Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pork and Green Onion Wonton Soup


I hope that you have plans of costumes, pumpkins and candy tonight. Me? I've got a date with my oven to make some pumpkin flavored treats. Don't worry, I'll share them with you later.

For now, I'm sharing this AMAZING recipe. No joke, it has some of my most favorite characteristics in a recipe. Number 1- it is delicious (you know how much I love some yummy food). Number 2- it is so quick and easy to put together, like literally 10 minutes to cook (well once you have the wontons frozen). Number 3- I will definitely be eating it again (and not only because I have a freezer bag of wontons ready to go).

So here's the deal, spend a little bit of time on the weekend prepping the wontons and you are ready to go with a simple weeknight meal.

I'm thinking I'm going to have to play around with some different flavors inside of the wonton wrappers to mix it up in the future. But this combo of pork, green onions and ginger is great. You've got to try it out.

Pork and Green Onion Wonton Soup (adapted from Foodie with Family)
For Pork and Green Onion Wontons:
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
2 green onions (green and white), finely minced
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp rice vinegar
24-32 wonton wrappers (depending on how much you put in each)
1 egg, beaten

For 1 serving of soup:
1 tsp oil (sesame, peanut or canola)
7-8 frozen pork and green onion wontons (from above)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks
3-4 button mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and whole
1 green onion, diced
1 tbsp of Asian chili sauce (more or less to taste)
Fried rice noodles, for serving

To make wontons:
Combine the ground pork, fish sauce, ginger, green onions, cornstarch and rice vinegar in a bowl and mix until homogeneous.

Working with 4-6 wonton wrappers at a time, brush the entire wonton with the egg and then place approximately 1 tsp of the pork mixture into the middle of the wrapper. Bring together the corners and squeeze to close. Place the prepared wontons on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Once you have assembled all of the wontons (I ended up with 32 wontons), place the baking sheet in the freezer and freeze through, at least 2 hours. At this point, you can put all of the wontons into a freezer bag for longer term storage.

To make the soup:
Place the oil in the bottom of soup pan. Add the frozen wontons, carrot matchsticks, mushrooms, garlic clove and white parts of the onion. Add 1 cup of broth and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a strong boil, add another cup of broth and bring back to a boil. Once that reaches a strong boil, add the last cup of broth and bring to a boil for 5 minutes.

To serve, remove the wontons, carrots and mushrooms to a bowl and pour the broth over them (discard the garlic clove). Garnish with the green parts of the onion and fried rice noodles.

Serves 1.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I have a sad cooking confession for you.

Last week pork ribs were on sale at Meijer. I was super excited because I love a good sale and because I haven't had ribs in a long time. Plus I've never made ribs at home. I usually just wait until I'm out to a nice dinner and order up something extra messy so that I can eat with my fingers and show off my amazingly proper table manners. Nowadays I don't really go out often because I eat most meals by myself. So I figured I would give the ribs a whirl at home. I had pinned this delicious looking recipe for bourbon barbecue ribs and I always get excited about a bourbon barbecue sauce so I knew this was the one. Plus to make it even more of a "Julie" recipe, it was in the crockpot!?!! And you know how much I love my crockpot. :)

So yesterday morning, I set it all up. I cooked up the ribs a little in the morning, mixed together the barbecue sauce and let the slow cooker do the deed while I was at work dreaming of the smells I would come home to at the end of the day.

Sadly, I came home to a burned mess stuck in the bottom of my slow cooker. I could salvage a few bites of rib meat here and there from the center ribs, but overall it was a total flop. I couldn't even bare to take a picture because it made me so sad. :(

What went wrong?

Here's what I think.

1. I cut the recipe down significantly from the 5 lbs of ribs she suggested to only about three quarters of a pound. I mean, there was no way I was going to cook 5 lbs of ribs for myself. I think there was just not enough liquid in the slowcooker and it caused the brown sugar and bourbon to caramelize too quickly and resulted in browning.

2. I did cook it for longer than the suggested 9 hours. It was close to 11 hours because that's how long I was gone from the apartment. I'm not sure it was the extra two hours that pushed it over the edge, but I'm sure it didn't help.

Moral of the story: Sometimes your cooking fails.

Suck it up, eat some burnt meat along with a big salad, and start planning your next excursion in the kitchen. I have some ribs in the freezer that are dying for a chance to redeem themselves. I think I'll have to use the oven to adjust for the smaller servings though. Don't worry, I'll keep you in the loop.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pumpkin Pesto

Well it's official. I had to turn my heat on today. My house was down to 60 degrees and I couldn't handle it. I did bundle myself up and head out to the second to last farmer's market of the season. Either the crops are diminishing or the farmers were cold as well because it wasn't quite as full as normal.

