Friday, July 29, 2011

Pumpkin Cupcakes w/ Cream Cheese Frosting

Finished cupcakes are a fairly flat, but you can pile on the icing if you like.
My mother's pumpkin bread is the definition of Fall. It's spicy, warm, and full of rich goodness. (Being a walking thesaurus, I would also add apple crisp, potato soup, and a few other dishes under the heading of "definition of Fall.")

However, it's July. So when one of my favorite little girls, who has a birthday coming up, told me that her favorite kind of cake was pumpkin, I thought I might be able to lighten up mom's classic pumpkin bread into a more summer-friendly cupcake. Cooking without a recipe is the norm for me, but this was one of my first attempts at changing key scientific players (flour, eggs, baking soda, baking powder, sugar) drastically in a recipe for baked goods. It was kind of exhilarating. And it worked!

So, behold, pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

For Pumpkin Cupcakes
Yields about 32 cupcakes, or 24 cupcakes and one loaf

1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 15 oz. can of pumpkin
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground ginger (or fresh, optional)
 1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground clove
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk

2 1/2 cups + 4 Tblsp. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup chopped dates (semi optional—it's definitely better with them, but still good without)
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 cupcake tins with paper liners. In a large mixing bowl, combine shortening and sugars; whip until slightly fluffy. And pumpkin and blend, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically. Add vanilla, salt, and spices; blend. Beat eggs lightly and add to batter along with the milk. Scrape sides of bowl and blend thoroughly.

2. Add 2 cups of flour with baking soda and baking powder. I like to mix the baking soda and powder into the flour just a bit with the handle end of my spatula before completely incorporating with my wet ingredients. When the first batch of flour is mixed in well, add remaining flour. Mix thoroughly, but don't blend the heck out of it. Add dates and chocolate chips and mix until evenly dispersed.

3. If you have a handy old-fashioned ice cream/batter scoop with a spring-loaded handle, this is a perfect time to use it. If not, use two large spoons or a scoop spatula to fill cupcake papers until they're about two-thirds full. Bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Check your first batch of cupcakes at about 12 minutes, just because all ovens are different and I think mine is slightly dysfunctional at the moment, so my time might be a bit off. These cupcakes remain fairly flat on top, so don't worry if they don't get fluffy tops.

 4. Prepare frosting of your choice (mine is cream cheese! see below) while the cupcakes cool. Frost, serve, and enjoy!

Cream Cheese Frosting
Okay, so here's the thing about frosting recipes: I think they're silly. Rather like Captain Barbosa, I see them more as... guidelines than actual rules. Every batch of frosting is a bit different. So here are the basic measurements for my starting point, then I add enough powdered sugar and milk to make as much frosting as I need at the consistency I want. Actually, that's not true; I always make far more frosting than I need. But when is too much frosting ever a bad thing?

6 oz. (3/4s of a block) cream cheese
3 Tblsp. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. allspice (optional)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1. In a medium bowl, whip together cream cheese, butter, salt, vanilla, and spices. (You'll want an electric mixer.) Blend until fluffy. Slowly incorporate about 1/4 cup of milk. Add about 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar. Blend and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue adding milk and sugar slowly until you have as much frosting as you want with a thick but spreadable consistency. I think I used about 4 cups of powdered sugar and a little over a cup of milk.

Wing it. Be daring with your frosting. And enjoy!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Strawberry Short-Order Cake

Strawberry shortcake is one of those quintessential summer treats. Biscuity shortcakes, fresh strawberries, and plenty of whipped cream. Heavenly.

But...sometimes a bit fussy. So for those of us with a bit less patience who want their cake with their berries in it, too, I present this simple, one-bowl, no-eggs, seven-ingredient, no-fuss, mostly from-scratch, (overly adjectivized) summer cake. Not too sweet, not at all pretentious, with that old-fashioned biscuit flavor that shows off the berries at their best. Great for breakfast. . . if you can leave any leftovers.

Note: I believe this recipe would work equally well with raspberries (for Leah!), blueberries, blackberries, peaches, or any blend thereof. Try it and let me know.

Strawberry Short-Order Cake
As liberally adapted from my mother's neighbor's recipe for peach cobbler.
1 1/4 cups sugar + 3 tblsp. for strawberries and dusting
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups Bisquick
1 cup milk
1—1 1/2 cups strawberries (or other suggested fruit; see note)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Slice strawberries into a small bowl and add about a tablespoon of sugar. Set aside.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients and stir until blended. Add milk and stir until the batter is relatively lump free. It should be a bit thicker than a typical cake batter. If it seems too dry, add a few tablespoons of milk. (or melted butter. You can choose. Culinary democracy.)

3. Pour 2/3 of the batter into a greased 8x8 baking dish. Add berries evenly. Spoon the rest of the batter over the berries, allowing a few berries to peek through. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake has a few crumbs clinging to it, but no gooey batter. The top of the cake should be golden brown.

