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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

red devil chocolate cake (with secret beets)


a weighty issue

Dan took Meredith along when he bought her first bike several years ago. When they returned with a pink bike with white tires and training wheels, unicorns and rainbows festooning the frame and sparkly streamers adorning the handlebars, I wasn’t surprised. I WAS surprised, however, when I picked the thing up for the first time, and almost suffered a hernia. So this is what the Chinese make with their leftover pig iron!

Ye gods, it weighed more than Dan’s and my bikes together! And tiny three-year-old Meredith was supposed to pedal this miniature single-speed beast around our gravel-roaded, hillside neighborhood? There wasn’t enough hot chocolate in the greater Anchorage area to provide her with sufficient calories to get this thing up our driveway, much less up the hill to the bike trail beyond.

Even when Meredith ditched the training wheels, the weight of the overall bike was not much diminished, especially since Dan was then required to install a kickstand. Because of the impossibility of Meredith pushing the bike up our hill on her own, most of her biking was done by first driving partway to preschool, then biking together from there.

But as Meredith’s skill on her bike has grown (“Look, mom, no feet!!”), her strength and endurance have increased, and she can actually get the leaden pink beast cranking along. When she and I go on running/biking outings together, I only have to help push her up the biggest hills. Since she has outgrown her bike trailer, we decided to order a trailer-bike for her to ride behind our bikes. And for her sixth birthday (rapidly approaching), we ordered her a new gear bike to encourage her biking enthusiasm.

Imagine our consternation when the trailer-bike arrived, and although we’d gotten a nice model (it even has six gears for Meredith to learn to shift), the thing weighs more than the bikes we will pull it with! Ugh! And the gear bike? The lightest one we could find in her size weighs just as much as her pink one.  At least it doesn’t weigh even MORE. I’m sure lighter bikes for kids would be prohibitively expensive, but still… It seems unfair that the littler they are, the heavier the bikes they are expected to ride.

Here’s a funny thought. As Meredith grows, and her bikes get bigger, they will get lighter and lighter, until at last she will have a bike that is lighter than the tiny first bike she ever rode at age three. What doesn’t kill her will only make her stronger.

Even better than hot chocolate for powering stubby legs on bike pedals, this chocolate cake is lovely. No one ever suspects the beets unless I make them guess the secret ingredient—and even then, they can’t actually TASTE the beets. It’s a relatively healthy and very delicious cake.




red devil chocolate cake (with secret beets)

This great recipe is based on one from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. The cake doesn’t taste at all like beets once it’s baked because of all the cocoa powder in it, but the beets add a great depth of flavor and moistness—not to mention vitamins!!

If you have an overabundance of beets like I do (they are very often in our CSA boxes), make a double or triple batch of the cake in small loaf pans, and then wrap them well in plastic wrap and freeze them.  Because of the beets, the cake stays very nice and moist, even after freezing. You can also roast and peel your beets ahead of time and freeze them whole, in preparation for baking this cake later.

If you want to make a Mexican chocolate cake, just add 1 ½ teaspoons of cinnamon to the dry ingredients for an Ibarra chocolate flavor.

14 ounces roasted, peeled beets
½ cup water
3 eggs, or 2 eggs + 2 egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ to ½ cup oil (depending on how low-fat you want to go)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
optional: ½ to 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Roast and peel the beets:

a. Put whole, unpeeled beets in a baking dish or dutch oven and put ¼” of water in the dish. Cover tightly with foil or the lid of the dutch oven and bake them at 400 degrees (or whatever temperature you happen to be baking something else) until tender when stabbed with a paring knife. Usually they take at least an hour, but young beets might be quicker, depending on their size.
b. Remove from the oven and let them cool. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip their skins off.

