Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009

Here are a few of my favorite recipes from this year of cooking and baking on Cupcake Muffin.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did, and I look forward to lots of delicious treats in the future!

Best Main Dish: Mango-Chicken Curry

Best Pasta: Campenelle with Vodka Sauce

Best Cookie: Dried Apricot-Cornmeal Cookies with Thyme and Rosemary

Best Dessert: Real Sour Cherry Crisp

Best Soup: Sweet Potato-Leek Soup with Bacon and Crispy Leeks

Best Bread: Casatiello

Best Appetizer: Pork-Bell Pepper Skewers with Mango Dipping Sauce

...and, Best Recipe of the Year: Asian-Inspired Pulled Pork with Quick Collard Greens

I'm sending this pulled pork recipe off to Homemade - End of 2009 Edition.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Buckwheat Crepes with Spinach, Onions, Sausage, and Feta

My friend Peter and I made these buckwheat crepes a few weeks ago and loved them!  I've doubled the amounts in the recipe printed below because the fillings we made were not quite enough for three but there were plenty of crepes.  The amounts below should feed four, although extra fillings are always welcome so feel free to make a bit more if you're feeling extra hungry.

The crepes themselves are from the Food Network Magazine, and they were the perfect way to use up some of the buckwheat flour that's been in my pantry ever since I made these butter cookies from Alice Medrich.  Luckily it was still good, and it made for thin but hearty pancakes that stood up well to dinner fillings.  We mostly improvised the fillings, combining spinach, caramelized onions, sweet Italian sausage, and feta cheese for a semi-Greek crepe.  Any green would be tasty here - chard, mustard greens, etc., as would subbing out the cheese for another creamy cheese like goat cheese. 

Buckwheat Crepes with Spinach, Onions, Sausage, and Feta (adapted from Food Network Magazine)
Serves 4

For the crepes
5 T melted butter
2/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups milk
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt

For the spinach
1 T olive oil
12-16 ounces baby spinach
Salt and pepper

For the onions
1 T butter
2 sliced onions
1/4 tsp dried thyme

To finish
4 sausages (we used sweet Italian)
Feta cheese, crumbled

1. Place all the crepe ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Scrape into a bowl and let rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour.
2. Make the fillings: Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a skillet. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Heat the butter in another skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are soft and lightly browned, about 20 minutes.
4. Cut the sausages into small pieces and brown in a skillet until cooked through.
5. Make the crepes: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Heat an 8-inch skillet over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles in it. Lightly butter the skillet and then pour in a scant 1/3 cup of batter and quickly swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Cook until the crepe sets and browns around the edges, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip the crepe and cook the other side about 30 seconds.
6. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more butter as needed. Stack the finish crepes, wrap in a damp dishtowel, and place in the oven to reheat, about 10 minutes.
7. Assemble the crepes: Fill each crepe with spinach, onions, sausage, and crumbled feta cheese.

Any leftover pancakes can be filled with sweet fillings for breakfast the next day.  This one is filled with an apple (peeled, chopped, and sauteed in butter until soft) and topped with grated sharp Cheddar.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Carrot-Ginger Soup

This carrot-ginger soup is healthy but still absolutely delicious, and it's the perfect thing to eat when you're hit with a cold.  I made this a few weeks ago when I was hit by just such a cold, but it would also be an excellent post-holiday soup after all the rich things we've been eating.  Be sure to serve with a swirl of sour cream, yogurt, or creme fraiche to add a bit of richness and cut the spicy ginger flavor of the soup.

Carrot-Ginger Soup (adapted from Food to Live By)
Serves 6-8

1-1/2 T olive oil
1 large sweet yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh ginger (peeled)
2-1/2 pounds carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup fresh orange juice
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Crème fraiche or sour cream, for garnish

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the carrots, stock, and orange juice. Season with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and let simmer until the carrots are very tender, about 45 minutes.
3. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor, or with an immersion blender. For a smoother texture, strain through a sieve.
4. Add the nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick, thin it with water or more stock.
5. If needed, rewarm the soup over medium-low heat until hot. Garnish with crème fraiche or sour cream and freshly ground black pepper.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gourmet Unbound: Tangerine Cake with Fennel Ice Cream

Gourmet, unbound is a great new blog project that seeks to celebrate recipes from past issues of Gourmet magazine now that new issues won't be coming out. When I saw the site, I knew I wanted to participate! Each month bloggers choose a recipe from that month, but any year (so for January's roundup, we all chose recipes from a past January issue of Gourmet). I found an amazing-sounding Orange Cake, and substituted tangerine zest and juice since that what looked good at the grocery. The cake turned out moist, flavorful, and not-too-sweet. I paired it with a non-January Gourmet recipe for Fennel Ice Cream, which is maybe the best ice cream I've ever eaten. I really can't recommend it enough. Even though the ingredients are simple - normal frozen custard ingredients plus fennel seeds - the result is stunning. The ice cream is rich, smooth, and perfectly fennel-flavored without being overpowering. Definitely a keeper!

