Sunday, November 23, 2008


As mentioned in the previous pumpkin post, I made a big batch of chili and an even bigger batch of minestrone to feed the hungry pumpkin carvers and satisfy both the carnivores and herbivores at my table.

I've only made this minestrone soup once before for a college potluck and I don't know why I didn't revisit it sooner, as it is super tasty and perfect in these chill November evenings. Canned tomatoes, dried herbs, vegetable broth, a couple of potatoes, orzo, all affordable and easy to work with ingredients that result in a wonderfully full-bodied vegetarian soup.

adapted from a recipe found on the internet many many moons ago. thank you internet!
Serves 4 -5

1 small onion, very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, diced (I omitted this)
1 teaspoon olive oil
14oz can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1⁄2 teaspoons dried basil
pinch dried rosemary
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
6oz diced mixed root veggies (I used potatoes and carrots)
3 cups vegetable stock
1 1⁄2 oz tiny pasta shapes (I used orzo in this batch, but used ditalini in the past)
2oz cooked chickpeas (canned is fine)

1) Put the onion, garlic and celery in a pan with the olive oil and sauté for about 5 minutes.
2) Add a little cornstarch, stir and cook for a minute or two.
3) Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs, root vegetables, water and stock.
4) Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes.
5) Season to taste, add the pasta and chick peas and simmer until pasta is tender, about 8 - 10 minutes more.
6) Add a little water if the soup is too thick. Serve hot.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pumpkin (Pie) Party!

So let's travel back in time a bit to a week before Halloween, when Sister Heart and her roomies came over for a pumpkin carving party! When Sister Heart and I initially discussed this, she said "We can carve pumpkins and bake pumpkin things!"
"Like what?" says I, "I have never baked with pumpkin."
"Erm, I don't know," she says, "Pumpkin... pumpkin?"

I don't think you can get more pumpkin pumpkin than pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin puree. Having never even tasted pumpkin pie before, not to mention never having baked with pumpkin, and my constant reminder to you all that I am kind of scared of baking, I was somewhat apprehensive, but this turned out AMAZING. Even after being stuffed from eating chili and minestrone, we managed to fit large slices of this pie (and heaping spoonfuls of fresh whipped cream) into that second belly that we all have that is reserved for dessert.

Note: The pumpkin purée does take about an hour and a half to prepare, so I just did this earlier in the day and then refrigerated the purée until we baked the pie after dinner. It made a bit more than I needed, so my pie was almost over flowing, but it was delicious anyway. I also used store bought pie dough (I feel no shame) but I would encourage you to use your own homemade variety, if you are so inclined. I bet you could easily get away with subsituting canned pumpkin in this pie as well.

Pumpkin Pie
from The Joy of Cooking with slight mods.
1 9" pie

1 unbaked pie dough (I used Pillsbury)
2 large eggs
2 cups cooked pumpkin purée (see recipe below)
1 1/2 heavy cream or evaporated milk (I used a can of evaporated milk and the rest in cream)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt

1) Position rack in center of the oven. Preheat to 425ºF.
2) Building up a fluted rim, line a 9-inch pie pan with the pie dough.
3) In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk thoroughly.
4) Warm the pie dough in the oven until hot to the touch, leaving the filling at room temperature. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the crust and bake 35 -45 minutes, until firm. Cool complete on a rac. Pie can be refridgerated up to 1 day. Serve cold or at room temperature with fresh whipped cream.

Pumpkin Purée
from The Joy of Cooking
a little over 2 cups

1 small sugar pumpkin, ~ 3lbs

1) Preheat oven to 325ºF.
2) Wash and split the pumpkin into quarters with a cleaver or heavy knife. Cut out steam and scrape out stringy pulp and seeds. Cut each quarter down into 4-inch pieces.
3) Place pumpkin rind side down on an oiled cookie sheet and cover tightly with foil. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours until very soft.
4) Remove from oven and allow to cool until cool enough to handle. Scrape flesh free of the rind and purée in a food processor.
**Note: If the purée seems too loose and wet, you can allow it to strain through a cheesecloth for 30 -60 minutes. I didn't need to do this.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Corn Muffins

Last fall, at the my place of employment (which shall herein be known as The Workplace), I initiated something I like to call Taste of The Workplace. It's an opportunity for anyone who wants to to bring in a tasty dish or baked good to share with others, potluck style. It is also combined with a food drive and recipe swap. What a great way to get all the coworkers sitting down to eat and chat together and spread good will at the same time!

In the past I have done spinach and artichoke dip and apple bread (two recipes which I am shocked to discover I have yet to share with you all... I will remedy that eventually). I tend to shy away from desserts because I get the sense that people often bring desserts to these things, since tasty baked sweets lend themselves to this style of potluck better. So I decided on corn muffins which can be sweet (I served them up with butter and Trappist strawberry jam) or savory (there was supposed to be chili at the event, which would have been the perfect duo, but alas, that fell through). They seemed to be a big hit.

I'll admit that despite starting this tradition, I don't feel like appetizers/baked goods/side dishes/snacks are really my forte, so I am never completely satisfied with my contributions to these events. I'll have to leave my thinking cap on.

The honey addition to these was inspired by this fabulous corn bread we would get at a restaurant called Red Star in Pittsburgh. They'd bring the cornbread out to you in a hot cast-iron skillet. It would be topped with a crisp sugar-honey crust and was generally moist and delicious. That is what I think corn bread/muffins should be like. Did these live up to the memory? Not quite, but they were still very tasty. Alas, I think Red Star has since updated their menu and the corn bread has disappeared. Let us have a moment of silence and a corn muffin in it's memory.

Corn Muffins

from The New Best Recipe
Makes 12 muffins

2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup fine stone-ground, yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp table salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
8 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
honey (my addition!)

1) Preheat oven to 400F. Spray muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
2) Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl to combine; set aside.
3) Whisk eggs in a second medium bowl until well combined and light colored, about 20 seconds. Add sugar to eggs; whisk vigorously until thick and homogeneous, about 30 seconds; add melted butter in 3 additions, whisking to combine after each addition.
4) Add half the sour cream and half the milk and whisk to combine; whisk in remaining sour cream and milk until combined.
5) Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients; mix gently with a rubber spatula until batter is just combined and evenly moistened. Do not over mix! Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, divide batter evenly among muffin cups, dropping it to form mounds (do not level or flatten surface of mounds).
5) Bake until muffins are light golden brown and a skewer inserted into center of muffins comes out clean, about 18 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Remove muffins from oven. While still warm, drizzle about a teaspoon of honey over each muffin. Cool muffins in tin 5 minutes; cool 5 minutes longer on a cookie rack, then serve warm.