Monthly Archives: September 2011

It’s That Time of Year Again!

The time I am talking about is of course pumpkin season! Just about everyone’s favorite time of year…coffee shops bring back the pumpkin lattes, donut shops and bakeries the pumpkin donuts and muffins, stores the canned pumpkin puree…all such wonderful things! I do have to say though, some coffee shops really fail on the pumpkin syrups and they end up tasting as if you’re drinking a melted down candle (Caribou and Julius Meinl I’m talking to you), but Starbuck’s you are exempt, yours is delicious! So my obsession with pumpkin hit an all time high the other year when canned pumpkin became a rare commodity…I ended up buying at least a can or two every trip to the grocery store and when all was said and done, I ended up with a stockpile of 15 + cans! Needless to say, I needed to come up with a few recipes/ways to use them! So to celebrate the season, here are a few of my favorites:

Pumpkin Sage Alfredo (courtesy of Emily Vandenbroucke):

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 16 fresh sage leaves (sliced into thin strips)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Combine the cream, puree, parmesan, sage, salt and pepper into medium saucepan and cook over medium heat. Simmer the mixture until slightly thickened (10 – 12 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in butter. Toss with cooked pasta and serve immediately.
Pumpkin Donuts:
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or a Dash of ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil for deep-fat frying
  • Spiced Sugar
  1. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high seed for 30 seconds. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in pumpkin, buttermilk, egg, egg yolk and vanilla until combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour until well combined. Cover and chill 3 hours.
  2. Shape into balls or on a lightly floured surface, roll dough to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut with floured 2-1/2-inch doughnut cutter  (if you are fancy enough to own one of these)!
  3. Fry doughnuts, 2 or 3 at a time, in deep, hot fat (365 degrees F) about 2-1/2 minutes or until golden, turning once. Using a slotted spoon, removed doughnuts from oil and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and doughnut holes. Coat warm doughnuts in Spiced Sugar.
  4. Spiced Sugar: In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
Stuffed Pumpkin:
Pumpkin and cheese
  • 1 pumpkin, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
  • 4 ounces stale bread, sliced thin, then cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 4 ounces cheese ( Gruyère, Blue, or Goat are my favorites), shredded or cut into chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Any other seasonings you like can be added! As can any type of meat or vegetable…
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Either line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Using a very sturdy knife, cut a cap off the top of the pumpkin. Clear away any seeds and strings from the cap and hold it aside while you scoop out the seeds and filaments inside the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper and put it on the sheet or in the casserole. Toss the bread, cheese and garlic together in a bowl, then pack it into the pumpkin. Season the cream with salt, pepper and several gratings of fresh nutmeg and pour the cream into the pumpkin. Put the cap back in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours — check after 90 minutes — or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbly and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. I removed the cap during the last 20 minutes or so of baking so that the top could brown. Another variation on this is to stuff the pumpkin with a combination of ground beef, cream of mushroom, cheese and some veggies (broccoli, mushrooms, etc)! Really you can stuff anything that is normally baked in the oven into the pumpkin and cook it inside and scrape the insides of the pumpkin when serving!
I have plenty more pumpkin recipes so I’ll keep them coming throughout the season!! Here’s another I got from a patient, tried it last night…didn’t turn out as it was supposed to but was still absolutely amazing!! I can’t even imagine how sickeningly good these would be had they come out of the liners properly!
 Pumpkin Pie White Chocolate cups:
  • 10 oz good-quality chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips
  • [10 mini (2 inch) aluminum/tin foil muffin liners]
  • 2 oz (about 4 Tbsp) 1/3-less-fat Neuchâtel cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup finely ground cinnamon graham cracker crumbs (a food processor works best here)
  1. Melt chocolate in double boiler.
  2. Continuously stir the chocolate until completely melted. Remove bowl from the heat.
  3. Using a small spoon or pastry brush, “paint” the melted chocolate all over the insides of the 10 muffin liners (the tin foil cups are easier to peel off than the paper cups). The layer of chocolate should be thick enough so that you cannot see through it, but thin enough that the paper cups remain upright and intact. You will not use all of the melted chocolate in this step.
  4. Allow chocolate cups to cool and harden completely by placing on a tray in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. You can also complete this step the night before.
  5. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese through vanilla extract and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add in the powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Stir in graham cracker crumbs.
  6. Evenly divide the pumpkin mixture between the hardened chocolate cups., smoothing the top to create an even surface.
  7. If the remaining melted chocolate has hardened too much, simply repeat steps 1-2.
  8. Evenly divide the remaining melted chocolate amongst the filled cups, smoothing the tops and making sure the chocolate reaches all the way to the edges in order to seal the cups.
  9. Chill in the refrigerator until set, about 1-2 hours.
  10. Try to eat just 1 or 2, I bet you can’t!
  11. (this is the site the recipe came from)!
When I made these, I think I used too small of liners (they didn’t have 2″ at the store so I got the 1 1/2″. I think going bigger would have been better in this situation! Mine don’t exactly peel out of the liners so easily! They were better today than last night however still some white chocolate stuck onto the wrappers, easy to lick right off though! I am going to try these again this weekend (since all but a few of mine have been eaten already, oops) so I’ll let you know if the liner size makes any difference! Oh and if you are not a white chocolate fan, do not fear this recipe, my husband despises white chocolate, but after much begging and convincing, I got him to try one and now he’s also addicted!


