Magazine Cuisine

Hot weather heaven: Strawberry Cheesecake Pops.

Remember the Good Humor truck?

good-humor-truck-with-kidsOkay, I don’t go back that far, but I do remember the Good Humor man.

Oh how I loved Chocolate Eclair and Strawberry Shortcake bars. Delish! And those red-white-and-blue Bomb Pops, orange Push-ups, ice cream sandwiches, and my favorite: Fudgsicles (“fudgickles” to the rest of us). Hot weather heaven.

After a long and chilly midwestern spring, Memorial Day weekend brought sunshine and warm breezes (and rain, no surprise), so summer can't be too far off. And what better way to usher in ice cream season than with Strawberry Cheesecake popsicles! And where can you buy Strawberry Cheesecake popsicles? Answer: nowhere! But you can
make them. It takes a bit more effort than pouring Kool-Aid into paper cups, but the results will be worth it (and fairly low-fat, too).

strawberry-cheesecake-popsicles-1

The recipe comes from
Cooking Light magazine, courtesy of my doctor's office -- which kept me waiting just long enough to find the recipe but not so long that I had to read the whole issue twice.

As soon as I saw these pops, I was immediately on the hunt for a classic popsicle mold,
which I found at World Market -- advertised as a set of two but you can buy them separately, thank goodness. We don't need to make 20 popsicles at a time just yet. And they come with a packet of wooden sticks, too.

You'll note I keep saying "
popsicle." I know, I know -- popsicle is a brand name, but I can't help it. I just can't bring myself to say "ice pop." Too generic. For me, sweet frozen things on a stick will always be POPsicles.

(Oh my golly, even as I type this the ice cream truck is chiming its way merrily up our street!)

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Fresh strawberries (although you could certainly use thawed frozen berries if that's easier) are blended with lemon juice and corn syrup for one half of the pop. Don't balk at that corn syrup -- it helps the strawberries freeze softly rather than rock hard. Separately you mix together evaporated milk, sugar, low fat cream cheese, fat free Greek yogurt and vanilla.


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Pour the mixtures alternately into your popsicle mold or even paper cups. These molds are 4 ounces, and I got ten pops out of the recipe.

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DETOUR:
Cooking Light's recipe calls for dipping the frozen pops into crushed graham cracker crumbs before serving, but I knew that wouldn't be enough for me (plus, how would those crumbs stick?) It's the slightly sweet, buttery graham cracker crust that balances cheesecake's cream-cheesiness. So I made half a recipe of graham cracker crust (see below), which I crumbled and dropped into the molds as each layer of popsicle filling was added, and tucked some on top when they were full. It's fiddly but oh so worth it! Next time I'll drop some crust crumbles into the molds even before I start filling, so those first bites have buttery graham crust in them.

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When the molds are filled, gently swirl the mixture with a popsicle stick or skewer to mix them up just a bit but not too much. You still want that nice separation of cheesecake and strawberry flavors, just as you get with a slice of cheesecake.

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They should be frozen and ready to eat in 3-4 hours. When ready, run warm water over each of the molds for a few minutes, wiggle them out gently, and enjoy. The pops tasted
divine and elicited sounds of delight from all who ate them. They evoke the cool, creamy flavor of strawberry cheesecake without all the cheesy heaviness. And the bites of graham cracker crust throughout were perfection, if I say so myself.

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The popsicle mold will be getting an additional workout when I make the
New York Times' Frozen Fudge Pop recipe. Sure, it's easier to buy Fudgesicles, but when the recipe calls for 54% cacao chocolate ... well, I have to try making them. And at some point in the future I'll be spiking popsicles -- can't buy booze-sicles at the grocery store!

Here is the Cooking Light recipe for Strawberry Cheesecake Pops (their word, not mine -- mine would be "popsicles"). My half-recipe for graham cracker crust mix-in is below. The Good Humor man never had it so good. Bring on summer!


Graham Cracker Crust

This is ideal baked in a toaster oven because it's such a small quantity.

5 oz. finely crushed graham crackers (about 9-10 squares)
2 Tablespoons sugar
2-1/2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat toaster oven or conventional oven to 375 degrees.

