Autumn

What I love about Autumn is the way this season arrives quietly. Then, with it’s palette of earth tones and brilliant yellows, reds and oranges, it slowly paints the landscape.

In color and flavor, this palette perfectly matches the Fall harvest: mushrooms, apples, pears, squash, nuts, and many more.

I ‘know’ these fruits and vegetables ripen this time of year because they require colder, damper weather. But I always ‘feel’ they really ripen simply because their flavors and colors faithfully reflect that earthy scent in the air, and the vivid array on Autumn’s palette.

Autumn doesn’t stay long, but it brings so much!

Why I Love Eggplant

The eggplant is the queen of summer. Not only is the color associated with royalty, the shapes are amazing. Maybe this is the summer equivalent of the pear in fall:  the still life painter’s nude.

In the PNW we don’t see eggplant until mid to late summer. When we do, it’s sudden, abundant, and with a flood of deep purples, whites, greens, and magenta. There is always a little dark blue and black for accent.

When I buy them at the Farmer’s Market they are  fresh, perfectly ripe, and very firm. This is when I love to eat them raw. It’s  a surprisingly sweet and salty flavor when sliced very thin on the mandoline, dipped in good olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt and garnished with a basil leaf on top.  It’s beautiful too. A thin  round cream colored slice, edged in purple, magenta, blue, or white and green, with a drop of light green olive oil and bright green basil leaf. I assure you when they are this fresh they’re never bitter.

If you’re an eggplant lover, you have to try this recipe for eggplant fritters.

I love it because it doesn’t mask the eggplant with a lot of other flavors. The queen stays front and center,  as she should!

Eggplant And Nut Fritters

(Adapted from “Hors D’Oeuvres” by Eric Treuille & Victoria Blashford-Snell)

Topping:

2 plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic sliced
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh finely chopped rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°

Put tomatoes & garlic on a baking pan. Mix balsamic, brown sugar and olive oil together and drizzle on tomato/garlic. Sprinkle with rosemary. Roast in oven 20-30 min until softened. Cool. Place in food processor and pulse until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.  Can be made one day ahead.

Fritters: makes 20-25

1/4-1/3 cup olive oil depending on the size of your eggplant

1 medium eggplant, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, beaten
3/4 grated Parmesan
1 cup mozzarella, small dice
1 cup dry breadcrumbs ( I use panko)
1/2 cup pine nuts, roughly chopped
salt, pepper
arugula leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°

Spread eggplant on  a baking sheet being careful not to crowd. Evenly pour oil over eggplant and toss to coat ( using spoon or hands).

Place in oven and roast for  15-20 minuets or until soft and brown.

Remove from oven, cool.  Blot with paper towels, pressing down slightly,  to absorb as much olive oil as possible.

Place baked and blotted eggplant in a medium bowl. Combine with garlic, parsley, rosemary, beaten egg,  Parmesan, mozzarella, bread crumbs and pine nuts.

Form into a walnut sized piece ( about 1-2 tablespoons). Form each round into an oval.

Place ovals on parchment lined  baking sheet.

Bake (@ 400°) 10-15 min until golden brown.

Serve warm or at room temp. Salt and Pepper to taste, garnished with 1/2 tsp tomato topping and an arugula leaf.

Inspiration, It’s A Piece Of Cake!

I am content if the dessert I order is sweet and satisfying. But there are times when that dessert is so much more and takes on a life of it’s own. This was the story of a generous slice of cake I recently shared with friends.

It was simply described as “Pineapple Banana Cake”,  but this cake had lots of everything. Not only was it a sixth of a cake and easily served four, it was rich and moist, studded with pecans, packed big pineapple flavor, and arrived frosted in thick buttercream. The garnish deserves its own mention: a mountain of maple laced whipped cream on the side, topped off with fresh strawberries and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

I realized my fixation with this slice had become overwhelming as I was working through my third rendering. It was just hard to resist the pale stripes of frosting intersecting dark textured cake, punctuated by bright spots of red strawberries. The first piece this cake inspired was a painting,  which quickly transformed into a baking project, and then became a serving of Chocolate Strawberry Cake from The Cardboard Kitchen.

Crazy? Maybe a little. Fun? Definitely!

Strawberry and Whipped Cream Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

Cake:

3 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups light brown sugar

3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 tsp salt ( if using salted butter, reduce to 1/2 tsp)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350⁰

Melt chocolate, set aside

Beat butter in stand mixer, then add brown sugar and eggs. Beat until light and fluffy (about 5 min).

