Tuesday, October 26, 2010

pumpkin-chocolate brownies: no time to think, no time to stop

The days are getting shorter and all the more colder. It's tough getting out from underneath my super warm comforter to a cold room. It's even tougher doing that in the middle of the night in order to be at work at 4 am. Sigh....but that's the life of a baker!

My second stage will be ending in a couple of days and I have to admit that I'm kind of glad. Not only is it hard to wake up at an ungodly hour (which requires going to bed at an hour reserved only for babies and seniors) but it hasn't exactly been the best time. I mean, I've been learning a lot of new things, but I haven't really enjoyed it that much. It's a lot of production that requires repetitive work for most of the day. Not exactly my cup of tea. At least I'm discovering what I like and what I don't like to do.


I know the place just isn't for me. The atmosphere isn't  the most fun environment. But the people are really nice and couldn't be more welcoming. I'm really glad to have met a lot of them, so I guess it isn't so bad afterall. 

These brownies however, are better than " not so bad". The mix of chocolate, pumpkin, cinnamon and cayenne pepper really give an interesting flavour combination. I think I might prefer plain chocolate brownies, but my cow-workers and friends definitely thought otherwise considering there are none left!



Chocolate Pumpkin brownies 

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
Yields 16 big or 28 small bars

Ingredients

1 stick unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used chips)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  
Procedure

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan or dish (I don't have a 9" square pan so I used a 10" circle spring-form pan). Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water stirring occasionally. Sift the flour, baking powder, cayenne pepper and salt in a bowl and set aside. 

Beat the sugar, eggs, and vanilla in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture slowly. Do not overmix.

Divide batter equally between two medium bowls. Stir in the chocolate into one bowl and stir in the pumpkin, vegetable oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg in the other bowl. Transfer half of the chocolate batter to the prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula or offset spatula. Alternate with half of the pumpkin batter. Repeat with the last layer of each the chocolate batter and the pumpkin batter. Work quickly so batters don't set. With a small knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect.

Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Leave to cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut with a large hot knife into squares.



Monday, October 18, 2010

pumpkin macaroni grating: it's all good in the hood


After an unsuccessful and disappointing attempt at figuring out why my oven likes to burn a lot of my baked goods (exhibit A: pumpkin pecan bundt cake), I decided to use some of my pumpkin puree for supper so I could at least say that I made something with it. The cake still tasted really good on the inside but I was thoroughly disappointed that my (expensive) pecans went to waste. (I got the recipe from the October 2010 Canadian Living magazine if you want to try it).


So I then said to myself, it's time to get an oven thermometer woman! And I did just that , which made me realize that my oven was even stronger than I thought. So hopefully there shouldn't be any more burnt baking fiascos in the near future.

For now, I hope you enjoy a little variation on the classic macaroni au gratin that I usually like to make with bechamel sauce. I replaced the sauce with pumpkin puree and added some crusty bread and Parmesan cheese to the top. It's an autumnal twist on a classic dish.


Macaroni au Gratin a la Citrouille

Serves 6-8
Inspired by Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

Ingredients

3 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp rosemary
12 ounces macaroni (or any other kind of pasta)
12 ounces pumpkin puree
salt and pepper to taste
slices of crusty bread cut into small cubes
Parmesan cheese (quantity depending on how much of a cheese lover you are)

Procedure

Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a 9 x 13" baking dish. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat and cook the onions until soft and starting to turn brown. Add salt, pepper and rosemary.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions. Before draining, reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water. Return pasta to pot. 

Stir in pumpkin puree and the reserved water with the onions cooking at a simmer for about 2-3 minutes. Toss puree mixture with pasta and pour into prepared dish. 

Mix bread cubes with some rosemary, salt pepper and a bit of oil. Spread on top of pasta and sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese. Bake in oven until top is golden brown and slightly crusty, about 15-20 minutes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

no-egg butterscotch chip cookies: i can't get enough of you



Sometimes things just come to you without even trying or searching. New opportunities, new friends, old friends or new things to discover. This past year has been one big learning experience for me and I couldn't be happier. 

Today is Thanksgiving and even though I don't really celebrate it, I have many things to be thankful for. In fact, I try to be thankful everyday for everything that I have in my life. 


I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without the constant support of my family and friends. They encourage me to take risks and live my life without any regrets. It's not always easy but it's better than the alternative of giving up. 


And that just isn't an appealing option to me. Sometimes I'm not sure if I can do it, but I know that even if I don't get something right away, eventually I'll get it with practice. 

