Archive for November, 2011

Not Pumpkin Soup

I don’t eat soup. I know it’s strange, especially in these chill winter months, but I just can’t do it. I have a serious psychological aversion to the idea of drinking food. When I eat yogurt, it has to be the extra-custardy kind that holds its shape when scooped. Soup is simply out of the question. So don’t listen to Mr. B over there calling this tasty dish by the abominable name of “cheesy pumpkin soup.” He’s dreadfully misinformed.

It’s called “individual roast pumpkins stuffed with Gruyère.” See? That doesn’t sound anything like soup.

Mr. B slurps his out of a soup spoon just to annoy me.

Honestly, the recipe couldn’t be simpler. You just gut a pumpkin, fill it with cheese and cream and wine, and roast it. Scoop the flesh and filling onto some toasted French bread rounds, and you’re set for dinner. I like to use the tiny individual-sized pumpkins for this, but you can use a 3- or 4-pounder to feed about four people. It’s more fun to have your own, though.

Ingredients (serves 2, but make as many as you need)

2 fist-sized pumpkins (about the size of a salt owl)

4 ounces Gruyère or other good melting cheese

1/4 cup cream

1/4 cup white wine

2 cloves garlic

a pinch of nutmeg for each pumpkin

salt to taste


Preheat the oven to 350°F, then decapitate the pumpkins. You don’t want to make a horizontal cut, because that will damage the structural integrity of the pumpkin and it will collapse into a cheesy pumpkin pancake while roasting instead of holding its shape. I made octagonal vertical cuts with a paring knife.

Scoop out the seeds and gooey threads that hold the seeds together.

Place a peeled clove of garlic in the bottom of each pumpkin. Stuff the pumpkins with Gruyère. It’s worth noting at this point that overfilling them will lead to cheese escaping due to thermal expansion while they roast, making a big darn mess in the oven, but you probably aren’t any more likely to stop adding cheese because of that than I was (more cheese is always better, right?), so just remember to put the pumpkins in a roasting pan with raised sides to catch the spill.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of cream into each pumpkin.

Then two tablespoons per pumpkin of wine.

Grate on the nutmeg and toss in a pinch of salt. Stick the lids back on the pumpkins. Bake them at 350°F for 45 minutes to an hour.

Turns out there is such a thing as too much cheese, and it makes a big mess. A tasty mess, but still.

Leave the lids on until you’re ready to serve. There’s something incredibly satisfying about taking the lid off just as you’re ready to dig in and have the contents still steaming hot.

The taste is very similar to fondue, which makes sense because the filling is pretty much fondue. Scoop a mixture of pumpkin flesh and cheesy filling onto a slice of toasted French bread and prepare to swoon.

Full disclosure here: That steamy delicious one? I ate it. I had to get Mr. B’s pumpkin to take the rest of the pictures. I just could not wait another two minutes. These are that tasty.

Just be very clear when you have these, just because you eat them with toasty bread and a spoon, they aren’t soup. Corvids don’t eat soup.


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Pain Au Chocolat (or Giant Chocolate Danish)

Pain au chocolat are lovely single serving pastries, found perched cheerily alongside the croissants in some bakeries. Laminated dough is wrapped around a stick of chocolate and baked so that when you bite into it hot, a flaky, buttery croissant crust bursts apart in a river of molten chocolate. They put chocolate lava cakes to shame, and yet they’re a perfectly acceptable breakfast food. I hope you understand what a wonderful world we live in, that we can eat chocolate in the morning.

I'll take the slice in the back.

I didn’t make proper pain au chocolat. I made huge braided pastry filled with chocolate and Nutella. It came out perfectly, even the bits of chocolate that leaked out at the end. We’re going to say that was deliberate. It was surprisingly easy to put together and came out looking very impressive. Use any chocolate bar you like, and don’t use one as dark as I did unless you actually enjoy eating chocolate that dark. 86% chocolate is pretty intense, and there’s no sugar in the dough. I used the method Joe Pastry makes much prettier over here to wrap up the chocolate.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

1/3 recipe laminated pastry

1 3-4 ounce dark chocolate bar

2-3 T Nutella

1 egg

pinch salt

powdered sugar, to serve


Roll the dough out to fit three of your chocolate bars side by side.

