Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Christmas Goose

After what - for us - was a culinary adventure for Thanksgiving with our heritage turkey, Will determined that I would cook a goose for Christmas. I think this came up around day 4 of eating leftover turkey. So together we started researching goose, where to buy and how to cook. There were a lot of horror stories out there, such as oven's catching on fire due to all the fat in the goose, and dry, tough meat. But there were a lot of enraptured raves about a succulent meal and the myriad uses for the rendered goose fat, namely - heavenly potatoes.

So, rather than write a suspense novel here, I'm going to lead with my punch line: the goose was a big hit. Will and I served it just to us and my parents, but we are our most serious critics, so I feel our collective opinions are a reasonable assessment of succes. We found the meat to be tender, moist, and flavorful, not at all gamey, nor fatty. I read (source long-ago lost to the cybersphere, so legitimacy is questionable, but my experience in this case makes me think its worthy of spreading as a rumor even if only half-truth) that goose meat is actually leaner than turkey, the fat which is subcuteaneous all cooks out during roasting, and the meat itself is left juicy but lean. The meat is all dark, and we really only had 6 reasonable-sized servings from a 9.5 pound goose, so it was expensive, and certainly a lot of work for the quantity, but well-worth it for a special and unique holiday celebration.

The traditional French preparation is to roast with a chestnut and prune stuffing. I used three main sources as my recipe references in the couple weeks leading up to the actual preparation of this meal, but I read each so many times, and used elements from all three, including dabbles from other sources, that I can't recommend any of these as is, but if you want to try a similar process, these are certainly good places to gather background. 1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but Julia Child (the chapter on Poultry has a whole section on l'oie goose) 2. Bon Appetit's Roast Goose with Chestnuts, Prunes, and Armagnac 3. Fine Cooking magazine's Roasted Goose with Brandied Prune Stuffing and Red Wine Gravy.

I ultimately did end up making a gravy, but not to serve with the meal; it was just as way not to waste all the tasty-looking pan drippings. Gravy to me is the biggest buzz-kill of taking a delicious meal out of the oven and being ready to set down at the table with guests. So I planned my menu gravy-free, and the richness of the meat plus the abundent flavors of the sides, made me quite confident in my decision.

Many cooking methods were suggested; because I wasn't going to have the extra moist mouth-feel contribution from gravy, I wanted to make sure my goose stayed juicy. So I decided to roast the bird in a covered roasting pan. I created a dressing that was savory and tangy, with the tender toothsome nuttiness of chestnuts and the tangy chewiness of port-soaked prunes. My mom chose a Tom Douglas recipe for sauteed kale with crispy-fried garbanzo beans, and a crunchy romaine salad with green apples and glazed pecans.
  

Below are the steps and the timeline I followed to prepare the goose and the dressing, starting two days ahead to serve on Friday evening.

Wednesday evening: Roast chestnuts, peel, and refrigerate. (Or just buy a jar.)

The scored and roasted chestnuts.
The peeled, roasted chestnuts.
Thursday morning: trim fat, rinse, and blanch for one minute. Pat dry, and refrigerate uncovered.



This shows the large pouches of fat just inside the cavity.
On the right side, I have already removed it, on the left
side, you can see how there is still the huge section of flesh-
colored mass inside the cavity. This pulls out very easily, then I
cut it into chunks and simmered in a saucepan.
  Make stock, with neck, heart, and kidney chopped up, plus some onion wedges, celery (except I didn't have any so I used a hunk of the core of purple cabbage), a few whole cloves and peppercorns, and a bay leaf, plus enough water to cover. Simmer 2 hours.

Render fat by boiling, covered, with 1 cup of water for 20 minutes, then simmering until all water has evaporated. (I had it on the stove for about 90 minutes, and then I had to go to work, and it still seemed to be sputtering - a sign that there was still water evaporating - so I put it in the fridge. When I got home, the liquid and fat had separated, so it was easy to pour off the water. Then I just heated the fat until it was liquid again so I could strain it.
The fat before rendering.

Cut up bread loaves (1 1/2 pounds) into bite-sized squares and leave out to dry. I used a rosemary olive oil loaf, which has a sourdough-type of base.

Thursday evening: Toast bread cubes in the oven to dry, and then store covered. Prepare remaining dressing by sauteeing 1 large onion, diced, 3 ribs celery, diced, and 5-6 medium mushrooms, diced, in 1 stick of butter until softened. Part way through cooking, stir in some herbs of choice; thyme is the classic, but by this point in the season, it is becoming ubiquitous, so I went with tarragon; it works well with rosemary (in the bread), but moreover, it reminds me of France, and the whole goose with chestnuts and prunes is also very French. Stir in reserved chestnuts.
Soak prunes in wine, port, prune juice, or your liquid of choice.

Friday afternoon: Mix about 2 cups of the stock with 2 beaten eggs, and toss with dressing vegetables, drained prunes, then toss in bread cubes to lightly coat. Cover and keep chilled until ready to bake (at 350 for 20-25 minutes, then uncover for 10-15 minutes).
Remove goose from fridge, and baste with goose stock and prune soaking liquid. Bring to room temperature, then roast at 325, basteing periodically.

Monday, December 20, 2010

German Inspiration

Last week, I was on vacation with my aunt, staying in a hotel with cable. I love to watch the Food Network as a special treat, because we don't have cable tv at home. A month or so ago, I'd bought some purple cabbage, and played around with it in a saute that was edible, but certainly not a favorite. Then, after I made the salmon with fennel and beets over the summer, fennel has been floating in the back of my mind as an ingredient I'd like to use more of. So when I saw this recipe being demonstrated, I knew I wanted to try it. This is a boring post, because I have no photos, but this nevertheless was attractive when plated.
In my first trip to the grocery store when I got home, I picked up a head of purple cabbage, a granny smith apple, and made sure I had some fresh fennel seed. It sat in the fridge for a couple of days while I decided on good accompaniments, then one day when I knew it was time, but had been out running errands after work, and didn't have anything defrosted from the freezer, I picked up some fresh bratwurst. The seared brown of the sausages and the deep amythest of the cabbage need another complement on the plate, so I decided on some pureed parsnips. Sometimes a challenge to make attractive, with the strong colors I already had in the menu, the creamy parsnips were just right. I cut them into chunks, then covered with leftover turkey stock to cover, and they simmered to tender in just 15 minutes. I poured of some of the cooking broth, and then pureed with the immersion blender. A heap of parsnip (didn't need any other seasonings due to the flavor of the stock) on the plate, topped with the sausage, with a mound of cabbage alongside was a hearty, simple, and tummy-filling meal great for weeknights.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Red Curry Squash Soup

Another squash soup? Yep. I love this stuff. And there are so many ways to flavor it and turn it into a completely different dish. This time I made a red-pepper-Thai-curry sauce that I swirled into the soup for both a stunning garnish and a totally different continent of taste.

