30 Days, 30 Recipes

Perhaps you've noticed that it's been a little quiet around here this week. I've noticed it too, but it's all for good reason. You see, folks. Starting on Saturday (that would be November 1st) I am going to embark on my first attempt at completing NaBloPoMo.

A Native American Thanksgiving side dish, perhaps?

No, no...NaBloPoMo is a nifty short way of saying National Blog Posting Month during which crazy bloggers everywhere will attempt to post on their blogs *everyday* for the duration of November. Now for the average blogger this is a feat in itself, but for a food blogger this is quite the challenge as it involves cooking, photographing, and writing EVERY SINGLE DAY for 30 days.

30 days and 30 recipes. Can I do it? We'll have to wait and see, but for now, how about helping me out with a few recipe suggestions. What would YOU like me to cook or bake this month? Leave me your requests in the comment box. If I make one of your suggestions I'll be sure to link to you in the post.

Wish me luck!

Pumpkin Spice Challah

Why not try this: On Saturday, wake up a bit earlier than you normally would. Slip out of bed quietly and get yourself ready. If you need coffee or tea, make it. If you need a shower, take it. Enjoy the silence of the morning and as soon as you feel like you can face it, shut the door behind you and head out to the store (but don’t forget to leave a note for your sleeping family, OK?).

If you’re in a city, maybe the store is just the bodega on the corner. In the suburbs you might have to get in the car and go a bit farther. Wherever you need to go, go. And when you get there, buy some eggs, a can or two of pumpkin, some bread flour, yeast, and butter. Pick up a magazine if you’d like, or maybe even a candy bar. Treat yourself. This is all about treats.

If you do this (plus what I tell you next), you’ll be eating warm pumpkin challah bread by early afternoon. Then, later, you’ll have slices of it spread thick with creamy unsalted butter at dinner. And Sunday? Oh Sunday is the best, because that’s when you’ll take what’s left of the bread and soak it in a batter of eggs and milk and vanilla, and fry in a skillet bathed in now-melted pats of butter. Serve it with this bacon. And then at night, when that bit of “oh tomorrow is Monday” sadness starts to creep in partway through your Sunday night shows, you can quickly bat it away by using all the crumbs and corners and maybe those tough last bits in the bottom of the bag to make a lovely pumpkin bread pudding.

But, before all this, you’ll first need to make the bread.

I’ve said before that I’m not good at simple recipes. I can’t really stick to the letter of anything. When I was in college I took a creative writing course taught by a bald man named Bernie who looked more like a trucker than a poet. He doled out assignments meant to instruct us on the basics, but I somehow always found a way to suit them to my liking. One afternoon he called me into his office hours and held a paper up to my face. “What is this?” he asked. I glanced at it and said it was, obviously, my poem. The assignment was to write a Shakesperean sonnet with 10 14-syllable lines in iambic pentameter.

“This,” he said, snapping the paper in front of my face, “is *not* a Shakesperean sonnet.”

“I know,” I replied. “It’s a sonnet sort of. I wrote it right there in the title. See?” I pointed to the subtitle where I’d added the words: “A Sonnet. (Sort of)”

“This wasn’t what I asked for,” he repeated.

“I know, but isn’t it good?”

“But it wasn’t what I asked for…”

“I know,” I said again. “But it’s good.”

This, my friends, is what you should tell the friends and family members in your life who are horrified with the idea of gussying up the challah with spices and pumpkin puree. “It’s fine as is!” They might shout despite your protestations. (Like with bagels and pizza, those who love challah tend to be very passionate about it.) And you might be tempted to agree. Challah, after all, is probably one of the best breads ever invented. Probably. The “plain” version, light and golden-hued with the faintest hint of sweetness, is pretty damn good. But take that pretty damn good recipe and add a bit of pumpkin and cinnamon and a few other nice things and Oh. My. Gosh. It may not be what you (or they) are used to, but that won’t matter, because it is good.

So remember. This Saturday. Wake up early. Get the ingredients. Make this bread.

Your weekend will be lovely.

Oh and by the way, I ended up doing quite well in that class after all…

Pumpkin Spice Challah Bread

7g active dry yeast (1 envelope)
4-5 cups white bread flour
1/3 cup white granulated sugar (can be adjusted more or less based on your preference)
½ tsp ground cardamom
1.5 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2/3 cup warm water
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ cup olive oil + 1 tablespoon for egg wash
2 large eggs beaten + 1 egg yolk for egg wash
1 cup pumpkin puree

Combine the yeast with 2/3 cup of flour and the warm water. Whisk gently until well combined and leave in a warm (but not hot) spot to proof. In about 10-15 minutes, the mixture will look foamy and somewhat alive. This is a good thing.

Pour this into the bowl of your electric mixer with the dough hook in place. Add the sugar, salt, oil, and egg and beat until well incorporated (about 1 minute). Add the pumpkin and all the spices, and mix until combined. Add the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Depending on a variety of factors, your dough might require a bit more flour than listed above. Add this ¼ cup at a time until the dough is springy, but not sticky. Knead with the hook (or remove to a floured surface and knead by hand) for about 5-10 minutes.

