Pumpkin Pancakes

It’s fall!

To celebrate, Rachael and I have been very happily indulging in several recipes involving the use of copious amounts of pumpkin.  One of our perennial favorites is a recipe for pumpkin chili that we’ve been playing with; our preference this year is to season it with pumpkin pie spices so it’s more of a slightly sweet chili.  We’ve also been playing with the protein; the base recipe calls for turkey, but in the last week we decided to be lazy/creative and substitute chicken meatballs from IKEA (we live close enough to an IKEA that we can go every couple weeks and get Swedish foodstuffs!).

The latest bit of culinary joy we indulged in was a round of pumpkin pancakes.  I’d link a recipe except that in this case I can’t; I mixed up the batter with our remaining pancake batter mix and a fifteen ounce can of pumpkin (note: this was way too much pumpkin).  There were a handful of spices thrown in (pretty much just a teaspoon of all the typical spices you’d put in a pumpkin pie), and then enough water to get the batter to a thin enough consistency for pan frying.

The end result of my bit of experimentation was a pancake that was super thin, extremely wet, and not terribly appetizing (I mean, I still ate it; it just wasn’t the Platonic ideal of a pancake).  Thankfully, Rachael got home just as I was beginning to fry up the batter, and she pointed out that I had added too much pumpkin, so I probably needed more flour or an egg to bind everything together better.  We tossed in an extra half cup or so of flour and poof the batter was just right.  You can see the end result of this adjusted recipe below.

Yes, they are as delicious as they look.

These pancakes were good.  They’re great with some maple syrup for topping (the slight vanilla flavor from the syrup really complements the pumpkin pie spices and sweetens the whole dish), but they’re flexible enough that you could really use whatever topping you prefer.  Give them a try while pumpkin’s easy to find (and probably look up a recipe instead of just making the whole thing up like I did; that could have been disastrous for dinner).

Blueberry Crumble Bars

It’s like a homemade pop tart!

We’re kind of smitten with this recipe as of late.  It makes a dessert that’s somewhat reminiscent of a straight up blueberry crumble that we like to make sometimes (that one involves copious amounts of butter being cut into the oat topping), but the end result is remarkably sturdy once chilled, and has less of a “I’m stuffing my face with fats and sugars conveyed by grains!” vibe.

The crumble layers here are pretty crumbly (even if you’re eating this chilled, you’ll want a plate handy to account for all the bits that fall off).  Still, I do think it’s kind of like a pop tart, if the pop tart crust had a texture other than stale pastry.

Modifications that Rachael makes to the recipe are pretty simple: you halve the sugar, and you add an extra cup of berries.  I think the sugar content comes out to be about the same, but the blueberry flavor is much more dominant than the sweetness this way.

As a side note, regular readers will notice I’m back to my school year posting schedule.  I’ve started my new job (by the time this post goes live I’ll have been there for about three weeks), and I’m really enjoying it.  My new school’s much bigger than the one I came from, and it often feels like I have a lot more responsibilities than I used to, but the environment’s very welcoming.  My position has me straddling a few different education teams, and I’ve found all the people I’m now working with to be very warm and helpful (and, above all, patient with the newbie).  I’m still getting to know the students, but generally I’m enjoying working with them too.  The biggest challenge I’ve encountered so far is recalibrating my standards for disrespectful behavior; I’m apparently not scandalized by some things students say (like asking me if I’m from Georgia because I don’t always speak with a Southern accent) when I should be.

I think it’s going to be a good year.

Lemony Leek Meatballs

This last week I tried making a meatball recipe from the Jerusalem cookbook.  It jumped out at me as something intriguing because the recipe’s actually located in the book’s “vegetables” section, since this is a type of meatball that’s supposed to feature the flavor of the veg much more strongly than the beef.  It didn’t disappoint on that.

First, here’s a link to someone else’s experience making the same recipe (and the recipe itself).  You know, in case you’d like to try making them yourself.