Tangerine Cake (adapted from Gourmet)

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons finely grated fresh tangerine zest (from 2 tangerines)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup fresh tangerine juice
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For glaze:
1/8 cup fresh tangerine juice
1/2 cup sifted confectioner's sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter an 8-inch springform pan.

2. Beat together butter, sugar, and zest in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until just incorporated. Whisk in the sour cream and tangerine juice, and then carefully fold in the remaining ingredients until just combined.

3. Transfer batter to baking pan and bake in the middle of the oven until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, make the glaze by whisking together the tangerine juice and confectioner's sugar. Poke the just-out-of-the-oven cake all over with a wooden skewer. Carefully pour the glaze evenly over the cake. Allow it to soak in for about 10 minutes before serving.

Fennel Ice Cream (from Gourmet)
Makes about 2 pints

1 2/3 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar, divided
Pinch salt
4 large egg yolks

1. Bring cream and fennel seeds just to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then cover and let steep about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring milk, 1/4 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring.

3. Whisk together yolks and remaining 2 T sugar in a large bowl, and then add milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Return mixture to medium saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Immediately strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl, then quick-chill by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally until cool, about 15 minutes.

4. Strain fennel cream through fine-mesh sieve into custard, pressing on solids. Continue to chill in ice bath until custard is very cold, then freeze in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, about 1 hour.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Braised Kale and Chorizo with Spaghettini

This recipe is fairly simple but packs a big flavor punch. I adore braised greens, and they're perfectly tender and flavorful in this recipe. It's sort of a pain to wash and chop four bunches of kale, but it's definitely worth it in this case! The chorizo adds a salty, smoky flavor, and the lemon juice brightens everything up nicely. Overall, a very satisfying pasta dish that's great for dinner and keeps well for lunch the next day. I'm sending this off to Presto Pasta Nights.  Thanks to hostess Ruth of Once Upon a Feast!

Braised Kale and Chorizo with Spaghettini (adapted from Molly Katzen and The Arugula Files)
Serves 4

4 links chorizo, removed from casing and chopped into small pieces
1 pound shallots, peeled and minced
Olive oil, as needed
12 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 bunches kale, large center ribs and stems removed, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
1 pound spaghettini
4 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Finely grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a non-stick Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chorizo and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the shallots along with olive oil as needed. Cook until the shallots become translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the onions are golden brown.

Add the kale along with additional olive oil as needed. Toss until wilted for about 3 minutes. Cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Add water gradually as needed if the kale becomes dry. Braise until the kale is tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until just shy of al dente. Drain, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid. Add the drained pasta to the kale, along with the lemon juice and about 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water. Toss to combine, and add more pasta water if dry. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Green Salad with Marinated Cucumber and Red Onion

This salad is tasty and refreshing. It requires a little advanced planning since the cucumbers, onions, and radishes must marinate for about half an hour, but otherwise it's super easy. The crunchy vegetables are marinated until just slightly pickled, and then everything is tossed together with greens so that the marinade becomes the salad dressing. I love this treatment for cucumbers and onions, which neither of which I love just tossed raw into salads. Marinated, they're much tastier and have a better texture. We found the original recipe to be a bit heavy on the onion, so the amount is reduced below; if you're particularly fond of onion, feel free to use a whole small red onion.

Green Salad with Marinated Cucumber and Red Onion (adapted from Food to Live By)
Serves 4-6

Zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 T white wine vinegar
Pinch of salt, more to taste
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small English cucumbers, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
6 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 large handfuls baby lettuce

1. Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a bow and slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Add the cucumber, onion, and radishes and let marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes.

2. Add the lettuce and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dried Apricot-Cornmeal Cookies with Thyme and Rosemary

These cookies from Lottie + Doof are absolutely incredible. They're super easy to whip up, but the flavors more than deliver. The cornmeal adds a sweet crunch, while the apricots are perfectly tart and chewy. The herbs aren't too overpowering, and definitely give these cookies an adult twist. The original recipe used fresh sage, which I didn't have on hand. I decided to substitute some dried herbs that I did have in the house, with excellent results. These were greatly enjoyed by both housemates and friends from church, and I'll definitely be making them again! Don't be alarmed if the cookies smell overwhelmingly of thyme when they come out of the oven -- the scent mellows as the cookies cool, and the flavor is just right and not too strong.