Oh don't worry, I'm actually not complaining. I like the cooler weather especially a cooler house. I love to cuddle up with blankets on the couch to watch a movie or read a book. I like sleeping with extra layers on my bed (yes, I did add my down comforter to the bed last night). 

Have you been wondering what I have been making with that pumpkin puree? Wait no longer, today is pumpkin pesto day! I came across this recipe through one of my daily recipe emails that just knew I had to try it out. I decided to skip the walnuts and substitute in some toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds!) instead. 

Overall, I thought the pesto was good on spaghetti noodles although I didn't get a strong taste of pumpkin. The predominant flavors were definitely the garlic, basil and parsley. However, that being said, I would still suggest trying it out. You can use pesto for so many things including as a sauce for pasta as I did below or as a pizza or calzone sauce or as an appetizer dip.

Stay warm and eat pumpkin pesto!

Pumpkin Pesto (adapted from Diabetic Living)
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup packed fresh parsley
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (homemade or store bought)
1/4 cup pepitas, toasted*
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped, scraping down the sides as necessary. With the motor running, stream in the oil and blend until the desired consistency is obtained. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.

Use as pesto in anything you desire.

To serve with pasta, combine with cooked noodles and 1/8-1/4 cup pasta cooking water to help coat the noodles. Serve garnished with additional parmesan cheese and pepitas.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Chili in the Crockpot

What do you do when the weather turns from high of 80 to high of 50 within 24 hours?

1. Wear a scarf. Obvi.

2. Make some chili. Probably in the crockpot if you are working all day and don't have time for a long simmer.

It's inevitable that I'll make chili multiple times during the fall and winter. When it comes to a bean-laden thick stew, I just can't say no. I like a traditional red chili or a white chicken chili or a vegetarian chili. This fall I'm thinking I'm going to try a pumpkin chili. I told you once that I have this one slow cooker cookbook that I enjoy because it has about 25 variations for each dish. I typically don't follow just one recipe but instead adapt things from multiple and go from there. Here's a look at my chili recipe page from the cookbook. Yes, I do defile my cookbooks by writing down my adaptions, folding down corners and even noting whether or not I liked the recipe. You may even be able to see some food stains if you look closely. :)

I'm pretty certain every time I make chili, it turns out a little different. That's because I use the ingredients I have on hand in my fridge and pantry. So I'm sharing with you what I did this time around. But as always, be creative and use what you have (is this becoming my cooking mantra?). Also, you can definitely double the chili recipe and it should fit in a normal sized crockpot. I made a little less this time around because it was just for me (lasted for 2 lunches and 2 dinners) but when I would make it for Scott and me, I always upped the ingredients.

Chili in the Crockpot (heavily adapted from Fix-It and Forget-It)
1/2 lb ground turkey, browned and grease drained
1 16 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 16 oz can diced tomatoes
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bell pepper, diced (I used half of a red pepper and half of a yellow pepper)
1 jalapeno pepper, diced (with or without seeds depending on your heat tolerance)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder 
salt and pepper, to taste
shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish
sliced jalapeno, for garnish

To help the flavors meld, brown the meat and cut up the veggies the night before you are going to cook the chili. Combine everything, except the salt and pepper, in the crock of your slow cooker. Cover and refrigerate over night. (It is not essential to follow this step... just my recommendation).

In the morning, remove the crock from the fridge and place in the slow cooker. Turn heat to low and cook for 8-12 hours. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve hot garnished with cheddar cheese and sliced jalapeno. 

Serves 3-4.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

I know the saying is "America runs on Dunkin"

But today the truth is "Julie runs on Dunkin". I had an early morning (think 7am) date with the car dealership for an oil change. Of course I picked up a large coffee on my way to drop it off.

I went back this afternoon to pick up the car and this necessitated another stop at Dunkin Donuts for a medium coffee.

For those of you counting that 36 ounces of coffee today. Certainly needed after only about 6 hours of sleep last night. It has kept me alert and fairly productive today so that's a good thing, right?

Completely unrelated, but another fun fact about today. It is in the high 70s and b-e-a-utifully sunny outside.

Duh duh duh duh duh I'm loving it.

Oh wait. Wrong restaurant.


