Real Life

I’m going to tell you a little about how things go down around these parts when the weekend rolls in. Don’t get too excited – it isn’t nearly as fascinating as I’m suggesting it is. But that doesn’t stop me from talking about it, so here goes.

We generally kick things off as soon as we get home on Friday. Chris has the luxury of getting to sneak out early which means we get home around the same time as one another. Whoever gets home first picks out a bottle of wine, opens it up, and gets to relaxing. Sometimes that also means I’m cooking something that signals it’s weekend time, which typically involves pasta. I’m not sure why, but pasta dishes always seem appropriate on Fridays. Last Friday was no different.

While eating said dinner and wine-ing, we proceed to catch up on a couple of tv shows or watch a movie. At approximately 10:00, 10:30 on a “late” night, I’m passed out on the couch, usually right in the middle of a show. Yup, real life.

This Saturday probably wasn’t the epitome of a typical Saturday, but it certainly was a good one. I started it off with a little run through Panhandle Park and after burning a few calories, I got down to bizness. I re-learned how to use my teeny tiny plastic sewing machine, and I proceeded to – wait for it – make seat cushions! Dang, I felt crafty as all get out. They aren’t finished yet, so I can’t quite call myself Martha Stewart, but even so I’m feeling the need to make sure a lot of people know that I made. a. freaking. seat. cushion. With my bare hands (sort of). Two of them. Hot damn!

Amidst the excitement of cushion-sewing, I broke out the lard and the butter as well as one of my favorite Rick Bayless cookbooks and went to town on making empanadas. I had some leftover fresh pumpkin from a pumpkin curry dish I made the other night and figured it would make a mighty fine filling for the rounds of doughy goodness, and I did not lead myself astray. The empanadas turned out to be pretty tasty, and perfect for a little Mexican-style get together later that night at Liz & Kevin’s place.

So all in all, it was a fun-filled Saturday, and I felt like I’d gotten a decent amount of stuff accomplished.

Meanwhile, as anyone I’m friends with on Facebook already knows, Chris spent his Saturday protecting the citizens of Arkham City, which essentially means he sat on the couch with a set of headphones on and a game controller in his hand. He kept on his typical Saturday attire (workout pants and either a Northwestern or NC State hoodie, depending on what’s clean) until I forced him away from Arkham City and into the shower. (I’m not complaining here, either, just poking fun. His free time is well-deserved, plus it gives me time to play with lard.)

We then headed over to Oakland where Liz & Kevin whipped up a ton of awesomeness, including guacamole and flank steak tacos. We made the mistake of suggesting a trivia game, and as a result we left their house feeling about 10 times dumber than when we’d arrived. My only saving grace was the fact that I brought the empanadas, so I was thankful for that and considered it time well-spent in the kitchen that day.

Sunday rolled around and we were rewarded with an extra hour of sleep, which we took full advantage of. We spent the morning walking over to the farmers’ market, grabbing brunch at Nopalito, and doing regular Sunday errands and such. We watched our regular Sunday night shows, The Walking Dead and The Next Iron Chef, and before we knew it, it was time to call it a night and get the whole week started, all over again.

See what I mean? Nothing earth-shattering over here, that’s for sure. But truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How was your weekend?

Pumpkin Empanadas
Adapted, barely, from Fiesta at Rick’s; makes 24 empanadas

time commitment: ~3 hours (1 hour, 45 minutes active time)

printable version

pumpkin filling
2 c pumpkin puree (canned or fresh*)
1/2 c dark brown sugar
1 1/2 t g Mexican cinnamon
1/2 t salt

2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 c white spelt flour
1/2 t salt
2 t sugar
1/2 c chilled lard (yum!)**
1 1/2 sticks chilled unsalted butter
2/3 c ice water

1 egg beaten with 1 T water

combine all pumpkin filling ingredients into a 2-quart saucepan; cover and set to medium-high heat. stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved, then uncover and simmer until mixture is thick, about 15 minutes. move to small bowl and cool to room temperature.