Second, here’s what mine looked like when I was finished:

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Lemony leek meatballs.

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Beautiful, right?

Some important things to note: I don’t have a steaming pot, so I had to rig an impromptu solution to steam the leeks.  My setup involved taking the steel mesh strainer that I usually use to wash rice for sushi and cradling it in my largest soup pot (it didn’t quite fit so the lid sat askew on top; either way, the leeks were good and steamed after twenty minutes).  Even before that, I had to figure out exactly how much of the leeks get trimmed away (for anyone who’s never cooked with leeks before, they are huge and much of the greenery that tops them gets discarded; essentially you treat them like typical onions and only use the white part of the vegetable).  Once I had that all squared away the rest of the process was pretty straightforward (except that I nearly burned myself with hot water a couple times when I was trying to press the extra moisture out of the leeks once they were done steaming).  Ideally you’ll have at least half an hour to chill the meatballs once they’ve been mixed and shaped, but I was working on a slightly tighter deadline, so I only chilled for a couple minutes before I got down to searing and simmering.

All in all, the end product is quite delicious.  It’s absolutely true that the lemon and leek are the dominant flavor in the meatballs.  I think I’d like to try this recipe again in the future, but I have to say that it’s a lot of work up front; from prep to plate I probably spent ninety minutes cooking, and even with streamlining of labor, the recipe calls for roughly this amount of time investment.  Definitely make sure you have the time to set aside if you want to try to make these meatballs for yourself.

Roasted Eggplant with Fried Onion & Chopped Lemon

I’m continuing to experiment with new dishes from the Jerusalem cookbook that Rachael got for her birthday earlier this year.  This past week, I made a roast eggplant dish that ended up being extremely tasty.  I was a little wary because it called for green chiles and I’ve never imagined doing an eggplant dish with onions, but the flavors really do come together nicely on this one.

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Roasted eggplant with fried onion & chopped lemon.

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The finished product looks really nice, right?

Prep on this dish wasn’t as bad as I anticipated.  Once I got the eggplants prepped and put in the oven, the 45 minute bake time offered plenty of leeway to do prep on the lemon sauce and to cook the onions.  The only changes I made were omitting the sumac (I couldn’t find any at the local grocery store, and I’m generally not inclined to special order spices for dishes that I don’t know I’ll make again) and using canned instead of fresh chiles.  Rachael and I were very pleased with the results, all things considered.

If you’d like to try out the recipe, it can be found online here.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions

I’d been planning on trying out this recipe for nearly a month before I finally got around to doing it, mostly because I’m still getting accustomed to the way recipes are laid out in the Jerusalem cookbook (something about the formatting of the ingredient list makes all the recipes seem really intimidating to me), and the last two dishes I tried out ended up being pretty labor intensive.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I threw this recipe together in about half an hour.  I did get to take a shortcut because I already had some tahini sauce made from the last time we had falafel, but after looking over the recipe again it’s really not that bad.  You just use the bake time to mix up the sauce, and then everything should come together in about an hour.

The basic recipe can be found here at Ottolenghi’s website (the only variation that I noticed is that the oven temp is lower than recommended in the cookbook; I baked the vegetables at 475 F for thirty minutes and got some lovely blackened edges on everything; I also set off my smoke alarm, but that’s nothing new).  The only thing I omitted was the pine nuts, and that was largely because I couldn’t find them when I was at the grocery store (and also, pine nuts are expensive); the star flavors in this dish are the squash and the tahini sauce though, so it didn’t feel like anything was missing without the nuts.  The consistency of everything is quite tender in the end; I resorted to just eating the squash with my hands because I kept breaking the wedges with my fork, which made it harder to remove the skin (it gets super brittle after baking for so long, so it’s not exactly hard to eat; I’ve just never heard of any dish where you’re supposed to eat the skin off a hard squash).

So, final result is that this dish is way less trouble to prepare than I expected it to be, and it had a really spectacular flavor for the amount of work you put into it.

