Posts Tagged ‘Celebration’

P&P and Greg & I are now on our fourth straight year of celebrating annual squash fests! These fests are a celebration of all things fall and is easily one of our favorite autumnal traditions. They started the year that we began dating our now-husbands — that first year involved transporting an assortment of colorful varieties from the farmers’ market in Morningside Heights across state borders to our long-distance boyfriends in Connecticut. The second year involved a novice attempt at spaghetti squash; the third year was a bit forgettable but we think it was in Willington; and now, the fourth year.

This fourth year of squash celebration has been truly spectacular. Now that I’m done with school and life has calmed down a bit, we’ve prioritized seeing P&P every fortnight or so, and every gathering has yielded a thrilling outdoor activity and some exciting inclusion of squash. Today we saluted the last of the apples at Lyman’s and finished the evening off with some roasted barley-stuffed pumpkins.

I imagine these pumpkins can be stuffed with just about anything and can be made savory or sweet. For a savory version, we used barley, which can easily be replaced with rice or wheat berries or millet or any other variety of grain. Instead of red swiss chard, one could substitute in cooked beans or zucchini or other cooked vegetables. For a sweet version, some coconut flakes and cubed apples could be a delicious alternative.

Roasted Barley-Stuffed Pumpkins

2 sugar pumpkins
1 c pearled barley, pre-cooked
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch of leafy greens
1 can diced tomatoes
8 oz cheddar, cubed
Cayenne pepper, cinnamon, crushed red pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Slice off the top 1 1/2 inches of the pumpkins and discard. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp.

Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is slightly tender and translucent. Stir in the greens and salt and cook, stirring until the greens are slightly tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cooked barley, about 2 minutes. Add cheese. Put the pumpkins in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and fill evenly with the barley mixture.

Add 1 inch of boiling water to the baking dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake until the pumpkins are tender, about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes, then serve.

Original recipe here.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Two Ways

Pumpkin seeds and olive oil

Cayenne pepper
Habanero salt
Cracked black pepper

Cardamom, freshly ground
Holiday black tea leaves, crushed
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 F. Rinse pumpkin seeds and combine in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and desired seasonings. Mix well. Spread in one flat surface on a baking sheet. Roast for 10-12 minutes, stirring at least once. All seasonings are to taste.  Careful not to burn!

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We wouldn’t have guessed it until this weekend, but Labor Day marks the completion of quite a year.  Okay, I suppose it’s a little bit arbitrary where we start counting (like, maybe our wedding day is slightly more appropriate) but Labor Day coincides well, too.

One year ago this weekend we had our first housewarming party as a couple, in our very own apartment, our very own home together.  It was somewhat of an eclectic soiree, combining a number of our old New York, yuppy (“young urban professional”–with no judgment attached) friends and a number of our new New Haven friends (decidedly less yuppy).  We made black beans and arepas (back in the pre-grill days) and four (or five?) desserts (can’t blame this one on not having a grill).

It was also the first time all of us met Andy.  In this last year, Andy and his now wife Marcella have been featured guests at many meals; they also received a homemade wedding cake from us in May.  Then, he was a stranger from a foreign land–Mozambique to be exact.  Now, he’s off to England for studies, leaving a gaping hole stateside.  New Haven has suffered quite a bit this summer: First an earthquake, then a hurricane, and now Andy leaving.

Well, enough maudlin rehashing of developments in our relationship and our friends’.  What says summer better than a backyard barbecue with potato salad?  We had grilled burgers with fresh tomatoes, caramelized onions, and goat cheese (and the burgers were so thick they nearly passed for meatballs), a grilled corn salad with red pepper, celery, and sun dried tomatoes, and a bit of a twist on a potato salad.  Enjoy the recipes, and the extra day of rest (we sure did).

Grilled Burgers

Use 1/4 lb of meat for each burger, but do not make them as thin as you get them at the store.  Sprinkle with spices–Montreal Steak seasoning is a good mix–then roll into a ball, indent dimples in the center on both sides and maybe flatten just slightly.  The reason to keep them thick is so that you can have burgers that are medium (or more, or less) on the inside while also developing a good sear on the outside.  Too thin, and there will be no char by the time the burgers are cooked all the way through–or worse, you’ll get the char and dried out hockey pucks for burgers.

Cook over a high flame, flipping only once.  5 minutes per side should do it.  Do not fiddle around!  Fiddling keeps the burgers from developing a nice crust, which ensures an easy flip and a sturdy burger.  Top to your delight.

