HALLOWEEN IN JULY | ALL THINGS PUMPKIN

19th July 2016

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If given the opportunity, I would spend my rent money on pumpkins. I would gather them around me, piled on top of each other, and create a little squash igloo. There’d be a pie pumpkin tea kettle and little penny pumpkin tea cups, one of those giant state fair pumpkins as a bath tub, and tall skinny green veined ones tucked with candles for light. This past fall I partially fulfilled my dreams on an 8-month pregnant whim, buying all the pumpkins in all the sizes, shapes, and colors my car could afford, carrying each on top of my big round belly. We tucked pumpkins everywhere, filling the porch, the kitchen counters, the living room bookshelves, and more. The week of Halloween, one week from my due date, my Dad and I put up pounds upon pounds of pumpkin – cooked down in our big antique cast-iron Dutch oven that I pretend is a cauldron – with visions of a little ginger baby gumming on homemade pumpkin puree in a few months time.

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Fast forward 8 months: that little ginger baby is eating anything and everything in sight, we’re packing up to move back south, we had been eating and drinking out at our favorite New England haunts one last time, and forgot about our stockpile of local pumpkin waiting in the freezer.

And that’s how our final dinner party theme – Halloween in July – came to be. Follow menu below, just add smudge sticks and a viewing or two of Hocus Pocus.

the menu
pumpkin bread
white bean + pumpkin hummus w/ spicy chorizo
chile & cinnamon dusted homemade tortilla chips
pumpkin spice roasted nuts
pumpkin mac-n-cheese w/ toasted pepitas + black sesame seeds
fresh pumpkin pie
pumpkin & spiced rum granita w/ molasses cream + cacao nibs

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pumpkin bread
I like this recipe from King Arthur Flour.


white bean + pumpkin hummus w/ spicy chorizo
1 can cannellini beans
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 link spicy chorizo, cut into small bite-sized pieces and heated in a skillet

Blend the beans, pumpkin, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Add a tablespoon or so of oil and blend for a few seconds more. Pour into a bowl. Top with a pool of olive oil and the warmed chorizo.


chile & cinnamon dusted homemade tortilla chips
corn tortillas, cut into quarters
chile powder
cinnamon
salt
oil

Set oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat a large baking sheet with oil. Spread tortilla quarters evenly over the pan. Lightly brush each quarter with oil. Sprinkle with chile powder, cinnamon, and salt. Bake until crispy. Cool on a wire rack until ready to serve.


pumpkin spice roasted nuts
1 1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup macadamias
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
salt

Set the oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the pecans, macadamias, honey, oil, and spices, tossing to evenly coat. Spread in an even layer over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast in the oven until the honey bubbles and begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes or so. Stir and toss the mixture during cooking if necessary. Let cool in the pan, break into pieces, and serve.


pumpkin mac-n-cheese w/ toasted pepitas + black sesame seeds
1 pound of macaroni, cooked al dente
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 to 2 cups cream or half and half
2 cups sharp cheddar
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup pepitas, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

In a heavy bottomed dutch oven (big enough to hold all the pasta) set over medium high heat, add the pumpkin and cook – continuously stirring – until some of the moisture has evaporated. Add the butter and stir until melted and completely combined with the pumpkin.

Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and whisk to combine, cooking for about one minute. While continuing to whisk, add the cream, creating a smooth sauce. Add the cheese in small handfuls, stirring until melted. Add the pasta and gently toss to coat in the cheese and pumpkin sauce. Turn off the heat. Add more cream or half and half if the pasta soaks up too much of the sauce and seems too dry.

Evenly sprinkle the bread crumbs, pepitas, and sesame seeds over the top of the pasta. Place under a high broiler until the bread crumbs just begin to brown – moving the dutch oven around as necessary. Serve hot.


fresh pumpkin pie
this is my go-to recipe here.


pumpkin & spiced rum granita w/ molasses cream + cacao nibs
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup spiced rum
1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon molasses
cacao nibs

In a small saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and rum to a simmer and cook until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is syrupy. Add in the pumpkin and stir to combine. Pour into a large flat dish (like a cake tin) and freeze for one hour. Check the mixture and scrape any formed ice crystals with a fork. Continue to check on the mixture every 45 minutes to an hour until completely frozen and all the crystals are scraped up.

