Monday, October 26, 2009

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

My last post involved pumpkin puree and so does tomorrow's, so I thought it was time to show you how I make the damn stuff. (Isn't that a gorgeous picture? Don't mind the clutter in the background; I thought I hid it well enough, but obviously not. Keeping it real, people.)

But why make your own puree when you can buy it, you might ask? Or at least I imagine you ask, otherwise I'm talking to myself. Well readers, I find over the last few years I prefer to make my own stuff rather than buy it canned; that way, I can control all the preservatives in it. And usually, it tastes better, too. For instance, did you know that canned pumpkin often doesn't even have much pumpkin in it? A lot of times it's more squash than anything. At least when I make my own, I know what's in it, I support my local farmers, and I save money. My wee pumpkin cost 60 cents a pound, and I got 5 cups of puree out of it, which is about 2-3 cans worth. $2 vs $6-$7? Even I can do that math.

Also, it is easy peasy to make. Seriously. First, and this is important - you need to buy the right pumpkin. Ask for a pie pumpkin (also known as sugar pumpkins, I think). They are smaller, sweeter, and are more suited for baking than your big jack-o-lantern pumpkins. Once that's done, prepare to roast it. Why roast? Well, there's less prep involved, and it results in much less wet puree (that's good, trust me). So throw that bugger in the oven, cook it til it's soft, and blend the hell out of it in the trusty food processor. C'est tout!


1. Get a pie pumpkin. Cut it in half and then scoop the guts out (save the seeds for roasting later if you like).

2. Cut your pieces in half again, and then place them on a baking sheet - there's very little mess, so you don't need to line your pan.

3. Place the pumpkin in a 350 degree oven, and roast 45 minutes or more until the pumpkin is good and soft.

4. Let it cool to where you can handle the pieces. Peel the skin off (it will come fairly easy), and then cut it into chunks. Throw it in the food processor. Blend until smooth, adding water sparingly as needed to get the right texture. Keep in the fridge for a couple of days, or freeze for later use.

For freezing: I usually measure out 1 cup, put it in a ziplock freezer bag, and lay it flat in the freezer. Two or three pumpkins should give you all the puree you need until next fall (depending on how much you use it, of course). But hey, I'm not magic, I'll let you figure that out. ;)

NOTE: You can boil the pumpkin as well, but from what I understand that results in a wetter puree that you may need to strain. If you don't have a food processor, though, you may want to use this option as the pumpkin will mash (or rice) easier.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

I have been on a pumpkin roll lately, and these bars are what took me from intrigued to LOVE. I saw them on Amy's Playing House, and they looked so good I knew I had to try them immediately. What's not to love - cheesecake AND chocolate? I'm there.

And here's why I have officially become a pumpkin convert: it has a very neutral taste, it gives your baked goods beautiful colour, and it replaces the fat in recipes without you even noticing. Plus pumpkin is super good for you! The good for you part wouldn't make me use it without the rest, but its nutritional benefit definitely tipped the scales. I love it so much I'm sure they'll find out in a few years that pumpkin causes systemic organ failure in short redheads or something, as it is rare at best that I luck out with foods I adore.

Anyway, Amy's recipe is super simple and so, so good. I made a few changes, the main one being that I didn't have pumpkin pie spice so I ended up winging it with nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. I went a little heavy on the nutmeg, so don't do that. I think allspice would be great in these, too. Also, Amy uses an Oreo crumb crust, and I ended up forgoing a crust entirely. I can't remember why; maybe I was out of butter, or I was tired, or the dishwasher was full and I didn't want to clean a bowl by hand, I'm really not sure. Knowing me, it was the latter.

One more thing: the chocolate part was SO delicious, I seriously had to exert every last fiber of my woefully weak willpower to keep from eating it all. I could have easily sat down and eaten the entire bowl of chocolate filling, rather than add it to the bars. Next time I think I'll double the chocolate filling part; it was just that good. These keep great in the fridge for days, and are perfect for freezing, too. Head on over to Amy's site for the complete recipe, and for the sake of your thighs, please share them!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TWD - Potato Biscuits (theoretically)

This week's TWD recipe was Sweet Potato Biscuits, chosen by Erin of Prudence Pennywise. And don't mine look perfect? The total epitome of what a biscuit is - nay, the template of the perfect biscuit? Oh try to make that good, people - I dare you. You won't come close, but hey, imitating perfection can only be beneficial.

In other words, these were a total flop. I don't know what I did wrong, but BOY something went wrong. First, I decided to use regular potatoes, so I boiled some up and mashed them. I did this A) I hate sweet potatoes, and B) the recipe called for canned potatoes, which is anathema to this Prince Edward Islander. We are the land of potatoes! I didn't even know you could buy them canned, and that's the truth.

