Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Persimmon Compote

It's been a very sweet holiday season in my home, with a cross-country cookie exchange, experimental fudge recipes (mixed results), and our first attempts at caramel squares and turtles (both wildly successful). I make no apologies for the astonishing amount of sugar we consumed: we enjoyed every bite. And I didn't feel at all guilty ignoring the fruit bowl overflowing with gorgeous persimmons, generously shared by a friend ... until yesterday. Then I felt guilty. Very guilty.

After polishing off the last of the leftover Christmas cake, I was ready to give the persimmons the attention they so richly deserve. I chopped them up and simmered them with honey, spices, and a burst of fresh lemon. After the mixture cooled a bit, I spooned some into a cup of Greek yogurt and topped it with dates. I'm happy to report it tastes like Christmas, without the collateral nutritional damage.

I'll devour this batch with nonfat Greek yogurt for protein-rich, guilt-free breakfasts, but it would be equally fabulous stirred into piping-hot oatmeal. If you're not ready to turn your back on sweets yet, pour some over a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. I imagine a shot of candied ginger would be spectacular, but I left it out in deference to my dear but ginger-loathing husband.

If you're looking for more creative ways to enjoy persimmon, try Winter Jewel Salad, with persimmon, pomegranates, and dates in a cinnamon-orange dressing that tastes like fall, and Persimmon and Fennel Salad, a crunchy and colorful salad with greens.

Persimmon Compote

This makes a generous cup of soft, sweetly spiced fruit perfect for stirring into yogurt or hot cereal or pouring over waffles or ice cream. It keeps up to a week in the fridge and freezes well.

4 persimmons, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons water, divided
2 tablespoons honey
A tiny splash of cider vinegar (optional)
1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger
Pinch of cardamom
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Squeeze of lemon

In a small saucepan, combine chopped persimmons, 2 tablespoons water, honey, and cider vinegar, if using. Bring to a boil over medium heat (about 4 to 5 minutes). Reduce heat to medium-low, add spices, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and remaining two tablespoons of water. Add to fruit in pan and stir until thickened. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Remove from heat and cool before storing in refrigerator for up to a week.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Healthy Holidays: Oven-Baked Purple Latkes

Every year, when it gets close to Hanukkah, I start  fretting over frying. As tradition demands, hot oil is the most important reminder of the miracle of Hanukkah. And what a wonderful excuse to indulge in sufganiots (donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes). Eating them, I mean. But not preparing them...

My personal belief as a cook is that deep-frying is exactly what I don't aim for, and many times I substituted the process by a little trick, called baking and broiling. This has been the case for some recipes already tested here with success such as mini kibbeh, made possible because of this little kitchen miracle, the oil mister.

So, if celebrating the eight nights of Hanukkah — we are today lighting the third candle — this is a very tasty bite. It might be the ideal company for soup, for good conversation with friends, or just a cause for celebration. Happy healthy Hannukah!

Oven-Baked Purple Latkes

After reading many recipes and ideas on preparing potatoes for latkes, I came across this very good one: Use a salad spinner to get rid of water and starch from the potatoes. That will guarantee the crunchiness of the final product.

8 medium purple potatoes (or 4 large ones), grated (no need to peel if they are organic), or about 4 cups grated potatoes
1/2 purple onion, grated
3 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup matzoh meal or flour, add more if mix is runny
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
White pepper, ground
Extra-virgin olive oil spray, or in a mister

Grate potatoes, transfer to a salad spinner, and spin about 6 times to get rid of the water and starch from the potato.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with heavy aluminum foil. Let potatoes drain for about 15 minutes in the salad spinner basket while the oven gets hot.

Beat eggs and matzo meal and add to the potatoes in a bowl, and then add grated onions. Sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and freshly ground white pepper. If you feel the mix is too runny, add more matzo meal or flour: You want to get a fluffy moist mix, not runny but not dry.

Spray olive oil on the foil-lined sheet. With a soup spoon, splash latkes over the sheet, leaving a 1/4-inch space between each.

Bake for 20 minutes on the top rack of oven. Broil for two minutes. Serve hot with your favorite recipe for applesauce.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Healthy Holidays: Marshmallow Cake Towers

Mmm, time to bring on some dessert! We're feasting on gingerbread cutouts and chocolatey goodness in my home, but it can sometimes feel like a bit too much.

These elegant little stacks of marshmallow, fruit, preserves, and cake can be fat-free if you use angel food cake. Making marshmallows is certainly a project, but it can be a blast with kids home on holiday break. Cut up the leftovers to enjoy in hot chocolate, stirred with a candy cane.

The instructions are lengthy, but don't be intimidated: Making marshmallows is easier than it might appear, provided you have a stand mixer and a candy thermometer.

And the marshmallows alone make great holiday gifts for friends and neighbors.


Marshmallow Cake Towers

This marshmallow recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen. The marshmallows need to be made at least a few hours ahead; leftover marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container for a few days.