This beef and broccoli stir fry is great. Broccoli is probably my favorite vegetable for stir fry because it soaks up the sauce so well. Mushrooms are probably a close second. That's why I loaded this up with both of them. Be creative with the veggies that make you tick. Feel free to substitute vegetable or chicken broth for the beef broth if you don't have it on hand.

As always with stir fry, your meal will be ready in as much time as it would take you to run out and get another cup of joe from Dunkin.

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
1/3-1/2 lb top loin steak (or other steak), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tbsp dry sherry
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)
approximately 2 cups chopped broccoli florets
approximately 1 cup chopped mushrooms
1/3 cup sliced onion
1 tbsp diced onion
1 garlic clove, diced
1 pinch sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp dry sherry
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp sriacha sauce
2 cups cooked rice, for serving
sliced green onion, for topping

Whisk together the egg white, 1 tbsp sherry and 1 tbsp corn starch. Pour over the beef in a bowl and toss to coat. Refrigerate for 30 min to 1 hour. Drain off excess marinade.

Prep all of your vegetables while the meat marinates. Also, cook rice as indicated on the package.

Whisk together the beef broth, 1/2 tsp corn starch, soy sauce, 1/2 tbsp dry sherry, hoisin sauce and sriacha. Set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp oil over medium heat in a wok (or large skillet). Add the beef and cook until browned, stirring occasionally, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the beef to a plate and wipe out the wok.

Heat another 1 tbsp oil over medium high heat in the wok. Add the garlic and diced onion. Cook, stirring until softened, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and salt and stir to mix. Add in the broccoli, mushrooms and onion slices and stir fry until crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Add the beef back to the wok. Add the sauce and stir everything until it thickens, about 1-2 minutes.

Serve the beef and broccoli over cooked rice topped with sliced green onion.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Boneless Buffalo Wings

Show of hands:

Who loves Bdubs?

Who loves a boneless buffalo wing?

Well, for one two-- my parents. They are kinda regulars at their local Buffalo Wild Wings. I accompanied them once when I was visiting and the waitress brought over their diet cokes as soon as they sat down; they also proceeded to show her pictures of their grandbaby, my niece.

My mom bought one of their bottles of sauce and they tossed it with some grilled chicken to get their flavor fix at home. Sounds good, right? I think so. However, when they were visiting last my dad mentioned how he wished they could get the breaded boneless buffalo wing taste using the sauce without just simply dipping a chicken nugget into the sauce. Oh, I said, that's easy. Just make "the crunchiest baked chicken nuggets of your life" and substitute in your desired sauce for the egg white.

So they went home, tried it out, and reported back yummy success. Of course, I had to reproduce it in my kitchen. And now we have unanimous positive votes.

So do it up. Pick up your fav bottle of buffalo wing sauce (doesn't have to be from Bdubs) and start creating. A plus is that they are baked instead of fried (aka totally healthy).

Serve with some ranch or blue cheese dressing and carrot and celery sticks, turn on a football game and you'll forget you're at home.

Boneless Buffalo Wings (adapted from The Crunchiest Baked Chicken Nuggets)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
dash of salt
1 tbsp peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)
1/2 cup flour 
2-3 tbsp buffalo sauce 
1 tsp water
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Spread panko on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden brown, approximately 6 minutes. Transfer to a shallow dish and stir in salt.

Whisk together the buffalo sauce and water. Place the flour in a shallow dish.

Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and lightly coat with cooking spray.

In batches, coat the chicken in flour, shaking off the excess, dip in buffalo sauce and then coat with panko, pressing to adhere. Place on wire rack.

Bake until the chicken in cooked through, 12-15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Serves 4.

P.S. Next time I'm making these into a buffalo chicken salad. Or maybe a buffalo chicken wrap. SO MANY CHOICES! :)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cinnamon Roll Biscuits

There's nothing better than a lazy morning of coffee and a good book, right? Throw in some homemade cinnamon rolls and you'll never want to change out of your pjs and get the day started.

For me the coffee flavor doesn't really matter (as long as it's black, no cream or sugar here). And if I'm entirely honest, the book (as long as it is captivating) doesn't really matter either. I've read a LOT of "for fun" books since I started my postdoc. Mostly because I gave up on them during grad school (and I don't have a very active social life). I tend to get sucked in and can't put the book resulting in perfect lazy mornings. As long as the coffee mug keeps refilling itself and the cinnamon rolls are tasty.

