pumpkin muffins

pumpkin muffins

Sometimes I plan on carrying out these elaborate plans that sound perfect when they’re rattling around up there in my head. Most of the plans involve planning a meticulously executed party with my twin (think Downton Abbey costume parties or Marie Antoinette pastry parties) or knocking down some wall in my house or turning my attic into a playroom (keep in mind that I have no children…). The latest plan in my head was inspired by I Love Lucy. Lucy gets up every morning and scrambles eggs or makes waffles or fries bacon for Ricky and she always accompanies it with freshly squeezed orange juice. I thought, “That looks heavenly. I’m going to do that for Andy.” The first morning of the plan began and ended with me drooling on my pillow and covered in blankets and still in the bed when Andy left for work. And I woke up feeling sad. And I had to tell myself:

1. Ricky is a nightclub performer. He works late and gets to sleep until about 10:00 AM; therefore, Lucy doesn’t have to get up super early.
2. Lucy doesn’t have a job outside of the home.
3. It’s a TV show.

pumpkin muffins

I guess my point is this: a lot of times we have big plans to do fantastic things and a lot of times the plans actually work. But a lot of times they just don’t. And that’s okay. I’ve had to practice giving myself grace and realizing that things won’t be perfect all the time.

This fall has been somewhat of a blur. It’s been busy and, well, life. I haven’t gotten my fall wreath on my door and I haven’t even watched the Great Pumpkin yet. And it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m remembering that despite the details and challenges of the day to day, there is beauty each time the sun rises. It’s okay to take things one step at a time. And I’m loving this realization.

pumpkin muffins

Whoa. Pretty sure this post just turned into a diary session. But right now I’m going to celebrate this season. This season of rest in the midst of unrest. And this season of coolness and Autumn. And, no, I’m not making a gourmet breakfast every morning right now. And I haven’t started my costume for the Downton Abbey party. But I did make these little pumpkin muffins. And they are happy and pumpkiny and spicy and everything you’d expect from a good pumpkin muffin. They’re traditional with no surprises. Sometimes you just want that.

pumpkin muffins

pumpkin muffins
recipe adapted from Lovely Little Kitchen
prep time: 10 minutes cook time: 14 minutes yield: 24 mini muffins

ingredients:
1/2 cup + 6 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar
1/4 cup unrefined brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg
1 cup roasted pumpkin purée
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

create:
Preheat oven to 375º. Lightly grease 2 12-count miniature muffin pans and set aside.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, add the flour, sugars, baking soda, salt and spices and whisk to combine.
In a second medium-sized mixing bowl, add the egg, pumpkin, butter, and vanilla and stir to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until everything is just incorporated (try not to over mix).
Divide the batter evenly in the muffin pans. Each cup will be almost full. Sprinkle the sunflower seeds evenly over the batter.
Bake the muffins for 12-14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

pumpkin muffins

grilled chicken wings with citrusy and spicy honey soy sauce

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With its cultural events, historical significance, and small-town, big-city balance, Columbia, South Carolina is always a special place to experience. Aside from the iconic statehouse and governmental and political rants, the backbone of Columbia is arguably rooted in the Gamecocks. Not one person glances twice at a pedestrian sporting a Carolina tee shirt or a grown man wearing an Under Armour football jersey in the middle of baseball season. There is no question as to what that chicken foot sticker is doing on the back of that SUV. And I love that. The Gamecocks are so ingrained in Columbia that we Carolina fans have come to know it as part of our city surrounding and coming across garnet and black on a daily basis is like drinking visual water.

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But this time of year, the city changes. Windows in storefronts don gamecock-spotted khakis and feather boas wrapped around almost-formal black dresses. Cheers and parties can be heard for blocks. And Williams-Brice stadium becomes the living host from which the Gamecock union races together to feed.

That sounded gross.

What I mean to say is that football season is upon us, y’all. Our fellow Gamecock-ingrained Columbia citizens are finally getting together once again for this multiple months long party we call college football. And I’m jumpin’ outta my boots. Actually, right now, I’m barefoot. So, I’m jumpin’ outta my skin. Gross again.