2. Grease and flour the pan(s): either two 8” round baking pans (for a small layer cake) or one 10” pan, or a couple of small loaf pans, or line a muffin tin with cupcake papers. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. In a blender, puree the beets and ½ cup water. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs well. Thoroughly whisk in the sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, and beet puree until very smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients (except the chocolate chips) to the wet ingredients a little at a time, whisking until smooth. Then stir in the chocolate chips, if using.
5. Pour the batter into prepared baking pan(s) and bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Check the cupcakes after 15 to 18 minutes. The two cakes/loaves might take as little as 30 minutes, and the one 10” cake will probably take at least 45 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting with your choice of frosting, or just dust with powdered sugar. If you add the chocolate chips, you don’t really need frosting at all.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

rhubarb crisp


My rhubarb is up!

Rhubarb, that harbinger of spring…  or for those of us living in Alaska, of summer! We’re thrilled to see it poking up out of the ground! I know, these little crinkled leaves don’t look like much, but once they get going, the stalks really shoot up! Since not very many types of fruit grow in Alaska (and strawberries and raspberries are still a long way off), we’re happy for any fruit-like substance that can eke out an existence in our backyards.

We’re even more excited than usual, because of the unusually warm and sunny weather we’ve had these last several days. Everyone I know has gone stark-raving mad, capering about in the sunshine and soaking up the rays as much as ever they can. I think we’ve gotten more sun this past week than most of us got in all of last year’s cold and rainy summer. Oh, does it feel good!

But rhubarb popping up in the garden does come with a certain sobering responsibility. Suddenly, I remember that I have several bags of sliced rhubarb in the freezer from last summer. And if I don’t use it up now, before the next crop comes in, I’ll be even more overwhelmed with rhubarb than usual. My rhubarb plants are divisions of my mom’s, planted over thirty years ago. I have no idea where they came from, but they are wonderful, with fat, tender, cherry-red stalks that produce all summer long (if I make sure to break off the flower stalks as they come up). If I’m not diligent about cooking and eating rhubarb and processing it to freeze, the plants are likely to overwhelm the entire front of my house.

So! We’ve been eating rhubarb crisp, apple-rhubarb crisp, rhubarb coffee cake, and rhubarb-apple pie. Here’s my recipe for rhubarb crisp, in case you still have some in your freezer from last year…  and a variation with apples that I like even better. But if your house is in danger from being overtaken by a rhubarb plant, I recommend the former recipe. It uses more rhubarb.



rhubarb crisp

When the rhubarb is coming on strong, it’s time to take decisive action. This recipe is based on one from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

half or all of the recipe of the crisp topping, below (to your taste)
10 heaping cups rhubarb, sliced into 1-inch pieces
2 cups sugar
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a small pinch of ground cloves (don’t go overboard here)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make the topping and set it aside.
2. Combine the rhubarb with the sugar, flour, and spices. Coat a large gratin dish with oil or non-stick spray. Pour the fruit into the dish.
3. Bake, uncovered (without the topping), for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven. (You can do this step earlier in the day if you’d like.)
4. An hour or two before you’re ready to eat the crisp, sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Return to the oven and bake for 25-30 more minutes, or until the juices from the fruit are bubbling and the topping is brown. Serve hot or warm.

rhubarb-apple crisp

half or all of the recipe of the crisp topping, below (to your taste)
1 ½ pounds apples, peeled and cored
2 pounds rhubarb, diced into 1-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a small pinch of ground cloves (don’t go overboard)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make the topping and set it aside. Dice the apples, then put them in a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Pour the fruit into a 2-quart gratin dish.
2. Bake, uncovered (without the topping), for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.
3. An hour before you’re ready to eat the crisp, sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Return to the oven and bake for 25-30 more minutes, or until the juices from the fruit are bubbling and the topping is brown. Serve hot or warm.

crisp topping

This recipe makes enough for 1 heavily-topped crisp, or 2 lightly-topped crisps. Make this recipe, and if you like a light topping, use half and freeze the rest until you want to make another crisp. Or use the whole amount of topping on one crisp.

Another note: the Loriva walnut oil is really fantastic; it’s roasty and toasty-tasting and very rich. Don’t bother using refined walnut oil, because it doesn’t have much flavor and the recipe won’t be nearly as tasty. Use butter, instead. If you don’t want to use walnuts, replace the nuts with an additional ½ cup of rolled oats.

