Friday, October 31, 2014

day 31: pumpkin pie with streusel topping

This post is part of the 31 Days of Delicious Fall series. Click here for the whole list!

If there could be a better way to end this 31-day series of delicious fall foods than with a delicious pumpkin pie, I don't know what it would be. This month has been full of apples, pumpkin, cinnamon, caramel, and straight-up comfort food, but pumpkin pie is just so iconic. It's a staple in most American households for Thanksgiving dinner (right in the middle of fall!), and in my house, it's the crowning glory of our traditional October 31 meal of chili and cornbread.

However unpatriotic it might be, I must confess, here and now, that pumpkin pie is not my favorite. It is not my go-to dessert, even (gasp!) on Thanksgiving, and if there's apple pie, pecan pie, cherry pie, or -- heaven forbid -- anything chocolate on the table, I'll pass right over it.

But once a year, I have a marital obligation to make a pumpkin pie, and this year, I'm even blogging about it. So I figured it was time to find one that I would actually want to make... again and again and again.

Husband and I traveled across the state to see his family this weekend, and we got together with all of his extended family for a Halloween dinner. Since I'd already made the traditional meal, we packed it up and brought it along to share with everyone. The whole meal was a huge hit, and everyone absolutely raved about this pie. A streusel atop a custard filling is quite unusual, and I loved the contrast of the silky pumpkin against the crisp streusel topping. As Husband put it, "The search for THE pumpkin pie has ended!"

Pumpkin Pie with Streusel Topping
filling adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything, but her streusel is heavy on nuts (which I'm sure would be delicious!! but there are nut allergies in the family), so I substituted a streusel recipe from Eat At Home Cooks that I have previously used and loved

gather these...
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • ½ t. ground ginger
  • ½ t. ground nutmeg
  • ½ t. salt
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 deep-dish pie shell* (I always use this one, half recipe only)
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

do this...
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. In a large bowl, stir the pumpkin, condensed milk, brown sugar, spices, salt, and 2 egg yolks with a rubber spatula or whisk until smooth.
  3. Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
  4. Gently fold egg whites into pumpkin mixture, then pour into pie shell.
  5. Bake 15 minutes in preheated oven.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare streusel topping: stir flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon together, then mix in butter with a fork until mixture is uniform and crumbly.
  7. Remove pie from oven, sprinkle streusel over the top, and cover crust with foil or pie crust shield to prevent over-browning. Return to oven, reduce heat to 350°F, and bake another 40-45 minutes, or until set. Pie will still wobble slightly when moved, but it should no longer appear to be liquid.

*The original recipe states that you can use two 9-inch pie shells (presumably, this would make two pies) or one 10-inch deep dish. I have a deep-dish pie pan that I really like to use because it's fancier than my glass Pyrex dishes, and for this pie, it was a very good thing. There is a LOT of filling. I can imagine that it would easily fill two regular pie crusts.

day 30: "marry me again" cornbread

This post is part of the 31 Days of Delicious Fall series. Click here for the whole list!

Long before I married my husband, I was made aware of his family's traditional October 31 meal: chili, cornbread, and pumpkin pie. It was non-negotiable and may actually have been included in our marriage vows, so that's what I've made on Halloween night for the past 10 years.

Early on, I realized that cornbread could be really good or really bad or really just blah. The cornbread at Tippin's, a restaurant where I used to work, was really good in a sky-high, 4-inch-thick, super-sweet, served-with-a-scoop-of-honey-butter sort of way. While that's amazing, it's also pretty much dessert. As an accompaniment to chili, I wanted something a bit less over-the-top. What I came up with is fluffy and tender, a nicely balanced sweet contrast to a spicy chili -- or anything, really.

Husband loves this cornbread, and since this whole meal is so important to him, it's been important to me that I make it for him to enjoy. I often change up the chili or experiment with the pumpkin pie, but I don't mess with the cornbread. It's just that good.

gather these...
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 4 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

do this...
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease an 8x8 pan liberally.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Pour in milk, egg, and oil. Stir gently until the mixture is smooth.
  4. Pour into greased pan and bake 21-24 minutes. Cornbread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry (may have a few crumbs).
  5. Serve warm alongside a steaming bowl of chili, or with butter and a drizzle of honey for breakfast or dessert!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

day 29: hearty & healthy chili

This post is part of the 31 Days of Delicious Fall series. Click here for the whole list!

