Posts Tagged ‘Fall’

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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Fall is upon us here in Connecticut, and we are entering into the most magical time of year in the Nutmeg State. This weekend, Greg and I took a long drive on our way to the annual Celtic Festival in Hartford, and the display of foliage was just spectacular.  The Celtic Festival featured a  “weight over bar” event in the Highland Games and samples of traditional Welsh cookies.  If the two namesake festivals are any indication, we learned that Celtic and Asian cultures differ tremendously.

We have a surfeit of overripe bananas on our counter these days, and smittenkitchen just posted a new “crackly” banana bread recipe a few days ago. Though I have my long-standing go-to banana bread recipe, the raw millet added in this version caught my fancy. Millet is one of the staple grains around the world, but in the U.S. is primarily used as birdseed. The protein content of millet is roughly equivalent to that of wheat four, and it has a nice fluffy texture that is similar to that of couscous.

I made a number of adjustments to the smittenkitchen version of this recipe. First, I eliminated all additional sugars. The recipe called for brown sugar and maple syrup, but bananas are really sweet enough on their own. Additionally, after seeing this horrifying infograph recently, I decided we don’t really need to contribute to our lifetime intake of processed sugar.

The other big adjustment is that in place of whole wheat flour, I used a homemade almond-oat flour.Wheat flour is delicious and inexpensive, but we’ve found that almond-oat flour just adds a nice touch of extra flavor and nutrients. 1 part almonds, 2 part oats — grind it up in a food processor or Magic Bullet or blender, until it is finely ground. A few small chunks of almonds may remain, and for most baking purposes, a bit of extra crunch is nice.

Our version also is a bit more heavily spiced than smittenkitchen’s. I can also envision this being delicious with some ground cardamom or dark chocolate chunks. Enjoy!

Crackly Banana Bread (original from Smitten Kitchen)

3 large ripe-to-over-ripe bananas
1 large egg
1/3 cup melted butter or oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
1 teaspoon freshly ground allspice
1 1/2 cups almond-oat flour
1/4 cup uncooked millet

Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In the bottom of a large bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon until virtually smooth but a few tiny lumps remain. Whisk in egg, then oil, brown sugar and syrup. Sprinkle baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves over mixture and stir until combined. Stir in flour until just combined, then millet.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool loaf in pan on rack.

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Based on the title of this post one might gather that this post will be about squash. One would be wrong. Squash Fest is a tradition now executed for the second year. The first year was fairly impressive — sweet dumplings, carnivals, acorns, butternut, and two pumpkins in which were carved “Squash Fest 2009”. It was pretty incredible. This second year we fell a bit short. We purchased a spaghetti squash but were wholly uninspired. We did make a pretty excellent curried butternut squash soup. Acorn squash wedges made an appearance as did garlicky greens and some mushroom risotto. The real star of the night, however, was a chewy sticky dark chocolate beet bundt cake.

I have to be honest, it wasn’t the most beautiful of cakes and certainly should have been spruced up with some confectioner’s sugar or something, but we were in too much of a rush to try it that presentation became secondary.

Vegan Chocolate Beet Cake

1/2 c oil
1 1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
2 c sliced beets
1/2 c semisweet chocolate, chopped and melted
1 t vanilla extract
2 c flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 375F, and lightly oil a Bundt pan.

Cream together oil and sugar. Add beets, chocolate, and vanilla. Mix well. Add dry ingredients to wet beet mixture, and stir until just combined.

Pour into prepared Bundt pan, and bake for 45 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Cool completely before turning out.

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Taste the rainbow

Wow, talk about commercials that stick. These days whenever I go out running through the great wilderness of Edgewood Park and see something natural and brightly colored like a tree, I have visions of leprechauns skipping through the forest to the pot of Skittles at the end of the rainbow. Late fall is hitting full force these days with remnants of foliage scattered on and trampled over the sidewalks and overnight freeze warnings daily, but in between now and winter, we have a Thanksgiving trip to Miami planned and a bit more color to enjoy.

This is the bread recipe we’ve come to know and love. For the hike up Sleeping Giant we did this weekend, we made a simple version, with just some dried rosemary and black pepper sprinkled in. However, this recipe is endlessly adaptable. Usually we use a 2 to 1.5 ratio of whole-wheat to all-purpose flour, but we’ve sometimes substituted some portion of quinoa flour or oat flour (quinoa or oats ground in a Magic Bullet or food processor), straight-up oats, or spelt flour. This bread is also incredible with some very thinly sliced caramelized onions or chopped pitted olives thrown in, or any variety of spices and herbs (cinnamon and brown sugar, thyme, oregano and basil and black pepper). I also like nutty-seedy breads and so will use sunflower seeds, chopped hazelnuts or walnuts, currants or raisins or dried cranberries. The key is to make sure that all of these add-ins are properly kneaded into the dough.