We picked a few ripened hot peppers from our lovely garden Tuesday morning and didn’t want them to go to waste so Josh requested chili for dinner last night! I decided to let it simmer all day in the crock pot to give the flavors a chance to really meld together and let the spice come through. Tuesday night I prepared the meat, browning it with some diced green pepper, onion, garlic, jalapeno and Habanero peppers (all peppers courtesy of our patio garden). Once cooked through, I added a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce (and about 3/4 full can of water), a can each of red and black beans, 8 tablespoons of chili powder, 2 1/2 teaspoons of each cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper (and obviously all of these can be tweeked to personal preferences). I also added in about a teaspoon of cayenne for extra kick (probably completely unnecessary in retrospect, but oh well)! This was for two pounds of 85/25 ground beef. After it cooled down, I left it in the fridge over night and then threw everything in the crock pot the next morning and let it cook on low for about 8 hours. Traditionally in my family, whenever we ate chili, we always put it over spaghetti noodles and topped it with cheddar cheese. I know, I know, us Italians and our breads/pastas, having to be present somehow at every meal of the day! It seemed very strange to me whenever I’d eat chili anywhere else and there would be no pasta, now I realize we were in fact the odd ones! My husband is now a huge fan of this though and also won’t eat chili any other way, so it’s worth giving it a try! I guess it’s our take on good ole fashioned chili mac, chili over mac and cheese…never a bad choice! Anyways, the chili did turn out to be quite spicy, so our garden produced some very useful peppers as we loooove spice in our house! Coming home to an already prepared, ready to eat meal is always a bonus in my book!

And of course, as is the norm, every meal must include dessert to be considered a full meal! So I tried my hand at a German Chocolate cake, something new and different! The inspiration came from my best friend Emily’s birthday party back in May…she had requested a German Chocolate cake and it was absolutely delicious (and ginormous to boot)! There’s a good chance she still has some stashed away in her freezer…she has a bit more restraint than me!


Not too shabby for a first attempt!

How Sweet it is!

It may have taken me a few weeks, but I finally baked my very first flourless chocolate cake! It could not have been any easier and it turned out fabulous, so good that I’m not even sure what modifications I’d make for the next try! Also so good that my husband and I accidentally ate 5 servings apiece! I poured the batter into two ramekins to bake individual cakes for him and I, not knowing that it should have served 8-10 if baked in an 8-inch spring-form pan…oops…well worth it though! All I did was melt 8 ounces of Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips with 1 stick of butter in a double boiler, once melted, whisked in 3/4 cup sugar. Let it cool a smidge, then beat in 3 eggs, one at a time (rapidly so you don’t up with chocolate scrambled eggs)! Finally, I whisked in 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and poured the batter into 2 large ramekins and baked at 375 for about 25 minutes, until the top began to crack a little.

Even the batter tasted amazing!!

The final product turned out to be more of a combination between a flourless chocolate cake and a molten lava cake with a soft, gooey center! It was so rich and delicious though, I almost thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the entire thing! I did however, take a small 30 minute break and came back strong to finish off the last quarter or so! Ice cream was definitely not necessary but it help cut the richness, I think having any sort of frosting would have made this almost too indulgent! The middle being somewhat liquidy with a frosting would have been too much, but I’d be willing to try it! Next time I think I will use dark chocolate chips and dark chocolate cocoa powder and maybe a bit more sugar, about a cup or so!


If you are a die hard chocolate lover like myself, this is the recipe for you!! I always hear people describe decadent desserts as ‘too rich,’ but I’ve yet to personally encounter one…I will admit that this would have to be the closest one so far though!

Let’s Tango!