Soup
1 two-pound butternut squash
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 carrot
1/2 onion
1/2 jalapeno
3 cups broth (I used leftover turkey stock from Thanksgiving)

Sauce
3 pieces (1 1/2 peppers) jarred, roasted red peppers
1-2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon heavy or sour cream
2 cloves garlic

If you have a good immersion blender like we do, you don't have to worry too much about how you chop any of these ingredients. If you don't have a good blender, you might want to do a better job of chopping.

Slice the squash in half, and brush cut side as well as the carrot (peeled) with enough oil to lightly coat. Roast at 375 degrees for 45-60 minutes, until easily pierced with a skewer through the thickest part.

Meanwhile, chop onions and jalepeno. Saute in large stockpot over medium heat in remaining oil, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth or stock and salt to taste.

Meanwhile, puree sauce ingredients and heat in a small saucepan.

When squash is done, scape flesh from skin, and add along with carrot to stockpot. Puree with immersion blender. Ladel into bowls, and top with a swirl of red pepper sauce.


Next time I do this, I am going to make a second garnish of cilantro chutney.
Grind in food processor:
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1/3 cup coconut milk
2 jalapeno chilis (or green chilis to taste)
2 cups cilantro

Friday, December 3, 2010

Florentine Frittata

After hours spent carving turkey, making stock, and picking the carcass, I had mounds and mounds of shredded meat - plenty for soup, pot pie, freezer, and still something else. I admit I was getting mightily sick of this turkey, so I chose something quick and easy that wouldn't over-expose me to more poultry prep-time: eggs are almost always the perfect base for ingredients that need to be used up without much fuss.

9-inch deep-dish pie plate, buttered
1 small baking potato, thinly sliced cross-wise into evenly thick slices
2-3 teaspoons broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 cups chopped spinach
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 mushrooms, chopped
minced hot pepper of choice (I used 1/2 jalepeno)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
kosher salt to taste
2 cups shredded, diced turkey meat
5 eggs
1/4 cup milk or cream

Preheat oven to 350. Spread the potato slices evenly in the bottom of the pan and up the sides to make a "crust." Brush or drizzle the broth over. Saute the spinach, mushrooms, and garlic in olive oil until soft. Stir in salt, hot pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat. Stir in turkey.
Whisk together eggs and milk. Stir in vegetables and pour gently into pie pan to not disturb potatoes.
Bake 35-45 minutes, until set.  Slice and serve.


This is infinitely variable for whatever ingredients you like or have on hand. Try sauteeing onions, zucchini, bell peppers, olives, green beans, asparagus, tomatoes. Mix in thyme, oregano, basil, cilantro, pasley, sage, or dill. Of course, I was looking for ways to use up thanksgiving turkey, but you can make it entirely vegetarian, or replace with any other leftover meat. And cheese would be delicious; sprinkle with parmesan during the last minutes of baking, stir in shredded swiss or jack cheese before baking, or crumbled feta or blue cheese. You can also scale with more eggs and even more pie plates. If you add more ingredients, that will affect baking time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving

CRANBERRIES

I have been the family member in charge of the cranberries for about 10 years. In my early childhood, when Thanksgiving was at my grandmother's house (before my mom took over the honor), my grandmother would make her own whole-berry sauce - no doubt using the recipe from the Ocean Spray bag - and serve alongside canned jellied sauce. We've never stopped using that same lovely leaf-shaped, two-bowled Lenox serveware, but when my turn came for cranberries, my mother and I both agreed it was time to ditch the canned jelly. I've never to this day made any type of jelly (though I've tried straining things through cheesecloth to disastrous effect of spurt, splatter, and burst). But somehow that double serving dish has always begged me to make two recipes. So, in the process, I have gone through many many versions of cranberry sauce, two per year, and only rarely repeated the same one.

This year, I offered to host Thanksgiving at my house for the second year in a row. (Last year was to baptize my remodeled kitchen, which Will and I finished painting late Wednesday night.) I'm not sure if it constitutes a torch-passing when it's self-inflicted, but to mark the occasion, this year my cranberries are coming from my soul rather than a cookbook. I am digging deep into my menu-planning, flavor-complementing, timorously-creative self to draw from years of recipe review and concoct my own versions of cranberry sauce for my Thanksgiving table.

Of course, I also take baking for myself, so I am in charge of pies, and the person with the oven also must be the person with the turkey. So after those initial tasks are laid out, I made further assignments of dressing and vegetable to my mom, and salad to my mother-in-law. The salad course can kind of stand-alone, but it's nice for the other sides to coordinate. My mom decided to go Mediterranean, to bring some sunny warmth to this chilly week (snow in Seattle!) we've been having. To partner with her, I came up with this cranberry sauce:
Mediberranean Sauce
12 ounces fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup Tempranillo wine from Rioja
3 springs thyme (about 4" long, with 3-4 shoots each)

Bring all ingredients to boil, then simmer about 15 minutes, until sugar is dissolved, berries have popped, and mixture thickens. Remove thyme, and refrigerate.


But with two 90-year old matrons of Thanksgivings of yore, I didn't want to push them too far from their comfort zones. With that, I wanted something just a little bit different, but still celebrating the pure American sugar-sweetness that is typically trademarked in cranberry sauce. I owe the inspiration for this particular version to Alton Brown.

Sodaberry Sauce
12 ounces fresh (or frozen) cranberries
12 ounces ginger ale (not sugar-free, you need the sugar to add the texture, not just the sweetness - an all-natural version would be best, with cane sugar and real ginger)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 thick slice fresh ginger root, peeled

Mix all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, until thickened. Refrigerate and serve (remove ginger slice before serving).
Can be made up to a week in advance.


