Saturday, October 31, 2009

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Happy Halloween! Earlier this week Brett and I cut into our pumpkins to make our jack-o-lanterns. I love the smell of pumpkin innards; it reminds me of childhood. Pulling the innards out feels so gross, but I love it too. This year, instead of throwing everything away, we made sure to separate the seeds from the guts for a tasty treat.

I washed them off as best I could and then let them dry on wax paper overnight.

I hadn't had roasted pumpkin seeds since I was a little girl, but I distinctly remember liking them. I asked my mom how she prepared them and she said just butter and salt. I looked online and discovered many recipes used either butter or canola oil and salt. So simple! After a little more searching, I found this recipe on It had worcestershire sauce, garlic salt, salt, and butter. I was sold. We decided to make two different batches- one classically seasoned with canola oil and salt, and another spiced up a bit.

After stirring all the ingredients in a bowl, I poured the seeds out onto a cookie sheet and spread them out a little bit. For the classically seasoned ones I stirred the olive oil into the measuring cup of pumpkin seeds and then sprinkled the salt on after I had spread them out on a separate cookie sheet. It seemed easier that way.

They went into a warm 275 degree oven for an hour. I stirred them once, halfway through.

Once cooked, I spread them out on paper towels to let them cool for a short while.

Both varieties were delicious! It is hard for me to choose a favorite!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweet Potato Casserole

I like to believe that everyone who plans the meals for the week gets into ruts every once in a while. Ruts are ok, however, you have to prepare yourself for the inevitable: one day you will be sick of it. This has happened with chili chip casserole (which we ate two nights a week every other week for a very long time) and nacho french bread pizza (which we ate every Monday for a very long time.) Right now my rut is the fresh baked chickens in the grocery store (I used to call them rotisserie chickens, but I don't think they are actually cooked on a rotisserie.) I know that it is very easy to roast a chicken. I have done it once before. But I have compared prices and it is actually cheaper to let the grocery store cook it for you, plus you don't have to do anything! The thing that I'm hoping will help sustain this rut is that I can pair it with different side dishes and use the leftovers for various chicken dishes.

This week the accompanying side dish was a family favorite: Sweet Potato Casserole. It is a dish that I eat about once a year on Thanksgiving. I don't understand why we do that to ourselves! If we like it so much, we should make it more often. So I did.

I planned to half the recipe, but I could not find a smaller can of sweet potatoes; apparently 40 oz is standard. Here is the recipe.

1 40 oz can sweet potatoes
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup pet milk (I use regular)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

In a microwave proof bowl, heat the drained sweet potatoes

In a large electric mixing bowl, combine sweet potatoes with butter.

Mix until butter is melted, then add sugar, milk, eggs, and vanilla.

Pour into large baking dish. I used a large Corningware, but next time I will use a 9x13 pan because it took much longer than 45 minutes to cook through in the center, plus there will be more marshmallow surface area ;)

Cook in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes, or until center is firm and not liquidy. Top with a layer of miniature marshmallows and continue to cook until marshmallows are lightly browned.

Believe it or not, but this is a picture of the final dish AFTER the marshmallows de-poofed a little bit. They really go nuts after just 5 minutes in the oven so don't forget about them.

This side dish probably should be labeled as a dessert, but it's Halloween week and we're supposed to eat too much sugar right?!

* I was wondering about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams so I thought you might be too. True yams are native to Asia and Africa. A North American variety of sweet potato is orange like a yam and marketed as a yam even though it is not one. I always thought I bought canned yams for this recipe, but the label says both "sweet potatoes" and "yams" on it. Silly marketing people- no wonder we're confused. I love Wikipedia. *

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It Must've Been Something I Ate

My first visit to the local library since becoming a MA resident was quite fruitful! I went upstairs to peruse the HUGE aisle of food/cooking books and almost immediately found It Must've Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten. Some of you may remember that I loved his first book The Man Who Ate Everything.

