Pumpkin Pomegranate Cake

I made this for date night on Sunday, loosely based off this recipe but also inspired by this one — both of which I found after googling “what to do with one cup of pumpkin purée”. I slaughtered two pie pumpkins a week or two ago, and had a cup left over unfrozen after making some other things (there is a lot more in the freezer!). I had also bought pomegranates (oh, be still my heart) with our last grocery shop, and things just came together.

The result is a pleasingly moist and light coffee cake. It’s not too sweet, and the pomegranate seeds give it a little extra oompf in the fun-to-eat department. I’d make it again.

Ingredients:

– 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground ginger
– 1/4 tsp ground cloves
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp baking soda
– 1/4 tsp sea salt
– seeds of 1 large pomegranate, about 1 cup
– 1 cup pumpkin purée
– 2 eggs
– 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

1. Combine flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium mixing bowl.

2. Add pomegranate seeds, eggs, and butter/margarine and mix well.

3. Pour into greased 8×8 pan. Bake at 350F until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Chocolate Rice Pudding (Dairy-Free, Stovetop)

This chocolate rice pudding whips up quickly and is the perfect fall dessert — especially when served warm! The chocolate flavour is mild; add more cocoa powder if you’d like more of a punch. I am particularly fond of the combination of cinnamon with chocolate, but feel free to leave it out if you’re not a fan.

Ingredients:

– 1.5-2 cups cooked rice (mine was Chinese takeout leftovers)
– 2 eggs
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1.5 Tbsp cocoa powder
– a pinch salt
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 cups almond milk
– optional: raisins, nuts, etc.

1. Put the rice into a large pot and set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla.

3. While mixing, add the almond milk about 1/2 cup at a time, until combined.

4. Add the wet ingredients to the rice. Add raisins, nuts, etc. if desired. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for 6-10 minutes until it reaches the desired thickness.

Serve warm. Or allow to cool and serve cold;it’s your kitchen.

Recipe: Summer Salad

I got asked to bring a salad to a dinner yesterday night, and decided that I would like to do something watermelon-based, since they’re in season right now (so delicious and so cheap!). I browsed a few recipes online and then, from general principles, came up with my own:

Yesterday’s leftovers, aka today’s lunch.

Ingredients:

– 1/2 medium seedless watermelon, cubed
– 2 english cucumbers, diced
– 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
– 1/2 red onion, finely diced
– 1.5 cups or so matchstick-cut carrots
– 1/2 to 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
– lime vinaigrette: juice of ~2 limes, olive oil, honey, sea salt, black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large serving bowl and refrigerate until needed. Toss with vinaigrette just before serving. Serves ~10.

Recipe: Twice-Baked Baby Teething Biscuits

Anselm has been teething for… let’s see… going on four months now (with nary a tooth in sight, I might add) and I thought I would make him some teething biscuits to chomp on. I found this site for a bunch of base recipes; the below is my modification.

Ingredients:

– 1 cup flour
– 1 cup dry baby cereal
– 1 4-oz jar baby fruit puree
– 3 Tbsp oil
– ice water

1. Stir together flour and cereal. (You can use white, whole-wheat, or half-and-half for the flour — and similarly, plain or flavoured infant cereal. I used 1/2 cup oats and 1/2 cup rice.)

2. Add puree and oil, and mix in.

3. Slowly add ice water, until dough pulls away from the bowl and starts to form ball.

4. Spoon dough into piping bag (or ziplock bag — seal it as airtightly as possible and then clip off one corner). Pipe dough into baby-graspable logs on parchment paper.

5. Bake at 425F for 12 minutes until biscuits are puffy and lightly browned.

6. Remove from oven and let cool approximately five minutes. Keep your oven on!

7. Flip biscuits. Return to oven and bake an additional 6-8 minutes until hard. (Er… harder. They don’t really get hard; further tweaking might be necessary here.)

And there you have it! As always, use the sense God gave you. Cool completely before handing to baby. Do not allow baby to consume biscuits unsupervised or while lying down. Et cetera, et cetera.

