Pear Bread

As you have probably been able to figure out, my true passion for food lies on the sweet side of the kitchen.  Although I am confident in my savory cooking abilities, an extra splurge of creativity and excitement arrives when I am baking.

One of my favorite things to make and to eat is banana bread.  Over the years, through much trial and error, I think I have (finally) created one of the tastiest banana bread recipes around.

I had at the huge pile of bananas on the kitchen counter for a while, assuming that my family could not possibly eat that many bananas, and that I would be able to make banana bread at the end of the week.  However, when I glanced at the pile yesterday, there was only one brown-speckled beauty ripe enough for baking.

Still having an itch to bake, and with four extremely ripe pears sitting in the fruit basket, I decided to try baking pear bread.  After all, the method has to be pretty similar to banana bread, doesn’t it?

Inspired, I remembered reading about pear bread on another one of my favorite food sites: Smitten Kitchen.  So, using her recipe as a starting point, I quickly whipped together the batter, poured it into a Bundt pan, and gently slid it into the oven.  One hour later the entire house smelled delightfully of spiced bread, and my craving for banana bread was quickly forgotten.  I promise that this bread will not disappoint!

Pear Bread
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
If you look at Deb’s site, you’ll notice that I decreased the amount of sugar quite a bit.  I still found the bread to be plenty sweet, however, and the texture remained perfectly moist.  The key, I think, is to use overly ripe pears.  Also, I imagine the bread would make a lovely dessert for a party if slathered with cream cheese frosting.  Makes 10 generous servings.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 ripe pears, peeled and cored
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a Bundt pan.  Set aside.
Combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a large bowl.
Place the pears in a small bowl and mash.  Add the oil, eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla extract to the bowl and mix well.
Add the pear mixture to the flour mixture.  Fold the mixture until no specks of flour remain, being careful not to overmix.
Scrape the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for approximately 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean.  Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes.  Turn the bread out on a wire rack and cool completely.

Ginger Cookies with Lemon Frosting

As the cookie baking season is well underway, I thought it would be appropriate to write about one of my favorites: the ginger cookie.  Although I typically favor crunchy ginger cookies–the kind you can soften in a tall glass of milk–these are soft little cookie pillows, with a crunchy coating of turbinado sugar.  Add in a refreshingly lemon-filled frosting, and you have a cookie that is more than worthy for the holiday cookie tray.

Ginger Cookies with Lemon Frosting
(Cookies adapted from Eat Make Read)
I prefer to make these cookies bite-sized, especially if they are on the holiday cookie tray. However, the dough can also be dropped by the tablespoon, in which case you will get approximately 12 sandwiches.  Otherwise, the recipe makes about 30 bite-sized sandwiches
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup turbinado sugar (optional)
1 stick (4 oz) butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
To Make the Cookies:  Whisk the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and salt together in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg and molasses.  Add the sugar mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
In the meantime, make the frosting.  In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the lemon zest, vanilla extract and milk.  If the frosting seems to stiff, add more milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time.  Beat the frosting on medium speed for 5 minutes.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Put the turbinado sugar in a small bowl, if using.  Roll the cookie dough into teaspoon sized balls, roll in the sugar, and place on the baking sheet.  Once the baking sheet is full, slightly flatten the balls with your fingers.  Bake for 7-8 minutes.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before sandwiching two cookies together with the lemon frosting.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Warm Red Cabbage Salad

The cold weather has officially hit, and I find myself craving more hearty, stick-to-your-ribs food; salads aren’t typically included in this category.  However, one of my coworkers brought this salad for lunch last week, and the scent wafting across the table motivated me to buy a 3-pound red cabbage at the farmer’s market this past weekend.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite sites, 101 Cookbooks.  I love Heidi’s food philosophy, her photography, and her delicious creations.  I have yet to be disappointed by one of her recipes, and this warm red cabbage salad was no exception.

The dish can be whipped up in a mere 30 minutes, making it perfect for a quick, light dinner.  However, if you’re anything like me, you may enjoy this salad so much that you find yourself eating it at all times of the day.  Believe me, it’s really that good.

Warm Red Cabbage Salad
(Adapted from 101 Cookbooks)
If you go to Heidi’s site, you’ll notice that she coats the sunflower seeds with sugar.  However, as advised by my coworker, the salad is already quite sweet due to the raisins, so I chose to omit this step.  Also, although this salad is wonderful alone, it is very tasty if accompanied by wild rice.  Makes 4-6 servings.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 shallot, diced
1 pound red cabbage, thinly shredded
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
lemon juice (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, and sauté the onion, garlic, and shallot until soft.  Stir in the cabbage, and add a few pinches of salt.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add the rosemary, sunflower seeds, raisins, and vinegar.  Stir and cook until the cabbage softens a bit, but still has crunch.  Fold in the feta cheese and lemon juice (if desired).  Season with more salt if needed.

Chocolate Cranberry Scones

It seems that scones are always hit-or-miss.  The good ones crumble when you try to tear off a piece, are moist without being gummy, and have a touch of sweetness, without being a cookie.  Although I have a favorite, go-to scone recipe (which I will post about in the upcoming month), I decided to try something new.

This chocolate scone recipe has been bookmarked for a while; I simply did not find the right occasion to make them…until last week that is.

The recipe is a breeze to make, and you probably have most (if not all) of the ingredients in your kitchen.  The utterly rich, chocolate-studded scone dough is balanced by the tart bite of the fresh cranberries.  These scones would make a great breakfast treat for holiday guests.

Chocolate Cranberry Scones
(Adapted from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
These scones are quite rich, but make a wonderful treat in the morning with a nice big mug of coffee.  Makes 12
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons high-quality cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup chopped cranberries
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream (you can substitute milk, preferably whole)
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Line a baking sheet with parchment; set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger clumps remaining.  Fold in the chocolate and the cranberries.
Whisk together the whole egg and 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cream.  Add egg mixture to the flour mixture; using a rubber spatula, fold in, working in all directions and incorporating crumbs at the bottom of the bowl, until dough just comes together.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and gently pat into a 12×9 inch rectangle about 1 inch thick.  Using a sharp knife or a pastry wheel, cut the rectangle into 12  3-inch squares.  Place squares about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.  Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until the dough is very firm, at least 1 hour or overnight. (At this point, you can freeze the unbaked scones in a resealable plastic bag until ready to bake, up to 3 weeks.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolk with the remaining tablespoon heavy cream; brush over the tops of the scones and sprinkle generously with sanding sugar, if using.  Bake, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the sugar on top of the scones turns golden all over, or a cake tester inserted int th center of a scone comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  They are best eaten the day they are baked.