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And if we’re talkin’ football, tailgatin’ can’t be a subject too far away. In fact, I believe they go together like love and marriage (and in the SEC, tailgating is a whole other animal. Another time, another post). Y’all know the best way to watch football is to eat. And eat. And eat. And eat, more specifically, food that sticks to your fingers, drips down your shirt, and, more practically, is somewhat portable. Cue wings.

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grilled chicken wings with citrusy and spicy honey soy sauce
cook time: 40 minutes yield: 4 servings 
ingredients
2 pounds chicken wings
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp peeled and grated ginger
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup Sriracha
1 tsp orange zest
a splash of rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped green onion

create
In a large bowl, toss together the chicken wings, black pepper (your preferred amount), red pepper flakes, and olive oil until the wings are evenly coated.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for one minute. Whisk in the soy sauce, honey, and Sriracha and continue whisking until the mixture beings to slowly simmer. Reduce the heat to low and add the orange zest and vinegar. At this point, remove about 1/2 cup of the sauce and reserve for basting. Add half of the green onions to the sauce mixture still in the saucepan and keep on low heat until thickened slightly.
On a charcoal grill set at an average temperature of 300º, sear the wings on direct heat for one minute on each side. Transfer the wings to indirect heat and cook for 10 minutes. With the sauce set aside for basting, baste the topside of the wings with a light layer. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Flip the wings, baste, and cook, covered, for 15 more minutes or until the wings are slightly charred and crispy.
Transfer the wings to a bowl, pour the sauce in the saucepan over the chicken, and toss to evenly coat. Serve sprinkled with green onions and, if desired, red pepper flakes and mommy’s ranch dressing.

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That title is a mouthful! Also, I won’t pretend to be a grill master. Andy knows all the ooos and ahhs of grilling and made this recipe possible.
And to my fellow football friends across the nation, whatever your team, have fun this season! This is such a special time for bonding over food and for sharing fun memories with friends and strangers alike. I’m getting sappy again. I love you guys. Sniff.

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cranberry hand pies


If I may, I will now bore entertain you with the list I wrote to my grandmother six years ago of the things I love about my family’s Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

1. The traditional football game between the boys and the girls.
2. Wearing a sweater – even if it’s 73 degrees.
3. Getting out of the car in your driveway holding some kind of food.
4. Walking to your front door and smelling the food cooking.
5. Getting inside and being told it isn’t ready yet.
6. Washing my hands before dinner with 15 other people in the bathroom and only 1 sink.
7. Lisa’s (my aunt) potato salad.
8. Sweet tea.
9. Walking in the living room and seeing all the men and LaLa (my cousin) sleeping on the chairs, couch, and floor.
10. Smelling cinnamon and apples.
11. Going outside when the sun is just going down and feeling the Autumn wind blow.
12. Seeing the brown, yellow, orange, and red leaves.
13. Walking on the grass with leaves crunching under my feet.
14. Taking pictures of everyone preparing the food.
15. Listening to Brandon (my cousin) say the blessing before we eat.
16. And really being thankful for God and what He has given us.
17. Being able to say across a huge table, “Hey, can you pass the ____?”
18. The actual process of passing around each dish of food.
19. More football.
20. And simply spending time with family that I feel like I haven’t seen in months.




