Monthly Archives: November 2013


Friends with Leeks are Friends Indeed

Happy Thanksgiving! I am traveling back to Virginia from Florida today, so our T-day dinner will be delayed a day or two :)  Hope yours was scrumptious!

So my friend Amy grew some leeks this year (I grew weeds, one intentional tomato plant, and countless volunteer cherry tomato plants). She OH SO GENEROUSLY brought me the very first one she harvested. It was beautiful. Not as large as the commercially-grown grocery store versions. Much more tender (yes, I nibbled on some green to test). And not nearly as DIRTY as a grocery store one. I pondered out loud what I might make … not a pie, because it wasn’t big enough, but certainly an omelet. Or a frittata. But something that would really let the leek shine. I was REALLY excited about the lovely little hand-grown leek! Well, I wasn’t exactly fishing for more, but the next morning, Amy brought me some MORE of her lovelies. NOW I had enough for some sort of pie!

I’m a little obsessed with the thought of pie lately, because I’ve been practicing pie crusts. So when my quantity of leeks suddenly shot up, well, we were going with something crusted. I stumbled around the internet to get some ideas, and realized that something like a quiche really appealed to me. But you know what, most quiche recipes call for half-and-half, or cream, or BOTH. I really didn’t want to overpower these sweet tender leeks with a heavy custard — I wanted them to star. Over at The Kitchn, their recipe called for 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, and 1/2 cup cream, but if you actually READ the intro, you see they recommend a 2 eggs-to-one-cup-milk ratio, or 3 eggs to 1 1/2 cups milk for a nine-inch pie. So I had my custard figured out!

But what else to throw in there? I knew my husband would cringe without some sort of meat. Because the leeks are so sweet, I didn’t want to go the similarly sweet ham or prosciutto route, but I did have BACON. Bacon would add a salty-smoky counterpoint to those sweet leeks. I always have bagged, shredded cheese on hand, and the swiss caught my eye for its nutty bite. Folks, we are close to lift-off!

Leek, Bacon, and Cheese Quiche
Serves 6

SAMSUNGOne unbaked 9″ pie crust
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
A minuscule pinch of Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups well-cleaned and finely sliced leeks (whites and light green)
6 – 8 slices crispy-cooked bacon, cooled and chopped or crumbled
1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (bagged, pre-shredded is fine)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 2%)

SAMSUNGMelt the butter in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the well-cleaned leeks and just a pinch of salt. Saute until soft — turn down to medium-low if they start to color — this will take a while since leeks are much more fibrous than a shallot or regular onion. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Loosely toss the leeks, bacon, and cheese and put in the bottom of the crust.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a fork until the yolks and whites are broken up, then add the milk and mix well with the fork. Gently pour over the leeks and friends. Put in the oven and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the custard is mostly set. A little jiggle in the middle is good. I usually take a butter knife and insert it about 1/4″ into the custard, about halfway between the center and the edge, just to make sure it’s set. Pull and allow to cool before slicing. How cool? You should be able to pick up the pie plate without screaming.


As a side, I made a mustardy vinaigrette to serve over cold (leftover) green beans tossed with sun-dried tomatoes. The bitter of the mustard+vinegar and the crisp of the green beans was a nice contrast to the soft, warm, cheesy quiche. And some bacon :)

The Aftermath

Last pumpkin post for a while, I promise!

So I’m hoping you saw my cocktail post from last Tuesday. That was a busy Saturday night, because I actually developed FOUR pumpkin cocktails! The first two, already published, used vodka while the next two relied on dark liquors. You know, just to give you some variety. I think the current two would lend themselves well to my by-the-pitcher entertaining philosophy.

For the first of these two, I pulled out the black rum because I thought its caramel notes would pair well with the fall spices and pumpkin. But sweet on sweet needed a little bite, so I grabbed some ginger beer for contrast. Add a squeeze of lime for acidic balance, and you’ve got the Thanksgiving version of the Dark and Stormy. Of the four cocktails that evening, THIS was the CGP’s favorite.

SAMSUNGI bought a small bottle of Jack Daniel’s bourbon whiskey intending to make some cookies (bourbon, maple, and bacon maybe?) or else a chocolate-bourbon-pecan pie. I don’t normally drink bourbon, but its smokiness seemed seasonal, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. For sweet, I decided to use maple syrup and skip the rimmed glass. Since the previous cocktail had gone down so well, I stayed with ginger beer. For a non-bourbon girl, this was surprising tasty. I could see myself drinking this after a huge Thanksgiving meal, in front of the fire (er, TV), while I let everything digest.

