More pumpkin, less politics

Our boycott of the radio lasted less than a week. It was the first week of November and we were getting so tired of hearing about politics we just had to shut off the radio. We could not hear one more Meg Whitman ad without going postal, and we didn’t need to be reminded everyday that the Republicans were going to be in control again only to get us further into a grid lock where nothing in the Senate will ever get done.  And let’s pretend we didn’t even write Sarah Palin’s name here (will her 15 minutes ever be up?) We were in political burnout and needed a change from the day-by-day plays in Washington D.C. and Sacramento, along with all the other states. So for four days we stopped listening to the radio and only listened to music on iTunes.

On Friday, November 5, that all changed and all I can say is “Thank you” Michele Norris. Your interview with/story of Dori Greenspan on November 5, made me hungry and I haven’t stopped thinking about stuffed pumpkins since. If I hadn’t already had plans that Friday night, I would have gone to the nearest grocery store and picked up a pumpkin at that moment, headed home, and made the dish. But Steve was waiting for me to pick him up for drinks and dinner with a friend. The pumpkin would have to wait.

The first version I made was almost exactly like Dori’s with a few minor changes. I loved Dori’s recipe but these sorts of dishes are less about following a recipe to the T and more about playing with a technique – in this case, how to cook stuffed pumpkin. As the title of the recipe suggests, the pumpkin is stuffed with “everything good,” but it should read ‘anything good’ since she gives so many suggestions and alternatives for things to add. So with my substitutions on hand, I sautéed a leek in bacon fat rendered from two bacon slices, then tossed the leeks with bread cubes, and made a mornay sauce (béchamel sauce plus grated cheese) in the same pan I used to cook the bacon instead of adding the cream Dori calls for in her version of the recipe. I probably overstuffed the pumpkin but I didn’t want to waste one piece of cheese or cube of bread. The pumpkin, stuffed with savory bread pudding, was amazing!

Our second version was just as delicious but took all too long to bake. We stuffed it with a small sweet potato and a few small turnips along with a half dozen shredded Brussels sprouts. We used the mornay sauce again with the additions of cinnamon and thyme. We didn’t realize the tubers would take so bloody long to cook. We ended up ordering Chinese food that night while the stuffed pumpkin was left to bake for almost three hours. We left it out to cool overnight and then refrigerated it the next morning.

On day two, I cut it in half and baked one half in the toaster oven until it was warm on the inside then topped it off with some bread crumbs and butter and finished by toasting it under the broiler. The pumpkin was sweet and roasted while the sweet potato and turnip were just soft and covered with a wonderfully creamy cheese sauce. The bread crumbs gave it a nice crunch. Sweet, savory, soft and crunchy all in one dish!

We’re back to listening to the radio now that the election is over. We try not to listen to too much NPR but since we’re both news junkies we can’t help our love/hate relationship with serious radio programming. With Thanksgiving just around the corner we just want to give thanks to NPR and all that they do for us. We may not agree with everything they say but if they want to bring more pumpkin reports we’d be much happier than listening to all the political analysis.

The recipes below include the goodies we added to the pumpkins, but as Dori suggests, you can add almost anything you want.

Stuffing squash.

Vegetable Stuffed Pumpkin

1 small sugar pumpkin

1 small yam, diced

3 small turnips, diced

6 Brussels sprouts, shredded

1 recipe Mornay sauce

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the top of the pumpkin off, as you would a jack-o-lantern, and remove the seeds (you can save the seeds and roast them too). Sprinkle the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper. Add the diced yam and turnips in a medium bowl with the shredded Brussels sprouts, toss to combine. Add mornay sauce to the mixed vegetables and stuff the sugar pumpkin. Bake the pumpkin in a pot until the yams are tender, approximately 2-3 hours. Allow to cool to touch, (can be prepared day before, refrigerated).

Once the pumpkin is cool, cut in half and top with bread crumbs. If the pumpkin half is cold bake in a 400 degree oven until warm, 20-30 minutes. Finish by toasting the bread crumbs under the broiler for a few minutes until nice and golden brown.

