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

Turnip the Volume

Does everyone go through a ‘cooking funk’ every now and then? Does everyone wanna come home from work and not stand in the kitchen – chopping veggies, sauteing, cleaning – every now and then? Does everyone who joins a CSA look at the produce they’ve been given and say, “What in the hell am I going to do with this shit?” every now and then?

If not, then I’m totally off my rocker this time. But I have a feeling I’m not standing in this barren, gritty field all alone, am I now?

Don’t get me wrong. I love to cook, 95% of the time. I love to come home and hang my bag on my kitty hook in the hallway, toss my shoes down towards the bedroom, occasionally spin some tunes in the background, and practically meditate in front of stainless steel & granite –  chopping veggies, sauteing, and even cleaning. But the 5% does occur (5% of the time, actually). Being part of a CSA is unfortunate during those times, because the produce glares at me each time I open the pantry or the crisper drawer, and each time I open the freezer to see a plethora of meats, various cuts and types, piled high amidst peas, ‘pickle sickles’, and turkey stock.

Turkey stock. I must have overlooked it dozens of times this year already, since I vaguely recall tossing it in there last Thanksgiving weekend. Seeing turkey stock was all I needed, this time, to ‘knock the funk away’. When the CSA gives you a bag of root veggies and you’ve got a tub of stock in the freezer, it only means one thing: soup. Plus, what else is one to do with three big ol’ turnips anyway?!

I’ll admit I’ve never made turnip soup, nor have I seen many recipes for it elsewhere. And I’m not sure I’d want to eat it solo, but I’ve learned that winter squash makes just about anything taste good, brussel sprouts aside. One of my favorite parts of fall is the abundance of the winter squash crops, and we seem to always have a variation of it lying around, which is perfect when a plan for soup suddenly emerges.

So even though I wasn’t necessarily excited about cooking anything these last couple of weeks, thanks be to the turkey stock, I managed to find a little inspiration to not make those veggies wither away (although truthfully, it would take a lot for the humongous turnips to wither away…). The soup is hearty and definitely has that turnip-y taste, but the squash really provides a nice accent so balance it out, I think. And for spice, I thought a nice kick of chipotle chile powder and smoked paprika might turn the volume up, just a tad. Of course, if you’re like our downstairs neighbors and you like things nice and quiet, you can reduce the spices, but that’s just plain silly, if you ask me.

Roasted Turnip & Squash Chipotle Soup
chiknpastry recipe; serves 8-10

time commitment: 1 hour, 45 minutes (most of which is inactive)
other: freezes well

it doesn’t take much to whip up a comforting soup – honest. veggies, spices, and broth is generally all you need. Here, the squash works well with turnips which to me taste sort of bitter and cabbage-y. the squash adds the sweetness and tames the turnips, i think. you’ll note the recipe here calls for diced squash, but you can certainly halve them and roast them the “lazy way”, which is what I do!

printable version

2 delicata squash, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
3 turnips, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
2 T chipotle chili powder
1 T smoked paprika
salt and pepper
1 onion, large dice
2 firm apples, large dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
36 oz turkey or chicken stock or broth
18 oz water
1 T oregano, chopped
1 T agave nectar

preheat oven to 350 F.  in a large bowl, toss squash and  turnips with chipotle powder, paprika, salt and pepper and olive oil. turn onto foil-lined baking sheets. roast until tender, about 1 hour. cool slightly.

meanwhile, heat about 1 T of oil in a large heavy pot (dutch oven is perfect) over med-hi heat. add onion, apples, and garlic; saute 5 minutes. add broth, water, oregano, and squash/turnip mixture. bring to boil; reduce heat to med-low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

working in batches (or using immersion blender), puree soup until smooth. return to pot. at this time, if soup is too thick, add more water to thin, being sure to heat through. stir in agave nectar. season to taste with salt and pepper and finish with a splash of half & half, if desired.

See ya, Swanson’s

I have to tell you all something, something I’ve decided this year: having pregnant friends is just plain weird. We’re supposed to be late-20/early-30 somethings having the time of our lives – partying late (but not too late, because that can get trashy), hanging together on the weekends (but also spending a little time with the spouses), playing Rock Band during Thanksgiving, and doing one of my personal favorite things – vacationing to quiet islands, wine country, and Europe.

When kids get in the mix, a lot of those things, I’m guessing, fall by the wayside. I’d go into vacation withdrawal, and that probably wouldn’t be pretty. But I realize here, that we are in fact the weird ones.