SAMSUNGDark and Pumpkin-y

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) black rum (I use Gosling’s Black Seal)
1 tablespoon canned pumpkin
2 teaspoons brown sugar
6 ounces (1/2 can) ginger beer (I use Gosling’s)
Squeeze of lime

Moisten the rim of a tall glass with rum (yes, use the thumb and forefinger of your impeccably clean hand!). Dip the moistened rim into the the saucer of spiced sugar, ensuring the rim is evenly coated all around. Fill the glass with ice.

In a separate glass (a 1 or 2 cup pyrex measuring cup could work well), use a spoon to thoroughly mix together the rum, pumpkin, and sugar. Pour over the ice in the glass. Pour the ginger beer over it all. Add a squeeze or two of lime, Gently stir. Serve immediately.



SAMSUNGThe B-M-P (Bourbon, Maple, and Pumpkin)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) bourbon (I used Jack Daniels)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon canned pumpkin
Pinch of pumpkin pie spice
6 ounces (1/2 can) ginger beer (I use Gosling’s)
Squeeze of lime

In a tall glass, mix together the bourbon, maple syrup, pumpkin, and spice. Fill the glass with ice. Pour the ginger beer over it all. Add a squeeze or two of lime, Gently stir. Serve immediately.


I should NOT be permitted to go shopping without a list

I confess — I’m not a natural blonde. More of a mousy brown with gray sneaking in. So every few months I head off to see Anu at Shear Shack to get my highlights and a cut. What does this have to do with the price of tea in China you might be asking. Well, next to Shear Shack is a small neighborhood Indian grocer!

SAMSUNG I start at the snack aisle, where I see these twirly, spiky crunchies called “muruku.” I work with several Indian immigrants, and a couple of them have brought in the home-made version of these. They have learned to bring a small ziploc bag for themselves and a LARGE ziploc bag for me. I call it Indian crack. These munchies are crunchy, well-seasoned (cumin, coriander, fennel, ?), and just a little spicy. You can’t eat just one handful, I swear. It starts with a rice and lentil flour batter that is extruded into hot oil. So not something I’m going to figure out at home. I grab a bag. I also grabbed another bag of fried snacks. Because I love Indian snacks.


I got lost in the frozen aisle next. All sorts of exotic vegetables I don’t recognize, but they do have naan. And kulcha. And paratha. And roti. And chapati. Oh my. I restrain myself to one naan and one onion kulcha. And some baby red onions. You know, just because they looked interesting.


So I get home and realize that I am STARVING. I briefly consider a muruku and naan lunch, but realize it’s probably a little heavy on the carbs. I have chickpeas and tomatoes in the pantry, an onion in the fridge, and some pepper strips in the freezer, so a vegan chickpea curry is just 30 minutes away. And I can stuff my face with muruku while it cooks :)

Chickpea Curry
Adapted from “Chole” in Padma Lakshmi’s Easy Exotic
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

SAMSUNG1 onion
A couple of generous handfuls of frozen tri-color pepper strips [*]
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained and liquid reserved
2 tablespoons neutral oil
2 teaspoons garam marsala [**]
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well
1 – 2 tablespoons lime juice



Put the onion, pepper, and tomatoes in a food processor or blender and process until fairly smooth. I did this in batches in my mini-food-processor.


Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the puree and cook for 20 – 30 minutes over medium-low to medium until the onion is softened. You want a gentle simmer, not wild ploppy bubbles. If it starts to dry out, add some of the reserved tomato liquid or water, just a tablespoon at a time.

Add the garam marsala and cook for 5 minutes. Add the chickpeas and cook about 10 more minutes, until heated through. Again, if it starts to dry out, add some of the reserved tomato liquid or water, just a tablespoon at a time. Serve over rice or with Indian bread, like the onion kulcha I just bought. Cilantro would make a nice garnish.


[*] The CGP doesn’t really care for green bell peppers. So I rarely have them on hand, fresh. What I do keep around are bags of frozen strips of bell peppers — most are a combination of yellow, green, and red. Far tastier than just the green and way better shelf-life.

