Stress Baking Cake

Remember when I said I was going to lean into the Fall baking craze real hard? Never a better time to do it than the week of an election.

Today I tested what I thought was going to be an extremely Pinteresty-in-a-bad-way kind of baked good. See, I had all these homemade candied ginger marshmallows leftover from my Native Field Trip dinner, plus jars and jars of pumpkin puree leftover from various Fall things. And my brain isn’t exactly functioning at 100% after a week of political ups and downs (you’re a fucking goose feather pillow, Marsha Blackburn) so I set out to make the most obvious thing I could think of: Gingery Pumpkin S’mores Swirl Cake. It turned out tender and toasty, chocolatey and rich, with pops of spicy ginger. Every bit good enough to be worthy of replacing a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. I’d suggest that you serve it with a dollop of boozy whipped cream- something with a little bite to cut its richness. Me, I’ll probably just eat it for breakfast like the sugar fiend Maggie Pate turned me into this year.

A couple notes: homemade marshmallows are likely to disintegrate into the cake batter. Burn the living heck out of them carefully to get that toasted campfire taste of a s’more. Or use store-bought ones alongside little pieces of candied ginger coated in flour with the chopped chocolate.

Gingery Pumpkin S’mores Swirl Cake
-serves 8

1/2 cup neutral oil
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cup raw cane sugar
1 cup homemade pumpkin puree
1/3 cup water or unsweetened ginger tea
1 3/4 cup AP flour, + 1 Tablespoon for dusting chocolate
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 of a batch Ina’s marshmallows with 1 heaping cup finely chopped candied ginger mixed in
1 3.5 ounce bar dark chocolate
2 graham crackers (optional)
9”x5” loaf pan

1. Get everything into place: cut marshmallows into pieces that are about 1/2” tall and line them up on parchment paper. Grease and lightly flour your loaf pan all the way to the top. Roughly chop dark chocolate and toss it with 1T flour until coated. Set over to broil on high.
2. Make the batter: mix the first five ingredients together until smooth. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet until no lumps remain.
3. Carefully, so so so very carefully- never taking your eyes off them- broil your marshmallows. They will catch on fire in an instant! Make sure the whole surface is very dark. Set your oven to 350.
4. While the marshmallows are still warm, swirl them into the pan with the batter and chocolate in three layers, beginning and ending with batter. Crumble graham crackers on top.
5. Bake for 60-80 minutes, or until the loaf is a beautiful shade of brown and no longer wobbles in the middle.
6. Cool for at least 25 minutes before serving.

November Salad

Two weeks ago, my friend Susannah Felts gave me the most sparse Pantry Raid answer I have received yet: pumpkin puree, breadcrumbs. And as I was typing out my reply, I knew I was sold on my own idea. I had to make this salad. Two other friends made it before me and confirmed my suspicion: it’s excellent.

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I took one cup winter squash puree- butternut to be specific- and put it in a blender with about 1/2 cup tahini, 1T water, the juice of a meyer lemon, roughly 2t honey and plenty of salt. That’s what the salad will sit on top of, but you can also throw in something with a kick to make turn it into a great crudite dip. It’s so sweet and creamy, you really can’t get enough acid or salt or crunch on top of it. So I tossed arugula in the juice of a regular lemon with a splash of olive oil, then added generous fistfuls of lightly toasted, salted pumpkin seeds and shavings of Sequatchie Cove Creamery Gruteli (parmesan or feta would do nicely too). Finally, and this is really the best part, I finished it all off with sourdough breadcrumbs crisped in a pan with plenty of salted butter.

It’s a salad easy enough to brighten up a dreary weekday lunch and stunning enough to bring to a Thanksgiving potluck.

Six ingredient Glazed Chicken & Vegetables

I made this wonderful thing by total mindless accident two weekends ago. It’s great right out of the pan. It’s even better reheated the next day. It’s the best when finished lazily over a campfire, as I discovered while making it again this weekend. You start with six ingredients and end up with the most perfectly glazed, fall-off-the-bone tender chicken over caramelized vegetables.

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All you need is:
as many bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or legs as will fit in your cast iron skillet
a cast iron skillet
two large, roughly chopped shallots
some apple cider (I like the cloudy kind best)
a spoonful of brown sugar- think like, a scant Tablespoon
a spoonful of whatever hot sauce you’re working on (right now I have some made of chiles de arbol from Masfresco, which is pretty pungent so I only used 1 teaspoon)
roughly chopped, sturdy vegetables such as kale, cabbage, cauliflower, or carrots.

I had half a large purple cabbage on hand both times. I know cabbage isn’t the most glamorous of vegetables, but damn, if this isn’t the way to eat it.

Preheat the oven to 300. Start by patting your chicken dry and giving it a good coating of kosher salt. Put it in a cold, dry skillet, skin side down and turn the heat to medium. Render the fat out slowly. When the skin is golden brown, flip it over and add quartered shallots to cook in the fat for a minute or two.

Pour in cider until it comes about halfway up the chicken, then stir in the sugar, hot sauce and another pinch of salt. You could also add a couple cloves, star anise, bay leaf, or white peppercorns at this point if you have them. Spoon a little of the sauce over the chicken, cover the pan with tin foil and bake for at least an hour and 15 mintues, or until the chicken is very tender.

If you’re going the campfire route, simply do the next steps outside.

Okay, now remove the chicken from the pan and start boiling the cooking liquid over high until it has reduced by at least half, but ideally 2/3. Throw in your vegetables and continue cooking over high until a glaze forms, about ten minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan, turn the heat down a little, and finish the chicken skin side down in the glaze.

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Twice-Roasted Fall Vegetables

It's been roughly a year now since I found sanctuary house and decided to move to Chattanooga, nine months since the move itself, and eight months since I found myself without a job or a husband. I spent the spring readjusting and the summer in a sort of what-to-do limbo, only to realize that I am more than ready to move back to Nashville. I found some new clients and a place to live...in February. And the sensation of waiting to get back to my life there has turned from mild angst to soul-crushing anxiety. 

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At times like these I occasionally wish I had a traditional religion. You know, one of those someone-up-there-has-got-your-back/everything-happens-for-a-reason kind of set ups. But what I've got is Beyonce singing with The Dixie Chicks, an uncertified therapy dog who has more anxiety than I do, some cbd oil and a fridge full of leftovers- the neck of a large-ish butternut squash, two small sweet potatoes, and a head of garlic, and a lime, to be exact.

How do I start to explain this? When I was 20, I went to Tibet and was able to observe Buddhist monks praying. What I saw was not so much a mental practice as a physical one- the monks were doing a motion that reminded me of burpees. Nothing had ever made so much sense to me. Runners go until they're "high," Sufis whirl to shed their ego, Buddhist monks slide across the earth to know humility. I cook to feed my own peace. My own, very practical, not-so-religious form of prayer.

This week when anxiety overcame me, I cut up my potatoes and squash into 1.5" cubes and roasted them at 375 until they were cooked enough to run a fork through, but not quite done. I tossed them in a bowl with a thick dressing made of a head of golden, roasted and mashed garlic, a few spoonfuls of toasted sesame oil, a few spoonfuls of brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and the juice of a lime while I turned the oven up to 425 with the pan still inside it. I poured the vegetables onto the hot pan and let them finish cooking through. They came out soft and sweet, walking the line between deeply caramelized and burned. I tossed them with chopped parsley and green onions and ate them warm.

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