cranberry hand pies
adapted from Cynthia Wong’s recipe, as seen in bon appétit
yield: 16 servings

dough
ingredients
3 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup natural cane sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), frozen
ice cold water

filling
ingredients
1 pound fresh cranberries (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 large egg, beaten to blend
natural cane sugar

create
For the dough, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Using a box grater, grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture and toss together, rubbing any big pieces of butter into the flour with your fingers. Add ice cold water to the mixture one tablespoon at a time until the mixture just comes together. Turn onto a floured surface and knead just a few times until smooth and even. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a ball and then flatten slightly to form a disc. Tightly wrap each half in plastic. Chill for 2 hours.
For the filling, combine cranberries, sugar, orange zest and juice, cornstarch, and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan. Let stand for juices to accumulate, about 10 minutes, then cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer and begins to thicken, 5-6 minutes. (Some cranberries will have burst.) Let cool completely.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until very thin, about 1/16-inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut out 16 circles.
Brush edges of 8 circles with beaten egg. Place 1 heaping tablespoon filling in the center of each egg-washed circle. Top with remaining circles to form 8 pies. Using a fork, crimp 1/4-inch around edges to seal. Repeat with remaining dough, egg, and filling. Divide pies between prepared sheets; chill for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425°. Working with 1 baking sheet of pies at a time, score dough, forming a small X in the center of each pie. Brush tops of pies with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake pies until crust is golden brown and filling bubbles out of Xs, 17-20 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining baking sheet of pies.



Happy Thanksgiving!

pumpkin chai pie

Happy November, my friends! This is a rather important month. I was married in this month. Some kind of national election is in this month. Carolina plays Clemson in this month. And, not to place any discredit by placing it last, Thanksgiving is in this month. When I was in high school, I sent Gowie a rather lengthy e-mail giving her a very detailed list of all of the things I treasured about this holiday. I can’t remember the whole thing, nor do I know if she even still has the list, but I remember a couple of them being simple, yet beautiful things like, “I love Thanksgiving because the whole family sits around the table and we pass the food to the right” or “The cousins leave with grass stains from our annual front yard football game” or “I get to wear a sweater.” That last statement, however, can be translated into a forced sweater wearing on my part, mainly because Thanksgiving in South Carolina is usually still in the 70s. Oh, well.


But Thanksgiving is one of my favorites because of its simplicity. I can picture people screaming, “Simple? What? WHAT?!” I get it. There’s houses to clean. There’s casseroles to prep. There’s turkey to photograph and tea to brew. But in the midst of all that craziness is a reminder to ourselves that we are doing these crazy chores and checklists because we are anticipating the arrival of family. We’re doing these things for others. And it’s beautiful. Holy cow, when did my blog become a motivational blog? Well, now you know how I feel about Thanksgiving. Thank you, Jesus, for a time of year filled with such intense beauty.


Perhaps we can talk about food now, no? I suppose we’ll finish off this year’s pumpkin series (and I’m not promising that I won’t use pumpkin in any more recipes before next year. It’s a good possibility that I will) with the cornerstone of most Thanksgiving tables: pumpkin pie! Pie and pumpkin, pumpkin and pie, the combination is perfect and irresistible. I decided to amp the traditional pie up a little bit and add a bit of chai, another one of my favorite flavors.

pumpkin chai pie
prep time: 90 minutes cook time: 90 minutes yield: 8 servings

pie crust (this is the recipe for my favorite pie crust, from Smitten Kitchen)
ingredients
1 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp natural cane sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small pieces

filling
ingredients
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 cup natural brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
2 cups roasted pumpkin purée (I used a white pumpkin, but any baking pumpkin will work)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup chai latté concentrate

create
For the crust, fill a small bowl with water and drop a few ice cubes in. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Sprinkle the very cold pieces of butter into the flour mixture and quickly rub the butter into the flour until it resembles little peas. Add ice water (no ice cubes!) one tablespoon at a time until the mixture just comes together (I think I used almost 1/2 cup of cold water). Gather it up and turn it onto a floured surface. Knead gently and very quickly until it all comes together (Don’t let that butter melt. Those pieces of butter are gonna make a beautiful, flaky crust). Shape into a dish and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350º. For the filling, stir together the sugar, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the eggs and then the pumpkin, milk, and chai. It will be a little thin.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand until malleable. Roll the dough on a floured surface to a 12 inch circle. Transfer the flat dough to a pie plate (I usually roll it around the rolling-pin and then unroll it over the pie plate. This way, it doesn’t tear and stretch). Gently ease the dough into the plate corners. Tip the pumpkin filling into the pie crust and bake for 90 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely and allow it to set before serving.


