Salted Caramel Apple and Pear Buckles

I needed a super fancy name for this post, hence the word “buckles.” Although in all reality, these are buckles. Buckles. Buckles. Buckles. I just really like saying “buckles” for some reason. Like that one very popular song I used to love as a kid. One, two, buckle my shoe. Three, four, close the door….wait, where was I? Oh that’s right, I was talking about how much I love these crumb cakes. That’s basically what buckles are, just really good coffee cake-like dessert. The perfect dessert or breakfast for autumn. Is it a problem that it’s been 80 plus degrees here in Los Angeles, and I’m baking for fall with the air conditioning running on full blast? I think it’s a problem. Clearly, Southern California didn’t get the whole changing of the season memo. Get it together LA! You’re way behind, it’s almost Thanksgiving. This is the part where you change the colors of your leaves and drop them to the ground. This is when you’re supposed to start pouring down on us all of this autumn rain. You’re doing it all wrong, California. You need to be more like the East Coast, or like Seattle. I’m all about Seattle weather. 

You know what I’m also all about? These salted caramel apple and pear buckles. AKA apple and pear spice cakes with a crumb topping. Even though it’s still hot as summer during the day in the West Coast, I still get a craving for a warm apple spice cake every November. I decided to take this recipe over the edge with a little (okay more than a little) salted caramel and of course let’s not forget about the cinnamon and oatmeal crumb topping. It’s like the world’s best coffee cake had a baby with the world’s best cobbler or fruit crisp. It’s like the universe is trying to tell me I should be spending my days eating all of the apple spice crumb cakes in the world.  Hey, what can I say? When the world talks to me, I listen. Especially when there’s cake involved. 

Speaking of cake, I’m having a really difficult time establishing if this cake is actually a breakfast or a dessert. Of course, if this is my mother or my doctor asking, I have most definitely decided that this is in fact not the perfect breakfast. Wink wink. Shhhh don’t tell anyone yet. This all stays between you and I.  Although I did actually make these with the idea on my mind that I need more breakfast recipes. So it can really go either way on this folks. I don’t care about what time during the day I eat it, just as long as I get to eat it. Am I right ladies and gentlemen? Of course I’m right. So now let’s go out and celebrate by making and eating these apple and pear buckles. It’s the only way to celebrate! 

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Roasted Autumn Vegetable Pot Pies

I’ve often wondered what my life would be like as a vegetarian. Would I be the best vegetarian out there? In case you were wondering, I’d be the worst vegetarian. On the planet. Would I have more energy and be healthier? Maybe. I could always use more energy to continue on my quest to take over the world. (I’m only partially kidding about that). I’d definitely be doing my part for the animals. I wouldn’t be terrified anymore that one of them was going to kill me in my sleep. (Not really a fear of mine). Because I’ve eaten meat my entire life, I’m assuming it would be very difficult for me to just become a vegetarian all of a sudden, out of the blue. I’ve grown up on it and I can’t picture myself giving up red meat, chicken and pork forever. Permanently, never again? No way. Don’t even get me started on seafood. I don’t think I could survive life without fish tacos. I’m from California, they’re a staple in my diet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I eat red meat every single day of my life. What am I, a T-Rex? I wish. I think it would be a problem if I did chomp my teeth into a steak everyday, but every once in a while I do crave red meat. I gotta have it. To be more specific, I crave a really good beef burger with a homemade bun and thin and crispy fries every now and then. I’m probably the only person who suffers from such cravings, right? Have to be. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to eat good ol’ beef burgers if I were a vegetarian, and that makes me really sad. That’s my number one hesitation with becoming a vegetarian. A life without burgers or a nice piece of steak is a sad life for me. In all honesty, most often, I end up eating chicken on a day to day basis. To the point where a good friend of mine refuses to come over for dinner anymore because she claims I’m always forcing chicken down her throat whenever she visits me. “If I eat anymore chicken, I’m going to fly the F out of here.” Total lie by the way. It’s like 95% chicken and 5% other stuff when she comes over, not all the time as she likes to claim. She’s an exaggerator. Now though, I do it on purpose and tell her we’re having something else and then I get her into my house and serve her chicken with a maniacal laugh. She totally likes it.

I know I’d never survive as a vegetarian. I’ll be honest and straight forward with that confession, right off the bat. I love all food way too much for that kind of commitment, but every now and then—a few nights a month because that’s all my body will allow—I like to make a vegetarian meal. It’s nice to get more vegetables into my system, because let’s face it sometimes I really forget to eat veggies (sorry mamma), and it’s the perfect excuse to get out of my comfort zone in the kitchen as well. It forces me to think outside of the box. It also allows me to diversify this tiny blog of mine with dishes that you guys would actually like to try out. It wouldn’t be fair to you if all I gave you were the same meat, chicken and pork filled recipes that were heavy and super rich. Really, I’m just sneakily expanding my net and trying to coerce more people (The Vegetarians) to follow my blog. World domination remember?