In a smallish bowl, stir the graham cracker crumbs and sugar until completely blended. Add melted butter and mix well, until all crumbs have been coated and the mixture clumps a little. Press into a toaster oven pan or a pie pan to about 1/4" thick or thicker, if you like.

Bake for 4-5 minutes -- keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn. It will cook quickly! Remove from oven and allow to cool either in the pan, or lift it out and cool on a rack. Crumble into pieces as large or small as you like and sprinkle into your molds. I used probably less than half of this recipe for my popsicles, but next time I'll add more to each one.


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Chocolate and lazy churros.

Magazine Cuisine

Chocolate and lazy churros small
The tasty treats in the photo at left will, I hope, inspire you to read through my longwindedness--in which I publicly proclaim my anglophilism--until you get to the "Chocolate and lazy churros" part of this post.

I have a weakness for
British Country Living magazine. It is a beautiful oversized magazine with articles about actual country living. In the gorgeous British country. My personal dream come true. It has beautiful photos, uninterrupted articles (don't you hate when the last half of an article is buried in the classifieds at the very back of the magazine? I do), interesting recipes (with ingredients like "courgettes"), and the ads don't feel like ads because, well, probably because I'm a naive American who worships (almost) anything from Britain (is it England or Britain?) even their advertising. Ads for companies like Howdens Joinery Co., Quooker Taps, Billington's Sugar, Vale Garden Houses, and the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show beat the stuffing out of ads for those freakishly realistic looking baby dolls. I know that sounds snobbish! And anti-American, which I truly disdain. I love being American, and I'm proud of it. But when I'm reading this lovely magazine ... I'd rather be British.

So I occasionally pick up an issue (someday I'll get an actual subscription ... hint hint, Mr. Smith!), especially at Christmas time (which is quickly approaching, Mr. Smith!), when I want to lose myself in Britishness. The absolutely only drawback of this magazine is the recipes are in grams and liters (oops!
litres), difficult for a gal who loves to cook and wants to make "Sweet-sour rabbit with chocolate," but who lives in a pounds-and-ounces world. So after I bought my pretty green Escali Primo digital scale I quickly started choosing which British recipe I would try first.

BCL's chocolate and churros
I decided to pass on "Sweet sour rabbit" when I saw "Marinate the rabbit in the fridge overnight ..." Oh, actual rabbit, not rarebit. Okay, no thank you. Instead, I decided on "Chocolate and lazy churros" -- thickened hot chocolate accompanied by quick-fried tortillas. Clearly this is not a uniquely British snack. In fact, it's absolutely Spanish/Mexican in origin. But it kicks off the British edition of Someplace in between's Magazine Cuisine nicely.

Unfortunately, I didn't need my trusty Escali scale for this one, but I did have to consult the "ml" side of my pyrex measuring cup. SO British!

churros frying in the pan
I used a mere quarter inch of canola oil (the recipe calls for olive oil, but I worried that would be too heavy) to fry strips of both white and wheat flour tortillas. They took only about 15-20 seconds to cook on each side, so I couldn't be Facebooking or playing with the dog or watching episodes of "
Monarch of the Glen" while I was doing this. It was a pretty quick succession of plop (or place, to avoid splattering hot oil all over my hands), sizzle, flip, sizzle, remove. Repeat until desired number of tortillas have been fried. Truly easy.

churro closeup
Drizzle honey (plain old generic clover honey is fine) and cinnamon sugar, or just a dusting of cinnamon, on the hot fried tortillas. Voila! "Lazy churros."

making the hot chocolate
The "dipping chocolate" is hot chocolate made creamy and flavorful with evaporated milk and thickened with a tablespoon of cornstarch ("slaked in a little water"--how British is that!). I mixed evaporated milk and 2% milk about equally--I love evaporated milk, but hot chocolate made exclusively from evaporated would be too rich even for me. The finished chocolate is really like drinkable pudding that is creamy, thick, and downright luxurious. And reasonably low in fat, for hot chocolate.

Chocolate and lazy churros are a lovely mid-morning break!
The whole wheat churros were every bit as good as the white flour ones, although the white flour version tasted more like the real thing. The recipe calls for serving them plain but I couldn't resist the drizzle of honey and sprinkle of cinnamon.

dipping the churro into the chocolate
The test: does the dipping chocolate coat the churro? Yes it does!

empty chocolate cup
'Nuf said. Do try this on a chilly Autumn weekend. It's pretty fast and easy, and even the frying isn't as messy and oppressive as, say, frying doughnuts in 3 inches of hot oil. Enjoy!