Oh. You want to know what books I've been enjoying lately? Thanks for asking. I'll tell you because you asked so very nicely. ;)

1. The Private series of books by James Patterson and cohorts. I actually read all three of these books in reverse order starting with Private Games during the Olympics (it is set during the London 2012 games) and thoroughly enjoyed them all. As with every Patterson book and affiliate, the short chapters and page-turning mysteries have me reading "just one more" for about 25 chapters before setting them down.

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Like you, I'm sure, I've seen the movie trailer featuring the lovely Hermione Granger Emma Watson. I wasn't really sure what to expect from the book but I certainly didn't consider it the modern day "Breakfast Club" as the trailer led me to believe. It was one of those books, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that left me wondering who read it and thought, wow this would make a good movie. Not that it was a bad book... I'll leave it at that. Read it and let me know what you think.

3. The Vampire Academy series. Ok, ok. I'm a sucker for a vampire storyline. But these books, although targeted at teenage girls, are very well written; with just enough love, lust, action, and intrigue, they have pulled me into this fantasy world of good vs bad vampires, the bodyguards that protect them, and the alchemists that help guard the secrets. I highly recommend all of them.

4. Catch Me. Lisa Gardner has done it again. I don't know how she comes up with all of these crazy back stories about terrible childhoods that lead to serial killers but somehow it all works. A page turner for certain. Just make sure you lock your doors (especially if you live in Boston).

So enough about the books I've been reading, moving on to what you really want--- the cinnamon rolls. I've been wanting to make homemade cinnamon rolls for quite some time (they're on that bucket list), but they typically take a bit longer than I want to spend on Saturday morning. Especially for only me. If I'm going to put the effort it, I gotta be sharing it with someone else (or multiple people). When Brown Eyed Baker posted these biscuit cinnamon rolls that didn't require yeast and rising time, I knew they would totally be perfect for me. And they are. Simple and easy and to your tummy within 1 hour. I decided to go with a cream cheese frosting instead of her simple glaze and I think it was worth the extra ingredients. Delicious.

So cuddle up with your coffee and a good book and enjoy these cinnamon rolls!

Any books you recommend? 

Cinnamon Roll Biscuits
For biscuits (adapted from Brown Eyed Baker):
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 dash salt
1/2 cup (+ a little more) half and half
1 tbsp melted butter, unsalted
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For cream cheese frosting:
3 tbsp softened low fat cream cheese
1/8 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp half and half

Preheat oven to 425 F.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the half and half until a dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 30 seconds until smooth, adding more half and half or flour as necessary.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a rectangle about 5 X 12 inches. Brush half of the butter on the top of the dough. Mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the dough. Roll up the dough long way (start at the end of one of the 5 inch sides and roll along the 12 inches). Cut the dough into 6 pieces about 1-1 1/2 inches wide.

Brush the rest of the butter on the bottom of a baking dish. Place the pieces of the roll round side down on the buttered dish.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

Make the cream cheese frosting, by mixing the cream cheese with a spoon until slightly fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and stir until completely incorporated and a soft and smooth texture is reached. Add the half and half and stir until smooth and slightly runny. Spoon the frosting over the rolls.

Eat while warm.

Serves 2-3.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Fall Salad

It has literally been raining on my way home from work every day this week. I think my toes have constantly been cold and wet. And with the days getting shorter, it is also dark when I leave work. When I get home, I'm longing to cuddle up with a blanket on my couch and slurp hot soup, stew or chowder out of a bowl that is warming my hands. Of course, the chipotle cheddar ale soup is long gone and most days I'm craving dinner faster than it takes to make a hearty stew. I think it's time to whip out that crockpot; next week, we'll have something warm to eat, promise.

But for today, we'll have to turn to hot chocolate or coffee to warm our souls because we're eating a nice cold and crisp fall salad. Really though it encompasses just about everything autumn related- apples, pears, roasted pumpkin seeds and cranberries. Throw in some spinach leaves, red onion, celery, and feta cheese and you're set to go. Oh wait, don't forget the bacon crumbles.

I used a combo of poppy seed dressing and balsamic vinegar for dressing as suggested on the food blog that inspired this dish. The combination added enough creaminess but was still tangy enough to balance the sweetness of the fruit in the salad.

Fall Salad (inspired by Iowa Girl Eats)
2 cups spinach leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
2 thin slices of red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 apple (whatever kind you like), coarsely chopped
1/2 pear (whatever kind you like), coarsely chopped
1/2 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
handful of dried cranberries
handful of roasted pumpkin seeds
1-2 tbsp feta cheese crumbles
2 slices of bacon, crisp cooked, drained and chopped
1 tbsp poppy seed dressing
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Combine everything through the bacon in large bowl and mix. Drizzle on the poppy seed dressing and balsamic vinegar and toss to coat everything.