I told y’all last year that I was going to buy a prettier pie plate than the glass gas station one I have now. Oy. Still haven’t done it. I’m sorry I had to subject you to that once again. But pie plates fall to the bottom of the list when you’re trying to buy a house. Whoops. Secret’s out. Another time, another post, you guys.

whole wheat fettuccine with pumpkin cream sauce

Our little Honda is currently rolling down I-85 as we head back to Columbia from one of the most beautiful places on Earth (the Apps in the Western Carolinas, y’all). Hats off to Andy’s cousin and family for hosting a really great wedding filled with lots of abundant food. That being said, I find it really difficult to write while riding in a car (and it’s really difficult when I’m actually driving…totally kidding). I get distracted rather easily, so it’s kind of like, “Focus…focus…Oh, this is a really good song…Focus…focus…Oh, this is a really bad song…Focus…focus….Dude, that car totally just tried to hit us…less focused…What kind of food do we have in here?…not at all focused …” And that’s about how it happens every time.


So, let me just say that this second recipe in the pumpkin series was an experiment I wanted to try because, as you all know, I really just love pasta. I think I’ve hit you guys with way too many pasta/cream-based sauce recipes, but here’s one more. Picture me timidly sliding it across the table at you as I shrug my shoulders and give you a fabricated little side grin. Oh, well. Bon appétit, anyway.

whole wheat fettuccine with pumpkin cream sauce
prep time: 5 minutes cook time: 15 minutes yield: 4 servings
ingredients
1/2 pound whole wheat fettuccine noodles
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups roasted pumpkin purée
1/2 cup parmesan, shredded

create
Cook pasta according to package directions in salted, boiling water. Drain.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute or until aromatic. Stir in the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer until reduced and thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin purée and heat through. Add the parmesan and stir until melted and everything is heated and incorporated. Turn the pasta into the sauce and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

And we all remember the benefits of whole wheat, yes? It helps you feel fuller longer, yes? Your body can more easily digest it, yes? It gives you more consistent energy levels, yes? Good. Dismissed.

PS – Kenny: I would give you some advice for your trip/move, but you’re a lot cooler than I am, so I know you already know how to throw it down out West. Have fun.

pumpkin latte milkshakes

If you can sift through all of my ramblings over the past year, you may remember that I once, in a previous post, referred to myself as the real life Linus. I still do. It’s not that I ever believed in (or heard of) the Great Pumpkin as a child, but Linus and I share a strange, almost enchanting, enthrallment with this glorified gourd.

What makes it different from other seasonal, autumnal squashes? The flavor is different, but eh, not that different from, say, a butternut squash. It grows in patches on the ground just like other squashes. What makes it stand high on a pedestal and makes it the ever-loved symbol of Autumn?

I’m really not quite sure of the answer to that, but I will take you back a little bit. The Irish and English traditionally carved scary faces and whatnot into turnips, like, a long time ago. Fast forward a little bit to when people started moving to North America and that’s when native pumpkins started being used for scary carvings. Pumpkins, however, were used for a ton of things long before that and long before people started moving across the Atlantic. Native Americans used them for flour, mats, medicine, you name it. They knew what was up. And they stored during really cold months super well and, in turn, helped early settlers and Native Americans get through winters. They were so important to early North America. So, they were eaten and eaten and eaten and served, most iconically, at the first Thanksgiving dinners. I think after years of them being so incredibly versatile and then being around for early Halloween celebrations as lanterns and then sitting on Thanksgiving tables, pumpkins kind of snowballed themselves into becoming a general Autumn tradition. Plus, who doesn’t love a pumpkin dish with a blend of good spices? And they’re just so darn pretty.