Chocolate and lazy churros
From the April 2010 edition of Country Living, British Edition

Preparation: 5 minutes
Cooking: about 10 minutes

Serves 4
FOR THE DIPPING CHOCOLATE
4 heaped tablespoons good-quality cocoa powder
750 ml whole or evaporated milk
1 level tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch), slaked in a little water
sugar or honey to sweeten
ground cinnamon to decorate

FOR THE CHURROS

4 wheatflour tortillas, chapatis or pitta breads
olive oil for shallow frying

1. In a heavy-bottomed pan over a gentle heat, whisk the cocoa into the milk till it dissolves. Whisk in the cornflour. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat, then sweeten to taste and serve sprinkled with cinnamon.

2. Snip your breads into ribbons, about the width of your thumb. Fry in shallow olive oil until crisp and golden, then transfer to kitchen paper to drain.

Notes: I used half evaporated and half 2% milk for the chocolate. I used white and wheat flour tortillas for the churros and fried them in canola oil.

Feel free to leave a comment!
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More pumpkin: Spiced dinner rolls.

Magazine Cuisine

It might seem excessive to serve pumpkin rolls with Harvest Pumpkin Salad. But not for me! These "Spiced Dinner Rolls," from the same issue of Victoria Magazine as the pumpkin salad, have a small amount of brown sugar as well as nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice, but they can swing sweet or savory. Savory or sweet. They work just as well sopping up bacon-flavored balsamic vinaigrette as they do smothered in butter and honey. Such versatility is handy in a bread! And pumpkin + bread = two of my favorite food experiences in one. Bonus: I've included the recipe below.

Pumpkin rolls ingredients
Just 1/4 cup of brown sugar gives these rolls the barest hint of sweetness. And of course there is the requisite canned pumpkin lending its lovely color to the kitchen on a cool autumn afternoon.

Pumpkin rolls 2
I thank the Yeast Goddess (and a sprinkling of sugar) for once again activating my expired yeast!

Pumpkin rolls proofed yeast
You'd almost think you were making a spiced pumpkin cake, what with the egg, heavy cream, sugar, nutmeg and flour.

Pumpkin rolls makins in bowl
The batter is such a pretty color. But it's very wet, so a good deal of flour must be added to get a workable dough that isn't too sticky.

Pumpkin rolls mixed together
This lovely orange-hued ball of dough has been kneaded to perfect elasticity and is ready to rise.

Pumpkin rolls dough ball
The recipe calls for rolling the dough into balls and placing each ball into the individual wells of a muffin tin. I don't have enough muffin tins to accommodate this in one baking, so I tucked about a dozen balls each into two round cake pans. The dough balls rose and puffed into each other nicely, and browned wonderfully in the oven.
Pumpkin rolls finished
What's the first thing you do with a batch of freshly baked pumpkin rolls? Split one open and let butter melt all over the warm insides! I love butter. Pumpkin + bread + butter = ORGANIC. Oh my. Well, you probably know I meant to type something else, but this is more or less an all-ages blog. (I did use organic pumpkin in this recipe.) After butter, try other toppings like apple butter, or cheddar cheese. But not at the same time. Although, wait ... apples and cheddar go well so I just might have to try them together. Any excuse to dig into those rolls! The "spice" is very subtle--they aren't overly pumpkin-pie-like. A nice complement to an autumnal meal whenever a warm (preferably buttered) roll is called for.

Pumpkin rolls apple butter

Spiced Dinner Rolls
From the September/October 2008 Victoria Magazine

Makes 24 rolls

1 cup fresh or canned pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup warm heavy cream (110 degrees F)
1 package dry active yeast
4 cups bread flour, divided
1/4 cup clarified butter
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 egg
Walnut Caramel Butter (see
Victoriamag.com for recipe)

  • In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin puree and vanilla extract; set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together the brown sugar and warm cream until sugar is dissolved; sprinkle the yeast on top, and let mixture stand for 10 minutes.
  • Add 2 cups flour, pumpkin puree mixture, butter, salt, vinegar, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, and egg to the yeast mixture.
  • Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat mixture until smooth. Stir in 1-1/2 cups flour to form a sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, adding enough of the remaining flour to prevent the dough from sticking to hands.
  • Place the dough in a large lightly greased bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place, free from drafts, for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  • Coat 2 (12-cup) muffin tins with cooking spray. Punch down the dough, cut into 24 equal pieces, and shape each piece into a ball. Place each ball into a well of prepared muffin tin. Cover with the kitchen towel, and let rise 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover dough, and bake for 15 minutes. Cool rolls slightly on wire racks before serving. Serve warm with Walnut Caramel Butter.
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Harvest Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette.