Serve immediately.

Serves 1.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Red Wine Risotto with Bacon, Mushrooms and Peas

I'm becoming a wine gal. I think it's because I live alone and you look classy if you are drinking a glass of wine by yourself but a bottle of beer makes you look like an alcoholic (you know, to the outside world that is obviously watching your every move and judging what you do when you are by yourself). True? I'm not sure, but in my messed up mind this makes sense.

I don't really drink a lot of wine. Just a glass here or there with dinner (okay, maybe two glasses if it is a weekend and I'm sucked into a good book or sappy movie). My journey with wine has really been an adapting one; I used to only like white wines like Pinot Grigio because I needed it to be cold and I liked the crispy taste. Recently, however, I've gotten into red wine- not sweet red wine- but drier reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. I will never ever claim to be a wine connoisseur because let's be honest, I buy wine because it is on sale or because I'm drawn to the picture on the bottle.

Anyway, usually I will open up a bottle of wine and over the course of a few days finish it. However, after my trip to NC a few weeks ago I realized I had a half bottle that had been sitting on my counter for a little too long. I thought to myself, it probably doesn't taste as good any more so I should probably cook with it instead of drinking it. My mind jumped to risotto and I experimented from there. As this was only the second time I made risotto (see here for the first and step-by-step directions), I think I did pretty well making up the recipe. I enjoyed it for sure. As with my last risotto recipe, this serves one, but you could certainly up the amount for 2 or 4 people.

In case you are wondering, I'm not the first person to experiment with red wine in the kitchen. See this article for 100 recipes using leftover wine. I've already bookmarked some of them for the next bottle I don't finish...

Red Wine Risotto with Bacon, Mushrooms and Peas
2 pieces bacon (+ 1 tbsp bacon fat)
1-1 1/2 cup chicken broth (low sodium store bought or homemade)
1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas
5 button mushrooms, coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese + more for serving
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook over medium heat in a large skillet until browned. Drain the bacon pieces on a paper towel and discard all but 1 tbsp bacon grease.

Bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat in a small saucepan. Cover and reduce the heat to low.

Add the onion and garlic to the skillet with the bacon grease and cook over medium heat until soften about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toss in the peas and rice and cook, stirring quickly, until the well coated, about 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost gone, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms. Add the broth, 1/4 cup at a time, and stir the rice constantly until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Continue to add broth until the rice has been cooking for 20-25 minutes. Taste and check to see if the rice is tender but not mushy. Continue to cook, adding a little more liquid to keep moist until you reach the desired consistency.

Remove pan from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. Pour into a bowl and top with bacon pieces and additional parmesan cheese as desired.

Serves 1.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Homemade Pumpkin Puree (a how to)

I know I've said this a number of times, but sometimes spending the time and effort to make things at home instead of buying canned or prepackaged is great.

This weekend I made pumpkin puree. Yeah, that stuff you normally get out of a can. I spent $3 on two pie pumpkins and got around 5 cups of puree. I think that is maybe about equivalent to what it would cost you from the store. But the great thing is I also got some toasted pumpkin seeds out of the deal. And I supported a local farmer. If you've got the time you should do it; doesn't take a lot of effort, just follow the 6 easy steps below.

Step 1. Go to the farmer's market (or grocery store) and pick out some pie pumpkins. Clean the outsides. And get out a giant sharp knife.

Step 2. Cut the pumpkins in half and scoop out the insides. Place them cut side down on baking sheets. Roast in 400 F oven for 40-60 minutes (give or take some time depending on the size of your pumpkins).

Step 3. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Step 4. Peel off the skin and put the flesh into a food processor.

Step 5. Puree until you get the desired consistency.

Step 6. Use in recipes!!

So simple. Do the darn thang!

Pumpkin Puree
Pie pumpkins (also known as sugar pumpkins)*

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Clean the outside of the pumpkin(s). Cut the pumpkin(s) in half using a sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds and strings. Place the pumpkin halves cut side down on baking sheet. Bake for 40-60 minutes (cooking time will vary depending on the size of your pumpkin) until the flesh is cooked completely.

Let the roasted pumpkins cool completely. Peel off the skin and put the flesh into a food processor. Pulse until a smooth consistency is reached.

Use in place of "canned pumpkin puree" for any recipe.