Mostly Green Potato Salad

2 lb potatoes (red-skinned fingerlings would be beautiful, though we used Idahos)
1 heaping T of capers
2 scallions, pickled (soaked in vinegar, salt, sugar)
1/2 cup peas
feta cheese, crumbled/chopped to taste

Cube potatoes and boil until tender (a fork should go in and out easily).  Drain.  Combine all ingredients with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Enjoy. And don’t use mayo.

Grilled Corn Salad

6 ears of corn
1 red bell pepper, diced
10 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
3 stalks diced celery
1 T ground cumin
lemon juice, salt, and olive oil to taste

As has been stated, there are a million ways to grill corn.  The easies and quickest: husk the corn and grill directly over the fire, flipping every few minutes.  Cut kernels off of corn.  Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix.  Of course, you could do this sans grill using frozen corn or oven roasted corn.  And a microwave is a great way to cook corn–one of us thinks so.

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They did it! They tied the knot! Two of our favorite people, joined together in joyous, holy matrimony. It was one of the most beautiful, most fun weddings we’ve been to in a while (excluding our own, of course!), and very much a testament to the value of community that both Andy and Marcella have come to share.

A few highlights:

  • Marcella walked down the aisle with her father, who had suffered a stroke a few years ago, and made a difficult journey out to Connecticut from Phoenix.
  • Both Andy and his father gave endearing, thoughtful toasts to the guests (as is English tradition). Afterwards, Andy’s father beamed rays of fatherly pride at how well Andy has grown up.
  • The bridal party and friends fully rearranged international trips home, housing decor and guest space availability, and work schedules in order to pitch in and contribute to the finishing details of the wedding week.
  • Our friend GH officiated his very first wedding, and his delightful wife, JH, catered her very first wedding.
And we, as you may know, made our very first wedding cake. It was a vanilla cardamom cake, three tiers each with two layers, with a Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. The tiers were 12″, 8″, and 6″, decorated with some miscellaneous flowers and eucalyptus branches pilfered from the Sharps’ dining room arrangement in a last-minute flurry the morning of the wedding. Despite it being slotted to feed 120 at least, it fed about 80. (What can we do when guests come back for seconds and thirds and fourths?)
This cake may be a game-changer. I’m now reconsidering my career trajectory. Goodbye, Columbia; hello, socialist bakery! (If you have seen Stranger Than Fiction, a certain baker lady in that movie has been providing some inspiration for these upcoming plans.) Seriously, this cake was such a success that I’m reevaluating my gifts and my interests and wondering whether a small local bakery with an emphasis on job skills training for underprivileged women may instead be a better alternative than my current track. The million muffin movement? Cookies for the community?

Onto the frosting… If you’ll remember, the first frosting attempt over Easter weekend turned into a curdled disaster. Since then we’ve experimented quite a bit and have been thrilled with the following recipe. This recipe yields the most spreadable frosting I’ve ever experimented with, and the egg whites add a lot of structure that would ordinarily be replaced with by extraneous sugar. It holds up remarkably well for 24 hours (not that we had it out for that long, but an earlier trial version did withstand that duration) without any discoloration or melting. Of course if you were attempting your own wedding cake, I highly recommend you give this a couple tries. It’s not the easiest frosting I’ve ever made, but once you’re familiar enough with how it works, it is worth the effort.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

4 egg whites, room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 sticks butter, room temperature

In a double boiler, whisk together egg whites and 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar. Whisk continually in order to keep egg whites from cooking, until egg whites are frothy and warm. (If you don’t have a double boiler, a stainless steel bowl over a pot of simmering water is fine.) Warming the egg whites allows them to stiffen up more in the next step.

Remove egg white mixture from heat. In a stand mixer, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. This should take about two minutes on medium speed first, then another two or three minutes on high speed. Remove egg whites from stand mixer and set aside.

In stand mixer, beat butter and remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar until fluffy. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the butter. Mix thoroughly by hand. Do not use a stand mixture for this portion — the egg whites are very delicate at this stage and can curdle if beaten too hard into the butter.

At this stage, the frosting can be spread onto the cake immediately or kept refrigerated for a few days. If refrigerated, the frosting will harden. To bring it back to a spreadable texture, microwave for 30 seconds or keep it at room temperature for a few hours.

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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… 10 1/2 sticks of butter, 21 eggs, 9 cups of sugar, and 11 1/4 cups of flour. Ten hours, countless dishes, and an emergency trip to Costco. M & A, you’d better be the happiest newlyweds in the world after this cake is done!

