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Winter Squash Coconut Muffins

Winter Squash and Coconut Muffins

One of my favorite things to do with winter vegetables like beets and winter squash–both of which take a while to roast–is to roast big panfuls to have on hand for any number of savory or sweet uses. Since the roasting is basically unattended you can do it while you’re in the kitchen making something else for dinner or whenever you happen to be home for a bit or your oven is already on.  It then seems like such a coup to have those sweet, tender chunks of goodness in your fridge whenever you want them. I think of this as another element in my prepared pantry. A term I use to describe all those things (veggie bouillon, cooked, frozen beans, etc.) that enable you to make fast food with real, wonderful ingredients. I think I’ll devote a whole post to this concept one of these days. And as a matter of fact, some of my upcoming classes–Pantry Stocking & Quick Meals and Kitchen Confidence: Techniques &  Tools, Variations & Combinations–focus on just such things.

Sometimes I don’t even manage to make them squash or beets into anything but just snack on them or serve them as a side with good olive oil and salt and a drizzle of sherry vinegar for the beets. But often they go into salads or a risotto or soup or curry. The other day I had a bunch of roasted squash in the fridge as well as a partial can of coconut milk which I knew wouldn’t last much longer. So out of these two items these muffins were born.

The coarse sugar and toasted coconut make for a nice, crunchy topping. Don't skip this part--it really adds and you use more of the coconut in the batter it anyway.

The bake-with-what-you-have strategy does not always work but this time it did and I will open a new can of coconut milk and roast squash for just this purpose in the future. I added some chopped golden raisins (whole my son picks them out but chopped he doesn’t mind them) for sweetness, a bunch of fresh, grated ginger and some toasted shredded coconut. Next time I’m going to try adding some lime or lemon zest just for fun but there already is plenty going on in these. And in the bake-with-what-you-have vein, I’m sure these would be good with nuts instead of raisins or other dried fruit or different sweeteners so play around and let me know how it goes.

These muffins keep quite well since the squash keeps them moist.

Winter Squash Coconut Muffins

These muffins are not very sweet so up the sweetener a bit if you’d like. And the sweetness will also depend on the kind of squash you use. I used buttercup and would recommend it, kabocha, hubbard or butternut. You want a dense, dry-ish fleshed, sweet squash. But then again, use whatever you have and see how it goes!

About 16 – 20 muffins (I made 12 regular sized-ones and 8 smaller ones — see photo)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or spelt flour, etc. )
3/4 cup coconut sugar (or brown or regular granulated sugar)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¾  tsp salt kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
Generous 2 cups roasted winter squash
1/2 cup golden raisins (chopped if you have raisin dislikers in your circle)
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened, shredded coconut lightly toasted, divided (I did this while I was preheating the oven)
1 1/2 cups coconut milk (preferably full fat)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Topping:
2 tablespoons coarse sugar such as demerara or turbinado
3 tablespoons toasted, shredded coconut (from quantity listed above)

Preheat oven to 375. While it’s heating spread the shredded, unsweetened coconut on a sheet pan and toast until just beginning to turn golden. This can take anywhere from 5- 10 minutes. Check often and be careful not to burn.

Put the squash, eggs, ginger, coconut milk and vanilla in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Alternatively you can mash the squash with a fork (it should be nice and soft and easy to do) and then whisk all the wet ingredients together by hand.

Whisk the flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the squash coconut milk mixture, the raisins and toasted coconut (be sure to reserve 3 tablespoons for the topping) and stir until just combined. Don’t over mix.

Portion the batter into muffin tins, filling each one about 3/4 full. Sprinkle each unbaked muffin with the coarse sugar and toasted coconut, lightly pressing down on the topping so it sticks well.

Bake for about 15 – 18 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Rice Custard

One of the first things I remember my husband cooking was this rice custard. We have been together 19 years today and I remember him talking to his mom over the phone asking her to track down this recipe that he had made as a kid. The phone conversation resulted in a somewhat terse handwritten version on a scrap of paper that he occasionally unearthed from my overflowing recipe binder over the years. Many years later his mother gave him the old Fannie Farmer Cookbook (1959) where this recipe originated.

Rice Custard from the 1959 The Fannie Farmer Cookbook made by my husband Brian.