while the filling cools, make the dough. add flour, salt, and sugar to a food processor and pulse to combine. cut lard and butter into small 1/2-inch pieces and scatter over the flour. cover and pulse about 8 times. uncover and pour half of water into processor. pulse 3 more times, then add in the remaining water and pulse a few more times. at this point, the dough should clump together, but if it doesn’t just add 1 T of water at a time, pulsing until it does come together. dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and bring into a ball. divide in half, wrap each half in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour. (you can also do this whole part with a pastry cutter or two forks, but that takes a long time and the processor is sooooo easy.)

take one of the halves of dough outta the fridge. flour a flat surface, and roll dough into a rectangle about 12×16 inches (or thin enough in any other shape to cut out 12 4″ round empanadas). using a 4-inch circle or cookie cutter, cut 12 circles out. working with one at a time, brush the outer edge lightly with water and place ~1 tablespoon of filling in the center. fold the dough over the filling and press the ends together to seal. you can crimp with the tines of a fork or make them into crinkly ends or twist the ends like I did (although I can’t really explain how I did that other than say that I pulled a tiny piece of one end out and constantly twisted the dough around itself until I got to the other end…. and that doesn’t help, does it?!).

transfer to baking sheet and place in fridge for at least 15 minutes. meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 F and repeat this process with the remaining half of the dough.

bake empanadas for about 15 minutes, then remove them and brush the lightly with the egg wash and bake another 5 minutes. cool and serve. (you can also freeze them; I froze half of them by putting the sheet in the freezer for about 15 minutes then dumping the pre-frozen treats into a plastic ziploc bag. to bake frozen empanadas, add 5 minutes to the cook time and cook straight from the freezer – do not thaw.)

*to make fresh pumpkin puree, take about 4 cups of cubed fresh pumpkin and boil in a large pot for about 10 minutes, until soft. drain pot, and mash with a fork or potato masher until smooth
**if you’re afraid of lard, Rick says you can also use shortening (same amount) OR I’m sure you could just omit and double the butter if you really want

Episode VIII: A New Hope

As a child, I remember the simplest grapefruit preparation: my mom would cut a large, juicy, brightly colored grapefruit in half and sprinkle sugar over the exposed segments. She then handed me the grapefruit half, placed in a small bowl with a jagged spoon beside it (aptly called a ‘grapefruit spoon’), and that was that. I gobbled up every little piece of that ruby red citrus in all its’ glory, and I’d squeeze the remaining juice into the bowl and drink it in one large slurp, sorta like the way you drink the milk after downing a bowl of Cookie Crisp or Fruity Pebbles.

That, in a nutshell, is my experience with grapefruit. I find it odd, since I choose citrus fruits any day over berries (well, seed-bearing berries, because I hate having to maneuver around them). Why, I could eat a lemon whole and have eaten them in that fashion since learning how to from my parents’ French spades/hearts comrade, Aurora. I remember thinking she was so cool because she was the only person I knew who drank alcoholic beverages so “neatly” – by eating the entire citrus slice without changing her expression one iota, and not leaving that silly rind behind like unwanted garbage beside the cherry stem.

And no, I’m not eating grapefruit rinds anytime soon – they’re way too thick and tasteless. But, but, I did eat a shit-ton of grapefruit-containing foods! Yes, friends, the eighth installment of the infamous Iron Chef Chicago battles – those monthly (in general) gatherings involving lots of good friends who love to eat. This time, we delved into one of my favorite “eat by itself with sugar” fruits (strawberry being second on that list, which already happened).

And while many associate citrus with summer, grapefruits are now at their peak and are a great escape from all this winter squash and stew, if you’re feeling the need to get away to somewhere warmer but can’t quite make it to the Bahamas right now. Tart and tangy, juicy and sweet, these citrus rounds are loaded with vitamin C and lycopene and go well with all sorts of foods, as you can see from all these lovely dishes.