While the first book was laugh out loud hilarious and very endearing, the second book was, like most sequels, not as good. I did chuckle a few times and smiled when he teased himself about seasickness or being over-obsessive. I felt like this book was less accessible to the common-folk. I learned more than I ever cared to know about caviar and unpasteurized fancy cheese. Multiple chapters about Paris and New York (one of which I skipped entirely) just could not hold my interest. There were, however, several chapters centered around San Diego. I lived there for ten years and did not know about the bluefin tuna industry, sea urchin roe, or The Vegetable Shop.

I felt a little like Mr. Steingarten was ridiculing me for liking Kraft parmesan cheese ("The powdered Parmesan in those green canisters in the supermarket is a salty, dry, repellent condiment that should not be called Parmesan.") but it's not like I'm deluding myself into thinking that it's authentic Parmagiano! So what if I put it on my pasta almost every day! He would probably insist that I throw my green canister away and buy a chunk of the real stuff immediately. Maybe I will... someday :)

One of the funniest parts was about a woman pulling the parmesan cheese curls off of her salad. I laughed because not too long before I read that part, I had been in a restaurant scraping my salad bowl with my fork trying to pick up the last bits of cheese. Brett ended up getting them out with his finger.

Now that I'm a New Englander, I paid extra close attention to the chapter on Lobster Rolls. Neither Brett nor I have ever had one. We are not huge fans of lobster. I am not a huge fan of mayo. And Brett is not a huge fan of celery. All of these things are common ingredients in lobster rolls. And yet we are still curious about trying one. According to the book, right now would be a good time to get one, so I have already started reading reviews to find a suitable place. However, we'll probably end up getting one down the street at Panera Bread- is that wrong? I'm sure Mr. Steingarten would unequivocally say, "Yes!"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Baked Apples Side Dish

My mom is a wonderful cook. When I think back on dinnertime growing up, she really had a lot of great meals in her repertoire. We never had microwave dinners. But we did have one microwave side dish that has stuck with me over the years: Stouffer's Scalloped Apples.

With all of the apples in our fridge, I decided that we should bake some more, so I set out to find a suitable recipe that resembled Stouffer's.

I used two Mutsu apples (I changed the portions of the recipe drastically) brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. You can tell from the picture that I greatly underestimated the necessary bowl size. Brett teased while I tried to stir and not spill, which was near impossible. I put it in a baking dish, covered it, and put it in the oven. I did periodically stir it, but other than that it was pretty low maintenance.

The finished product smelled wonderful. I made a point of making sure that Brett knew that it was a side dish and not dessert, but apparently I was the one who needed warning. It was not sweet enough for me, so I added an extra sprinkling of brown sugar, which reminded me that my mom always added a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar to the top of the Stouffer's version.

This side dish was ok. Not bad, but not amazing either. Just ok.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I read several blogs regularly and always see recipes that sound good, but rarely do I actually get around to making them. Well this is one of those rare times. Marielle at La Petite Chef is one of those bloggers who always posts a recipe, and I was so thankful for that when she posted about her Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies. I knew that I had to make them sometime this fall.

When Brett jokingly asked me, "What's for dessert?" when there obviously was not anything for dessert, I figured that it was time to whip up these cookies.

The Massachusetts debut of my KitchenAid mixer went wonderfully. I welcomed her to her new home and then put her to work mixing the wet ingredients: butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and pumpkin puree.

I mixed the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. I swear I spun my spice rack around ten times looking for ground cloves before they finally decided to show themselves. I was already devising a way to grind up whole cloves- which I'm sure would have been a disaster. These are all the spices I love. Every one of them.

Then I slowly added the dry ingredients into the wet ones. Oh my gosh. This cookie dough was awesome. As I stood there licking the beater (after I had wiped it off of course) I couldn't help but make "mmmmm" noises. It is personal blasphemy for me to say this, but I think this batter is better than my pumpkin pie.

