Halloween Faves

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{this is technically last year’s pumpkin, but I still love it – carved with a drill!}

Happy Halloween, everyone! This week’s favorites are coming a day early, since I needed a full post to celebrate one of my very favorite holidays. I feel like Halloween snuck up on me this year – I didn’t get around to carving a pumpkin, or putting together a costume, or making any homemade candy (Twix and Reese’s were on my list – maybe next year!). Despite all that, however, I’m still excited to hand out (store-bought) candy and see all the trick-or-treaters tonight. Seattle’s forecast is looking dry, which of course is the best Halloween news – nothing sadder than having to cover up your costume with a raincoat.  I hope everyone has a spook-tacular day, and gets lots of candy tonight!

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{would you believe I copied this from Martha Stewart years ago, way before Pinterest? Still one of my favorite ways to decorate}

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{who doesn’t love a “guess the weight” contest!?!}

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{Halloween crafting – any excuse to use candy corn stickers}

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{once upon a time, I worked at Pottery Barn, and thus have way too much holiday decor. Glassybaby is “pumpkin.”}

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My Favorite Pumpkin Muffins

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Today I’m excited to share one of my all-time favorite recipes, not just in the pumpkin category, but overall. I think these muffins technically originated from my mom’s friend Colleen, who is an amazing cook, but she passed them on to my aunt Nancy, and she to my aunt Char, who makes them a lot – so I’m going to credit all three of them. I have a weak spot for any of the Williams-Somoma “novelty” cake and cupcake/muffin pans – flower cupcakes, a giant cupcake-shaped cake, ice cream cone shaped cupcakes, a bundt cake pan shaped like a football stadium (for Apple Cup, obviously), etc. So of course I have both a giant pumpkin cake pan and a pumpkin muffin tin. Because food should look like what it tastes like, right?

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If you’ve ever used the Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread/muffin mix, you know that it’s really good. As in, “why would I ever make these from scratch?” good. These are better though, and worth the slight increase in effort. The recipe is delicious as is, but I usually try to make at least a couple “healthy-ish” substitutions – half whole wheat flour along with half white, and half brown sugar with half white (such a sacrifice, I know).  You can also cut the sugar down to 1-1.5 cups (see comment from my friend Yoona, who knows her stuff).  I usually use coconut oil in lieu of butter, although of course today I was out.  Funny story, the first time I made these I misread the recipe to read “two cans” of pumpkin rather than “two cups,” and then apparently never bothered to read the recipe again, so for years I made them with double the pumpkin – and guess what, they were really good (although the tops never quite got crusty like they were supposed to). But point being, you can’t really mess these up.

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If you want to use all white sugar, I won’t tell – but a little brown seems almost healthy, doesn’t it?

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Just whisk your eggs and add pumpkin and butter (or oil).

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Add dry ingredients…..

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…..and fill your muffin tins. Voilá. Took me all of five minutes, and they made my apartment smell so good! Now I just need to get them out of my house. Note: I just made this batch plain, but they’re delicious with walnuts, and really yummy with chocolate chips as well (albeit harder to pass off as healthy). See, I wasn’t kidding when I said I was really excited for pumpkin season!

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Pumpkin Muffins
makes 18-20 muffins

Cooking spray (ideally PAM for baking)
4 large eggs
1 cup butter, melted (or try coconut oil)
2 cups pumpkin purée (approx. one 15.5 ounce can)
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (or gluten free, or half whole wheat)
2 cups sugar, all white or half white and half brown
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted (make sure to sift or the little clumps will taste yucky)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts or chocolate chips, optional

Whisk eggs well, add melted butter and pumpkin, and stir until well combined. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Add walnuts or chocolate chips, if using. Pour into greased muffin tins (extra greased if using a pumpkin shaped tin like mine or else it’s hard to get them out of the tin cleanly). Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until tops are browned and a toothpick inserted in a middle-of-the-tin muffin comes out clean.

Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash) and Greens

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I made this recipe for the first time when I was staying with friends in Boston last month, and it was both simple and delicious. As such, I made it a second time last weekend, when my parents hosted 40 people at their home for my grandparents’ birthday party (yes, they were born a day apart and thus share their party every year). It’s the perfect meal for anything from an intimate dinner to a large group, as it you can do it ahead of time and its easy to serve, but it still seems a little fancier than a lasagna or boring casserole-type dish.

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I found broccoli rabe without incident the first time, but not the second – so when I quadrupled the recipe for the birthday party I used swiss chard instead. Both were great, but Smitten Kitchen suggests regular broccoli or brocolini if you can’t find rabe; I would think any hearty green would work as well (next time I might try kale). The only time consuming part of the dish is stemming and chopping the broccoli rabe/chard, everything else is pretty quick and easy.