Roll the flour into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Turn the dough once to grease the top then cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and leave in a warm spot to rise. I like to place it inside my (turned off) oven. The heat from the pilot is just perfect to keep it going—particularly on a drafty autumn morning. Let rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour to 1 hour and a half).

Poke the dough down (no need to actually “punch” it) and reshaped into a ball. Grease the bowl once again, turn, cover and repeat the rising process for about another hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough in half. This will make two nicely sized loaves. Set one half aside and place the other half in front of you. Use a pastry cutter to split into six evenly sized pieces. Roll each of these pieces into a rope-like shape, making sure to taper the ends. Should be about 8 inches long.

Line the six ropes vertically in front of you and pinch all the ends together so you have what looks like a sea creature with six tentacles. Starting with the piece all the way to the right, pull it over the next two pieces, then under the third, and over the last two. Repeat this with each piece at the right until you can no longer continue braiding. It helps to chant to yourself “Over two, under one , over two.”

Pinch the ends and tuck under. Repeat with the second half of dough.

Sprinkle some cornmeal over a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the two loaves on the sheet allowing enough room on each side for them to rise. If necessary, use two baking sheets.

Beat one egg yolk with a tablespoon of olive oil and use a pastry brush to gently (gently!) brush over the braid. This will give it that lovely shine once baked. Top loosely with oiled or sprayed plastic wrap and let proof (rise) again for about 40 minutes or until doubled. About half-way through this rise, you might want to start preheating your oven to 350 degrees (but be sure to remove the braids first if you’re letting them rise in there!!)

Once risen, brush with another coat of egg wash. (Be sure to be even more gentle now as the braids are very delicate right now.) Bake in the 350 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes.

Let cool on wire racks before serving.

To Store:

Baking bread at home is much easier than some people think, but once you get the hang of it you might find that you’ve encountered the much more complicated task of storing the bread. Different people swear by different approaches, but I find that it is always best to leave the bread out of the refrigerator. That simply will dry it out and you’ll find yourself with two rapidly-stale loaves smelling slightly of eau de fridge.

If you don’t think you will be able to consume all the bread within 2-3 days (not that you should be ashamed if you do manage it...), you should slice it and wrap well in plastic and foil, then freeze. For immediate eating, wrap either in plastic wrap or place in a brown paper bag and store in a cool dry place on your counter top. (I have a friend who recommends storing crusty breads in a pillowcase, but I’ve yet to try this approach.) Home baked bread can be quickly “refreshed” by popping into a 350 degree oven for a 1 or 2 minutes before serving. And of course, once the bread does go stale, it’s time for French toast and bread pudding—would that we all could meet such a lovely, lovely fate.

Spaghetti Squash with Brown Butter, Sage & Ricotta

I’ve been taking spaghetti squash for granted. Ignoring it in that same seeing-but-not-seeing way usually reserved for the crazies on the subway. And were it not for the otherwise uninspiring autumn selection at the farmer’s market last week, I probably would have continued to exist completely unaware of the magic that exists within that thick unassuming shell.

Who knew? Who would ever even suspect that inside the mottled yellow skin hides a thick nest of delicate, subtly flavored strands. Split and roasted in a shallow pan filled with an inch of water then scooped out and sautéed with a bit of brown butter and sage, this squash is beyond delicious. I topped it with fresh ricotta and a generous crack of black pepper, and ate it slowly sitting cross-legged on the couch while listening to Lykke Li and reading the chapter about Boeuf Bourguignon in Julie & Julia.

Nice, right? Don’t be scared to recreate this sweet little meal at home. There are all sorts of nasty rumors going around the Internet about spaghetti squash being difficult to deal with, but I’m telling you, they’re not true. Just split it, slide into the oven, and leave it. I assembled a bread pudding using old challah while I waited. Once the squash was roasted, I swapped it out for the pudding and went about scooping and sautéing. And, oh gosh, you should do this too because (I’m sure you’ll agree) there is nothing nicer than sitting down to dinner in a warm home that smells like baking cinnamon.

My one squash made two servings and I was just as full as if I’d eaten a big bowl of the *real* kind of spaghetti. I’ll have the rest for lunch tomorrow and may even pop down to the market to grab another squash or two for a repeat this weekend. Perhaps I’ll see you there, too?

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Roasted Spaghetti Squash in a Brown Butter Sage Sauce
Serves 2

1 Spaghetti squash
4 tablespoons butter
¼ cup sage leaves, ripped
2 tablespoons fresh ricotta (optional)

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash and dry the squash, then use a sharp knife to split in half. Place both halves face down in a roasting pan filled with about an inch of water and cover with foil. Place in the oven and back for about 4o minutes or until a fork inserted in the skin of the squash pierces it easily. Flip the squash and cook uncovered for an additional 20 minutes.

Let cool.

Use a spoon to gently scoop out the seeds from the middle of the squash. Then use a fork to scrape the flesh of the squash away from the skin. It should pull off in thin strands. Transfer to a separate bowl and let cool.

In a medium-sized skillet, heat butter over medium heat and let cook until small solids start to form and the butter takes on a brown color and almost nutty scent. Drain quickly, reserving the clear brown butter.