 TURKEY

This story starts in 2007, when my mom first read
this article in the Seattle Times and shared it with me and Will. She tried to find a heritage turkey that year for Thanksgiving, but of course none were available so late in the year. Somehow, for the next two years, we never remembered to find or order one before it was too late. But in March, 2010, a friend of a friend of ours bought land on Vashon Island and started an organic farm. Our friend was trying to promote their business, and sent us an email blast encouraging us to check them out, and when we discovered they were raising turkeys, we immediately placed our order.

Near the beginning of November, we got in touch with the farm to make arrangements for bird transfer. We found out that while they had started with four poults, one died, and one turned out to be a chicken!! However, they still had two healthy birds, a 12-pound tom and a 10-pound hen, and gave us our choice. Since heritage birds are smaller than grocery store birds, we went with the tom, to make sure we had plenty to go around. If it was as good as all the claims, we would want plenty of seconds!

As the story goes on, this truly became a memorable experiment. The week of Thanksgiving, beginning on Sunday, Seattle was hit with a blizzard. Power went out on Vashon Island for three days, and roads and offices were closed down because of snow and 20-degree temperatures. I had weeks ago determined to cook two turkeys, so we could taste the standard white next to the Bourbon line, so I was able to get to a nearby grocery store and buy a base-line 10-pound Jennie-O. But getting to Vashon, in the crazed preparations and horried driving conditions was more problematic. Ultimately, it turns out the farmers were on their way to the airport, and so we coordinated such that I could meet them on the Seattle-side of the ferry dock, and we made our exchange in the parking lot. I brought a cooler for the trunk, but that was a bit unnecessary, given the ambient air temperature.





Our 12-pound Bourbon line turkey, before we know what it will be like.


I don't typically brine the bird, although I did last year. It is strongly recommended for the heritage lines though, as they are leaner and drier by nature. So, as soon as we got home, into the tub he went.




I thought that compared to the 21/22 pound turkeys I usually cook, that there would be plenty of room for me to cook two at a time for this round, but I couldn't actually fit both in the roasting pan, I didn't have an oven bag, and I didn't have another pan big enough for the turkey but small enough to fit alongside the roasting pan. So instead I put the 10-pound in at 12:15 p.m. for 3 hours, and swapped out turkeys when it was done and back into the oven with the heritage. Covered in foil, the first one was still warm when we got around to eating it three hours later.

So, the results!!! We served up the two types of turkey side-by-side for each of our eight diners. The grammas couldn't really taste a difference. Everyone else could definitely taste a difference, with comments such as "heritage is 'meatier'" and "heritage is richer" being the descriptors. Two (including myself) had no preference, and the other four all preferred the heritage.

I had read that heritage turkeys are "all dark meat" and I don't honestly even know what the distinction is between dark and light meat. The heritage turkey meat was darker. It was also more firm. It was not gamey at all, as researched reports warned me to be prepared for. I don't think the price ($10/pound) warrants the difference in the actual meat. Certainly, it is worth the price for other reasons: to know the producer, to buy locally, and to ensure the harvesting practices are low-impact and sustainable. But as a Thanksgiving experience to run a comparison taste-taste, and fuel the content for this post, it was absolutely worth the price. We all had a lot of fun getting familar with our local Bourbon, and if you have the opportunity, you should give one a try too!

 And lest there be any question whether or not this bird was "grain-fed," when preparing the carcass for stock, I came across the stomach, fully-loaded with his final meal of a veritable pilaf of grains and seeds.



DESSERT

I have never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie, and while in recent years, I've started to enjoy it, I still never really get excited about it. So I have always made two pies for Thanksgiving, one plain pumpkin, and something else that I think I will like more, or something that dresses up "plain old pumpkin" just a bit. For example, pumpkin pie with caramel sauce or streusel topping or gingersnap crust instead of pastry. I've also made pumpkin cheesecakes and pumpkin mousse pies. See the "Pies and Tarts" page for my favorite pumpkin pie.

This year, with only eight coming for dinner, and plenty else to prepare besides a second dessert, I committed to just making one really nice standard pumpkin pie. However, in the last few days before, I really still wanted to try something else. I had some ginger cookies around that make a great crumb crust, and thought a fall-flavored tart might be a nice complement.

Tarts are thin, so they are nice after a big meal because you don't take a huge slice. Since I'd already used maple in the cranberries, that was in my head as a good pilgrim-esque ingredient, so I researched maple pies and cheesecakes, and decided to try the following creation based on what I found out:

Maple Streusel Tart
Crust
1 1/2 cups finely ground ginger cookies (use food processor to crush) (you could also use graham crackers and powdered ginger)
1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger (grate over the bowl of crackers to catch all the juice)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter

Process crust ingredients and press into 9" tart pan.

Filling
8-oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons dark rum

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Blend in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beat until smooth. Beat in cream, syrup, and run. Pour into crust, filling about 3/4 full because it will puff as it rises. There will be a little more batter than will fit in the pan, you can bake this in a custard cup. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

Struesel Topping
1/2 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
ground cinnamon, ground ginger, or minced candied ginger to taste

Mix ingredients together until small clumps form. Sprinkle over topping and return to oven for about 15 minutes, until topping is golden.




Note: The streusel is not at all necessary for taste. The tart is already quite sweet, and the streusel is also very sweet. But the texture is nice. Next time, I might simply stir in 1/3 - 1/2 cup chopped walnuts into the tart batter.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Apple and Butternut Bisque




This recipe is just beautiful and just delicious. While I mostly love to make soup because I think it's a fabulous away to incorporate lots of vegetables, and is terrific for a make-ahead one-dish meal, this bisque is much more appropriate as an elegant first course. It's not incredibly rich, and although the flavors emerge through many layers, it is smooth an silky enough that a little goes a long way. And with the bright golden hue contrasted against the creamy lustre and luxe gold rim of my grandmother's Lenox bone china teacup, even just a few ounces of this glorious taste of fall feels like a transcendent warmth.


Apple Butternut Bisque

I basically followed the Calvados-Laced Squash Soup recipe, but I've retyped it here because I added a couple extra ingredients, and made only a 1/2 recipe (which would be plenty for appetizer-sized servings for 10), so the quantities below reflect my recipe exactly.

3 pounds butternut squash (about 1 large), halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped

1 small granny smith apple
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 bay leaf, broken in half
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

couple shakes of ground cayenne pepper
1/4 cup brandy
1 quart low-salt chicken broth
6 ounces evaporated milk
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon warm water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon



Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove seeds and brush squash flesh with 1 tablespoon oil. Place on prepared baking sheet, cut side down. Roast squash until very tender, about 1 hour. Cool.