I made the first batch of cookies without chocolate chips, because Brett claims he hates chocolate (even though he will eat brownies as long as you put powdered sugar on them.) They puffed up like marshmallows! Then I incorporated most of a bag of Tollhouse semisweet chocolate chips (aka- the best chocolate in the world) into the dough and saved a couple of handfuls for personal use :)

These cookies baked up wonderfully.

When it came time to eat one, I was a little surprised. The texture was like cake! The inside was so fluffy it even looked like cake! I love chocolate chips, but I think that the chocolate flavor overpowers the pumpkin and spices. Next time I may (here I go again with the blasphemy) leave out the chocolate and go with a purely pumpkin pie flavored cookie.

This recipe managed to combine three of my favorite things: pumpkin pie flavors, cookies, and cake. I highly recommend these to everyone!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apple-Honey Challah

When we were picking apples we were intrigued by the description of the Mutsu apple and decided that we had to find them.

"Mutsu- A great all-purpose green apple- dense, crisp, and juicy- good for pies and eating fresh- makes a coarse, flavorful applesauce- much better than Granny Smith"

Granny Smith is our favorite apple. We buy them every week at the grocery store. "Much better than Granny Smith" totally got our attention. We found the Mutsu grove and saw that they were GIANT green apples. We picked two each with plans to eat and bake them and then moved on.

Sunday evening around 6 o'clock, we pried ourselves off of the super comfy couch and started making the final recipe that I had clipped from my mom's Martha Stewart Living magazine- Apple-Honey Challah. I got the water hot enough for the yeast (the recipe says 100 degrees but we always go between 110 and 115 for our yeast breads) while Brett assembled all the ingredients on the counter. We mixed everything up, and Brett took the lead on kneading. The dough was very sticky, so we ended up adding about 1/2 a cup extra of flour.

After the first rise we sliced up the Mutsu and each snuck a little bite. It was sort of like Granny Smith, not better or worse, but we could tell the difference. The hardest part of the recipe was kneading the apples into the dough. The apples just globbed everything up, making it sticky again. And to make matters worse they didn't really want to stay in the dough. They kept squeezing themselves out.

After the second rise Brett attempted to roll the nice plump ball of dough into a rope so we could coil it in a cake pan. The dough was even stickier because of the apples and all the butter we kept brushing onto the top between rises. The rolling did not go well and we finally gave up and put a very fat "coil" into the cake pan. I don't even think you could call it a coil.

The really annoying part about this bread is that it has to rise three times! Right before the final rise Brett said, "I don't ever want to do anything that has to rise three times. This isn't worth it." Keep in mind that we hadn't eaten it yet. Thinking of the Martha Stewart cream cheese and chive biscuit fiasco I had a couple of years ago, I made some comment about how Martha likes to make things harder than they need to be. We decided that coiling the loaf was totally unnecessary, and if there was a next time we would just plop the ball into the cake pan.

One thing we love about our new oven is that it has a window and a light. We hunkered down by the oven to watch the dough rise for the final time, and then again as it baked.

We had to let it cool for a while in the pan and then a little while longer.

Finally at 11 o'clock, we were blessed with the wonderful deliciousness that is Apple-Honey Challah! It was light and fluffy with a hint of sweetness. It reminded me a little bit of King's Hawaiian Bread (with apples of course.) The apple bites were my favorite. The Mutsu did not disappoint.

Although it was very time consuming, we both really enjoyed the final product. So if you have five hours to spare, I highly recommend making this :)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Apple Picking at Cider Hill Farm

What a wonderful time we had at Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury, Massachusetts this past Saturday! I'm trying to embrace New England life and the fall season as much as I possibly can, and one of the first things that came to my mind (after fall foliage of course) was apple picking. Now I realize that there are plenty of places all over the country where people can go pick apples, but for some reason, it is in my head as a New England activity.

