Pumpkin couscous + Mail!!

November 30, 2010 § 10 Comments


I recently got the chance to spend some time with my lovely friend P. out in the desert. We hiked, hot-tubbed and ate, because eating is what we love to do best. We’re both veg. these days, so our first night at the restaurant in the resort proved to be a bit of a challenge. Items on the menu that looked vegetarian, turned out not to be so on further questioning, and since we hadn’t given advance notice concessions couldn’t be made and we just settled for truffled mac ‘n cheese for dinner. I know, life could be worse. It was also one of the best mac ‘n cheeses I’ve ever had. Very creamy, very rich, and full on flavor thanks to the truffle oil and assortment of mushrooms. On our last night the chef made a vegetarian pumpkin risotto just for us, which he served in a baked pumpkin, which I loved. I’ve been wanting to recreate it at home ever since, so today was my attempt, although I warn you mine was nowhere near the quasi-spectacle (my glee is partial to food served in food containers) of the original.


This was my absolute first time working with pumpkin. Never carved one for Halloween or made a pumpkin pie, so this was an experience. I started by cutting a top off of the pumpkin of about 1/3rd of the area. I then scooped out the seeds. Saved those, seasoned them and then baked them for about 10 minutes to snack on later. I then rubbed my two large pumpkin pieces with olive oil and salt and pepper then baked them with the hole sides facing down for about 15 minutes which is how long it took for the meat to become tender. Once tender, this pumpkin meat is ripe for cooking. I just scooped it out and used it in the Pumpkin Couscous recipe I found. When the couscous was done I spooned it into the cavity of my baked pumpkin and served! The presentation is interesting, but I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of pumpkin…yet. I’ve got to figure out how that chef made his pumpkin shell so tender but sturdy…and yummy. I think its hard to hate a creamy risotto, and easier to dismiss a wholewheat couscous, but that’s the price you pay when you’re trying to keep the daily food intake on a level that won’t permanently damage the waistline.

Pumpkin Couscous
(adapted from Epicurious, serves two)

Meat from a small pumpkin (should be about 2 cups)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small shallots minced
2 cloves garlic minced
3/4-1 cup water
1/2 cup milk or half and half
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup whole wheat couscous
2 handfuls of fresh spinach
1 tbsp. parsley (fresh is best)
crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Scoop out the innards and season (w. olive oil, salt and pepper) before baking face down for 15 minutes at 350 degrees

Over medium heat, saute shallots and garlic until the shallots are translucent. Add the crushed red pepper flakes, baked pumpkin meat and sautee for 3-5 minutes. Add the spinach and 3/4 cup of water and then let this mixture cook until the spinach wilts. Don’t forget to season!! Add the milk and couscous and allow this to simmer until the couscous absorbs the liquid (add the last 1/4 cup of water if necessary). Sprinkle with grated parmesan. Serve.

My new vintage cheese cloche, or lemon bar storage, I should say =)

I also received a small surprise in the mail today!! A few weeks ago I won the Birch+Bird giveaway hosted by City Cradle Design. Lily + Rachel from Birch+Bird were nice enough to giveaway a $50 credit to their Etsy store, which I won. Winning things is quite an immediate mood elevator, and I highly recommend it =) I picked out their vintage cheese cloche, due to its brownie and lemon bar storage functionality, which I just received today along with a nice note from Lily + Rachel and recipe cards b/c they know I’m a kitchen girl!! Thanks to Lily + Rachel and to City Cradle for hosting this awesome giveaway.


Stuffed Pan-fried Squash Blossoms

November 29, 2010 § 8 Comments

The town I spent Thanksgiving in is a coastal village of sorts, and the farmer’s market is right in the heart of a charming, one-storied downtown that sits at the foot of the Pacific Ocean. I know, life could be worse. I partially grew up in this town but had never been to the farmer’s market. In my defense, I never really cared about quality or locally grown food until many years after moving away. I ran right into this market on a last-minute Thanksgiving run around town, and was surprised to see many of the stalls carrying squash blossoms this late in the year. This is one of the advantages to farming in paradise!