Freeze in freezer safe ziploc bags.**

*I used two pie pumpkins (Sorry I don't know how much they weighed because I got them from the farmer's market) and got around 5 cups of puree. Use as many pumpkins as you want :)

**I packaged some of mine in 1 cup aliquots in quart sized bags. I froze the rest in ice cube trays (about 2 tbsp per cube) then cracked the cubes out and put them in a gallon sized bag. The different amounts will allow me to thaw whatever I need, when I need it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pretzel Rolls

And now what you have been waiting for-- PRETZEL ROLLS!

Y'all, I'm not kidding you when I say these may be my favorite yeast-based home-baked recipe thus far in my life. They were perfectly chewy on the outside and soft on the inside. They were great for soaking up the chipotle cheddar ale soup. They also made a great little sandwich stuffed with sharp cheddar, deli mustard, spinach and red onion:

Now I wish I had more.

I cut the recipe from the original source in half because I didn't want them to go bad before I was able to finish them. No worries though, they literally only lasted for 24 hours in my apartment. The recipe below reflects my adaptions. I made two sandwich rolls and one bread bowl. It could have made two bread bowls or four sandwich rolls. Or you could certainly double, triple, quadruple, duodecuple* or centuple** the recipe to adjust for how many you want to make. As with most yeast recipes, you don't have to double, triple, quadruple, duodecuple* or centuple** the yeast exactly, it just may take a little longer for the bread to rise.

Do whatcha want.

Especially if that includes making and eating this adorable little dudes.

Pretzel Rolls (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
For dough:
1 1/2 cups bread flour
2 tsp dry active yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
a little over 1/2 cup hot water (around 130 F)

For baking:
8 cups water
1/4 cup baking soda
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp liquid egg whites, beaten until foamy
kosher salt

In the bowl of your food processor, pulse together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. While on low, stream in the hot water until a dough ball forms. Pulse for an additional 1 minute to knead. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray and place the dough in it, turning to coat completely. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean towel and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 35 minutes to 1 hour (depending the temperature of your kitchen and the activity of your yeast).

Spread flour on a work surface. Punch down the dough and turn out onto the surface. Knead until smooth. Separate into however may pieces you want to make (I divided it in half for one bread bowl and divided the other half in half again for 2 sandwich rolls). Roll into balls and flatten slightly. Place on the floured surface and cover with a clean towel. Let rise for another 20-40 minutes until puffy. Use a sharp knife to cut a cross into the top of the buns.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal.

Bring the 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Stir in the baking soda and sugar to dissolve (be careful, it will foam).

Add the buns (as many as can fit without touching each other). Boil for 30 seconds, then flip over using a slotted spoon and boil for another 30 seconds. Remove the buns to the prepared baking sheet with the cut sides up. Brush the top and sides of the rolls with the egg whites. Sprinkle the top with kosher salt.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until browned. Cool and serve.

Makes 2 bread bowls or 4 sandwich rolls.

*I just learned that duodectuple is twelve fold.

**Also learned that centuple is one hundred fold. Which would be A LOT of pretzel rolls.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chipotle Cheddar Ale Soup

If you are like me, sometimes you come across a similar recipe on a ton a blogs and you seriously cannot get the idea out of your head. For me, during the start of this fall and immersed in football season, it was these cheddar and ale soups. Be still my heart (maybe literally from bacon, cheese and beer), but they just looked perfect. Of course, I couldn't decide on one particular recipe to follow so I made an amalgam of them all to come up with this deliciousness.

A few things to remember in order to make this soup work well. First, choose a brown ale or lager such as Newcastle or Bass or Yuengling (nothing too light or too dark, just wouldn't go). Second, do NOT use preshredded cheese; preshredded cheese has corn starch in it to prevent sticking. However, this also inhibits melting ability. I like to use my food processor for the shredding because it speeds up the process, you can certainly do it by hand though. You'll need 11-12 oz of cheese- you pick the kinds. I went with a combo of chipotle cheddar (that was screaming at me from the Target cold box) and sharp white cheddar; it provided a nice spicy and smoky flavor. I could imagine that any combo of cheddars and colby jack would also work well.

Don't worry, I also loaded up the soup with a number of different veggies so we could get some good nutrients as well.

And to make it even better I served it in a pretzel bread bowl. What goes better with beer than pretzels? Check back later for that recipe. For now just enjoy this.