Herb Pie

I finally got around to trying something else from the Jerusalem cookbook that Rachael got: an herb pie.

The one major problem with the Jerusalem cookbook that I’ve noticed is that because it was written by a couple of chefs who operate a chain of world famous restaurants, the recipes they offer up are often a little more involved than what I typically make.  This extra complication isn’t so bad when I actually feel like cooking, but the last few weeks have been kind of low energy so that I’ve preferred making less ambitious meals.

Anyhow, here is a link to the recipe (the units are all in metric, but it’s easy enough to follow).  The final result is very quiche-like, but wrapped up in a super crispy layer of filo pastry dough.  I’m not sure if we’ll make it again (it was about two hours from start to finish, and we weren’t over the moon about the flavor), but it was fun to do once and to get an opportunity to learn how to work with filo dough.

Here are some pictures of the dish at various stages:

The sheer amount of veg that went into this thing was impressive.  Of course, it all had a very high water content, and you cook it down significantly before putting it in the dough.

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Start with some sauteed onion…

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I love sauteeing onion; it’s always a great way to start a dish.

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Add chard and celery…

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The chard has to be separated into leaves and stems, presumably because you don’t want to overcook the leaves while you wait for the stems to get soft.

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Also chard leaves…

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Yeah, all that cooked down real fast.

As you might expect, the kitchen smelled fantastic by this point.

I didn’t think to take any pictures of the pie filling while I was cooking, but there’s not much to it really.  You drain the veg as well as you can and then mix it with the cheese, eggs, lemon zest, and other spices, which makes a kind of orange-y goop.  It’s not very photogenic.

The filo dough was pretty cool.  It’s literally paper thin and very delicate.  You oil each individual sheet as you layer it, and the final result is a super shiny raw pastry.

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It's a piiiiiiiiiieeeeeee!

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Fortunately, after forty minutes in the oven it’s no longer raw at all.  We may have gone overboard with the oil (we sprayed it with canola oil instead of brushing with olive oil just because it was faster).

Once you cut it and serve it, it looks quite lovely on the plate.

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It was tasty.

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Cucumber Sunomono

Still struggling to get back in the blogging swing (I have lots of potential topics in mind; just have to find the time and the energy), so today here’s a recipe for a refreshing cucumber salad that Rachael and I really like to make when it’s warmer out.

Recipe here.

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Cucumber Sunomono

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The only major change from the recipe as written that we do is the inclusion of some diced carrot for a bit more color.

Have a good weekend!  Maybe I’ll be back up to speed next week.

Roasted Red Pepper & Onion Galette

For her birthday, Rachael got a new cookbook on cuisine from Jerusalem.  We already enjoy cooking with a lot of vegetables that are popular in that region of the world, so it seemed like a natural fit.  I’m really looking forward to trying out some of the recipes in the book in the next few weeks.

The one that we picked to do over our recent long weekend (we both got President’s Day off) is a savory pastry that’s pretty easy to execute but which looks great when finished.

Roasted red pepper & onion galette out of Rachael's new cookbook _Jerusalem_ by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi.

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That is fancy, right?

The original recipe calls for an egg in place of the feta cheese that you can see in the picture, but we decided that we like cheese better, so that’s what we went with.  Theoretically you’re supposed to put an egg on top of the gallette in the last seven minutes of its bake time, and this is supposed to be just right to get the egg to set perfectly on top with only a slightly runny yolk.  I’ve not verified this myself, but Rachael and I can attest to the deliciosity of the dish with feta.

One funny thing we discovered after we made the recipe is that we had way too much vegetable filling.  The recipe is scaled to make four galettes, and it calls for four red peppers and three onions to roast for the topping.  Unfortunately, I overlooked the fact the recipe specified four medium peppers and three small onions, so we ended up with about double what we needed for our first run of the dish.  We decided that we’d just freeze the extra filling and save it for another attempt later (I am a puff pastry novice, and I learned that when you buy puff pastry pre-made from the store, you get two sheets in a box, and the recipe only requires one).