For one dish, I went for a tried-and-true new favorite of mine and made two different flavors of grapefruit marshmallows (one with cardamom and one with ginger), and then fell upon a recipe for stuffed whole fish with grapefruit vinaigrette and grapefruit butter (served with millet instead of couscous), courtesy of my DVR and Tyler’s Ultimate. We had a couple of drinks, sorbet, various shrimp and scallop dishes, cakes and even lettuce wraps & pizza. It was, as usual, quite a spread.

The top three:

  1. Hope’s ‘Dark Chocolate Grapefruit Cake’, a gluten-free & vegan must have. I think Jon almost crapped his pants it was so good, and this time he got to eat cake with the rest of us!
  2. James’ ‘Grapefruit Cheesecake’ & (yes, a tie!) Christina’s ‘Grapefruit/Pork Lettuce Wraps’. James is a newcomer (Hope’s boyfriend – he does exist!!) who really came strong during his first attempt. Christina always seems to bring strong dishes and is getting very close to a win, I suspect. The wraps were my personal favorite, with both cakes coming in next.
  3. My ‘Grapefruit Marshmallows x2’. Clearly, you can’t go wrong with marshmallows, can you? I love them so much I’m going to start manufacturing them (yes manufacturing) and selling them on Etsy. I’m serious. Wait for it.

And with that, it looks as if the girls are back in business with two straight wins following the guys’ run. With the 9th competition right around the corner, February’s ingredient is sure to be a great one, as long as Hope can whittle down that list of possibilities!

Dark Chocolate Grapefruit Cake
Hope’s winning vegan, gluten-free recipe
adapted from the Gluten-Free Goddess blog
for a non-vegan version, click here

printable recipe

6 oz unsweetened dark chocolate
3/4 c vanilla soy milk (warmed)
3/4 c fresh grapefruit juice (warmed)
1/2 c very hot double strong coffee
1 T vanilla extract
14 oz pumpkin puree
1 1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c rice flour
2 T potato starch
1 T Ener-G Egg Replacer
1 t xanthan gum
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1 T grapefruit zest (optional, if you want even more grapefruit flavor!)
grapefruit segments for garnish
chocolate sauce for drizzling

Mix chocolate pieces with hot coffee and heated milk and grapefruit until chocolate is melted.  Add vanilla extract and pumpkin puree, blend.  Add in brown sugar, rice flour, potato starch, egg replacer, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and grapefruit zest, if using.  blend thoroughly until creamy and smooth.  Pour into a 9 in springform pan lined with greased parchment paper and smooth top.  Bake at 350 for 55-65 minutes until middle doesn’t wiggle.  Chill for a minimum of two hours. top with grapefruit segments.

Like my new puppy? Just kidding, sadly. Chris hasn’t given in yet! Oh, and a big thanks to my buddy Lindsay for the pictures. I think all of these are courtesy of her and her lovely camera. *sigh*.

Trick or Treat…

pumpkin cupcakes

Smell my feet. Really? That’s not nice. If you are like me and still wearing those flats without socks I really don’t want to smell your feet. But to be perfectly honest, I’d rather not smell your feet ever – no matter what shoes you are or aren’t wearing. And yes – it’s cold here, but I am still wearing shoes without socks every day it might hit 50. Like today, for instance.

Give me something good to eat.Well, ok. That’s easy enough. Although technically, I’m not – but I am giving you something good to make. Does that count? Let’s not get too bogged down with the details, alright?

orange and black frosting


These here cupcakes are hella tasty. I finally ate one over lunch today and I must say – you really should make them. I guess you don’t really have to make them for Halloween, but it’d be so awesome if you did. Know why? Because you could make cool colored icing and make them all festive and scary-like (if you really want black icing, you’ll probably have to go to a craft store or something to find the dye. I found mine at Sur la Table). And you can put spider webs on your cupcakes. Although I guess you could do that anyway, if you wanted. You could also buy some Halloween candy and decorate with that (candy corn, perhaps? M&M’s?), although I think that messes with the fantasticness of the frosting. I suppose you can pick them off first though – that might be fun…

You should also make these precious treats because you’ll have a little leftover cream cheese frosting. Said frosting is great for dipping your fingers into every time you walk by the kitchen. I don’t really have to walk through the kitchen from the living room, but I made some “special” trips around the counter last night, just to check on the frosting. Luckily, Chris was in class – so it was all mine.

