With the industrial revolution, America lost its taste for homemade. Goods could be produced more cheaply by machine and were shinier, seamless, and dare I say it, without much character. I’m pleased to report that while most households still buy everything at the store, the movement toward homemade is experiencing a bit of a revival.

Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, Yvette van Boven's Home Made, and Jodi Kahn's Simply Sublime Gifts

It beleaguers my mother to no end that I prefer to make at home what could easily be bought at the store—gift tags, whipped cream, and fancy cakes—but I like to do it, even if the cost savings aren’t terribly significant.

My current obsessions include making gourmet cupcakes and creating homemade solutions to organizational challenges like my need for a storage solution for holiday gift wrap. I also recently finished making my own light tent (the one you see in my recent Barbie photography post) which saved me a ton of money and which I’ve already used several times to take pictures of cupcakes.

On the less good homemade front, I’m the the throes of a fight with my stand mixer. Over the holidays, the motor on my trusty Sunbeam stand mixer gave out. I’d wanted to upgrade to a KitchenAid for some time before that but couldn’t justify the purchase, and was secretly a little pleased when the Sunbeam broke. Off I trotted to Macy’s to check out the after-Christmas sales, picked up a mixer on sale, and hauled what seemed like 100 pounds through the mall and back home. Upon walking through the door and checking out the Internet, I found that I could get a professional-level KitchenAid for a cheaper price than I’d just paid for my standard mixer, and so, I packed said mixer back up and returned it to the store.

The fancy, schmancy pro machine with all the bells and whistles arrived from Amazon this Friday and upon unboxing it and using it once, I discovered that it’s damaged and doesn’t quite work right. Today’s project is to pack it back into the box to be dragged to the UPS store on Monday. I really, really hope that the replacement they send will actually work and I can get back to baking.

Yesterday before work I decided—and who knows why it came into my head at 5:30 AM on a Monday morning—that I’d bake a little something to share with my colleagues and pulled this recipe for moist pumpkin muffins out of my stack of those to try. The recipe, and I do apologize because I took it from the Internet but failed to make a note as to where it came from, is interesting because it uses honey and maple syrup as a white sugar substitute. Not having made the muffins before, this was a bit of a gamble but they turned out spectacularly. They were, as the title promised, incredibly moist and not too dessert-like.

If you’re not yet pumpkined-out after this fall, give these a try!

Ingredients

For the muffins:

2 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 dash ginger
1 dash allspice
1 dash nutmeg

For the topping:

1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans, but you can use whatever you prefer)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325℉.
  2. Combine eggs, oil, honey, syrup, pumpkin and vanilla and mix well.
  3. Add flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and other spices to the wet ingredients and blend until just combined.
  4. Line muffin tin with paper liners and fill each cup until ¾ filled.
  5. Mix together the ingredients for the crumble topping. Sprinkle topping onto batter before baking.
  6. Bake at 325℉ for 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

But now the supper crowns their simple board
The halesome parritch, chief of Scotia’s food

—Robert Burns, The Cotter’s Saturday Night

If you’ve known me for any length of time at all, it will come as no surprise to you that of all the things I brought back from my trip to Scotland, one of my favorites is a penchant for porridge (oatmeal) on cold mornings. I’ve posted my recipe online before, but it’s worth doing again as we begin autumn.

Here’s the recipe I use, but you can certainly modify it to your own taste. This makes about three servings; double it if you want to have enough for a whole week. Start this the night before so it’s ready for breakfast in the morning.

Ingredients

3/4 cup steel cut oats (Quaker, like these, are totally fine)
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
3 cups water
or 2 cups water and 1 cup milk
a large pinch of coarse salt
a splash of vanilla extract

Directions

Pour the oats into a pan with the butter or olive oil and fry for two minutes or until they start to smell a little toasted. For creamier oats, use the milk/water combo, or for a drier consistency, stick with just water. Add three cups of liquid, whichever you choose, salt and vanilla to the pan and bring to a rolling boil. Cook for 1 minute, remove from heat and cover. Leave overnight.

In the morning, uncover the pan and cook for 10 minutes or until the consistency is as you like it. Dress with dried fruit, brown sugar or honey.

This oatmeal reheats very well, so put any extras in the refrigerator and microwave henceforth. Add a little milk if the oats are too thick upon reheat.

(Photo credit: My Edible Advice)

Like many families, we have a tradition to cook the birthday child’s—or grown-up’s, as the case may be—favorite meal and dessert of choice for his or her birthday. My mother’s favorite dish is chicken and biscuits, made by her mother who, in turn, learned the method from her mother-in-law, a farmer’s wife from Iowa. Now, I’m also quite sure that most families have similar stories about their grandmother’s bratwurst, or dim sum, or enchiladas, how each is made with love, but as I watched my grandmother cook this meal, I noticed something strange. You see, in addition to tasting the gravy between additions of new spices and stirring until the consistency is just right, my grandmother adds yellow food dye. That’s right. A completely unnatural and unnecessary food additive whose only purpose was to deepen the warm, yellow color of the gravy.

As I stood there incredulous at this addition, my mother chimed in, “Chicken and biscuits just isn’t the same without it being yellow. I remember that so clearly from when I was a kid.” My grandmother went on to explain that she’d picked up this step too from her mother-in-law.  “What a fascinating thing,” I thought. It seemed to me that food dye was something that you only found in restaurants from “real” chefs who cared about how their food looked in addition to how it tasted. But here was a home cook who was born at the turn of the century adding yellow food dye to her gravy. It made me feel good to think that somewhere in the middle of rushing around to feed the folks who had been working on the farm, Edna Hawn added a dash of coloring to make her dish perfect. I have to admit too that it’s a clever addition; the gravy does look ever-so-much more appetizing when it contrasts from the shade of the biscuits.

And so it was that when I wrote down the recipe to preserve it for my own family someday, I dutifully wrote down the addition of a few drops of yellow food coloring as the last step. Sometimes you can’t explain why your family does the things it does, but that’s just how things are.

adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes
makes 16

I love baking. I particularly love baking cupcakes, but I suppose that’s a, “well, duh” sort of statement given that anyone who pays any attention at all to food these days knows that they’re all the rage. Besides, no one doesn’t like eating cupcakes and I figure the quickest way to eating delicious cupcakes is to bake them yourself.

I’m headed into a full day of auditions tomorrow for the local community theatre that I’m involved with and out of the goodness of my heart—and not at all because I like eating cupcakes as stated above—I’m baking up a batch to share. This recipe is one I’ve made before and is adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes. It’s great because while technically it’s a cupcake, I suppose because it’s sweet despite not being iced, it’s quite simple to rationalize and call these little guys breakfast.

So, without further ado, raspberry cornmeal cupcakes.

Ingredients

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. fine- or medium-ground yellow cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
7 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 6-ounce container fresh raspberries

Directions

Preheat oven to 375℉. Line 16 standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar. Set aside remaining sugar. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter. Pour over flour mixture, whisking to combine.

Fill each lined cup with a scant 1/4 cup batter. Top batter with raspberries (3-4 berries per cup), then sprinkle evenly with the remaining 2 tbsp. sugar.

Bake until evenly browned on top, 20-25 minutes.