History gets me going. Pumpkins get me going. Mix ’em together and BOOM you’ve got an excitement explosion. I’m sorry I talk too much. But this recipe is inspired by, yes, you guessed it, Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte. I almost feel like that one drink release each year is the ribbon-cutting ceremony to the season (although I never order it. I love chai too much to get mixed up in all that coffee business). Plus, my husband loves it and I knew it would make him happy.

I based the recipes in my pumpkin series last year on roasted pumpkin purée, a simple mash-up of cooked pumpkin flesh. To get a refresher or to get the recipe, visit my archives from September 2011 or click on the link provided.

pumpkin latte milkshakes
total time: 5 minutes (assuming your pumpkin purée is prepared) yield: 2 servings 
ingredients
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin purée
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of allspice
1/4 cup brewed espresso
1 pint good vanilla ice cream

create
Add pumpkin, spices, and espresso to a blender and blend until smooth and completely combined. Add ice cream and mix until creamy and ice cream is fully incorporated. You may add more or less espresso depending on how thick or thin you like your milkshake. Serve immediately.

“…Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!”

-excerpted from John Greenleaf Whittier’s “The Pumpkin”, 1850.

braised chicken with lentils

I’m a little short on words today, mostly because I’m currently sitting in one of my favorite places in Columbia and they just plopped a pesto turkey sandwich on French bread with tomato soup right in front of me. If you’re ever in the area, try the Gourmet Shop. Le best.

Before I check out and start beasting on this hit-the-spot meal, I wanted to give the run down on lentils. The little pea-like, bean-like round things we eat are actually the seeds of the lentil plant, which grow in pods. They are inexpensive and, boy, are they crazy about the health of humans. They are packed with protein, fiber, iron, and lots of vitamins and minerals. Plus, they are excellent tummy fillers and soak up the good flavors of whatever you’re cooking them in.

braised chicken with lentils
prep time: 5 minutes cook time: 1 hour yield: 4 servings
ingredients
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds skinless chicken thighs, bone-in
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
a touch of cayenne pepper
2 tbsp prepared yellow mustard
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup lentils

create
Preheat the oven to 350º. Season the chicken with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. In a large, oven-proof skillet that has a lid, heat the oil on the stove over medium heat (no lid is needed yet). Add the chicken and cook, turning to allow both sides to sear, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
Lower the heat to medium-low and add the sliced onion. Add a little cayenne to taste. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes, and then stir in the mustard.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in 2 cups of the chicken stock while scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the lentils, turn the heat up to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cook the lentils for about 10 minutes.
Return the chicken to the skillet. If the liquid has evaporated while cooking the lentils, add more stock until it covers the chicken about half-way (I found I had to add about 1 cup more at this point). Cover with the lid and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning once, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 160º, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. If you find that your lentils still have a little bite to them, just remove the chicken and heat the lentil mixture on the stove until it reaches your desired texture.

Someone at the table beside me, and I know this is random, just said, “I know that it’s a good thing, I just can’t see it yet.” I have no idea what she was talking about, but I thought it was beautiful. Sometimes eavesdropping is a blessing.

chai latte concentrate

CHHHAAIIIII.

Oh, my love affair with chai. I am on and off addicted to it. Hmm. No. Let’s be honest. I am always addicted to it. I just sometimes go through indulgent spells and sometimes decide to be responsible and not gulp down lots of sugar in the morning or try to challenge my body’s caffeine capacity. I am, however, most of the time indulgent and consider it my happy thing of the day. I actually don’t drink coffee. You wouldn’t believe it looking at my countertop, with an espresso machine and unground beans and some other machine that makes a lot of noise and some stick looking thing with a bulbous cup on the end of it. No, I’m actually not coffee literate at all and just happen to be married to the trendy coffee/beer/wine guy. He’s actually the one who introduced me to my beloved iced chai latte when we were dating. That’s what the boyfriend’s gotta do when he wants to go on a coffee date and his gal doesn’t like coffee. My first sip of the cool, spicy drink turned into an instant, “…uhh. *cough* Yeah, uh…can we make this a venti?”