Return to skillet and add torn sage. Let cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes before adding squash. Raise heat and sautee for a 2-3 minutes, being sure to coat the squash well with the butter sauce.

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve in two ramekins topped with 1 tablespoon each of fresh ricotta.

Sweet and Spicy Candied Bacon Recipe

I'm afraid I don't have a very pretty photo for you today. I made this for breakfast on Sunday to go along with some pumpkin challah French toast and we were already down to the last two strips when I decided I wanted to snag a shot for the blog.

Unfortunately, the battery in my camera was dying and only gave me enough time to get this one (sorta-blurry) picture. Fuzzy or not, I think it gets the point across.

The point in question is bacon of course. Crisp, perfectly cooked bacon with, well...a little bit of a twist. It's salty. It's sweet. It's spicy. It's bacon that wakes up in your mouth and makes you go "oh!" and then seconds later, after that second wave of flavor hits you feel yourself go "oh!" yet again.

This recipe originally came from a 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine, but I kicked up the spices a bit (as I'm wont to do). It doesn't require a lot of effort and the results are positively decadent; just perfect for a Sunday morning!

Sweet and Spicy Candied Bacon Recipe

2.5 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½-1 teaspoon black pepper (depends how spicy you want it)
1 lb thick-cut bacon (about 10-12 slices)

To make
1. Place your oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. In a small bowl, sift together the brown sugar, cayenne, and black pepper.

3. Place a broiler rack over a baking sheet (in a pinch, foil will also work). Spread out the bacon slices on the rack trying to keep them from overlapping. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven and flip the slices. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the slices, using a brush or the back of a spoon to rub into the meat.

5. Return to the oven for another 10 to 30 minutes until the bacon is crisp and deep golden. Transfer to paper towels and serve hot.


Spicy Pumpkin Chili

I’m not a simple cook. I’m really not. I understand that it is possible to make some truly incredible dishes from just a few really good ingredients, but given the choice I’d rather make a day of it. I don’t know why, but I’m just drawn to the elaborate recipes. The ones with twists and turns, lots of weird ingredients and even more room for error. It’s my hobby. It’s what I like to do. Some people paint. Some people run. I putter about the kitchen.

The problem with having cooking as your hobby is that sometimes you really just need to eat. Sometimes you’re just hungry and sleepy and your belly is making weird growly noises that won’t stand for a few hours of chopping and mixing and tasting and stirring for the mere pleasure of it. Sometimes, simple really is the way to go.

Friday night was one of those nights. It was freezing when I got out of work. Oh not literally, of course, but certainly cold enough to make me spend the whole train ride home wondering where exactly I tucked away my coats and scarves last May. I didn’t even want to change out of my work clothes once I got inside the door; the thought of pulling off my jeans and sweater and standing bare in my bedroom while hunting around for my comfy flannel man-pants for even a few seconds was too much. So I dropped my bag and keys on the coffee table and opened up the fridge.

The fridge was in one of those uninspiring kind of states. You know what I mean, I’m sure. When bottles of juice and containers of leftovers and bags of God-knows-what fill every shelf and yet there isn’t really anything to cook with. It’s like the kitchen equivalent of those BlueFly commercials where the naked lady stands in front of a full closet and then chucks it all and heads to the party in the buff. (Hmmm, that’s the second nude lady I’ve brought up so far…) Anyway, I poked around here and there and with the help of that growly tummy I got to cooking. Forty minutes later I was curled up on my couch feeling quite pleased with the steaming bowl of spicy sweet pumpkin chili I’d concocted. Topped with creamy quenelles of fresh ricotta and served with a few slices of buttered homemade pumpkin challah (more about that later) and the October Gourmet magazine, I really couldn't have asked for a more perfect supper.

If you’re looking for something quick and dirty (and warm) this pumpkin chili is it. It’s easy, hearty, and the pumpkin gives it just enough something extra without being overwhelmingly fussy. I used ground veal because it’s what I had in the fridge and I loved the tender sweetness it added, but feel free to substitute beef, pork, or a combination of the three. I’m also sure a cup or two of black beans would make an incredible addition to this recipe. Play around with it as you’d like but remember to keep it simple. I mean, if even I can do it, I’m sure you can…

Pumpkin Chili
(For two or one, twice.)

1 pound ground veal (or beef, pork)
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
4 oz tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 vegetable bouillon cube (low-sodium)
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
olive oil
4 cups of water

Optional garnishes: chipotle hot pepper sauce, ricotta, sour cream, chives, grated cheddar

To make:
1.In a medium pot, heat a 2-count of olive oil over medium heat. Add the crushed garlic cloves and let sizzle for a minute until just a little bit brown and fragrant.

2.Add the ground meat and stir occasionally until browned. Add the spices and bouillon cube and mix until well incorporated.

3.Add the tomato sauce, pumpkin, and water

4.Let simmer for about 15 minutes until the water is reduced by about a third and the soup thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.

5.Serve immediately topped with desired garnishes. (the ricotta plus a drizzle of chipotle sauce is my pick)
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