Autumn Festivus: Cake and the Airing of Grievances

Last Thursday, my coworkers and I organized a little party in our cubeland, christened the Autumn Festivus. We took over an abandoned cube and turned it into a secret den of deliciousness.

I brought in some Pumpkin Sour Cream Coffee Cake. Yum. Dense and moist with a hint of pumpkin spice; it is perfect to serve to holiday guests.

Check out the food spread, someone even brought in a crock-pot for hot apple cider!!

This Festivus for the rest of us was awesome.  It was a serious party- err, as serious as one can get without alcohol.

In true Festivus style, we had an airing of grievances. There was also some talk of turning the nearby coat rack into the Festivus pole, but it fizzled out as we happily munched away on bagels and sipped hot coffee and cider.

I liked #5

I know Festivus is mostly associated with the month of December. But really, I think it can be generalized- it is a holiday for the Every Man.

For the uninitiated, a short history of Festivus:

I know you are all wondering what my grievance is. How can someone seeming so chipper have grievances? HA.  I have a lot of problems with you people!

You people who hate on pumpkin spice. I know there are some Scrooges out there that abhor pumpkin spice anything and are very vocal about it (you know who you are!!).

It has become so ‘in’ to hate on pumpkin spice that the pumpkin-hating crowd is now as lame and bandwagon-esque as the crowd who does like pumpkin spice.

I cook what I like, and I like pumpkin spice.  Judging by the number of people at my office who gobbled up this coffee cake, I’m in the right here.

Pumpkin Sour Cream Coffee Cake

  • 2 sticks butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • generous 1/2 cup pumpkin puree*


  • 2 tbl sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg

Do not preheat oven! Spray a bundt pan or angel food cake tin with cooking spray. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and eggs.  Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and mix into the butter and eggs, alternating with the sour cream. Mix in the pumpkin and vanilla last.

Mix together all the ingredients for the topping. Coat the bottom on the baking pan with the mixture. Pour in half the batter. Sprinkle the rest of the topping onto the batter, then pour the second half of the batter on top. Set oven to 350° and bake the coffee cake for 50 minutes to an hour. Check with a toothpick for doneness if you are unsure.

Let cool. Invert the cake onto a serving plate once cooled.

*Note: This is an adaptation of an old family recipe, if you don’t like pumpkin, simply use 1 cup sour cream and skip the pumpkin puree.


– Erin

A Healthy Answer to A Fat Problem

Lately I’ve been feeling a lot like Tommy Boy singing ‘fat guy in a little coat’- but my tune has been more along the line of ”fat girl in tiny pants’.

My pant’s feel that coat’s pain

Why does this always happen to me, I whine wonder? Everything is fine and then bam, one day my pants don’t fit.

It’s no secret I love food so this should be self explanatory. I go to the gym whenever I’m in the office, but unfortunately I haven’t been in the office regularly since July.

Does that mean I can’t eat like I usually do?! (I have shockingly great analytical skills, don’t I?)

This red wine and balsamic vinegar reduction is a healthy answer to my fat problem. It goes well on anything, I drizzled it over figs and a pan-seared chicken breast.

Red Wine, Honey and Balsamic Reduction

  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • generous 1/4 cup honey (probably almost 1/3)

In a small saucepan combine the three ingredients. Bring to a roiling boil, stirring frequently (it can boil over on you if you don’t watch it!). Cook for about 20 minutes or until mixture has been reduced by over half. It will start to thicken as well.

To test it: dip a wooden spoon into the mixture, pull it out and run a finger along the back of the spoon- the sauce will not run into the area where you ran your finger if it has thickend up.

Set aside in a container for easy pouring (I used a gravy boat) and let cool.  Drizzle away and enjoy!

– Erin

Question of the Day: What do you do when ‘the bulge’ sneaks up on you?

What Charlie Sheen and I have in common, Winning

I won first prize at the DC State Fair jam & jelly contest!!!!

Blue ribbon!

Numero Uno!


Ok, that’s enough. 🙂  Thank you for indulging my excitement.  Two weekends ago, DC held its third annual state fair in Barracks Row. Yes, this is an oxymoron as DC isn’t actually a state, but hey, we pay taxes and don’t have any Congressional representatives so can we at least enjoy this great American pastime?

I had been excited about the fair for a while but didn’t know what I wanted to make.  I went over to the garden to pull out the dead tomato plants and check on the general state of things and saw I had a bumper crop of green Marconi peppers. Light-bulb moment!  Hot, sweet and smokey green pepper jelly!

At the fair of course winning was on my mind, but I didn’t think it was a given. After intently watching the judges taste entries for an hour, they went for mine. Yes, the culminating moment… the first judge (who happens to be interim food editor of the Washington Post) samples some and immediately starts coughing and reaching for water.

Oh my God. Fail.  But then she flashes me the thumbs up. Ok, maybe it just went down the wrong pipe.