Score the dough into thirds to mark where the chocolate goes.

At this point I put the dough on a sheet of parchment paper. Spread the Nutella over the center third of the dough.

Place the chocolate bar over the Nutella.

Slice the sides into about 14 ribbons at an angle, cutting off the oddly-shaped bits at the ends. Use those bits to shield the top and bottom of the chocolate bar.

Fold the ribbons over the chocolate like so.

Once the chocolate is fully braided into the loaf, cover it with a towel and let it proof for an hour or so. Towards the end of that time, start the oven preheating to 400°F.

Now it wants an egg wash.  Take an egg and a bit of salt.

Mix them together.

Brush the mixture over the pastry.

Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes until golden brown.

Let it cool a few minutes, then transfer it to a serving dish (cutting board, in my case) and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

If you love croissants, you must try this. The pastry shatters apart when you bite into it, leaving a delightful mouthful of molten chocolate in its wake. It goes perfectly with my morning tea and makes the early morning altogether pleasant to get through, no matter how busy I am.

The same recipe could easily be used to make more traditional pain au chocolat. Just roll out the dough, cut it into 6 long rectangles, place 1/6 of  a chocolate bar on the end of each, and roll ’em up. Brush on an egg wash and bake as above.


Laminated Dough for Croissants, Pain au Chocolat, and Danishes

Laminated dough, like that used to make such delightful pastries as croissants, pain au chocolat, cheese danishes, or delightful little asparagus and cheese tarts, is one of those things that seems to make some people flee the kitchen in terror. The rest roll their eyes and tell me I have too much time on my hands.

Because only a madwoman would want to wake up on a Saturday morning and find a whole loaf of chocolate bread waiting for her.

I admit, I wouldn’t make this dough on a workday. I wouldn’t make it on a particularly lazy week-end, either. But if I’m up and about and antsy for some reason, I’ll make this dough. Then I’ll freeze it, and be able to thaw it out and make croissants whenever I want them.

That, my friends, is power. These are not the strangely flavorless, apparently butter-free (but very flaky) croissants found at your local supermarket. This dough makes pastry that is light, flaky, buttery, even more buttery, and billowy as a cloud thanks to the added yeast that allows it to soar above even puff pastry.

I adapted this recipe only slightly from James Peterson’s Baking and the technique from Joe Pastry, who is almost certainly a pastry god.

Ingredients (makes just shy of 3 pounds of dough)

For the sponge:

1 cup flour

1 cup warm water

1 T vanilla

1 t dry yeast

For the dough:

sponge (above)

2 1/2 cups flour

1/3 cup cream

1 t salt

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks, 24 T) butter


Add the yeast and 1 cup of flour in a mixing bowl.

Stir to combine.

Add vanilla. I know, it’s against the law according to the French but I will have vanilla in my sweet pastries.

Add water. Now, we want the yeast to start happily breeding and producing carbon dioxide bubbles so don’t cook them, and don’t keep them inactive in the cold. Use water just a bit warmer than your skin.

Stir it up a bit, and you have a yeasty slurry.

Cover the bowl with a towel and amuse yourself elsewhere for an hour or so. Or stand in the kitchen staring at it, if you like, but that sounds boring.

After an hour the slurry will have risen and be full of bubbles.

Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of flour and the salt to the yeast mixture.

Then add the cream.

Stir the dough with a spoon just until it forms a shaggy ball.

At that point, put the shaggy dough on a well-floured counter top.

Knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes.

Wrap up the dough and toss it in the fridge while you prepare the butter for laminating.

Lay down a double layer of plastic wrap. Cut the sticks of butter in half laterally and dust them with about 3 tablespoons of flour.

Lay another double layer of plastic wrap over the butter.

Get out your beat stick. Incidentally, if your rolling pin has moving parts, or you don’t want to frighten everyone in your building with the rather loud, violent noises you’re about to start making . . . well, you came this far; you may as well get out some aggression.

