipped into small pieces
1 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup candied ginger, chopped
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt, preferably fine
4 Tbl unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
toasted sesame seeds, to serve
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and butter an 8 1/2 inch porcelain soufflé dish, or something of a similar size.
In a medium sized saucepan, bring the cream, muscovado sugar (or other dark brown sugar), molasses, and miso to a boil, stirring often to melt the sugar, and keeping a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn. Lower the heat and let simmer for about five minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened and coats the spoon. Try your best to break up any chunks of miso. Pour roughly half the sauce into your buttered baking dish, sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds over the toffee sauce, and place the dish in the freezer. Set the pan with the rest of the sauce aside for serving.
In another medium saucepan, bring the dates and water to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda and ginger. Set aside, but keep slightly warm – leaving it on low heat isn’t a terrible idea.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large mixing bowl (you can use an electric mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla, stirring to combine. Add half of the flour mixture, then the date mixture, and then add the rest of the flour mixture, stirring between each addition. Be careful not to over-mix the batter.
Remove the baking dish from the freezer and pour the batter in over the toffee and sesame seeds. Bake for 50 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. Allow it to cool slightly before serving. To serve, warm the toffee sauce, spoon portions of the pudding onto plates or bowls, and top with the warm toffee sauce and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream will make a nice topping. I’ve also topped mine with some homemade anise-cardamom ice cream (based on the anise ice cream from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop).
According to Lebovitz, if you’re making the pudding in advance of serving, bake it without the toffee in the bottom of the dish. Close to serving time, poke the cake about 15 times with a chopstick or skewer, and distribute half the toffee sauce over the top. Cover with foil, warm in a 300 degree oven for about 30 minutes, and then follow the serving instructions above.
Dang. It’s almost July. I apologize for my absence of late. Things have been a little busy lately, and Jonah hasn’t been here to cook me dinner, so I haven’t had as much time for writing and recipe researching as I’d like. Yesterday I was able to hit up the Organic Beer Festival here in Portland, and it was lovely, despite the clouds. Here are the weekend finds.
This video has been circling the internet (at least, in my food-centric newsfeeds). It’s pretty great, and teaches us a new, much more sensible way to cut a cake. Keep that pastry fresh and moist longer.
3. Pancake in a rice cooker…?
Jonah discovered this method for making basically a large, thick pancake in your rice cooker. I’m not sure I believe that it will work, but I’m willing to give it a shot. Because how hilarious does that thing look?
4. Green Rice Salad with Corn and Nectarines
I’ll be honest, as far as summer salads go, this one from Not Without Salt has officially skyrocketed to the top of my list. Rice with cilantro, parsley, and jalapeño, topped with nectarines, grilled corn, and queso fresco? This is going on my July 4th menu.
5. Car Trunk Organizers
You know that feeling when you go to the grocery store, grab a 6 pack of beer, a bag of apples, maybe some chips, etc. You pack it all into the car and as you’re pulling out of the parking lot, you hear the sound. The sound of your apples falling onto your chips, crushing every one of them, the apples roll out into your trunk, and the beer bottles tip over out of their little cardboard case, and then spend the next 10 minutes clinking around in your trunk, no doubt bruising some apples. There is a thing that can stop all of that from happening. Read all about it here.