It was an absolutely perfect fall day: low 60's, windy, near clear blue skies. Enough of a bite in the air for you to still be comfortable but know that it is indeed fall. Many other people had the same idea as us, but the farm store and apple orchards did not feel crowded at all.

We got right down to business... and by that I mean we ate hot dogs and apple cider doughnuts. The reason I chose Cider Hill from the many "pick your own" farms in the area was because someone reviewed it saying that they have the best apple cider doughnuts in the world. I was sold. The doughnuts were amazing. They reminded me of Disneyland churros except fresher and greasier. I couldn't really taste the apple cider in them, but maybe that's because I ate two in a matter of minutes. I also liked that you can watch the guy making the doughnuts in the bakery.

Next we got our bags, with a map conveniently printed right on it, and a list of apple descriptions and set out for the orchards. Here I am with my first apple. I think it was a honeycrisp, but then again we picked so many that I have no idea.

We ended up with 10 different varieties: Honeycrisp, Newtown-Pippin, Red Delicious, Rome, Golden Delicious, Northern Spy, Mutsu, Cortland, Arkansas Black, and (my favorite so far) Kidd's Gala.

They have a sign about sampling when you first enter the orchard area. It basically says we know you'll want to taste, but keep it to a minimum. Brett and I felt a little strange about tasting something, after all you wouldn't eat an apple at a grocery store, but toward the end of our time there we decided to share a Kidd's Gala. When I picked it the skin was a little sticky and its coloring looked like a perfect peach. When I took a bite, it was sweet and juicy, but slightly crisp. It was wonderful! I promptly picked two more to put in my bag for later.

After apple picking, we picked out two pumpkins, a jug of cider, and some fresh honey. Here is our bounty from the farm.

We've already baked with one of our apples; I'll post about that soon.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Linguine in Pepper Broth

This recipe was originally "Linguine with Clams in Pepper Broth" from a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living. It took all of two seconds to decide not to include clams although I'm sure I could have found some great ones here in New England. I can handle eating them in clam chowder, but straight out of the shell is another story.

While the pasta water was coming up to a boil I chopped up a clove of garlic and a few slices of pancetta. The garlic at our new grocery store is actually called, "Super Colossal Garlic." That's why one clove of garlic looks like more. I love garlic, but Brett would not allow more than one super colossal clove.

Once the pasta was cooking I started crisping up the pancetta. Again, the kitchen got all smoky! No smoke alarm this time though, so that was good. I snuck a bite of pancetta from the cooling paper towel and it was delicious (I had never had it before!)

For the broth I put some butter and the garlic in and realized very quickly that the pan was too hot. With an electric stove you can't just crank the flame way down, so I yanked the pan off the burner altogether and stood there saying, "Oh no the garlic is going to burn!" It's a good thing I have Brett because he had the presence of mind to just pour in the chicken broth. (We used chicken broth instead of white wine.) Problem solved! The garlic did not burn. I added much less black pepper than the recipe called for (and it still looked like a lot) and a teeny tiny pinch of red pepper flakes. We let that simmer for a few minutes.

Finally it was time to toss it all together. Linguine and lemon zest went into the broth and we topped it all with a generous sprinkling of pancetta. We quickly realized that we probably should not have halved the recipe. It said that the full recipe "Serves 4", but maybe it didn't mean four hungry full grown adults. So we made some cheesy bread to go with it.

I thought it was delicious. Brett thought it was, as he feared it would be, too peppery. I have a feeling this might show up again but perhaps under the title, "Linguine in a Mild Pepper Broth."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Steak Au Poivre with Balsamic Reduction

Sounds way too fancy huh? I was shuffling through the last few issues of Martha Stewart Living and found a few recipes that sounded good to me. I must have been feeling adventurous, or hungry, or maybe both.