Add vanilla and melted chocolate, beat just until combined.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt. Add to chocolate mixture, gradually, alternating with sour cream and beating after each addition.

Stir boiling water into batter. Batter will be thin.

Fill paper lined muffin pan 3/4 full.

Bake 15-20 min or until center springs back when touched. Makes 18.

Filling:

1/2 pint fresh ripe strawberries,wash, dried, roughly chopped, set in sieve to drain.
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp vanilla (or to taste)
sugar to taste

Whip cream, add vanilla and sugar to taste.

Fold in strawberries.

Set aside in fridge until ready to fill.

Buttercream: ( if you are not piping, halve recipe)

4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk, or (more adjust to consistency)
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
food coloring if desired

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Beat at low speed until well mixed. then increase speed to medium

until light, fluffy and well mixed,scraping bowl often. Tint with food coloring if desired.

Assembly ( just before serving):

Piping bag method:

Fill bag  fitted with a #18 plain tip with cold strawberry whipped cream mixture.
Fill from the bottom by puncturing, being careful not to overfill.

Layering method:

Split cupcakes horizontally, and spread mixture between layers, and refit with top.
Note: I found it easier to frost after I filled, but I was piping the frosting and piping the filling.

The Incredible Edible…

That’s the industry slogan, and they are incredible when you consider the spectrum of dishes in which they appear. Is anyone baking today? How about that souffle, or lemon meringue pie that you love to show off? Or ‘THE’ perfect omelet that  took a few tries to conquer.

Everything, as they say, from soup to nuts can be made with eggs. This incredible edible acts as a leavening and binder, as well as being delicious on it’s own in a variety of preparations.

I am a purist when painting eggs. I reduce them to their obvious yellow and white form: deviled; in the shell; out of the shell; sunny side up, etc. As long as I can see the white and the yolk together. Then, like the real thing, I can always add pepper, paprika, parsley: well the palette is endless.

The color of the yolk is always a variable which it makes it exciting. It ranges from  a bright cadmium pale yellow, to  the  warm deep cadmium orange. Crack the shell. Out comes a clear viscous liquid surrounding a luscious golden circle that holds it’s shape. This is my experience of the egg.

We have been having the dreariest, wettest Spring this year. Perhaps this is why eggs have been on my easel so often the past few months.

Contemplating The Role Of The Hostess

I love to thoughtfully consider the icons of food, and why they remain so popular. Enter the well known Hostess Cupcake.

At one time I occupied a studio space directly across from the Hostess plant in Seattle. I faced a wall with a protruding pipe labeled “sugar in”. At various times during the week, a tanker style truck would arrive, hook up a giant hose to that pipe, and the rest is Cupcake, Twinkie and Ding Dong history.  At the time all sorts of crazy ideas about this entered my creative process, but I never imagined a blog post.

On the Hostess site I found the history of this cellophane wrapped chocolate enigma. In 1950 a baking executive added the vanilla creme filling, and the signature squiggles on top. That must be it! That circular white line work on a satiny dark brown coating, coupled with a white creamy circle that is set into a soft dark brown fluffy texture must be the secret to the success of this well known phenomenon.

Like the ipod, mid century modern furniture, and your favorite chef knife, the Hostess cupcake is well designed!

Pairing The Pear

Artists love pears. They are figurative, and like the figure, come in many colors and shapes. They also stay ripe for quite a long time, which is the best part: you can use them in a still life to paint, and then eat them.

Those of you who follow my Flickr photos know that I have been receiving lots of pears through my shared Full Circle Farm Subscription. Early in the fall pear season it was the Bartlett,  which is great for baking. More recently it is the versatile Anjou.

If left to ripen, Anjous are meltingly soft and sweet. But I had so many ripening in my fruit bowl that were almost to the point of eating. This forced me to be quick and creative. My first choice was a  savory tart, but of course I recently posted a tart recipe! I will save my Savory Pear and Cheese Tart for next fall’s crop.

I used the only currently available edible in my garden: rosemary. Pairing these two flavors produced the most unexpected and delicious flavor combination. One part pungent and aromatic, the other sweet and floral, it is just heavenly. Don’t be afraid of all the rosemary in this recipe: it’s fantastic!  I served this  with roasted room temperature root vegetables on a bed of peppery arugula, vinaigrette and shaved Parmesan. Mmmm. Try this pairing before the season ends in late spring.