Another judge, a master gardener from the District, sampled and said “Oh, that’s good”. Score!!

Me and the winning jelly

I was so surprised when they announced the winner and called my name. Inside I was bursting but outside I was trying to act cool, like no big deal. Hahaha, that didn’t work out so well. When the Washington Post editor came over and asked me about the recipe and handed me her phone to input my contact info I really just got flustered.

I was fumbling with fat fingers and looked like I was blatantly ignoring the people coming up to me asking questions about the jelly because I was so intent on giving out my info. Ugh, I came across as a total ditz. Moving forward, I’m taking it as a lesson in how to be more poised and gracious when in the spotlight.

Alright, I know you are ready for the recipe, so here it is!

I dressed up my entry with burlap, jute and a tiny pepper on the side

Blue Ribbon Southern Lady Pepper Jelly

  • 4 1/4 cups finely diced green Marconi peppers
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (more if you like it hot)
  • 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 box Sure-Jell Low Sugar Pectin (1.75 ounces)
  • 6 half pint jelly jars
Prepare the jars, lids, bands and boiling water canner.  Slice the peppers and run through a food processor until finely diced. Combine the peppers, vinegar, a few pinches of the sugar and the pectin in a large saucepan. Bring to a hard boil, stirring frequently. Mix in the sugar, honey and ground chipotle pepper and continue cooking at a hard boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Skim off any foam if needed (I rarely do!). Using a funnel, pour the jelly into the prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process the jars for 10 minutes, remove and let cool.

Southern ladies used to serve hot pepper jellies with water crackers and cheese at lunches and afternoon teas so that inspired the name of my entry. This jelly is perfect with cream cheese and crackers, on a bagel, or even as a dipping sauce for roast pork.


– Erin

Bastille Day Macarons

Bonjour mon chéris!

Happy Bastille Day 🙂  Ah yes, the French national day celebrating prison break-outs and giving a big f-u to the “Man”.

I’m not a regular celebrator of this French holiday, but it does come to my mind thanks to several (fruitless) years of taking French classes in school. Mr. Gerard, my sophomore and junior year native French professor (and super hottie)  also comes to my mind too… ;-).

But mostly, I have been wanting to try my hand at making French macarons so Bastille Day gave me the perfect reason to get in the kitchen and stop being afraid of the egg whites!!

Yes, I am afraid of working with egg whites. I feel they are finicky and unmanageable. I know Julia Childs would be very dissapointed in my lack of egg-white related self confidence. (No Julia, No!)

Yes, these macarons look lovely, delicate black tea infused cookies stuffed with lemon curd. Yes, maybe they even look effortless (ya right).

But it took a battle with the egg whites to get there. Round 1 ended with Erin: 0 Egg Whites: 1.

Left: super ugs! Right: Vive la France!

Round 2, I evened the score.Victory!

After carefully reviewing my game plan, I think the fatal flaw occurred in round 1 when I didn’t let the egg whites come up to room temperature before whipping them. Room temperature whites hold their shape when whipped much better than cold ones.

So I adjusted, did it ‘right’ the second time around and was successful!

Here is the recipe, courtesy of Martha Stewart’s 2010 holiday cookie magazine special.

French Macarons

  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • Contents of 1 Earl Gray tea bag
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • pinch of cream of tarter
  • 1/4 cup fine sugar
  • lemon curd, for filling

Pulse confectioners sugar, tea and almond flour until combined. Sift. Preheat oven to 375°. Whisk egg whites with an electric mixer until foamy, add the cream of tarter, whisk until soft peaks form, then add in the 1/4 cup sugar. Continue to whip until stiff peaks form.

Sift flour mixture over the egg whites and gently fold to combine. The batter should be thick and hold its shape, not runny.  Transfer to a piping bag, and pipe out 1 inch rounds onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Tap the bottom on the baking sheet onto the counter top to release bubbles. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. (I baked one tray immediately and another tray after letting it stand for 15 minutes. That method worked better, I recommend not skipping this step!)

Turn the oven down to 325° and place one sheet at a time in the oven. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. Raise oven temp back to 375° after the first tray is done and repeat the heat reduction technique with each subsequent tray. Let cookies cool before removing from baking sheet. Fill with lemon curd. Enjoy!

– Erin

Daily Question: Do you have a culinary fear? Tell me what, and how you conquered it!

How to Make Strawberry Jam

So as part of my interest in urban homesteading, I like making my own jams and applesauce.

Yes I know I’m hardly being a champion of self-reliance by making jam, but I’m doing what I can!!

Homemade Strawberry Jam

The first time I made jam I went into it 100% obsessed with doing it all “right”. I bought two books, a stater canning set, jars etc. I actually read one of the books, Putting Food By, cover to cover. Yes, it was a little over the top.

But companies in the home presevering industry totally try to freak you out by making it seem like if you make one wrong move while canning you’re going to kill your entire family with Botulinum toxin.  Ya, stressful right?