Chai, traditionally from India, is a word for tea and is steeped with various spices, giving it a very aromatic and in-depth flavor profile. There isn’t a right or wrong way to create chai, really. It’s mostly based on several core spices and can be changed and modified based on taste. The major players are cardamom (a spice actually in the ginger family), cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

chai latte concentrate
prep time: 5 minutes cook time: 20 minutes yield: about 4 cups
ingredients
4 cups water
10 black tea bags
20 whole peppercorns, lightly crushed
10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
5 whole cloves
1 inch piece fresh ginger, lightly crushed
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup unrefined brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp orange zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

create
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the tea bags, peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar, honey, orange zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract and let steep another 10 minutes.
Pour the tea through a fine mesh strainer (to remove the whole spices) into a one quart container. I used a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Allow the tea to cool before sealing it completely. Store chilled.
To enjoy a chai latte, mix equal parts chai concentrate and milk. Heat the mixture on the stovetop to drink hot or, for my favorite, pour over ice.


As stated in the recipe, a chai latte can be enjoyed hot or cold. As much as I love hot chocolate and cider and, not surprisingly, hot chai, hot drinks tend to give me headaches. So, I try to stick to the chilly versions of things. The hot drink headache, however, doesn’t compare much to the I’ve-decided-to-give-up-caffeine headache. Oy. But enough about headaches. It’s giving me a headache just writing about headaches. And writing about headaches makes me want a…chai. Erg. Addiction.

 

beef pie with sweet potato topping

I will not start this post by blabbing on about my obsession with Gordon Ramsay. But…it may happen somewhere in the middle. Warning. Hehh. Eh.

This recipe of Gordon’s is one of my husband’s favorites. Every time I ask him what he wants for dinner, he says, “Sweet potato pie.”, which, to most people, means something sweet, a dessert, a pumpkin pie alternative. But I know him well enough to decode his husband language to mean Beef Pie with Sweet Potato Topping. Actually, to be honest, I made a few changes to Gordon’s recipe. Oh my gosh! No! Please put the knives down. I promise it’s not blasphemy. Let me explain. Some of the things in his recipe I simply just don’t have available right around me. Gordon’s dish is called Venison Pie with Sweet Potato topping from his book Healthy Appetite. Now, I’ve known some people from down here in the South who have had fathers and uncles and cousins (who are technically only friends) who hunt and freeze 20 freezers full of meat and they eat it all year long and try to give it away to their friends as party favors (“Ya want sum meat?”), but my family doesn’t really…hunt. So, for me, Gordon’s venison pie is easier as beef pie.

I’m going to list the recipe here in the post with my small little adaptations that I made. I have Gordon’s exact recipe, so if you’d like to see it or use it, I will gladly tell ya all about it. Oh? Is this where my blab about my Gordon Ramsay obsession comes in? Okay. Okay. I’ll be brief. Basically, Gordon is the king of kitchens. It’s not that he can simply cook (and if that’s all he did, it’d be enough), but he knows management, sanitation, every culinary skill or rule ever invented, and when something is slightly off or even slightly on. That’s all I will say, but because I said this, just know that you can trust any recipe he gives to the world.

Oh, and sweet potatoes are totally in season right now.

beef pie with sweet potato topping
beef pie:
ingredients
1 1/3 lb all natural beef for stew
sea salt and black pepper
3 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
3 to 4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 rosemary sprig, leaves only
2/3 cup red wine
2 3/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 lb red potatoes

sweet potato topping:
ingredients
1 lb sweet potatoes
2/3 lb red potatoes
3 tbsp butter
1/3 cup white cheddar cheese
2 egg yolks

create
Season the flour with salt and pepper and use to coat the beef. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the meat in batches until evenly browned, about 2 minutes each side. Transfer to a bowl.
Add the onions and carrots to the pot with a little more oil and stir over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes until colored. Add the rosemary and cook for a minute. Pour in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze. Bubble until reduced right down.
Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Return the beef, with any juices released, to the pot. Partially cover with a lid and gently braise for 40 to 50 minutes until the beef is tender, giving the mixture a stir every once in a while.
About 15 minutes before the beef will be ready, slice the 1/2 lb of red potatoes into 1/2-inch thick circles (I peeled my potatoes, but you can certainly leave the skins on if you’d like). Season with salt and pepper and cook in a little olive oil in a wide, nonstick skillet until golden brown on both sides. Add to the beef pot to finish cooking. Once the potatoes and beef are tender, remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly.