For marshmallows:
canola oil
1/2 cup confectioners sugar, divided
3 1/2 envelopes unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
1 cup cold water, divided in half
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cornstarch

For cakes:
9x13 yellow cake, baked and cooled (use your favorite recipe, from scratch or a box—substitute angel food cake for a fat-free version)
1/2 cup fruit preserves (any flavor -- I used cherry)
fresh fruit, chopped, for garnish (I used mango, strawberry, and kumquat)

To make marshmallows:
Lightly oil the bottom and sides of a 9x13 pan and dust with 1/4 cup confectioners sugar, shaking out excess. In the bowl for your mixer, pour in 1/2 cup of cold water and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let it sit so the gelatin softens and blooms, about 15 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine remaining 1/2 cup of water, sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Clip a candy thermometer to the side. Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium heat and bring to a boil, without stirring, until it reaches 240°F (this can take 10-15 minutes). Take the pan off the heat. Carefully pour the sugar mixture over the gelatin in the mixer bowl and stir to dissolve the gelatin. Using the mixer, beat on high speed until the mixture is white, thick, and about tripled in volume (about 6-8 minutes).

In a separate bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites until they hold stiff peals. Beat whites and vanilla extract into the sugar mixture until combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Combine remaining 1/4 cup confectioners sugar and cornstarch and sift over the top. Set it in the refrigerator, uncovered, for at least three hours and up to one day. Once the marshmallow has set, you can remove it from the pan by loosening the edges with a thin knife and peeling the marshmallow block out, or inverting the pan.

To assemble cakes:
Level the cake. Use a cookie cutter (round, square, or diamond work well) to cut out cake pieces. Clean and dry the cookie cutter, dip it into confectioners sugar, and use it to cut out identical marshmallow pieces. Spread fruit preserves on top of each piece of cake. Place marshmallow cutouts on top of preserves, then top with fruit.

Healthy Holidays: Jewel Fruit Salad

This is one of my favorite desserts ever: It was created by Darienne as a happy accident that came together on a day when nothing else was going smoothly. 

So, after realizing that she would have people over but had nothing ready to serve, she improvised some impromptu snack that turned out to be a huge success:  She sliced up persimmons and apples, pulled apart a pomegranate, and chopped up some dates. The dressing came together quickly, and the final touch was cinnamon and some fresh basil. 

I keep using this recipe for lots of different fruit salads: Pomegranate is a huge success as it adds flavor and crunchiness. I already prepared that with organic chopped Fuji apples, dried figs, strawberries and added fresh grapefruit for a nice finish on the dressing.

101116_jeweled salad_4

Jewel Salad

Pears are a nice substitute for the apples. For tips on using fresh pomegranate, check out this post.

arils from 1/2 a pomegranate
2-3 Fuyu persimmons, peeled and sliced
2 apples, cored, peeled, and sliced
4 dates, pitted and chopped
juice of 1/2 a lemon
juice of 1/2 a large orange (about 2 ounces)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil (optional)

Combine the lemon juice and two cups of water in a small bowl. Add the apple slices and let sit for 10 minutes (this helps prevent browning), then rinse and drain well.

Set out apple slices, persimmon slices, pomegranate, and dates in separate bowls.
In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients and whisk until blended. Pour dressing into a cream pitcher or measuring cup to make it easy to pour.

Children can spoon fruit into their bowls and pour dressing over it.

If you're making this without the help of little hands, just combine all the fruit in a large bowl, add dressing to taste, and stir to combine.

101116_jeweled salad_3

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Healthy Holidays: "Gift" Wrapped Fish

Here we are with our suggested third course for a light and elegant holiday dinner. If, like me, you are looking for a very easy going dish - and even impressive-  to entertain your friends and family, this might be it. 
Since we published this recipe we had some good feedback, and, of course, you can easily adapt this to seasonal ingredients or different fish. Last time I prepared something inspired in this recipe, I used fig leaves and halibut, something really like a recipe from one of my favorite Alice Waters's book. 
And don't miss it: tomorrow we will have a brand new recipe from our oven to make a surprising fourth course!

Pacific Rockfish en Papillote

Any white meat fish will do well for this recipe, as far as it is one chosen from the list available online from Seafood Watch. I always carry my pocket guide everywhere so not to be doubtful of what to do when shopping.

1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
4 fingerling potatoes, thinly sliced
4 rockfish fillets
4 slices portabella mushroom
1/4 tomato, cut in halves
Spring onion, cut in long sticks
Kosher or sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil to drizzle over layers or Earth Balance vegetable spread, softened

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Cut parchment paper in 4 equal parts, enough to wrap the fish towers. Layer 6 circles of zucchini on the bottom, topped with 4 slices of potatoes, and then fish. Finish with slice of portabella, tomato half-moon, and spring onion. Season each layer with a bit of salt and pepper and drizzle olive oil. Fold and close parcels loosely. Bake for 15- 20  minutes, depending on how you like your fish done.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Healthy Holidays: Chestnut Sage Soup

If you're looking for the perfect side dish for your holiday table, this is it.