I am excited to announce that I can now check another item off of my ‘things to do before I die list!’ After years of wanting to eat at Tango Sur and making numerous attempts to get a reservation, I have finally accomplished what I deemed to be the impossible! Now to those who live in Chicago and have eaten there with no problems are probably wondering what I am talking about and why it has been so hard, so let me explain….for starters, this is a tiny BYOB Argentinean restaurant located in a popular area of downtown Chicago that does not take reservations. Being BYOB means that when I finally ate there, I wanted it to be on a weekend where I can take full advantage of wine drinking (unfortunately I do not have one of those jobs where I can stumble in to work, hungover, and just make it through the day….although I’m not opposed so if anyone wants to offer me one of those, that’d be great)! Secondly, the no reservations issue, I called two weeks in advance one time for a Friday night reservation for a group of 6 and the person on the other end of the line actually laughed out loud at me before promptly hanging up…annoying.  Finally, this place usually has around a two hour wait for weekend nights….this is something my impatience and starvation would never be able to handle. I would never be able to time that out right nor would I ever want to wait that long to eat! So about a week ago, I decided I couldn’t stand it any longer and called the restaurant just to see what could be done…lucky for me I got a super nice guy on the other end who offered to put my name on the waiting list for Friday night at 7 pm! Being put on the list meant a guarantee of less than a 20 minute wait.  Knowing that I’d finally get the opportunity to eat there, I was kind of nervous…had I been building this place up for so long now that it would just fall flat of any expectations and be a complete let down? Could it really be as good as everyone says? The answer was very simple, yes, it really is that good!

We started out by trying all of their empanadas, which were amazing! So soft and doughy with ample fillings including: spinach and cheese, ham and cheese, chicken, beef and corn. They were all great, Josh’s favorite was the chicken, however I was unable to pick one and wanted another round of them all! We also ordered the Proveleta, provolone cheese, grilled with olive oil, roasted red peppers and garlic. Ah-mazing! It came to our table on this enormous platter sized plate of melty, gooey cheese which we ate with the bread they provide for every table. The saltiness of the cheese with the sweetness of the peppers was divine (warning: you must be a cheese lover to enjoy such a rich dish…but then again, who isn’t)?! For our entrée, we ordered the Lomo Relleno: half slab of Argentinean filet filled with chimchurri, ham and served with a portabella mushroom sauce. Not the most appealing looking dish but definitely one of the most decadent and delicious I’ve ever had! And boy was it enormous…this was the first time Josh and I have ever had to take leftovers home from a restaurant, ever! And being BYOB, the final bill was amazingly cheap compared to most downtown restaurants! I cannot wait to go back here, it was one of the better meals I’ve had in the city thus far, I highly recommend it to all!


As I said, not the most attractive looking...and this was over half gone already!

Shepherd’s Pie

Ever since our honeymoon, I have a new found love for Shepherd’s pie! I know how crazy that sounds since our honeymoon was in St. Lucia! But they had this authentic Irish pub in one of the resorts we stayed at that made the most delicious creation I’ve ever had! I’d only had Shepherd’s pie a few times prior to this experience though, so it may not be the best ever by any means but it sure was damn good! Last night was my third attempt at making my own, but it is never as good…it tastes somewhat bland. This time I even made my own mashed potatoes and used ground lamb instead of ground beef and it was the best I’ve made so far, but am still looking to improve. I am writing this blog asking for anyone that has a recipe they’d like to share? Here’s the recipe I came up with:

2 T olive oil

1.25 lbs ground lamb 

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T thyme, dried

3 large carrots, diced

1/2 bag frozen peas, thawed

2 T butter

1 cup red wine

2 T flour

1 cup beef stock

3 T ketchup

3 T worchestire sauce

Frank’s Red Hot, quite a few ‘dashes’

I sauteed the carrots in the oil until softened, added in the onions, garlic and eventually the lamb, seasoning with salt, pepper and thyme. I drained the fat, added the peas and butter and then the flour once the butter melted. I let the flour cook for a few minutes, then added the red wine, ketchup, worchestire and Frank’s and let that reduce down a bit before adding the beef stock, then just let it simmer and thicken into a gravy type sauce. Once thickened, I dumped it into a casserole dish and topped with the homemade mashed potatoes and sprinkled them with a little parmesan cheese for browning and baked at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

On a side note, the homemade mashed potatoes came out deliciously! While waiting for 6 cubed Russet potatoes to come to a boil and soften, I heated a half cup of milk and 1/4 cup butter over low heat in a small sauce pan with a clove of minced garlic. Once the potatoes were done, I mashed them with a fork and added in the milk/butter mixture, salt, pepper and a touch of cream. I would have been happy eating these alone!

So for next time, I think I’ll make a few more changes…I think I will use tomato paste or puree instead of ketchup, use fresh thyme (figures, the only herb that is not in our patio garden) and reduce the wine a little. There was a very strong wine taste, even from only using 1 cup. I am also toying with the idea of adding in some cheddar cheese, either into the meat mixture and/or into the mashed potatoes. This is unless of course someone has their own recipe they’d like to share, in which case, I’ll try theirs instead!