So, a couple nights later when we were feeling hungry but not ambitious, we thawed everything out and had a second round.  Observe:

We had left over peppers & onions and another sheet of puff pastry, so we made the galette again.

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The veggies were a little bit soggy after being thawed out, so they didn’t crisp quite as well, but the end result was still delicious.

If you’re interested in trying this recipe, here’s a link to the ingredients list.  Basic directions go like this:

  1. Combine peppers, onions, olive oil, and thyme and ground herbs in a roasting pan and bake in the oven at 400 F for 35 minutes.
  2. Roll out puff pastry to a twelve inch square and cut into four six inch pieces.  Prick top of pastry with a fork.
  3. Brush the pastry with an egg and then spread sour cream on top, leaving a quarter inch of space all around the edges (this gives the pastry space to puff up in the oven).
  4. Top pastry with veggies, making a shallow well for your protein topping of choice.  Bake in oven at 425 F for 14 minutes.
  5. Pull the galettes out and top them with either cheese or the egg, then return them to the oven for 7 more minutes, still at 425 F.
  6. Remove from oven and top with fresh chopped parsley.

One thing to note is that the size of the galettes will probably preclude you from fitting them all on a single baking sheet, so be prepared to rotate racks in the oven.

Falafel Sandwiches

The weirdest part about making falafel is that it’s supposed to have the consistency of a dough before you fry it, which means that in addition to the stuff you expect to put in, like chick peas, onions, and herbs, you also add a bit of flour.  It makes sense from a chemistry perspective, but it’s still pretty odd, kind of like how weird it is that in order to make sausage balls at Christmas time (does anyone else’s family do that?) you need to work flour into your mixture of sausage and cheese.

Besides that, there’s also the fact that we do not have a full sized food processor (the recipe that I worked from in composing my falafel assumes that you do).  What this meant practically for my attempt at the recipe was that I had to constantly empty the contents of our mini-processor into a bowl and then return a little bit along with new ingredients for mixing in the processor before adding it back to the bowl for final incorporation.  Basically, mixing was a lot more complicated than simply throwing everything in and pulsing until it was integrated.

As usual, I omitted cilantro from the recipe (thankfully, the notes mention that cilantro’s not an essential part of the flavor, especially if you don’t mind varying from traditional Israeli falafel), and in the case of the crushed red pepper, I cut it down from one and a half teaspoons to just one (the patties still had a pleasant burn to them, but they weren’t uncomfortably hot).

Still, the final result ended up being pretty good, I think:

Home made falafel!

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Now, the thing about falafel is that it’s a vegetarian protein, which means that it really shouldn’t stand on its own as a meal.  In this instance, I decided that the way to dress the dish up was to stuff it in a pita along with some cucumber and red cabbage for a crunchy texture and to top it all with a bit of tahini (Rachael noted that the tahini probably needs to be cut with something in the future, since it’s essentially a nut butter with a really viscous texture that leaves your mouth feeling a little dry).  Though I’m a total amateur at plating, I think the sandwich ended up looking quite pretty:

Grilled Chicken Fajitas

I made this one a few weeks ago, and I’m just now getting around to posting it here because I’ve been busy writing about other things (hooray!).

Grilled chicken fajitas with salsa. Very tasty, but makes a lot of smoke; cook in a well ventilated kitchen.

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A copy of the recipe can be found here.  You’re free to be as elaborate with toppings as you like with this recipe (I kept it pretty basic with just some salsa, as you can see in the picture); the only essential things are the onions, peppers, and chicken.  One thing to keep in mind is that the chicken will create a lot of smoke if you blacken it in the skillet, so it’s best to only do this recipe outdoors on a grill or in a well ventilated kitchen (I know, we’re moving into late fall now so it’s not really great grilling weather anymore, but there’s always the spring).