I love the delicacy of this soup, the mix of savory and sweet, the smoky bacon. I don't love the prep work, however: It will be a lot easier to make if you use vacuum-packed, ready-to-go chestnuts. Peeling hot chestnuts is tough work, and certainly not the kind of work I want to be stuck doing amid holiday celebrating. If you go the fresh route, consider peeling the chestnuts ahead of time and stashing them in the freezer.

Chestnut Sage Soup

Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld, The Herbal Kitchen

If you don’t buy peeled chestnuts, I recommend peeling them in advance and freezing them until needed. The diced bacon also can be cooked ahead of time, to save on-the-spot prep.

1 pound chestnuts, fresh in their shells, or 1/2 pound dried chestnuts, or two 7-ounce jars vacuum-packed peeled chestnuts
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ cups celery, sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 cups vegetable broth
¾ cup apple cider or apple juice
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 bunch thyme sprigs, tied with string
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup half & half
¼ cup sherry, dry or medium-dry
dash kosher salt
dash ground pepper
2 ounces bacon or pancetta, diced
1 tablespoon sage leaves, chopped
½ apple, unpeeled, cored and diced

If using fresh chestnuts, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Carefully cut the chestnuts in half with a sharp knife and put them in the freezer for 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts to the boiling water; boil for 8 minutes, then drain. Squeeze each half to pop out the meat, along with the dark brown pellicle surrounding it. This is much easier to do while the chestnuts are hot; you might want to do this in batches.

If using dried chestnuts, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chestnuts and simmer 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let soak for an hour.

Vacuum-packed chestnuts can be used straight from the jar.

To make the soup: Cook the onion, celery and 1/4 cup coarsely chopped sage leaves in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion and celery are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in all but 1/2 cup of the chestnuts along with the broth, cider, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover and simmer over very low heat for 45 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme and bay leaves; stir in vanilla.

Purée the soup in batches (an immersion blender is great for this) until very smooth. Stir in cream and sherry, and reheat to simmering. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Cook the bacon in a medium skillet — don’t let it get crisp. Drain excess fat, then add in the reserved chestnuts and cook another minute. Stir in apple and cook until warmed through.

Spoon soup into bowls, topping each with the apple-chestnut garnish.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Healthy Holidays: Happy Spinach Salad

We want to celebrate the holidays with a 6-course menu with recipes from our repertoire with a holiday twist.
From today up to next week we will post our favorite choices and some new ones to welcome a very healthy New Year! 

For our first course  we chose this simple yet amazing Strawberry Spinach Salad. The colors are very holiday-ish, you can even decorate it as a Christmas tree. And if you are not close to any fresh strawberry as we are, here in California, you can substitute for fresh kiwis, figs or ripe yellow peaches.

Baby Spinach Salad with Black and Red Dressing

You can choose different ingredients for the main salad. I've combined it with rocket and once used basil instead of spring onions. Kids might want to join you on the presentation, which can be really cool.

4 cups fresh baby spinach
1 sliced medium strawberry for each plate

1 ripe strawberry, diced in tiny pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup apple juice or lemonade
Kosher salt to taste

Mix all ingredients for the dressing at least one hour before serving. Organize each plate with a bed of spinach and slices of strawberry. Serve with the dressing on the side or pour over the salad, leaving the guest to redesign the plate. Enjoy!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Agave Gingerbread People

This year's gingerbread people coming from the oven are molasses-free and also vegan. Hmmm, and they are .... yummy! This is a twist to traditional recipes for the holidays so that everybody — even the egg- and dairy-intolerant people, or the ones who don't like molasses taste (like me) — can have a bite to celebrate the season.

Agave Gingerbread People 

Agave is a cactus originally from Mexico. Its syrup, or nectar, is deliciously sweet, and became popular lately as a alternative sweetener due to its low glycemic index.

1/3 canola oil
1/2 cup brown turbinado sugar
1/4 cup amber agave nectar
1/4 cup vanilla almond milk
3 cups King Arthur's white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup crystallized ginger
1/4 spoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Mix oil, sugar, and agave nectar with almond milk. Add ginger. Sift in flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Knead or mix with a paddle attachment of a stand mixer until it forms a smooth dough. Pat it into a disc and cover with plastic wrap, then let it rest in the fridge for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Take the dough from fridge, set it on the prepare sheet, and roll it out to a 1/4 inch-thickness. Cut cookies with cutters and remove dough around the cut-outs — this way you don't have to transfer them to the sheet and risk breaking them,

Bake for about 15 minutes. Let them cool down before decorating. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chocolate Chai Pudding

Chocolate Chai Pudding

Confession: I hadn't even heard of cornstarch pudding until a few weeks ago. And now I'm obsessed with it. It's easy and versatile, adaptable to dietary needs and whims: Make it with cream, whole milk, or skim milk, or dairy-free substitutes including soy and rice milk. You don't need much sugar, and butter and eggs are strictly optional. Where has this been all my life?!

I have my friend Heather to thank. She pointed me to an online recipe from The Joy of Cooking (I may be the only food blogger in the world who doesn't have that cookbook), and mentioned she likes to prepare it with chai mix.


