Monday, November 30, 2015

Spaghetti Squash Stir Fry

Here’s one more November-y recipe before I dive into the treats of December (or at least the plans for some. It looks like it’s going to be a busy month.) It’s even a fairly healthy recipe, relatively low in calories and stuffed with vegetables. It’s a spicy stir fry with spaghetti squash at its center. Really.

I found myself intrigued by several recipes I came across on the internet for spaghetti squash Chow Mein.  I was all set to gather ingredients, when I thought: why have Chow Mein when I could have Kung Pao? And so I tapped into this chicken stir fry recipe for a spicier sauce, replacing ingredients based on what I had on hand, and coming up with a rather satisfying supper.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this dish. It turns out that spaghetti squash is a really good player in stir fry. It keeps its shape, rather than turning to mush in the wok, but has a delicate texture on the tongue, not feeling stringy or extra fibrous. Its flavor is gently sweet, but mild, so that takes on the flavors of the sauce surrounding it.

In addition to the fragrant, spicy sauce (which you can vary in spiciness as desired), I threw in some other vegetables, but nothing too fancy. I think bell peppers would be a good addition, as would thinly-sliced bok choy. Whatever goes in this dish, the spaghetti squash is really the surprising star. Cooked spaghetti squash in a hot wok with a spicy sauce. Who knew? Well, now we all do!

Spicy Spaghetti Squash Stir Fry
While I like this method of roasting spaghetti squash to get the tender, noodle-like strands, use whatever method you like. Also, feel free to cook the squash ahead of time to streamline your dinner-time prep.

1 medium spaghetti squash (about 2 ½ - 3 pounds)
½ cup Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
4-6 dried red chile peppers
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, sliced or chopped
1 cup chopped green onion
½ cup peanuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Pierce the skin of the spaghetti squash. Place the squash on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. Roast at 350 F for 20 minutes. Remove the squash from the oven and let cool until easy to handle. (The squash should now be easier to cut.) Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and seed membranes.

2. Return the squash to the oven and roast another 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the flesh of the squash can be scraped out to form strands. Cool the squash until easy to handle and scrape the flesh into a bowl. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, combine the Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, honey, and rice vinegar. Whisk in the cornstarch until the mixture is very smooth. Add the sesame oil. Set this sauce mixture aside.

4. Pour the canola or peanut oil into a wok or large skillet. Heat on high heat until very hot. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes or until the onion is browned. Stir in the garlic, ginger and chiles. Cook about 30 seconds more, being careful not to burn the chiles.

5. Add the cooked spaghetti squash and water chestnuts. Cook and stir until the squash has begun to brown. Stir in the green onions and cook about 1 minute more.

6. Pour the sauce mixture into the pan and stir. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened. (It should boil quickly.) Stir in the peanuts. Remove from the heat. Serve with rice.

Makes about 4 servings.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Bourbon-Vanilla Pumpkin Pie

You know how, if you’re in a good relationship, you can still have friends. And if the relationship is really good, those friends can have some similarities to the significant other without causing friction. This post is kind of about that. Only instead of trust, it involves crust. That’s because it’s about a pumpkin pie that isn’t Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie.

This is the second stop on my little pie adventure, just in time for Thanksgiving: Bourbon-Vanilla Pumpkin Pie. And it’s as good as it sounds. It not only has a bourbon-spiked filling, but also a sweet, bourbon-and-vanilla-scented crust. I admit I was a bit worried about that crust, but I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to get away with a store-bought one this time. I had to stop being such a pastry wimp and get this exciting concoction into a pan.

Talk about return on investment! This crust is delicious! It is blind baked before the delightfully flavorful filling is added and it smells like cookies baking. It also tastes like cookies when wrapped around the baked pumpkin custard, although it’s not cookie-like in texture. Mine wasn’t particularly flaky, although that might have more to do with my pastry-making skills than with the recipe. It was nicely crunchy, however, and didn’t get soggy at all.

That fragrant and flavorful crust is the perfect accompaniment to the wonderful filling. The bourbon doesn’t smack you in the face, but gently floats about the pie, enhancing the pumpkin’s sweetness and the caramel notes from the little bit of brown sugar, while accompanying the pumpkin pie spices very, very well. The overall melding of flavors is complex but subtle, with no particular flavor addition dominating the others, or masking the pumpkin. Utterly, utterly delicious!

