soup for the win

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In a post-tooth extraction/infection world, operating with ingredients on hand, the diet becomes overwhelmed by soup. Smooth soups. Good thing soup is a favorite – and easy. For a few days running, I’ve been on a semi-spicy black bean soup (a variation of this recipe) kick, but blended everything so as not to disturb the sensitive mouth. But today I had a bit of pumpkin leftover from something else, some must-use coconut milk and, most of all, hunger.

Hunger led me to the latest soup experiment, which is a take-off on my old go-to pumpkin curry soup recipe. In my updated version, I have guessed at the ratios – you can spice it to suit your own tastes, of course. I am not sure about the measurements. This is a super inexact recipe.

I added white beans to this because I wanted to thicken the soup a bit, add a bit of protein and a bit of texture. White beans don’t add much flavor, so this won’t ruin the flavor profiles of anything else you have going on.

New, improved (?), improvised pumpkin curry soup (vegan)
1 tablespoon (or so) olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon curry
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

On medium heat, saute the onion until golden. Add garlic and spices, stir and cook for about two minutes. Remove from heat until other parts of the soup are ready.

Liquid step
1 cup water
1/4 cup (or so) coconut milk
2 teaspoons vegan bouillon cube or powder (or equivalent)
15 (or so) ounce white beans (I used rinsed, tinned beans)

Mix all the liquid ingredients together with white beans in container or pan you can use for blending. Blend together with an immersion blender. When smooth, add to the spice mixture and return to medium heat.

15 ounce can pumpkin (or the “meat” of a baked butternut squash)

I only had about half this amount of pumpkin, and you adjust to your taste. Obviously. Mix this pumpkin into the simmering soup base. Let simmer about 10 or 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and blend with the immersion blender.

1 cup coconut milk
Coriander garnish if desired

Return the blended soup to low heat, mix in coconut milk until warm enough to serve.

Pumpkin cupcakes

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Nothing special to say about these. After I made pumpkin-stuffed snickerdoodles, I was left with some pumpkin and decided to use it up by making pumpkin cupcakes. I frosted these with plain chocolate buttercream to which I added a bit of cinnamon.

Pumpkin cupcakes
1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cloves
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree or mashed butternut squash
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Mix wet ingredients together. Sift dry ingredients together. Mix dry ingredients into wet.

Preheat oven to 175C. Divide batter among cupcake papers lining a cupcake pan. Bake 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into cupcakes comes out clean. Cool on baking racks. Frost/decorate as desired.

Gluten-free pumpkin cream cheese muffins

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Made some pumpkin muffins using coconut flour – turned out well. 🙂 Gluten-free, paleo, and yummy.

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3

How?
3/4 cups coconut flour
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cups maple syrup
6 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 175C. Line a cupcake pan with liners.

Mix all ingredients together. Put the mixture into the liners (2/3 full).

Cream cheese filling
About 1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons sugar

Mix cream cheese and sugar together.

Make small indentations in the pumpkin mixture and add dollops of cream cheese filling – you can swirl it in slightly if you want a bigger mixture.

Put the muffins in the oven. Bake 25-30 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, remove from pan and cool completely before serving.

Filled butternut squash cupcakes

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It’s baking experimentation time!

I have a recipe for pumpkin cupcakes but… I had a butternut squash sitting here for a while that I was going to use for some savory meal that I never got around to cooking. Having substituted butternut squash in other pumpkin recipes (soup and pie), I figured a cupcake or muffin could not be too challenging a substitution.

I baked the squash, scooped out the baked “innards” and will now puree. After that I will mix it all up into a spicy cake batter and put that on top of a pepparkakor crust in cupcake papers. And, to be a whole lot like the maven of Bake It in A Cupcake, I will pop a Rolo candy (or actually in this case another substitution – these are turning into an imitation/substitution fiesta – a Norwegian copy of said caramel-filled chocolate candy, Smil) in the batter. And BAKE!