Thinking about habits

Something or other in my online reading (what? by whom? I don’t recall) has lately gotten me thinking a lot about habits, and led me to both Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and Gretchen Rubin‘s Better Than Before. Both books are very good, but they work especially well as a pair: Duhigg tackles more of the brain-science of habit (like the cue-habit-reward cycle) and Rubin focuses more on the social/personal factors of habit formation and change (like her “four tendencies” of personality, which determine how we respond to both internal and external expectations). Together they paint a broad picture of how we form habits and how habits form us. I was intrigued by Duhigg’s more technical approach, but I appreciate Better Than Before‘s practicality, as well as the emphasis on knowing yourself — since people tend to respond to the making and breaking of habits in predictable but different ways.

For example, Rubin broadly divides people into four categories: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. (Take the quiz here). I’m an Obliger; I find it much easier to live up to other people’s expectations than my own. It’s hard for me to form a habit without some sort of external accountability; I don’t like to let people down, but can (too) easily shirk a habit if I’m the only one who knows or cares. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I do everything for which I’m externally accountable ungrudgingly, of course — witness most of last semester’s homework — but I still do it. (In terms of school work, I think this is why I struggle with courses that use contract grading; I don’t feel driven to try the same way I would if I really had to earn a grade, rather than just meeting a minimum requirement of work done.) There are many other categories Rubin looks at; one that stuck out to me was the Opener/Finisher divide. I’m a Finisher; I get a bigger charge and sense of accomplishment over finishing something (a project, a jar of peanut butter, a blog post) than out of starting a new one. I like looking at something and being able to say “It’s done!”. By the same measure, I get stressed out when I have so many things on the go that I’m not finishing any of them, and it’s hard to stay motivated when I have a long-term project that won’t be finished any time soon.

This strikes me as really useful data. This summer I’ve started working on my thesis, which I’ll have to submit and defend next April. But since I don’t (have to) check in with my advisor particularly often, I’m not working with a lot of external accountability here — and the long deadline doesn’t help, because it will be many months before I can look at my thesis and say “It’s done!”. So how do I make sure that I keep working on it?

Right now, like this:

As it turns out, a sticker chart is pretty much ideal for me. Here’s why I think it works:

1. I do love stickers. That’s not enough on its own, but it surely helps.

2. The chart keeps me accountable. I’m not keeping track of whether I work on my thesis privately; I’m keeping track right there on my dining room wall, where my husband and friends can see it. Even though they’re not checking up on me, they still know what’s going on. Having my chart visible turns it into an external motivator.

3. I can easily see what I’ve accomplished. I put on a star sticker when I do thesis reading, and a happy face when I do writing. At the end of the week, if I have at least one sticker on at least six days, I get a big sticker. My Finisher tendencies motivate me to earn a sticker every day, and to keep the big sticker chain unbroken. Even though my thesis won’t be finished for a long time, every day I get to “finish” a small step.

4. It’s low-key: I don’t have minimums for earning stickers. If I read anything at all — even if it’s just one paragraph — I get a sticker for that day. If I write anything at all — even if it’s just one sentence — I get a sticker for that day. For some people this might not be helpful since it could be a tacit encouragement to make a minimal effort. But for me, it’s more important to establish the habit of working on my thesis every day (or nearly) than to worry about exactly how much work I’m doing. Some days I get quite a lot done; others, I don’t. But I’m working on it regularly and that’s what’s going to make the difference in the long run. Slow and steady, etc. etc. (And since starting my chart I’ve read upwards of 800 pages and written one complete chapter and smaller chunks of others, so clearly something is working.)

Rubin also tackles the convenience factor in habit formation: if we want to establish a good habit, we need to make it convenient. And if we want to kill a bad habit, we need to make it inconvenient for ourselves (which could be something as simple as, say, storing the cookies in a lidded opaque jar instead of a clear unlidded one). This rings true for me. What finally got me flossing every night was moving the floss from inside the bathroom cupboard to a spot on the counter — it’s visible, so I see it and am reminded to floss, and it’s right there so it’s totally convenient. And now I floss! Who knew it could be so easy? (Gretchen Rubin might have known.)

This all has intrigued me greatly. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be thinking about habits for many days to come.

Stir-Fry Salmon with Gnocchi

I’ve been watching a lot of Chopped recently. It’s nice because it’s formulaic enough that I can throw it on while I’m washing dishes or whatever and be able to track with it without having to watch the screen the whole time. It’s also inspiring, in a way: if these chefs can make decent, creative meals out of zany ingredients, surely I can make decent, creative meals out of the normal food in my cupboards, right?