6 tablespoons Loriva toasted walnut oil or melted butter
½ cup brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup flour (whole wheat or white flour—whichever you prefer)
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine all ingredients so you have a crumbly, moist mixture.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

carrot cake cupcakes with creamy frosting


letting go

These last several weeks I’ve been working on letting go. Letting go of some of the tasks and obligations that, if I had a clone, I could easily accomplish. Unfortunately, there is only one of me, so I have had to start being a little more realistic about how much work is sustainable over the long term. This has not been an easy project.

As much as I love all my projects (the bakery, the CSA business, the farmers market non-profit), I’ve realized that doing all my tasks for each of them is too much. Even though I am passionately attached to each one, I am learning that I can remain passionate about something, but not DO everything myself. It’s OK to let go.

In that vein, I’ve hired my wonderful friend Nancy to help with the CSA… she is taking over the technical support and customer service tasks, as well as learning how to manage the website. It’s SO GREAT to have her help! This letting go, while difficult at first, is giving me more time with my family, more time to exercise, and more time to slow down and (try to) feel peaceful.

So… I feel like celebrating! And everyone knows that cupcakes and celebrations go together. I had time to pick up Meredith early from preschool today and we made these carrot cake cupcakes!





carrot cake cupcakes with creamy frosting

You know how good our Alaskan carrots are, and this is a perfect recipe to celebrate them! Cupcakes and cakes are always good for celebrating, don’t you think? You can make a beautiful layer cake or gorgeous cupcakes, topped with creamy, tangy white frosting and golden curls of toasted coconut.

This recipe is based on one in rebar modern food. A single batch will make 18-20 cupcakes, or one 8” double-layer cake.


1 ½ cups grated carrots
¾ cup crushed unsweetened pineapple, drained
¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes (optional—leave it out if you’re not a coconut fan)
½ cup chopped dates
¾ cup toasted walnuts, chopped (toast for 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven)
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt


1 block Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese (12 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted


1-2 cups large unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted in a 300 degree oven for about 8 minutes, until light golden-brown
OR if you’re making this with a four-year-old, you can choose a different garnish, like…
jellybeans? And then SHE can eat the ones with jellybeans.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8” round cake pans and set aside. Combine grated carrot, pineapple, coconut, dates and walnuts in a large bowl.
2. In the bowl of a mixer, beat the sugars with the eggs. Stir in the vanilla and whip on high speed until the volume has tripled. On medium speed, pour the oil in slowly to blend.
3. Combine the remaining dry ingredients and gently stir into the egg mixture. Fold gently into the carrot mixture. Divide the batter between the cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake 30 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 5 minutes, then invert onto cooling racks. Wait until the cakes are completely cool before making the frosting.
4. Beat the cream cheese with the vanilla and powdered sugar until completely creamy. Put the bottom layer of the cake on a plate, and spread just the top of the cake with frosting. Place the top cake layer on, and again, just frost the top of the cake. (If you want to frost the sides of the cake as well, you’ll need to make a double batch of the frosting, but I don’t think it needs it.) Garnish the top with toasted coconut.

For cupcakes, line 2 muffin tins with cupcake papers and spray the papers with nonstick spray. Scoop the batter into the cups (use an ice-cream scoop if you have it) and fill the cups fairly full; the cupcakes don’t rise much because of all the carrots and fruits and nuts weighing down the batter. Bake them at 350 degrees, testing them for doneness with a toothpick after about 20 minutes. When the toothpick comes out clean, remove from oven, let cool in tins for 5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Wait until completely cool before decorating, as for the cake.


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Sunday, March 15, 2009

mini irish soda breads


marking the seasons

One of the things I love best about being a mom is celebrating the seasons with Meredith. Re-creating holiday traditions I loved from my own childhood, or coming up with new ways to commemorate the changes throughout the year is so fun…  it brings back pure childhood joy for me as I watch and participate in Meredith’s experience. 