Combine cream, sugar, and molasses in a mason jar and shake until a soft-peak whipped cream forms. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Divide granita into cups or dishes, top with a spoonful of molasses cream, and a sprinkle of cacao nibs.

 

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I think I just found my new favorite holiday.

SOUTHERN MULES W/ PINEAPPLE + JALAPENO

11th July 2016

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Currently packing up the pantry. Like most folks, we’ve got more in there than we’ll ever use, but we’ve always had the good intentions to reduce, buy only what we need, and focus on minimalism. My tea selection is unwieldy, the spices a cumin-covered bedlam, and you don’t even want to know how many sprinkles I have. The husband limited me to one, only one, box to fill with usable, hard-to-find, and/or very costly ingredients that I can take to the new house in North Carolina. Note: This doesn’t include the box of local craft brew he plans on bringing. So in goes the cider syrup, Bell’s seasoning (that always get everywhere so it’s wrapped in two layers of zip-top bag), my favorite local chocolates and cocoa powders, and all my various specialty flours, spices, and pie making ingredients. All that’s left is a grab bag of granola bars we plan on eating all week, a package of puffed garlic, a dwindling selection of Polar seltzer, and our liquor stash. We don’t want to risk breaking the bottles during the move and I’m fairly certain the food pantry doesn’t take vodka. It’s hot out, all this packing is exhausting and the smell of cardboard and tape hangs in the air. I’m not sure how many more excuses I need to list…so we’re drinking Southern Mules.

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Don’t worry, we’re hydrating plenty, too. We’re just ready to fully embrace our new Southern home in what we figure is a very authentically southern way: with icy, boozy, pineapple laden beverages. Is this historically accurate? No. Doesn’t a Mule traditionally have lime? Yes, but we had a pineapple to use and as I’ve stated in previous posts pineapple = symbol of southern hospitality. What’s with the jalapeno? Well, I take offense to that question.

Now back to packing…and sipping.

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southern mules
A southern mule is another old name for a Moscow mule and this one is made more southern with the hospitable addition of pineapple. The spicy jalapeno infused simple syrup adds a dash of Texas.

for the spicy simple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 to 2 jalapenos, sliced

In a small saucepan, add the sugar, water, and jalapenos and simmer on low until the sugar completely dissolves and a thick syrup forms. Remove from heat and let the jalapenos steep for a few minutes (the longer you leave them, the spicier the syrup will be). Discard jalapenos and transfer syrup to a Mason jar until ready to assemble drinks.

for the mules
the following makes one drink

ice
1/2 oz spicy simple syrup
3 oz vodka
1 oz fresh pineapple juice
6 oz (or so) ginger beer
pineapple wedges for garnish

Fill a mule cup with crushed iced. Add the simple syrup, vodka, and pineapple juice and give it a quick stir. Top with ginger beer until the cup is full. Garnish with a pineapple wedge and maybe a jalapeno rescued from the simple syrup.

 

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This post along with the great Texan-made Tito’s Vodka and sharp Fever Tree Ginger Beer was sponsored by the swell folks over at Drizly. Thanks, y’all!

BUTTERMILK + BLACK TEA BRINED FRIED CHICKEN | PEACHY FROSÉ

6th July 2016

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This all started with that ridiculous portmanteau: frosé. I’ve been neglecting my duties as a house-haver and pretending we aren’t about to move in a week by dreaming up fancy dinner parties (next week: I’m planning to use all my frozen pumpkin from this fall for a Halloween in July bash!). So the idea for #froséandfriedchicken was born (er, hatched?).

Rub is, many of our friends are out of town (you know who you are), or don’t eat meat (ironically, those people are still in town!), so our party was more of a porch hang with an out-of-town guest who currently lives in New York, but is a born and bred Texan like us. Read: she likes fried meats.

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I originally envisioned long picnic tables spread with rose colored linens, those fancy-cheesy Mason jar stemware, and individual little pots of honey and salt at each setting. I don’t currently have any of that and I’m reluctantly packing up the kitchen gear and photo props that I actually own, so it was a big reach anyways. So if anyone is looking for a good summer party theme, please see my vision through. All I ask is that you let me know about the good times had and use my own ridiculous hashtag: #froséandfriedchicken.

