Recipe: Pumpkin Griddle Cakes with Hot Cider Syrup

Posted under: food.
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I discovered this recipe a few years ago, and absolutely love it. These pancakes and syrup are simple to make and taste delicious!

Makes: 18 griddle cakes
Prep: 14 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp. cinnamon and ½ tsp. each allspice, nutmeg, & ginger)
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 ½ cups milk (may use evaporated)
1 ¼ cups fresh or canned solid-pack pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 200°F. In medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, pie spice, and salt. In large bowl, stir together eggs and sugar. Stir in milk, pumpkin, and oil. Add flour mixture and stir just until smooth.

Heat griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray. Working in batches, drop batter, ¼ cup at a time, onto hot griddle. Cook pancakes until bubbles form on top and bottoms are golden brown, about 2 ½ minutes. Turn pancakes over. Cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Place on baking sheet in oven to keep warm. Make remaining pancakes, coating griddle with cooking spray as needed.

Top with dried cranberries or raisins softened in a pot of warm maple syrup, and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts; or top with Hot Cider Syrup (recipe below).

Hot Cider Syrup
1 cup apple cider
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

In a saucepan, combine ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 20-25 minutes until slightly thickened. Let stand for 30 minutes before serving. May be made ahead and reheated before serving. Makes 1 2/3 cups syrup.

Comments (1) Jul 08 2009

Book Review: Predictably Irrational

Posted under: book review, education, food, philosophy, psychology.
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I just read a fascinating book called Predictably Irrational by Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT, Dan Ariely. He explores the idea that our irrationality happens the same way again and again. He performs several experiments and examines the way we make decisions, coming up with some interesting findings.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Ariely begins the first chapter by discussing relativity:

There’s one aspect of relativity that trips us up. It’s this: we not only tend to compare things with one another but also tend to focus on comparing things that are easily comparable and avoid comparing things that cannot be compared easily.

He writes that evaluating two houses side by side yields different results than evaluating three: A, B, and a somewhat less appealing version of A. The subpar A makes it easier to decide that A is better–not only better than the similar one, but better than B. The lesser version of A should have no effect on your rating of the other two buildings, but it does.

Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context. Ariely performed an experiment at MIT in which he selected pairs of photos of random people: one of them physically attractive (A), and the other one noticeably less so (B) in each pair. He then doctored the photo in Photoshop, creating a slightly but noticeably less attractive version of each of them–a decoy (-A and -B). He then approached students, presenting them with three pictures. Some of them had the regular picture (A), the decoy of that picture (-A), and the other regular picture (B). Others had the regular picture (B), the decoy of that picture (-B), and the other regular picture (A).

Whenever I handed out a sheet that had a regular picture, its inferior version, and another regular picture, the participants preferred the regular person–the one who was similar, but clearly superior, to its distorted version over the other, undistorted person on the sheet. This was not just a close call; it happened 75 percent of the time.

Humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly.

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Comments (3) Jun 14 2009

Recipe: Mocha Frappuccino

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Brent and I love the bottled Starbucks mocha frappuccinos. We quickly realized they were too expensive to continue buying, so I decided to make my own. I found several recipes and tested, combined, and tweaked them until I was satisfied with the results. I also created a nutty variation. Brent likes the nutty variation because he doesn’t have to shake the bottle (to mix the cocoa back in) before he drinks it. We saved several of the Starbucks frappuccino bottles so we have the convenience of having them on the go. This is Jenna’s favorite drink. She would drink them all day if I let her. :-)

Fills 6 9-oz Starbucks Frappuccino bottles

3 ½ cups espresso coffee*
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 cups milk (whole milk is best)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking cocoa

Make espresso coffee. Mix coffee, still hot, sweetened condensed milk, cocoa, and sugar in your mixer until sugar is dissolved. Add milk and continue mixing, about one minute. Pour mix into individual 9.5-oz Starbucks Frappuccino bottles. Store in fridge until ready to use (Note: Do not store any longer than you would milk).

*May use regular coffee that has been run through the coffee maker twice, or add 4 teaspoons instant coffee granules to regular coffee.