So this one is for all the vegetarians out there. Even the semi-vegetarians that say they’re vegetarians but have a soft spot for bacon every now and then when no one is looking. Yeah, you know who you are. I think vegetarian food gets a bad reputation. Mostly because people spread nasty rumors about it being bland and boring. And by people I mean me. I was spreading those rumors, but in my defense, that was before I grasped a good understanding for vegetarian meals. One day while I was eating potato chips disguised in a rice cake bag, I had an epiphany. “Jon, you’re about to have an epiphany,” I told myself. “Vegetarian food doesn’t have to be boring and bland. It can be flavorful and tasty and hearty. Why, you don’t need meat in your life at all!” Then I slapped myself in the face and threw my drink in the air because that was crazy talk talkin’. Of course I need meat. But the first part of that epiphany was totally true. So I decided to come up with some filling veggie-centric recipes that would satisfy the vegetarians in my life, and at the same time fit the bill for those carnivorous animals like myself. So I bring to you, drumroll please, ba da ra rummmmm, VEGETABLE POT PIE!! Wait, I’m not giving it any justice. I present to you, ROASTED AUTUMN VEGETABLE POT PIE. You can thank me now. And by thanking I mean, you can now name your next child after me, if you have one. If you don’t, then you can change the name of the one you already have. You laugh now but when you actually taste this dish, don’t be surprised when you start calling your child Jonathan. Just a fair warning.

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and we are all running around like mad people trying to check off items on our long to-do lists. The Pre-Thanksgiving tasks have begun. No amount of mental planning could have prepared us for all of this. Although our lists are nicely organized we cannot help but still feel overwhelmed and anxious. It does not matter how much time we spend mapping everything out, to the last detail, we somehow still do not feel super confident about all that goes into this big event. Everything that has yet to be done. From all that needs to be prepped, cleaned and cooked, to the table setting and anticipation of our guests’ needs. We have a lot to do in a short amount of time. Of course there are some of us who live for these moments. Big gatherings and celebrations where we can cook ridiculous amounts of food in a short period of time and not feel an ounce of pressure. Unfortunately, not all of us our lucky to be that way. For the most part, we fall into that percentage of people where preparing a big Thanksgiving feast just sounds completely daunting to us. We are nervous and worried that we will not be able to get everything finished on time. All the worst possible scenarios run through our heads, and we shudder at the thought that we might have forgotten something, so we run through our lists about twenty more times within the hour. Then the worst does happen. You are in the middle of cooking something and you realize that you are out of a certain ingredient, or that you completely forgot to get an item at the grocery store. That occurs even to the best of us. There is so much on our minds, it seems only natural that we will forget something, or that we thought we had a certain ingredient but come to find we ran out or were mistaken.

When those moments of panic arise, it is best to just relax. Nothing will get solved by panicking and getting upset. We must run through our options in our minds. Do without the ingredient? Use a substitution? Or go to the market for a quick trip and brave the madness with the rest of the forgetters and the last minute shoppers? Perhaps the ingredient is not that important and you can just omit it. I have done that before. In which case, just laugh it off and continue cooking without it. If the ingredient is important but you do not feel like putting your shoes and coat on, hopping into your car, driving to the market, braving the craziness of the last minute shoppers and the long lines at checkout, well then perhaps a substitution will work for you. Surely there is something in your pantry or fridge that will give your recipe the same taste or effect without going out of your way. To help you on your substitutional journey, here is a handy dandy holiday substitution resource put together by my friend Russell over at Chasing Delicious. It is an “informational potluck” with tips and tricks submitted by a variety of food bloggers and cookbook authors, including yours truly. And last but not least, if you cannot skip the ingredient all together or even find an adequate substitution for it, well then your last resort is to put on your brave face and go to the market. Go with your goal in mind. No fuss no muss. Walk in there like you own the place. Shoot straight for the aisle, grab your ingredient, and go pay. If you convince another brave soul to go with you, have them wait in line while you retrieve your item, that way you can get out even faster.

With all the planning and work we put into this holiday, or any holiday for that matter, we all fail to realize one thing. The holidays are not about impressing people, or busting our chops to try and make the “perfect” everything. Life is not perfect. Sometimes things do not go as planned and we need to accept that that is okay. Thanksgiving should not be stressful or overwhelming. Although at times, it seems inevitable when planning a big meal for family and friends. We want to impress and make a great feast that everyone will enjoy, but it is important to stop, take a step back, and breathe deeply. This day is about being around loved ones and enjoying yourself. It is about being thankful for everything around you. It is a day for appreciating those people that we do not get to see often and for giving thanks for the opportunities that have arisen and been given to us.

