Incredible Stuffed Pumpkin — 5 stars

During a week-long orientation for my new job, I discussed recipes with a fellow new employee.  This woman described something she called “the incredible stuffed pumpkin” — an entire sugar pumpkin, stuffed with cheese and bread and bacon.  At some point, I stopped paying attention to what she was saying and began dreaming about the day I would make an incredible stuffed pumpkin for a dinner party.  That day finally came last week.  I plated the pumpkin to many ooos and ahhhs from the girls in my new Dinner Club.

I found the recipe for Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good on NPR’s site.  It calls for a three pound pumpkin, and you should use a sugar pumpkin or some other pumpkin that can be used for pumpkin pie.  I’m told (by many internet sites, so that makes it true) that your traditional pumpkins used for jack-o-lanterns are no good for eating.  I had to omit the bacon since a vegetarian was coming to dinner, so I added sauteed spinach and mushrooms instead.  The pumpkin takes only about 15-30 minutes to prepare, but nearly two hours to bake, so make sure you allow adequate time for everything.

Also on the menu for this dinner party was Cooking Light’s spinach & artichoke dip; pear, red onion, feta cheese, and spinach salad with a delicious balsamic vinaigrette sauce; apple crisp with Edy’s light ice cream that doesn’t taste light at all.  Everyone at dinner agreed that the pumpkin really was incredible.

Ingredients

1 3lb sugar pumpkin
3 oz stale bread, cut into 1/2″ cubes
5 oz Emmenthal cheese (cheddar or Gruyere is good too)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup spinach, uncooked
1/2 cup sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp pepper

Directions
1. Sautee the spinach a couple minutes until it is well cooked. Then sautee the mushrooms until browned (about 5 minutes). Set both aside to let cool.
2. Using a sharp knife, cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween jack-o-lantern). You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin — about 3 or so inches in diameter. Save the cap.
3. Scoop out the guts of the pumpkin — save the pumpkin seeds to roast later.
4. Season the inside of the pumpkin with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper.
5. In a large bowl, mix the bread, cheese, garlic, chives, remaining pepper, spinach and mushrooms together in a large bowl. Pour a little more than 1/3 cup cream over the mixture and combine until the bread is moistened.
6. Transfer the bread mixture into the pumpkin. Pour extra cream over the mixture in the pumpkin. Place the cap back on the pumpkin, loosely covering the stuffing.
7. Bake at 350 F for 1.5 to 2 hours. To test doneness, a knife poked in to the side of the pumpkin should easily go through to the center of the pumpkin.
8. Carefully transfer the pumpkin to a plate (I had to use two spatulas). To serve, remove the cap and slice the pumpkin into wedges.

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GIANT Chocolate Chip Cookie — 5 stars

Sometimes, making a regular dessert a new way instantly increases the dessert’s appeal. That’s definitely the case for giant chocolate chip cookies. Everyone (okay, most people) loves chocolate chip cookies, and turning the cookie into a cake/pie is just fun. I found a recipe here for a giant chocolate chip cookie.  Quick and easy — my kind of entertaining treat.

I’ve now made this recipe four times, each with tremendous success.  One trick is to let the dough sit in the fridge overnight.  You’ll be able to taste the buttery richness of the dough if you do this.  And really, when you’re using a stick and a half of butter in a recipe, shouldn’t you be able to taste the benefits of the butter?  Aside from that, there’s no trick to this recipe.

I always plan to make buttercream or royal icing and pipe some decorations on the cookie.  I never actually do this, but I think it’s a good idea (you may be more ambitious or able to execute more than me). I make this recipe in a disposable 12″ pizza pan. You can just press the dough into a circle on a baking sheet if you don’t want to use a pizza pan, or you can press the dough into a 9×13 pan if that suits your fancy.  Without further ado, though, the recipe is below.

Ingredients
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1 cup chocolate chips (I prefer dark chocolate chips)

Directions
1. In a medium bowl, cream together the sugars and butter. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in the chocolate chips.
2. Cover the dough, and let sit in the fridge for around 24 hours. (In a pinch, skip this step.) Remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit until pliable, about 10-15 minutes.
3. Grease the pizza pan (or whatever you’re using) with butter, or Crisco with Flour spray, or just use a sheet of aluminum foil.
4. Press the dough into the pizza pan, spreading the dough to about 1/4 or 1/2 inch inside the very edge of the pan. (Or, if you don’t care about the cookie being slightly larger than the pan, do what I do and press the dough to the edges.)
5. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until it is just barely golden brown.

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Pretty Pumpkin Pancakes — 3.5 Stars

Happy (Day After) Thanksgiving to You!

I’ll soon post the recipe for the Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake I made for my Thanksgiving potluck, but my mind has already focused on what to make in the days after Thanksgiving.  The big meals (lunch and dinner) can be served with leftovers, but what about my favorite meal — breakfast?  These pumpkin pancakes are new to me this year, and I suspect I’ll be keeping them for future years.