Nutty Variation

  • Use a nut-flavored coffee, such as amaretto, hazelnut, macadamia nut, etc.
  • Replace baking cocoa with ½ teaspoon almond extract.
  • Reduce sugar to 2 or 2 ½ tablespoons.

Comments (3) May 24 2009

The Pollyanna Principle

Posted under: food, health, philosophy, psychology.
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I often wondered why I recall events in my life as mostly happy and positive. PollyannaThen this last semester as I was taking a sociology course, I came across a theory called the “Pollyanna Principle”. This is named after the book Pollyanna, about a young girl who fervently held a naively optimistic and grateful outlook on life. According to the Pollyanna Principle, the brain processes information that is pleasing and agreeable in a more precise and exact manner as compared to unpleasant information. We actually tend to remember past experiences as more rosy than they actually occurred.

In 1978 researchers Margaret Matlin and David Stang provided substantial evidence of the Pollyanna Principle. They found that people expose themselves to positive stimuli and avoid negative stimuli, they take longer to recognize what is unpleasant or threatening than what is pleasant and safe, and they report that they encounter positive stimuli more frequently than they actually do.

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Comments (4) May 20 2009

Beware of the Green Paste

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We just returned from a trip to Florida where we had the opportunity to visit Brent’s family. One night we ate at Richard’s (Brent’s dad’s) favorite restaurant to celebrate his birthday. Texas de Brazil featured an impressive assortment of various meats which the “carvers” presented to us on skewers throughout the meal. I’m not a meat person, but I have to admit the samplings of lamb, pork, beef, and chicken were all quite delectable.Wasabi

We were also treated to an impressive salad bar with all manner of unique culinary delights. I was determined to select primarily those items with which I was unfamiliar. I noticed a greenish concoction which was placed next to some pickled ginger. A sign read: Wasabi. “Why not?” I thought. At the table I sampled a spoonful and immediately regretted it. When I hear the phrase “flames coming out your ears,” I now understand the feeling. I tried hard not to make a scene, although my eyes were watering and my nose was running. Brent’s younger brother Michael noticed my discomfort and advised me (too late) that Wasabi is something to be consumed in very small quantities, and not by itself. Thanks, Mike! And now a warning to my readers: Beware of the green paste.

Comments (12) Mar 11 2009

Wine for the Novice

Posted under: food, health.
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I enjoy an occasional glass of wine, but I don’t really know that much about it. If you want to be truly enlightened about wine, do yourself a favor and use this resource, Winegeeks. You will learn about the different types of grapes and wines; the wine making process; smelling and tasting wine; buying, ordering, and storing wine; and how to throw a glass of wine into the face of a cheeky scoundrel. (Just kidding about the last one.) Also Kenwood Vinyards has a very helpful glossary of terms pertaining to wine.
Tempranillo Wine
It took me a while to acquire a taste for wine. Now I am starting to appreciate both the potent and subtle aromas, flavors, and textures that make each wine unique. Terms like astringent and full-bodied are used to describe the texture. Some wine scientists came up with the “aroma wheel” to describe all the different possible smells present in various wines. My personal favorite: Microbiological: yeast, sauerkraut, sweaty, horsey, “mousey.” Brent likes to use the term jet fuel to describe the taste of wine. Now I wonder how he knows what jet fuel tastes like…

I learned some interesting facts from John Cleese in “Wine for the Confused”. Many growers try to prevent the grapes from growing; they’re kept very small so the flavor is concentrated. Yeasts, which are necessary to produce alcohol, exist naturally in the vineyard and collect on the grape skins. Once the grapes have been crushed, these yeasts (or artificial yeasts added by the winemaker) interact with the sugar in the grape juice to produce alcohol, a process known as fermentation. Wine can ferment for three days or three years, depending on the style of wine the winemaker is trying to produce. The winemaker must also decide which type of container to ferment the wine in. Oak and stainless steel barrels are today’s most popular choices. So what are the differences are between red and white wine?
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Comments (4) Jan 09 2009