February 14, 2011

valentine cookies, pure and simple

I love making sugar cookies.  It’s one of my favorite things and one thing I always regret not doing if I let a holiday go by without them.  For this reason, in the middle of my third week of a new job, after several of the busiest, longest days of the year, and three days before one of the organization’s biggest events of the year, I decided to make my annual Valentine’s Day sugar cookies.  I knew I would be sad if I let February 14 pass without a batch of heart-shaped cookies in varying shades of pink.  I know what you’re thinking.  I’m crazy.  I don’t deny it.  In my defense, I cut out a couple hours of the process by skipping the buttercream piping and sticking with a simple glaze. 

I was particularly looking forward to making the cookies because I’d finally broken down and shelled out the $18 for all-natural food coloring.  I arrived at this point for a number of reasons. First of all, we try to keep our diet free of artificial ingredients, including artificial colors.  Until now my cookies were all-natural and mostly organic—except for the food coloring.  On top of my growing concern with consuming artificial ingredients, at some point during the past year I developed the unfortunate ability to taste the chemicals in my dyed frostings.  This sensitivity became difficult to overlook.  And the more food coloring I used (e.g. to achieve rich colors like red and black), the worse it was.


I was quite pleased with the way this year’s cookies turned out, rushed though they were.  I didn’t go for a full-on red but stuck with shades of pink.  I think the all-natural food coloring was well worth the expense, especially given the fact that it should last me at least 6 months, maybe longer. 

Four drops of all natural red food coloring in one batch of glaze went from this:


To this:


I also experimented with adding raspberry puree to the glaze for some extra oomph.  DSC_1077

I loved the flavor.  Next time I’ll try replacing most of the milk in my glaze recipe with the berry puree for an even deeper shade of pink.


I’m happy to say that the only thing “added” to these cookies is love. 

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

February 5, 2011

Happy Nutella Day!

It’s World Nutella Day, and we’re celebrating!!!

Nutella by the spoonful.


Nutella for breakfast spread on homemade “abbracci” cookies. 


Nutella in this recipe from La Cucina Italiana Magazine:  Biscotti Farciti alla Nutella (Nutella Cookie Sandwiches).


These cookies are the perfect combination of salty and sweet and have Nutella both in the dough and sandwiched between the cookies!  Yum!


And the day’s only halfway through!

Check out all my posts on Nutella or my personal favorite, an in-depth comparison of Italian and American Nutella!

Want more Nutella Day fun?  See the World Nutella Day website and the sites of Nutella Day co-hosts, Sara Rosso (Ms Adventures in Italy) and Michelle Fabio (Bleeding Espresso).


February 4, 2011

torta salata alla zucca e gorgonzola (pumpkin-gorgonzola tart)

This is the fourth post in a series: “what to do with a ten-pound pumpkin.”
This recipe was inspired by an Italian friend, Valeria, who was also cooking with a large leftover pumpkin this week.  Her description of the contrast between the sweet pumpkin and sharp gorgonzola got me really craving the combination.  Normally a tart like this would call for pieces of cut up pumpkin, rather than a puree, but I couldn’t resist giving it a try.  This is a great variation and just one more of the many ways to use fresh pumpkin puree!

Torta Salata alla Zucca e Gorgonzola (Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Tart)

Serves 6

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 eggs
⅛ tsp salt
¾ cups (90 grams) whole wheat flour
¾ cups (95 grams) all purpose flour

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 cups (about 3 ounces) chard or other winter greens
3 eggs
⅔ cup milk (preferably whole)
¼ tsp salt
several grinds of black pepper
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 oz crumbled gorgonzola
1 ¼ cups (10 oz) fresh pumpkin puree (see here for recipe)
1 ½ oz (about 1 cup) freshly grated parmesan

for the crust 
Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a mixer, beat together the butter and mustard on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed between each addition. Add flour and salt. Mix until well combined and a mass of Dough begins to form. If the dough is too dry, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of water and mix again. Add additional water a teaspoon or two at a time, until dough begins to come together into a unified mass.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured countertop (or dough mat) and form into a ball and flatten into a disk.  Wrap in plastic and allow to rest in refrigerator for about 30 minutes. (At this point, the dough can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for 2-3 months.)

Roll dough flat, into the shape of your baking dish (i.e. in a circle for a 9” pie plate or tart pan) about 1 ½ inches bigger on all sides (12-inch diameter for a 9” pie plate). Dough should be between 1/16 and 1/8 inch thick.

Carefully transfer dough to baking dish and press into corners. Fold excess dough under and/or use to patch any tears in the dough. If desired, flute edge of crust.

whole wheat pastry crust
Line the dough with a piece of parchment paper (or lightly greased aluminum foil) and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Parbake for 15-20 minutes. (While crust is baking, begin preparing the filling.)

dried beans as pie weights
Once crust is mostly cooked, carefully remove the weights and parchment paper. (They will be hot!) Set crust aside and proceed with the filling. (Leave oven on.)

for the filling
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium and cook the onion until translucent and beginning to brown (about 5-10 minutes), add the greens and cook until wilted (1-2 minutes). Remove from heat.

chard and onions
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, ⅛ tsp salt, pepper, and nutmeg. In another bowl, stir together pumpkin, remaining ⅛ teaspoon salt, and parmesan.

chard and onion filling
Layer the onion and greens on the bottom of the crust, spread the pumpkin puree on top, and slowly pour the egg mixture over it.