So now you know why I was a little… cautious.

Obviously, I learned to do something right, because my husband and I have successfully ate our way through strawberry and blueberry jam as well as applesauce without any trips to the ER.

So for those of you interested in trying your hand at canning  I put together this illustrated step by step guide to make the process less mysterious and scary!*

Start with some fresh picked berries

I use the recipe on the Sure-Jell box, it calls for 8 cups of berries. To make washing easier, fill up your (clean) sink with water and add in the berries. Run your hand lightly over the berries to swirl them around.

Now you need to hull all the berries at once. Grab a berry outta the water and using one hand, gently grasp the berry at the bottom. Using a paring knife in the other hand, insert the tip just under the green stem and twirl the berry to cut the stem out.


Note in the background, I set out a bowl to hold the stems.

Lay out baking sheets covered in paper towel (probably need 3), lay the hulled berries on here so excess water will drip off.

Once you’ve cleaned all the berries, you need to clean out the sink and then wash your canning lids, jars and bands in warm soapy water. Drain the sink again, and re-fill it with hot water. The jars need to stay warm until you ladle the cooked jam into it.

Put the lids into a small pot of hot water on the stove on low heat. These also need to stay very warm until the jam is ladled into the jars.

Fill you canning pot with water and turn the heat to high, it’s so large it takes a while to boil. Also set a full teakettle over medium heat too, as the water from the canning pot boils out, you’ll need to replace it with almost boiling water from the kettle.

Clean your work surface and set out ALL THE UTENSILS you need. Cooking jam goes fast, and you need to have everything at your fingertips.

Extra large bowl, pectin, potato masher and tongs are essentials

Measure your sugar, mash your berries and your halfway there 🙂

Cook berries, sugar and pectin together at a full rolling boil (one that doesn’t disappear when you stir it). Watch the berries, but also start setting up your jars.

Sweet bubbling goodness

Once the jam has cooked according to the recipe you’re using (about 10 minutes) ladle into jars, leave some room at the top for the air to expand while it cooks a second time in the canner.

Top the jars with lids, gently screw on the bands, and then get those bad boys in the canner. I use this nifty basket to hold the jars and it makes for easy lifting. Cook the jars in the canner for the amount of time specific in your recipe!!! Yes, this matters.

Once the jars have fully cooled and self sealed (you will hear a pop as the lids compress while the jars cool, that’s how you know its working!) you have beautiful jars of yummy, preservative free jam. Just fruit, sugar and some love. 🙂



Daily Question: What fruit jam is your favorite?

*Note: I do recommend buying Ball’s Blue Book for more detailed recipes, or you can use the recipes on the Sure-Jell box.

Beer Bread Two Ways

I hope your weekend involves beer. Either consumed straight from the glass, or in the form of Beer Bread.  Cheers to Friday!

So I believe deep inside most food lovers, there is a little fat kid. This fat kid is responsible for you loving things like chicken fried steak and biscuits. Or Cheetos.

How is it possible to go from loving high-brow cuisine like tarte au pistou to fried bologna sandwiches? The answer is the little fat kid.

My little fat kid actually lurks quite close to the surface, and sometimes he rears his fat ugly head and screams “I NEED CARBS”!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, when this happens I don’t fight it. I feed it. Beer Bread.

Usually with some butter. Ok, always with some butter.


When your little fat kid cannot be ignored, start with flour and a nice dark beer.

Whisk together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder (that’s it!)

Pour in beer and mix into a ball.


You are literally done, and in less than an hour, you will have this warm, golden brown deliciousness waiting for you and your inner fat kid. It’s ok.

Beer Bread (Two Ways)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 heaping tbl sugar
  • 1 tbl baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 12 ounces beer
  • AND
  • 1 4 ounce can diced green chilies (this was around 3 tbl if you use fresh)
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I used a Mexican blend)
  • OR
  • 1 heaping tbl Italian seasoning*

The first four ingredients form the base of this beer bread recipe. If you start with these, you can pretty much add whatever mix-ins you want. I loved the aroma and taste of the both these versions!

Whisk the first four ingrediants together in a large bowl. Pour in your beer, and stir until combined and the dough forms a ball. Don’t knead it. Coat a regular sized loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and spread the dough in.

Bake at 375° for 45 minutes to 55 minutes. Check for doneness with a knife in the center. During the last 10 minutes of baking, melt 2 or 3 tablespoons butter and brush the top of the bread with it to get a nice golden brown color. I don’t recommend skipping this step because I think the bread looks kinda ugly without it.

Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing it to cool on wire rack.  Try it while its warm, sooo good. 🙂

Note: I used a Penzeys blend with basil, oregano and dried garlic. You need the garlic.

Inspired by Farmgirl Fare


– Erin

Daily Question: What does your inner fat kid crave? 😉