A few months ago, I took up running. It seemed like everybody I knew was doing it in some way, and some of my friends were doing amazing things, like running half-marathons for cancer research, and running the whole damn NYC Marathon with a bum knee. Around the same time, my dear friend Bakezilla made some cookies for a guy on a first date.
The running has continued. I’ve run in several races.
Bakezilla’s thing with her guy has also continued, and a few weeks ago the time came for us to meet this boy, so that Bakezilla could see whether he meshed with her friends, and I could scope him out and tell her if I got the serial killer vibe from him.
SPOILER ALERT: He’s not a serial killer. Not even the slightest hint of anything but nice guy.
In any event. After one Sunday morning of running in a race, Jesse and I were at a diner, sharing our post-race traditional brunch (corned beef hash, what what) and I realized that I had no real plan for the dinner I was cooking that night for Bakezilla and Boy. Risotto had been suggested, which is always a good move for me, because it’s such a one-pot favorite, and because it’s so easy to make while still interacting with guests.
While discussing the dinner and what I’d make, my brain’s tumblers clicked into place and I came up with a hearty, delicious offering that would also be interesting and vegetarian:
Pumpkin-Sage Risotto with Brown Butter
This dish has a lot of advantages. #1, it gives you a chance to roll your eyes and mutter under your breath that I must be at least half starch at this point, since I make risotto and blog about it so much. #2, it gives you a chance to put your dinner where your mouth is, and use the techniques that I talk about all the time. And #3, it gives you one more dish in your arsenal for vegetarians, for pumpkin-fiends, and for people who you want to like you, as much as you want to like them.
I make this in my Le Creuset braiser, because it has a flat bottom, shallow sides, and lots of area for the rice to suck up broth. I’d recommend a similar pan, if you can find one, or a big, straight-sided skillet.
You start this like any other risotto, sauteing an onion in butter, adding the rice and sauteing it, and then working the salt and stock in. In this case, I used vegetable stock. Near the end of cooking, add about half a cup of canned pumpkin, and 3 tablespoons of browned butter. You can adjust this to taste, especially if you’re making this for a crowd. I ended up with about 3/4 cup of pumpkin, I think. The browned butter is pretty crucial, as it lends a nice nuttiness to the risotto.
To brown butter, you put it in a pan over low heat. First, it will melt. Then, it will foam. Then, the foam will disappear. At this point, don’t walk away, because the butter will begin to smell nutty. As soon as you get the faintest whiff of nuttiness, TAKE THE BUTTER OFF THE HEAT. Browned butter becomes Burned butter in a matter of seconds, and the pan stays hot after you take it off the heat, thanks to the wonders of carryover heat. So please, I’m begging you. Don’t burn your butter, and then blame my risotto. It’s just not fair.
I put chopped sage leaves in with the butter while it was browning, and sprinkled more throughout the dish right before I served it. The sage meshed well with the brown butter and pumpkin, and the parmesan that I always add to the tail end of risotto echoed the nutiness of the brown butter. I served this with my typical green beans: blanched for 2 minutes, shocked in ice water, sauteed with shallots and lemon zest.
I can confidently say that it’s delicious. And that Bakezilla’s Boy is a win. I mean, anyone who eats 3 helpings of my cooking, picks out a great wine, AND helps make a pie? He’s a keeper.
A few times now I’ve referenced a vegan friend of mine who needs to be accommodated at times when it comes to cooking or going out to eat. As someone who’s lived her whole life with dietary restrictions, I’m completely cool with this, even if it’s really not for me! Said friend, despite being a pretty strict vegan and strictly kosher, doesn’t do much cooking for herself and is a little bit clueless when it comes to the kitchen. So, like any good foodie-ish friend, I offered to make her dinner some Sunday and guide her a bit on how to cook.
For her birthday last year, I got my friend Veganomicon, a friendly vegan cookbook with simple but tasty recipes, what I thought would be the perfect gift. But as it turns out, despite being very encouraging to novices and offering lots of tips (“Here’s how you core an apple,” say) my friend, ok I’ll just call her B., barely used it, partially because she was still a little afraid to! That just isn’t right!! Cooking is one of the greatest things one can do for oneself. To be able to feed yourself is to be self-reliant, and making a meal or dish is a great blend of creativity, science, health and timing. You can’t beat that! I resolved to help create a delicious, healthy, vegan meal for B, show her a couple of pointers and just have a good time hanging out with her.
B. picked the main, which was Pumpkin Ricotta Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Breadcrumbs, except since she has a sensitive stomach, the onions were nixed just in case they’d upset her. But hey, anything pumpkin is totally awesome by me. Even the recipe called for it to be paired with a light salad or veggie, so I also made sauteed swiss chard to go with it. Dessert was medjool dates — mmmm. I freaking love medjool dates, they’re like chewy natural candy.
So, you may be asking, how the heck can ricotta be vegan? I certainly was thinking that there’d be no way to mimic anything to even remotely resemble cheese. But it’s actually super easy and I wouldn’t have known the difference. In a food processor, blend raw cashews (cup and a half?); then one pound firm tofu (= one package), crumbled. Add two cloves garlic, 1/4 cup lemon juice, two tablespoons olive oil and half a teaspoon of dried basil. Blend in food processor. Done! You’ve got yourself some vegan ricotta. It even looks like it, too. For the pumpkin part, spice up a 15 oz can of it (cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, whatever else you want), mix, then mix it in with the ricotta in a bowl. Done!