You can spend the entire day stressed, cooking all sorts of complicated dishes that will surely impress your guests. However, that does not sound fun at all. Or you can also just enjoy the day, stress-free and having fun. Laughing and playing games with your family and friends. Make easy, yet delicious, dishes that you have cooked countless times before. That way, you know it will definitely come out right. Aim for easy recipes. Dessert should be just as carefree and fast to whip up. One that does not take precious fridge space. For we all know how hard it is to arrange everything in the icebox, on this day especially. A cookie of some sort seems to fit the bill. Not just an ordinary cookie, no that will not suffice, but a seasonal cookie. One that brings together all those classic Thanksgiving dessert flavors into one tiny package.

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Pumpkin Cranberry Scones

As autumn continues we find ourselves needing more inspiration in the kitchen. We are easily bored by the doldrum ideas that consume us during this time of year. The same baked goods we make on a daily basis. Each week. Each month. Throughout the year we find ourselves getting into a rut. One that we cannot seem to get out of until the arrival of the holidays. We end up growing tired of the boring recipes we make on a regular basis. And why shouldn’t we? After all we are creatures of habit and when something we make is good, we end up making it all the time until we get bored of it. Until those around us get bored of it. We need something different. Something new. Perhaps it is the spirit of the holidays that make us become so adventurous in the kitchen. The fact that our loved ones will all come together, and we want to impress them with our culinary skills. We look out to find new recipes that are a little bit fancier than what we are accustomed to. Recipes that are little more impressive and labor intensive. Yet we go into the unknown waters, so to speak, with caution and hesitation. We begin to question our skills as if not knowing what we are capable of. Yet we tread on with persistence because the idea of failing is much more inviting than the idea of not trying at all. Cooking and baking disasters are not things we should be ashamed of. Rather they should be looked upon as learning experiences. Situations that help us grow as cooks.

With the holidays fast approaching, we spend most of our time preparing for the big celebration. The grand dinner on the last Thursday of November. All of our attention goes to preparing the main event. We make a blueprint and plan out what we have to do and at what time we have to do it. Some of us are lucky, or perhaps just smarter, and we realize that we do not have to cook it all ourselves. So we divvy up the roles and assign different dishes to different friends and family. While everyone is so consumed on the turkey, the sides, the gravy and cranberry sauce, and the desserts some things are forgotten. Some things are left out. We become so invested in planning out the perfect meal and have become experts in mapping out the cooking and prepping times that go into it all, that one thing is neglected. The big day finally arrives and you begin your preparations before the sun even comes out. As the morning progresses and everyone starts waking up, you realize that you do not have time to make breakfast. That was one part of the day you did not plan out. The last thing you want to do, at this point, is go out and brave the supermarkets with all the other last minute and forgot-something shoppers. You do not want to deal with that madness or with the cranky cashiers who would much rather be home with their family and friends, enjoying the day relaxing instead of working.

You look around in your pantry and in the refrigerator and you cannot seem to think of anything. Mornings are usually brought to us by breads like coffee cake, bagels, english muffins, and scones. You go through all the different possible situations in your head. Just when cereal begins to look like your best bet, you think of an idea. Scones. Sure, you can make them. Scones are easy to put together. You have time for that. Look at your perfectly planned out schedule. You have time. You grab a few ingredients from the fridge and some from the pantry. Of course it is Thanksgiving morning and you do not want anything ordinary. You are still looking to impress. Still adventurous. Two ingredients stand out to you like beacons of light. Pumpkin and cranberries. Thankfully you stocked up on both for the big event. You mix the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and other autumnal spices, and combine the wet. Toss in the cranberries and mix in the pumpkin, stirring until just combined. Quickly and efficiently you put together the dough and shape it. You proceed to cut it into scone-like triangles, and bake them for about 20 minutes until the house is filled with the warmth smell of fall. Coffee peculating. Marveling at yourself for whipping up breakfast in a cinch, you cannot help but wonder, how you would have made Julia Child proud. Heck, you would even have made Martha Stewart proud with the cranberry and pumpkin addition. Okay that’s enough self-apprecition, you still have a long list of to-do’s to get done. So get back to work.

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Homemade Pumpkin Purée

Now that Autumn has arrived you’ll find pumpkin in almost anything. No matter where you turn or what crevice you crawl into, this squash seems to creep its way into every recipe during this time of year. It could be because pumpkin is so delicious a flavor that we have to eat it everyday. It could also be because pumpkins are grown during this season and are all over the super markets. No matter what the reason might be, one fact is clear; October and November infect us with pumpkin fever. We find ourselves thinking outside the box and coming up with some delicious, out of the ordinary, recipes that fulfill our craving for this autumnal fruit. From simple baked goods ranging from breads to pies to cinnamon rolls and even cookies, there does not seem to be an end to our pumpkin madness. It is even finding its way into our dinners with such dishes as pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin soup.