Meanwhile, melt butter with remaining oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion, apple, cinnamon, bay, salt, and peppers to taste. Sauté until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add brandy and simmer until almost all of liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Discard cinnamon stick pieces and bay. Add squash, broth, and milk, and puree until smooth (an immersion blender works perfectly!) Stir in vinegar.

Mix sour cream, 1 tablespoon warm water, and ground cinnamon in medium bowl to blend. Serve in teacups. If you have a clean craft/paint syringe, use it to make a decorative squiggle on each serving, otherwise use a small dollop.
Can be made a day or two ahead, reheat before serving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Do-Ahead Dinner for Casual Company

I have a lot more time to cook and bake than I used to, but even when you have all day, it is always crunch-time when your guests are at the table and dinner hasn't quite finished cooking. I love menus that benefit from my ability to organize and plan ahead, so that I'm not fussing with food prep instead of friends.

Soups and stews are great for just this reason; many taste even better when they've been made in advance and have time for flavors to meld. Of course, not all dinner parties are going to be an appropriate venue for soup as the main course, but for having friends over on a chilly fall evening after work, a hearty bowl of steaming soup can be the perfect centerpiece for conviviality!




This menu was made all-the-better because not only did I prepare the soup the day before, but the salad also suggests making-ahead for maximum flavor-melding. The cookie dough I made two days ahead, and refrigerated in a log; then removed from fridge when we sat down to eat, and sliced and baked after dinner so that fresh, crispy cookies from the oven coincided exactly with the time we were ready for a little dessert.

My selections were Red Lentil Soup, Curried Cauliflower Salad, and Black Pepper Cookies. Since my guest asked what she could bring, I ask for bread and a beverage, and she brought a delicious loaf of Grand Central Baking Company Como.


The Red Lentil soup is from Greg and Lucy Malouf's Turquoise cookbook, which my dad bought as a gift for my mom shortly after they returned from a trip to Turkey. I've oft heard Malouf speak on the radio, and his recipes have appeared in some of my other favorite sources, so I trusted his expertise. Plus, the photos are rich, and even the surrounding story-telling is above-par for what I might expect from a cookbook cum travel-log.

This is the recipe as printed:

Red Lentil 'peasant' soup with sizzling mint butter
2 T olive oil
1 large onion
1 carrot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t ground cumin
1 t hot paprika
1 t sweet paprika
1 T tomato paste
7 oz red lentils
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
1/4 cup fine bulger
1 vine-ripened tomato, cut into quarter and seeded
salt and pepper

2 oz unsalted butter
1/2 t dried mint
1/2 t sweet paprika
lemon wedges
Heat oil over low heat in large heavy saucepan. Stir in onion, carrot, and garlic, then add cumin, hot paprkia, and 1 t sweet paprika and saute 5-8 minutes, until vegetables soften.
Stir in tomato paste, and cook for a minute. Add lentils and stock, and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium for 20 minutes, stirring periodically.
Stir in bulgur. Dice tomato, then add to pan, season with salt and pepper, and simmer 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, ladle into warmed serving bowls. Quickly heat the butter in a  small frying pan until it foams, then add remaining paprika and mint. Swirl the sizzling butter into each bowl of soup and serve with wedges of lemon.

Notes: I only had one type of paprika, so substituted it for all that was called for in the recipe. I added one cubed baking potato at the same time as the bulger; this was unnecessary, and untraditional, but I had it on-hand, and knew it wouldn't have any adverse effects. I don't think it added anything, but carbs and calories. I didn't bother with the fresh tomato, since they're typically not very good this time of year anyway. I made the mint-butter, but I don't think it added much either. Will disagrees: he thought it was both attractive and sophisticated. I didn't notice it visually, and the flavors were lost to me given the other yumminess of the soup.

Finally, I made this a day before up until stirring in the bulger. At that point, I removed it from the heat, and refrigerated. Byt the time the soup had sat overnight, then reheated to boiling and 10 minutes of simmer just before dinner the next day, it was delicious and lovely. A wedge of lemon with serving would have been really perky, but I forgot that part.




Curried Cauliflower Salad
I loved this salad. I think it's beautiful from all the colors and textures, and seasonal for both summer and winter meals. When I make it next time, I will make the cauliflower florets a little smaller, and the bell pepper pieces bigger. The peas, apricots, and cashews will still be tiny bursts of flavor, but it was hard to get a mouthful of multiple ingredients with the cauliflower pieces as big as I left them (I thought they would be more attractive if larger, but the smaller ingredients fell to the bottom of the bowl.) Otherwise, the only thing I did differently from the recipe was to grate the ginger instead of matchsticks. I did use about half of the "finishing glaze" called for, but I think it's probably unnecessary.

Black Pepper Cookies
From Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts (Knopf, 1965)
These are a bit of a cross between a buttery-sugar cookie and a ginger snap. The flavor is spiced, but different from other spice cookies, and the texture is much lighter and more delicate. I found the dough easy to work with, both when I rolled it, and when I simply sliced it. Plus, the fact that they can be baked right away without chilling the dough first is a bonus. These are a great all-purpose cookie with a perfect texture that would go well with many ice creams and sorbets.

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.




Sift together flour, baking powder, peppers, and spices.

Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in the egg. Then mix in dry ingredients on low, until evenly incorporated. Divide dough into three pieces and roll out to 1/8" thick and cut with cookie cutters, or roll into a log and slice into 1/8" thick slices. (Use dough at room temperature, not chilled.)
Place 3/4" apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Baking 10 minutes until lightly browned, and cool on racks.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Borscht!

Borscht is one of those dishes that we always love to order when it's on a menu. If a restaurant bothers to make it, they usually make it well, and every place we've ever ordered it, they've told us "it's our specialty, and ours is the best you will ever have!" Honestly, it's hard to disagree with them. It has always been delicious, beautiful, satisfying, and unique.

I'd never made it, and with so many gorgeous beets at the market, and the damp, dreary days of November upon us, it seemed time to try. I bought my beets, and then started combing through recipes.