Dried Apricot-Cornmeal Cookies with Thyme and Rosemary (adapted from Paley's Place Cookbook, via Lottie + Doof)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely diced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried rosemary, minced if pieces are large

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer running, add the egg, mix to incorporate, and scrape once more.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into the mixer and add the cornmeal. Mix on low speed until just combined. Add the apricots, thyme, and rosemary and mix to combine. (Don’t worry if the dough is slightly sticky.) Shape it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminium foil.

Pinch off pieces of dough the size of large marbles and roll them into balls. Place the dough balls about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet to allow the cookies to spread. Bake them as is, or press down lightly on each cookie with a flat-bottomed glass dipped in sanding sugar. Bake the cookies until light golden brown around the edges, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

I'm sending these cookies off to the holiday cookie exchange at A Fine House.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Guest Post: Squash and Sage Pasta Sauce

Hi, all! This is Sara's friend Erin, serving as your guest blogger for today. I had the honor of winning a giveaway ( on this blog a couple months back, and received a copy of the book Frugal Foodie as a result - hooray! I asked Sara if she wanted me to write an entry about my first attempt from the cookbook, and she said yes, so here I am.

I recently got married and have been slowly working my way through a bunch of new cookbooks I received as gifts, and only just got around to trying Frugal Foodie. In a pathetic attempt to believe that it is still autumn here in Massachusetts despite the giant blizzard currently raging outside, I decided to give the recipe for Squash and Sage Sauce a go - butternut squash is one of my favorite fall foods, and I'm not quite ready to accept winter yet.

I like to stick pretty faithfully to a recipe the first time I make it, so I tried to prepare it as follows:

Squash and Sage Sauce
from Frugal Foodie, p. 87 (

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
8 tablespoons butter
40 fresh sage leaves, stemmed
2/3 cup vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
salt and pepper, to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat in a large stockpot. Add the squash cubes and sauté until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the squash from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in the pot. Add the sage leaves and cook until the edges start to curl, watching closely that the butter doesn't burn. Remove the sage leaves and set them on a paper towel to drain.
3. Add the broth and cinnamon to the butter and stir to combine. Add the pasta and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with the sage leaves and Parmesan.

Even though I love butternut squash, I'd actually never tried to cook it myself before, so I decided to spend a few extra dollars and get the pre-peeled, pre-seeded, pre-chopped version from the grocery store. The recipe calls for the squash to be chopped into 1/2" cubes, but, being somewhat lazy and already having melted the butter in the pan before taking the squash out of the fridge to discover that the pre-cut version cubes are much bigger than this, I decided to just try a "rustic" variation on the recipe and leave the chunks large and irregular. Note to readers: do not attempt this. Although the end-result was delicious, it was nearly impossible to get the large chunks of squash to both cook through and sauté. I had figured that my large squash cubes would take somewhat longer than the 8-10 minutes allotted for cooking in the recipe, but it ended up taking half an hour to cook them until they were not rock hard. In the end, I resorted to adding a couple tablespoons of water to the pan and covering it to steam the squash, which was extremely effective, but I have a good feeling that the recipe would have been even better had I been able to get a nice caramelization on the squash instead of merely getting them soft.

The recipe did not specify how much pasta to use for this quantity of sauce, so I simply used what I had on-hand - about half a box of whole-grain rotini. This seemed to work well, although I think the sauce could easily have supported a larger portion of pasta if you wanted to stretch the number of servings.

If I were to make this recipe again (and I think I will), I would change the way that the sage is integrated. Although I loved the flavor, my husband and I agreed that the texture was somewhat overwhelming and distracted from the rest of the dish. I think that next time I will either leave the sage in the butter/broth/cinnamon mixture for several minutes to let it infuse its flavor before removing it completely, or dicing it up into smaller bits after cooking. I may also experiment with folding spinach leaves into the pasta at the end - I did enjoy the color the sage leaves added to the dish, and I think spinach would add that element back into the dish if I were to remove the sage.

Overall, both my husband and I were pleased with this dish. It was hearty, warm, and had just the fall flavors I was looking for. I suspect it held up well for left-overs: although there were about 2 servings that I put into the refrigerator, both had been eaten by my husband by the time I went looking for them for my lunch today!

Many thanks to Sara and to Publishers Group West for this cookbook - I look forward to trying more recipes from it in the near future.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tangerine-Ginger-Vanilla Rolled Sugar Cookies

I'm a huge fan of rolled sugar cookies, but don't often make them because they're much more of a pain than the average cookie. But - so worth the work! I definitely need to invest the effort more often. :) These rolled sugar cookie are based on my mom's recipe, but they're all butter and jazzed up with tangerine zest, freshly grated ginger, and a vanilla bean. None of the flavors is too overpowering, resulting in a crisp, delicate, and fragrant cookie. Next time I would double the fresh ginger (to 1 tsp) as I felt that flavor didn't really come through well enough.