One last reason to make these cupcakes: can you ever ever ever get enough pumpkin? That’s a rhetorical question, actually. I thought I could this past weekend, but now I’ve changed my mind. I want more pumpkin!!!! Give me more pumpkin!!!!

cupcake batter


If you don’t, I don’t care. What? What’s that supposed to mean? Sure you care. That’s just a big fat lie. And we all know I don’t like it when people lie. Be nice, now. For realz.

I’ll pull down your underwear. Really? I mean, really? Why’d you have to go there? Are you 7?

Stop horsing around and go make these cupcakes. I mean it. And then come back and tell me all about it. I promise they are easy, and I promise you’ll love them. I’m even close to promising that you have most of these ingredients at home, except maybe the cream cheese and if you’re into it, the black icing color. Pumpkin? If you don’t have a couple of cans of pumpkin lying around in October, you are just silly. Aren’t you making pumpkin pie soon anyway? Pumpkin soup? C’mon, now – go stock up. I hear there might be a pumpkin shortage this year anyway.

pumpkin cupcakes


Pumpkin Cupcakes w/ Cream Cheese Frosting
Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart Living, 2009; makes 2 dozen

printable recipe

2 c AP flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 t coarse salt
1 t g cinnamon
1 t g ginger
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t g allspice
1 c packed light brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree

1/2 c unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
1 8 oz package of cream cheese, room temperature
2 c powdered sugar
food coloring


  1. preheat oven to 350 F. line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. in a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and powder, salt and spices. whisk together and set aside.
  2. in a large bowl, whisk brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. whisk in pumpkin puree.
  3. divide evenly among liners, filling each 2/3 of the way. bake until tops spring back and a toothpick comes out clean, 20-25 minutes (mine went 23), rotate pans once if needed (I did). transfer to wire rack and cool completely.
  4. meanwhile, make frosting by whisking butter and cream cheese together. add in powdered sugar and whisk until smooth and delicious-looking. divide into 3 bowls and color icing accordingly. decorate away!

Battle Pumpkin: Getting Squashed

Battle Pumpkin group shot

When you think of pumpkins, I’d be willing to hypothesize that 1 of 2 things come to mind: Halloween or pumpkin pie. You might then find yourself thinking of either carving pumpkins or eating loads of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. I do love Halloween, don’t get me wrong – but I adore Thanksgiving, especially pumpkin pie. The word pumpkin definitely renders thoughts of food for me – screw the trick or treating and all those costumes. I want something real. Something real tasty, that is.

Saturday night wasn’t just about pumpkin pie, as you will probably guess if you know anything about our Iron Chef group. The Reigning Iron Chef, Jim, promised a superb seasonal ingredient for this battle. Which to me could only mean 1 of 3 ingredients: butternut squash (which I obviously love..), apples, or pumpkin. I’d already decided if the former or latter were chosen that I would wield my once-used pasta attachment and whip up an awesome batch of winter squash ravioli. That being said, when Wednesday rolled around and Jim’s email proclaiming pumpkin as the ingredient was opened, I aloud (in my office…by myself…) said “pumpkin ravioli”, my arms raised into the air with excitement. That, of course, was the exact moment someone walked in and I was prompted to explain my bizarre outburst.

dessert spread

Let’s just stop there and say I was very excited about eating some pumpkin-infused goodies. I knew someone would make pumpkin pie (thank you, Simps) and I knew someone would make soup (we ended up with 3!). I hoped we’d have an ice cream because pumpkin ice cream is so incredibly divine in some many ways that just thinking about it makes me want to dart, in my pj’s, down to Cold Stone. I thought about making it myself, but since I’d won a battle before with an ice cream & cake combo, I thought I’d lose points in the creativity department. I also imagined some biscuits, muffins, and bread and some good uses of pumpkin seeds. Aside from the ice cream, it was almost as if I literally thought the dishes into being. If any of you watch Supernatural, think about that last episode – I was that kid – only my power was limited by ice cream. Damn limitations.