I must have looked through at least 30 different recipes. That in itself isn't unusual for me when trying something completely new, but never before have I been so unable to discover any trends. The only thing really the same about the recipes is that they all used beets.  Borscht can be served hot or cold. Some use potatos, some use tomatoes. Some use pork, some use beef, some use both, and others are vegetarian. It can be flavored with dill, parsley, and even cloves. It is generally considered a specialty of Russia, Ukraine, or Poland, and I looked for themes in recipes that identified a national origin, but many did not specify. 

What I determined - and I suspect most Eastern European grandmothers would validate - is that borscht is what you make it, and if you make it fresh and with love, it will be delicious, and if you try to copy someone else's version, you just won't be able to get it right.

So this is what I did, and it was satisfying, flavorful, hearty and rich and well-worth repeating, but inspiring enough to make it a little bit different every time.




Borscht
Serves 8

5 medium-large red beets
3 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 pounds beef short ribs (with bone in)
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
3 allspice berries
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
2-3 cups shredded green cabbage
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
sour cream
fresh parsley

Place beef in stockpot and cover with 4 cups water.  Add peppercorns, bay leaf, and allspice. Bring to boil, skim foam, and simmer - covered - for 1-2 hours.

Meanwhile, wrap beats, along with whole, peeled garlic cloves, tightly in two layers of foil. Roast in over at 425 for 60-80 minutes (depending on size of beets.) Should be able to easily pierce through foil with a skewer when they are done.

Cut onion into quarters crosswise, then slice thinly. After meat has simmered about 45 minutes, add onion to pot and continue to simmer.

Meanwhile, grate carrot and cabbage (use a food processor if you have one!) Chop dill (kitchen shears work great for this), and enough parsley to garnish. When beets are done, remove from foil, peel, and grate. Smash garlic.

Remove meat, bay, and any remaining whole spices from stockpot. Add carrot, cabbage, and garlic, and continue to simmer, about 15 minutes. While simmering, shred or chop meat and discard bones. Return to pot with beets. Stir in dill and vinegar.

Serve hot, garnished with hearty dollop of sour cream and generous sprinkle of parsley. This is so packed with vegetables, I didn't even accompany it with salad, but we did soak up the broth with some tasty bread.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

To Be Served on an Octagonal Plate

I wish I was clever enough to come-up with the title to this post, but I have to attribute it to Will. I was very proud to have made a dinner this week of all vegetables - it wasn't vegetarian (I used some prosciutto), which I frequently do - but it was all vegetables. Will is typically a bit skeptical of days where meat isn't the main dish, but he got into the fun of this experiment with me, and said, "These should really be served on octagonal plates." In response to my quizzical gaze, he said with a big grin, "Because it's all sides."

The only way I could disagree with him would be to reply that "It's all mains." I thought (and Will almost agreed) that each of these vegetable dishes was yummy enough to be the centerpiece of the meal. Together, the three made a delightful fall palette and a nutritionally-balanced repast.

My apologies there's no photo; unlike a perfectly-iced cake or a stack of just-baked cookies, when you're vegetables are ready, you don't want to fuss around photographing them, you want to eat them!

Roasted Ginger-Pomegranate Carrots
serves 2

2 full-size carrots, cut crosswise into thirds, then lengthwise into quarters for carrot "sticks"
1/4" thick slice of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon butter, cut into tiny pieces
2-3 teaspoons pomegrante glaze
dash of cloves
salt to taste

Toss carrots with remaining ingredients and spread evenly in 8x8 in glass or ceramic baking dish.  Roast at 425 for about 20 minutes until tender-crisp, stirring twice during baking to keep sticks coated in glaze.

Roasted Asparagus with Radishes
serves 2

12-16 spears asparagus, ends trimmed, and cut crosswise into 1-2" lengths
2-3 small radishes, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 slice prosciutto, minced (optional, but if omitted, replace with 1 teaspoon olive oil)

Toss ingredients together. Layer in glass baking dish. Bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes, until vegetables are tender, and prociutto is crisp. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon grated hard cheese (such as parmesan) and return to oven until cheese is bubbling, about 2 minutes more.

Japanese Sweet Potato
I'd never purchased - or really even realized their existence - Japanese Sweet Potato, but it was fabulous. I simply cut into wedges, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted at 425 for about 30 minutes. Really really delicious stand alone.
Here was a good article I found about them: http://www.culinate.com/articles/produce_diaries/sweet_potatoes

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Intersection of Creativities

If you read my Washington's Bounty Hors D'Oeuvres Buffet posting, you've already seen these smoked salmon and shrimp "sushi" stacks. While these are a fantastic appetizer worthy of two separate postings, this post isn't really about the recipe at all.

Will had "game day" with some of his friends, and asked me if I would make something for him to take. But since he has been itching to do more in the kitchen, I offered instead to help him make something. We decided on these sushi stacks because they are easy, attractive, hearty, sturdy, unique, and of course, delicious! Plus, he'd just watched me make them the week before, so already had a bit of an idea how it would all come together.

When it came time for the garnish of nori, I said "this part is up to you." He held the crispy sheet of seaweed for a few moments, gently waving it back and forth to get a sense of it's texture. He examined the sheet of rice cake, sizing up its shape and dimensions. Then, he set it down and wandered off to his computer in the office, in what I unfairly characterized as his "typical start-a-project-then-leave-it-for-Lamb-to-clean-up" fashion.

When I next heard him clomp down the basement stairs, followed by the whirr of his laser powering on, I should not have been surprised. We have frequently experimented with - shall we say "non-traditional substrates" - in the 30-watt CO2 laser he uses for his beer tap and slate sign engraving business. We take "playing with your food" to an entirely new realm, cutting out pumpkin shapes from slices of cheddar cheese, engraving secret messages into pecans, and decorating egg shells for Easter.

When I made the sushi stacks, I took a rectangle of nori and used kitchen shears to snip it into 1/4" wide strips. In handing that garnishing task over to aesthetically-minded Will, I expected him to get creative by cutting triangles. Instead, he cleverly incorporated the game-day theme into the snack with to-scale seaweed dice, cut from nori by the laser.




A couple of weeks later, Will decided to make some more activity-specific nori, for "movie night"...



Saturday, November 6, 2010

Santa Fe Stewed Pork

This isn't actually following any recipe from Santa Fe, nor is it even using many of the same ingredients, but as I was making it, I was remembering the chili verde I ordered multiple times while visiting Santa Fe, and which is a New Mexican speciality. Will agreed that this is a must-repeat dish, but didn't really get any of the chili verde-ness that I did. But since this is my blog, I'm going to title the post my way.