[**] A mild spice blend typically with cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, and black pepper, but does vary regionally. Can be bought at any Indian or Southeast Asian grocer. Penzey’s has a version as well. I sneak a little into my chili!


What’s shakin’, pumpkin?

I’ve still got pumpkin on the brain. But now, I’m obsessed with featuring pumpkin in fall cocktails. Crazy? Maybe … or maybe just crazy GOOD! I know there are pumpkin spirits to be found. I saw a pumpkin vodka and a pumpkin pie cream liqueur. I’m sure they are lovely, but they really are one trick ponies. And who wants to drink pumpkin vodka in June? So I pull out a trusty can of pumpkin and my favorite 100 proof vodka (feel free to use 80 or 90 proof) and decide to experiment.

So lets talk about a little trick I used for these cocktails — rimming the cocktail glass. Think about a classic margarita on the rocks – the salt really does add to the cocktail experience. In these cocktails, the pumpkin pie spice first hits your nose and then hits the palate. The sugar crystals provide some crunch. I could have put the pumpkin pie spice in the cocktail itself, but my experience is that cinnamon doesn’t dissolve well in cold liquids — the rim was the place for it.

SAMSUNGThe TJ’s spiced cider in the fridge is calling to me, so I have a go at that first. My first attempt wasn’t sweet enough (that tablespoon of pumpkin really does need TWO teaspoons of brown sugar), was a bit too thick (need more apple cider), and was lacking acid. The second attempt — more sugar, more cider, and some lime juice — THAT worked! The pumpkin is subtle, but adds a nice mouth-feel to this drink. The spices of the apple cider meld well with the earthiness of the pumpkin. This would be a nice cocktail to serve at a holiday party — it would easily translate to a pitcher, just rim glasses and fill with ice as needed.

SAMSUNGMy next attempt was a dessert-style “martini.” I knew vodka and Bailey’s was a good base for such a drink, so adding the pumpkin and spices would take it in the direction I was looking for. Again, my first attempt was not quite sweet enough, but the second drink with that extra teaspoon of brown sugar was spot on. You really do need to shake this one, because the melting ice will dilute the drink just enough. I really wish I had martini glasses at the brick house — these really would look so pretty in a proper glass!!

This was one of the CGP’s more enthusiastic tastings. Just saying.

Pump(kin) Up My Apple Cider
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) vodka
3 tablespoons unfiltered apple cider, I used TJ’s spiced cider
1 tablespoon canned pumpkin
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Squeeze of lime


Moisten the rim of a rocks glass with cider (yes, use the thumb and forefinger of your impeccably clean hand!). Dip the moistened rim into the the saucer of spiced sugar [see below], ensuring the rim is evenly coated all around. Fill the glass with ice.

In a separate glass (a 1 or 2 cup pyrex measuring cup could work well), use a spoon to thoroughly mix together the vodka, spiced cider, pumpkin, and sugar. Pour over the ice in the highball glass. Serve immediately.


Pumpkin Michelle-tini
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) vodka
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) Bailey’s Irish Cream
1 tablespoon canned pumpkin
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Cocktail shaker with ice


Moisten the rim of a martini or rocks glass with vodka (yes, use the thumb and forefinger of your impeccably clean hand!). Dip the moistened rim into the the saucer of spiced sugar [see below], ensuring the rim is evenly coated all around.

Put the vodka, Bailey’s, pumpkin, and brown sugar in a cocktail shaker filled halfway with ice. Shake vigorously for at least 10 seconds to make sure the pumpkin is evenly distributed. Strain into your martini or highball glass.


Spiced Sugar for Rimming

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Mix together and spread evenly on a saucer. Discard any leftovers.


And this is where I cook some duck

So after reading Hank Shaw’s new cookbook and attending the duck-centric dinner at Range, ON TOP OF ordering duck two or three times in recent memory from my local Thai delivery joint, well, I was hellbent on preparing duck at home. The CGP and I have previously grilled whole ducks on the Big Green Egg, but I really wanted to try to cook duck breast on the stovetop, a la PBS and Hubert Keller. Okay, maybe not quite THAT lofty. But I definitely had duck on the brain.