Tangerine-Ginger-Vanilla Rolled Sugar Cookies

1/3 cup plus 6 T unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean
1 T tangerine zest
1 egg
1 T tangerine juice
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
2 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1. Beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, and tangerine zest until fluffy. Add the egg, tangerine juice, and ginger and beat well. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into the bowl and beat until well combined. Chill at least 3 hours.
2. Roll dough out very thin. Cut with cookie cutters. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 7-8 minutes. Re-chill any scraps before rolling out again. Glaze with tangerine glaze, recipe below.

Tangerine Glaze

Whisk together sifted powdered sugar, a bit of soft butter, tangerine juice, and food coloring (if desired). Start with just a bit of liquid and add more to get the desired consistency.

I'm submitting these cookies to Serena's Cookie Exchange. Be sure to check out all the other recipes at her blog!

These cookies are also heading over to the 12 Days of Sharing Virtual Cookie Jar. Don't miss your chance to donate to a good cause and win lots of fabulous prizes! And be sure to check out all the holiday recipes at In Jennie's Kitchen.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pumpkin-Walnut Muffins

These pumpkin cupcakes with crumble topping were my mom's favorite of the three varieties we baked for her school, and I loved them as well! As you can see below, you can add more or less crumble depending on your taste. The crumble and walnuts add an excellent crunch to the muffins, while the pumpkin keeps everything moist and tasty. I love this type of muffin with an extra sweet, tasty crust on the top and a moist, less-sweet interior. The original recipe had almost twice as much sugar in the batter, but we tasted it and thought it was plenty sweet without the extra sugar.

Pumpkin-Walnut Muffins (adapted from Food to Live By)
Makes 18-20 muffins

For the topping:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 T cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For the muffins:
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1-1/3 cup chopped walnuts
3 large eggs
4 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp grated orange zest
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin tins or line with wrappers.
2. Make the topping: Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add the butter and cut in with a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers until the topping is crumbly and well combined. Set aside.
3. Make the muffins: Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Add walnuts and stir to combine.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, melted butter, orange zest, pumpkin, and sugar. Add to the flour mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula until the ingredients are just combined, being careful not to over mix.
5. Fill the muffin cups almost to the brim. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with about 2 tsp of topping.
6. Bake muffins until golden brown and a tester comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes.

I'm sending this post off to BSI: Pumpkin!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lime-Coconut-White Chocolate Chip Muffins

These muffins were the second of three varieties my mom and I baked for a staff breakfast at her school. These are are much more the "cupcake disguised as breakfast" style of muffins, and they're extremely delicious. (You might be able to guess this was my favorite recipe of the three!) They're sweet, moist, and full of coconut and lime flavors. The white chocolate adds sweet bursts of richness, while the acid in the lime sets everything off nicely and keeps these from being too over-the-top. I recommend serving these muffins warm, either a few minutes out of the oven or after 10 seconds in the microwave.

Lime-Coconut-White Chocolate Chip Muffins (adapted from Sarah's Cucina Bella, original recipe here)
Makes about 28 muffins

4 cups all purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup sweetened coconut
4 large eggs
2 cups low fat milk
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
Zest of 2 limes
2 tsp vanilla
1 bag white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and coconut in a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, canola oil, lime zest and vanilla. Pour into the bowl with the flour mixture and fold together with a rubber spatula until just combined. Add the white chocolate chips and fold gently to incorporate.

Fill the muffin tins, and then cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You may need to tent the tops with foil if they get brown too quickly. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

I'm submitting this recipe for the 12 Days of Sharing Virtual Cookie Swap! Click below to check it out and donate to a good cause.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Blueberry Corn Muffins

When I was visiting my parents over the Thanksgiving holiday, my mom and I baked tons of muffins for her school. These blueberry corn muffins were our first effort, and they were really delicious! They're a little heartier than your average blueberry muffins thanks to the cornmeal, meaning your breakfast will actually fill you up for the day. They're moist thanks to honey and buttermilk, and not too sweet. You could substitute other berries in this recipe (the original recipe used raspberries), according to what you have available.