Magazine Cuisine

See if you can believe this: pumpkin lover though I am, I've cooked with a fresh pumpkin only once in my life: bread-pudding stuffed pumpkin from a Victory Gardens recipe my brother Mark shared with me years ago. Then I managed to lose the recipe and haven't cooked with fresh pumpkin since, although I've used a good deal of the canned kind (thank goodness the canned pumpkin shortage is over!). Until last weekend, that is, when I finally tried "Harvest Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette" from the September/October 2008 issue of Victoria Magazine. (This recipe is not posted at the Victoria mag site, unfortunately.)

I've been drooling over the Harvest Salad recipe for two years: imagine seasoned (and
bathed in butter) baked pumpkin slices atop mixed greens then tossed with bacon/balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkled with toasted pecans. Gimme! Grocery stores around here don't generally carry small pie pumpkins (or "sugar" pumpkins) meant for cooking and eating, so when I saw them at a local garden center for $3 each I pounced.
Pumpkin salad ingredients
This is the first time I've carved a pumpkin in September, I'm sure of that.

Pumpkin salad punkin
I cut out the top, then sliced the wee thing in half. Oh, that fresh pumpkin smell really brings Halloween closer! I breathed it in for a few minutes, while visions of jack o'lanterns danced in my head. A bonus: these smaller pumpkins are much easier to cut through then thick carving pumpkins.

Pumpkin salad cut open punkin
I considered baking the seeds, but there's plenty of time for that come the end of October. That's another wonderful smell in the house--seasoned pumpkin seeds baking on a cookie sheet. One of my favorite scents of autumn!

Pumpkin salad punkin open seeds
Peeling wasn't too bad, but pumpkins certainly have tougher skin than apples or carrots. Our nice sharp vegetable peeler helped (I would not recommend a paring knife for this task), although the skin tended to fly off in big flakes all over the kitchen. It was messy but manageable.

Pumpkin salad cutting up
Now butter is melted with salt, pepper and garlic powder, then brushed onto the slices. Anything brushed with melted seasoned butter is, in my cookbook, destined to be delicious! I love butter, especially when it is melting onto something hot like rice, vegetables, pasta or homemade bread. As far as I'm concerned, butter is the elixir of life.

Pumpkin salad buttered slices
A simple vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, olive oil (I used our favorite Lucini, one of the few real indulgences in our pantry--don't freak too badly when you see the price, it's worth every penny), chopped garlic, and crumbled crispy bacon is whisked together. In the future I might leave the bacon out of the dressing and instead crumble it over the dressed salad. The recipe also called for liberally dressing the greens in advance with the vinaigrette; I opted toss them with the merest drizzle--just enough to make them glisten and give them some flavor.

Pumpkin salad greens cheese
The fully assembled salad, if I humbly say so myself, was extremely tasty! The mix of flavors and textures worked beautifully together: warm, buttery seasoned pumpkin, bright tangy mixed greens, savory-salty bacon vinaigrette, crunchy toasted pecans.

Pumpkin salad day 1
Somehow the lightly dressed greens gave the whole dish a sophistication I don't normally accomplish (or even aim for) at home. We sprinkled parmesan cheese on top, but agreed it didn't really need the cheese. Which is saying a lot because we love sprinkling freshly grated parmesan cheese on just about everything. (We also love slicing it up and snacking on it while we're preparing dinner.)

Kenny gave his enthusiastic approval, too, saying that if we opened a restaurant this should be at the top of the menu. He's a generous and wonderfully willing culinary guinea pig! We probably won't be opening a restaurant, but we'll be eating a lot of pumpkin dishes--including this one--over the next few months.