I was inspired by a couple pumpkin pancake recipes I found on other sites (such as this one), but in the end, I’ve changed the recipe enough to call it my own (I think).  The recipe makes approximately 9, 1/4-cup pancakes. Enjoy hot, with butter and syrup, and Christmas music playing in the background.

Ingredients
1 1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 Tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
(I’m sure there’s a way to substitute pumpkin spice for all of the spices mentioned, but I don’t know it)
1 cup (fat free) milk
1/2 cup (canned) pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp oil
1 egg

Directions
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin puree, oil and egg.
2. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.
3. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the large bowl, and stir until all ingredients are well combined.
4. Over low-medium heat, pour 1/4 batter into an oiled skillet for each pancake. Cook for around 3 minutes per side.

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Strawberry Crumb Brownie Bars — 2.5 Stars

When  I saw a post for Raspberry Crumb Brownie Bars, I knew I had to make them.  For three weeks before Baking Day, I eagerly anticipated the results.  Yeah…There was no need for the excitement.  😦

First, you’ve probably figured out by now that I purchased strawberry jam instead of raspberry jam; thus the different titles.  Aside from that, I followed the recipe exactly (It was just after finals, and I didn’t have the brain power to experiment and take risks as I usually do).  Anyway, I think my biggest complaint was that there was just too much going on with the finished product.  Was it a brownie?  A shortbread dessert?  A fruit crumble?  My tastebuds couldn’t decide how to react.  Also, perhaps because I used a brownie mix, nothing in this recipe was especially fabulous on it’s own; the sum was equal to its parts, not greater than its parts.

It’s not that this recipe was awful, it just wasn’t anything special.  And for the amount of work it took (make crust, bake crust, make brownies, make crumble, melt fruit sauce, bake everything), it just wasn’t worth it.  If you want something that looks pretty and will satisfy — not impress — people, then the Strawberry or Crumb Brownie Bars should do the trick.

Ingredients
1 box of brownie mix ( and whatever else the box tells you to add — water, eggs, oil. you could also make your own brownie batter)
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
2 cups flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 seedless red raspberry jam
1/4 cup of coconut

Directions
1. Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees. Line 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.
2. Prepare brownie mixture according to the instructions on the box.
3. Cream 2 sticks of butter, add flower, brown sugar and salt. Beat at a low speed until combined and crumbly.
4. Flour your hands and work the crumb mixture with your fingers, pinching it, until you get good size crumbles. Take 1 3/4 cups of crumbles and place in prepared pan. Press the crumbles, shaping to the bottom of the pan.
5. Cook the crumb crust for 10 minutes.
6. Heat a pot at a medium-high heat, add seedless raspberry jam, stir constantly until it melts and you have a nice sauce, set aside.
7. Take crust from the oven and pour in brownie mixture. Sprinkle remaining crumbles over brownie mixture, drizzle raspberry sauce over crumbles and top of with coconut.
8. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until done. Let cook before cutting.

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Simple Salmon Pasta — 4 stars

I promise I know how to make more than a basic protein + sauce + pasta dish, but they’re just so simple and flavorful.  This week was Fall Break Professional Development Week on campus, so I of course took the opportunity to host a dinner.  On the menu: Masala Chicken, Okra & Tomatoes, Lemon Squares, and a Simple Salmon Pasta.  I forgot to turn the chicken over halfway; since I cooked it under the broiler, it was a less than perfect looking dish.  I tried a new recipe for the lemon squares….Definitely stick with your tried and true recipes when you’re putting together a dinner party.  This pasta dish, however, turned out quite nicely.

I’ll be honest with you.  I didn’t measure anything for this recipe, and it’s been a couple days since I made the meal, but I wanted to capture what I did.  A couple people asked for the recipe and a general, “How did you make this?”  I really wasn’t trying to be rude when I said, “Cooked the fish, made a sauce, and put it over pasta,” but at the time, that was the best way I could describe my recipe.  Hopefully, the recipe below provides better insight into how to make this dish.

Ingredients
10 oz (uncooked) whole wheat penne pasta (roughly 3/4 of a standard size box of pasta)
2 Tbsp oil
2 tsp cajun seasoning (I used a spice mix from the store)
3/4 lb salmon fillet
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1 1/3 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp cornstarch

Directions
1. Coat both sides of the salmon fillet with the cajun seasoning.
2. In a large pot, begin boiling the water for your pasta.
3. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fish. Cook for 3-4 minutes; flip, and cook for another 4 minutes. When the fish is cooked (a bright pink color, nice and flaky), take it out of the pan and set aside.
4. While the fish is cooking, in a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and chicken broth. No lumps if you can.
5. The pasta water will probably be boiling when you remove the fish from the pan, so add the pasta to the boiling water.
6. Sautee the onions and garlic in the pan. Pour in the cornstarch – chicken broth mixture. Bring to boil, and let boil for 1 minute. Then, reduce heat to low and simmer for a couple minutes.
7. Drain the pasta, and place into large serving dish. Pour the sauce over the pasta. Cut the pasta into bite-size pieces (I think mine were 1″ x .5″) and transfer to the serving dish. Mix well, serve, and eat.