Step 1: Wash the lovelies

The first stall I stopped at had the most beautiful blossoms with large cavities, and since I had never tried them I had a chat with the vendor who kindly showed me how to remove the pistil to stuff them and explained how they should be pan-fried. I’m such a sucker, I bought them from him @ 5.99/lb. The first stall! You never buy produce from the first stall!! You’re suppose to take a lap, check out the goods, then go home with the market’s best products. I’ve read plenty of how-tos, first hand accounts of trickery and foolish purchases. But away I went giddy with my blossoms, mind already buzzing about how I would stuff them, when I found another stall selling bunches of 10 for $1!!!! Sigh, lesson learned.  

I brought them back to make a tea snack, stuffing them with goat cheese, basil dried from our plant that sadly died at the end of summer, garlic powder and cracked black pepper. A pictorial recipe follows sans exact measurements, as this quick experiment resulted in lots of joy and little recording.

Step 2: Remove the pistil and stuff the cavity with your filling (I used a blend of goat cheese, home-dried basil, garlic powder and cracked black pepper)

Step 3: Tie them shut. This is a tricky and perhaps controversial step. The string is going to be a pain to remove after the frying process, but it's the only way I found to keep the cavity shut without damaging the petals.

Step 4: Coat the stuffed and contained blossoms in milk and then roll them in flour.

Step 5: Pan-fry and enjoy

A special thank you to our lovely friend C. who hosted Thanksgiving at her home this year along with a hike (we’re healthy vegetarians!) and fruit picking out in the country. I came home with enough pomegranates to experiment for weeks, so an advance apology goes out to those of you loyal readers who may tire of the headlines. I took oreo truffles, mint chocolate truffles and an apple, goat-cheese and persimmon tart to the Thanksgiving feast; all were made leisurely over the span of a few days. The trick was to make the tart dough on Tuesday. It lived in the refrigerator until Thursday morning. The oreo truffles were also made ahead of time and refrigerated. I made the mint chocolate truffles the night before with a friend as a fun activity for movie night, where we feasted on a deep-dish pizza experiment which used a vegan version of my tart dough. The pizza was amazing, and I will post all about in the future because I definitely plan on making it again and again!

The apple, persimmon + goat cheese tart

Gratuitous shot of the rustic tart

We ran into goats on our way over to C's brother's pomegranate and persimmon orchards, which we looted in good vegetarian fashion

Daring Bakers’ challenge: Pomegranate Crostata

November 27, 2010 § 18 Comments

I spent the day with my good friend K., who I’ve known for many years, maybe a good 8, although I’m not quite sure, time is flying and I tend not to litter my memories with facts and figures. It’s just one big Proust-like stream of consciousness that delights at odd, unplanned times. I’m afraid that if I catalogued happy memories, I’d access them to the point of rendering them mundane. So it is. My friend and I came together to catch up and engage in a bit of consumerism this Black Friday. To kick off the day I hosted a brief tea at my home and served mini crostatas, layered with cream cheese and pomegranate puree. I am very lucky to have received a visit from my pomegranate fairy C. (thanks C.!!) recently. So, I will be infusing everything with the fruit for a couple of weeks to come.

I was recently visited by the pomegranate fairy, C.

The crostatas were inspired by this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge, which incidentally is due, so to speak, today! The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

My crostata shells, which I blind-baked before filling w. cream cheese and pomegranate puree and a 2nd baking session

The tart recipes Simona provided were with eggs, so I had to make a few substitutions to my own recipe, because any of you who follow the Veggie Test Kitchen know that I am obsessed with making tarts. I altered my classic tart recipe by simply adding powdered sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract. I am not a big fan of sweet pastry crusts, so I added only 1/4 cup of the sugar.