For a friend's bachelorette party a couple of months ago I ate at a RESTAURANT called The Strip Club. It is an eating establishment where you stand over a flaming grill and cook your own steak: it is simply a very clever name. I ordered a teriyaki steak, while everyone else ordered kabobs. Theirs were done cooking in five minutes and I was left waiting for my thick hunk of beef to cook through. I eventually got impatient, took it off the grill, and realized that it was still very rare. Back onto the grill it went. When it was finally cooked through, it was wonderful. I've been thinking about it ever since. That is what has made me look twice at steak recipes.

Although the fancy French name might scare some people off, I must say that Steak Au Poivre was quite a simple recipe. I seasoned both sides of the NY strip steaks with kosher salt, coriander, and lots of fresh ground black pepper. (The recipe tries to fancy it up with 3 different types of peppercorns ground up with a mortar and pestle.) Then I put the steaks in some olive oil and cooked them for about 2 minutes on each side.

By this point they were spattering and smoking quite a bit. I put them in the oven and watched smoke rise up through one of the burners. I put a chair under the smoke alarm and opened the sliding door just in case. I have no idea what I'll do in the winter. I'll probably just let the smoke alarm go off.

They went in the oven to finish for 7 and a half minutes. The recipe said 6 for medium rare so I thought a minute and a half would get us up to medium/medium well. They ended up being well done... still edible, but I would have preferred a little pink.

Now for the balsamic reduction I kind of blew it. I was supposed to save the steak juices, then wipe out the pan. I just wiped out the pan. So when it was time to add the juices back in, I just added a little bit of water. The vinegar smell was very strong and had both Brett and I pretty wary of the sauce. You can see that when I plated my food, I made sure the sauce was well away from anything else.

Surprisingly, the sauce was pretty good. I ate my little spot of sauce and then went back for another spot. Even Brett liked it!

Maybe now steak will find its way to our table more than once ever 5 years:)

Monday, October 5, 2009


When you move to a new place there are inevitably adjustments that need to be made. As a person who thrives on routine, to me even minor adjustments seem like major ones at first.

The first and most pressing adjustment was shopping at a new grocery store. The closest one to us is called Shaw's and we had never heard of it. In fact all the grocery stores here in New England have names that are foreign to us: Super Stop and Shop, Market Basket, and Hannaford are the ones we've noticed thus far. Shaw's is HUGE and wonderful! Brett and I spent a long time going up and down every aisle looking at everything. The only thing we don't like about it is that you can't just buy a huge brick of cheese like we're used to. You've got to buy it pre-shredded or get a small brick of a fancy variety. We went the fancy way for mozzarella and both agree that next time we will go pre-shredded. There is also a little farm stand grocery store down the road a ways that seems to have good produce.

The second adjustment I've had to make turns out to not really be that big of a deal. I've cooked on a gas stove for my whole life, but now our apartment has an electric. Most of what I've cooked on the stovetop so far has been pasta, and I think that water actually boils faster on this stove. I can't tell any difference on the oven, except that it tells me exactly how long it will take to preheat, and it lets me know when it's ready. I like that.

The last adjustment is really a pleasure to make. Now I have lots and lots of counterspace!

When I chop vegetables I don't have to worry about banging my elbow on the fridge, or dropping things down into the void between the fridge and counter. I don't even have to precariously transfer handfuls of chopped veggies across the kitchen to where I'm preparing the pizza. I just chop right next to where I've rolled out the dough. And then next to that I grate my cheese! I told you I was excited to make pizza dough!

Even though we have only cooked a handful of meals thus far, we have already had an oops. When we make pizza we usually put cornmeal on the pizza stone and preheat it in the oven so it will be nice and hot by the time the pizza is ready to go on it. Well when we opened the oven door to put the pizza on the stone, the cornmeal was smoking ALOT. Usually it's not that bad. Of course, the smoke alarm started going off and I had to frantically figure out how to turn it off. Next time we will heat the stone without the cornmeal and add it just before the pizza goes on. At least we know our smoke detector works!