For the last couple of years, we’ve celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, not because we’re Irish or anything, but just because it’s a great excuse to make something yummy to share with friends. We make little Irish soda breads, put them in bags that we’ve decorated with lots of shamrocks, don our greenest apparel, and march around the neighborhood delivering our gifts. This year it was a snowy Sunday—and only ten degrees in the bright sunshine! So we took our sled.

This is the third year we have followed this tradition, and it’s fun to see how much more Meredith can do every year. This year, at 4½ years old, she scooped the flour and oats, measured the salt and baking soda, stirred all the dry ingredients together, and incorporated the butter. Then she reminded me (after I’d already shaped the loaves for the first batch) that I had forgotten to include the golden raisins. “Ack! Back into the bowl to knead in the raisins!” By this time, there was no need for her to slash an X in the top of the loaves—they were a rough and ragged bunch. Then I skinned my thumb knuckle when grating the butter for the second (and final) batch. Ouch! Even though grating is a much quicker and easier method than cutting the butter into the flour, it has its own hazards. I look forward to the year when Meredith is old enough to risk her own knuckles on this project.




mini Irish soda breads

This recipe is based on one in Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Home Baking. I’ve found this recipe for one huge loaf to be perfect to divide into 4 small loaves, perfect for sharing with friends on St. Patrick’s Day… or any other day! It’s sort of like a big, not-too-sweet whole-wheaty scone studded with golden raisins!

I’ve included my quick and easy method of cutting butter into dry ingredients…  I’m way too lazy to do this with a pastry cutter, my fingertips, or 2 knives, as cookbooks tell you to do. Yes, the food processor works…  but do you really want to get it dirty for this project? Here’s the big secret: you just grate the butter (frozen or refrigerated) and then toss it into the flour mixture. Voila! Done in a trice! You can use this butter-grating method for pie crust, scones, or any other kind of pastry that calls for cutting in butter! Could I really have invented this? I’ve never seen it described anywhere else. Let me know!

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ cup rolled old-fashioned oats
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) butter, frozen or very cold
2 cups golden raisins, steamed for 5 minutes over boiling water to soften
approximately 2 ½ cups buttermilk, or milk soured with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or mild vinegar

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a big bowl.
3. Grate the butter on the coarse side of a grater and toss into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly. (Grating the butter takes the place of painstakingly cutting the butter into the dry ingredients.) Toss the raisins into the flour mixture and mix well.
4. Pour most of the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix well to moisten the flour thoroughly. If it is not moist yet, add the rest of the buttermilk—and perhaps a bit more as needed. It’s OK if it turns out a little gooey—it will still bake up into delicious little loaves!
5. Use wet hands to pull it together into a big mound on the counter and divide it with a big knife or dough scraper into 4 pieces. Round each piece slightly and place on baking sheets (I put 2 loaves on each sheet). Cut a ½-inch deep X across the top of the bread, and pop the breads into the oven.
6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden-brown and crusty. I have a convection oven, so your breads may need a little longer. Also your oven may not burn the golden raisins on the outside of the loaves? Try it and see!  Either way, the bread still tastes great!
7. Set on a rack to cool. Eat warm or at room temperature.


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Sunday, January 18, 2009

pecan cardamom poundcake


Happy Birthday, my one true love!

Around here, almost all our birthdays cluster in a feverish clot around Christmas—even including extended family. Some of the birthdays fall before New Year’s, some after. Even as one of the guilty parties (a December baby), it feels like a bit too much sometimes, even when we keep the celebrations VERY simple (e.g., dinner of your choice + cake + card).

For my birthday, Dan and Meredith made a beautiful little gingerbread cake, and after dinner, I waited in the dark at the table while they conspired in the pantry for 10 minutes or so. When they finally emerged, they were carrying quite the bonfire; yes, they’d planted one candle for each of my 38 years. It was only an 8-inch cake, too, so you can imagine the inferno. By the time they had the candles all lit, and I’d made my wish and extinguished the blaze, many of the candles had burned down to their nubbins. So even after removing the candles, the cake was festooned with blue puddles of wax… You don’t see a birthday cake like that every day! It was the best one ever!