Hank makes a case for cooking duck parts separately. The breast is best served seared and medium-rare, like a well-aged steak. The legs, cooked low and slow in their own fat (confit), are analogous to pulled pork. In my experience, it is next to impossible to roast a whole fowl and get a rare breast and well-done legs. So while I was eye-balling the whole frozen ducks at my grocer, I just wasn’t in the mood to thaw and break them down. I wanted CRISPY skin and I didn’t want to work too hard for it (I have my off days, too), so I went the easy route — boneless, skin-on breasts from the freezer case. The 14oz package was just the right portion for the pair of us, and it was a much more approachable quantity of fowl.

Sunday nights are our unofficial “Date Night” (Wednesdays being the official one). So I did want to do justice to the duck in terms of sides and beverage. I chose to make a wild-rice pilaf tossed with toasted pecans and dried currants and roasted off an acorn squash in the oven. I made a sangria and an apple pie for dessert. Definitely date-night worthy :)

Duck breast isn’t any harder to cook than a steak. You need a a sharp knife, a heavy-bottomed skillet, and some salt and pepper. So this post isn’t so much a “recipe” — but a technique.


SAMSUNGAbout 45 minutes before you throw your duck in the pan (that means about an hour before you want to eat), pull your thawed duck breast out of the fridge. If the two breast lobes are still attached — slice through the joining fat/skin and separate into two. Pat the both sides of the duck dry with a paper towel and sprinkle both fat side and meat side liberally with kosher salt. Let rest on a cutting board while you carry on (this is when I finished the squash and made my pilaf). After 40 minutes or so, use paper towels to thoroughly dry your duck and cutting board. Use a VERY sharp knife to cut a 1/2″ cross-hatch into the fat, being careful not to cut into the flesh. Use your fingers to gently spread the cuts to see that you are not accidentally butchering the flesh. Season the fat side with a generous amount of freshly-ground pepper, using your hands to press the pepper into the flesh. Smear a teaspoon or so of fat in the bottom of your cold pan. I used bacon fat, but previously rendered duck fat (lucky you!) or olive oil would work as well.


Place the breasts fat-side down into the cold pan, making sure to press them down for maximium surface contact. Turn your pan to medium and let it all start to heat up. The fat will start to render and it will sound like bacon frying. Keep the temperature moderate — we want to render off fat without blackening the poor thing! Turn it down if it starts to sizzle too vigorously (sorry — that’s an instinctive thing!). It’s going to take at least 8 to 10 minutes, depending on fat your bird was. I will move the breasts around a little, just to make sure they don’t stick, but you pretty much leave them alone. When the skin is golden and crispy and most of the fat seems to have rendered, carefully flip them over. I say careful, because you could have 1/4″ to 1/2″ of happy bubbly fat in that pan by now. You are going to cook them just 3 or 4 minutes on the other side — just enough to brown the meat side. At Hank’s suggestion, I use my tongs to turn the pieces on each of their sides for just 20 or 30 seconds to “sear” the sides too.


Remove to a clean cutting board and loosely tent with aluminum foil for 5 – 8 minutes while you make the pan sauce.

Pan Sauce:

SAMSUNGCarefully pour the accumulated liquid fat into a heat-proof container, leaving just a tablespoon or two behind in the pan. Put the pan back on the stove on medium. Toss in a tablespoon or so of finely chopped shallot. Stir that around until most of the oil is absorbed and they start to soften. Deglaze the pan with a tablespoon or three of chicken broth (duck broth if you’ve got it of course). Swirl around scraping up the dark bits (fond) and let some of it evaporate. Add 1 tablespoon of creme de cassis (currant liqueur) and a tablespoon of dried currants (I actually set the currants to soak in the liqueur about the same time I pulled the duck breasts out of the fridge). Swirl around and let it cook down a bit. Turn off the heat and add a teaspoon or two of softened butter, swirling to incorporate.


Duck and friends


Whirl around to the cutting board and slice your breasts across the grain, place on a plate, and spoon some of the pan sauce across the artfully arranged slices. Eat. Moan. Eat some more.


Quack, Quack, Honk

James Beard Award-winning blogger Hank Shaw is on his cross-country promotion tour for his latest cookbook, “Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild.” This is not your typical meet-and-greet in the one remaining brick-and-mortar booksuperstore, rather, Hank is criss-crossing the country on his own dime, collaborating with local chefs to host a duck-themed dinner in THEIR restaurant, making some money for the restaurant and selling as many of his cookbooks as he can. You’ve got to admire his chutzpah!