The star of this crostata (Italian for ‘tart’) was the pomegranate puree I used as the top layer. This was an experiment that consisted of blending pomegranate seeds. I bet on the idea that blending long enough would pulverize the seeds. That didn’t exactly happen. During my attempt to strain the mush I ended up with a small shot of pure pomegranate liquid that I surely couldn’t bake. So, I drank it. And it was so much better than the bottles of ‘pure’ Pomegranate juice that I usually buy. I saw the leftover mush and thought, great, good as jam, right? Wrong, somewhat anyway. The seeds weren’t so bad (they survived largely crushed), and the crostata was great! I will have to figure out a way to really pulverize the seeds for the future. Other than that, I’d say this was a hit. The classic Italian crostata is made with a layer of fruit preserves much like my attempt here. I like the idea, and am glad to have added it to my tart repertoire.

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Oreo Chocolate Truffles

November 24, 2010 § 17 Comments

I’ve been randomly watching too many videos on tempering chocolate and other wonderful confections recently. My goal is to chart a serious course in the wonderful world of chocolatier-ing at some point in the future. The whole process. Down to the beans. This is a dream I guess you could say. I’ve been thinking about this recently. If there were no limits to what you could spend your life and days doing, what might you do?? Without a doubt, I would spend my mornings making pastries and confections in some well-light Parisian kitchen. I would have a fail-proof recipe for eggless double-decker macaroons that taste not much different from the wonderful goodness on display at Ladurée down the way. I’d spend my nights with the expats, and my vacations scouring the world, Indonesia, Ecuador… for the best cocoa crops. I’d retire to trading beans on the exchanges, and probably die as fulfilled as one can be after a life on earth. Maybe writing it down counts for something to the universe?? One can only hope, I suppose.

Making truffles in my little kitchen is a humble attempt into this world, and at that Oreo ‘truffle’s. A gateway to the gateway you could say. If oreo truffles could even be called truffles is suspect, as they lack the central tenet of truffle-ism, which is to possess a ganache heart. We can leave tradition and let it slide for the moment, as we’re currently spending our days in the States, which is about innovation and evolution, and lexical violations that might inspire people to venture in their kitchens with a smile are OK.

Ruminations aside, these are tremendously easy to make for those of you out there who may be thinking this is something you just cannot do at home due to the mess factor, the burning chocolate factor (this is real, and a menace, I have burned holes through many storage apperatusses due to overheating chocolate), or any other factor. It requires simply, one pair of hands, a double boiler, oreos, cream cheese and semi-sweet baking chocolate. The recipe I used is quite widely disseminated over the web. I think that maybe the only unique aspect in my go at it is that I chose to coat my truffles in melted dark chocolate. For the oreo truffle, many people choose to coat in melted white chocolate. If I were to do it again, which I definitely will, I would never again coat truffles in melted chocolate. I am going to get creative with the powder coatings. It’s the cleanest, most presentable method, and further, truffle centers tend to be quite rich so coating them with a powder would result in a more balanced finished piece.

Oreo Chocolate Truffles
(makes 20 two-bite pieces)

21 oreo cookies (do not get the double-stuffed stuff), uniformly crushed
4 oz of full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate baking chips

Mix the crushed oreos and the cream cheese with your hands until both are thoroughly incorporated. You should be left with a ball that looks like stiff mud. Roll out small balls with a melon scoop or with your hands. You should end up with about 20 small balls (as pictured). In a double boiler (or in the microwave, but be careful if you plan to use a microwave, as chocolate heats very quickly. I would suggest using a glass bowl and zapping at 15 second intervals, stirring in between), melt your chocolate chips until smooth, stirring consistently. Turn off the heat and dip your oreo balls in the melted chocolate. Lay the truffles on wax paper to harden. You can garnish your truffles with toppings before they set. Refrigerate for about an hour to allow the truffles to set. These can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.


Pomegranate Carrot Cake

November 22, 2010 § 6 Comments

Thanksgiving inspires a plethora of wonderful side and dessert recipes. Having a stronger sweet tooth, I’d say, my attention is always immediately drawn to the cakes I see. Cake recipes, pictures, descriptions, you name it. I’m all over cakes. One of the cakes I’ve been meaning to check off of my To Do list most recently is the Carrot Cake. It seems like such a natural idea to make a vegetable cake in the wintertime, I don’t know why. It’s kind of the same weird inclination that makes you want to eat fruit in the summertime, just a body clock thing I suppose.