Pumpkin salad day 2
It was equally tasty as leftovers two days later. And it was a delicious diversion from sweetened pumpkin recipes, although there will be more of those to come in the very near future! Next up, though: Spiced Pumpkin Rolls, also from Victoria Magazine.

Harvest Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette
From the September/October 2008 Victoria Magazine

Makes 6 servings

1 baking pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-1/2-inch-thick slices
1/4 cup melted butter
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 shallot, minced
6 cups salad greens
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted pecans

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.
  • Place the pumpkin slices 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and garlic powder; evenly coat pumpkin slices with the butter mixture. Roast pumpkin for4 20 minutes, or until tender.
  • Using a food processor, mix together the oil, vinegar, remaining salt, remaining pepper, bacon, and shallot until well blended.
  • In a large bowl, toss the salad greens with 3/4 cup of the vinaigrette. Mound the greens on a serving plate, and top with roasted pumpkin. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the pumpkin, and top with the Parmesan cheese and pecans.

Notes: I flipped the pumpkin slices about halfway through baking. I used precooked bacon, to save time (it toasts up nice and crisp in a toaster oven in about 3 minutes). I drizzled just a small amount of the vinaigrette on the greens, instead of using the 3/4 cup called for.
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Chocolate lavender vanilla cookies might cause romance.

Magazine Cuisine

Next to roses and holly, lavender is one of the most romantic plants I can think of to have in the garden. I’ve tried several times to bring this romance to my various yards, but sadly the plants always died off. This time around I must have amended the soil with enough sand to recreate the hillsides of Provence, and it is flourishing at last! And another thing? When I’m watering the garden, I pass right over it. I literally ignore this beauty, and it thrives.

Lavender plantThis bushy lavender plant reassures me that I'm at least a half-decent gardener.

Known for its calming therapeutic properties (we have a soft lavender-filled wrap that, after a few minutes in the microwave, does wonders for neck tension and headaches), lavender has historically had a place in the kitchen, too. It adds perfume to sweets, earthy depth to savory dishes, and makes a calming tea--Queen Elizabeth I drank it to soothe her migraines. I’ve long wanted to experiment with recipes calling for lavender buds or syrup, and the May/June 2010 issue of Victoria Magazine--plus my bumper crop of home-grown lavender--inspired me to make “Lavender and Vanilla Bean Cookies.” If smelling, sipping and wrapping oneself in the scent of lavender helps heal and relax, then surely eating the stuff is bound to result in total bliss!

Lavender harvest
In June my plant was thick with gorgeous purpley stems, which I harvested and dried in lovely fragrant bunches. I disbudded a number of them for the recipe, then discovered that our sweet Miss Molly cat liked to make a mess of what was left in order to nibble the dried stems. I finally had to hide the few remaining bunches on top of the highest bookshelf in the house. Bad kitty.

Lavender cookies stems
That's my green Escali Primo digital scale peeking into the picture. I love that scale! It measures food (and yarn, letters, etc.) in grams or ounces, so now I not only can make recipes from British Country Living magazine (in which all ingredients are measured in grams and liters), but I also can estimate how much yarn I have in a partial ball, how much I've used, how much is left in a ball--especially handy if I'm, say, trying to use exactly half a ball for something. It also lets you place a measuring cup, bowl, pan, or other receptacle on the scale and re-set the weight to zero so you can measure things into the receptacle. It was a worthy investment and I highly recommend it.

These are simple, easy-to-make sugar cookies flavored with lavender-vanilla flavored sugar, which you make in advance (but can make and use the same day as you are making the cookies) and a tablespoon of lavender buds.

Lavender cookies sugar vanilla beans
Just look how pretty that lavender-vanilla sugar mixture is! And it smells heavenly.

Lavender cookies vanilla sugar
I made half the recipe called for (about two cups), used half that in the cookies, and have another cup left ripening in a ball jar.

Lavender cookies vanilla sugar jars
Stick your nose inside a jar of this sugar and you will swoon! You could also sift out the lavender buds to use the scented sugar in hot tea or other recipes. The flavor is subtle and very appealing.

The sugar cookie dough, which includes two eggs for some added richness, goes together quickly, is chilled until firm, then rolled out.

Lavender cookies ingredients
Those dark blobs are the tiny black vanilla seeds scraped from one of the beans.