Thanks to my friend NB, who suggested I use the cornstarch. Without the cornstarch, the sauce would have been way too thin.

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Chicken Fajita Pasta — Five Stars

It’s interview season for me, and as a result, I’m constantly meeting people and trying to come up with interesting things to say about myself. I usually like to talk about the various nonprofit organizations to which I donate time, because if I’m not volunteering somewhere with something, I’m an unhappy person. Here’s a conversation from a recent corporate dinner I attended. Also at the table were the head HR lady for the company, another candidate, one of the company’s most senior execs, and an employee in the position for which I was applying.

Senior Exec: What do you do for fun?
Me: I volunteer a lot.  I’m a member of the Board of Trustees for the Telluride Association, I’m helping a friend start a non-profit to increase access to health care, and when I can I teach with Junior Achievement.
Regular Employee: AND, she’s a baker-blogger
Me: [with shocked look on my face] Uhhh…..
Regular Employee: Yeah, I read your blog.  Tell me about your #1 Pancakes.

It was an interesting, and fun, dinner.  So, to friends, family, and apparently recruiters, welcome to my cooking blog.

And, with that long introduction, I’ll finally get to the recipe.  I had a bunch of girls over for dinner to discuss the trials and tribulations of business school.  Even though it’s been weeks since the dinner party, any time I mention “eating” or “cooking,” one of the guests responds, “You can make some great chicken.”

The recipe is fairly straightforward, although a little time consuming.  You could make your own fajita seasoning — it’d probably be healthier — but if you’re short on time like I was, just use the McCormick’s fajita seasoning packet.  The sauce is somewhat rich, so serve with a thick pasta — like linguine, or even bowtie pasta.  I used whole wheat pasta because that’s all I ever buy, but note that since the sauce isn’t too heavy (like an alfredo), the taste of the pasta shines through.

I did find the original recipe on another blog, but after making this 3 times, I don’t think it’s really the same recipe any more.

Ingredients

1 packet fajita seasoning (this is 4-5 Tbsp of seasoning)
2 Tbsp oil
1 lb chicken breasts, cubed (2x-3x the size of the bell peppers and onions)
2 Tbsp oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium (red) onion, cubed (same sized cubes as bell peppers)
3 small bell peppers, cubed (I used yellow, orange, and red)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb whole wheat pasta

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, coat the chicken with half of the spice mixture.  Let sit in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.
  2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the cut chicken.  Cook until done, about 7 minutes.
  4. Remove the chicken from the pan.
  5. In a large pot, start boiling water for the pasta.
  6. Add 2 more Tbsp of oil to the pan
  7. Sautee the garlic and onions.  When the onions are translucent, add in the bell peppers.  Add 1/2 of the remaining spice mixture to the pan.  Cook 3-5 minutes, or until bell peppers are soft.  Remove everything from the pan (Setting the mixture on top of the chicken is fine).
  8. The pasta water is probably boiling by now.  When it boils, pour in the pasta and cook for the appropriate length of time.  Drain the pasta and transfer to large serving dish when done.
  9. Pour the chicken broth into the pan.  Scrape up the bits of chicken and garlic and such left in the pan.  Bring to a boil, let boil for 1 minute, then reduce heat to low or medium-low.
  10. Mix the last of the spice mixture with the cream, and slowly pour in the cream while stirring.  Let this simmer for 2 minutes.  Add the cooked chicken, garlic, onion, and peppers back into the pan.  Cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  11. Pour the cream mixture over the pasta.  Mix so the sauce and chicken and all the other goodness is evenly distributed.
  12. Admire your handiwork.
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Storing Baking Ingredients

It’s no secret that I enjoy baking. (I stress bake too, and on more than one occasion, I’m positive people I know have intentionally placed stressors in my life so that I can that I can bake for said people. But I’m not bitter…) Anyway, because of the baking I do, people often ask me how I can manage to bake on any whim. I have a couple tricks, but one of the most important is fairly straightforward: I keep key baking ingredients in my kitchen at all times. I recently came across this post on the How to Simplify Blog. It covers how to store baking ingredients.

Some of the basic suggestions include

  • Store baking powder in a dry place for up to 18 months
  • Store flour in a cool, dry place for up to 12 months
  • Store whole wheat flour in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months
  • Store honey at room temperature for up to 12 months
  • To test yeast, stir in 1 teaspoon sugar and two teaspoons yeast into 1/2 cup warm water. If a mixture (three layers will form: sugar and yeast, cloudy water and film of yeast) foams and bubbles within 10 minutes, then the yeast is still active.
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