While researching a good Carrot cake recipe, and eggless mind you, I noticed that a good number of recipes tend to mix a fruit juice into the batter. I’ve so far seen orange juice, pineapple juice, and applesauce used. In an effort to use what I have, and to put a personal spin on the dish, I ended up squeezing some pomegranate seeds to make a few teaspoons of pure juice that I put into my cake batter. In keeping with the pomegranate accent, I filled the center of the cake with pomegranate seeds. It’s a very interesting cake. And most importantly, MOIST. I’m very pleased with this cake, and plan to make it many times again in the future. 

Carrot and Pomegranate Cake
(makes two mini 2-layer cakes, or alternatively one 9-inch round cake pan. I make my mini layered cakes by baking in crème brûlée dishes)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp flax-seed powder mixed in with 3 tbsp warm water (this simulates the inclusion of one egg)
1/2 stick of butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar in the raw
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup shredded carrots
2 tsps pure pomegranate juice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt) in a bowl.

In a separate, and large bowl, heat your butter for about 15 seconds in the microwave. To this bowl, add the wet ingredients (flax-seed ‘egg’, brown sugar, sugar in the raw, vanilla extract, milk and sour cream). Mix until all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients while mixing. Once thoroughly incorporated, add the carrots and pomegranate juice.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9-inch round cake pan, or 4 crème brûlée dishes.

Bake on 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the cake(s) is(are) able to pass the toothpick test.

Garnish with cream cheese frosting & 1 cup chopped walnuts

Cream cheese frosting
(from Breakfast Lunch Dinner Punch)

4 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
1/2 lb icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

Beat ingredients together until fully incorporated.

If looking for a quick fix for the topping, try my lazy trick of mixing 1 part ready-made frosting with 3 parts cool whip. The cool whip acts to tone down the sweetness of the ready-made frosting. You can control the level of sweetness by adjusting the ratio of cool whip/ready-made frosting accordingly.

Cheese Straws

November 20, 2010 § 8 Comments

Cheese straws: A great homemade holiday gift

I’ve been in the food zone lately, researching recipes, populating my To Do list…oh, and most importantly, cooking! So, in the spirit of Heidi Swanson’s advice of cooking from recipes during the stages of learning to stand in the kitchen, so to speak, I’ve been scouring the blogosphere (and the library) for interesting recipes. A few of the things I am learning about cookbooks are: 1) there are way too many out there (my local library probably has a bigger selection of cookbooks than math books), and 2) most of the cookbooks are picture-less, or if they do have pictures, they’re finished products jammed into one paltry center section that doesn’t even cover 1/4th of what’s going on throughout the book. This leads a novice cook to turn to the blogosphere where traditional publishing doesn’t limit the how-to photo bandwidth, and now we’re also blessed with video! So, one of the blogs I’ve been really interested in lately is the Smitten Kitchen.

The Smitten Kitchen is a treasure trove of recipes, translated with amazing how-to images and notes on best practices. While trolling for chocolate recipes, no excuses there, I happened upon a section of homemade holiday gift ideas, one of them being cheesy straws. We’re big tea drinkers here (old English habits die hard) and are always looking for savoury snacks to make the experience a little more pleasurable for the palate. cheese straws are one of those excellent savoury accents to add to a well-balanced tea break. In a dash of inspiration from my refrigerator again, more so than a desire to put a personal stamp on the recipe, I ended up making a few adjustments. The original recipe is linked below if you’re a cheddar purist.

Cheese Straws
(adapted from the Smitten Kitchen,, makes a lot, but not too much, perhaps two small gift servings worth)

1 cup cheddar cheese (grated or cut into small chunks)
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated or cut into small chunks)
1/2 stick of butter
3/4 flour (I guess you can add a layer of creativity here, I went with AP)
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 crushed tsp red pepper flakes
3 tsps milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Process all of the ingredients, MINUS the milk, until the mixture resembles coarse grain (as pictured). Add the milk, then continue to process until the mixture turns into a ball of dough.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8th inch thickness. With a pizza cutter, slice the dough into 1/8th inch straws (as pictured). Transfer to a baking sheet (I lined mine with a silicone baking mat, I would suggest using wax or parchment paper). Bake for about 15 minutes or until the straws begin to turn golden brown.

