Monday, June 30, 2008

My Mom's Pumpkin Bread

When Ben had his wisdom teeth out a few days ago, he went on a milkshake-and-mashed-potatoes diet. But when he was feeling more up to chewing, I baked two loaves of my mom's excellent pumpkin bread -- a New England favorite perfect for those recovering from oral surgery. And anyone else, too.

I highly recommend this recipe. Very dense and really good with milk. If you underbake it just a bit, you get a little bit of a gooey spot on the top of the bread in the center. That's my favorite part. The bread also freezes really well, so you can eat one loaf now and save the other one for later.

Abbie's Mom's Pumpkin Bread
  • 1 (15-oz.) can pumpkin (I like One-Pie, but I have to settle for Libby's down here in the South; make sure to use pure pumpkin, not a pumpkin pie mix)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (a mix of nutmeg, cloves and ginger if you want to throw it together yourself; some people add cinnamon or allspice)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9x5 loaf pans.

Mix together pumpkin, eggs, oil, water and sugar. In a second bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients; add to pumpkin mixture and stir until just blended.

Pour batter into pans. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

The food: Pumpkin bread
The verdict: Gourds never tasted so good!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

I'd like to extend a hearty "thanks" to the man or woman who came up with the idea of battering and deep-frying little pieces of chicken.

This particular plate of chicken came from The Red Barn Drive-In. (I'm not clear on why they call it a drive-in, unless they want to emphasize that you can drive into the parking lot and park while you pick up your food. Although it seems like that would go without saying.) If you're on or around Riverside Drive in Augusta sometime, I'd recommend stopping by for the chicken, a yeast roll and a milkshake.

The food: Fried chicken
The verdict: Winner, winner!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Frosting that Takes the Cake

Last year for my birthday, Ben bought me a cherry cheesecake from Once in a Blue Moon Bakery in downtown Cary. The good news was that it was a wonderful cheesecake. The bad news was that I gained at least 17 cream-cheese-induced pounds because I lack restraint when it comes to cheesecake and with only two of us to eat it, I had about 14 slices.

So this year, we returned to Blue Moon but decided to go with a few goodies instead of an entire cake: a raspberry brownie, a marble brownie, a lemon bar and a slice of "Orange Creamsicle" cake.

The brownies were great. The lemon bar was great. But the cake was amazing. Buttery, tender yellow cake with an orange frosting, with orange preserves between layers, topped with shaved white chocolate. I wish I had a picture for you, but as with the Starbucks cookie, I ate it before I could photograph it.

What really made the cake special was the frosting. Rich, but not that sweet, with a very true, intense orange flavor. The consistency was perfect -- lighter and fluffier than a typical buttercream-type frosting. And none of that chemically aftertaste that I think comes on ready-made cakes from supermarket bakeries.

Does anyone have any ideas about how I could recreate a fluffy, rich, orange-flavored, not-too-sweet frosting? I'm desperate to recreate this masterpiece o' cake.

The food: Once in a Blue Moon Bakery's Orange Creamsicle layer cake
The verdict: A birthday wish come true

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Whoopie! Pies

I guess you can get whoopie pies in other places, but I always think of them as a Maine specialty. And while I like whoopies of all kinds, my absolute favorite pies come from Maine bakery Isamax, maker of The Wicked Whoopie. (That's a half-eaten Wicked Whoopie pie above, held by my sister Allie, who is also a W.W. fan.) They're soft, they're creamy, they're messy. They're amazing.

I like all of the Isamax flavors, but I have a few top picks: Chocolate Chip, Pumpkin, Strawberry, and my very favorite, Raspberry & Cream, which is golden cake with traditional filling and a dollop of raspberry preserves. Last year, my family was kind enough to send me two raspberry pies and two chocolate chip pies for my birthday. I think at least one was for Ben but I beat him to it.

If you think Wicked Whoopies sound familiar, it could be because they've been featured on the Oprah Winfrey show (and a lot of other places, including The Food Network and QVC).

Oprah digs them. I dig them. I think you'll dig them.

The food: Wicked Whoopies
The verdict: The world's perfect dessert

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Maine Dish

This past weekend, Ben and I drove home for Annie's high school graduation. While we were there, I went with Allie (who, very bravely, is a first grade teacher) to be her grown-up helper for Forestry Day, which is a day where you and a bunch of small children tromp around the woods.

For lunch, Allie and I stopped at the market that used to be Emery's (which used to be Dowe's) on Route 32 in South China to pick up the ultimate field trip food -- Italians.

Perhaps you've heard of the Italian. Anywhere else you can get hoagies or subs or similar impostors, but you can only get an Italian in Maine. (And you know it's true because Wikipedia says so.) Here's what makes an Italian an Italian:
  • Made in a soft, oversized New England hotdog bun (which are baked side-by-side so that there is a crust only on the top)
  • Contains ham (from the deli, sliced pretty thick), white American cheese, green peppers, onions (usually diced), black olives, pickles and tomatoes
  • Dressed with oil (I'm not a purist, so I use mayo)
I really love Italians -- they're one of the foods I miss most now that we're in North Carolina. Sometimes I make them myself, but they're just not as good as the ones that I get, say, at Whipper's on Bangor Street in Augusta (and which isn't just an Italian shop, but a car wash as well). I'm thinking about having a few packed in dry ice and expressed to the Tar Heel State. A little taste of heaven. On a hotdog bun.

The food: Emery's large ham Italian, minus the tomato, with mayo
The verdict: Any Italian is a good Italian; next time I'll ask for extra pickles

NEXT POST, look out for a second Maine favorite: whoopie pies!

Monday, June 2, 2008

That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Saturday, after grocery shopping at Harris Teeter, I stopped by the in-store Starbucks to use an about-to-expire gift card. I don't drink coffee, so I bought two slices of coffee cake and one molasses cookie, all of which I intended to share with Ben. But I was really hungry on my way home, so I broke of my half of the cookie and ate it. Then I broke of half of Ben's half of the cookie and ate it. I think you know where this is going.

This was the best molasses cookie I have ever had: soft and chewy and very evenly baked, with a very mellow flavor. Some molasses cookies can be kind of harsh and bitter, but this one was very rich, smooth and gingery, and yet not too sweet. Also, it was perfectly circular, which is impressive, I think.

I'd intended to post a picture of this masterpiece confection, but by the time I got home, there was no cookie left to photograph. Except for this crumb here. Which I ate as soon as the picture was taken.

Sorry, Ben. You can have the next one.

The food: Starbucks Molasses Cookie
The verdict: Two crumbs up!