Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Tag: Charlottesville

Pecan Pie Muffins

Pecan Pie Muffins

This recipe is a little ode to Thanksgiving, to rectify my error of eating baked goods with pecans only once every 365 days, and a nod to a cake I can’t stop thinking about.

The cake arrived at the end of a long and lovely dinner at  Tastings, a Charlottesville wine shop-restaurant hybrid. Picture rows upon rows of wine in a small ground-floor shop. Then, nestled modestly in the back, a handful of tables. Buy any wine bottle in the shop and have it with dinner for a $7 (yes, s-e-v-e-n) corking fee. We were smitten.

The wine was marvelous, but it was the food that impressed us, not a small feat in restaurant-crazed Charlottesville. The menu is tight and well done. I started with a wild mushroom soup that reminded me of Julia Child’s recipe for a deeply flavored classic French onion soup. The oysters were lightly fried with that luscious umami  center, and my husband’s French cassoulet redeemed us from failing to try it in France.

Still, the cake. Oh, the cake. It seemed like a basic, even boring selection. But I am a devotee of the sugary rich pecan pie that appears every November. And I was attempting to honor my chocolate-loving husband’s rare desire to skip dessert. Well. So much for that. The cake was just too good to resist—sweet, pillowy, luxurious, and brown-buttery. The pecans shone through like gems, dense and deep and rich in the way that I know only them to be. (Peanuts: sweet, salty, fun, party hats. Walnuts: all grown-up and ready for oatmeal. Pecans: holidays and tuxedos.)

half-cup of pecans

So, yes, a pecan cake. The first time I had ever heard of it. The first time I had ever tasted it. And all I kept thinking was: Why isn’t this up there as a classic American dessert, along with, say, the less decadent and more hum-drum apple pie?

Once home, I dug into cookbooks and recipe sites, but I haven’t yet found anything that seems close to replicating that glorious pecan cake.

What I did find was this short set of instructions for the quickest baked goodies I’ve ever made. These pecan pie muffins are Thanksgiving on any given Thursday. Dense and moist, they are drenched in a thick, super-duper sweetness balanced by thick chunks of pecan. (I used pecan halves.)

Pecan Pie Muffin batter

I cut the original recipe in half and used a six-muffin tin, enough to quench a couple’s hefty sweet-tooth cravings without allowing us to go overboard, as an entire pecan pie might. (Might.)

Pecan Pie Muffins

One bowl, five ingredients, and less than half an hour later:

Pecan Pie Muffins

Pecan Pie Muffins

(These were originally titled cupcakes, but they looked like muffins to me; no icing required. Rather, if you don’t have a big sweet tooth, you may want to dial back the sugar.)

Makes 6 small muffins

1/2 cup pecans, halved or chopped
1/4 flour
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 and butter the muffin tin, if it isn’t nonstick.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. (Optional: reserve 6 pecan pieces for decoration.) The concoction will resemble uncooked pecan pie batter, gooey and light brown.

Pour batter into the muffin tins, half-way or so. They won’t be filled to the top.

Place one pecan nicely on the top of each muffin, in the middle as a decorative note.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the muffins are brown on the edges.

Pop them out immediately from the tin. Let cool.

Now: I am not fooling here. These little guys are good warm. They are fantastic cooled. I know, that’s never the case, but this time, it is!


BBQ lasagna

I’ve found myself neglecting this blog, believing that each post must be epic and detailed, loaded with carefully cropped photographs, the recipes triple-checked.

And while my favorite food blog excels at that level of output, I miss out sharing with you the little discoveries in my daily food life.

Like BBQ lasagna.

bbq lasagna

BBQ lasagna at Beer Run

Beer Run, a beer store and restaurant in Charlottesville, stocks an unbelievable array of brews (and wine). It’s not one of those sprawling alcohol warehouses, but more of a carefully curated  collection of beers from around the United States and the world. The beers on tap are always an interesting assortment. The staff is friendly and more than willing to share their encyclopedic knowledge of breweries. We recently found a mini keg of Munich Hofbrau Oktoberfest beer for $22, the sweet, freshly brewed fest beer we love, delivered all the way from Germany.

Beer Run also offers a delicious brunch, lunch, and dinner – fresh, creative fare with an organic and local bent. Think scallion cheddar biscuits, or local Polyface sausage links for breakfast. Or a Madison County burger on a pretzel bun with house-made chipotle ranch.

The menu also features a lasagna of the day.  On the weekend we stopped by, lucky us, that was BBQ lasagna. I did a split-second double-take and then immediately knew what I would order.

The dish comes pipping hot, creamy and dreamy – soft pasta layered with pulled pork, tangy barbecue sauce, and luscious threads of cheese. The marriage of lasagna noodles and barbecue sauce is brilliant. Heavy and rich, the combination is pure comfort food.

The meal reminded me that so many familiar dishes can be viewed as templates more than fixed recipes, vehicles for new or beloved flavors and quirky ingredients. Pizza, with its endless array of toppings. Muffins, with so many potential fillings. Quiche, enchiladas, grilled cheese, rice, beans, noodles – they all cry out for new formulations. They all want their own version du jour.