So here’s one I came up with, which handily used up the last two salmon fillets that had been hanging around forever, and a package of gnocchi (spellcheck suggestion: chignon), ditto. Now gnocchi is, of course, Italian, and I did asian-esque seasonings on the fish… but hey, look, it’s fusion… or whatever.

STIR-FRY SALMON WITH GNOCCI — serves 2

Gnocci:
1. Buy a package of gnocchi and cook according to directions. Bam.

Salmon Stir-Fry:
– 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
– 1-2 Tbsp soy sauce
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 4 cloves garlic, minced
– 2 fillets salmon, cut into stir-fry sized strips
– spices: sea salt, black pepper, chili powder, ginger (fresh or dried)
– a good squeeze of lime juice

1. Combine oil and soy sauce in a large skillet over medium heat.
2. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is beginning to get transluscent
3. Add salmon to skillet
4. Season liberally with salt, pepper, chili powder, and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, until salmon is done.
5. Remove from heat and give it a squeeze of lime.
6. Serve warm, over gnocchi.

We also made this with cod the other day — that was good, too, but the salmon was better. Serve with a green side salad.

Black Bean Brownies (GF/DF)

Being suddenly dairy-free (thanks, little Anselm!) means that I’ve been unable to indulge my sweet tooth with my usual post-Communion doughnuts and similar treats. In fact, the other day we were out walking and stopped in at the town bakery, and then I realised that there was literally nothing there I could eat. So I just smelled the air for a while and departed, glumly.

Anyway! For the two very good reasons of 1) wanting to convince myself that there are still many delicious things I can eat and 2) wanting brownies, I made me some dairy-free black bean brownies. The post title probably told you that was coming.

The original recipe is here but I messed around with it significantly (as one does). The recipe with my variations is below.

The verdict?They’re… okay. Good but not great. The texture is sort of fudgey-cakey-quichelike, and I would probably add more chocolate. You can definitely taste the beans. It needs more tweaking but it has potential… this is not likely to become a family favourite but I will keep it in my back pocket for entertaining gluten-free / dairy-free friends.

BLACK BEAN BROWNIES

Ingredients:

1 can black beans (15 oz)
3 eggs
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ‘glug’ maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar

Rinse and drain beans.

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

Pour into greased 8×8 pan. Bake at 350F until top is dry and edges pull away from the pan, about 30 minutes.

Apple Date Almond Squares

A few weeks ago we were having our Bishop over for dinner, so naturally my thoughts turned to dessert. My default on these occasions is usually chocolate chip cookies, but a recent switch to dairy-free living meant that I had to tweak the recipe a bit. Chocolate chips were out; almonds and dates were in. Butter was out; applesauce was in. Then when I had the dough all together, it occurred to me that the anticipated butter -> applesauce texture change might work better as a square than a cookie. So into the pan it all went, and the results were highly satisfactory: sweet but not too sweet, moist, and chewy. Plus the nuts and dates tip the balance from “I’m eating way too much dessert” to “Hey, at least it’s kind of healthy, right? Fibre! Protein! Pass the pan.”

I would have taken a picture if I hadn’t eaten all the leftovers. With gusto.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup chopped dates

Mix together applesauce, sugars, egg, vanilla, and cinnamon.

Add flour, baking soda, salt, almonds, and dates, and mix well.

Pour into greased 8×8 pan.

Bake at 325 for about 30 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.

Moist Pumpkin Cake

Last fall I slaughtered a pumpkin, and I’ve been slowly working through the 10+ cups of flesh it gave me. Today I whipped up a pumpkin cake out of things I found in my fridge/pantry — I made the recipe up out of whole cloth, but the results were entirely satisfactory.

Moist Pumpkin Cake
Ingredients:
2 cups stewed pumpkin (canned should work well too)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
sugar to sprinkle on top. 
Mix pumpkin, sour cream, and butter together in a bowl. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into 9×9 pan and sprinkle light coating of sugar on top (this is to crust up the top a little while it bakes). Bake about 45 minutes at 350F, until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Serve warm! This would probably be amazing with vanilla ice cream on top. 
The cake is dense and super moist, and just sweet enough. I’ll be making this one again.