But I’ve also learned that we’re all different, and while it will never not be weird to see a friend pregnant, or to hold their teeny tiny cute-as-pie baby (yes, Nora – you!), I know one day I’ll get used to it. One day I’ll learn how to buy onesies and baby books and all those little booties that are the most adorable things I’ve ever seen, and one day I won’t laugh at the idea of a friend breastfeeding, and so on and so forth. Until that time (yes – the time when I become a mature adult), I’ll cook for them instead.

My friend, Lindsay, is about to bust at the seams she’s so pregnant. And since she still keeps up with her blog amidst preparing for being a mom and working at a nutso children’s hospital, I’ve been able to keep up with all the happenings over the last 8 months. When I thought about how to contribute, I reverted to food. It wasn’t a bad idea though – wouldn’t you love to have a freezer full of meals after creating life? Seems reasonable to give the new mom & pop somewhat of a break, right?!

Enter ‘chicken pot pie’, THE quintessential freezer meal, though some may retort with an argument for lasagna, which is also valid. I’d actually never made a chicken pot pie before, probably because I grew so tired of those cyan blue Swanson’s boxes that were piled high in our freezer throughout my childhood. The gooey peas, the carrots that squished between your snaggled teeth, and the chewy colorless chunks portraying chicken, I habitually scraped the veggies to the back because the crust and the gravy were somewhat edible, or at least I remember them to be…

Of course, you can try and forget those freezer meals with all your might, but when you see a recipe in one of Thomas Keller’s cookbooks you tend to forget all the ickiness, and you remember the flaky crust, the gravy, and most of all, the comfort – and you want it all over again.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I procured the remainder of the ingredients I didn’t have at home and set out to make not one, but two pot pies a la Keller. As it turns out, chicken pot pie is extremely versatile, which makes for plenty of variation. The first version included some shitake mushrooms from our CSA and some cannellini beans I made and froze eons ago, and for Lindsay’s I ‘autumnized’ the dish and threw some squash in. Fortunately, I had just enough leftover filling and crust for some miniatures, so as you can imagine I ate my fair share of pie last week.

Meanwhile, there’s one ready to be baked in my buddy’s freezer, so when the ‘little punk’ introduces herself to the world, at least her parents won’t be stuck eating Swanson’s and Stouffer’s – they can instead focus on all that other stuff (otherwise called parenting), like the onesies, her cute little toes, and the jealous cat. 

Autumn Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted (rather loosely, actually) from Ad Hoc at Home

I’m aware that Thomas Keller can do no wrong, at least in the kitchen. I’m aware that his recipes are probably tested a thousand times, and that if he doesn’t put nutmeg in his bechamel it’s likely with good reason. that said, i still like to tinker around with recipes, and this was no exception. while i almost switched out the bechamel altogether for the more familiar gravy, I refrained, and I’m glad – bechamel filling is where it’s at. you can easily swap in or out meat & veggies – add peas, root veggies, or beans, remove potatoes, use beef instead of chicken – whatever. and if you have leftover filling, i’m sure there are plenty of ways to use it up.

as an FYI, the pie crusts can be refrigerated for a few days (or frozen), so it’s never a bad idea to double the crust recipe. if you’re making this to freeze, do everything except bake it, and wrap it in plastic wrap and tin foil. i’ve heard some say not to include potatoes in a frozen pie, but it should be fine as long as you use the smaller versions that arent as waxy.

printable version

pie crusts
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 1/4 t kosher salt
2 sticks butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces and chilled
4 T shortening, cut into 1/2″ pieces and chilled*
~5 T water

1 c red-skinned potatoes, medium dice
1 1/2 c winter squash, medium dice
3 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
15 black peppercorns
1 T olive oil
1 c carrots, medium dice
1 small onion, medium dice
1/2 c celery, medium dice
2-3 c shredded cooked chicken (thighs or breasts)**

3 T unsalted butter
3 T all purpose flour
3 c milk
1 t kosher salt
black pepper, to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of nutmeg

1 egg, beaten

pie crusts
combine flour and salt in mixer. add butter and shortening, and pulse constantly until butter and shortening pieces are about the size of a pea. drizzle 1 T water at a time into the bowl and pulse until mixture comes together, adding water by the tablespoon. if dough is dry and gritty, add more water. when dough comes together dump out onto a floured surface and knead a few times until mixture is uniform.

divide dough in half (one piece a little larger than the other), shape into a disk and refrigerate at least an hour. [remove from refrigerator about 5-10 minutes prior to rolling out.]

fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. add bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and potatoes and simmer over med-hi heat until just tender, 8-10 minutes. spread out on sheet pan to cool. repeat process with squash.

in a skillet, add olive oil and over med-hi heat, saute carrots, onion, and celery until tender. spread all veggies out on sheet pan to cool.