In my house, there's one requirement for Halloween, and it has nothing to do with decorations, costumes, or even trick-or-treating. It's a pan of cornbread baking in the oven, a pumpkin pie cooling on the counter, and a pot of chili simmering on the stove.

I know chili is a big deal to some people, but we're not picky or religious about the technical definition of "chili." For us, it's a pot of veggies and beans and tomatoes and whatever else we feel like throwing in... and some chili powder so we can call it chili.

As I consider this "recipe," I'm aware that it's going to dissolve into generalities. I cook chili by look, feel, and smell, adding seasonings and other ingredients where it seems to need them. I use the biggest pot I own so we can have days of leftovers, so if my original ingredients aren't enough to fill it up, I add more beans or diced tomatoes. For meat, I usually end up with ground turkey, just because it's cheap and lean. I like to shake in some Worcestershire sauce to give it some fuller flavor. More often than not, I use no meat at all but add pinto or kidney beans for another dimension of protein. I've added frozen or canned corn, canned chili meat, salsa... it's all about what I'm feeling like while I'm cooking! You really can't go wrong with a base of nutritious veggies and beans. After simmering for a few hours, the flavors develop into a warm, hearty chili that's perfectly comforting on a cold fall evening.

gather these...
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 onions, chopped, don't worry about getting a super-small dice
  • 2 bell peppers, we prefer 1 green and 1 yellow or orange, chopped
  • chili powder, approximately 4 t.
  • salt
  • 1.5 pounds ground turkey (not pictured; it was defrosting)
  • Worcestershire sauce, optional (not pictured; I forgot about it!)
  • 2 T. (or so) red wine, any broth, or red wine vinegar
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cans chili beans in sauce

do this...
  1. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onions, 2 t. chili powder, and a good pinch of salt; sautee until tender, stirring frequently.
  3. Add turkey, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, another 2 t. chili powder, and pinch of salt; stir often while turkey browns.
  4. Add peppers and cook until tender.
  5. Deglaze pot with liquid of choice and stir to scrape any browned bits into the mixture. (I usually end up using vinegar because it's always in the pantry.)
  6. Turn heat down to medium and stir in both cans of tomatoes. Cook for a few minutes, stirring to bring the heat down inside the pot.
  7. Stir in beans and another pinch of salt (taste and adjust seasoning now) and simmer, the longer the better. I try to start cooking this during naptime and serve it for a late dinner.
  8. Serve with cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, and cornbread or tortilla chips on the side.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

day 28: hand-pressed apple cider

This post is part of the 31 Days of Delicious Fall series. Click here for the whole list!

For the past few weeks, I've been fighting a cough, sore throat, and dry eyes. I love the fall weather, but leaving the windows open wreaks havoc on my allergies. I know the rest of the country is binging on tailgate food and drink tonight, but as I watch Game 6 of the World Series, I'm huddled around a meal of comfort food and sipping a mug of warm apple cider.

Apple cider is nutritious, comforting, and healing. Mine is pure; I don't add anything to it because I don't think anything could possibly improve on this warm apple perfection.

gather these...
  • apples, any variety, a mix is preferred unless you're using a variety like Jonagold that's already pretty much a mix
  • 30-40 apples yields 1 gallon of cider

do this...
  1. Wash apples and remove stems, cores, and any bruises or damaged spots. Do not peel. The peel contains flavor and nutrients (and color!) that will greatly enhance your final product.
  2. Slice or quarter apples and grind finely in batches in food processor. If you have a high-quality processor, your apple pieces can be larger than if you have a cheap one.
  3. Strain each batch through a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a large bowl. You could also use coffee filters, but you'd run through them pretty quickly since they're disposable. Squeeze cheesecloth to catch all the juices.
  4. DRINK. I know some people love cold cider, but warmed is the only way for me!
I'm not going to sugar-coat this for you. It's a very simple process, but the straining takes forever as you squeeze through the cheesecloth. And it can stain your hands (don't worry, the staining only lasts a day or two). As a result, I don't share apple cider. I hoard it. I freeze it. I savor it. I'm going to have another mug right now.

Here's a bit of trivia: the difference between apple cider and apple juice is that cider is unfiltered and usually unpasteurized. As a result, cider contains more apple particles, and the flavor is more concentrated and earthy. The internet seems to think kids prefer apple juice, but Big E will only drink warm cider! That's my boy.

Monday, October 27, 2014

day 27: stovetop kettle corn

This post is part of the 31 Days of Delicious Fall series. Click here for the whole list!