Lavender cookies ingredients 2
Once again the pink Kitchenaid Cook for the Cure handmixer goes to work!

Lavender cookies blending
Lavender buds are so pretty to work with.

Lavender cookies blending 2
After rolling and cutting, some of the cookies came out a trifle malformed. Didn't affect the taste one bit! How about that. Don't the lavender buds look pretty in the dough?

Lavender cookies baking sheet 1
You can see the wee flecks of real vanilla bean. I also sprinkled a few of the cookies with turbinado sugar. It was good, but didn't make or break the recipe so I'd leave it off next time.

Lavender cookies baking sheet closeup
Cooked cookies chillin' out and awaiting the taste-test.

Lavender cookies baked
So, how does lavender taste when baked into cookies? On my palate it imparts a clean, piney flavor which is foiled nicely by the gently flavored sugar cookie dough. It's a new and fascinating taste--not an unpleasant one, though, and not perfumey as one might expect. Everyone in the house liked them (even the kids!), though they were initially hesitant to try them. (Lavender is for soap and candles and potpourri and Method house cleaning spray, not cookies.)

They were tasty, indeed, but I couldn’t be content to leave them plain and decided they needed a dip in some melted dark chocolate. Out came the Trader Joe’s Belgian chocolate bars!

Lavender cookies dipped 5
The result was divine. Chocolate, lavender and vanilla in a sugar cookie is an elegant, even sexy combination--light, rich and fragrant all at once. I think you could seduce someone with one or two of these treats. After all, lavender is known as, well, a mood enhancer especially for men, according to a study by the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. (So is pumpkin which, lucky me, Kenny likes as much as I do ...). In fact, they are so delicious with the chocolate it’s difficult for me to eat only one (or two) of these cookies. And the crisper, more golden cookies were the absolute best ones--next time I will carefully brown as many as possible.

Lavender cookies dipped 4
Not surprisingly, a plate of Chocolate Lavender Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies goes perfectly with a pot of hot tea--Republic of Tea Kiwi Pear Green is almost always my choice but any of the typical English/Irish/Scottish black teas would do well.

Lavender cookies and tea
I also cooked up some Lavender Simple Syrup from the same issue of Victoria Magazine, hoping to make a pitcher of refreshing Lavender Lemonade. Well, notwithstanding my suspicions that the proportions in the recipe were incorrect (or it could be that I'm just no good at making this concoction), the simple syrup was not my cup of tea. It ended up too cloying, perfumey and sweet, even when tempered with water, ice and lemons. I poured it down the drain. Lavender buds in cookies are lovely; lavender buds simmered with sugar and water are not.

Lavender syrupLooks nice enough, yes? But I shudder even at the memory of it. Too sickly-perfume-sweet, in my humble opinion.

Ah well, perhaps my culinary adventures with lavender will be limited to scrumptious, seductive Chocolate Lavender Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies. I can't exactly guarantee they will improve your love life (or mine) ... but it can't hurt to give them a try. Um, is it getting warm in here, or ... ?
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It's Pumpkin season!

Magazine Cuisine!

Brrrrrrrr, it’s chilly out there! Whether the sun is shining or the skies are gray and blustery, the weather is wonderfully autumnal now. And when October gets cold and windy, my appetite for all things pumpkin is piqued. After a good long walk outside in the chilly air enjoying the fall color (and sometimes even without it), I'm ready to start cooking some of the numerous pumpkin recipes I’ve collected over the years. Pumpkin is a quintessential fall food, and there are so many sweet and savory ways to use it beyond pumpkin pies (not that there’s anything wrong with pies). I've got recipes for pumpkin bread, rolls, macaroni and cheese, stews, polenta, and salad, as well as pies, tarts, cakes, flan, pudding, gingerbread, ice cream and pancakes, to name but a few. The season isn't long enough to make them all, and I don't know where to begin! But we have to start somewhere, so let's start with brownies.
melting butter n chocolate
Oh how I love butter melting into dark chocolate!