I couldn't decide if I wanted to make chocolate or chai pudding, so I tinkered with both. My kids don't like the chai infusion, so it's more of a treat for me. And I'm OK with that: From the run-up to Halloween through the end of the year, much of our family life seems to revolve around kid-oriented seasonal delights, edible and otherwise, and so I savored this simple pudding for myself. They'll get their vanilla and chocolate versions for now, but someday I suspect a warm dish of subtly spiced chocolate pudding will taste like home.

If a child hasn't sneakily devoured all the sweets in your baking pantry, as seems to have happened in my house, you could swap semisweet or dark chocolate for the cocoa powder (be sure to cut back the sugar a bit to compensate). Anna suggested the perfect topping: the Best Spiced Nuts. These also would be delicious with a dollop of whipped cream or a sprinkling of chopped toffee.

Chocolate Chai Pudding

Chocolate Chai Pudding

Use whatever kind of milk you like. (Soy goes especially well with chai and yields the rich-looking pudding pictured at the top, but dairy versions are creamier.) You may want to adjust the amount of sugar to suit your taste. If you're feeling really indulgent, stir in a bit of softened butter at the end.

This makes 6 servings — dish them out in tea cups for maximum cuteness.

3 cups milk, divided
2 chai tea bags
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch

In a saucepan, warm 2 1/2 cups milk over medium heat until steaming. Remove from heat, add tea bags, cover, and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags.

Add sugar, salt, and cocoa to chai milk and reheat over medium heat. In a small bowl, stir together cornstarch and remaining 1/2 cup milk until smooth. When the chai milk mixture begins to steam, stir in cornstarch mixture. Continue stirring about 5 to 7 minutes until mixture just comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and continue to stir until pudding is thickened, about 5 minutes.

Spoon pudding into serving dishes. Serve warm or chill for up to a day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Playdate Special: Be Bim Bop

Have you ever thought  about rice? It's present in almost every cuisine of the world, and is the main ingredient for many delicious meals. That's why it was chosen to represent the sense of unity of most cultures at my kid's school cooking club's classes. So the first dish to be prepared at the Cooking Club this year was a colorful dish from Korea, Bi Bim Bop.

I first fell in love with this idea when I saw a kid's book in my local library, called Bee-Bim Bop!, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee, few years ago. Later I had the chance of trying some of the original plate in a Korean bowl place in Palo Alto.

The book is amazing — so cute and so full of rhymes that it turns the task of preparing the dish into almost a musical experience. After four rounds of making the dish with kids at school, I finally got to invite our playgroup to make it, this time using beef instead of tofu.

The key element to get the school kids and our playgroup involved was reading the book before cooking, and getting them used to the idea of "chop chop chop," as in the book,  with a  safe (plastic) knife. Then, the process used with the school kids: While kids at one table were prepping the vegetables, kids at another table were cutting tofu and preparing the marinade. The third table's kids were working with the eggs for the egg pancakes.

The final result was amazing and put together the work of every kid: after watching us cook the veggies and tofu on the griddle, they all had a colorful bowl full of rice to be mixed. For many kids it was the first time to try some different vegetables, tofu, and soy sauce. And some of them were just following what the book suggested — mix mix mix — and eat!

Be Bim Bop

Any rice will do a great job here. If choosing beef, put the fresh steak in the freezer for about 15 minutes to help with the slicing. This recipe is adapted from Linda Sue Park's and also has some inspiration from recipes around the Web. If you are really daring to try something else, you can add a recipe of kimchi (as in this good recipe here).  

Cooked rice
1 English cucumber, peeled
2 carrots, sliced
1/2 pound aduki bean sprouts or alfalfa
4 medium shitake mushroom (optional)
4 medium white mushrooms (optional)
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups fresh organic baby spinach, chopped
Extra-firm organic tofu, diced (or 8 oz. sirloin steak, finely sliced)

Marinade for tofu or beef:
6 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons oil
Sesame seeds (optional)
4 drops sesame oil (optional)
2 stalks spring onions (scallions)

Preheat electric griddle to 370F. (You also can use a large skillet, over medium-high heat.) Chop the vegetables and set aside, each in a different bowl. Mix ingredients for the marinade in another bowl. Add the tofu or beef to the marinade.

Beat the eggs lightly and prepare mini-egg pancakes in the griddle. When done, set them aside on a plate to cool down. Add carrots and tofu (or beef) to the griddle and keep an eye on them, turning periodically.

Cut egg pancakes into half-inch strips and set aside on a plate. Now add mushrooms, bean sprouts, and spinach to the griddle, keeping them separated. At the last minute add cucumber. When the carrots are cooked but still al dente, start removing vegetables, transferring each type to its own bowl. Removed the beef or tofu from the griddle.

Serve all ingredients over a bowl of rice, to be mixed by the person being served. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spiced Fruit Crisps

We're snacking happily on these simple fruit crisps, dried in the oven until crunchy. I've seen a lot of versions that add sugar, honey, or maple syrup, but really there's no need to add sweetening: These apple and pear crisps are delicious on their own, and a sprinkling of spices or vanilla bean makes them an irresistible treat.