The original was published in Bon Appetit years ago, and called for Bosc’s. I have not only used all varieties, but  I’ve also made a few changes here and there and everywhere!

Caramelized Pears With Rosemary

5 large (7-8 small) pears peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges each. If using some of the softer varieties like  the Anjou, use them while they are still firm but fragrant and not overly ripe.

2 Tblsp fresh lemon juice
2-4 Tblsp. butter
2 fresh sprigs of rosemary, one 6″ with leaves left on, one 2″ with leaves removed.

salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

(Alongside kosher salt, I used a gift from a dear friend: truffle salt. The earthy truffle flavor  used as the last seasoning adjustment below, was incredible with this dish).

• Preheat oven to 350º

• Spray or butter a baking pan and spread wedges in one layer.

• Bake 15-25 min, or until tender when pierced. Cool slightly.

• Rub with lemon juice to prevent browning.

• Chill overnight.

• In large saute or frying pan over medium heat, melt 2 Tblsp. butter.

• Add pears, the 6″ full rosemary sprig, and salt to taste.

• Cook until pears are brown and caramelized. (I did this in two batches to ensure my pears
wouldn’t be too crowded and steam. This uses more butter.)

• Stir in pepper to taste and remove rosemary sprig. Adjust salt to taste. (I added a sprinkle of truffle salt as a finishing salt, and used kosher salt above in the initial seasoning step).

• Serve at room temperature, garnished with the fresh rosemary leaves from the 2″ sprig.

Note: I know you all think that’s crazy: eating raw rosemary as garnish, but it really is delicious!

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The Beautiful Napoleon

What a wonderful pastry! Traditionally made with alternating layers of puff pastry (mille-feuille) and pastry cream, then decorated with a shiny poured fondant and chocolate drizzle pattern of varying designs, it is elegant, delicious, and graphically beautiful.

I read through many online recipes, as well as my stand by Pastry book: The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, to gather the construction details I needed to create this quintessential pastry in The Cardboard Kitchen. I also looked through hundreds of photo’s from my talented Flickr friends. I used my Flickr friend Jen’s Photography food set as the resource for my primary image reference. Her Chocolate Napoleon not only gave me the graphic line quality I was looking for, it is also up close and personal luscious!

I had to ‘shop’ for four key ingredients: puff pastry; pastry cream and white poured fondant. Fortunately  I had  a small amount of chocolate glaze in The Cardboard Kitchen pantry from another baking project.

I began with  my hunt for the pastry, and found the perfect mille-feuille in a furniture store recyling bin. I think you will agree that, although it may not have “a thousand leaves”, after a little kneading  and folding, it looks like flaky layers of puff pastry!

The most difficult ingredient to find was the pastry cream. It had to be the perfect color and just the right texture to create the slight ooze between the layers of mille-feuille.

The  shiny poured fondant was created from a shipping box which once held wire shelving. The ink used to print on the background layer of this box provided just the right sheen.

The traditional chevron pattern is created by piping the chocolate glaze onto the white glaze  and pulling it through before the glazes are set up. Using this technique, the piped chocolate appears to be raised ever so slightly above the shiny poured fondant. In art we call this a bas-relief!

Of course there is no way to pull chocolate cardboard through white cardboard fondant, so to achieve this bas-relief feel, I inlaid it. No need to mention how many times I had to do this over to achieve the perfect glazed top, let me just say YIKES….

The  pièce de résistance  was my find of a discarded and torn section of architectural board: the type used by architects to make their fantastic models. It made the perfect pastry wrapper to prevent sticky fingers.

Although you can’t eat it, I think you’ll agree the Napoleon baked in The Cardboard Kitchen is visually delicious!

The Luscious Last Local Tomato

I know I am not the only person eating tomatoes several times a day during tomato season. There is no substitute for the flavor of a tomato in season. And in the Pacific Northwest, tomato season can last into late Fall because our summers don’t really begin until late July.

This is a delicious trick of Mother Nature.  In the Fall, when those who eat tomatoes out of season are buying bland substitutes from across the globe, we continue to get the very best intensely flavored vine ripened varieties of tomatoes.

The added benefit from an artistic point of view, are the brilliant  reds, greens, oranges and yellows among the muted colors of the Fall veggies. And as if that wasn’t enough, the abundance is amazing:  Mother Nature stores extra energy so she can offer up as many tomatoes as possible before the tomato bar closes for the season! I particularly look forward to buying extremely reasonable flats of big misshapen and colorful Heirlooms  late September thru late October. I quarter, roast, and freeze these for use all winter, but that’s another post!