So Dan’s birthday is on Tuesday, which in addition to being Inauguration Day, is also our big baking day. Since we’re up at 5am and baking hard all day, it doesn’t leave much time or energy for celebrating, so we decided to celebrate his birthday today! He picked the pecan cardamom pound cake…  and I have to say, it’s an awfully good choice for a birthday cake. This cake has been called into service for most every other occasion, too: potluck parties, Christmas parties, car-camping trips, my friend Nicole’s wedding cake, and just general all-purpose yummy cake. It’s spicy and flavorful, and chock full of toasted pecans…  It’s very rich, but you can cut thin slices and feed an army with it. Or, it will work for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a 3 or 4 day camping trip for 3 adults (with a few other staples thrown in).

We considered the hugeness and richness of this cake before Dan chose the cake. It really does feed a crowd…  and we weren’t in the mood for a big party. But then we remembered that this cake freezes really well! So anyway, don’t let the 6 eggs and pound of butter put you off. Just invite lots of friends over to share it, or freeze some for later! 


pecan cardamom poundcake

This cake is based on a recipe in the fantastic cookbook Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. Like I mentioned above—don’t be put off by all the butter and eggs—it’s a rich cake, but it feeds 16 to 20 people with seconds to spare. I use two and a half cups of brown sugar, but the original recipe calls for three. It’s quite sweet when made with three cups; l prefer it a little less sweet, but pump it up to three if you prefer. I of course also pump up the spices and nuts from the original recipe.

I like to get the cardamom and allspice and peppercorns whole, and grind them in my spice grinder (a coffee grinder devoted to that purpose). If you get the cardamom whole, make sure it is “decorticated,” which means the little black seeds are removed from the pods. You don’t want to be grinding the pods up into the cake (or picking the seeds out of the pods, either).

2 cups butter, at room temperature
2 ½ cups brown sugar (see note, above)
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups white flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
¾ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup strong coffee, cooled (you can cool it with the milk, below)
½ cup milk
2 to 3 cups pecans, toasted for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then chopped coarsely (but save several whole pecans for decoration)

coffee glaze

about 1/3 cup coffee
2 cups powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bundt pan and dust with flour.  (This step
2. In a large mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid mixer for this), cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and blended.
3. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, and baking powder. Beat half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
4. Add the coffee (or if you’ve combined the coffee and milk, add ½ cup of the coffee-milk mixture) and beat until smooth. Beat in the remaining flour mixture and then beat in the rest of the liquid. Stir in the pecans by hand.
5. Pour the batter into the greased and floured pan, and bake, checking after an hour. If a knife or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, it’s done. If you have a convection oven and a dark pan, it will probably only take an hour. For conventional ovens, it might take 1 ¼ or 1 ½ hours. Let the cake rest for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Cool on a wire rack.
6. For the glaze, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Drizzle in enough coffee, while whisking, to make a glaze the consistency of heavy cream. (If you make the glaze too thick, it’ll chip and crack when you cut the cake.) When the cake cools, set it, still on the rack, over a plate. Pour the glaze over the cake and let it set up for a few minutes. Switch the cake and rack to a second plate, and pour the glaze from the first plate over the cake again. Repeat this a few times until it is glazed to your liking. After the final glaze, when the glaze is still wet, stick pecans on the top for decoration.


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Sunday, December 14, 2008

soft and chewy gingerbread men


Run, run as fast as you can!

I love to take Meredith on long walks. I’ve been training her to be a good little hiker ever since she was two years old…  I’d bring a good book, the baby stroller, and let her dawdle and wander her way the whole mile and a half to the park. I’d read a chapter (and not hassle her to hurry up) while she stopped every few yards to strip the seeds off dandelions with gusty puffs, amass stockpiles of rosehips, swozzle around in mud puddles, or scrutinize insect maneuverings. After she exhausted the delights of the swings, the slide, and the rocking motorcycle at the playground, I’d push her home in the stroller. Now, at four, she can easily walk both ways—and with a little encouragement, she can run a lot of it!

