Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Orange Pumpkin Holiday Cake

So I just did something pretty incredible. I made a cake that celebrates two holidays and two seasons. This Orange Pumpkin Holiday Cake is a show-stopper. It’s unbelievably pretty, and it’s unbelievably festive.

Pretty festive? Pretty festive it is.

When I think of fall and Thanksgiving, I think of pumpkin. Pumpkin pie is always on the Thanksgiving table wherever my family is celebrating. Leading up to Thanksgiving, I feed my pumpkin addiction with appropriately flavored lattes, Hershey’s Kisses, scones, baked oatmeal...yeah, I kinda have a thing for pumpkin.

When I think of winter and Christmas, I think of oranges. Orange and cranberry is a great holiday combo. And when I was a little girl, the men’s group at my church would hand out candy bags to the children after the Sunday School Christmas program every year. Besides red hot gummy bears and peanuts in the shell, I could always count on an orange in my bag.

When I came across this recipe in a cookbook my mother-in-law had gifted me a long (LONG!) time ago, I knew I had to make it. Although I have a bundt cake pan, I’ve actually never made a cake in it all the years I’ve had it. Monkey bread? Definitely. Cake? Nope. I knew it was time to change that.

The flavor combination of orange and pumpkin was a new one for me. And I love unique flavor pairings. Potato chips + milk chocolate. Gouda cheese + dark chocolate. (Okay, so I have a thing for chocolate.) Beef sirloin + ground espresso. But orange + pumpkin? I was intrigued, so I knew I needed to give this recipe a try.

As you can see, this cake is simply gorgeous. But what about the taste? It’s simply delicious, too. It leans towards the orange flavor—after all it is Orange Pumpkin Holiday Cake—but the pumpkin flavor can definitely be recognized. The spices blend so well with the orange and the pumpkin—so it’s like an equal combination of mulled cider and pumpkin pie...if that makes sense. It probably doesn’t. But maybe it does?

This cake is super moist, which is how a cake should be. What this cake also has going for it is that it’s not crumb-y. You know how annoying it is when you cut moist cakes and they practically fall apart because nothing is holding it together? Yeah, you won’t have that problem with this cake because it cuts and serves so nicely. You won’t be able to use the I-need-to-go-back-and-pick-up-the-crumbs-well-hey-I-guess-I’ll-just-have-another-slice-then excuse. I’m telling you now: just plan to have a second slice. 

The glaze is the perfect addition to this cake. It’s citrusy-sweet, and it’s light. My husband does not like frosting (I know. The horror!), so a glaze like this is well-received by him. I opted for a thinner glaze because it’s oh-so-fun to watch the glaze ooze down the sides of the cake, but if you prefer a thicker glaze, no problem. You can certainly adjust the milk in the glaze to your liking. One thing I wouldn’t adjust in this recipe is the grated orange peel. There was a time in my life when I thought grated citrus peels were just ways to add more work to a recipe. The flavor pop they provide is so worth the little effort it takes to grate a peel.

I think this cake is a beautiful way to celebrate the holidays and the fall and winter seasons. It’s so festive. And so pretty. But it’s definitely not too pretty to eat. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Orange Pumpkin Holiday Cake

For the cake
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 (15-oz.) can pumpkin
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2/3 cup orange juice concentrate, undiluted, room temperature
1 Tbsp. grated orange peel

For the glaze
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. grated orange peel
2 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate, undiluted
2-3 Tbsp. milk (or enough to make desired consistency)

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Grease with butter and lightly flour a bundt cake pan.

To make the cake
In a large bowl, beat sugar, oil, and eggs with a mixer. Add pumpkin and mix well. In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, allspice, and cloves. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed pumpkin mixture, alternating with the orange juice concentrate. Add grated orange peel and mix well. Pour batter into prepared bundt cake pan; pan will be nearly full. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; invert onto a wire rack. When cooled completely, spoon orange glaze over cake. Serves 16-20.

To make the glaze
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the powdered sugar, orange peel, orange juice concentrate, and milk until fully incorporated. Spoon glaze over cooled cake.

Recipe adapted from Kristi K., originally found in the Immanuel Lutheran Ladies Aid and LWML 75th Anniversary Cookbook, Nebraska.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Turtle Popcorn


I have a confession.

You know those popcorn tins that pop up (pun totally intended) in stores this time of year? Yeah, I love them.

I have another confession.

You know those popcorn tins that have the trio of flavors—butter, cheese, and caramel? I always go for the cheese first. I don’t care if it gives me orange fingers. Then I go for the butter. THEN I go for the caramel.

I’ve just never really been a caramel corn fan. Maybe it’s because the caramel corn in those tins almost tastes bitter? Too syrupy? Am I the only one that thinks this?

But let me tell you. If those holiday tins included this Turtle Popcorn, I’d be all over it. Sorry, cheese and butter. It’s not you, it’s me. Well, it’s actually that this Turtle Popcorn is irresistible in all sorts of ways.

It starts with stove-top popcorn. That’s right. I went all old-fashioned, and I made popcorn on the stove for the first time ever. And I’m hooked. It’s so fun. It’s so delicious. And it’s so easy! I decided to keep it local, and I used Lakota Popcorn, which is popcorn grown and harvested by the Lower Brule tribe of South Dakota. Love it.

With stove-top pop, the key is making sure the oil is hot before the kernels are placed in the pot with it. One kernel of popcorn should be placed in a large pot with the oil. Once the kernel pops, it means the oil is hot and the rest of the kernels can be added. It’s important that there is enough room in the pot so each kernel touches the bottom of the pot. Once the kernels are thrown in, cover the pot with a lid. While seeing the lid stays on, slightly shake the pot to promote popping and to prevent burning. Before you know it, you’ll have a huge pot of popcorn.