Isn't that sunset blush color gorgeous? These are Pink Pearl apples, a beautiful tart variety. My favorite stop at the market these days is a stand overflowing with countless varieties of apples and pears. The farmer is generous with samples, and the kids love to taste-test — we usually leave with at least a half-dozen  varieties.

Spiced Fruit Crisps

Use organic fruit, if possible. I get three to four baking pans' worth of crisps from 1 1/2 pounds of fruit.

apples or slightly firm pears
fresh lemon juice
ground spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, or ginger

Wash, core, and slice fruit 1/8-inch thick (a mandoline makes quick work of this). Fill a bowl with water, add lemon juice, and soak fruit slices for 10 minutes.

Prepare baking pans with silicon mats or parchment paper. Drain slices and lay out in a single layer on prepared pans.

Sprinkle with your favorite spices. Bake at 225 degrees for 2 to 3 1/2 hours until dry. Watch carefully after the first two hours to avoid browning.

They should be fairly dry to the touch but still a little pliable when done — they'll become crisp within a few minutes after removing them from the oven. (If they don't crisp quickly, return them to the oven for a few more minutes.) Once cool, store in an air-tight container.

Variation: For vanilla crisps, drain fruit and return to bowl. Split and scrape a vanilla bean over the slices and very gently mix in before baking. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Succotash in Squash

The sight of those beautiful acorn and carnival squashes inspired me to think about something beyond sugar and cinnamon treats. It made me think about something good to be served not just for a Halloween dinner, but also good for Thanksgiving menu.

And then everything came to make sense: a Native North American classic inside a deliciously edible seasonal container.

One of my kids was not happy when he saw the "dead" acorn squash, halved and cooked, in front of him — it used to be one of his favorite good-looking squashes in his "pumpkin patch" on the rug. But soon he was convinced that the squash's fate was good, and ate all of his succotash.

As you might know, succotash can be interpreted in many ways as long as corn and white beans are included to the recipe. I mainly played with seasonings to enhance the sweetness of the corn and squash while adding a bit of a European flavor with thyme and shallots.

Succotash in Squash

Bake the squash while preparing the beans. It's a good idea to bake a whole batch of squash and sugar pumpkin to use in other recipes and freeze for later.

1 carnival squash, halved and de-seeded
1 acorn squash, halved and de-seeded
1/2 pound lima or cannellini beans, soaked overnight and cooked al dente in salty water
1/2 pound yellow corn kernels, cooked
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 bay leaves
1 medium shallot, diced
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup cooked sugar pumpkin
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 teaspoons thyme
kosher salt to taste
cayenne pepper, to taste
poppy seeds, to sprinkle over the top of each squash

Bake squash halves, face-down in a baking pan with a half-inch of water, at 375 F for about one hour. You want them firm, so check after 45 minutes to see if they're ready — avoid overcooking.

While squashes are in the oven, prepare the filling. Shallow-fry shallots and garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Add thyme and tomato sauce and simmer for 10 minutes. Then add beans and sugar pumpkin and stir. Add salt to taste, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Serve beans inside the baked squash. Happy eating!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spooky Bananas

Have you tried magic writing on bananas yet? This is a perfect time to try it. Using a toothpick, gently write your message on the banana peel. Within an hour, the letters will grow dark and clear. To "color in" a drawing, use a blunt toothpick or another dull tool to press on the peel, without breaking the surface.

It's a great surprise for the fruit bowl or the lunchbox — kids love it!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eyeball Eggs

I first made these as a teenager: I drew eyes on a dozen eggs, put the carton back in the fridge, and waited for my mom's reaction. She never said a word. (I think she might have been a little exasperated with me at the time.)

If eyeballs aren't your thing, you could make ghosts:

I made these eyes with washable markers, so I could rinse away the ink before cracking them open, and used a bolder Sharpie for the ghost. Decorate a hard-cooked egg and tuck it into a lunchbox — or leave a surprise in the egg carton for the next person to make an omelet. Boo!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Coconut Scone

Pumpkin and coconut are considered a classic combination for traditional preserves and compotes in Brazil. Halloween time here sends me me back to those memories of sweetness — pumpkins are everywhere. My kids, for instance, are organizing their own pumpkin patch on a rug in the living room, made with the pumpkins they bring home from field trips... and although we don't celebrate Halloween there as we do here, the thought of candy associated with pumpkins just helped me to rescue that taste.

But before I started to transform the small jack-O-lanterns-to-be in the house into an exotic compote (that just my grandma was able to prepare), I spent my time trying to find a way to blend the coconut reference into a classic recipe. The result was a hearty and perfumed baked goodie, ideal to be accompanied by Darienne's Whipped Pumpkin Cream Cheese.

Pumpkin Coconut Scones

This recipe is freely adapted from King Arthur's Flour Harvest Pumpkin Scone. The original recipe shares a smart tip: Freezing the dough for 30 minutes before baking will make that delicious crunchy upper crust  happen. If you want to make them more Hallowee-ney, decorate them with Darienne's royal icing eyes, or drizzle with sugar icing. 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup organic turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cups unsweetened desiccated shredded coconut
1/2 cup canola spread (Earth's Balance is my favorite), or butter
1 cup organic, canned pumpkin or cooked sugar pumpkin
2  large eggs (or if substituting, 2 tablespoons flax seed meal diluted in 6 tablespoons of water, as suggested by Bob's Red Mill)

Mix all dry ingredients in a big bowl. In another bowl, whisk eggs (or flax substitute) and mix with pumpkin.