I have not quite decided on how to frost these little monsters, but we’ll see how the cupcakes turn out before plotting the finale.

M&M cookies – always planned, never in hand

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M&Ms: Begging to be used

M&Ms: Begging to be used

I have only baked once this year – when I made some bagels and some pumpkin cheesecake muffins (recipe). For someone like me, this is weird. I have had M&M candy in the cupboard for some time, just screaming out for M&M cookie-making. But there they sit.

One day the baking bug will return but for now all I feel like is writing nonsense and working.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins with Streusel Topping

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Photo to follow…

Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins

Streusel topping

  • 1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (62g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (60g) melted butter

Pumpkin Muffins

  • 1 and 3/4 cups (220g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
  • 1/2 cup (100g) dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup (227g) pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cheesecake Filling

  • 6 ounces (168g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons (36g) sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Line two muffin sheets with 14 liners. I made six large muffins. Set prepared pan aside.

Make the crumb-topping first: Add the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon to a small bowl and mix until combined. Add the melted butter and mix until crumbs form. Set aside.

Make the pumpkin muffins: In a large bowl, toss the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice together until combined. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the brown sugar and eggs together until combined. Whisk in the pumpkin, oil, milk, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do NOT overmix the batter.

Make the cheesecake filling: In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric handheld (or stand) mixer on medium-high speed until creamy. Add the egg yolk, vanilla extract, and sugar. Beat until combined.

Spoon enough pumpkin batter into the cup to fill about one-third full (that is what I did with my big cupcake pan – but this would be about one tablespoon for normal-sized muffin cups). Layer with about 1 spoonful of cheesecake filling, then another tablespoon of muffin batter (or however much batter is needed to fill the cups all the way to the top). Sprinkle each muffin evenly with crumb topping and press the topping down into the muffin.

Bake the muffins for 5 minutes at 425F (about 210C) degrees. Keeping the muffins in the oven, lower the temperature to 350F (about 175C) and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Try not to overbake.  Allow the muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the muffin sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool until ready to eat.

On the cooking wagon with no kitchen to cook in: Afghan pumpkin & beef with yogurt sauce

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My thoroughly kitchen-experimental side has stirred and it pokes at me again and again, not fully understanding that I live my life during the week in hotels, sans cuisine (quelle horreur!). I spent two solid days dreaming of making a rich, aromatic chicken pho, and now suddenly, the urge to make an Afghan dish (bourani kadoo), comprised of roasted pumpkin, beef and a yogurt-mint sauce, has completely overtaken me. Why – who knows? I saw the word “Bagram” in connection with an air base in Afghanistan, which made me think about the Afghan restaurant I had passed by so many times in Vancouver, Canada (need I even say that Vancouver is one of the best cities in the entire world – hands down? Most definitely for food but also just because it is fabulous) but never went to.

And what do I know about Afghanistan or Afghan cuisine really? Absolument rien! For me it’s a strangely beautiful and mysterious place with an equally enigmatic history. Some part of me loves it and wishes I knew more. It is all obscured by warfare and the Taliban, but I don’t let those things blind me.

I love pumpkin, though, and I will look for any reason at all to use it somewhere, somehow in my baking and even in my cooking.

The trouble, apart from lacking the facilities to cook on weeknights, is that I don’t really prepare meals for myself and cannot imagine going to all this trouble just for me. House husband/housewife candidates, apply within. (I will probably make this or some semblance of it this weekend in any case.)

Bourani kadoo
Pumpkin/squash
Two three-pound sugar pie pumpkins or the equivalent using butternut squash
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 to 3 cups sugar (less if you want a less sweet taste)

Preheat oven to 300ºF/150C. Cut pumpkins in half and scrape out the insides (seeds + stringy bits). Cut each half into 3-4 inch pieces. Remove the rind. Place the pumpkin slices hollow side up in a baking dish and cover with the oil. Pour the sugar on top. Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 3 hours (until the pumpkin has caramelized into a deep, orange color).