Using a spoon, very gently swirl the mixture so that some of the pumpkin is drawn to the surface. Sprinkle evenly with crumbled gorgonzola.

unbaked pumpkin gorgonzola tart
Bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is cooked through.

finished pumpkin gorgonzola tart
Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

sliced pumpkin gorgonzola tart
February 2, 2011

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

For part three of the “what to do with a 10-pound pumpkin” series, I decided to make pumpkin whoopie pies.  This was my first attempt at any type of whoopie pie; I devised a recipe based upon my pumpkin bread and adjusted ingredient ratios by comparing a handful of other recipes.  I offer 3 variations on the cream cheese filling – classic vanilla, almond, and molasses (“brown sugar”).

This would be a great recipe to make with children.  The pies are lots of fun to assemble, and the fact that they’re rather humble-looking to begin with means that they’re hard to mess up.  Happy baking!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

printable recipe button 2

2 cups (14 oz) light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 ¼ tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
¾ tsp ginger
1 ¼ tsp salt
3 cups (24 oz) fresh pumpkin puree (see here for recipe)

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients (flour, leavenings, salt, and spices) in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients in two additions, mixing on lowest setting after each addition. Stir in pumpkin on lowest setting.

One a cookie sheet (or half sheet pan) lined with parchment paper, drop batter by 1-3 tablespoon scoops, working quickly to prevent batter from spreading too much.  Take care to space the scoops at least 2 inches apart (or more for larger “cookies”). 

A cookie scoop works best for consistent shape and size.  I used three different sizes (approximately 3 Tbsp, 2 Tbsp, and 1 Tbsp each).  Adjust baking time depending on cookie size: 13-14 minutes for large, 12 minutes for medium, and 10 minutes for small.

Allow to cool on parchment paper for 5 minutes before removing to cooling rack.  Once cookies are cool, proceed with filling.

Cream Cheese Filling (Vanilla, Almond, or Molasses)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 Tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
pinch of salt
flavoring of choice*
              1 tsp vanilla extract or
1 tsp almond extract or
              1-2 tsp blackstrap molasses (start with 1 tsp & taste) + 1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Add sugar and salt.  Mix well, starting at lowest setting and gradually increasing speed to medium-high.  Add flavoring. 


Spread filling onto flat side of cookie and press flat side of second cookie on top.  Set completed pies on wax paper. 


Whoopie pies can be served immediately but will hold their shape best when chilled in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. 


*All three of the filling variations work equally well.  The vanilla is classic, the almond is a fun twist, and the molasses is something a little different.  I like that the molasses offsets the sweetness of the filling.  And since brown sugar is just sugar with molasses (either unrefined sugar or refined sugar with molasses added back in), putting molasses in the filling essentially turns it into “brown sugar” cream cheese filling, which has some depth that the others lack. 

If using molasses, take care that you don’t add too much and overpower the pumpkin flavor.
February 1, 2011

Curried Pumpkin Soup

This is the second post in a series: "what to do with a ten-pound pumpkin."

I finally decided to cook the pumpkin that had been sitting on our countertop since the final U Street Farmers Market of 2010.  That is, since late November.  (Yes, winter squash really does keep that long.)

It was my first experience with this variety of pumpkin.  I can’t remember what the producer said it was called.  I only remember that he said it was one of his favorites.  And since it was the end of the season, we got the whole thing – all ten pounds of it – for something like 2 or 3 dollars… I keep wanting to call it a Cinderella pumpkin because of it’s folklore-ish charm, but upon further research, I found that it’s definitely not a pumpkin of the Cinderella variety.   It might, however, be a “fairytale” pumpkin.  Maybe someone can correct my rudimentary pumpkin classification skills.

It was also my first experience cooking a pumpkin of this magnitude.  Starting with close to ten pounds, I ended up with about 6 pounds (10 cups) of roasted pumpkin puree.  It’s a lot, but certainly not more I know what to do with.  I have a laundry list of pumpkin dishes I’d like to try, hence this series.  First up: curried pumpkin soup.

Curried Pumpkin Soup (made with fresh pumpkin)

printable recipe button 2

Serves 4 to 6.

3 cups (24 oz) roasted pumpkin puree (see below)
vegetable oil for roasting and frying (I used grapeseed.)
4 cups pumpkin broth (see below)
1 ½ cups low sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth  
              or 1 teaspoon broth concentrate (such as “Better than Bouillon”) + 1 ½ cups water
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
¾ fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Roasting Pumpkin
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut pumpkin into manageable sections (4 to 8 pieces, depending on pumpkin’s size).  Scoop out seeds and fibers and reserve for later use.

Brush or rub pumpkin with oil and place flesh down in a large roasting pan or half sheet pan.


Roast until pumpkin is fork-tender (30 to 45 minutes, depending on size of pieces).  Once pumpkin has finished roasting, set aside to cool.  


When roasted pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh from skin using a spoon.  Use a knife to remove any remaining skin. 

Puree pumpkin in a food processor until smooth, in batches if necessary.  (Pumpkin will keep in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for several months.)

Pumpkin Broth
While the pumpkin is roasting, prepare the broth.  In a medium-size pot, combine pumpkin seed and fibers, about 1/4 of the onion, and 5 cups of water.  Bring to boil.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes, skimming any scum off the top, as necessary.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer and discard solids.

Pumpkin Soup
In a medium size pot, heat about 2 teaspoons of oil over medium heat.  Add remaining onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add minced garlic and cook another minute.

Add pumpkin puree, pumpkin broth, and chicken broth (or concentrate+water).  Bring to boil. 

Reduce heat and allow to simmer for cook for 15-20 minutes.  If soup is too thick, thin with water as necessary.  Season with white pepper, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and curry powder.  Taste for seasoning (and add more if desired). 

Stir in cream just before serving.