Archive for October, 2008

The great pumpkin

Don’t ask me what I was doing with a can of pumpkin when I’ve only just admitted to having almost more squash in my possession than Florida has early voters.


The can’s been in the pantry for roughly a year, skirting the back edges of the canned foods corner, an extra from some months-ago kitchen endeavor. (I think it was a risotto, one I’d planned to make twice, but, well, you know how that goes.) I’ve noticed the pumpkin now and again, while rooting around hopefully for a can of tuna or wondering when I used up the last of my San Marzano stash. All the while the can’s been hanging on standby, patiently getting pushed from one side to the other. I’d see it on the periphery and wonder when I’d feel like using it, when the temperature would dip low enough that pumpkin would be reasonable.

Well, the temperature (still 90s, sigh…) is hardly declaring pumpkin time, but the calendar says it’s perfectly acceptable – no, desirable, even – to use a little pumpkin. And not only to use it, but to let it be the main event, the raison d’être, of a baked good.


Pumpkin + turning on the oven = Fall. Fall = Happy. At least in my corner of the kitchen.

Allow me to get a little Cook’s Illustrated on you for a sec, as I explain the process behind these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies. Most recipes I found use oil, but I didn’t want the texture to be too cakey. And I like — no, adore — what butter does to a cookie. I cobbled together a few recipes found at Cooks.com and AllRecipes.com (this one in particular), popped them in the oven, with a good result. But the texture was missing something.

Taking a hint from David Leite’s now famous delayed-gratification Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, I put the rest of the dough in the fridge for a few days. I think it was Shirley Corriher who said that allows the egg to spread out and coat the other ingredients, thus lending a different texture. And letting the dough ‘age’ gives it a more complex flavor, to boot. I thought the cookies that resulted from the refrigerated dough were better, both in texture and flavor.


Enjoy, and happy Halloween.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Play with this one a bit: I used butterscotch chips in half the batch. They’re also good topped a few flakes of sea salt just before baking.

2 ¼ C white whole wheat flour (or use all-purpose)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
1 C butter, softened
¾ C brown sugar
2 eggs
1 15-oz. pure pumpkin
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 C chopped walnuts (optional)
1 12-oz bag bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (if not refrigerating dough) and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, beating just until incorporated. Mix in the pumpkin and vanilla extract. Gradually stir or beat in the flour on a low setting until dough is smooth. Stir in walnuts, if using, and chocolate chips.

Place dough in fridge overnight or for up to 48 hours, or proceed with baking instructions. When you’re ready to bake, drop dough by 1 ½ tablespoons (or using a small cookie scoop) onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake until edges are golden but cookies are still soft on top, between 9 and 12 minutes (11 was just right in my oven).

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So, you’re stranded on a deserted island…

I’m a lousy sport when it comes to playing the hypothetical situation game. Just ask Brian, who’s an avowed pro. He’s well known for entering a room with the words, “So, let’s just say that…”

Even if I’m in the mood to indulge him and play along, I can’t help but roll my eyes. Here we go again.

I suppose I have a hard time with that whole suspension of disbelief thing. Or maybe I worry that devoting brain power to ‘what ifs’ is taking away from some other, worthier mental exercise, like making a Target list or reading Chocolate&Zucchini, version française.

Let’s not forget the gripping fear of disappointment. Let’s say the hypothetical situation we’re envisioning is along the lines of some future progress, and who wants to get up hope? Who wants to be let down?

Then there’s an altogether different sort of hypothetical, in which one’s very survival is at stake. You know what I’m referring to, the oldest one in the book: “So, let’s just say that you’re stranded on a deserted island…” That’s where near-paralyzing fear comes in. I’m awful at that game because I don’t want to envision actually being stranded on a desert island. I have never, ever, wanted to be Tom Hanks.

However, put me on a desert island with five food items of my choice and a large solar-power refrigerator, and I might come out of it all with my sanity intact.

Camille at Croque-Camille tagged me last week with this fun little exercise. I’ve tagged three blogs below, but anyone can play. The rules are as follows:

You are stranded on a deserted island for an indefinite amount of time. You can bring along five food items and are allowed one sentence to justify your decision. It is an island so assume plentiful fish, coconuts, and sea salt. Storage is not an issue, as you also have a large solar powered refrigerator. Play along, tag who you want, and link back.