This pumpkin pie filling is quite rich, plumped up by heavy cream infused with cinnamon, but manages not to be cloying. It holds up very well inside the crust, even when sliced, but is so smooth and creamy that it almost melts in the mouth. Fine, sophisticated stuff. While I’ll never leave Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Bourbon-Vanilla Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from Food Network Magazine

For the crust:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, divided
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon bourbon
2-3 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:
1 ½ cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 (approximately 4-inch) cinnamon stick
3 eggs
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
15 ounce can pumpkin puree (or equivalent pureed cooked pumpkin)
1 ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Whipped cream to serve (optional)

1. To make the crust: add the flour, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine well.

2. Add 5 tablespoons cut-up butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the remaining butter and pulse just until the mixture looks crumbly. Add the vanilla and 1 tablespoon bourbon. Pulse a few times. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and process just until the mixture comes together as a dough, adding the remaining tablespoon water as needed.

3. Remove the dough to a floured surface and shape into a disk. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour, (or for a few days if needed).

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into about a 12-inch circle. Drape the dough into a 9-inch pie pan and arrange it to fit without stretching. Fold over the edges and shape or crimp as desired. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm. Wrap with plastic wrap if you are going to refrigerate it longer (up to a day).

5. Preheat oven to 425 F. Place the pie pan with the chilled crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Cover the crust with foil. Fill with pie weights. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and weights. Return to the oven and bake for about 5 minutes more, or until dry and beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

6. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F. To make the filling: pour the heavy cream and 2 tablespoons bourbon in a small saucepan. Add the cinnamon stick. Cook over medium-low heat until the mixture just comes to a simmer. Cover and set aside to cool.

7. In a medium-size bowl, beat the eggs. Beat in the ½ cup granulated sugar and the brown sugar until smooth. Whisk in the pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Remove the cinnamon stick from the cream mixture. Whisk into the egg mixture until very smooth.

8. Leaving the pie pan with the blind-baked crust on the baking sheet, pour the filling mixture into the crust. Cover the crust with strips of foil to prevent burning.

9. Bake the pie on the baking sheet at 375 F for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the filling is set and only wobbles slightly when shaken. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

Makes 8-10 servings. Refrigerate leftovers (if there are any)

Other recipes like this one: Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

Monday, November 16, 2015

Pumpkin Molasses Muffins

How many pumpkin muffin recipes does one need? As many as one can cram into one’s mouth recipe file. That’s the justification I’m going to use for posting another pumpkin muffin recipe, despite having published this one and this one and this pumpkin bread (which needs some updating), and these cupcakes in the past. Besides, muffins are the fastest, easiest way to enjoy sweet pumpkin-y goodness (with the possible exception of this dip) when the season calls for it. Besides, the bakers in the institutional kitchen where I work have been churning out pumpkin muffins and loaves from a really nice commercial mix lately, and I can’t get them out of my head.

So, when I grabbed The Essential Baker by Carole Bloom off the shelf at the library and one of the first pages I flipped to at random held a delicious-looking pumpkin muffin recipe, I took the cue to get baking. What attracted me to this recipe was the addition of molasses and the use of heavy cream in the liquid component. I know that other times I’ve said that I should cut out some of the butter in my favorite muffin recipes to see how they would go, so taking an interest in this heavy cream (in addition to lots of butter) might seem a contradiction, and perhaps it is. All I can say is that it was different from my other muffin recipe experiences, and I figured it had to be delicious. Also, I had some heavy cream in my refrigerator and no other plans to use it.

The heavy cream did help make moist muffins with an almost creamy crumb, but it’s the contribution to the flavor by the molasses that I really loved. The pumpkin flavor is subtle, but the molasses blends well with it and really enhances the pumpkin pie spices. (I used my usual pumpkin spice mix, based on the mixture of spices in Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie.)  I added chopped pecans to my muffins, and I loved their sweet, unique flavor here, but you could also add raisins or dates, or a different nut if you prefer (or leave out all those add-ins entirely).

Just a word, if I may, on The Essential Baker. I don’t own a copy of this book, and I’ve only recently spent a bit of time with the copy from my local library. This book is truly impressive in its detail, and if you’re interested in baking more than you ever have before, it really looks like this large collection of recipes would be a great companion. I’ve bookmarked way too many pages already, so I better get baking before overdue fees kick in!

Pumpkin Molasses Muffins
Adapted from The Essential Baker by Carole Bloom

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
¼ cup heavy cream
2 eggs
3 tablespoons molasses
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray or line it with paper liners. Melt the butter and set aside to cool slightly.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Whisk together to combine well. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the heavy cream and eggs and whisk together. Slowly whisk in the melted butter. Whisk in the molasses, pumpkin and vanilla and continue whisking until the mixture is very smooth.

4. Pour the cream mixture into the flour mixture and stir until most of the dry ingredients have been moistened. Stir in the pecans.

5. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups, evenly distributing it between all 12 cups. Bake at 400 F for 20-25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out with only a few crumbs attached. Cool in the pan on a wire rack 5 minutes.

6. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool completely (or until just cool enough to eat!) Leftovers can be wrapped well and frozen.

Makes 12 muffins.