While the ziti boils in a pot, make the sage breadcrumb topping. Now, this is key to the whole dish, because the breadcrumbs are pretty effing delicious. In a food processor (Clean it out after the ricotta! Or not, since it’s all going to the same place anyway.) chop up stale bread to make into the crumbs. B. didn’t have any stale bread on hand, so we toasted some for a few minutes then just pulled it apart with our hands into crouton-sized pieces. In a pan that we buttered up with margarine, coat the crumbs, then toss with fresh sage and let it pan-fry for a few minutes longer. No fresh sage was on hand so we just used dried. It worked well regardless.
When the ziti was drained, we mixed it with the pumpkin ricotta, poured into a lasagna pan, covered in breadcrumbs, then baked at 350 for about 35 minutes. Done! How easy is that? And since this dish is especially heavy it was definitely a good idea to accompany this with something light and leafy.
Another vegan friend of ours joined us for dinner, and between the three of us we ate half the pan. This is a damn delicious meal, vegan or not.
I’m glad I got to spend some time with a good friend doing something that I really enjoy, and getting to share that joy with her and showing her the ropes. We plan on doing dinner night another time soon!
Thanksgiving is one of those holidays resplendent with color: vibrant oranges, browns and reds; harvest time. A cornucopia centerpiece never graced my family’s table, but if it did, I’d make sure it burst with colorful seasonal fruits. While Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I believe the Japanese have the right idea when it comes to a complete meal: everything should be balanced by the varieties of color, texture and flavor, which is why when creating meals, I strive for harmony, case in point, my colorful dinner party the other week. No better time to put this in practice than now, when seasonal fruits and veggies are a huge component of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.
This year I’ll be home and in all likelihood, my mother and aunt will insist on cooking everything themselves. Usually we’ll feature the standards — turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, canned cranberries that none of us will actually eat, and of course pumpkin. Despite autumn’s bounty of seasonal options, my clan tends to go for the heavy stuff and far too many starches.
If I distilled down to a bento box of what Thanksgiving foods mean to me, here’s what I’d feature:
- Pumpkin phyllo cups (hors d’ourves)
- Apple and butternut squash soup
- Arugula and cranberry salad with almond slivers
- Wild rice with parsnip and squash
- Smashed sweet potatoes
- Sauteed collard greens, meatless
- Roast turkey with rosemary sage stuffing
- Pumpkin pie made with homemade whipped non-dairy cream or pumpkin whoopie pies (using Tofutti cream cheese for the filling in this case)
When hosting guests, a great bite-sized hors d’ourves is pumpkin phyllo cups, which are also super easy to make. Take a 15 oz can of pureed pumpkin, stir in 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg; adjust to taste. Scoop them into little phyllo dough cups and bake at 350 on a cookie sheet until phyllo becomes golden. It’s like mini pumpkin pies!
The first time I ever tried pumpkin, in fact, was eating a variation of this, in boreka-like phyllo pockets, rather than cups. My love affair with pumpkin started then.
The rest of the menu has links to their recipes or are pretty standard, but combine well altogether to highlight the bounty that nature brings us this time of year, as well as sharing it with the bounty of our loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!
I’ve never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the flavor with its sweet, spicy amazingness, I think what always got me was the intense density of the dish. That is probably why, once I was old enough to try eating my favorite Halloween decoration, I stuck more to stealing a couple bites of my dads pumpkin chiffon pie, which was significantly lighter than the traditional pie. So when I stumbled across a recipe for pumpkin mousse, I thought that it would be perfect for me since it would have the great pumpkin flavor that I like, but be nice and light in texture. It took about 15 minutes of actual prep time and so far has the approval of 10 high school freshman and one actual adult besides me.
Pumpkin Mousse: ( as stolen from Dave Leiberman on FoodNetwork.com)
-1 can pumpkin (the 15 oz, not that huge beast of a can)
-3 pints (cups) of heavy cream
-3/4 cup of confectioners sugar
-1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
-1 Tbsp vanilla
Seriously this is wicked easy. Just take the pumpkin, sugar, pie spice and 1 cup of the cream and put it in a sauce pan. Cook it over medium heat until it is all combined and smooth. I ended up putting in an extra dash of the spice, just because I wanted the flavor a little stronger. Once that is cooked, set it aside to cool. You can put it in the refrigerator if you would like, but I just left mine on the counter to cool, and it took about 20 minutes. Then take the remaining 2 cups of cream and whip them with the vanilla. Fold the pumpkin mixture into the whipped cream until it is smooth, and Voila! you have pumpkin mousse….I know, I know…its not REAL mousse with the eggs and everything, but trust me when I say that you barely notice the difference. I put mine in the fridge to chill for a while and make sure that it set nicely.