There's an annual Labor Day* festival in my city that Husband and I enjoy wandering around if we're in town. Neither of us is a huge fan of jam-packed crowds or set-up-in-a-day carnival rides, but we enjoy browsing the craft tents, and the food can be pretty fantastic. This year, we wanted to be sure to pick up a couple bottles of the really good root beer as well as a bag of kettle corn.

It's come to my attention that not everyone is familiar with kettle corn, so I'll give you the rundown. The popcorn is stirred constantly as it cooks in a giant cast-iron kettle with oil, sugar, and salt. The end result is a sweet-and-salty popcorn with a slightly crunchy exterior due to the sugary crust that forms. It's really delicious, especially straight from the kettle and still warm.

I won't pretend that this method holds a candle to what you'd get straight from a cast iron kettle, but nothing really does. When I saw this shaker on the shelf at Aldi, I figured I might as well try it! The flavor is unmistakeably that of kettle corn, and when used as in my method below, it even created a bit of that signature crunch on the popcorn.

gather these...
  • popcorn kernels
  • coconut oil
  • kettle corn seasoning shaker
do this...
  1. Over medium-high heat, melt just enough coconut oil in a pot on the stove to lightly coat the bottom of the pot.
  2. Add a single layer of popcorn kernels and continue to heat.
  3. When the first kernel pops, put a lid on the pot. Shake the pot (do not lift; just shake enough over the burner to agitate the kernels and prevent burning) every 2-3 seconds until popping is complete. Remove from heat when 2 seconds have passed without a pop.
  4. Carefully remove the lid and quickly shake seasoning over popcorn. Use your discretion on the amount. I gave my small pot about 2 t.
  5. Immediately re-cover pot and shake to evenly distribute seasoning. If you complete steps 4-5 quickly enough, the pot will retain enough heat that the moisture of steam will help the seasoning to stick.
  6. If needed, serve with additional seasoning.

*I know, I know... technically, Labor Day is still mid-summer. But I think it marks the end of the season as school gets into full swing and the telltale signs of fall begin to emerge. Don't you agree?

day 26: triple-smoky macaroni and cheese

This post is part of the 31 Days of Delicious Fall series. Click here for the whole list!

Don't you agree that it would be a bit irresponsible of me to write a fall foods series without including macaroni and cheese? Not that it's a fall food, per se, but it's certainly a comfort food, and the cravings for comfort food start to creep in as the leaves turn golden as the air starts to chill. So here we are.

Over the years, I've tried a lot of mac & cheese recipes, and I've been happy with very few of them. That sounds weird, right? How can you be unhappy with mac & cheese?! But so many end up being bland, or an undesirable texture, or so full of "other" things that they aren't really recognizable as that classic comfort food.

There used to be a little country store in my city where I bought my bulk spices (and some truly phenomenal ice cream), and I loved taking my sweet time browsing because the selection always varied. One day, I noticed a few blocks of cheese in the refrigerator and figured I'd go daydream about them (fancy cheese? SO expensive!)... but the block of smoked cheddar was less than three dollars! I promptly purchased it, got it home, and realized I had nothing to do with it.

Except slice it up and eat it. This, friends, would not have been a terrible idea.

Still, the recipe hound in me wanted to make something with it. I had no inspiration, but the internet did, and that's how this came to be my go-to mac & cheese recipe.

It's not for the faint of heart. Although there's nothing difficult about this recipe, it requires a lot of steps, so I really try to maximize my time in the kitchen. Here are my steps for efficiency:
  1. get your bread into the toaster
  2. start the water boiling
  3. begin processing the bread crumbs
  4. when water boils, add pasta
  5. get breadcrumbs into skillet
  6. drain pasta when al dente
  7. use pasta pot to sautee onions and make sauce
The smoky flavor is warm and unexpected. There's a bit of a kick, but nothing prohibitive -- Big E ate and ate and ate this when he was just over a year old. If you prefer more intense heat, just use the whole can of chipotle sauce, maybe add some chipotle powder with the spices. I kind of want to do that so I won't have to share it with the littles.......