Cut butter or canola oil spread in the flour mix to make a coarse mix. Add pumpkin mix gradually to the mixed flour and butter with the help of a wooden spoon. Knead a little bit, if necessary, to hold the dough together.

Pat dough into two pie-shaped discs and transfer them to a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Cut them into 8 slices each and brush them with milk or milk substitute.

Preheat oven to 425F. Put the pies in the freezer, uncovered, for ideally half an hour.

Sprinkle wedges with sugar and cinnamon and bake for about 25 minutes or until scones are golden brown, making sure that all is baked to perfection. Remove from the oven and serve while still warm. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Whipped Pumpkin Cream Cheese

We're addicted to Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cream Cheese. My older son tried it late in the season last year and turned to me, eyes huge: "I. Love. This!" It recently returned to store shelves for a second year, and now my younger son — the one who doesn't like cream cheese — is loving it too. We're happy it's back, but what will we do when it disappears from the stores again? The answer, of course: Make our own.

If you have a TJ's near you, definitely seek out this spread. But if you don't, or if you want a version with less fat or less sugar, or it's April and you're craving pumpkin cream cheese, whip this up. I'm comfortable with the amount of sugar here, but you probably can reduce it by another tablespoon or two.

It's delicious on bagels, but don't stop there — this spread is wonderful on celery ribs, quick breads, scones, and fresh warm bread, and as a dip with apple and pear slices or cookies.

We served it as a dip with baked cinnamon chips, made from homemade pumpkin tortillas cut into bat shapes. (Cut tortillas into triangles or into shapes with cookie cutters, brush with melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until crisp.)

Whipped Pumpkin Cream Cheese

If you wish, substitute regular cream cheese or whole milk for the lower-fat equivalents and use prepared pumpkin pie spice instead of the individual spices. This doesn't have the shelf life of a store-bought blend — if you don't plan to use it up within a couple days, make a smaller batch.

8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup pumpkin pureé
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 to 2 tablespoons low-fat milk (optional, for thinner spread)

Combine cream cheese through spices in a mixing bowl. Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, blend for a few minutes until light. Gradually add milk, if desired, and continue to beat until light and fluffy. You're not going for the texture of whipped cream, just lightening up the cream cheese.

Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pumpkin Chipotle Chili

This vegetarian chili has become a perennial fall favorite in my home. It's a great make-ahead dish for parties, and leftovers freeze well for ready-to-go meals later. It's a fun way to get your children to look at pumpkins a new light. If you're feeling ambitious, present it in a hollowed out pumpkin—perhaps with a jack o'lantern face drawn on it with marker. Hearty and filling, this will help fuel your family through a night of Halloween haunting.
Halloween09 mosaic
My favorite chili, with other party classics — spooky pumpkin patch cake
and mozzarella-and-olive eyeballs.

Pumpkin Chipotle Chili

To roast a pumpkin, simply cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, and pierce the shell a few times with a fork; set halves on a baking sheet, cut side down, and roast at 350 degrees for 45 to 90 minutes. The pumpkin's ready when you can easily pierce to the center with a fork. To keep this child-friendly, go easy on the chile—but offer chipotle chile powder for those who want to turn up the heat.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
cooked flesh from 1 small Sugar Pie pumpkin, chopped (see note)
1 1/2 tablespoons chipotle chile in adobo sauce (more or less according to taste; see note)
1 28-ounce can of tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cups cooked white beans (cannelini, navy, etc.)
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic until softened. Add pumpkin and chile and sauté 2 minutes more. Add tomatoes, vegetable broth, beans, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Serve topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, if desired.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Marshmallow Ghosts

Like the clementine jack o'lanterns featured last week, these don't require a recipe — you just need marshmallows and an edible marker (such as Food Writer pens from Wilton). Draw a spooky face (I made ghosts and attempted Jack Skellington) and tuck them in lunchboxes.

You also could insert lollipop sticks and arrange them in a jar or vase — or in cakes — for a Halloween centerpiece. It's a great little project for kids, too!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pumpkin-Flavored Tortillas

Yes, I admit, I go pumpkin-crazy in autumn. What's not to like?! Pumpkin is a nutritional superstar equally at home in savory and sweet dishes. Here, I used a bit of canned pumpkin to flavor the homemade tortilla recipe I shared a few weeks back. You can use the same approach to flavor your tortillas with spinach, tomato, red pepper and more — homemade flavored wraps, made to order!

Pumpkin gives these tortillas a gorgeous, saffron color. I enjoyed mine as quesadillas stuffed with smoky salsa, grilled chicken, and Monterey Jack cheese. If you really want to earn your Super Mom merit badge, cut pumpkin shapes with a cookie cutter and use those to make quesadillas. You also could use them to make tostadas with black beans.