I also went a little crazy and made a vanilla bean-cinnamon whipped cream to garnish. Just whip some cream and put in a dash of cinnamon and vanilla from 1 bean. I didn’t sweeten it because the mousse was sweet enough, but if you have a bigger sweet tooth, then just use cinnamon sugar rather than just cinnamon
Ialso am a big fan of this with a little bit of chocolate syrup added …but I’m a firm believer that everything is better with chocolate
There are some things that are synonymous with Thanksgiving, with the holidays. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Squash. We’ll get to all of these except the turkey as we help our dear friend Bakezilla work her way through her first Thanksgiving dinner, as well as sharing stories adn tales about our own personal holiday faves.
A big one for me at the holidays has always been Pumpkin Pie. I went through a phase where it was my favorite thing ever. I’ve kind of cooled on it lately, which is odd given my recent love affair with most things pumpkin. I’m more into combining pumpkin with muffins, or brownies, or jello shots.
However, my friend and all around awesome lady, Jackie, brought me back to pumpkin pie. She has an allergy to cinnamon, which means that her fave dessert has the chance to put her into anaphylactic shock. This is not a cool thing, as you might imagine, because I love Jackie and do not want her to die from dessert. She asked the Pretty Girls via Twitter to try and hack pumpkin pie to produce something she could consume. I promised to try.
A couple days later, while washing the dishes, my mind wandered away from the crusted on remains I was scraping off my casserole dish, and suddenly, I had it. Cumin, and Cayenne, would provide the heat and spice that cinnamon give. Nutmeg and Cardamom would provide warmth and spiciness.
I had it. And I had to immediately try my theory. I abandoned the dishes and immediately ran to the store to buy pumpkin and evaporated milk.
Pumpkin Pie for Jackie
Preheat oven to 425.
Roll out your pie shells and place into your pie plate. If making 1 pie, make it a deep-dish pie plate.
Combine 3/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, and 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar in a bowl. Reserve.
Beat 2 eggs in a large bowl. Add in 1 can of pumpkin puree and the sugar-and-spice mixture. Once this is combined, add in 1 can of evaporated milk.
Pour the filling into the pie shell, thump it on the counter a fe times to get rid of the air bubbles, and put it in the oven. I baked my 4 mini pies and 1 mini springform for 15 minutes at 425, then reduced the heat to 350, and baked them for 35 minutes. For a larger pie, make it 45 minutes at 350.
This pie was 2-boy-approved: Jesse and our friend Steele both decided it was pretty darn good. While you notice the lack of cinnamon, I certainly didn’t miss it. The spices work brilliantly with the pumpkin, creating a general feeling of warmth, and the cayenne provides a nice slow burn at the end.
In fact, you could probably use coconut milk instead of evaporated milk, if you’re lactose intolerant.
But in the end, the best part is that Jackie can have her fave again, without anaphylactic shock. And that’s a win.
Yesterday I recieved an email that was a bit frantic, and a phone call that was downright freaked out. Josie, thats right, our very own improvisor, was accepted into the Brookly Cheese Experiment. Basically she has to make a cheese based recipe for about 300 people and hopefully it will be amazing enough to win a prize (lets face it…OF COURSE it will be amazing enough!). We spoke for a little while and tried to work out some of the details of her recipe because its actually one she hasn’t made before. I will let her give you the details, but basically she is making a pumpkin mac’n'cheese. Since she only has a couple days to prepare I offered to do a test run of the sauce she wants to use to help her out and pinpoint any problems that might arise. Basically it was just a pumpkin-white cheddar beschamel.
1 Tbsp Flour
2/3 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup whole milk
1 1/4 tbsp pumpkin
3/4 block of cheddar cheese -grated
cumin, cayenne, and nutmeg to taste
Its a pretty simple process, but you have to pay attention so that it doesn’t burn or over heat. Just melt the butter over low heat in a sauce pan and add the flour. Cook the roux until the flour and butter are fully mixed and form a sort of paste on the bottom of the pan.
Then just add the chicken stock and milk and raise the heat a little (still on medium low). Stir for about a minute and let the roux blend with the liquids, and then add the pumpkin and stir until the pumplin is fully incorporated into the sauce and it it thickens enough to coat your spoon. Add the spices until to taste*, but be careful not to throw your cayenne into the pan, because then you get to reach in and get it our before the plastic melts on the bottom of the pan, and its just a situation at that point… Poor Cayenne
Then stir in the cheese a little at a time until it is all fully mixed in to form a thick creamy sauce. You may want to re-spice it after you add the cheese to ensure that it tastes the way you want it to.
One thing that happened that I did not expect was the the pumpkin actually caused the sauce to get frothier than usual which I think will help it absorb into the pasta and not settle to the bottom as much.
*I have been told that ‘to taste’ is not really specific enough for some people, but really there is no other way to describe it. You just have to add some and then taste, and if it s not enough, add more. The trick is…the closer it gets to tasting right, the less you add so that you don’t over spice .
The final product
If the dish turns out even half as good as the sauce, Jo will definitely put up a good showing in her first major food competition . I am so excited for her and I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes on Sunday. She is an amazing cook so I know she will do great. GOOD LUCK JO!!!!
Thanks to all my loyal readers (if I have any…)