This last weekend Brian made the rice custard again, on a lovely lazy Saturday (the first Saturday in a month that I hadn’t taught a class) and we ate rice custard at 4:30pm with the sun shining in the window. Ellis exclaimed gleefully mid-way through his bowl, “we’re having dessert right before dinner!” I spooned the very last of my boozy fruit (mostly cherries preserved in rum that had been “marinating” for 7 months now) over the custard and found the custard to be the perfect foil for it.

So there we were the three of us, eating warm, luscious rice custard on a late afternoon in February almost 20 years since Brian and I first met. As old as I sometimes feel these days, life also just seems to be getting better and better. And food made with love . . . don’t need much more than that.

Rice Custard
 –adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (1959)

Heat in a double boiler (or any heat proof bowl over a pan of gently boiling water)
2 cups milk
2 generous cups cooked rice (we use white Jasmine but short grain brown or white could work too) from one cup uncooked rice.

Beat until smooth in a separate bowl
2 egg yolks
scant 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add the hot milk and rice slowly, whisking constantly, to the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Pour back into the double boiler and cook until thick (about 10 minutes would be my guess).

Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the zest of half a lemon and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and/or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Gently fold in the two stiffly beaten egg whites (leftover from your two egg yolks earlier). It’s best warm, right after it’s made.

Enjoy!

Happy Valentine's Day

Frittata

It’s like a pizza but eggy! That’s how my five-year-old (as of yesterday five-year-old!) said to his teacher this morning when asked what his favorite food at his birthday party had been. I beg to differ on the likeness to pizza but it is one of my favorite dishes. I teach it regularly in vastly different incarnations but have never written about it here.

Frittata with kale, chili flakes and nutmeg

It’s a bit like pizza in that you can adapt it endlessly and it hails from the same country but that’s about it. There’s no yeast dough to make and let rise and there’s no floury mess to clean up. Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza but don’t find myself making it when I have a hungry crowd to feed and only 20 minutes in which to prepare something.

A frittata can be as simple as the one in one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies — Big Night — as in just egg and salt. The eggs are lightly beaten, seasoned and then cooked in a skillet until firm. When I experienced them being in made in Italy they were usually flipped part way through, usually with the assistance of a little crust of bread that served as the heat absorbing extension of your hand when managing the flipping maneuver.  I’ve long since adopted the finishing-in-the-broiler method instead of flipping but if you’re lacking excitement in your cooking routines by all means, flip away! As a matter of fact my broiler quit working in class once a long time ago and I found myself needing to flip a 12-egg frittata in a huge cast iron skillet so if you’re lacking a broiler, you’ll get your practice in any case.

This weekend I made two frittate for my son’s birthday party: one with finely chopped, kale, onion, chili flakes and a bit of nutmeg and one with diced potatoes, sausage and fresh oregano. They really are the easiest, most portable and nourishing item to make for a party. They are delicious at room temperature and you don’t need a fork or even a plate. With the addition of meat and potatoes they are even heartier and they are the perfect foil for bits and pieces of vegetables that may be in the bottom of your crisper. Some of my favorites include lots of herbs either alone or in combination–parsley, basil, chives, thyme, tarragon, etc. And this time of year the hearty, leafy greens or leeks (with thyme and goat cheese) are my standby’s.

The birthday party frittate from this weekend: kale, chili flake and nutmeg, and sausage and potato.

Leftover wedges of a frittata make a wonderful sandwich filling paired with a little arugula, a few slices of onion, and a drizzle of olive oil. If you have leftover spaghetti or other pasta (sauced or unsauced) you can chop it up a bit and saute it briefly in a skillet and pour the egg over the pasta for a perfect second incarnation. So you get the point, if you have little time and a few eggs on hand, dinner is just a matter of minutes away.

Frittata with Greens

This is one of my quickest, go-to dinners for a busy day. The options are literally infinite as to what to include. In this version you can use a lot of greens and just have the egg hold it all together or you can use less greenery and have it be more eggy—it’s really up to your taste. This is wonderful the next day in sandwiches or as a snack. It’s just as good at room temperature as it is hot.