Naturally, I involved my hypothetical-and-food-loving husband on this one, and he gamely complied. Now, five items is miserly — my heart positively breaks over all the items I would miss, like rosemary and dark chocolate gelato. But, trying for practicality in the face of speculation, here’s what we came up with:

  1. Chickpeas / Garbanzo beans – Good fiber and protein, nutty flavor, and, assuming I can find a rock, I can grind some chickpea flour (maybe good for dredging some of that island fish in before frying?).
  2. Corn – Again, going for versatility – I can make cornmeal, and plant a row or two.
  3. Oranges – The scent is always uplifting, plus they’re good for juicing and flavoring fish, and because a little scurvy protection goes a long way (I can only assume).
  4. Potatoes – They’re hearty and comforting (as Camille pointed out) and pair marvelously well with sea salt.
  5. Chickens – Live ones, for laying eggs, and because I need something to talk to when I try to vocally raise my hypothetical hopes with a hypothetical, on-the-horizon rescue.

So now I’m tagging: Heather, at Bodacious Girl; Kirsten, at Now or Never; and Daniel, at Diary of a Would-be Chef!

**

I also have an award to pass along! Many big thanks to newlywed Amy at The French Kitchen for this Excellence Award!

I’m sending it on to Kelly, at EatMakeRead (can you say blood orange ricotta pancakes? Yum!); to Michael at Herbivoracious (knows his stuff); and to Allen at Eating Out Loud (great post quality, and because Recovered Recipes is inspired).


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Chasing autumn

I know it’s the inappropriate thing to do, but I can’t help myself. I just enjoy looking at them too much, admiring their bumps and ridges; their striations; their gnarly, twisting stems; their colors that identify each one while defying uniformity.

I have a giant golden bowl filled with winter squash resting mid-kitchen table, an autumnal centerpiece if there ever was one. I know I’d be advised against leaving them in the open, exposed to light and temperature changes and a five-year-old who sets the table by hucking forks.

I know my darling squash collection isn’t meant for a life of show, of nightly subjection to a chandelier spotlight. They say squash keep best when kept in dark and cool places. But those people, the all-knowing “they” must not be trying to raise a beta-carotene-fueled family in the desert, where the sun absolutely refuses to get out of my yard, and where dark and cool refers only to places I would forbid my teenage daughter to go, if I had one.

Besides, we drove hours to a hot and dusty farm to fill a wheelbarrow with these winter squash, with not just spaghetti and acorn and butternut, but with our first-ever ambercup and buttercup, with carnival and delicata. I think we threw a kabocha in there, too. So of course I’m going to display them prominently, these ornaments that I will, yes, get around to eating. Soon.

It was part of our annual pilgrimage, our search to find fall. To all you — you, you, and, yes, you — who are in your respective parts of the world fussing about the chill: I’ll trade you. I really will. But I’m guessing you secretly know how good you’ve got it, that even as you complain about shivering on the outside, intellectually you know the worth of fall. Of harvests and changing leaves. Of the approaching dark and cool.

Each time I look at the squash, I keep thinking of new things to do with them (besides look). Here’s the list so far. And please, I’d love you to kick in with a comment about what you’d do with said squash (or any other favorite varieties, for that matter). Enjoy the harvest!

Braised Squash with Tomato Sauce

Squash Pizza – Some variation on this recipe here and this one

Butternut Soup

Roasted Squash with Maple-Soy Glaze

Acorn filled with Apples, Cranberries and Walnuts

Borlotti Bean Mole with Roasted Squash

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Plenty does it

It started in the matter-of-fact way that dinner often does, with a once-over for the refrigerator.

There were beans that were begging to be eaten, a mix of tepary and black that had been the base of a variation on my favorite chili (because it is fall, isn’t it? Even as it registers 94 degrees today? Last week it was considerably cooler that day I could no longer resist putting to rest a heady hankering for chili).

I was going to take the easy-does-it burrito route, i.e., dinner on autopilot, because I am at this moment supposed to be transcribing a two-hour interview. What’s wrong with throwing the usual components — tortillas, rice, beans, cheddar, corn — on the counter and letting everyone go at it once in a while?

But a stroke of memory brought to mind the fact that I had a half bunch of cilantro. And that led to the realization that my pantry harbored a red onion and garlic, galore. Which reminded me of the green chiles that have been socked in the back of the crisper for a few weeks (or has it been more than a few weeks?). There were no limes, but a lemon would do.

Of course I remembered the yellow summer squash. Summer squash from co-op that, sautéed for a spell, would most definitely play nicely with the corn and beans and cilantro, with all the rest of it.

I don’t know what it is, this compilation for which I can thank serendipity and a swish of proficience.

A what-the-heck-season-is-it-anyway succotash?

An I’m-so-mad-it’s-still-hot-outside-so-salad-still-sounds-good salad?

A newfangled filling for those tortillas? A sidekick for a mean cheddar quesadilla?

Whatever. We’re eating it for dinner.

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Foodbuzz Publisher Community launches

Who’s up for a rousing little game of “Happy, Sad”? My sister and I played a round after we made the poor choice to actually pay money to see that Patrick Dempsey movie in which his character decides he’s in love with his engaged best friend.