Beat the butter and flour together until it forms a smooth, putty-like slab. It should be pliable but not shiny.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll it into a rectangle about 11×18 inches.

Center the butter on the dough.

Fold the sides over the butter and pinch them together at the top and bottom.

We’re not done with the mindless aggression yet. Smash the butter into the corners of the pastry with the rolling pin.

Roll the dough back out into an 11×18 rectangle.

If the edges of your rectangle are uneven, just shove them back in place with the side of your rolling pin. Fold the dough in thirds again and roll it back out to 11×18. At this point the dough will need to be refrigerated for a while to chill the butter and keep it from erupting, Alien-like, from the layers of dough.

After about half an hour, pull the dough out of the refrigerator. Roll the dough out and fold it in thirds another three times.

Cut the finished dough into three equal pieces and wrap them in plastic wrap.

I set aside and froze two thirds of the dough for later, and made an enormous pain au chocolat out of the remaining third. I’ll post about what to do with this lovely dough in a couple of days.

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Smoked Brisket

I’ve probably gushed about my amazingly useful stove-top smoker before, possibly to the point that I should just break down and go work for Camerons in advertising. They can pay me in smoked meat and exciting flavors of wood chips. I worried for a long time about smoking a brisket, though. I love brisket, but it can need a lot of TLC and added liquid to keep it from turning into a brisket brick. Smoking, or any other dry cooking, just seemed like a dangerous idea.

I did it anyway. And it was awesome.

The trick seems to be, as always, the marinade. I didn’t use anything particularly acidic, just made sure to marinate the meat in the refrigerator for about twenty hours.  Since we plan a whole week of meals ahead of time, that really wasn’t hard to remember; we made the marinade after dinner one night and pulled it out the next night after work. Couldn’t be easier.

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

1 1/2 to 2 pounds brisket (this was leftover from the 6-pound flat we got for Rosh Hashanah)

1 1/2 cups beef broth or stock (or one bottle beer)

1-2 T  Worcestershire sauce

2-3 T mustard (this Dusseldorf mustard may have changed my life.  It’s unbelievable.)

about 1 T brown sugar

1-2 T salt

a generous sprinkling of  paprika

several cloves of garlic (which I forgot.)

You may notice that these amounts aren’t exact. I don’t measure when making marinades; I just add a pile of favorite flavors that I think will work together straight out of the bottles. It seems to work.


I like to trim most of the fat from my brisket, because I don’t like the texture and don’t need the calories. I left more than usual this time because in the smoker, the fat will melt and run off into the drip tray. When braising, that fat just sits there on the meat and congeals. Blech.

Start the marinade by standing a big zip top bag up in a saucepan or giant ramekin. Add the broth or stock or beer.

Pour in the Worcestershire sauce.

Then the mustard.

Time for a bit of sugar.

Lots of salt.

And finally the paprika. Toast up some garlic cloves and toss them in, too, if you have them.

The meat goes in last, then fold over the bag and pop it in the fridge for a day or so. At minimum, I would make the marinade in the morning before work and have this for dinner the same night.

When you’re ready to cook, sprinkle some wood shavings into the bottom of the smoker. I used the bourbon-soaked oak chips. Yum.

Add the brisket on the rack. I threw on some more kosher salt, because salt is my favorite.

Almost close the smoker lid and heat the burner over medium-high.

When you see a wisp of smoke come through the crack you left open, slam it shut and let it smoke for about an hour and a half.

When it’s done, open up the smoker and check with a knife to be sure it’s fully cooked.

The only other trick here is to cut the brisket properly. You’ll see some pretty well defined lines, and the temptation is to cut parallel to those lines.

Cut at a 60 to 90 degree angle to those lines instead, and make thin slices. This helps the meat fall apart more easily and seem more tender.

Serve with green beans sautéed in olive oil and homemade applesauce.

I’m not much of a carnivore, but I could eat this every night for a week and be happy. That little smoker is easily the best $30 I’ve spent on my kitchen. It’s quicker and easier than an outdoor smoker, and I can use it while living in an apartment. It’s fantastic.