To facilitate speedy journeys to and fro, I have a few tricks in my hip pocket. The most effective one is when I tell the story of the Gingerbread Man. Nothing motivates Meredith like “Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!” Finally, it’s December, and it’s time to bake some of our own galloping goodies! We kept a sharp eye on our gingerbread men to make sure none of them ran away… and any likely-looking escapees got their legs eaten off!





soft and chewy gingerbread men

This recipe is based on a back issue of Cooks Illustrated (November 1999), and these cut-outs are way yummier than the usual hard, dry gingerbread men.  There is plenty of butter in them, so if you don’t overbake them, they remain soft and chewy—the way I like my cookies! Just bake them a bit longer if you prefer crunchy cookies.

The dough is quite soft when you make it, so it’s very easy to smoosh and then roll out between sheets of parchment paper. Don’t try cutting the dough into shapes right away, though—it’s way too soft until it’s been frozen. The key is to have the dough FROZEN solid. (Wait until a cold day like we did—it was zero degrees and the dough chilled nicely on the back porch!) Because you roll out the dough between pieces of parchment paper, and don’t add extra flour, you can keep re-rolling the dough scraps as necessary, and the cookies don’t get tough.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1½ sticks butter (12 tablespoons), cut into 12 pieces
¾ cup molasses
2 tablespoons milk

1. In a food processor bowl fitted with steel blade, process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until butter is incorporated, about 15 seconds. Dump in the molasses and milk and process until the dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass, about 10 seconds.
2. Scrape dough onto a piece of parchment paper, and divide in half. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll out somewhere between 1/8-inch and ¼-inch thick between two large sheets of parchment paper. This is a little bit tricky, since the piece of parchment on the bottom side will tend to wrinkle up as you roll the top. Just keep flipping it over, and straightening out the wrinkles. It’s also challenging to know how thin you’re getting the dough, since you can’t see it very well—but it doesn’t much matter. Just do the best you can to get a fairly even layer, and don’t get too obsessive about it. Leave the dough sandwiched between parchment layers, and place on cookie sheet. Freeze it on the cookie sheet until firm, at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
3. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. If your cookie sheets aren’t non-stick, coat them with cooking spray, or line them with parchment paper.
4. Remove one dough sheet from freezer; place on work surface. Peel off top parchment sheet and gently lay it back in place. Flip dough over; peel off and discard second parchment layer. This first step is genius (pre-peeling the parchment off the dough, then putting it gently back on). It lets the dough come off the bottom sheet easily after you cut the shapes out.
5. Cut dough into desired shapes, transferring shapes to cookie sheets as you go. If it’s really frozen, the dough will stay in the cookie cutters when you pick up the shapes, which makes it easy to poke them out onto the cookie sheet—but only if you use the metal cutters that are open at the top. I wouldn’t recommend using closed-top plastic cutters with this recipe, since I think it would stick badly, and as soon as the dough warms up, it’s very soft and gooey. If the dough stays on the parchment when you cut it out, transfer them to the cookie sheet with a wide metal spatula, spacing them ¾-inch apart; set scraps aside. Repeat with remaining dough until cookie sheets are full.
6. Decorate the cookies with raisins or nuts or whatever else suits your fancy.
7. Bake cookies for 7 to 8 minutes. They will be soft in the center, and just firm at the edges. Do NOT overbake. Cool cookies on sheets 2 minutes, then remove with wide metal spatula to wire rack; cool to room temperature.
8. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, chilling, cutting, and baking. Repeat with remaining dough until all dough is used.
9. Store the cookies in an airtight container with sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper between the layers.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

pumpkin cupcakes with walnut streusel topping


I can’t help it. I’m going to admit that I own another fun kitchen gadget… a FOOD PORTIONER for criminy’s sake. What is with me these days? Two posts ago I’m talking you into buying a mandoline, then I’m giving you excuses for collecting more cookie cutters… Maybe I should change the name of my blog to Alison’s Infomercial? “Doing my best to keep the American economy afloat…  one kitchen gadget at a time.”