It works like this: Happy: We got to spend two hours looking at Patrick Dempsey. Sad: That movie really sucked. Really.

So, let’s have a go with a food-related version.

Happy: The Foodbuzz Publisher Community officially launches! I’ve been part of the truly amazing Featured Publisher program for several months, and it’s been a fun ride that promises to continue. Read more here.

Sad: Amidst the launch excitement, I sliced my thumb cutting an onion. That’s right, I had a knife in my hand at the same time I was trying to have a real adult conversation. Cooking + talking = extraordinary ineptness on my part. This is an injury that laughs in the face of Neosporin and any configuration of bandages.

But here’s a happy-within-a-sad: A self-inflicted injury that occurs while cooking must mean I’m big league now. Completely deserving of my FP badge, no?

Happy: Popped into Trader Joe’s today, and there was a sign in the apple bin declaring the arrival of New York Honeycrisp apples. My heart leapt. I’ve been waiting months upon months for Honeycrisp.

Sad: The Honeycrisp bin was empty. Nary an apple to be found. And though the cashier reported that they expect more tomorrow, today is not tomorrow. I was at the store today. Must console self with ever more Fujis, a nice runner-up.

Happy: Just discovered a new swoon-worthy kitchen scent: that of minced garlic and lemon zest hitting a hot pan at the same time.

Sad: The tofu, spinach and brown rice dish that brought on the scent of garlic and zest was [sigh] underwhelming.

Game rules state that you must end with a happy: I’m back at dinner again, and tonight’s polenta promised me it will live up to its fave-status around here.

Want to play? Leave me a comment with a “Happy, Sad” round of your own.

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Cook, uninterrupted

The action and sound effects were designed specifically to divert my attention. First, the mad streak through the kitchen, fists balled and tensed to punch down the air. Then, the scream – the pitch one of frustration – emitted at precisely the halfway point, and just as she passed me and my cutting board. Just as my knife was slicing quickly down into resinous rosemary.

Quinn was not happy with me, was projecting her frustration at something in the playroom onto her mother. She’d tried to get my attention by sending urgent shouts for help from that direction, but I’d called back that I was cooking, that I had oil on my hands, that I’d have to help her in a minute.

But help now was what she wanted, not deferred help. Not help-in-a-minute that would turn into minutes, into the plural.

Maybe it was the release of oils from the rosemary, the sudden fragrance that overwhelmed that other, hearing sense, but her shriek couldn’t tear me from my task. I was busy. Busy patting down dough for the flatbread that would go with our salad. Busy wondering if my supermarket olive oil was one of the dumbed-down dirt-oils decried in the Cooks’ Illustrated article I’d read just moments before (albeit three months late).

Busy with the mental list of things I needed to remember to put into our salad: oil-packed tuna stirred with some of the rosemary and balsamic; cannellini beans; the capers in the back of the fridge that I keep forgetting are there; a handful of cherry tomatoes; sliced red onion, naturally; crumbled feta from heaven. Oh, and the green and black briny olives the in-laws so generously bestowed upon me, because they know I like olives and they really don’t. (Poor, unfortunate, olive haters.)

I was busy making dinner.

I admit that I’m not easily torn from my cooking-in-progress. My husband will come home from work, and sure, I’m making the man food like a good wife who enjoys making her man food should be, but I’m far from greeting him at the door with a welcoming peck. He gets a “Hey,” followed by, “Can you please put forks on the table?” And then I’m back to pushing things around in the pan or whatever it is I’m doing, and he knows to save the day’s conversation about politics until we’re seated, full plates in front.

If I stopped in my tracks every time the kids called from some corner in the house, I’d accomplish very little in a very long time. We’d be eating dinner in Spain (i.e., super late). I could tell from Quinn’s tone that whatever she needed could wait until the bread was baking and the timer was turned on.

I vow this much: I will stop for blood. And broken bones.

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First things

I’ve just got crow for a tiny moment. But with the crowing must come the mea culpa: I’m remiss because the truly brilliant Camille at Croque-Camille awarded me the Brilliante Weblog award at the end of September, and I’ve yet to pass it on. September, people! Seems so long ago, but I’m still flush with appreciation.

I really didn’t mean to hang on to the award for this long, and I’m sure I’ve breached all kinds of blogging etiquette. The award came just as my kids’ fall break started and we went out of town, and so my blog reading time slumped considerably.

But — I’m back at it, and have a new favorite: Diary of a Fanatic Foodie. I’m loving Heather’s colorful recipes right now, and thanks to her, I’m now aware of the existence of the purple pepper.

And now to a guy who hardly needs my endorsement: I’d also like to pass the award on to Jude at Apple Pie, Patis, and Pâté. He’s up to some enviable culinary endeavors, and has a lovely way with a camera.

Click on!

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