As I noted in the original post on making tortillas, my recipe makes no claim to authenticity. But it's relatively low-fat, uses a healthy amount of whole wheat flour, and comes together easily. It's a little bit of effort, but so worth it!

Pumpkin Tortillas

Pumpkin tortillas make terrific quesadillas! These are a little stiffer than my plain tortillas. You might want to add a little more olive oil, or rub a few drops on your hands when you knead the dough.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole-wheat flour (or substitute all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1/4 cup pumpkin purée
warm water

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt with your fingers or a fork. Drizzle the oil over the dry ingredients and blend well.

Measure pumpkin into a liquid measuring cup. Add warm water until the total volume is 3/4 cup. Purée with an immersion blender until the pumpkin is fully incorporated into the liquid.

Add the pumpkin and water mixture to the dry ingredients, a spoonful or two at a time, mix in, and repeat until the dough starts to come together in a shaggy ball. You might need a little more or a little less water.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes until it’s smooth and elastic. Divide into 8 to 10 pieces and roll into balls—about the size of ping-pong balls.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Roll a ball of dough out into a very thin circle, about 7 to 8 inches. If the dough is resisting, cover and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes.

Put the rolled-out dough onto the heated skillet and cook for about 15 seconds; you should see some puffy spots and browning. Shake the skillet a little to slide the tortilla around if it gets too puffy. Flip every 15 to 20 seconds—it shouldn't take more than a minute or so.

Wrap cooked tortillas in a kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft, or store in a tortilla warmer while you cook the remaining tortillas. If you have leftovers, store them for up to a week in the refrigerator in a zip-top bag or airtight container, or in the freezer.

Variations: To make different flavors, substitute tomato paste, roasted red pepper, or spinach for the pumpkin. You may need more or less of those ingredients — experiment to suit your own taste. Just be sure to blend it thoroughly into the water so you have a total of 3/4 cup of liquid.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lunch Box Pumpkins

Turn a clementine into a jack o'lantern by drawing a face on the peel with a Sharpie. This time of year, our fruit bowl is piled high with these guys, who find their way into daily lunch boxes. We're bringing a few dozen to our preschool party too. Super easy, and super fun!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spooky Candy Decorations

They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky, they're all together ooky, they're royal icing eyes!

My 7-year-old has a stack of Halloween-inspired food books he pores over this time of year. I'm smitten with the candy eyes, but I've never spotted them in a store. Really, they're just like the Candy Buttons I loved when I was little ... and those are just like royal icing. Which is used to make candy eyes.

Make a stash of these candy eyes and you can add a bit of silliness — or ghostliness — to just about anything. Less than a half-hour's work yields a generous supply of long-lasting candies. They're perfect for decorating cookies, and they can add fun to to all sorts of food.

Dress up a small treat:

Add a little surprise to a wrapped candy:

Give fruit some personality:

Even use them on a sandwich:

Some royal icing recipes use egg whites. Don't risk salmonella: Use meringue powder instead. (Look for it in the baking aisle at the market or craft stores.) I stuck with simple black-and-white eyes, but by all means, tint them any color you want.

And don't stop with candy eyes! Draw simple shapes on waxed paper, flip the paper over, and follow your pattern when you pipe the icing. I made some ghosts and Jack Skellington faces for my younger son, who plans to be the Pumpkin King for Halloween. You also can use royal icing to decorate cookies, cement together a haunted gingerbread house, and even make sprinkles — see the tips following the recipe. (For non-Halloween candy dot fun, check out this great post inspired by Candy Buttons.)

Candy Decorations

You can use royal icing to pipe ghosts, bats, monster faces, fangs, pumpkins — whatever you can think of. If you want to flavor it, add a bit of clear extract along with the corn syrup. For color, use gel coloring.

2 tablespoons meringue powder
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 lb. powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon light corn syrup

Combine the meringue powder and water in the work bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on high speed until foamy.

Add the powdered sugar mix on low speed until combined. Add the corn syrup and beat on medium to medium-high speed for 5 to 7 minutes, just until the mixture is glossy and holds stiff peaks.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. If you chill the frosting, you may need to let it sit on the counter for 30-45 minutes before using it.

To make candy eyes, add a few drops of water and stir to make the icing a little runny. Pipe dots of icing onto waxed paper and let dry for several hours. (You can make these with stiff icing too, but you may end up with little peaks on each dot, like a chocolate chip. Just pat them down with a damp finger.)

To make the pupils, wait until the candy dots dry and then decorate them with edible markers. (You also could set aside some icing, tint it black, and pipe smaller dots onto the larger white ones — click here to see a great tutorial.)

When the candies are thoroughly dry, store them in an airtight container. (I hear they can be stored for years, but I can't speak from experience.) I keep mine right on the waxed paper. To affix the eyes, use a dot of icing or honey to make 'em stick.