What I love about this popcorn is the buttery, sweet, and salty caramel coating. Despite ingredients that you’d think would make the caramel heavy (like brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup), it’s anything but heavy. In a weird way, the caramel is kind of light, so you’ll keep eating and eating Turtle Popcorn before realizing the damage done. I totally speak from experience.

The caramel-y popcorn is tossed with pecan pieces and it is baked in a low oven. Every so often, the popcorn is stirred—or rather scooped and redistributed on a large jelly roll pan. Mini chocolate chips are thrown in at the end. I decided to throw half the chocolate chips during the last 15 minutes of baking, and I sprinkled the remaining half once the popcorn was out of the oven. I like my chips a little melty, but it’s up to you.

This Turtle Popcorn is so addictive. The salty and sweet caramel combined with chocolate and the nutty texture of the pecans is definitely a winner. What I love about this recipe is that it makes a big ol’ bowl full. I’ve got just the idea: you could totally make your own holiday popcorn tins this year. Your family, friends, and neighbors would love you for it.

Turtle Popcorn

For popcorn
5-6 Tbsp. canola oil
2/3 cups unpopped popcorn

For topping
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup white corn syrup
3/4 tsp. sea salt
Pinch cream of tartar (using your thumb and index finger, just pinch the cream of tartar and add)
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup pecan pieces
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a large, covered pot, heat the oil and 1 kernel of popcorn. After the kernel pops, pour in 2/3 cup popcorn and recover. Shake the pot frequently until all the corn in popped. Remove all loose kernels.

Preheat oven to 250F degrees. In a medium saucepan, bring to boil brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, sea salt, and cream of tartar. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and baking soda. Drizzle half of caramel over the popcorn and sprinkle with 1/2 cup pecan pieces. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the popcorn well. Drizzle the remaining caramel over the popcorn and sprinkle the remaining pecans, and stir the popcorn well. Pour popcorn onto a parchment-paper-lined jelly roll pan and spread out popcorn. Bake for one hour, stirring (or rather scooping and re-spreading out) popcorn every 15 minutes. Chocolate chips can be sprinkled over popcorn during the last 15 minutes of baking or once out of the oven. Spread onto parchment paper on counter to cool. Makes approximately 4 quarts of popcorn.

Recipe adapted from Patty B., Norfolk Unit 16), and Jean B., Cook Unit 360, originally found in the Cooking with Pride cookbook by the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Nebraska 2010.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sugary Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm baaaaaaack! In case you didn't notice, I took a break. A long break. My last post was in May. And it's November. What's up with that?

For starters. After a looooooong winter, South Dakota thawed out. Less time indoors meant less time on the computer, reading blogs, and creating blog posts. But don't worry. I still cooked for my family, and they have been well-fed the past six months.

Second on the list: I decided to participate in my local library's adult summer reading challenge. I read 20 (yes, twenty!) novels between June 1 and August 31. More time with my nose in a book meant less time on the computer, reading blogs, and creating blog posts. Before this summer, I can't remember the last time I read a book. Blogs, online articles, and magazines are usually my go-tos.

Finally. In August, I welcomed the opportunity to become a working-full-time-outside-the-home mom again. I love what I do (I develop educational resources for two entomologists. I know more about insects than I ever thought I would!); my supervisors are great people; the boys love daycare; and the family has adjusted to a new schedule. Less downtime during the day (i.e. nap time for the boys) meant less time on the computer, reading get the idea. I’ve figured out how to balance my and my family’s schedules (for now), so I’m back to blogging. Yay!

But enough about me. I want to talk about these Sugary Chocolate Chip Cookies.

For the record, I think it’s a-ok to start baking for the holidays. It’s a wonderful way to spread some cheer, especially if you share your treats with others. That is, if you’re the sharing type of person. I usually am.

These chocolate chip cookies are extra-special: before they are baked the dough is formed into a ball and then rolled in sugar. Sparkling, pretty sugar. I mean look at how sparkling and pretty these cookies are.

Not only are these cookies pretty, but they are what chocolate chip cookies should be. They are soft and buttery—to the point of nearly melting in your mouth—and they are jam-packed with chocolate chips. What’s a chocolate chip cookie without chocolate chips? The sugary coating adds a slight crunch (I’m talking slightest of the slight) that’s unexpected but adds to the overall texture of the cookies.

I love how simple these cookies are to make, and they do not take much longer to prepare than regular CCCs. Garrison, my oldest helped me used a cookie scoop to form the balls, and he had the best time shaping them and rolling them in the sugar. The process is basically a 4-year-old’s dream.

And these cookies are basically my dream, too. Make them, and share them. Or not. It’s totally up to you!

Sugary Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. sea salt
12 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
Small bowl of granulated sugar for dipping/rolling

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. In a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, combine butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat eg into creamed mixture. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Pour into creamed mixture, and let it beat just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips with a spatula. Using a small cookie scoop, scoop dough. Form balls with the dough by rolling with the hands; dip and roll the balls into the small bowl of granulated sugar. Place dough balls on parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets 3 inches apart. Lightly press each ball with the palm of the hand; do not flatten the dough balls. Bake one cookie sheet at a time 8-10 minutes. Let cookies sit on cookie sheet 2-3 minutes after baking. Place cookies on cooling racks. They will be soft. Makes approximately 2-1/2 dozen cookies.

Ashley’s Recipe Box