Also, here’s the pep talk: Homemade bread is super easy, significantly cheaper, and far healthier than store-bought varieties! I challenge you to find store-bought bread that combines all three of these characteristics. As far as I can tell, there is no reason to ever buy bread again. Don’t be alarmed by the length of this recipe as I will go a bit overboard with interesting information. The actual recipe portion is simple: combine ingredients, wait, shape, wait, bake, eat.

Go-To Yeast Bread

2 T active dry yeast
1 pinch of sugar
1 1/2 c warm water (~70F)
3 1/2 c flour
1 T salt

Stir active dry yeast into 1/4 c water with a pinch of sugar. Active yeast feeds on sugar and produces carbon dioxide in the process, so a pinch of sugar intially helps to activate it. (During the rising process, the yeast eats the sugars in the flour and leaves behind stretchy, spider-webby holes in the dough.) Set aside until creamy and foamy. This process is called proofing.

(I’ve heard proofing is not really necessary. In fact, if you use instant yeast, it is definitely unnecessary. Historically proofing was used to test whether the yeast is still alive, but yeast today is far more reliable so this step can be skipped. However, I’ve also noticed that when the yeast is actively foaming away before being added to the flour, the dough seems to rise faster.)

Combine flours and salt in KitchenAid stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Pour the proofed yeast with 1/4 cup of water into the mixing bowl and begin to mix on low-speed (2 or4). Slowly add more water while mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a shiny ball around the hook.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in a warm draft-free place. The dough should rise for at least two hours, but the longer the rising time, up to 24 hours, the more work the yeast can do, leading to a chewier crumb (the non-crust part of the bread).

After rising, remove dough from bowl, turn out onto a floured surface, punch down, and shape. If the dough is too wet to shape, add flour one tablespoon at a time. (We usually shape this into a boule, but for sandwiches this week,  we shaped this into an oblong loaf.) Once shaped, cover with plastic wrap or a cotton towel and let rise again for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 425F with a pizza stone or cast iron Dutch oven in the oven. Alternatively, you can bake the bread on a cookie sheet, which does not yield as crisp of a crust as either a pizza stone or Dutch oven. The Dutch oven is our preferred method because it resembles the steam-injected ovens used in professional bread baking. In a pre-heated, moist, enclosed contraption like this, the crust can develop with plenty of steam. Once uncovered, a half-hour later, the crust has time to harden and brown.

When the oven is preheated, carefully remove the pizza stone or Dutch oven from the hot oven. If using a pizza stone, slide the dough onto the pizza stone, being careful to maintain its shape. Slash the top of the dough with a few diagonal slashes. This helps the steam in the bread to escape. If using a Dutch oven, regardless of how the dough falls into the pot, it will eventually straighten itself out into a ruggedly attractive artisan loaf. (If using a Dutch oven, be sure to remove the lid a half hour later.)

Bake for 25 minutes at 425F. Then reduce the temperature to 375F and continue baking for another 15 or 20 minutes until the bread is hollow when tapped.

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As Greg alluded to, we had quite a feast Sunday evening. In lieu of candy corn and cheap chocolate this Halloween (though we had plenty of both at the Silvas’ Halloween party on Saturday!), we made oven-roasted ribs (see post below), cranberry barbecue sauce, garlicky-green mashed ptatoes, and a cranberry-apple shortbread pie for dinner Sunday night. It wasn’t quite a celebration for Halloween, but more a celebration of Thanksgiving feasts to come, the season of fall, and cancelled classes this Saturday. Maybe also a celebration of marriage and of life, as both have been wonderfully delightful lately.

This was quite an undertaking involving 4+ hours of cooking, so you should only embark on this adventure if you’re truly prepared. But if you are prepared with an uninterrupted block of time stretching ahead of you, definitely do give these recipes a try, as the results are truly phenomenal.

Cranberry Barbecue Glaze

The key to getting this right is salting heavily. Without sufficient salt, this will taste quite like a standard cranberry sauce, which is fine, but our vison (actualized) was more for a tangy, savory, spicy barbecue sauce.

1 T canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 c fresh cranberries
1/4 c orange juice
2 T lemon juice (can be substituted with distilled white vinegar)
2 1/4 c water
2 chopped dried Guajillo chiles, stems removed (can be substituted with other dried chiles)

Sautee onions and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly charred. Stir in cranberries, juices, water, and chiles. Bring to a boil, then simmer on medium heat until sauce reduced by half. Stir often. The cranberries will begin to pop lightly. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Cranberry-Apple Shortbread Pie

Remember the shortbread cookies with caramelized pumpkin glaze I made the other day? Well, you may have deduced that I did in fact freeze half of the shortbread cookie dough in my freezer, without much of a vision until the Costco sized bag of fresh cranberries arrived the other day. Inspiration beckoned, and a lovely, holiday-rrific cranberry apple shortbread pie was born. (If you’re without a leftover log of dough, other pie crusts are also acceptable, and I’d also be interested in seeing this made with a two-crust pie.)