  • Keep a damp cloth or plastic wrap over any open containers so the icing doesn't dry out. 
  • If you're using a piping bag, wad up a damp paper towel or wash cloth and put it in the bottom of a glass; when you're not using the bag, stash it in the glass with the tip nestled in the damp towel so it won't dry out. 
  • To create larger shapes, pipe the outline with stiff icing, then "flood" the interior with slightly thinned icing.
  • Make your own sprinkles: Pipe icing in long lines on waxed paper, let dry, then break it up to form sprinkles. You can make sprinkles in the exact color you want!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monster Treats

100903_CPE_monster treats_small

100903_CPE_monster treats_1Not all Halloween treats need to involve chocolate, caramel, and candy corn. These Monster Treats are a fun way to get your vegetables. Covered in a crisp bread crumb coating, they break open to reveal brilliant purple potatoes and bright green peas. Monster guts? Monster boogers? Call 'em what you like. We call them deliciously fun.

Monster Treats

We liked the combination of bright green peas with deep purple potatoes, but you can mix in almost anything you like. You can use leftover mashed potatoes to speed up prep time.

2 pounds purple potatoes, peeled and cooked
2 teaspoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 cups frozen peas
2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I mix regular bread crumbs with panko)

Combine potatoes, butter, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mash with a fork or masher. Stir in peas. Refrigerate until well chilled.

Put egg whites in a shallow bowl and stir briefly with a fork or small whisk. Put bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.

To form treats, scoop up a tablespoon or so of the potato mixture and shape into a nugget or ball. Dip into egg white and then into bread crumbs.

To freeze: Arrange nuggets on a plate or pan and set in the freezer for a few hours. Store frozen nuggets in a sealed freezer bag; take them straight out of the bag to bake.

To bake in the oven (my preferred method): Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set nuggets on a parchment-lined baking sheet and spray lightly with olive oil or cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes or until nuggets are lightly browned and crispy.

To pan-fry: Lightly spray a non-stick pan with olive oil or cooking spray. Cook nuggets over medium heat for a few minutes on each side until lightly browned and crispy. (You can also fry them in oil.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pumpkin Cranberry Pudding

We're getting ready for Halloween with a slew of special treats! Over the next two weeks, we're sharing our favorite pumpkiny recipes, fun tricks to spookify a lunch box, and special dishes perfect for Halloween parties and fun dinners.

Some of them are new, and some are favorites from the 250 recipes in our archives. This is one of our favorites from seasons past: Anna's Pumpkin Pudding, an easy homemade treat decorated with an easy and vibrant fresh cranberry sauce.

As my kids drool over the bags of candy in stores (are those bags getting bigger every year?), I feel swamped by sweets. But this pudding, whose only indulgence is condensed milk, is a great way to satisfy your family's sweet tooth without caving in to this sugar-crazy season.

Pumpkin Pudding

Ideally it should be prepared one day before dinner party. But a good 6 hours in the fridge will do the trick if you are in a hurry.

1 can organic pumpkin or 15 oz (425 g) cooked sugar pumpkin
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
2 cups Almond Milk or Soy Milk
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon lime or lemon zest
2 envelopes unflavored Knox gelatin

1/2 pound fresh cranberries
2 cups apple juice

In one bowl mix condensed milk, pumpkin and spice. In a sauce pan, warm almond milk and dissolve the gelatin in it. When gelatin is dissolved and mix is warm, add it to the bowl of pumpkin and condensed milk and blend well. Pour into a plastic mold or bundt cake mold and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

For the sauce, simmer cranberries with apple juice until smooth. Remove the chilled pudding from of the mold and spoon the sauce over it and into the well in the center.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cranberry Beans with Browned Garlic

I've been flirting with the idea of eating less animals and more plants for a long time. That doesn't mean that I will campaign for strictly vegetarian or vegan, but I would not feel totally okay writing about this if I omit that something changed in my lifestyle after watching Forks over Knives.

Having said that, I am now happy to tell you about my renewed love for beans. Black beans are a longtime a favorite here. Kidney beans have always been in spicy and beautiful chili con carne dishes. Even fresh string beans are always on my mind when I need to add more greens to any plate. They are all loaded with protein and fiber and lots of iron.  But nothing compares to the uniqueness of fresh cranberry beans. I found them when I went to my favorite local farmer's market, Old Mac Donald's. They caught my eye because of their bright color and curious name.

Please give it a chance even if you are not so attracted by the idea of beans. These are especially flavorful, have nutty and sweet notes and perfect texture if cooked al dente. They will lose their beautiful spots during the cooking, but will gain lots of flavor. Most kids will try it and at least will have fun opening the shells just to find the beauty of each bean, like pearls in a shell. Their season is at its end, so if you are lucky to find them in your farmer's market, here's a simple and delicious way of enjoying them.

Cranberry Beans with Garlic

4 garlic cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound cranberry beans, unshelled
Enough water to cover the beans
Kosher salt to taste
Oregano to taste
Zest of half a lemon

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add garlic and bay leaves, lower heat to medium, and brown them lightly. Add beans and sauté with the garlic for a few minutes. Add water. Cover pot and simmer for about 25 minutes or up to when the beans are soft enough, but not mushy.

Open pan and add oregano and lemon zest to finish, cooking about 5 minutes more over low heat with the pot uncovered. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil.


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