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Pumpkin Ravioli with Kale in Swiss Cheese Sauce

Homemade pasta is a thing of beauty.

I’m not suggesting it should be an everyday affair. indeed, unless you have a pasta machine and loads of free time, it shouldn’t be. On the other hand, on the rare occasions when I crave a filled pasta, store-bought ravioli or tortellini simply will not do. I’m told one can buy fresh pasta sheets for these purposes, but I don’t go to the fancy grocery stores so homemade was really the only option. You need something fresh and eggy and delightful to hold in all this pumpkin, you see.

Then you can do one of two things. There’s the healthier option of adding simmering vegetable or beef broth,  or you can do what I did.

Everything’s better with cheese. Drizzle a creamy Swiss cheese sauce over these lovely things and prepare to overeat. The trick is using the right cheese. You want something more than a little bitter, with enough bite to provide a contrast to that lovely sweet pumpkin flesh.

I’ll warn you, this is a multi-stage process, but it’s made easier by the fact that most of it can easily be done ahead. Roast the pumpkin and refrigerate it for a day or two, make the pasta dough (or buy some. I don’t mind.) and toss it in the refrigerator until you’re hungry. Sauce is optional; I had originally planned to serve this in brodo before I realized we had somehow used all the vegetable broth in the apartment.

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the roast pumpkin:

1/2 of a 3 to 3 1/2 pound roasting or pie pumpkin

1/4 cup of white wine

2 large sprigs of rosemary

about 1/2 of a nutmeg, grated

salt, to taste

Also, 1 pound of kale

For the ravioli:

2 cups flour

3 eggs

2-3 T olive oil

1 t salt

For the Swiss cheese sauce:

2 T butter

1/4 cup cream

about 3 ounces Swiss cheese

pinch of salt


Preheat the oven to 400°F.

The only real challenge in cooking with fresh pumpkin is chopping said pumpkin into manageable chunks. For almost everything else in my kitchen, I use the incredibly light and viciously sharp ceramic knives. For bread I use a serrated knife, and for pumpkin I use this bad boy.

I found him in standing water in an ill-maintained campus kitchen when I was in college. I’m not sure whether it’s actually a kitchen implement or a Hobbit-sized sword, but this knife probably has enough heft to take out a chunk of the counter if we wanted to. Which we don’t. So, chop your pumpkin in half.

Peel the pumpkin and scrape out the seeds (we’ll talk about roasting the seeds later).

Wrap up one half for later, and chop the other into 1/2 inch cubes.

Pour the wine over the pumpkin bits.

Grate on the nutmeg and add the rosemary.

Sprinkle on some salt.

Toss the pumpkin, wine, and seasoning. Arrange the pumpkin in a layer in a roasting pan and toss it in a 400°F oven.

After 45 minutes, you have roast pumpkin.

Congratulations! Now, while that’s in the oven and you’re snacking because you didn’t start dinner until you were already hungry (please let me believe I’m not the only person who does that, okay?), make some pasta.

Food processors make life almost too easy. It’s why I love them. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them briefly.

Add all three eggs.

Zoom, zoom. Process while drizzling in the oil for about 20-25 seconds.

With well-floured hands, form the dough into a ball on an also-floured countertop.

Divide the dough ball in two halves and roll out one of them as thin as you can. I don’t have a pasta machine, nor do I think it would be worth the space to get one. Just elbow grease and a nice heavy rolling pin, thanks.

Pile little hills of roast pumpkin at two-inch intervals over the dough. I topped mine with grated Swiss cheese, as well.

Roll out the other half of the dough, drape it over the first one, and use a biscuit cutter to form ravioli. Repeat rolling and forming ravioli until you run out of pumpkin or dough. I made 32 ravioli before running out of pumpkin.

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. (Why yes, I do put salt into this recipe four different times. Isn’t it wonderful?)

Boil the ravioli for 3-4 minutes.

Boil a pound or so of kale, too. Kale is delicious and crunchiful.