This is after we already ate some, and I put the sliced pork back in the crock to stay in its juices.
I have a 6-quart, manual slow cooker with low and high temperature. I usually load it at night, refrigerate until the next day, and then because Will works from home, he can put it on low around 1 p.m. so we can eat around 7:30. This one came together fast enough (because it didn't involve as much chopping as some recipes do) that I was able to assemble it in the morning.

Ingredients
1 1/2 pound pork roast (I don't know much about different cuts; I used a sirloin roast, but choose whatever is your favorite)
1/2 large onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, peeled, and cut crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2" slices
1 bay leaf
7 oz can diced green chiles
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken broth
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground oregano
fresh ground pepper
1 cup grape tomatoes
parsley

Slice the onion into quarters, then into thin slices. Separate rings and layer on bottom of crock.
Layer with minced garlic and sliced carrots. Add bay leaf (remember to remove before serving.)

Place roast in center of crock on top of onions/carrots, topping with fresh ground pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk together chiles, cumin, oregano, salt, tomato paste, broth, and vinegar. Pour evenly over roast. Add grape tomatoes around perimeter. Cover, cook 6-7 hours on low. Remove roast and slice, serve with hearty spoonfuls of vegetables and broth and garnish of chopped fresh parsley (or cilantro).

Notes: I served these with warm tortillas. I also considered mashed potatoes. You could add the potatoes (or sweet potatoes) to the crock, but they can get mushy and I liked how the colors stayed bright and not as grey as even the most delicious crock-pot recipes can sometimes turn-out. I left my grape tomatoes whole, and only a couple of them cooked down, but I loved the "pop!" that they made when I bit into them, and the warm juices inside. If you cut them in half, they will become more a part of the sauce, and less a separate ingredient - follow your preference. I actually assumed they would cook down and didn't expect they would stay whole, but I think they added a delightful component to the texture and appearance of this dish as glossy red gems.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Washington's Bounty Hors D'Oeuvres Buffet

I developed this menu for an event where I agreed to cater all the refreshments, but where I was also a guests, but not the hostess. This complicated set of criteria meant that 1) it all had to be ready in advance, so it could be transported to the venue 2) it all had to be finger-food so as to avoid the need to rent or wash flatware 3) it had to be substantial enough that guests coming from 6:30-8:30 would feel they had their evening meal. I didn't want anything that needed last-minute garnishes or dipping sauces or elaborate serving methods. I also wanted to showcase local Washington products (indicated with an asterisk), since the guest of honor was from the East Coast.


Smoked Salmon* and Shrimp "Sushi" Stacks
Portobello Mushroom* Tartletts
Tortellini and Tomato Towers
Squash Salad Skewer with Jonagold Apple* and Beecher's Flagship * Cheese

Cranberry* Turtle Bars

Dilettante* Chocolates

Washington* Wines and Sparkling Water

I was expecting 20-25 people, and planned 60 pieces of each of the above.

Portobello Puffs (Mushroom Tartlets)
3 sheets puff pastry (from 2 17-oz packages)
1 pound portobello mushrooms, finely chopped (or your other favorite mushrooms, I used "baby bellos" from Costco)
1 large shallot, finely diced (minimum 1/2 cup)
3-4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sherry or dry white wine
2 teaspoons dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh
salt and pepper

Melt butter in large skillet. Add mushrooms, shallot, and basil (if dried) and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Pour wine into edge of pan, stirring quickly to ensure all of filling is coated before wine evaporates. Stir in basil (if fresh). Remove skillet from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

Filling can be refrigerated after this step for three days.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut puff pastry into 1 1/2 inch squares. Arrange on baking sheet, or press lightly into mini-muffin cups. Bake 8 minutes. It will not be done. Remove from oven and top each pastry square or cup with 1 teaspoon mushroom mixture. This step can be completed in the morning and then the final baking completed just before serving. When ready to serve, finish baking at 400 degrees an additional 6-7 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.



Cheese Tortellini and Grape Tomato Towers
These store and travel especially well.
1 1/2 pounds bite-sized tortellini (preferably cheese, in case you have vegetarian guests)
1 pound grape tomatos
1 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil

Cook tortellini according to package directions. Even if you don't usually add oil to your pasta water, it is important to put in about 2 teaspoons for this, so that the pieces don't stick together, or your appetizers will be a mess.

Shake together oil and vinegar in a jar.

Drain cooked tortellinis, and toss with oil/vinegar. Allow to cool enough to handle. Then use regular toothpicks to skewer one grape tomato and one tortellini so that the tomato rests in the hole of the pasta.


Smoked Salmon and Shrimp "Sushi" Stacks
I doubled this recipe for sushi rice and made it twice. Line a jelly roll pan (12" x 18" x 1") with saran wrap and press rice firmly and evenly into pan. Use a sheet of saran and a stiff spatula to tightly pack the rice into the mold. Allow to cool.

Remove rice sheet from pan using saran wrap as handles. Place on a flat surface such as a cutting board. Cut rice in to 1 1/2 inch squares.

Using a tiny spoon (or a pastry bag) dollop about 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) of wasabi mayonnaise on center of each rice cake square. Top with a flake of smoked salmon or a shrimp.

Using kitchen shears, cut nori into thin strips, about 1" long by 3/16" wide. Garnish each piece of seafood with a strip of nori.

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. Can be made two days in advance. The nori will soften but it will hold it's shape and it's flavor.
Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. Can be made two days in advance. The nori will soften but it will hold it's shape and it's flavor.



4 dry cups of rice (such as California short grain, like Niko Niko), prepared for sushi.
1/2 pound hot smoked salmon
1/2 cup salad shrimp
wasabi mayonnaise (mix 1/3 cup mayonnaise with 1 tablespoon wasabi paste or to taste, plus 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or to taste)
6" strip of nori (dried seaweed)
1 tablespoon toasted white or black (preferable) sesame seeds

 


I was able to stack my platter with two layers of these, separated by a foil doilie.

Squash Skewers
2 pounds butternut squash cubes
2 large sweet, crisp eating apples (such as fuji) cut in cubes approximately the same size as the squash.
8 ounces firm cheese such as Parmiganio-Reggiano, Smoked Gouda. I used Beechers flagship which is like a white cheddar.