1 bunch greens (chard, kale, collards, etc.)
1 -2 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 eggs (or whatever you have on hand or want to use)
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes (or to taste)
1-2 ounces grated hard cheese or your choice or feta or goat cheese (optional)
Salt, pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or well-seasoned cast iron pan. Rinse the greens and remove any tough stems. If you’re using chard, remove the stem and chop finely and sauté for a few minutes before you add the greens. Cut the greens into thin ribbons (easier to handle that way and cook down more quickly). Add greens and a few pinches of salt to the pan and sauté over med-high heat until they’re tender. You may need to add a splash of water to keep them from burning and sticking. And the length of time will depend on the kind and variety of green. Most cook in about 10 minutes or less. Set your oven to broil.

Lightly whisk the eggs until they’re just broken up—no need to get them frothy or really well mixed. Add a few generous pinches of salt and several grinds of pepper, the chili flakes, and the nutmeg (if using). Pour eggs over the greens and tilt the pan to evenly distribute the eggs. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the eggs, if using. Cover and cook on medium heat for a few minutes. When the eggs begin to set and the sides are getting firm take the pan off the heat and set under the broiler until the eggs are cooked and slightly puffed and golden. Let sit for a few minutes before cutting and serving. It will come out of the pan much more easily that way. Serve with a slice of bread and salad. Variations: Add bacon, sausage, leftover pasta, most any other veggie (sautéed leeks or onions, broccoli, potatoes, mushrooms, peppers, asparagus, spinach, diced carrot, zucchini . . .)

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. I’ve posted some new classes, including another Eat Better Series later in the spring, a class on everyday savory and sweet baking, one on techniques and tricks and more!

Good, Quick, Chocolate Cookie

A tin of these fudgy chocolate cookies is a mighty nice thing to have around.

Lest you think it’s all root veggies and  greens around here, I present to you the quickest and one of the most satisfying cookies I make. Actually last Saturday was the first time ever that I taught a class and sent people home without a treat. Even for the students who had never been to a class and wouldn’t have known any better I had to do a spiel about how this class was shorter, focused on winter greens and how I managed to squeeze five dishes into our 90 minute class which is why they weren’t getting dessert. They were gracious and I think will return, however, I do love to bake and even if class time doesn’t permit the making or even eating of something sweet, there are always those little waxed paper bags concealing something for the road on your way out the door.

This cookie is in that rotation. And I, in my cook-with-what-you-have fashion, vary them each time. Sometimes I use whole-wheat pastry flour, sometimes spelt or sometimes just all-purpose. Today it’s golden raisins but sometimes it’s dried cherries or apricots. I even vary the amounts of cocoa a bit. And today I found a few tablespoons of orange marmalade in the fridge as I was preparing to make these and ended up mixing that in. I’ve always loved the combination of orange and chocolate and I’m definitely going to repeat that variation.

So if you have 20 minutes (that includes the baking time!) and some cocoa on hand and a few other pantry basics you can have your chocolate/cookie fix in no time. And you mix the dough in a sauce pan so clean up is fairly minimal too.

You start by melting the butter and then adding the cocoa and sugars and then all the remainder of the ingredients right in the saucepan.

Fudgy Chocolate Cookies
–adapted from pastry chef, writer, food stylist and friend Ellen Jackson

You can mix these incredibly easy, fudgy cookies right in the saucepan. I add golden raisins or chopped dried apricots, cranberries or dried cherries or chopped crystalized ginger to these depending on what I have on hand. In today’s batch I added a couple of tablespoons of orange marmalade (a definite winner), in addition to golden raisins. You can also omit the dried fruit or add nuts and dried fruit.

1 cup all-purpose flour, spelt or whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter
6-7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup granulated sugar or coconut sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar or coconut sugar
generous 1/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cups dried fruit (see headnote)

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine flour, soda, and salt and set aside. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat; stir in cocoa powder and sugars. Add yogurt and vanilla, stirring to combine. Add flour mixture, stirring until moist. Drop by level tablespoons 1 inch apart onto baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes or until almost set. Don’t over bake and err on the side of underdone, if you like moist, chewy cookies that is. They will firm up as they cool. Cool on pans 2 to 3 minutes or until firm. Remove cookies from pans; cool on wire racks.