Blueberry Corn Muffins (adapted from Food to Live By)
Makes 32 muffins

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups finely ground white cornmeal
2 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
4 large eggs
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups buttermilk
12 T unsalted butter, melted
12 ounces blueberries, fresh or frozen (unthawed)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter or line muffin tins.
2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
3. Place the eggs, honey, brown sugar, white sugar, buttermilk, and melted butter in another bowl and whisk to combine. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Gently fold in the blueberries, being careful not to overwork the dough.
4. Fill the muffin tins with batter and bake until golden brown and a tester comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

YWPWT: Pumpkin-Pecan Bakewell Tart

The theme for this month's YWPWT is Pumpkin Pie with a Twist. I decided to go with a combination pumpkin-pecan tart, since these are two of my favorite Thanksgiving pies. This is an autumn version of the Bakewell tart we made for Daring Bakers in June, and it's every bit as delicious. The bottom crust is an easy sweet shortcrust made with brown sugar for that extra hit of fall flavor. On top of that is a perfectly smooth, perfectly spiced pumpkin pie layer. The pumpkin layer was actually a bit liquid-y for this recipe since it was a little tricky to layer the pecan frangipane on top, but it ultimately all came together in the end.

Finally, the pumpkin is topped with a sweet pecan frangipane (termed pecangipane by my housemates!). I liked this component because it has all the flavor of a pecan pie without being overly sweet or having big pieces of pecans to get stuck in your teeth. All the flavors combine really well and result in a delicious dessert that's perfect for autumn. I think the tart is best warm (either out of the oven or heated in the microwave for about 30 seconds), with a big scoop of pumpkin ice cream on the side!

Pumpkin-Pecan Bakewell Tart


1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour

Pumpkin Filling
2/3 cups pumpkin puree
1 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
2 tsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger (packed)
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tsp Cointreau or another orange liqueur
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

Pecan Frangipane
4.5 ounces pecans
4.5 ounces confectioners sugar, divided
4.5 ounces softened butter
3 eggs
1 ounce all purpose flour

1. Prepare the crust: Combine the butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir just until blended; let stand 5 minutes. Press dough onto bottom and sides of a 9- to 91/2-inch-diameter tart pan with a removable bottom. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Partially bake the crust until lightly browned, pressing down with back of spoon if bubbles form, about 10 minutes. Cool crust in pan on rack.

3. Prepare the pumpkin filling: Beat all the ingredients together until well combined. Rap the bowl on the counter to break any bubbles.

Prepare the pecan frangipane: Grind the pecans along with 1 ounce of confectioners sugar in a food processor. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and remaining 3.5 ounces of confectioners sugar until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. (Mixture will look curdled.) With the mixer running, carefully spoon in the nut-sugar mixture, followed by the flour. Mix well.

Assemble the tart: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Carefully pour the pumpkin filling over the cooled crust, filling it about halfway full. Remaining filling can be baked in custard cups if desired. Dot the pumpkin filling with the pecan frangipane, carefully spreading it to the edges. This will be a bit tricky since the pumpkin filling is on the wet side, so just do your best! Bake 40 minutes, until the frangipane is browned and puffed up. A tester should come out clean.

Friday, November 27, 2009

November Daring Bakers: Cannoli

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

These cannoli were absolutely amazing! I made the given recipe for the cannoli shells, filled them with a pumpkin filling, and garnished the ends with chopped pecans. The dough was fairly easy to work with (though I definitely recommend using a pasta machine to roll it out!). Frying the dough was a bit fussy, but not too difficult. The filling, though, is really what made these cannoli shine to me. I made a pumpkin filling with homemade mascarpone and ricotta cheeses, and it was absoultely delicious! I had never made homemade cheese before, but I will definitely be doing it again. It's a big money saver since mascarpone in particular is always extremely pricey at the store. The flavor was also incredible. Especially with the fresh ricotta, it was almost like eating a different cheese than the ricotta available for purchase! Wow. I've pasted the cheese and filling recipes below, and the cannoli recipe and assembly instructions are available from Lisa.

I made the cannoli for a dinner party and they were a huge hit! These really are the perfect fall dessert. A friend of mine who's a New Yorker even said these are the best cannoli he'd ever had! That definitely made me thanks to our hostess for an awesome recipe! Be sure to check out all the other cannoli this month at The Daring Kitchen.

Homemade Mascarpone Cheese (from Baking Obsession)
Makes about 1/2 cup

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating.

2. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will see just a few clear whey streaks when you stir.

3. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese (from Parsley, Sage, Desserts, and Line Drives)
Makes about 1-1/4 cups

4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Line a large strainer or sieve with cheesecloth and place the strainer over a large bowl.

2. In a large pot or saucepan, bring the milk, cream, and salt to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula.

3. Once the milk comes to a boil, add the lemon juice all at once. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring gently with a rubber spatula. The mixture will curdle immediately.

4. Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth lined strainer and let drain for an hour or two. Discard the liquid whey and refrigerate the ricotta or use immediately. If you want it really dry, wrap it back up with the cheesecloth, leave it in the strainer over the bowl, weight it down with something heavy, and refrigerate overnight.

Pumpkin Filling

3/4 cup ricotta cheese
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or more to taste)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Place the ricotta cheese and canned pumpkin in a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl. Fold the cheesecloth over the cheese and pumpkin and weight it down with a couple of cans. Place in the fridge for a few hours of overnight.

2. Place the ricotta and pumpkin in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the mascarpone and beat until the filling is smooth and creamy. Beat in the confectioners' sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla and blend until smooth. Chill until the filling firms up a bit and then fill cannoli.

Some of my personal favorites this month:
Cannoli with lemon goat cheese cream
Cannoli with peppermint-mascarpone filling
Gingerbread ice cream in cannoli cones
Gingerbread cannoli with creamy lemon filling
Chestnut, chocolate, and hazelnut cannoli

Also...check out this great giveaway on Grosgrain: Charm Design Bags and Totes $50 gift card GUEST GIVEAWAY!!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese with Sun Dried Tomatoes

This baked mac-and-cheese is creamy, delicious, and has a terrific surprise topping. First: the mac-and-cheese itself. It's perfectly yummy without being overly gooey or buttery (not that those things can't be good sometimes too!). The flavor is a little more interesting than my usual stove-top recipe because it uses a combination of cheddar and swiss cheeses. I found a great package of a pre-grated Swiss-Gruyere blend on sale at the store, which definitely sped things up, but you can use any combination of cheeses that appeals to you.

The topping is what really makes this recipe shine. The method for making flavored breadcrumbs in the food processor is extremely easy and gives excellent results. The crunch from the breadcrumbs and the acid from the sun-dried tomatoes provide the perfect contrast to the mac-and-cheese underneath.

Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese with Sun Dried Tomatoes (adapted from The Arugula Files, original recipe here)

1 1/2 lbs. rotini pasta (or another short pasta)
1 shallot
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, patted dry
1 1/2 cupa panko
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyere and/or Swiss cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil the pasta until just shy of al dente. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Meanwhile, put shallot into a food processor and pulse until diced. Without removing the shallot, add garlic and pulse until diced. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, pulse. Finally, add panko to the food processor and pulse until all ingredients are combined. Set the seasoned breadcrumbs aside until the pasta is finished.
3. When pasta is just shy of al dente, strain and then add it back to hot pan. Immediately add the milk and cheeses, and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Spray a large casserole dish with oil. Pour in the pasta. Cover pasta with panko mixture.
5. Bake until top is golden brown (about 8-12 minutes).

Monday, November 23, 2009

BBA Update: Kaiser Rolls with Prosciutto, Havarti, and Dijon Mustard

Despite a lack of posts, I have been slowly but surely plugging along at the BBA Challenge. I lost a big pile of photos when my camera was stolen about a month ago, but I do have a photo that I took with my new camera to share with you! My most recent BBA bread was Kaiser rolls, which were definitely a winner.

These Kaiser rolls are one of my favorite recipes in the book so far. They have that perfect crusty-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside texture that sandwich rolls should have. They also made possibly the best sandwich of all time filled with prosciutto, thinly sliced Havarti, and a bit of Dijon mustard. Amazing!

Also, even though these rolls are knotted by hand, the dough is a dream to work with and actually very easy to shape. I was a little worried about this step (particularly because I was trying to squeeze it in right before I had to leave the house for a meeting), but it was a breeze.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pumpkin-Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate and Pecans

These cookies from Baking Bites are absolutely to-die-for! They have that perfect blend of fall spices, and they're totally addictive. Even though there's only a bit of pureed pumpkin, it adds excellent flavor and keeps them moist.

I hit upon this cookie recipe because I had a bit of pureed pumpkin left over from these Halloween cupcakes. This recipe is nice for using up that little extra bit of puree -- the original recipe uses sweet potato, and I think butternut squash would work as well. I do recommend seeking out high-quality couverture wafers for this recipe, although of course regular chocolate chips would be tasty as well. However, the big chunks of dark chocolate really take these over the top! I will definitely be making these again.

Pumpkin-Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate and Pecans (adapted from Baking Bites, original recipe here)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup softened butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups quick oats
1 cup chopped dark chocolate or couverture wafers such as E. Guittard
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Cream together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Beat in the egg, followed by the pumpkin puree and vanilla.
3. Stir in the flour, mixing until just blended. Stir in the oats, chocolate, and pecans, again mixing until just combined.
4. (Optional) Pop the dough in the fridge for half an hour to help it firm up.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll large spoonfuls of dough into balls and space them out on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cookies are set.