Chipotle Cheddar Ale Soup
3 pieces bacon, chopped
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 jalapeno, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 tbsp fresh thyme, diced
2 tbsp flour
1 bottle (12 oz) brown ale (such as Newcastle)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup half and half
8 oz chipotle cheddar cheese
3 oz sharp white cheddar cheese
extra slices of jalapeno, for garnish
diced parsley, for garnish

Finely grate the cheese using a food processor (or a hand grater).

Cook the bacon in a dutch oven over medium heat until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels. Add the potato, celery, carrot, onion, jalapeno, red pepper, garlic and thyme to the bacon grease in the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the flour and stir until starts to brown, about 2-3 minutes.

Whisk in the beer, followed by the chicken broth. Finally whisk in the half and half. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes until thickened slightly.

Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the cheese, one handful at a time, until melted.

Serve (in a pretzel bowl, if desired), topped with the bacon, jalapeno slices and parsley.

Serves 4.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese (for a crowd)

I mentioned it earlier this week, but last weekend I traveled to NC for Scott's birthday. This was not the only thing that we celebrated. Every year during the first weekend in October, Durham hosts a World of Beer Beerfest. I've attended for now 5 of the past 6 years (I skipped out last year because I was writing that blasted thesis). Beerfest is a great event to try a number of different beers from all over the world. You get to see a lot of microbreweries as well as new and different flavors from the ones you see on tap and on shelves everywhere. During my first Beerfest, I voted for Sam Adams Irish Red to become a widely distributed flavor (it won!). This year my favorite beer was from a Durham local brewery, Bull City Burger, called Bountiful Backyard Ale; it had a very strong flavor of jalapenos! Now I gotta figure out if I can get it somewhere in IL or if I'm going to have get it shipped here... :)

Being back for Beerfest reminded me of all the fun times I've had there. Wanna take a trip down memory lane with me?


Friends travel from SC to celebrate Beerfest!

Sometimes you need rainboots for the muddy ground at Beerfest!

Packed beer tents.

Aww. Delicious beer in the sun.

Pretzel necklaces are a necessity!

Lots of fun with great friends

Sadly none of the above pictures are from this year. I was off my picture-taking game, apparently...

Anyway, because of Beerfest a number of our other friends were back in NC as well. It was great to see so many people from grad school and catch up on life while drinking some beers. We started the weekend out by grilling at some of our friends' new house. I made Scott look through my Pinterest account and pick out something for us to make and share. He chose this jalapeno popper mac and cheese. We adapted the recipe quite a bit to increase the amount, removed the chicken since we were serving it as a side, and lightened it with half and half instead of heavy cream.

This is quite an indulgent dish, but as I kept saying all weekend, calories don't count during Beerfest weekend (or if you eat while you are standing up). So make it for your next picnic or to share over some football on Sunday or to get your stomach expanded in time for the holidays.

I apologize for the half-eaten picture. Scott's job (besides making sure that the bacon didn't burn and crushing the goldfish) was to remind me to take a picture before we left his house. He forgot. So did I. But I think since I took this picture about 20 minutes after we arrived at the party, you can get a good idea of how much everyone enjoyed it.

Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese (significantly adapted from Lauren's Latest)
1 1/2 lbs elbow macaroni noodles
6 slices bacon (plus 3 tbsp bacon grease after cooking)
1 large onion, diced
3-4 jalapenos, diced
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
9 tbsp flour
3 1/2 cups 2% or whole milk
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper, to taste
4 oz Neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese)
1/4 cup hot sauce (I used Frank's buffalo sauce)
4 cups Mexican four blend shredded cheese
1 1/2 cups crushed cheddar cheese goldfish (or other cheese cracker)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Boil the macaroni noodles for approximately 2 minutes less than the package indicates. You don't want them to be too soft because they will cook more in the oven. Drain and return pot to stove.

Meanwhile, cut the bacon into small pieces using kitchen shears and then cook over medium heat in a skillet until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Discard all except approximately 3 tbsp of bacon grease. Add the onion and jalapeno to the grease and cook until tender.

Melt the butter over medium heat in the large pot in which you cooked the pasta. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and half and half and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the sauce thickens about 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the neufchatel cheese and hot sauce until melted and mixed completely. Stir in the onions and jalapenos and 3 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese. Add the drained pasta and mix completely. Pour the pasta mixture into a large baking dish has been coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the last 1/2 cup shredded cheese on top. Coat with the crushed crackers and crumbled bacon.