Before I dig myself in any deeper, let me just explain what a food portioner is. It looks like an ice cream scooper, you know, with the little lever thing on the side that you push to scrape the food out? When you were in elementary school, the lucky lunch line cafeteria workers got to serve mashed potatoes with it. Each flawlessly smooth alabaster mound of reconstituted potatoes, plopped unceremoniously into its perfectly sized compartment in the divided tray…  Did you want to be one of those food servers or WHAT? 

I love to use a food portioner to scoop batter into muffin cups! It’s what the pros use, and let me tell you, it’s so much easier than doling the batter out with a spoon or spatula. The little push-button scraper thingie cleans the cup out each time, so you don’t drip between muffin cups. Which means that you don’t have to scrub baked-on batter drops off the tin afterwards! (Big bonus in my book.) And, you get the perfect amount of batter in each cup, so you don’t overfill them, which you know results in converging muffin-tops cemented to your pan.

You’ll find food portioners of every size imaginable at your local restaurant supply store. (Beware: if you like to bake or cook in large batches, restaurant supply stores are filled with oh-so-tempting items.) You want a size 16 scoop for regular-sized cupcakes or muffins. (That number means you can get 16 scoops per quart, or something like that. The smaller the number, the bigger the scoop.)

Go ahead, live a little! Get a food portioner—it’s a pretty affordable way to live a childhood fantasy! And just think—if you let your kids use it, they might even aspire to a different career than a cafeteria line server.  (OK, so Meredith still just wants to be a scooper-outer when she grows up—but come on! She’s only four!)



pumpkin cupcakes with walnut streusel topping

This recipe is a modification of a combination of two recipes from different cookbooks by the same person. (How’s that for complicated?) Isa Chandra Moscowitz wrote both Veganomiconand Vegan with a Vengeance, and includes recipes for pumpkin muffins and a pumpkin streusel cake in her books. And then I had to make a few more changes… Anyway, I’m not a vegan, but I didn’t have any eggs when I wanted to make a pumpkin treat. I’m happy to report, with all that wonderful moist pumpkin in the batter, you don’t miss the eggs a bit!

The roasted walnut oil I’m referring to here really makes the flavor nutty and rich and wonderful—I like to use Loriva brand, which I can find in my grocery store. But this recipe will still be yummy with canola oil.

walnut streusel

¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons roasted walnut oil (or canola oil)
1 cup chopped walnuts (medium-fine)


1 (15-ounce) can of pureed pumpkin, or 2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (don’t use pumpkin pie mix)
¾ cups soy milk or regular milk
½ cup canola oil (I like to use about ¼ cup roasted walnut oil and ¼ cup canola oil, but all canola is fine, too)
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light molasses (not blackstrap)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two muffin tins with 16 to 18 paper cupcake liners. If you like, spray the liners lightly with cooking spray, just to make sure they come out of their papers easily.
2. In a small bowl, mix the streusel ingredients together with a fork until all is moistened with the oil.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, milk, oil, granulated sugar, molasses, and vanilla. Mix well.
4. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients with a dry whisk, to mix all the spices thoroughly into the flour.
5. Dump the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and fold together gently with a rubber spatula. Don’t overmix here, but keep folding until no more streaks of flour show up.
6. Scoop the batter into the cupcake cups, about 2/3 full. Don’t overfill them, because they do rise quite a bit. Sprinkle a spoonful of the streusel topping over each cupcake.
7. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the walnut topping is golden brown, and more importantly, a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
8. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes in the muffin tin. Then remove each cupcake to a cooling rack until completely cool. If you eat these while they are still warm, they are too moist and gooey, but they are perfect when they cool completely.


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Monday, October 20, 2008

graham cracker cut-outs


I inherited a lot of cookie cutters from my mom. I have shapes for Halloween, shapes for Valentine’s Day and Christmas and Easter and St. Patrick’s Day, animal shapes, geometric shapes, and even shapes for Election Day (elephants and donkeys). I have A LOT of cookie cutters. I also inherited my mom’s desire to collect more cookie cutters, which is a little strange, because I rarely make cut-out sugar cookies.