Having three full days off is a miraculous phenomenon in this household these days. With school from 9am-7pm on Saturdays and a full work week, it makes Sundays the only days of rest we have, and not nearly enough time to get things like laundry or spring cleaning, not to mention a wedding cake, done. Thankfully, the nonprofit I currently work at does acknowledge Good Friday, and the school I currently attend also recognizes Easter (weekend), thus granting me the luxury of rest, at last! (I’ve also just remembered I have the most marvelous husband who faithfully conquers the mountains of laundry every few weeks, tackles the grime in the kitchen I leave behind, and also baked a third of this cake!)

This wedding cake is quite the undertaking, let me tell you. Not that I thought making a wedding cake would be a simple task, but the sheer level of manpower, time, and ingredients has been fairly daunting. Seriously, ten sticks of butter had been difficult to fathom until this weekend, and now I’m envisioning dozens of sticks of butter softening to room temperature scattered in various locations all over the house come May. (By the way, I’ve discovered that defrosting frozen butter in the microwave for about two minutes on the defrost setting can be a useful trick in a pinch, but the preferred method is still to leave it sitting out overnight.)

Vanilla Cardamom Cake
(adapted from http://www.smittenkitchen.com)

This version produces 9 cups of batter, which makes the following combinations: one 12″ round and one 6″ round; two 8″ rounds and one 6″ round; one 12″ round and one 8″ round. (If you notice a small discrepancy here, I’ll have you know that the first batch produced a very tall 6″ round.) I suspect this could also successfully make three 8″ rounds, but I’ll leave that to your experimentation.

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) salted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup buttermilk
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2  teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and 1 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Mix on low speed briefly to blend; then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk until well blended. Pour one-third of the egg mixture into the cake batter at a time, folding it in completely after each addition. There will be 9 cups of batter; pour 3 cups batter into each pan.

Bake for 50 minutes for the 8″ rounds, 42 minutes for the 6″ rounds, and 60 minutes for the 12″ rounds, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the cakes in the pans. When the cakes are cooled completely, turn the layers out by running a rubber spatula around the edge of the cake, covering the cake pan with a flat plate, and flipping gently. If the cake does not come out immediately, moisten a paper towel with warm water, wipe the sides and bottom of the pan and shake gently.

If the cake is not to be served immediately (or within a few hours), cover the cake pan tightly with plastic wrap, with twice the amount of plastic wrap as the size of the cake. Flip gently, then wrap the cake in plastic wrap and a freezer bag. The cake will store well like this for a number of days.

More to come on buttercream frosting, Swiss meringue frosting, cake boards and more! In the meantime, if you have any experience with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting or any tips on frosting at all, please respond to this cry for help. (You’ll see in the pictures above, the frosting is not quite ready for its close-up.)

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Has it really been a full week since we last posted? Yes, I see the readership dwindling… Come back, readers, come back! Time sure does fly when you’re totally overwhelmed and busy. School started last week, and it’ll be a doozy getting all of this done. Who decided a master’s degree, a full-time demanding job, a new husband, and lots of social inclinations was a good idea? I guess I did, but that doesn’t stop me from complaining about it. As long as it doesn’t keep me from baking…

Speaking of baking, look at these two beautiful smiley people, Andy and Marcella! After months of dating cross-continentally, they’d been reunited in New Haven in August thanks to the generous efforts and string-pulling of a few dear friends, and they’re now officially engaged! And somehow I managed to talk myself into the biggest baking challenge thus far in a young baker’s life… wedding cake. How hard can it be?

Trial number one was a modest, two-layer affair involving pomegranate molasses and vanilla cream cheese frosting. Marcella is a frugivore, you see, and for a recent dinner gathering in part to celebrate her birthday she requested a bowl of exotic fruits in lieu of a birthday cake. Fantasizing about this cake already, I delegated the fruit responsibilities elsewhere and went ahead with my cake-baking! (And yes, I’d consider pomegranate molasses to fall in the exotic fruit category…)

While the cake was very well-received, I’m still brainstorming a few other ideas. Coconut has been vetoed, but I’m willing to take suggestions. What is the best cake you have ever had?

Pomegranate Molasses Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 stick butter, room temperature
3/4 c sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 c milk
3 T pomegranate molasses

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake rounds. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and well-mixed. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each mixing. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk to the butter-sugar-egg mixture. Add in the molasses and stir well.

Pour the batter into each cake round. Bake for ~35-40 minutes until cake is set. Cool completely before removing it from the pan and frosting.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

1 package of cream cheese
2 T vanilla extract (the good kind)
sugar to taste

In a large standing mixer, beat cream cheese at a high speed. Add in the sugar and vanilla extract gradually while continuing to beat. The frosting is done when when the ingredients are mixed well and the cream cheese is fluffy.