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buttermilk + black tea brined fried chicken
serves 4 to 6

4 black tea bags, or 1 heaping tablespoon loose black tea
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 quart buttermilk
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
one whole fryer broken into pieces (or 2: breasts, thighs, wings, drumsticks, whathaveyou)
2 cups flour
pinch of salt
more black pepper
canola or vegetable oil for frying
flaky sea salt
honey

Pour 1/2 cup of boiling water over the tea bags. Let steep for 15 minutes until a strong brew forms and the liquid begins to cool. Pour tea into a large container big enough to fit all the chicken pieces. Add the salt and sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the buttermilk and peppercorns and stir to combine. Add the chicken, nestling into the liquid so all the pieces are submerged as best as possible. Cover the container and place in the fridge overnight or for at least 4 hours.

An hour or so before you’re ready to fry, remove the chicken from the brine and place on a wire rack to drain slightly. Discard brine and tea bags. You can remove the peppercorns and large tea leaves or fry them on the chicken for some extra kick.

In a large bowl, toss together the flour, salt, and pepper. Lightly coat each piece of chicken in flour.

Pour enough oil to fill 1 1/2 to 2-inches of a heavy bottomed dutch oven or large skillet. Heat to 375 degrees or until a tiny pinch of flour immediately sizzles when thrown into the oil. Place a few pieces of chicken in the pan, careful to not overcrowd, and fry for about 9 to 12 minutes per side, more for bigger pieces and less for smaller. Be sure to check meat with a thermometer, it should be no less than 165 degrees.

Note: If the chicken browns and crisps in the pan before it is cooked through, finish cooking in the oven. Set the oven to 400 degrees. Spread chicken on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and cook until done. You can also keep chicken warm this way, just set the oven to a lower temperature, around 200 degrees.

peachy frosé
serves 2 to 4

16 ounces frozen peaches
1 bottle of rose
honey (optional)
fresh peach slices

Fill a blender with the peaches and the rose and blend until smooth and slushy. Add a dash of honey if you like it sweeter. Pour into glasses and serve with a fresh peach slice.

 

P.S. Whatever brilliant soul had the Gaul (ha, get it?) to blend rosé with ice deserves some kind of medal.

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BERRY + MOLASSES ICEBOX CAKE

29th June 2016

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The muddy definitions of the pastry world. When is a pie a pie and not a tart, tartlette, pastry and is it like how a square is a rectangle, but not all rectangles are squares? Like how some people call a TV remote some variation on clicker, clacker, controller. Every summer, blogs, magazines, restaurants, and everyday folk seem to switch up their vocabulary to suite the season. And not just by interjecting a few choice summery words – such as flip-flop, snow cone, or rosé – but by really laying it on thick with the y’alls and the random twang and the type of jargon that really comes from yesteryear rather than another geographic region of the US. One of these words is “icebox.” An old timers word for refrigerator from back when refrigerators were really just well-insulated boxes that tried to keep things cool by using giant blocks of ice that the iceman would deliver to your back door several times a week. And here I am, piling on to the problem, that’s not really a problem, because all it means is more types of desserts for us to eat all summer.

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Most ice box cakes call for whipped cream, but yogurt adds a richer feel to the cake while simultaneously making it seem a bit better for you. Add to that in-season cherries and strawberries and a hearty dose of smokey molasses and this cake is something your old timey relatives and new-fangled friends will all enjoy.

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Pairs well with American whiskey and/or iced tea.

berry + molasses ice box cake
recipe adapted from this recipe in bon appetit’s July 2016 issue
serves 6 to 8

about 2 cups cherries, pitted
1/4 cup molasses
8 ounces plain Greek yogurt, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
16 graham crackers
1 1/2 cups strawberry jam (here’s my homemadechia seed jam or try BA’s version)
fresh berries for garnish

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper, letting the wrap hang over the sides.

Transfer cherries to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until mostly smooth. Pour into a small sauce pan and add the molasses. Simmer on medium-low until the mixture is fully combined and slightly reduced. Set aside to cool completely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the yogurt and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed and add the cream. Continue to beat until the mixture thickens and medium peaks form. Transfer about two-thirds of the yogurt mixture to another bowl and fold in about a 1/2 cup of the cherry-molasses sauce. Cover remaining yogurt mixture and chill until ready to cover cake.