Anyway, I decided to use some pumpkin as well, as one of the bakers did. I combined 1 cup of pumpkin with 2 cups of mashed taters, and I think that's where things went pear shaped. I tried to convince myself that they were puffy, but yeah, not so much. They were basically more like flatbread, and they were chewy, not flaky. I did use some the next day for an egg mcmuffin type thing, though, so they weren't a total loss.

See? There they are in all their glory! Or infamy, whichever. Slightly puffy, orangey little disks, wheeee go me! I might try these again sometime, this time with just pumpkin.Perhaps I will have to come to terms with not being able to make biscuits, but I'm not ready to accept defeat quite yet.

I think I'm in the minority of people who failed at this, so by all means check out the TWD website to see the blogroll of talented bakers. :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Red Lentil Soup

There is nothing better than a hot bowl of soup to warm you up in the cool days. This soup has a warm, spicy undertone, has a great texture, and is chock full of protein from the lentils. It's a quick soup to make, it uses minimal ingredients, and it freezes like a dream. Out of all the soups I make (Three! Three whole soups! Yay me!) it's my favourite - a rich, flavourful meal that's actually really good for you. Serve it with some nice, soft rolls, crusty bread, or if you really want to stay healthy, some nice crispy chapatis.

Let's talk about the curry paste for a minute. Some people are afraid of curry because it's A) too hot, or B) "I don't like curry." First of all, don't use that yellow curry powder stuff - it's just icky, in my opinion, and it's not very authentic. Curry paste is much better. I use Pataks, and it keeps in the fridge forever, basically. It has different heat levels, so get whichever one your tastebuds can stand. You really need the flavour curry paste imparts, so please give it a try before you dismiss it out of hand, okay? Trust me, I wouldn't steer you wrong!

It's so quick to make, this can easily be a weeknight meal. Now, the original recipe calls for whole spices that you toast and then grind. If you're familiar with my blog, you'll know that I'm lazy, so I can't be arsed with all that. Instead, I use a tip from an Indian friend: fry the spices in hot oil, and then fry the onions in that glorious spice infusion. Much less fussy, and you still get the nice flavour toasting brings out in the spices.

After that, add in some garlic and let it cook a minute or two (any longer and it will burn), then add a can of tomatoes and let that cook for about 10 minutes. Add the lentils and stock, and let cook until the lentils are good and soft, about 20 minutes or so. You can leave it whole, but I prefer to puree it with my trusty stick blender - I loves me my immersion blender!

NOTE: Aside from the spices, there's really only 5 major components to this dish, so choose them wisely. I use whole canned tomatoes, rather than diced, because I find they have more flavour. Also, I use my own stock for the same reason. If you're using canned stock, you might want to let it rest in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavours blend better.

adapted from NY Times

2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil
1 medium or large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
Salt to taste
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons hot curry paste
Cayenne to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juice
1 pound red lentils (about 2 1/8 cups), washed and picked over
2 quarts water/chicken stock
Juice of 1/2 lime
For garnish:
Chopped fresh cilantro
Thickened yogurt

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add spices, and let fry for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, and curry paste. Stir together for about a minute, until the garlic is fragrant, and stir in the tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly. Add more salt if necessary.

2. Stir in the lentils, water, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes or until the lentils have fallen apart and thickened the soup. Add the pepper, taste, and add cayenne if you want more spice. Taste and adjust salt. Stir in the lime juice.

3. If you wish, puree with an immersion blender. Heat through and serve, topping each bowl with a dollop of yogurt and a generous sprinkling of chopped cilantro.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Martha Stewart's Grammy's Chocolate Cookies

Say what you want about Martha Stewart, but the lady knows how to bake. I bought Martha Stewart's Cookies last year, and every recipe I've tried so far is fantastic. My favourite is the Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies, but I'm not sure when I'll be making them again since I'm quite certain I'd eat 'em all. Mmmmmmmm.

I needed a chocolate fix last weekend, so I pulled out trusty Martha and tried a new one. I halved the recipe, and it STILL made a lot. I wasn't super thrilled with them, but I think that's mainly due to the cocoa I used. The closest thing I had to Dutch process cocoa was Hershy's Special Dark blend, and I gotta tell ya - I'm not a fan. It tastes really dusky or something. Does that make sense? Probably not, but I don't like it. So I'll give these a try again, but this time with regular ol' Frys.

Overall, these are a really straight forward cookie to make, and they are nice and soft with out being crumbly. My co-worker remarked that they'd make great ice cream sandwiches, and I think she's absolutely right. I smeared them with a bit of peanut butter, and MMMMM that was nice, too! They're a seriously pretty cookie, too. Because my cocoa is so dark, once they were baked up in the rolled sugar they looked like stars against a night sky. How's that for some purple prose? Man, I really gotta get out of the city.