At the end of the season when the flavors peak they may not look their best, so I transform them into into a beautiful and delicious tart which uses the equally abundant zucchini. I found this recipe in the New York Times about 15 years ago. It is called “Connie’s Tomato Zucchini Pie” although I have long since lost any reference as to who Connie may be. I think she will forgive me.

This is originally a pie recipe, but somewhere in the distant tomato past I began making it as a tart. I love the flaky buttery taste of the tart crust layered with the other flavors, as well as the way it looks! If using a tart crust it should be blind baked. The pie shell version calls for an unbaked crust.

Either way, tart or pie,  I think you will agree it’s a Grande Finale for the last tomatoes of the season!

Connie’s Tomato Zucchini Pie (if using pie shell, amounts in parentheses)

1   9 1/2-10″ blind baked tart shell* or unbaked pie shell
1/2 cup Dijon mustard (1/3)
3/4 lb. mozzarella thinly sliced (1 lb.)
4 medium firm ripe tomatoes (5)
2 medium zucchini thinly sliced (2 large)
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic divided, or to taste-I use 3 cloves!
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 tsp fresh finely chopped or to taste divided
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil, or 1 tablespoon dried, divided (if using fresh basil only chop 1   tablespoon at a time to prevent browning)
Salt and Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (2 tablespoons)

• Preheat oven to 400° with a baking sheet.

• Spread mustard evenly over the bottom of the shell.

• Cover completely with mozzarella.

• Sprinkle 1/2 of the garlic, oregano and basil on top of the cheese.

• Beginning at the outer edge of the shell, make layered overlapping rows of tomato and zucchini slices,  alternating for color.

• Sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining garlic, oregano, and dried basil.  If using fresh basil sprinkle the remaining on before serving.

• Season to taste with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil.

• Put the tart on the baking sheet (for a tart  I recommend using pie shields for the first 20 minutes) and bake 30 min. (For the pie version bake 40 min.)

If using fresh basil, cool before serving and sprinkle with remaining basil finely chopped.

*I use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Basic Flaky Pie Crust” from the Pie and Pastry Bible. I love this crust!

The Match Made In Heaven

There are those flavors that just work together naturally. Peanut butter and chocolate is one of these perfect pairings. I love the colors as well as the flavors. How classically beautiful is a caramel color paired with a deep, dark brown. On the artist’s palette this translates as raw sienna and burnt umber. When I squeeze these two colors onto my palette, it looks just like chocolate and caramel sauce!

When the style magazine Jalouse asked for a favorite cupcake recipe to accompany my interview, this was my choice: a gooey, chocolate-y comfort food cupcake!

More dense  peanut butter brownie than cake, and topped with a  large dollop of peanut butter flavored buttercream and a chocolate cherry, it’s a perfectly sweet way to pair these two favorite flavors and colors. And don’t be tempted to overlook those chocolate dipped cherries. You may want to make extras. I do.  This gives me an excuse to  eat the ones that aren’t perfect! I love this fun recipe so much, I created the recipe again,  in The Cardboard Kitchen!

Peanut Butter Brownie Cupcakes

Makes 16

For the cupcakes:

1/4 cup unsalted butter 1 package semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°

Line muffin tins with baking cups.

In medium bowl, blend sugar, flour and baking powder gently with a whisk until blended. Set aside

Melt butter and chocolate chips in a 2 quart saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until well incorporated.

Beat eggs  into chocolate mixture one at a time until smooth, using a spoon.

Stir in vanilla.

Beat in sugar/flour mix until smooth. Dough will be stiff.

Divide batter into cups, filling 3/4.

Bake 25 to 30 min, or until the tops appear dry. A toothpick inserted will still have a few crumbs sticking to it. The brownies will set as they cool. Spread or Pipe Peanut butter buttercream. Top with chocolate dipped cherry.

Peanut Butter Buttercream

1/4 cups unsalted butter
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
cream or milk to desired consistency.

Beat all ingredients in a medium bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.

If piping the buttercream, double the above recipe for 16 cupcakes.

Chocolate Dipped Cherries

12 cherries in syrup
12 oz dark chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
Remove cherries from syrup and pat dry.

Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler over low heat, stirring until smooth and to prevent sticking.

Dip cherry and place on parchment to set.

Place  cherry on top!

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