In the bottom of the lined loaf pan, place a single layer of graham crackers, breaking the pieces as needed to fit. Using an offset spatula, spread a generous even layer of the cherry-molasses cream over the crackers. Next, add a layer of the strawberry jam. Add a drizzle of cherry-molasses sauce and then top with another layer of the cherry-molasses spiked cream, smoothing to create an even layer. Finally top with another layer of graham crackers. Repeat all the layers once more, ending with a final layer of graham crackers. Fold the edges of the plastic wrap or parchment paper over the crackers and freeze for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Cover and chill remaining jam and cherry-molasses sauce until ready to serve.

To assemble: uncover cake and carefully invert the pan onto a serving platter. Pull of the wrapping. Spread the leftover yogurt cream over the entire cake and return to the freezer for at least another 15 minutes. Remove from freezer, top a few spoonfuls of reserved jam, sauce, and fresh berries, and slice to serve.

Note:
– if the leftover cherry-molasses spiked cream is too loose or separates before assembling the final cake, give it a quick rewhip in the stand mixer before using.
– take time to smooth each layer to create nice, even lines when the cake is sliced.

 

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CAULIFLOWER FAJITAS WITH SUMMER PICO

27th June 2016

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Asphalt. The true marker of summertime. You can finally see it since it’s not covered in snow and it’s the closest photo background when stationed next to the grill. And once the temperatures start to rise, our 100-year-old New England house that was built for winter begins to function much like a convection oven. So out to the porches – or back parking lot – we go. I’ve always appreciated my yards and green spaces growing up in Texas, I’ve always been a porch enthusiast, but since moving up North I’ve learned to embrace the only outdoor space I’m allotted: about 20 by 10 feet of blue-grey asphalt. It’s normally where our cars live, so we can’t set up a permanent summertime retreat, but anytime we need to cook outside – which is often – we banish the cars to the street and park ourselves in our little oasis along with our old-school charcoal grill and whatever chairs we can find in the basement. It’s not at all what I grew up with, but we’ve made the most of it. And even in the dog days of summer, it’s still at least 10 degrees cooler up here than it is back in Texas.

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Speaking of different: cauliflower fajitas. I know, I know. You are probably balking at the audacity the phrase “cauliflower fajitas” requires. Especially considering that the cauliflower’s origins reach back to ancient Cyprus and the Middle East and the plant only recently (read: 16th century) graced European tables. But thanks to the Moorish influence in Spain around the 12th century, cauliflower made it’s way into some old Spanish dishes. And now for some quick and dirty historical foodways: Spain colonized Mexico, the local indigenous peoples are graced with the gift for making tortillas and using cheap cuts of meat to fill them, Spanish influence brought in new spices and ingredients, y ahora…cauliflower fajitas. Or, if you prefer, fajitas de coliflor, which I think sounds white-tablecloth kind of fancy.

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Not everyone in our asphalt patch agrees with going meatless, so these cauliflower fajitas are really another way to use up all the energy that a charcoal grill produces. Start with your meats, then throw on a few cauliflower “steaks,” a cast-iron skillet for peppers, and a tin foil pack of tortillas.

cauliflower fajitas with summer pico and grilled peppers and onions
serves 4 to 6

for the pico

1 cup yellow pear tomatoes, cut in half
2 large scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
small bunch cilantro, finely chopped
juice of one lime
salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, add all the ingredients and toss to thoroughly combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

for the fajitas

one head of cauliflower, trimmed, cored, and cut into half-inch “steaks”
vegetable oil
fajita seasoning (I use: 2 teaspoons chile powder, pinch of cayenne, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon MX oregano, salt and pepper)
lime, quartered
2 green cubanelle peppers, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, peeled, trimmed, and thinly sliced
tortillas, wrapped in aluminum foil and heated on the grill for a few minutes

Brush both sides of the cauliflower steaks with oil and liberally season with spices. Place on a hot grill for 3 to 5 minutes per side or until fork tender. Slice into fajita style strips and squeeze with lime juice before serving.

While the cauliflower cooks, add a cast-iron skillet to one side of the grill. Once heated through, add a bit of oil to the skillet and then the sliced peppers and onion. Continue to toss and turn the pepper-onion mixture until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are tender and slightly charred.

Assemble: take a heated tortilla and pile with cauliflower fajita strips, a bit of grilled peppers and onions, and a generous spoonful or two of the spring green pico.

 

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