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When I made it the first time, I followed the recipe exactly, except that I only added sausage to half (recipe makes one 9 x 13 casserole, but can easily be split into two 8 x 8s). SK lists proportions for a “light” amount of sauce, and recommends you multiply them by 1.5 for a “heavier” sauced dish. I did that, and did not find it overly saucy at all, so that’s what I list below as I really can’t imagine less sauce would be enough. But I suppose its all personal preference – you can check out her version in the link. I also found the original version to be pretty garlicky, although I don’t love garlic so it could be just me. Regardless, when I made it a second time I roasted the garlic (a whole head, drizzled in olive oil and wrapped in foil, at 400 degrees for about half an hour). I then used the same number of cloves called for (3 per batch), and found the garlic flavor to be much more subtle. Again, just personal preference. My friend Lindsay made this the other night and added minced garlic in with the sausage when she cooked it – same idea.

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Finally, when I made four batches for the party, I did four separate casseroles so that I could accommodate as many preferences as possible – three different types of sausage (sweet, spicy, and chicken) and then one vegetarian. When I had the vegetarian version in Boston I really thought it could use something, so this time I roasted a butternut squash. SK suggests mushrooms would be another good alternative – but the squash got rave reviews even from the meat eaters, and seems pretty perfect for this time of year.

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Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash) and Greens, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Pasta and Assembly
1 lb. campanelle, or any chunky pasta you like
1 bundle broccoli rabe, swiss chard, or green of your choice (the greens will cook down a lot, so what looks like a ton raw ends up being not that much)
1 lb. Italian sausage (sweet or spicy pork or chicken), casings removed (or one butternut squash)
1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes

Béchamel Sauce
3 cups whole milk (I used half whole and half 2% the second time and found it to be a little less rich – in a good way)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/8 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (I used a lot)
3 cloves garlic, minced – if roasted, I just gave them a rough smash and chop
Small sprinkle of nutmeg

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions, add broccoli rabe five minutes before pasta is to be finished (if using chard, wait until two minutes before cooking time is up; if using another green, you’ll want it to cook for a lesser time the more delicate it is, or longer the heartier it is – i.e. broccoli would also be five minutes, spinach would be one minute). Drain pasta and greens and set aside in a large bowl.

Brown your sausage in a small amount of olive oil. If you’re making the vegetarian version, peel, seed, and dice a medium-sized butternut squash. You can buy it pre-chopped almost anywhere, but its kind of fun to do it yourself and it really doesn’t take much time. Toss it with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and roast on a well-greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet at 400 degrees for about half an hour, turning once or twice. If it gets a little crispy, like mine did (as evidenced in the photo above), that’s ok. Either the sausage or the squash can be done ahead of time, and it will make putting the casserole together that much quicker.

To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir until smooth, then cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add a small amount of the milk and whisk until combined. Continue to add milk in very small amounts, whisking the whole time – this is where a plastic, flat-bottomed whisk comes in really handy. Once about half of the milk is added and combined, you can add the other half more quickly. Once all the milk is added and the mixture is smooth, add salt, pepper, garlic, and nutmeg and let simmer for about ten minutes (I always worry that mine won’t thicken properly, and thus turn the burner up for about a minute before I turn it down to simmer – no idea if it helps or not but it makes me feel better – regardless, do that at your own risk). Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Finally, add mozzarella, half the parmesan, sausage (or squash), and béchamel to the bowl with the pasta and greens; toss to coat everything with the sauce. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 or 3-quart casserole dish, sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top of the pasta, and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Bon Appétit!

Friday Faves

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{leaves changing at Greenlake}

One of the perks of taking almost a month off from blogging is that I have over three weeks of “favorites” (read: old instagrams) to choose from. So this “week” includes a couple pics from my East Coast visit earlier in the month, as well as some more recent highlights. This 70-degree October weather we’ve been having has made for some gorgeous sunsets all week, as well as some truly outrageous fall foliage.  And of course, a change in seasons always means a change in footwear.  I’m looking forward to the upcoming weekend – I hope yours is spent apple picking, at the pumpkin patch, and/or taking advantage of this amazing weather in other quintessential autumn ways.  Mine will be spent “catering” a party for my grandparents’ 94th birthdays, but I’m anticipating a Husky win tomorrow and a fantasy win on Sunday as well.  Wishing all of us the best of luck!