Divide your ravioli onto serving plates. Now they are finished, and quite tasty, but naked.

Let’s make a quick Swiss cheese sauce. Plop 2 tablespoons of butter into a saucepan over medium-high heat.

Letting the butter brown was an accident, but I don’t regret it. Pour on the cream.

Add the Swiss cheese and stir to melt it.

Add the salt and turn off the heat, stirring quickly to fully incorporate the salt.

Spoon over the ravioli and kale just before serving.

The best thing about this dish is that everything on this plate makes everything else on it that much better. The wine on the roast pumpkin gives it a sour edge that the pumpkin flavor bursts out of. The kale is just bitter enough to contrast the pumpkin, and lends its texture to an otherwise too-soft dish. Bitter, salty cheese keeps everything from being too pumpkin-sweet (think pumpkin pie. No thanks.) and the rosemary does what rosemary does best (it makes everything better, in case you were wondering. Everything.) This is definitely something to make again soon. Even without a pasta machine.

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Broccoli Cheddar Tart

Broccoli and cheese is one of those rare irresistible combinations. Children everywhere know that no matter how much they hate broccoli, it will be magically transformed into tasty green nachos if you just throw enough melted cheese at it. Adults who know better than to say they hate broccoli enjoy it for the excuse to eat all that glorious cheese while still claiming they’re being healthy. And for those of us who love broccoli already? Jackpot.

A normal person, faced with the first really chilly day of Fall, might work from this principle to make broccoli cheese soup.

I don’t eat soup.

I made a tart instead.

This little beauty is somewhere between a quiche and a pizza, and better than both. A hot, flaky crust spiked with mustard powder holds in a thick, almost smoky filling of cheese and broccoli and more cheese.

Most foods containing cheddar are barred on principle from being labeled “elegant”. This tart is an exception to that rule. I would be happy to serve this at a fancy dinner party (although I’m happier making it for just Mr. B and me, and having leftovers for a few days), especially considering how simple it is to put together.

The crust is adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, filling adapted beyond recognition from an olive and goat-cheese tart in Cool Food.

Ingredients (makes 1 9-inch tart, serves 6-8)

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1 t salt

1/2 t mustard powder

8 T (1 stick) cold butter

3 T ice water

For the filling:

2 cups broccoli florets

6 oz sharp cheddar cheese

1 egg

1 T mustard

dash Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup cream

salt, to taste


Crust comes first. Preheat the oven to 400°F if you plan to pre-bake the crust (I recommend it). Combine the flour, salt, and mustard powder in the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse the dry ingredients briefly to combine.

Add the butter in chunks.

Process the butter and flour until it looks like damp sand.

Add the water bit by bit and process just until the dough comes together in a ball.

Butter a 9-inch tart pan and roll out the dough. Sorry, I get too covered in flour when rolling to risk the camera, so no pictures of that step.

Press the dough into the buttered tin and let it rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Bake the tart crust at 400°F for about 15 minutes, then set it aside while you prepare the filling.

Turn the oven down to 350°F. Cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets and boil or steam them for just a minute or two–only long enough to turn them bright green.

Drain the broccoli well.

Arrange the broccoli in a layer in the tart crust (this was the moment when I realized that not pre-baking the crust would lead to soggy crust. Oops.)

Grate the cheddar and add it on top of the broccoli.

Crack the egg into a small bowl.

Add the cream, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.

Mix well with a fork or tiny whisk (incidentally, my tiny whisk in the Santa hat died. Anyone know where tiny whisks come from?)

Drizzle the egg and cream mixture over the cheese and broccoli.

Sprinkle some kosher salt over the top if you like. I always like more salt. You could add a sprinkling of bread crumbs, too, if you want some extra crunch, but it isn’t necessary.

Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes, until the cheese begins to brown. Serve hot with a spinach salad or on its own as a light meal.

My favorite part about this is the broccoli. Boiling it prevents it from burning, and the long turn in the oven gives it the rich, smoky flavor of roasted broccoli. Basically, you should make this. It will make grown men do dishes in hopes of sneaking seconds. It’s that good.

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