Let the straws cool on a baking rack for a good 15 minutes at least, so that they can properly solidify. If you don’t do this they’ll break apart very easily.

Aside from being given away as awesome homemade holiday gifts (they’re wonderful and will be appreciated I promise you), they would be great with a spot of tea or served as a side with soup or chili.

Thai Curry Carrot Bisque & Goat cheese Corn Muffins

November 18, 2010 § 6 Comments

My Culinary To Do list is growing out of control, so I decided to kill two entries by making a nice meal for lunch today. Two things I’ve been wanting to cross off my list have been Spabettie’s Goat cheese corn muffins and Vegan Good Eat’s Blood Orange Carrot bisque. The point of the exercise is to gain experience by following recipes when facing an inspiration downturn. In this case, I didn’t have one of the primary ingredients for the Blood Orange Carrot bisque, namely the orange. So instead, I made a Thai carrot curry soup of my favorite flavor combo (inspired by my Ginger Carrot salad): citrus, ginger, garlic, onion, Thai spices and peanut butter. I suppose the recurring presence of peanut butter in my Thai food gives away my national heritage =)

The goat cheese is somewhat visible. One can never have too much chevre, only too little

I had to take a short trip to get the corn meal for the corn muffins, the recipe for which I halved, but followed practically to the T otherwise, aside from one substitution I made to include a flaxseed/water egg replacer instead of the Ener-G version. I recently visited a health food super store here in my area where I went in search of Ener-G egg replacer. Instead I came home with a bag full of flaxseeds, which I’m told act as an egg substitute if you soak them in water. As an aside, in the bin right next the flaxseeds I noticed that pine nuts were selling for 36.99/lb!!!! Can anyone vouch for the normality of that price? I had no idea. Anyway, now that I have ‘eggs’ I’m ready to go nuts, beginning with these corn muffins. I have to say, I didn’t dig my version too much. You can even tell from the picture that my attempt is pretty dry. Spabettie’s look so much more moist and appetizing. I don’t know where I went wrong here. My plan is to find a good, egg-less cornbread recipe and to revisit the exercise. I love my moist dairy-filled baked goods, and I think this will be a great dish to take to the Thanksgiving dinner I’m attending that won’t be off-limits to the gluten-free crowd.  

Goat cheese Corn Muffins
(from Spabettie, makes 6 muffins)

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 ‘egg’ (I used 1 tsp of flaxseed + 3 tsps of water)
2 tbsps maple syrup
1 cup milk
2 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps honey goat cheese

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and stir until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Pour half the ‘batter’ into muffin cups (if you use the aluminum baking cups you don’t need to use a cupcake baking pan, you can just throw the muffin cups onto a baking sheet). Add a small bit of goat cheese to each cup (as pictured). Cover with the remaining muffin ‘batter’. Bake for 10-20 minutes.

Thai Curry Carrot Bisque
(makes two servings)

1/2 onion chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped in fourths
2 tsp ginger
2 cups of chopped carrots and celery
1/2 cup water
3tsp liquid amino
3 tsps peanut butter
1/4 can of coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
2tbsp olive oil
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

In a soup pot, bring the olive oil to medium heat. Then add the onions and garlic. Let these cook until the onions start to caramelize. Add the carrots and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Then add the water and liquid aminos (which together act as a vegetable broth). Let this simmer for a good 10 minutes, whilst adding the peanut butter, turmeric and lemon juice. When the carrots have become tender, add the coconut milk. This is the point at which I’d do a tasting and second round of salt and pepper seasoning. Once seasoned to your taste, turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Enjoy this fun video from PES. It’s an animated recipe demo.

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