As a side-note, for those of you who don’t watch Supernatural, you should. Dean is so hot, and no – I am not a 16 year old, although I just sounded like one. The show isn’t bad either…

pumpkin biscuits with pumpkin butterpumpkin pies

pumpkin and shrimp bisquepumpkin beverage

Attending Battle Pumpkin were 11 eager and ravenous competitors – 3 newbies recruited by Lindsay and a total of 17 dishes. As usual, our appetites were a bit larger than our intestinal volumes, but we plunged through, bite by bite and judged them all. We had soups’ galore (all different – spicy pumpkin, pumpkin, shrimp bisque), pumpkin casserole, a tasty pumpkin beverage, and on and on. I made a (gluten-free) pumpkin bread pudding that was baked and served in a pumpkin and a pumpkin cashew curry. I thought the bread pudding had great flavor, but I should have par-baked the bread as I learned that g-free bread gets soggy easily. The curry was good, but needed some creaminess – should have used regular full-fat coconut milk for that one.

I’m sure you’re all wondering, just plain dying to know, who won this time. The winner, again, was a bearer of the Y chromosome. I swear I never thought the guys would take it seriously – but they come strong every single time. I have got to get motivated enough to step it up and really bring it next time! The winner, another Chris and newbie to the battles, made a fine pumpkin brittle that was perfectly cut and perfectly crunchy – it won us all over. It didn’t hurt that he presented them in a Halloween-themed glass with glow sticks :).

DSC04177pumpkin hummus wraps

The top three:

  1. Chris (newbie)’s Pumpkin brittle
  2. Chris (hubby)’s Pumpkin & Shrimp Bisque
  3. Hope’s Pumpkin Casserole

Which reminds me – who invited my husband to these battles anyway? He keeps getting in the top two! I should add here that I’m posting his recipe – though he was a bit disappointed in the outcome given all his hard work in the kitchen, it turned out really tasty and it did win second place. I think the shrimp went nicely with the texture of the soup and if a little more pumpkin is added (which I took the liberty of adding below) it would be downright perfect.

Next time, I’m putting sparklers on my plate. And I’m making ice cream too. 🙂

shrimp stock

Pumpkin & Shrimp Bisque

from Epicurious, 2000; serves 8

printable recipe

1 lb large shrimp

Shrimp stock
2 T evoo
3/4 c dry white wine
3 c low sodium chicken broth
pinch of saffron threads
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 fresh bay leaves, torn; or 2 dried
3 3″ sprigs fresh sage

3 c pumpkin puree, fresh (or canned)
1/2 c heavy cream
3/4 t salt (less if using canned stock)
1/8 t cayenne pepper
1 T fresh lemon juice
black pepper, freshly ground
1 T evoo
2 t finely chopped fresh sage


  1. Shrimp stock: peel and devein shrimp, reserve shells. Cover and refrigerate shrimp. Heat olive oil in medium saucepan over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add shrimp shells to pan, cook stirring constantly, until they turn deep orange and are just beginning to brown, about 3-4 minutes. (You should really smell some shrimp smells throughout the house). Add wine, first turning off flame or removing pan from flame, then boil over medium heat until liquid is evaporated. Add chicken stock, saffron, celery, onion, bay leaves, sage. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes (with pan partially covered). Strain stock through fine sieve, pushing down solids to get all the liquid. Rinse out saucepain and pour stock back in.
  2. Soup: Whisk pumpkin, cream, salt, and cayenne into stock. Bring soup to simmer, then cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and season to taste with black pepper and salt as needed.
  3. Finishing the soup: Pour olive oil into large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add shrimp and sage and cook, tossing often, until shrimp is just cooked through, pink, and opaque, about 2-3 minutes. Cut shrimp into smaller pieces and place in bowls. Ladle soup over shrimp and serve.