Begin to prepare the yogurt and meat sauces while the pumpkin bakes.

Yogurt sauce
2 cups plain yogurt
2 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried mint
Salt to taste (1/4 to ½ teaspoon)

For the yogurt sauce, combine all the ingredients and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Beef sauce
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 kilogram ground beef
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/3 cup water

Sauté onions in oil over medium high heat in a heavy bottomed skillet until golden brown (about 20 minutes). Add ground beef and break up the pieces until the meat is no longer pink (about 5 minutes). Add remaining ingredients (except tomato paste and water). Blend in tomato paste. Add water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce, and simmer for 15 minutes.

To serve, place the pumpkin on a serving dish or on the individual serving plate, on the bottom of the “pile” you’re building. Add yogurt sauce and then top with meat sauce.

Why I Changed My Mind: Jamie Oliver

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In the overwhelming tidal wave of television chefs who show up everywhere, there are very few who interest me. I like to look back to the old days of TV cookery to the seemingly awkward Julia Child or the stark raving drunk Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr, filled the screen. Cooking on TV has always been a thing, often relegated to the domain of public television alongside quite tame “educational programming” (which was, fair enough, not always tame – most foreign films shown on American TV in the old days appeared on PBS – and those films are very rarely what anyone would call “tame”. After all, it was on PBS that I first saw the original version – not the inane Guy Ritchie/Madonna remake – of Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away).

But things change, and everything is fair game as entertainment – even cooking. Enter the era of the celebrity chef, which arguably has made people a lot more interested in cooking stuff for themselves but has unfortunately launched some, let’s say, unqualified characters into stardom. Undeserved? Who knows? If someone wants to watch Rachael Ray, for example, who is a businessperson and entertainer – not a chef – and supremely annoying to boot – that’s up to them. These celebrity “food handlers” (since they are not chefs in many cases) entertain, bring in viewers and that’s the bottom line now that there are entire TV channels devoted to all manner of food, cooking, taking shortcuts in cooking and so on.

Most of these people – I can take them or leave them. Jamie Oliver is one that I could – or thought I could – easily leave. His accent alone bugs me (just for Esteban: “the shit just got reaw” – not even sure how to linguistically render in writing the dropped-off “L” at the end of words so characteristic of Oliver’s speaking), but then the messiness of his approach to food – always getting his hands deeply dug into all kinds of greasy, slimy foods – even to the point that he advocates wearing gloves to do it sometimes – makes me a bit queasy. I can’t pinpoint what exactly it is that annoys me. Even going to the grocery store and seeing his line of pastas and spices and whatnot – that is just too much. The overcommercialization does very little for me. Why would I buy a Jamie Oliver skillet when I can get a much cheaper and superior cast iron skillet and be happier with it? Personally when I buy kitchen goods, I don’t want any pseudo-celeb’s face on it. I will stick with the basics (even if there are times when tools that go beyond the basics and are extremely useful, even if singular in their use – like garlic presses or a “cupcake holer”. I am usually a firm believer in the “for every task, there is a proper tool” school of thought).

For those frequent cupcake-filling emergencies

For those frequent cupcake-filling emergencies

But I will be damned if I don’t get pulled in every time I accidentally end up on a Jamie Oliver program on TV. I don’t even own a TV at home, so these accidents rarely occur. But because I spend most weekday evenings in hotels, I’ve got a wide range of channels – and twice in the last year, I’ve landed on Jamie Oliver shows and found myself glued to the TV. After he finished each recipe, I prompted myself, “Change the channel, damn you!”

But I was paralyzed. And why? Truth is – he was making stuff that sounded really amazing. Believe me, I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly because I believe it is one of the most overused and misused words in the English language. When someone tells me it would be “amazing” if I could make a tight deadline or deliver a box of cookies for their party, I think “amazing” is definitely overstating the case. But when you can create something that really wows the taste buds without overexerting yourself or spending all day doing it – that IS amazing. I am positively gobsmacked every time I can manage to cook actual food that really amazes someone.