2 cups plus 2 tbsp flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
2 cups white sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
sanding sugar for rolling

1. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat to combine. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour mixture; beat to combine. Form dough into a flattened disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill until firm, about 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Shape dough into 1 1/4 inch balls. Roll each ball in sanding sugar. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until set, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer to a rack to cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies from baking sheet to wire rack. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Goat Cheese Cookies

My good friend gave me a jar of her red pepper jelly, and it looked so, so good - red, vibrant, bright! Like having a little jar full of Fall, right on my counter. And I knew I had to have something good to eat it with. My first thought was spreading it on a cracker with some goat cheese, but NATURALLY I didn't have any crackers. DAMMIT!

Then I remembered a recent episode of Top Chef that had me salivating. The chefs had to pair a specific drink with an appetizer, and one of the V brothers (they are both so delish I forget who is who and I don't even care, I'd take them both) paired an apple drink with a goat cheese cookie. AHA! Perfect for my jelly, thought I!

Unfortunately, not so much. In my mind it was a cracker, not a cookie, but really it is sweet. VERY sweet, actually. It was well received on Top Chef, but the other dish was much less sweet than for how I was using it. SO....keep that in mind when you make it. Perfect for something tart - in fact, I bet it'd be great with rhubarb or something like that. But not with something else sweet.

Anyway, it was super easy to make. Cream together goat cheese and sugar, then mix in some flour and egg whites. Spread it on a cookie sheet, top with sea salt, pepper, and sesame seeds, and bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. It took me less than 5 minutes to make, and it was easy to spread. I put it on a silicone sheet so I wouldn't have to arse around with clean-up...I hates me the clean up.

After about 25 minutes, it looked like so:

See how nice and brown it is around the edges? That was my favourite part, as I preferred the crispy texture. Next time I'll spread it thinner. It really doesn't puff up, since there's no rising agent.

Ah well, it wasn't what I thought it would be, but it's always good to try something new!


1 cup goat cheese
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
3 egg whites
sea salt
cracked black pepper
sesame seeds

1. Cream together goat cheese and sugar. Stir in flour and egg whites until smooth.

2. Thinly spread on a silicone sheet or parchment paper, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and seeds. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or so, depending on how thick it is. Colour should be golden brown when done.

3. Break or cut into desired shapes and serve either warm or cold.

NOTE: I found this recipe extremely sweet; I would recommend cutting the sugar in half.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

TWD - Split Level Pudding

Look, let's get this out of the way - this picture is terrible, I know. It's October and it rained for a week. This picture was actually taken on one of the brightest days, if you can believe it! Many bloggers can compensate for poor natural lighting conditions, but tragically I am not one of those people. Such is life, eh?

Anyway, this week's TWD recipe was Split Level Pudding, chosen by Garrett of Flavor of Vanilla (his pictures look really pretty!). It's really quite simple - add some chocolate ganache to a dish, top it with a simple, tasty vanilla pudding. Voila, that's it! I added cinnamon to mine, but I think next time I'd leave it out. Chilled cinnamon is not so tasty, sadly. The ganache was killer, though.

Things I learned:

1. Dorie uses the food processor for all the mixing in this recipe. I made 1/3rd of her recipe, and the blades didn't even touch the ingredients so I just used my whisk. The whisk was so easy to use and the pudding turned out perfectly; I don't think I'd bother dirtying the processor even if I made a full batch.

2. I LOVED the cinnamon when the pudding was still hot, but not so much when it was thoroughly chilled. I agree with Garrett, this pudding is fantastic while hot.

3. If you want to serve it cold, make sure it is chilled for at LEAST 4 hours, as Dorie suggests. I couldn't wait that long, and I have to admit the first pudding I ate wasn't as good as the one that was good and cold.

Next week's TWD recipe is Spice Crumb Muffins, and I can't WAIT. Perfect fall dessert, eh?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mom's Sweet and Sour Sauce

People, I am on a ROLL. Two posts in consecutive days! Special! I'm sitting here at home in the pouring rain, bored silly, foot to sore to go anywhere, so naturally the cooking impulse has taken me. On a cold, dreary day like today, I decided I'd whip up a batch of my mom's sweet and sour sauce.

This sauce is soooo good I cook something as an excuse to slather it on. Mom always cooks ribs in this sauce - so rich and tangy and flavourful. It's great for meatballs, too. Mainly, though, I have a jar of this stuff in the fridge at all times; just a spoonful will add a big flavour punch to most everything - sloppy joes, spaghetti sauce, goulash, even tomato soup.