For the topping, peel all the potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks. Cook in a pan of salted water for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and return to the pan. Mash potatoes with a potato masher. While still hot, add the butter, cheese, and salt and pepper. Mix well to combine. Cool slightly, then mix in the egg yolks.

Time out: Gordon’s recipe calls for double Gloucester cheese. The reason Gloucester cheese is Gloucester cheese is because it’s made with milk from cows who live in Gloucestershire, England. As you may assume, it’s not exactly around these parts very often. Double Gloucester typically has a stronger flavor than single and is usually larger. Have you ever seen those crazies chasin’ that huge roll of cheese down that hill? Yeah, that’s double Gloucester. Yeah, I’d chase that cheese too if I lived there. Check it out. (Y’all. They’re never gonna catch that cheese. Just sayin’.)

Heat the oven to 425º. Tip the beef mixture into a large pie dish or shallow cast-iron pan and top with the mash. Rough up the surface with a fork. Bake for 20 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the sides. Grind over some pepper and serve.

This is like shepherd’s pie to the max. The wine gives it a crazy, deep taste and everything else is like the comforting ingredients you already know in beef stew. So, enjoy the brilliantness of it, the autumness of it, and the curl-up-date-night-movie-night-warmingness of it.
I keep walking into the kitchen and picking the potatoes out of the casserole dish, looking over my shoulders to see if anyone is watching me. Pretty soon it’s going to be beef pie with no sort of topping. Y’all know where my heart lies.

white chocolate cranberry cookies

When I was at Carolina, we spent a lot of our time in the GMP. GMP, short for Grand Market Place, pronounced gimp. I feel like I could dedicate a whole week to USC/Russell House inspired posts. Chicken Finger Wednesdays. Fried chicken and mac + cheese Fridays. Grits and biscuit early kick-off Saturday mornings. The GMP had horrible/amazing music (you know, the old Britney Spears you hate, but secretly love singing), hit or miss food, and a little bit of every type of person. The collegiate watering hole.

One thing I remember loving was their cookies. They had the norms, you know, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin. But then they had this special cookie, a white chocolate cranberry cookie. All year round. I loved it. We were like cookie monsters up in there. They had a slight crunch on the outside and a chewy, soft center. The perfect cookie, really. Now, I have no idea what was in those. I have no idea whether or not they actually made the batter. They were probably filled with shortening and diesel fuel. So, this is what we’re gonna do. We are going to make that cookie with yummy, natural ingredients. And every bite will be filled with Gamecock goodness.

white chocolate cranberry cookies
ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup natural cane sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar (made with natural cane sugar), packed
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries

create
Preheat oven to 375º. Using a mixer, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt together until well combined. Add eggs and beat well. Stir the flour and baking soda together and gradually add it to the butter mixture. Beat until well combined. Stir in the white chocolate chips and cranberries. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, drop tablespoonfuls of batter a couple of inches apart and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the middle is set and the edges are golden. Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a cooling rack, a platter, or your mouth. This recipe will make around three dozen cookies, depending on how large or small you make them.

These cookies are neat because every once in a while, you’ll get a pretty tart cranberry and your mind says, “Okay. Halt. Sour.”, but then your thought is interrupted with the buttery sweetness of the white chocolate. It’s a wonderful combination.

Russell House, this cookie post is dedicated to you. Thank you for hosting me for so many doggone tired, hungry hours and for dealing with my friends and me laughing at ridiculous things while we ate turkey wraps, vegetarian chili (cheaper, eh?), and, of course, cookies.