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{walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, Freedom Tower on the left – I heart NYC}

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{dinner view of Boston Harbor}

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{new fall flats. PSA: 40% off sale at J.Crew the past few weeks}

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{pink skies over a Puget Sound sunset}

More Pumpkin: Pumpkin Black Bean Soup and Pumpkin Bread Pudding

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Three weeks ago I wrote something about how now that it was fall, I would be inundating this blog with more pumpkin recipes than anyone could ever want or need. I promptly made and posted two, made two more, started a post about them, and then apparently got distracted/lost interest.  I wish I had a good excuse as to why, but I really don’t.  Sometimes it’s just hard to sit in front of a computer and force yourself to do anything, whether it be work, returning emails (something else I’ve been really bad about lately), paying your phone bill (oops!!), or finishing up a blog post. This post has been sitting in my draft folder for the better part of three weeks, so despite the blue skies and warm temperatures today, I thought it would be a good time to finally get it up.

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Both of these recipes are from Smitten Kitchen, who probably thinks I need to stop stealing her recipes. Or would, if she knew my blog existed. Both are incredibly easy and delicious, though, so I couldn’t help but share. I went to the store for soup ingredients but somehow came home with a couple extra cans of pumpkin, which was all the excuse I needed to try her bread pudding recipe I never got around to last fall.

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This soup comes together in no time, especially if you get the pre-chopped onion, shallot, and garlic from Trader Joe’s that I discuss below. I omitted the ham from the original recipe, and used chicken stock instead of beef – if you wanted to make it entirely vegetarian I’m sure vegetable stock (or even water) would work as well. I also misread the recipe to read one can tomatoes rather than one cup, but mine turned out fine so that’s what I suggest (I used a 28 ounce can, you could use a 15 ounce can if that’s what you have on hand – I don’t think it will make a ton of difference).

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Pumpkin Black Bean Soup, modified from Smitten Kitchen

3 15 1/2 ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can drained canned tomatoes
1 1/4 cups chopped onions*
1/2 cup minced shallot*
4 garlic cloves, minced*
1 tablespoon cumin seed, optional
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil or butter
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 15 1/2 ounce can pumpkin (or about 1 1/2 cups from a larger can)
1/2 cup dry sherry
3-4 tablespoons sherry vinegar, optional

*I list the amounts suggested in the original recipe, but – full disclosure – I actually used the pre-chopped onion, shallot, and garlic mixture from Trader Joe’s. I used two packages (they come in a small plastic container and are found in the refrigerated section of the produce department) and my soup turned out delicious. I’m sure it’s equally as good, if not better, if you follow the directions, but I had my soup ready to go (it just needed to simmer) 15 minutes after arriving home from the grocery store.

Heat olive oil or butter (you can get away with less than 1/4 cup if you’re trying to be healthy) in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic, shallot, salt, pepper, cumin, and cumin seed if using, and sautée until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. While the onion mixture is sautéing, pulse black beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin in the food processor until coarsely puréed (aside from rinsing the beans and draining the tomatoes, you literally just dump five cans in the food processor and blend.). Add bean mixture to the pot and then add stock and sherry; stir until well combined. Simmer 25 minutes, or until thick. Serve garnished with pumpkin seeds, sour cream or Greek yogurt, and sherry vinegar, if using (I didn’t, as I couldn’t find it at the store, and it didn’t seem to be missing anything).

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And then, just because I was in a baking mood – and because it’s October – pumpkin bread pudding.  I’m not a huge bread pudding person, but (clearly) if you put “pumpkin” in the title of something I will want to make it.  And in this case I’m really glad I did, as it tastes like a boozy pumpkin pie in bread pudding form.

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This recipe is also super quick – if you started it once you finished up the soup you could have it in the oven before the soup was finished simmering – leaving plenty of time to clean the kitchen, even. I suspect it would be delicious with raisins, which I’m going to add next time, although it certainly doesn’t need them (I realize there are a lot of anti-raisin people out there).

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Pumpkin Bread Pudding, from Gourmet Magazine via Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups whole milk (or half nonfat milk, half half and half, if that’s what you have in your fridge)
3/4 cup canned pumpkin (I used a whole cup)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus one yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional – this makes for a super boozy bread pudding so you might want to use less if you don’t love bourbon or want the kiddos to eat it)
5 cups cubed (one-inch cubes) day old or crusty bread (I didn’t have any on hand so I cubed a fresh loaf and then spread the cubes on a baking sheet and let them dry out in the oven while it preheated)
3/4 stick unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, with rack in the middle. Mix all ingredients but bread and butter in a bowl and whisk well. Toss bread cubes with melted butter until well coated, and then mix with pumpkin mixture. Spread into an ungreased 8×8 baking pan, and bake until custard is set, 25-30 minutes.

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