1 shortbread pie crust (or half of the shortbread cookie recipe)
2 T flour
1 c brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
1/2 T ground ginger
4 Ginger Gold apples, cored and diced
1 1/2 c fresh cranberries
2 T lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 300F. Bring the plastic-wrapped shortbread dough to room temperature or until malleable. (I defrosted it on the oven while the ribs were cooking.) Turn out into a 9″ pie pan. Press dough into pie pan until bottom and sides are covered. Bake at 300F for 30 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Combine flour, sugar, spices, apples, cranberries, and lemon juice. Pile high into cooled shortbread pie crust. Bake for 45 minutes until apples are softened but still retain their shape. The sugar will have caramelized into a light crisp on the apples.

Serve at room temperature (with spoons).

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While at Costco this past Saturday, my wife asked me, “Why don’t we ever buy ribs?” and I answered, “Because we never cook ribs.”  “But I love ribs!” she exclaimed.  I had no idea!  I always thought that we didn’t cook ribs because she didn’t like ribs.  And I realized my error.  And repented.  So we bought a Costco sized portion of two racks of pork spareribs.

Few things in life are as good as barbecued spareribs, slow-cooked for hours to smokey goodness.  But we’re still sans grill, and I always figured there was no cooking method that could do ribs justice so I never even bothered (plus, I thought she didn’t like ribs, remember?).  Well, I was wrong for so long about so many things.  We decided to give oven-roasting a shot.

I’ve realized that one of my favorite things to do is to slow cook a piece of meat for hours on end (beef short ribs have been the favorite for some time now).  Maybe it’s the satisfaction of knowing that the best things in life are not rushed and that trying to speed up success can often ruin it–these ribs were no different.  We let them “marinate” dry-rubbed for two hours and then cooked them for just over three hours.  And I’m worried the barbecue gods are going to strike me down when I say this: I honestly don’t know that they would have been that much better done properly over a smoldering log of hickory.  Well, maybe just a little better.

Dry rub:  I’ve got a chili powder spice mix with just about everything I use in a rub (paprika, salt, coriander, oregano, garlic, cayenne, cumin) to which I added more cumin and red chili pepper flakes.  I used about 1/2 a cup of rub for a rack of ribs, with more than 2/3 of that going toward the meaty side.  Let sit for at least an hour, but more is better.  Some people will also add sugar (brown or white) to their rubs, but since sugar can burn (a low risk cooking in a low-temperature oven, of course) and since we were going to slather them with a sweet and tangy sauce at the end, I left it out (I always leave it out).

Heat oven to 300 F.  Place ribs on a roasting rack in a roasting pan (so that there is room below the ribs for the drippings–we’re roasting, not frying) and slide in the oven.  They’ll be done about 3 hours later.  There’s no rush; at that temperature it’s hard to dry them out and the longer you wait, the more fat that will render and the more tender they’ll be.  When they’re done, remove from the oven, cover generously with sauce (forthcoming) and put under the broiler for 5-10 minutes but do not overcook or the sauce will burn!  Let the ribs rest before you cut them apart. Eat with your hands.

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Verily, it is NOT October 27th but October 26th!
I’m only mildly ashamed that I missed this glorious holiday because I do in fact spend all month — including last night — celebrating pumpkins. Yes, October is a month-long rendezvous with pumpkins, and I’m apt to daydream about and dally with pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin breads, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cakes (and pumpkin scones soon on the horizon). Even so, National Pumpkin Day is certainly worthy of its very own special treat!
Cinnamon Shortbread with Caramel Pumpkin Glaze
1 c butter (softened)
1/2 c brown sugar
1 egg yolk
2 c flour (1/2 whole wheat)
1/2 T Saigon cinnamon
1/2 T vanilla extract
Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla, and beat until combined. (At this point, the dough can be shaped into a 1″ log and frozen for up to a week. When ready to bake, cut log into 1/4″ segments.)
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Divide the dough into two halves for easier handling. Shape the dough into a ball and flatten to 1/4″. Using a cookie cutter, cut out cookies from the dough. Place cookies on well-greased baking sheet or Silpat. Make thumb-print indentations for the caramel pumpkin glaze (see below). Spread glaze into indentations (a bit of overflow is fine). Chill for 30 minutes before baking. Alternatively, shape the dough into a 1″ log as above, chill the dough, then cut into cookie segments.
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Bake for 30 minutes until shortbread is lightly bronwed and tender.
1/4 c butter
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c cream (can substitute with milk)
1/4 c pumpkin
Melt butter in saucepan on medium heat until browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir in sugar and continue stirring until well combined and caramelized. Turn heat to low, and add cream and pumpkin. Stir until well combined; the mixture will bubble. Remove from heat, and refrigerate to harden.

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