I found Pumpkin Swirl Brownies at the Everything-Pumpkin blog. Pumpkin and chocolate are a surprisingly tasty combination, which I discovered as a teenager on my birthday when mom made my favorite devil’s food cake with dark chocolate icing, and bought a quart of pumpkin ice cream from Baskin Robbins. I’ve been hooked on chocolate/pumpkin ever since, and in these brownies the pairing is every bit as good. You make a plain vanilla batter, divide it in half, then add pumpkin and spices to one half and melted dark chocolate to the other.
chocolate and pumpkin batters
Layer and swirl them together in the pan, and bake. Delish! I skipped the cayenne and nuts, and substituted allspice for the nutmeg. Also, in my 9x9 inch pan these brownies were very thick and took quite a while to cook. Next time I’ll use my oddball 8x11 glass pan.
pumpkin swirl brownies in pan
They were so very good -- the moist pumpkin swirl tasted just like pumpkin pie, and complemented the rich dark chocolate swirl beautifully. They freeze well and can be warmed up nicely in the microwave. Perfect with a cold glass of milk, a steaming cup of coffee, or a simple pot of tea.
pumpkin swirl brownies on plate
Just a few days later we woke up on a cool, sunny Sunday morning and decided to make Pumpkin Ginger Waffles from the October 2009 issue of Country Living magazine. I usually find waffles too heavy or crispy, but this recipe made light, moist, flavorful waffles that filled the kitchen with the cozy fragrance of pumpkin and ginger while they cooked in our heart-shaped waffle maker. I omitted the crystallized ginger, thinking it might have made the ginger flavor a little too intense, and increased the cinnamon to a teaspoon.
pumpkin waffle closeup
We served them butter, naturally, and real maple syrup, which we hide in the back of the fridge and then discreetly pour into a small ceramic pitcher before serving ourselves, to keep our kids (whom we love very much) from flooding their plates with it ($$$!!) and then dumping half of it into the sink with their unfinished breakfasts (which would break our hearts mightily -- they get the Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworth's, until they're older). The only thing that might have made these better would be slices of warm Canadian bacon. Oh what a way to begin a fall day!

On a more savory note, I have been eyeing the Autumn Bisque recipe in the September/October 2008 issue of Victoria Magazine for an entire year now, and decided to make it recently on a brisk Saturday afternoon. It was creamy and delicious, especially topped with a sprinkling of fresh parmesan and black pepper, and accompanied by a warm grainy baguette (with butter melting all over it, of course!). The color is gorgeous and so well-suited to a chilly fall night.
Pumpkin bisque
Kenny grates fresh parmesan into our bowls of bisque. Mmmmm! The photo does not do this lovely soup justice.

The original recipe (which is not posted online) calls for mushrooms, onions, and red pepper flakes. I skipped the mushrooms, whose earthy richness might have competed with, not complemented, the mild pumpkin. I also left out the red pepper flakes, so we could enjoy a nice comforting soup without the spicy challenge to our tastebuds. My only regret was using the 1-1/2 cups of onion called for in the recipe, as well as the sliced sauteed leek. I’m not a big fan of onion, and generally either reduce or leave it out completely. I thought the onion overpowered the mellow pumpkin flavor, so I’ve modified the recipe to include more garlic and zero onion. Light coconut milk adds creaminess and just a hint of coconut flavor that doesn’t distract from the main player ... pumpkin! Because pumpkin is what it’s all about right now.

Thankfully, Kenny isn’t tired of pumpkin. Yet. I made pumpkin macaroni and cheese last week, and Curried Scallops on Pumpkin Polenta is in the queue. Oh it’s going to be a delicious fall!

Pumpkin Bisque
Adapted from "Autumn Bisque" recipe in September/October 2008 issue of Victoria Magazine.

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, divided
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic (depending on how much you love garlic!)
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
4 cups chicken broth, divided
3 cups canned pumpkin puree (or fresh, if desired)
1 13.5-ounce can light coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tsp fresh chopped type, or 1/4 tsp dried
Toasted pumpkin seeds and grated parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)

In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt the olive oil and butter. Add the garlic, carrots and celery, and sautee until tender, about 5-8 minutes. Add 2 cups chicken broth and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for 15-20 minutes. Pour broth mixture into a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Return pureed mixture to pot and turn heat up to medium. Add remaining broth, pumpkin puree, and coconut milk and heat through. Stir in the salt, lemon juice and thyme and simmer for about 10 minutes. Garnish with pumpkin seeds and/or grated parmesan cheese, if using.

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