My friend Beverly turned me on to Hank’s blog. She knows Hank from previous blog conferences and owns his first book, so when she saw he was coming to the DC area, she started asking around for who might be interested in joining her. When I heard that Hank would be collaborating with my biggest Celebrity Chef Crush Ever, Bryan Voltaggio (of Top Chef/Top Chef Masters fame), well, I was on board immediately! We were to be a party of four — Beverly, her husband, a dear friend of theirs, and yours truly.

SAMSUNGLet me talk briefly about the cookbook. If you love duck, BUY IT. If you love duck but have been afraid to cook it, BUY IT. If you hunt waterfowl, BUY IT. Hank’s intended audience is the home cook, like you and me, and he makes cooking duck and waterfowl approachable by even a novice cook. It’s not that he dumbed it down — some of the recipes really are quite complex — but he has the knack for explaining so thoroughly in understandable terms that it all just makes sense. Two of my takeaways — hints for duck pan sauces (pick complimentary liquor/liqueur and fruit) and use rendered duck/goose fat in pie crust.

The collaborative dinner at Range was an INSANE five course celebration of duck. There was a duck consomme with duck liver spaetzle (my personal favorite), a char siu duck, duck sausage, dry aged duck (reminiscent of a dry-aged steak), and a dessert course with a duck fat ganache (truly swoon-worthy). I barely stopped myself from licking the plates clean (when I say plates, I mean mine as well as my dinner companions). Hank stopped ’round during our fourth course, and he is as genuine in person as he appears to be in his blog. He of course endeared himself to me when he inadvertently dropped the F-bomb (as I too am wont to do).




On our way out, I gave in to my hero worship and blushingly and stumblingly asked Range’s event coordinator, Tracy, if Bryan were available to meet and maybe take a quick picture. She graciously sent someone to the kitchen to get him, and OMG — I got to meet him! He is a little shy in person, quite humble, and was happy to pose. I told him I was so inspired by the meal, I would HAVE to cook duck myself that weekend! He wanted to know how I was planning to cook it, and I said probably on my Big Green Egg, and his eyes lit up, and he said, those are really good to cook on it, right, and I said yes, we have two, and then others wanted a picture, and the encounter was over. I was a little weak in the knees — it was Chef Bryan!!


It truly was a tasty and inspiring evening. I am fortunate to have attended with other food-crazies like me (three of the four of us pulled out our cameras at the start of each course to take pix as discreetly as possible!). Although I might have been mocked **slightly** for the wobbly knee reaction. And, I’ve got some duck ready to go in a COLD pan as soon as we can get some of the leaves tamed!


Continuing with the pumpkin obsession …

I’ve been hankering for a good pumpkin cookie. I’ve made some in the past, but they were cakey and a little wimpy in flavor. I wanted a cookie, not an unfinished whoopie pie. A crisp cookie. Something to give my classic Toll-House cookie a run for its money. So I wandered around the web and stumbled onto this chick Sally who had gone on a similar journey. Sally says “pumpkin can replace the eggs.” WHAAAA? This was crazy talk. I did a little more googling, and sure enough, a number of vegan sites suggest pumpkin as an egg replacement (1/3c pumpkin puree ~ 1 large egg).

SAMSUNGSo why reinvent the wheel? I took my classic Toll-House recipe and dropped the egg for some pumpkin. Because it’s pumpkin, I added a dash of classic fall spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and the like). I had bought some toffee bits on a whim, and they sounded like they might be good in there. But you know what, I tasted the batter after adding the toffee and thought it a tad too sweet, so I tossed in a just a handful of dark chocolate chips to cut the sweet. Genius, if I do say so myself!

These are honest-to-goodness COOKIES. Crisp on the edges, chewy in the center. The pumpkin is subtle, but there. The bitter of the dark chocolate not only tempers the sweetness of the toffee but enhances the earthiness of the pumpkin. The spices are subtle, and besides, cinnamon and chocolate are an ancient pairing. This cookie is worth adding to your fall repertoire.