Also... I need a more creative sign off than "Enjoy!" and Julie owns "Bon Appetit!" Any suggestions?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Butternut Squash Ravioli w/ Butter & Basil

Back in February of  2010, a dashing young gentleman treated me to a night at the symphony (Mahler's 5th—the finale is particularly wonderful) and dinner at one of Provo's swankiest eateries. I ordered a plate of butternut squash ravioli that was so subtle yet rich in depth and flavor that it led to a culinary epiphany. Since then, I've been trying to hone the art of subtle cooking that enhances a few key flavors. I had yet to try to replicate those influential raviolis, but when three butternut squash arrived in this weeks' Bountiful Basket, it seemed that the time was as ripe as the vegetables.
Have you threatened any vegetables lately?

This was my first experience with making pasta—from flour to finished product—myself. I have four main observations: 1) making ravioli is a labor of love; 2) fresh eggs (mine came from a neighbor's farm this morning) are crucial to the flavor and texture; 3) the water for boiling the pasta must be really salty; and 4) it's totally worth the extra effort.

Butternut squash was another ingredient I'd never handled before. I found that roasting the squash with some spices before pureeing it upped the flavor and softened the texture. Note: dismantling a butternut requires a very sharp knife.
Butternuts are beautiful.

Butternut Squash Ravioli
I started roasting the squash first, then made the pasta dough while the squash cooled. While the dough rested, I washed the bowl of the Cuisinart, then whipped the filling together. This gave the flavors of the filling some time to meld while I rolled out the dough by hand. My first attempt looked like an amoeba with vertigo. It's okay if it's not perfect.

For Filling
2 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into cubes
5-9 cloves of garlic (depending on preference), tops and bottoms trimmed but with the skin on
3 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. curry
further 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. onion powder
dash allspice
dash paprika
1/3 cup grated parmesan (not the powdery stuff. no.)

1. Set oven to 400°F. Wash and peel the squash (this is a bit tricky, but you can handle it). Cut off the top stem and a small portion of the bottom to make a steady base. Cut lengthwise once, then scoop out seeds. Dice into small cubes. Drizzle olive oil onto a baking sheet and scatter squash evenly; add whole garlic cloves. Sprinkle with nutmeg, curry, salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 20 minutes, then stir. Bake for another 20 minutes or until the squash is soft and shows some browning around the edges. Take the squash out of the oven to cool while you make the pasta.
Dough balls need to be kneaded.

For Pasta (from America's Test Kitchen's The New Best Recipe)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 fresh eggs

2. Add flour to the bowl of Cuisinart and pulse to evenly incorporate air. Add eggs and blend until a dough ball forms, rolling cleanly around the bowl. There will still be some small bits of dough not in the ball.  If the dough doesn't stick together, add water gradually by teaspoons. If the dough is sticky and clings to the bowl, add flour by tablespoons until it comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, adding a bit more flour until the dough feels soft, but not tacky. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside.

3. Clean Cuisinart and finish the  filling. Add roasted squash and garlic to the bowl, carefully removing the skins from the garlic first. Add 1/2 tsp additional nutmeg, 1 tsp onion powder, a dash of paprika, a dash of allspice, and salt and pepper to taste. Add grated parmesan. The squash will be sweet, but don't over-salt it. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically.
Squash filling and my second, more uniform strip of dough.

4. Divide pasta dough into three pieces. Cover your working surface with a light dusting of flour and roll the dough out until it is very thin, about the thickness of a tortilla. As you roll, flip the dough every so often, flouring the bottom and top as you work to prevent sticking. When the dough is thin and even, use a pizza cutter (or ravioli cutter, if you have one!) to cut it into 2 1/2 inch strips; loosen strips from countertop by gentle lifting them after they've been cut. Place squash filling by teaspoon-amount along one strip, about every 2 to 3 inches. Wet your finger with a small amount of water and trace along the edges of the ravioli strip and in between each bit of filling. Carefully place a second strip of dough on top of the first strip and filling, pressing the air out and sealing each bundle of joy filling. Divide the raviolis with a pizza cutter. Set made ravioli on a baking sheet lined with a dish towel while you repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat, etc.,  until you've used all of your dough.
Ready Ravioli—time to boil.

5. Fill a very large pot with hot water and bring it to a boil. Add at least one tablespoon of salt per quart of water; it should taste like seawater. Turn heat down to continue a rapid simmer, and carefully drop raviolis in to boil. Don't crowd the pot. Cook raviolis for about 4 minutes.

6. Serve topped with butter, finely shredded fresh basil, parmesan cheese, and pepper. I orignally served this pasta with a basil cream sauce, but the raviolis have more than enough flavor to stand alone.


Saturday, July 2, 2011


I could apologize for the lack of updates over the last month? two months? I've lost track. But no one has been pounding on my door, demanding new recipes or craving the random details of my life, so I figure the apology is not necessary. Besides, way too many people apologize for summer-induced blog neglect, brought about by too much sun and freedom. So I'm not going to do that.

However, if you are one of those scintillating, devastatingly attractive people called "followers," you might notice a change in scenery around Rush Slowly. I'm working on getting a new photograph for the header, and although this well-loved look was dear to me

I think it was time for a change. And I also think it's time for me to stop playing with colors and fonts and get back in the kitchen.

Remember when I raved about butternut squash ravioli over a year ago? There are three butternut squashes sitting on my kitchen table, just begging me to 1) draw faces on them and make them into a real family, then 2) oven-roast them and make them into ravioli with a basil cream sauce. Coming soon to a blog near you...