So I'm thankful for lots of things. One of which is these cookies, which, by the way are probably one of the best cookies I have ever tasted. I'm calling them almost vegan because the butterscotch chips that I got contain dry milk but you can easily put raisins or nuts instead. But I personally think that butterscotch makes them extra tasty.

I'm not vegan but I thought these cookies were really interesting and easy to make. And they are gooooood. Really. Really good. In fact, they're already finished because no one could resist them, so I guess I'll just have to make more! That doesn't seem like a problem to me. 


(Almost) Vegan Pumpkin Butterscotch cookies

Yields about 4 dozen cookies
Ingredients
1 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup pumpkin puree (canned or home-made)
2 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger (optional)
1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Procedure

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lay parchment or a Silpat mat on two cookie sheets.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, oats, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. In a seperate bowl, beat the sugar, oil, molasses, pumpkin and vanilla until very well combined. Add dry ingredients to oil in 2 batches, mixing just until combined. Fold in butterscotch chips.

Drop by tablespoons onto cookie sheets. Don't worry about placing them too close to each other because they don't spread very much. Bake for about 15 minutes until edges are starting to turn golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Monday, October 4, 2010

easy pumpkin puree: it's that time of year again


Oh hello, is it autumn already? That means it's my favorite time of the year. Time for jackets and pretty scarves, for hot chocolate and cuddling, oh and of course, everything pumpkin. I have gone through yet again another year where I wasn't able to go apple picking, but I told myself that I would at least go to a farmer's market to buy some pumpkins. And I did just that. So this is my first attempt ever at home-made pumpkin puree and I have to say that the experience was quite enjoyable.

In fact, I've been experiencing a couple of new things lately in school. Yesterday, a couple of my fellow classmates and I and some of our chefs catered the desserts for a benefit gala in the Old Port. We learnt how to set up our table, arrange the plates and decorate each one by carefully arranging the fruit coulis, the cake and the fruits. It was a fantastic experience and I loved spending time with my friends and chefs outside of school. It's a great way to get to know each other in a different environment; not to mention sample some delicious creations! It's great to get to have all these opportunities and see different aspects of the pastry industry.


It really opens up your eyes to all the possibilities there are available for us beginners and I'm grateful for all our chefs' support. It's always good to know that there is someone who will support and encourage you to try new things. So it's on to new things! Just like this pumpkin puree. Be patient because I plan on actually using the puree to make things with it!

Pumpkin Puree

Directions: October 2010 Canadian Living Magazine

The best pumpkins for purees are sugar pumpkins. These are smaller than the big mama pumpkins that are grown for jack-o-lanterns, but not the teeny tiny ones for decorations. Be sure to pick ones that are as clean as possible and that don't have a rough gray skin. The only thing I forgot to do was weigh the pumpkins before cutting to give you an approximate idea as to how much puree it yields depending on weight. I used two average sized sugar pumpkins and got about 6 cups.

Remove the stems of the pumpkins with a large, sharp knife. Be sure to buy a set of muscles too because you're going to need them! My suggestion is to take your time and cut slowly with the knife away from you. Pumpkins aren't flat, therefore they have a tendency to move around, so be careful and don't cut yourself!

Halve and remove the inside of the pumpkins with a spoon or your hands (don't forget to keep the seeds! - see note below). Place halves with their cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast in a 350 F oven until flesh is brown and tender, about 60-75 minutes. Prick with a fork to check tenderness. Leave to cool.


Remove the soft flesh with a spoon to puree in a food processor. I used my hand-held blender because I don't have a big processor. Now I used a trick I saw on Annie's Eats: place puree in a paper towel-lined sieve on top of a bowl to strain out all the liquid. Let in strain for a good hour, you'll see how much liquid comes out (I got almost 1 1/2 cups!). Refrigerate in an air tight container for up to 4 days or freeze up to one month.


There you go, easy home-made pumpkin puree!


Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Don't even think about throwing out those seeds! Roasted pumpkin se
eds make a great snack and you can season them any way you wish. I found a recipe online that said to add vegetable oil and spices, but I think next time I might put a little less oil than I did because they were a little too slippery and well...oily.

Preheat oven to 275 F and place seeds on a baking sheet. Season with a little bit of vegetable oil or melted butter and salt. (I only wanted salt but you could season with any kind of spice, such as paprika, lemon and thyme, garlic or even cinnamon and nutmeg). Roast for about 10-20 minutes. Check every 5 minutes - they burn quickly! Om nom nom!
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