Pumpkin-Toffee-Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies

SAMSUNG1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons “baking” spice mix
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup toffee bits
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Gently melt the butter. I like to use a 2-cup Pyrex cup in the microwave: 30 seconds @ 50% power a couple of times with a swirl in between, 20 seconds @ 40% power, remove. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Pour the butter over the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low for about a minute. Scrape the paddle and sides, then let the butter and sugar hang out for about five minutes to better dissolve. Then, beat on medium-low for a couple of minutes until fully mixed. [NOTE: You could probably do this by hand with a wooden spoon and good arm muscles]

Add the pumpkin, mix until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla, mix until fully incorporated.

Add the dry ingredients slowly with mixer on low (I added in three increments), scraping frequently. Don’t overmix! Add the toffee and chocolate. Mix with the mixer about 3 rotations of the bowl — then stop and finish by hand.

Use a cookie scoop (mine is a generous tablespoon — probably about four teaspoons) to place eight scoops on a parchment-line cookie sheet. You need some room for spread. Put ONE cookie sheet in the oven, cook 6 minutes (set the timer!), rotate the pan, and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes.

Pull when the cookies look a bit underdone — there will be carryover cooking as you allow them to cool on the cookie sheet before moving to waxed paper on your countertop to fully cool.

Serve with ice cold milk, of course!



Best Pumpkin Muffins Ever

Both of my grandmothers were AMAZING Southern cooks (my mom is pretty good too). You know, I think my grandmothers saved their absolute BEST stuff for when us grandkids visited. So, yes, I might have had dessert at all three meals when I visited them. Drove my folks nuts, but you know, Grandma’s House, Grandma’s Rules.

SAMSUNGSo in my current pumpkin obsession, I got a hankering for pumpkin bread. My mom makes a lovely one, so I pulled out my trusty plaid Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (circa 1953), thinking that’s where her recipe was, but no luck. No Pumpkin Bread. So I reach for HER mother’s recipe box, the one that my sister graciously saved for me when they were cleaning out the house after my grandfather (who survived my grandmother) died. It is one of my prized possessions. Sure enough — a recipe titled Pumpkin Bread — score! I still need to find out if this is Mom’s or not :).

I read through the recipe, and the ingredients were all basic pantry items that I had on hand. But I was a little puzzled by the yield: one bundt pan and a small loaf pan, or, two medium loaf pans. How many muffins would that be? I headed over to one of my favorite blogs for a sanity check and decided that my grandmother’s full recipe would yield about 24 muffins. Since I didn’t have a full can of pumpkin any more, that meant a half recipe (rant: did pumpkin cans shrink? They hold less than 2 cups now).

So I turn the recipe card over, and find this note about the recipe’s source in her oh-so-recognizable cursive: “She wraps this bread in foil to store. It stays moist and keeps a long time, unless hungry grandchildren find out it is on hand.” I almost bawled — it’s like she had written that hoping I would find it years later. It was a moment.


So I follow her recipe pretty much as is, except that I like raisins and nuts in mine. A couple of hints about those. If your raisins are a little firmer than you like, soak them in some hot water to plump, then drain well before tossing in the batter. Also — I highly recommend toasting the walnuts before you toss them in. Nuts in wet batter just don’t develop as full a flavor. Toasting also helps them stay crunchier!

These really are the best pumpkin muffins ever. There’s a strong pumpkin flavor – no guessing about what kind of muffins! They are moist and not too sweet. The perfect accompaniment to your mid-morning coffee. Truly.

Best Pumpkin Muffins Ever
Adapted from a recipe from Erma Payne, who got it in 1970 from Mrs. Whitisell, Leawood, KS
Makes about 16 standard muffins

SAMSUNG1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons “baking” spice mix [*]
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, cooled and chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 16 muffin tins with paper liners. Keep a couple extra on hand in case you can stretch it to 18.

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Separately, mix the pumpkin, butter, eggs, sugar, and water together. Pour the wet into the dry and mix until almost all of the flour is incorporated. Add the raisins and nuts and incorporate — but don’t overmix!

Fill the muffin tins about 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 350F for about 25 minutes, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. I would check at 20 minutes and then at 3 to 5 minute intervals thereafter.



[*] This is a cinnamon-based spice mix that includes such things as ginger, nutmeg, mace, cloves, and/or allspice. Sometimes labled “Pumpkin Pie Spice” or “Apple Pie Spice”. Mine contains cinnamon, mace, anise, and a touch of cardamom.