I'm sending this tasty recipe off to Mrs. Kringles Christmas Cookie Bake-off...even though these cookies have a somewhat more "autumn" feel to them, the warm spices and delicious flavor mean they're perfect all through the winter. I don't think Santa would be able to resist! Please click here to check out all the cookies, vote for your favorite, and enter to win some excellent prizes!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apple Cobbler Bars

Have you heard that Nicole of Baking Bites has just put out a cookbook? This made me really excited because hers is one of my favorite blogs, and the cookbook promised lots of brand new recipes! I was delighted when the copy I'd ordered arrived, with lots of full color photos and amazing-sounding recipes. The first one I tried was the apple cobbler bars, which I have to say definitely lived up to everything I was expecting! They're perfectly spiced, moist, and full of apple flavor. These really are like apple cobbler made into a cake! They're sweet enough for dessert, but also good for breakfast. Finally, they're super easy to pull together, with ingredients you're likely to have around the house. Sadly my photo doesn't really do the bars justice (it was a really cloudy day), but I definitely recommend trying them out!

Apple Cobbler Bars (adapted from the Baking Bites Cookbook)
Makes 1 8-inch square pan of bar cookies/cake

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup quick oats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 medium apples, peeled and diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together the brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla, then stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Add the apples, and stir to combine. Spread the batter into the greased pan.

Bake 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool before slicing and serving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Zucchini-Orange Cupcakes

I discovered this recipe in my backlog of unposted recipes, and just had to share it with you! It's from a lovely set of cupcake recipes given to me by my sister a couple of years ago. The original recipe was for carrot cake, but I substituted zucchini since I baked these in the middle of zucchini season when we were absolutely drowning in them! Zucchini and orange make an interesting and tasty combination, and the raisins and chopped nuts add texture and extra delicious-ness. The orange cream cheese frosting is absolutely to-die-for, and would be excellent on many kinds of cupcakes (or even some fancy muffins!).

Zucchini-Orange Cupcakes (adapted from The Cupcake Deck)
Makes 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp grated orange zest
1 cup grated zucchini
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts or pecans

For the frosting:
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp grated orange zest

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line twelve muffin tin cups with paper cupcake liners. Spray with nonstick spray.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar on medium speed until smooth and thick, 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides as needed. On low speed, mix in the oil, vanilla, and orange zest until blended. Mix in the flour mixture to incorporate.

3. Press down on the zucchini to extract as much liquid as possible. Add to the batter along with the raisins and walnuts and mix.

4. Fill each cupcake liner with 1/4 cup of atter. Bake until the top feels firm and a tester comes out clean, 28 minutes.

5. Make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides as needed. Add the sugar, mixing until smooth, about 1 minute, and then meat on medium speed for 1 minute to lighten the frosting further. Fold in the orange zest with a rubber spatula.

6. Frost the cupcakes once completely cooled.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mediterranean Shepherd's Pie

This unusual shepherd's pie is really delicious. I was a little skeptical when I first saw the recipe because I just wasn't sure if everything would "go" together--but the flavors complement each other perfectly. I've made it a couple of times, once with all beef and again with a combination of beef and veal. Both options were fantastic. This dish is nice because it's really a full meal in one pan - meat plus lots of veggies. Although there are two components - the meat-veggie filling and the sweet potato topping - the dish does come together fairly quickly because the potatoes can be boiling while you prepare the filling. Definitely a keeper!

Mediterranean Shepherd's Pie (adapted from Karina's Kitchen, original recipe here)

For the topping:
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
Sea salt and ground pepper, to taste
A dash of nutmeg
A drizzle of olive oil, to taste
Milk, as needed

For the filling:
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or a mixture of ground beef and ground lamb
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 small to medium zucchini, trimmed, cubed
1 cup artichoke hearts, cut into pieces if whole
1 14-oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes with green chiles (Muir Glen makes a good version)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1-2 teaspoons honey or brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley or cilantro
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and ground pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the sweet potatoes in a pot of fresh salted water and bring to a boil. Cook until under fork tender and mashable.

3. Meanwhile, saute the ground meat in a large hot skillet until lightly browned. Pour off the fat and return the skillet to the stove. Add the onions and garlic; stir and cook for five minutes or until the onions are soft.

4. Add the zucchini; stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the artichokes and tomatoes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar,honey or sugar, dried herbs and cinnamon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until the liquid is reduced a bit and everything is nicely tender. Remove from heat.