Triple-Smoky Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from Herbivoracious

gather these...
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4-6 slices bread, stale is fine, any kind works but I love Italian or French here
  • 2 t. minced garlic (or 2 cloves) 
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 T. smoked paprika (regular paprika will do if you can't find smoked)
  • 1 t. dried rosemary
  • ½-1 can chipotle sauce
  • 1 t. oregano
  • ¼ t. nutmeg
  • 8 oz. smoked cheddar cheese, grated
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese (not soft/fresh), grated
  • salt

do this...
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat, then add macaroni and cook according to package directions, just to al dente. (Mine was done in 9 minutes.) Pasta will continue to cook in sauce in the oven, so don't worry if it isn't as tender as you'd like right out of the pot. When done, drain noodles and set aside. Return pot to stove.
  2. Meanwhile, toast 4 slices of bread in toaster (or oven) -- you're drying it out so your food processor can grind it easily. Tear toasted bread into chunks and process into coarse crumbs in food processor. (My Magic Bullet works great for this... but since I've never seen pre-grated smoked cheddar, it's pretty efficient to do the bread in the food processor and then use it for the cheese later. I'm all for washing fewer dishes!!) You'll want to yield 2½-3 cups bread crumbs, so use more bread if needed.
  3. Over medium heat, melt 2 T. butter in a medium/large skillet. Add garlic, breadcrumbs, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish.
  5. In pasta pot, melt 2 T. butter over medium-high heat and then add onion to saute until tender.
  6. Transfer sauteed onion to a small dish, turn heat down to medium, then melt 4 T. butter in the same pot. Add flour and whisk constantly for 2-3 minutes to cook flour. It will start to brown and become fragrant, almost nutty, and that's when you need to add the milk -- right away! don't burn your flour! -- whisking in well to avoid lumps.
  7. Add sauteed onion, smoked paprika, rosemary, oregano, nutmeg, and chipotle sauce. Bring to a slight boil, whisking frequently, until sauce begins to thicken.
  8. Whisk in the grated cheeses, stirring to melt thoroughly. Taste the sauce; salt if needed. I found that mine needed about 1 t. kosher salt, but the salt levels in different cheeses vary widely. You may also want to add more chipotle sauce or some chipotle powder now. If the sauce seems too spicy, remember that it will be toned down by an entire pound of pasta.
  9. Stir cooked macaroni into the sauce, then spread into prepared pan.
  10. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the top, then bake 30 minutes. Sauce should be bubbling around the sides, and topping should be browned.
  11. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Husband HATES this part, but waiting gives everything a chance to set so you don't have a thin, saucy mess all over your plate. It's worth the wait, I promise!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

day 25: cinnamon glazed scones

This post is part of the 31 Days of Delicious Fall series. Click here for the whole list!

A couple weeks ago, I enjoyed a rare luxury: coffee out with some girlfriends on a Saturday morning. One of my friends ordered a tempting-looking scone, but by the time we left an hour later, most of it was crumbled all over her plate. She confessed that it had just been too dry to be worth eating and then asked if I was going to be blogging a scone recipe. I hadn't planned on it, but I don't know why.

I think I forget how wonderful these scones are. They're sooooo fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth buttery, and the glaze gives them that over-the-top element that's perfect for a luxurious Saturday morning breakfast. Admittedly, cinnamon chips aren't the healthiest addition to a scone, but as I've already mentioned, they're such a lovely addition to autumn baked goods. Feel free to substitute blueberries, strawberries, or chocolate chips instead. ......wait, what?

If you've never made (or had!) a scone, I'll tell you this: handling the dough is pretty much like handling biscuit dough. There's an egg and a mix-in (cinnamon chips, in this case), but if you make homemade biscuits, you can make great scones. And if you've never made homemade biscuits, this is the perfect time to start!

Cinnamon Glazed Scones
adapted from Eat At Home Cooks

gather these...
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • ½ t. kosher salt
  • 6 T. cold butter
  • ½ cup milk + 2 T. for glaze
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup cinnamon chips + 1 T. for glaze
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
do this...
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Cut butter into chunks and cut into flour using pastry blender, or rub in with fingers, until fully incorporated.
  4. Add beaten egg and milk, and stir with a rubber spatula just until dough comes together.
  5. Fold in cinnamon chips.
  6. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead lightly, then form into a circle 1" thick.
  7. Cut circle into 8 triangles and place on baking sheet. 
  8. Bake 11-13 minutes in preheated oven. Tops should be very lightly browned; poke a bit at the center to see that they're not still doughy.
  9. While baking, combine 1 T. cinnamon chips with 1 T. milk in a small bowl or ramekin.
  10. Microwave on high, stirring every 20 seconds, until chips are melted.
  11. Stir in powdered sugar; add another 1 T. milk if needed to achieve glaze consistency.
  12. Drizzle glaze over scones and serve warm. Note: I only glaze as many scones as we'll eat that day. When I serve the leftovers, I warm the scones a bit in the toaster oven and then glaze them before serving.