As avid fans go crazy and whip up unique pumpkin concoctions, by the day, they often turn to easy-to-find canned pumpkin. Sure it’s there for your convenience because you think that it’s super complicated to make your own pumpkin purée. Well, I’m here to tell you that you are wrong. This is not true. Pumpkin purée is probably the easiest thing ever. Canned pumpkin is a convenience in that you just open the can and use it. But what goes inside that purée? Think about that for a second. Okay, that’s enough. We’re not there when they are making it. We do not know what sorts of preservatives they add to it. Why not make your own pumpkin purée?Knowing that all you are going to be adding is nothing but 100% pure pumpkin.

I, myself, am not immune to the pumpkin hysteria that is Autumn. I too find any excuse to cook and bake with this orange squash in any way I can. As a matter of fact I am dedicating the entire month of November to the Great Pumpkin. Every recipe featured in November will center around this homemade pumpkin purée. Why? Because it is autumn and in autumn we cook with pumpkins. It’s a new law. Also because Thanksgiving is in November and when I think of Thanksgiving, all I think of is pumpkin for some reason. So to christen Pumpkin month I have decided to create a quick mini how-to post on homemade pumpkin purée. Sure it’s still October and I still have October recipes to post, but I’m preparing you in advance to get you ready. Keep this in the back of your mind. Hold it on the back burner as reference for when we get to November. It will come in handy. Soon. It will be your savior.

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Gone are the long summer days with scorching three digit weather. The heat beating down on our barely-clothed bodies is now behind us. It is in the past. We say goodbye to artificial cold air better known to us as the AC. We bid adieu to shorts, skirts and tanks. Sunglasses we break them. Bathing suits we toss them. Flip flops we trash them. Maybe I exaggerate and we do not go to such extremes but we just put them in the closet far away from sight. We pull out such luxuries as coats, scarves, gloves and knitted socks. For us Southern Californian’s these are luxuries because we take them out for a day and then we are forced to retire them as quickly as we brought them out. But we are not complaining. We will take what we can get. We grab whatever is given to us when it is given to us. We welcome with open arms shorter days with cooler weather. Those overcast mornings and chilly nights. The sun is no longer our arch nemesis—trying to kill us—rather we are excited to see it. The sun is now our friend. We look up and even give it a smile from time to time when we spot it peeking through the clouds. Its rays warming and lighting the way, not heating and killing.

Autumn has finally arrived. It has presented itself at the perfect time. The most opportune moment. Just when we thought that summer was going to murder us with its excessive heat, the Fall came and relieved with its brilliant colors and decadent aroma. Yes, there is an aroma to Autumn. Walk outside at five in the evening—just when the sun is beginning its slow descent— take one giant whiff. Devour all that Autumn has to offer. Inhale that chilly breeze. The leaves changing colors, they begin to fall and swirl down to the ground. As you walk back home, admire the environment all around you. Remove your hat and tip your head to your neighbors passing by walking their dogs. The warmth from the houses down the street, to the left and right of you is contagious. Their doors are closed keeping the cold air out and the warm happiness in. The yellow light within, seeps through the curtained windows, casting a glow onto their garden. Onto their lawn. Onto their picket fence. It barely reaches you, but it’s enough to make you smile. You tighten your scarf closer around your neck and you continue your walk back home taking in all your surroundings.

As you walk home wearing your warm pants, heavy coat, scarf, gloves and beanie, you begin to be thankful that summer is over. No longer because of the heat and worrying about staying cool, but rather you are thankful because of something entirely different. Something entirely selfish. You stop in your tracks. Right there in the middle of the sidewalk, halfway home, you stall. You do a little jump kick out of sheer enthusiasm for you have just realized that you no longer have to eat super healthy and watch your figure because you have to dip into a bathing suit. Gone are the bikini days that summer brings with it. Happy are you for finally being able to eat buckets full of carbs and comfort food to your heart’s content. I cannot help but think that this is the cycle of life. You spend spring worrying and exercising for summer. And then you spend autumn and winter eating and not worrying. Then spring comes around and it starts up again. Perhaps I’m just projecting. Whatever the case might be, you begin to walk again, but this time you walk with a bounce in your step and a grand idea on your mind. The temperature has dropped and it could be perfect for a soup. But you do not want to make soup for dinner tonight. No, you want something special. You yearn for something heartier. Something more filling. You want to fill your house with wonderful smells from spices and fresh herbs. You shall make a Jambalaya. Because you want to bring that Southern cajun-creole excitement into your home.

Here’s what you will need.

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