Bake about 30 minutes until hot through.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chicken Shawarma in the Slow Cooker

I must warn you that this is not really "traditional" chicken shawarma. If you look up shawarma on the trusty Wikipedia, you learn that it is an Arabic preparation of meat that requires long grilling times on a spit. Contrary to what you might think, I do not not have a spit in my apartment, so there was no way I was going to be able to pull that off. Instead I turned to my beloved slow cooker to cook the chicken in a variety of spices for the length of a day. I think the resultant dinner was quite delicious, but I'm not really sure how it compares to the Arabic preparation...

My only other experience with chicken shawarma was a wrap at one of the campus dining establishments at Duke; it was seriously garlicky and peppery chicken coated with a creamy sauce. This dish is nothing like that. Although I must admit, I like them both. This recipe will allow to stand close to someone and even kiss them after the meal (the one from the dining hall not so much).

So for authenticity I'm turning to my sister. I'm hoping she will read this (hi Lisa!) and make the dish. She lived for two years in northern Africa so she's had some "real" shawarma. Let's hope she makes this and likes it (and that it has some resemblance of what she had over there).

For this dish, I would definitely encourage making the sauce to go with it and topping with the cucumber and tomato. It cools the spices and gives a little crunch. And if you have leftovers, I would suggest keeping the sauce separate from the chicken and bringing them in little tupperwares to assemble during your lunch break. That's what I did and it tasted just as good the second (and third) day.

And for certain, if you have the time, make yourself some homemade pita to serve this with; it's worth it :)

Chicken Shawarma (adapted from The Homestyle)
For chicken:
4-5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp seasoning salt
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

For sauce:
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/8 cup tahini
2 tbsp diced onion
juice from 1/2 lemon

Diced tomatoes and cucumbers, for assembly
Pita bread (homemade or store bought)

Place the chicken thighs in the bottom of your slow cooker. Add in the broth, olive oil and lemon juice. Top with all of the seasonings and garlic. Stir to mix. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients and mixing completely. Refrigerate until ready to use.

When the chicken is cooked through, use two forks to shred it in the crockpot. It should soak up the sauce.

To assemble, spread about 1-2 tbsp sauce on the inside of each pita. Top with the shredded chicken and diced tomatoes and cucumbers.

Serves 4-6.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Homemade Wheat Pitas

I own this off-white sweater that I've had for a long time. I wear it a lot in the winter because it is a nice warm cardigan that I can pull on over any of my 100 or so t-shirts and wear into lab. The sleeves are not too long that they fit under my lab coat. One of the buttons has fallen off, but if I'm honest, I barely button it anyway. Since the weather has cooled down, I've pulled the sweater out of the back of my closet and started wearing it again. Today I noticed that the elbows are very worn!! What?! I've never worn a hole into the sleeves a shirt before! You can totally tell that the stitching is stretched and sooner or later I think it will wear through completely. Talk about bummer. My bet is that the Gap no longer sells this cardigan since I've had it for so long (I cannot remember when I bought it nor can I really remember when I didn't own it... probably sometime in college, if I had to guess).

Have you ever worn through a sweater?

Would you like to buy me a new one? ;)

I made these pitas a few weeks ago. I'm just now getting to posting them. Not because I didn't like them, but because I'm lazy. Or something. Really, they are great and now I can share with you another recipe that I used to fill up the pita pockets. Plus I crossed something else off that bucket list.

Man, I'm really enjoying freshly baked bread and playing around with yeast. The experiments will keep coming, I promise.

Wheat Pita Bread (adapted from Annie's Eats)
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp honey
1 1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
cornmeal, for dusting

In a large glass bowl, gently stir together the yeast, honey and 1/2 cup warm water. Stir in 1/4 cup bread flour and 1/4 cup whole wheat flour until smooth. Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until super bubbly doubled in size (picture 1 above), about 45 minutes.

Add the remaining water, the oil, salt and most of the flours. Mix until it starts to get sticky, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour (picture 2 above).

Punch down the dough and separate into 8 pieces. Form each into a ball and then flatten into a disc about 7 inches round. Place the rounds on a work space sprinkled with cornmeal. Loosely cover with a clean towel and allow to rise for 30 minutes at room temperature until puffy (picture 3 above).

Preheat your oven to 500 F.

Bake the pitas directly on the oven racks (you may need to do two batches) for 2 minutes on one side. Flip over and bake for another 1 minute. Cool completely on a wire rack (picture 4 above) and store in an air-tight container. You can cut a pocket into the pita by using a sharp knife down the side. Or you can just fill the pita flat and fold it (like a taco).