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From time to time I feel a little like Julie Powell of Julie & Julia. Just kidding, I hope I’m a little more endearing than she is. We watched this movie a few weeks ago and found her to be a little loopy and self-absorbed. I think she would agree. That said, from time to time, I do find myself fully engrossed in my blog, reading comments and brainstorming future posts while I should be hard at work at the very important work that my non-profit does. Now if only I worked at a dronish government agency, then I’d really get my blogging on…

But until then, enjoy these cookies! (As you know, I’m just a bit insecure about continuing to post cookie recipes well into the new year, but conveniently and rightly,  my last church fully celebrated all twelve days of Christmas.) That said, these are decidedly Christmas cookies, gooey rich chocolate treats with chewy little flecks of peppermint candy cane. They do expand quite a bit so keep that in mind when spacing them out on cookie sheets.

Chocolate Peppermint Puddle Cookies

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
3 T butter
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
6 T cocoa powder
2 t baking powder
1/3 c milk
2 candy canes, crushed

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a saucepan over simmering water or a double boiler, melt together chocolate and 3 T of butter. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in cooled chocolate mixture. On low speed, add half of flour mixture. Slowly pour in milk. Fold remaining flour mixture and crushed candy canes in. Place in refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. (This step hardens the dough to make it easier for shaping and to prevent excessive spreading while baking.)

Remove batter from refrigerator. Using a teaspoon and hands, roll dough into 1/2″ balls. (Caution: this may be messy!) Place on cookie sheets with 2″ between cookies and bake for 12 minutes. Cookies should still be a bit moist in the center so they retain softness. Place cookies on a rack to cool.

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Happy 2011!

Merry New Year everyone! We hope you all had a wonderful time with friends and family over the holiday season and are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to get back into the swing of things. We had a much-needed very restful time with friends and family all week and spent New Year’s Eve at a party with a small baby and no TV, counting down to 2011 using an iPhone rigged with Auld Lang Syne on command.

Our celebration was extra special because our friend Amy (bridesmaid, former roommate) came up from New York to spend Friday and Saturday with us.  She came stocked with cheese from the East Village Cheese Shop, which we brought to the party (two types of goat cheese, one with cranberries and cinnamon; two types of baked brie, with puff pastry this time; and camembert — it’s looking like 2011 is the year of the cheese). We spent our New Year’s Day walking through what remained of the snow at Edgewood Park, watching Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in “The Long, Hot Summer,” and talking and eating.  Lots of eating.  Eating lots of cheese (you saw the earlier parenthetical, right?).

Breakfast/brunch on New Year’s Day was an appetizer spread of lox and goat cheese on toasted carraway bread; savory ricotta potato cheesecake; and crunchy purple potatoes on the side. (Note: they are so so much more beautiful than 1. the picture shows and 2. other potatoes).  The cheesecake was a lot like a crust-less quiche made with ricotta instead of cream and far fewer eggs, but it’s really important that you call it a “savory cheesecake” and not anything else.  Really it should have been a zucchini cheesecake, but zucchini had been pricing in at well over $2/lb and so some lovely red potatoes at a much more reasonable price substituted well (and Amy’s from Texas; she likes potatoes better).

Writing about the food, I got ahead of myself: we had a great time with Amy this weekend.  As we were sending her off I thought that even though we hosted and fed her, it was definitely we who were most thankful for her visit.  It was yet another pleasant reminder of why we open up our house and feed our guests; our hospitality serves us as much as them.  So keep that in mind, people who are thinking about visiting New Haven!

That’s enough of a nod to our blog’s title; here’s how to make said savory cheesecake:

Savory Potato Ricotta Cheesecake

1 c potatoes, shredded
1 1/4 c ricotta
1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
zest of one lemon
1 large egg, well beaten
1 T dried thyme (fresh herbs are probably even better)
1/3 c goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 325F with the rack in the middle. Lightly butter a 9-inch pie pan or springform pan.

Combine the ricotta cheese, cheddar cheese, onions, garlic, thyme, and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Stir in the eggs and continue mixing until well combined. Stir in the shredded potato.

Fill the pie pan with the ricotta mixture. Bake for 45 minutes or until sides are firm and center is firming up and not jiggly. Sprinkle goat cheese on top and return to oven for another 15 minutes until goat cheese is melted and center is almost set.

I put this under the boiler for a minute or two to brown the top, but this is more an aesthetic step than a necessary one.

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