But when my daughter Meredith turned two years old and began participating in some cooking projects, I got really nostalgic about making those roll-out sugar cookies with my mom. Of course, I also remembered how much cookie dough I ate during those sessions. I decided to try and develop a healthier recipe that I wouldn’t mind making often, and that I didn’t care if Meredith ate by the handful. This whole-wheat graham cracker recipe was born! It uses oil instead of butter, 100% whole wheat flour, and doesn’t call for eggs.

Your kids can help you measure the ingredients, mix the dough, and practice rolling out a small piece of dough while you roll out the rest. Then they can help cut out the crackers and decorate them with all kinds of toppings—nuts, seeds, dried fruit, chocolate chips… anything you like!

These crackers are fun to make, are pretty darn healthy, and have a nice, slightly sweet and whole-wheaty flavor. They definitely aren’t as sweet as cookies, though. Which makes them nice with tea, and great for s’mores. (When we’re making them for s’mores, I cut them into squares with a pizza cutter and then make fork-pricks in them to look like the store-bought kind.)

Meredith loves making these, so now I have an excuse to collect even more cookie cutters! My most recent acquisitions? Letter shapes! We especially love to make initials of our friends, and then march around the neighborhood to deliver them.

I was inspired to write this post by my friend Cate, who writes a fabulous blog about cooking delicious, nutritious food with her kids—and other people’s kids! She asked if I wanted to be a guest blogger on her website, Tribeca Yummy Mummy, and I jumped at the chance! Check us out on her site (more photos there)—and then browse the rest of her fantastic ideas and recipes!




graham cracker cut-outs

These crackers aren’t very sweet, so if you want them sweeter, you could substitute more maple syrup or honey for part of the milk.  I love the combination of roasted walnut oil (Loriva brand is pretty easy to find) and maple syrup, or roasted peanut oil with honey. The nut oil adds a really nice richness to the crackers, but you can just use canola oil if that’s all you have.

You can use all whole-wheat pastry flour for this recipe, which makes a nice, tender cracker, but makes the rolling out a little bit hard, since there isn’t much gluten in pastry flour. It works fine, though, if you’re patient and don’t expect the same consistency as regular sugar cookie dough. I have had better luck using half whole-wheat pastry flour and half whole wheat bread flour (or just use regular all-purpose whole wheat flour).
After I roll out the dough once, the dough scraps get a little tougher to work with, so I generally just roll them out and cut the remains up with a pizza cutter into square-ish shapes.

We make them often with cookie cutters and decorate them, but if you cut them out in squares and make fork-pricks in them, they are fantastic for s’mores!


¼ cup milk or soy milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or vinegar
¼ cup roasted nut oil (such as toasted peanut or walnut oil), or canola oil
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
2 ½ cups sifted whole wheat flour [you can use ½ pastry flour and ½ bread flour], plus more as needed
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. sea salt

decoration ideas

black and/or golden raisins (you can soak them in water to plump them up)
dried cherries
dried cranberries
nuts (peanuts, almonds)
seeds (green pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)
chocolate chips
crystallized ginger pieces

1. Combine milk and lemon juice, set aside for a few minutes to curdle. In a small bowl, whisk the oil and sweetener together, and whisk in the curdled milk.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in the center and pour in the liquid mixture. Stir gently until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and balls up in the center. You might have to add extra flour, or if you’re using whole wheat bread flour, you might need to add a little more milk.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets if they are not non-stick. Using a rolling pin on a floured surface, and using more flour as necessary on top of the dough, and on the rolling pin, roll the dough out about 1/8-inch thick. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Re-roll the scraps and cut more shapes out (the second time around, I just cut them into square-ish shapes with a pizza cutter). Arrange them on sheets. 
4. If you want to decorate them, spray lightly with water with a sprayer bottle (this helps the nuts to stick) and go crazy with the toppings.
5. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp.  Transfer crackers to racks and cool them before storing in a tightly closed tin.


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