It is ridiculously easy to make, too. Mix together some ketchup, vinegar, sugar, garlic powder and ginger, simmer it for about 20 minutes, and then thicken it with a bit of cornstarch and soy sauce. Pour it in a bottle and store it in the fridge for weeks. Simple, cheap, and better than any store bought sauce, that's for sure.


1 cup white sugar
1 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water (optional, depends on how thick you want the sauce)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
garlic powder to taste (I use about 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch

1. Add first 7 ingredients to a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes.

2. Mix together soy sauce and cornstarch. Add some of the hot liquid as needed to make a paste, then stir into sauce. Cook until thickened (should happen almost immediately).

3. Bottle and enjoy!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ruby's Mustard Pickles

I love, love, love Autumn. It's the perfect time of year for me - not too hot, not too cold, not as busy as summer, not as dreary as winter. I think the landscape is at its most gorgeous now, too. The first hard frost has hit, so all the low bushes have turned a deep red. And all the trees are starting to come out in their glory. You'd think we like our scenery best in Spring, during its rebirth, but no - it is in the height of nature's maturity when its beauty is paramount. Maybe we should remember that next time we see a white hair; we're not getting old, we're maturing! I'll try to remember that when my hair is snow white. ;)

Anyway, back to the frivolities. I'm most active in cooking in the Fall. Usually it's been too damn hot to cook anything elaborate in the summer, so now I make up for lost time. Also, it seems as though everything in the garden is ready at once, and you can't let it go preserves it is!

See that? That ain't no hothouse cuke - that monster is home grown, for sure. You try eating a garden full of these bohemeths before they go bad - can't be done! Enter mustard pickles, my favourite of all. I remember eating them since I was wee, and that gorgeous smell of pickles simmering is indelibly linked with Fall. And now I'm going to share my family recipe with you! (For those of you wondering, Ruby is my auntie. The recipe is hers.)

It's pretty easy, actually. Finely dice your cucumbers, red peppers, and onions. Add salt and water, and let sit 2-3 hours (or if you're lazy like me, overnight). Drain and rinse a couple of times, and then get your sauce ready.

There they are, all ready to go. I used the food processor for the onions, but don't use it for the cukes or peppers - it'll chop them into mush. I used 7 of those giant cukes pictured above, and it filled my biggest stock pot 2/3rds full. It's times like these I wish I had a minion or two.

Next, you make the sauce. It's simple, too - add a bunch of dry ingredients, including dry mustard, flour, and sugar - to a pot, dump in some vinegar, and let simmer until it thickens.

Combine the sauce with the pickles. Mmmmmmm. Just looking at it I can remember how good the entire house smelled. Keep these bad boys hot for at least 30 minutes, and then bottle them all while still hot - the jars will seal themselves that way. If you want to go through the whole canning procedure, knock yourself out, but my Mom never does and neither do I. And we're all still alive, so there.

I got 16 jars out of this batch, which is enough for me and enough for presents. If you don't have a lot of pickles or have a lot you want to give away, get the little decorative jars. That way, you still look generous and wow people with your mad picklin' skillz, but above all it's still more for you. ;)

Ruby's Mustard Pickles

4-6 cucumbers, seeded and diced
3 red peppers, diced
4-6 medium onions, diced
1 cauliflower (optional)*
1/2 - 3/4 cup table salt**


3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 - 2 tsp celery seed
4 cups vinegar
4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup dry mustard
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp tumeric

This recipe will make around 8 jars, 2 cups each. Doubling or tripling works well, as long as you have a big enough pot.

1. Dice all your veggies and place them in a large pot. Do not use a food processor for either cukes or peppers.

2. Add salt to the veggies, and add enough water to cover them. Let stand 2-3 hours.

3. Drain veggies and rinse well, 2-3 times. If you skip the rinsing step, they will be too salty. Set pot aside while you make the sauce.

4. To make the sauce, add all dry ingredients to a large pot. Add vinegar in two stages, stirring well after each addition. If your sauce has any lumps, simply use an immersion blender or a hand mixer to beat them out. Everything should come out smooth, though, as it heats up.

5. Cook the sauce on low medium heat until it thickens, stirring occasionally. This may take as much as 30 minutes, so don't be alarmed if it doesn't thicken right away. Once it begins, the thickening process will happen quickly, so don't leave it unattended at this point.

6. Add sauce to veggies, and keep the whole pot hot on low heat for at least 30 minutes. Immediately fill clean jars with the hot pickles; they will seal themselves. If any jars don't seal, simply eat them first!

*My mom always puts cauliflower in her pickles, but I personally believe cauliflower ruins everything it touches. Feel free to use it if you want.

**Use the lesser amount of salt if you omit the cauliflower.

And once you're done, enjoy staging them in weird poses for your blog. WEEEEEEEEEEEEE!