5. Drain the cooked sweet potatoes and mash them lightly. Season with sea salt, ground pepper and nutmeg. Drizzle with a little fruity olive oil. Add a couple of tablespoons of milk and stir until smooth and fluffy.

6. Layer the beef and veggie mixture in a casserole or baking dish. Top with the mashed sweet potatoes.

7. Bake in the center of a preheated oven until bubbling and hot- about 25 minutes.
If the top starts to brown too soon, you can cover it with a piece of aluminum foil.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper and Black Bean Soup

This soup is easy to pull together and really yummy. The roasted red pepper adds a unique flavor to the soup, and the beans add substance and protein. In this particular recipe, I didn't think making the beans "from scratch" added too much, so next time I might just open up a can of black beans to make the soup even speedier. It's excellent topped with a little sour cream - some chives would be tasty as well, though I didn't have any on hand this time.

Roasted Red Pepper & Black Bean Soup (from A Good Appetite)

1 cup dried black beans
1/2 T olive oil
1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
About 2 cups roasted red pepper, roughly chopped
1 chipotle in adobe
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
Sour cream, to serve

Pick through the beans for any stones & place in a pot with a lid. Cover with boiling water about 1 inch above the beans. Let sit until twice in size, at least an hour or two.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a pot. Add the onion and cook until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook until the onions and garlic are very tender. Stir in the peppers, oregano, parsley & a good pinch of salt. Cook or about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken broth. Let cool until the beans are done soaking.

Once the pepper mixture has cooled for at least 15 minutes, use a blender to process it until smooth. You will need to do this in batches. Be careful not to fill the blender too full, especially if the mixture is still warm. Pour the pureed pepper mixture into a soup pot.

Stir in the soaked beans and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer the soup for about 1 hour or until beans are tender. Use a fork to smash some of the beans if you wish to thicken it a bit more.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pistachio-Pumpkin-Chocolate Halloween Cupcakes

This year I decided to do somewhat crazy cupcakes for Halloween! I made three cupcake batters - pistachio, pumpkin, and chocolate - and then combined two flavors in each cupcake. So, there were three options for folks: pistachio-chocolate, pumpkin-pistachio, and chocolate-pumpkin. Each flavor was really yummy on its own, and the combinations were very tasty as well. This was a fun idea and looked really cute.

The pistachio batter was delicate and nutty, although it exploded more than a little bit when baked! Luckily, cream cheese frosting covers all flaws. The pumpkin batter was perfectly pumpkin-y, with a perfect light touch of pumpkin pie spice. Finally, the chocolate batter is an old standby of mine from Martha Stewart, which always comes out perfectly. I used gel food coloring to pump up the colors, although of course you could leave these natural as well. The recipe made quite a bit more than anticipated - I thought I was using three recipes for 12 cupcakes, which should have made 36, right? Yet somehow there was a lot more batter than that...not that I'm complaining! The cupcakes were enjoyed by our guests and all got eaten up! Yum.

Halloween Cupcakes (adapted from Sally's Smorsels and Martha Stewart)
Makes 36 cupcakes, 24 minis, and 1 8-inch round cake (eek!)

Pumpkin Dough
½ cup oil
1 ¼ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup pumpkin
Orange gel food coloring

Stir the oil and sugar together. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Mix well. Add the pumpkin.

Pistachio Dough
1 cup de-shelled pistachios
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
¾ cup butter, softened
3 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup milk
Green gel food coloring, to your color liking

Place the pistachios in a blender, pulse until fine. (It does not need to be ultra fine, texture is good.) Add to the pumpkin pie spice, flour, baking powder, and baking soda; mix together.

In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure each is fully mixed before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Alternatively add the pistachio mixture and the milk, until all of the pistachio mixture and milk has been added. Add the green food coloring. Mix on low just until combined.

Chocolate Dough
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 c + 2 T Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/4 c sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 heaping tsp baking powder
1/2 heaping tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 c +2 T milk
1/4 c plus 1 T vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 c warm water
Black gel food coloring

Put the dry ingredients into a big bowl (flours, cocoa, sugar, soda, b. powder, salt). Whisk together, then add the eggs and yolk, milk, oil, vanilla, and water. Beat with electric mixer on low speed until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.

Making the Cupcakes
Line muffin tins with paper liners. Spoon 2 flavors into each muffin cup, and then swirl gently with a toothpick or knife.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans. Cool completely, and then frost with cream cheese frosting.
Here's a photo of me with all my housemates in our costumes - we all dressed up as characters from the Wizard of Oz! I'm Glinda in the pink dress. Some of our guests joined in the theme too: we had the Wicked Witch of the East, William Jennings Bryant, and the Man Behind the Curtain!