Toss the squash and apples together in just a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 425 for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Cut cheese into slices just thick enough to not break apart. You can make it more decorative by putting a fancy edge on the slices with a pastry wheel or a butter slicer. Depending on the flavor of the cheese, how strong, or salty it is, you may want slightly larger or smaller slices.

Using a toothpick, spear a cube of squash, a slice of cheese, and a cube of apple.



I made cranberry bars because cranberries are a big agricultural product of Washington state, but many bar cookies are both easy to make, sturdy, and make a large number.

With pecans and bourbon, this recipe brought together some of the best of the northwest with some traditionally Southern specialties to honor the southerners at the event.

Cranberry Bars
Makes 48

For Crust
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Blend dry ingredients in food processor. Add butter and pulse until pea-sized lumps form. Line 12 x 18 x 1" pan with foil. Grease sides of foil (not bottom.) Press dough firmly and evenly into pan. Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes, until lightly golden.

For topping

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh (or frozen) whole cranberries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons bourbon

1 cup pecans pieces, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

Soak dried cranberries in bourbon, pressing down and mixing periodically. Meanwhile, melt butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Boil over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until caramel registers 245°F on thermometer, about 8 minutes. Carefully stir in whole cranberries, then boil until caramel returns to 245°F. Remove from heat and stir dried berries, soaking liquid, and pecans, stirring until well coated. Working quickly, spread caramel topping over base, using a fork to distribute nuts and berries evenly. Cool completely.

Cut bars into 3" squares, then in half to make triangles.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bananalternative

I am not a fan of low-fat. I rarely believe or agree with claims that low-fat alternatives taste as good as their original version, and I am a much bigger proponent of moderation than modification. Besides, while low-fat versions (especially of baked goods) often have other nutritious ingredients added, they also frequently end up having more sugar, more carbs, and sometimes even more calories all at the expense of a few grams of satisfying and fulfilling fat. So it was with skepticism that I read Eve Turrow's article in NPR's Kitchen Window about "healthier cupcakes."

Yet as I read the recipes, I became intrigued. Not so much for the healthful promises, but because some of the recipes seemed so truly bizarre that I was curious to try them just to experience the results. I had little hope that any of these "cupcakes" would turn out to be a dessert I would ever serve to guests, or even that they would turn out to deserve a classifaction of "dessert." I did, however, trust that they would be enjoyable. I had in mind something like a muffin rather than a cupcake or dessert.

The version that sounds most interesting and most unlike anything I've done before are the Orange Cardamom ones. However, I didn't have any oranges, and I had some bananas on the brown-side, so I decided to try those. The author, Eve, says she has adapted this low-fat banana cupcake recipe from the Low-Fat Banana Bread recipe which appeared in Bon Appetit in August, 1997. To see just how much "adaptation" actually went on, I compared the two side-by-side, and decided to make some of my own "adaptations" as well. Below is the exact version I made, and cupcakes they are! While I would certainly eat these in place of a muffin for breakfast, I needn't worry that they fail to stand up as a cupcake.

An additional aside is that cupcakes frequently come across as dry, which I attribute to their ratio of surface area (compared to a cake that is sliced into servings.) So much of a cupcake is touching the pan that gives it an opportunity to - if not dry out exactly - develop a crust. These managed to stay completely moist and flavorful in every bite.

Healthier Banana Cupcakes
makes 18

3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Splendar granular
3 medium bananas, mashed
1/3 cup lowfat buttermilk
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons light rum

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour (or whole wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend together eggs and sugars. Stir in remaining liquid ingredients and mix well. Blend together dry ingredients, then mix into wet ingredients just until combined. Pour batter into greased cupcake pan, or use paper cupcake liners, filling to 1/4" from top. Bake at 325 for 18-20 minutes, until tester comes out clean.

I ate these plain first, but for authentic cupcakes, frost with your favorite cream cheese or chocolate frosting (healthful, or unhealthful versions!)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Just Like the Stumbling Goat


Seattle has a two-year old fundraiser called "Celebrated Chefs" - I don't want to endorse the program, so I'm not going explain it, but part of the program produces a cookbook compilation of recipes from fine local restaurants. The cookbooks are nice quality with great photos, but while most of the dishes would be things I would enjoy eating, probably only 20% were dishes I would order in the restaurant, and fewer than 1% were recipes I would ever consider preparing for myself.

There were a couple that stood out in Version II of the Celebrated Chefs cookbook though, and when I stumbled across this salmon recipe from the Stumbling Goat Bistro, I was sure I had a winner.

These beets are incredible, and would be delicious as accompaniment to many different dishes, but they are quite outstanding with the salmon.

Pan-Seared Salmon with Anise Glazed Beets (version as printed)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 salmon fillet pieces, about 6 ounces each, skin removed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups lightly packed watercress, rinsed, dried, and trimmed
1 small fennel bulb, trimed, halved, cored, and sliced thinly
freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 large or 2 medium red beets (about 8 ounces), trimed
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons anise or fennel seeds

Put beets in a pan of cold salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until beets are tender (50-60 minutes). Keep beets covered with water throughout cooking, add more hot water as needed if necessary. Drain and let cool, then peel away skin. Slice in half, the slice halves cross-wise into 1/4 inch slices.

Combine sugar, water, vinegar, and seeds in medium saucepan.  Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce to medium-law heat and simmer until mixture becomes a thick syrup, about 20 minutes. Strain into a medium bowl. Toss beets gently in syrup.

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add salmon and cook until nicely browned on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side.

Arrange beet slices in the center of each plate. Drizzle plate with olive oil. Set aslmon atop beets, drizzle plate with syrup, beading syrup with oil. Combine watercress and fennel in a medium bowl, and lemon juice and toss to coat. Plate alongside salmon.
Photo from the Celebrate Chefs, Volume II cookbook, page 94.

I made this recipe for 3 people, using 3 salmon fillets and 3 medium beets, but the same amount of syrup. I still had way more than I needed for serving, and ended up dumping it out afterwards, although I probably could have saved it for a week or two and used it to glaze more beets or even other vegetables like carrots.


The fish could be prepared to your preference. I chose to bake it in a 350 oven alongside barley that I served with this meal. I just squeezed a bit of fresh lemon on the fillets, and a bit of salt and pepper. If you leave on the skin during cooking, be sure to remove it before serving, or do not serve the fillet directly on top of the beets.