Mornay Sauce

1 ½ cups whole milk

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

½ onion

1 bay leaf (dry)

Salt and white pepper to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Heat milk, onion and bay leaf in a small saucepan on medium until steaming but not yet at a boil then reduce the heat to low to keep the milk hot while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted and starting to bubble. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the flour is just golden and lightly toasted, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Strain the milk into the butter and flour mixture. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg (if using) and continue to whisk until smooth making sure no lumps form. As the sauce heats it will begin to thicken. When the sauce is just thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the grated cheese. Use immediately.

Making Whoopie …Pies that is!

There always seems to be some trend shaking up the pastry world. A few years ago cupcakes were all the rage leading to a number of bakeries that specialize in these one-person cakes. A few bakeries even specialize in miniature cupcakes. You can’t throw a stick these days without hitting one of the thousands of purveyors of the little snack turned must have desert thanks in no small part to Sex in the City and its feature of Magnolia Bakery in New York. And every food blogger on earth has championed an endless array of variations on a theme. We love cupcakes, but we’re ready to move on.

After vacationing in Paris this spring where we noshed on the most exquisite macaron, we kept thinking the macaron’s time had come. The French macaron now seems to be popping up everywhere in San Francisco, from Miette Patisserie to La Boulangerie to Patisserie Philippe and Paulette Macarons.  We happily jumped on the bandwagon dedicating a blog post to these wonderful creations.

And now we’re starting to think the next trend in San Francisco might just be the Whoopie pie. The Whoopie pie originates from Pennsylvania Amish country. According to Wikipedia, the Whoopie pies were made by Amish woman and included in men’s lunch boxes. When the fellows found the pies they exclaimed, “Whoopie!” And who wouldn’t shout “Whoopie” if they found one of these huge pastries in their lunch pail? The pies are actually two soft, cake-like, cookies smooshed together with a big dollop of frosting in the middle. Yum!

Jason made a batch of Whoopie pies a couple of weeks ago for our second wedding anniversary. They were supposed to be dessert for a party that unfortunately fell through. There was way too much going on that weekend; Steve’s law school reunion, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, work, etc. But Jason made the pies anyway with the hopes that Steve would take them into his office. After one bite, Steve decided they were too good to share with his fellow co-workers. (Don’t worry team MLA, baked goods are coming your way.) So now we have them in our deep freeze, ready for Steve’s lunch pail on the days he’s been particularly nice to Jason.

This recipe comes from Martha Stewart’s website. It’s an original creation of Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito of Baked bakery in Brooklyn, NY. Jason altered the recipe substituting half the all-purpose flour with kamut flour and half the oil for melted butter to give the pies a nice buttery taste. If you don’t have kamut flour, feel free to stick to the original recipe. Instead of the cream cheese frosting Jason made a nice caramel frosting he found on epicurious and rolled the finished pies in toasted pecans.

The next time we’re in New York we’ll have to make a trip over to Brooklyn to try Matt and Renato’s original Whoopie pie. Until then, we’ll just keep dipping into our freezer until these treats are gone. And if anyone is wondering what to get us for Christmas, a copy of Baked’s cookbook would be a nice pick!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Caramel Frosting

Makes 12 whoopie pies

  • FOR THE PUMPKIN WHOOPIE COOKIES
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2  cups Kamut flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Frosting:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

Directions

Make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, and melted butter until well combined. Add pumpkin puree and whisk until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.

Using a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism, drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Transfer to oven and bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cookie comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on pan.

For frosting:
Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high; boil until syrup turns deep amber, swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat; add cream (mixture will bubble up). Stir over low heat until caramel bits dissolve. Whisk egg yolks in medium bowl. Very gradually whisk hot caramel into yolks. Cool to room temperature.

Using electric mixer, beat butter and salt in large bowl until smooth. Beat in caramel. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to spread, about 1 hour.

Assemble the whoopie pies: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag and snip the end. When cookies have cooled completely, pipe a large dollop of filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edge of the cookies. Place pecans on plate. Roll edges of cakes in nuts.

Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies at least 30 minutes before enjoying.

Cheers!