in a large pot (you can use the same one you cooked potatoes/squash in, to save dishwashing!), melt butter, and whisk in the flour for about 2-3 minutes ensuring it does not brown. whisk in the milk and lower the heat to a gentle simmer, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 2 cups (30-40 minutes). strain the bechamel through a fine strainer into a spouted measuring cup. season with salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg.

putting it all together
while simmering the bechamel, preheat to 375 F, make sure one rack is at the bottom of the oven and the other in the middle. prepare pie. remove pie dough and let stand for 5-10 minutes to soften. then, roll out both pie crusts – roll one into 13-14″ round and the other to about 12″. place larger one in the bottom of a 9″ pie plate, and place the other back in the fridge on a sheet of parchment paper. trim away any excess dough that’s hanging over the rim of the pie plate (save it for mini pot pies, if you have leftover filling). refrigerate if bechamel isn’t ready, or if you need to finish it.

[finish the bechamel.] combine chicken and veggies in a large bowl. scatter mixture into the bottom of the pie plate to fill (you may have extra, which is great for the mini pot pies). moisten the rim of the pie with some of the beaten egg. remove top crust from the fridge and place over the filling and press the edges of the dough together to seal, trimming away any excess. using the rest of the beaten egg, brush the top of the pie, and cut a couple of small slits into the top to allow the pie to vent.

bake on the lower oven rack until the crust is golden brown, about 50 minutes. move to center rack during the final 10 minutes if not browning enough. transfer to cooling rack and let rest for 10 minutes. cut into 6 wedges and serve.

*i’m not sure why you’d want to, but you can omit shortening if it freaks you out. keller’s original crust didn’t call for it, but i adhere to the “pie crust has to have shortening” rule. I won’t lie – this crust is un-be-freakin-lievable.

**for cooked chicken, I poached it in water, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorn, let it cool and then shredded it. i used about a pound and had plenty of leftover chicken, which is great for more pot pies or other cooked chicken dishes ;).

Getting Souped-Up

curried butternut squash soup

For whatever reason, I’ve had a handful of summer soup recipes just sitting, waiting patiently, in my recipe stack. They’ve been sitting there all summer. I never made them, never even pulled them out of the stack to consider making them. I simply cannot get behind the cold summer soup recipes. And don’t get me wrong – I like them – I just don’t seem to ever want to make them.

Hot soups though? Hot damn, and yes ma’am!

roasting squash

Have I mentioned my love of butternut squash? Alright, I know I did – but I really really really love it. I mean really. In fact, I’d reconsider my choice of stranded island food if it weren’t for the difficulty I might encounter peeling them on that imaginary island. And since I had a table-full of various squash from my apple picking adventure, all I had to do other than get those puppies cut and roasted was to see what was hanging around the pantry and fridge to add to ’em.

Which brought about a huge revelation: I have to finally admit that I’m really getting into fall right about now. Although I love the weather of the summer, I love the food of the fall. I couldn’t wait for the winter squash to take root in the Whole Foods’ produce section and farmers’ markets, I am so excited about making cranberry sauce I can’t see straight, and I love using my immersion blender to make a rich, comforting, hot soup.

red curry paste addition

Especially this soup, which is undoubtedly our new favorite around Chez Wetzel. If my love of the squash itself wasn’t enough, this soup ups the ante by also having one of my other favorite things, curry. Red curry paste, to be exact. And instead of blabbing about its’ loveliness with halibut or short ribs, I’ll blab about its’ loveliness in this soup. It is to. die. for. Autumn in a bowl – a rich, decadent, healthy bowl of orange deliciousness but with a wee hint of Thai spiciness.

And although I haven’t met a butternut squash soup I didn’t just adore, I will quickly admit that this “souped-up” version with curry is on a whole other level. The curry paste is the perfect complement and adds just a hint of heat to the soup. The carrots and apples balance out the flavors a bit, and finishing it with a little honey adds a teeny tiny touch of sweetness.


It’s too bad that pretty soon the leaves will all be dead and I’ll be swapping out my light fall jacket for my marshmellow coat – right when I start to be excited about this weather. Such a Debbie Downer, right?!

Until then, I’m gonna knock out a few more soups, use (or freeze) the rest of my squashies, and look forward to a day full of turkey, casseroles, and cranberry sauce. Because after all that, it’s chili time!


Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted liberally from Bon Appetit, February 2007; serves 6-8

printable recipe

2 2lb butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded (can also use other winter squash – I used 3/4 butternut, 1/4 delicata)
2 T unsalted butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 apple, peeled and chopped
1 T fresh ginger, chopped
4 t  Thai red curry paste
2 14-oz cans low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 c water (or another can of broth)
2 bay leaves
3 T heavy cream
2 T honey
cilantro, chopped (for garnish)


  1. preheat oven to 375 F. place cut squash on foil-lined baking sheet. roast until tender, about 1 hour. cool slightly. scoop squash out into large bowl. measure ~4 to 4 1/2 c (reserve remaining for another use)
  2. melt butter in large heavy pot (dutch oven is perfect) over med-hi heat. add onion, carrots, apple, ginger and saute 5 minutes. add curry paste and stir for 2 minutes. add broth, water, bay leaves, and squash. bring to boil; reduce heat to med-low and simmer uncovered for 1 hour. discard bay leaves.
  3. working in batches (or using immersion blender, my best friend), puree soup in until smooth. return to pot. at this time, if soup is too thick, add more water to thin, being sure to heat through. stir in cream and honey. season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. divide among bowls and serve with chopped cilantro

More Butternut squash:

Romaine & Butternut Squash Salad w/ Chipotle Ranch

Barley & Butternut Squash Risotto

More soup:

Cauliflower-Apple soup with Roasted Red Peppers & Apple Cider Reduction

Pumpkin & Shrimp Bisque

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.

Barley is Gnarly

butternut squash and barley risotto with cheese

Oh how the tables have turned. It wasn’t long ago that Chris was sitting at home playing his video games while I was busy crafting pies or pasta in the kitchens at school. We’ve since traded places – me chillin’ at home, him – well, not learning to make pasta – but learning whatever it is he’s learning en route to his MBA. Either way, he’s mad busy these days – if not in class he’s working on something for class. Which leaves me time for – you guessed it – cooking for numero uno. Yes, me!

Which reminds me, in addition to free time for cooking, I’ve also finally had enough spare time to move my blog to another host. Please forgive the organized chaos. I’ve ironed out a lot of the tweaks, but still have a few to go. In the meantime though, let’s talk about some food now, shall we?

barleydiced onions

We all love risotto, right? I know I do. I mean really, what’s not to like? Rice slow-cooked to a rich, creamy but still somewhat firm consistency – with additions of almost anything you could conjure up. And why stop with changing around the vegetables and proteins? I figured, why not shake it up a bit more and try a different grain – maybe it’s not your traditional risotto, but it sure tastes good.

Besides, why stop at beer when it comes to barley? In granular form, it may not offer that malted flavor we brewsky drinkers fervently enjoy, but it does have some other admirable qualities. For one, eating barley can help to regulate blood sugar for up to 10 hours post-consumption. Rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber (both soluble and insoluble), it wins against plain old rice any day of the week. What does it taste like? Chewy and crunchy, nutty and earthy – similar to brown rice but even more satisfying.

apricots,currants,parsleybarley risotto

I know – I’m not the first person to make barley risotto – and I hope not the last. If you haven’t tried barley, or any of these other fancy grains – I challenge you to give them a try. Give that arborio and that box of Uncle Ben’s a break, will ya? Pretty please, and thank you.

Need a little more guidance? Some more inspiration perchance? Check here for a recipe using farro (lovely, just like barley but gluten-free as barley is not), and check here for a quinoa salad. Have you made something with any other grains? Kamut? Wheat berries? Amaranth? Leave a link or two (or even three, if you please) in the comments section and share away!

butternut squash and risottobutternut squash barley risotto plated

Barley & Butternut Squash Risotto
Original from; serves 4

 printable version

3 c chicken or vegetable broth
2 c water
1 lb butternut squash, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
olive oil, for drizzling over squash
1 t 5 spice powder
1 t cinnamon
1 t cayenne pepper
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, small dice
1 c pearled barley
1 t garlic, minced
1/2 c dried fruit (I used 1/4 currants, 1/4 apricots)
salt & pepper
1/4 c pecorino-romano cheese, shredded
1 T basil, chopped
2 T pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 F

Mix broth and water together, heat in medium saucepan; keep warm

Mixed cubed squash with ~2T olive oil and spices (5 spice, cinnamon, cayenne). Spread on baking sheet and bake about 30 minutes, turning halfway through.

Meanwhile, heat 1 T oil in medium-sized Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Throw in onion and cook for ~5 minutes; add garlic and cook ~1 minute. Add barley and let cook 1-2 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, and begin adding 1 ladle-full (1/2-1 c) of broth/water mixture at a time, stirring (almost) constantly until liquid is almost dissolved. Continue until barley is cooked, about 30 minutes. (There may be some broth mix leftover)

Remove risotto from heat, add in roasted squash & dried fruit. Top with cheese, herbs, nuts and season with salt and pepper.