The first Jamie Oliver program I saw (Jamie’s Great Britain, which was a fascinating look at food in Great Britain, in case anyone imagined that food there completely sucks!) featured roasted chicken and potatoes – I have now made both several times to great success, albeit with my own little alterations.

Yesterday, I turned on the telly and it was a program (Jamie at Home) dedicated to pumpkin and squash – be still my heart. He really highlighted the versatility of these kinds of vegetables – making an absolutely fantastic butternut squash soup, a duck and pumpkin salad and some butternut squash spice walnut cupcakes. Naturally I am going to try this stuff out next time I have a guest to feed. I don’t get around to cooking for myself but for others, I will go all out.

Considered, reconsidered – the important thing here is maybe that I can find Jamie Oliver annoying until the end of time, but what he does turns on my culinary curiosities and experimental bent – so he is definitely doing something right. The fact that the recipes are easy to follow and he makes them look easy if you follow a few steps does not hurt – and the results have always exceeded expectations.

Bring on the Baking Improvisation: Coconut Macaroon Pumpkin Pie

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Sometimes the best discoveries come when you just don’t have all the things on hand that you would normally need. Recently I wanted to make a pumpkin pie but didn’t have cream, milk or condensed milk in stock. I thought about how I might make a non-dairy version and decided a coconut milk (which I always have!) variety might work well. Not completely sure what measurements I should use, I turned to the trusty internet and discovered the most lovely website: The Shiksa in the Kitchen.

Her recipe for coconut macaroon pumpkin pie sounds perfect on every level – so it’s up next on my baking plan. (Sadly, I did not get around to making it the other day because I had only one egg.)

The site, though, is filled with fabulous stuff like pretzel challah, rum and coffee beef brisket, gouda macaroni and cheese with pine nuts and golden raisins (I’d skip the raisins – but it otherwise sounds amazing), a gorgeous Mediterranean seven-layer dip and about a million other to-die-for recipes complete with mouthwatering pictures, and step-by-step instructions on how to do just about everything.

The Shiksa site does it for me in particular because I’m a baker through and through but not that creative or adventurous when it comes to cooking – so the recipes here for cooking actual food pique my interest and actually make me want to go in the kitchen and try stuff out. I’m in love.

I am a leftover – Traditional pumpkin pie

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Sometimes I feel a lot like leftover ingredients. You buy a bunch of stuff for a specific recipe you really want – but then you may be left with ingredients. You make something out of what’s left because you don’t want to waste it. It’s in your face, in your fridge or cupboard – but you don’t want the ingredients and don’t really want whatever it is you will make out of those leftovers. Whatever it is will suffice, but it’s not the plan, not the dreamt of piece.

Today someone I don’t even know mentioned something to me about how he likes me, and then said, “Can you imagine being your real self and still be loved and appreciated?” It’s a good and fair question. It sounds a bit self-pitying, but I can’t actually imagine that. I am always and immediately skeptical, and I suppose this stops the sense or belief that it is possible to be appreciated simply for being who I am in any given moment – in the now. For a bunch of different reasons, I imagine people “like” me for some other reason – not me. This is how I am like a leftover. Someone might turn to me (i.e. “like” me) in the absence of someone or something else that was the first choice. I have a complex about being the “side dish” or “consolation prize”. Who really knows me anyway? Anymore, probably not many – because why should I let them? It is a self-defeating catch-22.

This was not my point, though. The point is that leftover ingredients have led me to bake one of my traditional, original recipe pumpkin pies. I have a big container of cream, loads and loads of brown sugar, tons of eggs… so pumpkin pie seemed like a delicious plan.

pumpkin pie in the oven

pumpkin pie in the oven