I didn't use watercress, because we had a spinach salad to go with the meal. Instead, I just tossed the fennel bulb slices and some of the dill-like springs with lemon juice and a touch of oil, and served it on top.

To avoid waste and to pick-up the same flavor notes throughout the meal, I diced the fennel stalks and used them in place of some onion in a barley recipe of my grandmothers. The version below is the adaption I created for this meal, but would definitely repeat. The fennel flavor is subtle and would compliment lots of dishes, or could be substituted back for all onion.

Baked Barley
serves 6

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped fennel stalks
1/2 cup chopped onion
3-4 chopped baby portabello mushrooms
2-3 teaspoons fennel leaves (fine, threadlike herbal top-portion)
1 cup barley
3 cups chicken broth

Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add fennel and onion and saute 5 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and saute until tender. Stir in fennel leaves and barley, and transfer to 1 1/2 quart casserole baking dish.  Pour broth over, cover, and bake at 325 for 75-90 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pumpkin Party Menus

I love fall. It could be the self-absorbed only child in me (my birthday is mid-October). More likely it's the shortening of the days and chilling of the air, both signals that it's time to spend more time indoors... and what better way to spend time inside when it is cold, dark, and rainy out than to turn up the oven and create warm, soothing smells and tastes.

I had a birthday party every year until I was 17, far longer than any of my friends were sending out invitations, decorating cake, and planning party favors. Eventually as an adult, I was able to transition the "birthday party" into a party around the same time of year, where guests aren't informed that I am the reason for the celebration, but are still drawn into my home for a party. To be sure the center of attention remains on me, it's important to offer the most delectable and charming of refreshments to inspire [pumpkin] fields full of compliments.

I developed these two menus for what I called the "Pumpkin Party." Celebrating with food and friends all the beautiful colors, textures, warmth, and bounty that fall offers is plenty of reason for a party.

Mix and match recipes from these menus, or add and create your own, but don't wait to jump into fall with tempting tastes of tummy-warming treats!

Black Bean-Pumpkin Dip with Pita Chips
   1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
   1 1/2 cups canned black beans
   2 cloves garlic
   1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
   1 teaspoon ground cumin
   2 tablespoons olive oil
   2 tablespoons lemon juice
   salt and pepper to taste

   In food processor, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.  Season with salt and peppper to taste, and serve with pita chips.

Pumpkin Seed Flatbread

Mixed Greens with Apples, Dates, and Curried Pumpkin Seeds
   Use your favorite greens, such as mixed field greens, red leaf lettuce, or other combinations that include shades of bright green, dark green, and deep purple.
   Slice or cube a crisp, red-skinned eating apple such as Fuji, Braeburn, Honeycrisp, or Jonagold. Leave some skin on every chunk for color.
   Cut up about 1 date per serving - kitchen shears work best for cutting sticky dates.
   Toss above with a dressing of:
      1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
      3 tablespoons minced shallots
      2 teaspoons dijon mustard
      2 teaspoons honey
      1/2 cup olive oil
      (makes enough for 12)
   Sprinkle salad with curried pumpkin seeds.
Curried Pumpkin Soup with Yams and Cauliflower
Serves 8-12 as a side
1/2 head cauliflower broken into small bite-size pieces
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans mashed to a paste with a fork
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 small or medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons yellow curry powder
2 14-oz cans vegetable or chicken broth
1 10-oz package frozen cooked sqaush
2 large yams, chopped into bite-size pieces
yogurt and cilantro for garnish (optional)

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil with crushed red pepper and add
onion; saute until tender. Stir in curry powder to taste. Add broth and yams
and simmer until yams are easily pierced with a fork (20-30 minutes). Add
squash (does not need to be defrosted) and cauliflower and simmer/boil until
desired consistency (20-40 minutes). Stir in garbanzo paste. Ladel into bowls
and garnish as desired.

Farfalle with Roasted Butternut Squash & Sun-Dried Tomatoes
2 lb cubed butternut squash (this time of year, Trader Joes and Costco both sell refrigerated, pre-cubed butternut squash)
6 oz sundried tomatoes, packed in oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 lb Farfalle (bowtie) pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup cream


Preheat oven to 425.  Toss all vegetables and rosemary in baking dish. There is probably enough of the seasoned oil from the tomatos, but if not, add a little extra olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Bake, stirring gently every 10 minutes, approximately 30 minutes until squash is tender.  While roasting, cook farfalle according to package directions.

In separate pan, melt butter.  Stir in flour until smooth, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium, and stir in cream until smooth.  Return to a boil until sauce thickens slightly.  It will still be thin.  Season with white pepper and a dash of nutmeg. 

Toss squash mixture with pasta and sauce.  Serve with parmesan.


Smoked Salmon Pizzettas with Goat Cheese, Onion, and Dill
   Use Trader Joes whole wheat pizza dough or your favorite crust. Roll out dough as thinly as possible (about 1/8" thick.)
   I spread the raw dough with a very thin layer of parsley pesto (follow your favorite basil pesto recipe by substitute parsley for the basil).
   Crumble goat cheese atop the pesto.
   Sprinkle with freshly chopped dill to taste.
   Layer with flakes of smoked salmon and carmelized onions (put 3 pounds sliced white onions and 1/2 cup butter in your crock pot on low for 12-20 hours - you will melt at the amazing carmelized onions this produces).


This can be assembled to this stage early in the day, the cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  When ready to serve, bake for 10 minutes at 425. Cut into appetizer squares.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting and Whipped Chocolate Filling
Use Caramel Frosting from Joy of Cooking and Whipped Chocolate Ganache from The Cake Bible to assemble the pumpkin spice cake layers from the cake recipe linked in the title.
Peanut Butter cookies


Snickerdoodle Cookies (can be vegan)
1 cup margarine (I've never tried this recipe with butter, because I love the chewy center these cookies have.)
1 cup sugar
1 5/6 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp baking soda
dash salt


Cream sugar and margarine until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and mix. Roll balls of dough in cinnamon sugar, and bake 8-12 minutes at  350 degrees.  These cookies do not stay fresh for long.
Note that these do not contain eggs.

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies
Roll out dough and cut with pumpkin shaped cookie cutter.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
You can also bake your favorite cheesecake as bars in a 9x13 foil-lined pan and cut into squares. Increase your crust recipe by 1 1/2, and reduce baking time by about 1/3 - watch carefully.

Pumpkin Spice Bundt with Buttermilk Glaze