Tuesday, October 25, 2011

what's orange and bacon-y and delicious all over?

Pumpkin pasta with sage and bacon. 
Have you made those scrumptious pumpkin cupcakes yet?  Well, tonight I have another pumpkin treat for you (that, unlike those cupcakes, you can unashamedly eat lots of for dinner).  Pumpkin penne pasta with sage and bacon.  It's my first time to actually use pumpkin for a savory dish, and I loved it.  I found the recipe from Rachael Ray.  Rachael's recipes always seem to make way too much food, so I halved it and made enough for 3.  I read a few of the reviews of the recipe on her website (always a good idea to hear from real folks and not just test-kitchen robots!), and they said it was a bit bland.  We all know the answer to that: bacon.  Applewood smoked, to be exact.  If you're of the vegetarian persuasion, perhaps amp it up with some toasted pine nuts and tangy parmesan instead.  I frequent the Food Network more than any other channel (no surprise there) and notice that chefs always have interesting textures going on in their food, so that's another bonus from the crisped bacon (or pine nuts) in this creamy pasta. 
Chop three strips of bacon (streaky bacon for your Belfast folks), and saute in a bit of olive oil until crisp.  Remove and let drain on a paper towel.  Use another paper towel to sop up about half of the bacon drippings in the pan.

To the remaining bacon drippings (I know, I'm sounding lots like Paula Deen, y'all), add as much red pepper flake as you like.  I think I added about a teaspoon.  Has some kick!  I LOVE red pepper flake in pasta.  It adds heat without masking the flavor.

 Chop up half an onion and three cloves of garlic.

Saute the onions until soft, about 10 minutes.   Add the garlic and cook another 3 minutes or so.

Now it's sage time!  Sage is smoky and earthy and stands up well to strong flavors (like that rockstar applewood smoked bacon).  Thinly slice about 6 sage leaves.

Add to the onions and garlic, cooking for a few minutes so it gets a bit crispy.  Unlike its more delicate cousin basil that prefers to frolic in light salads, sage can stand up to some heat.

Now it gets interesting.  Add a dash of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg.  But really, folks, just a wee dash: you don't want your pasta to taste like those wonderful cupcakes.  I heat the spices a bit in the pan, releasing their flavor.

Now add in about 3/4 cup of pumpkin, whatever was leftover from making those perfect pumpkin cupcakes.

Add in one cup of chicken stock, stir well and then add 1/4 cup heavy cream.  I suppose you could use half and half.  But seriously, we already have bacon going on.  Don't let a wee thing like 1/4 cup heavy cream get you stressed out.  (Or a bit of bacon, for that matter.)  The sauce has the most stunning color and silky texture.

For the pasta, I used whole wheat penne.  I love penne, and the whole wheat makes me feel better 'bout that bacon and cream. :)

 Cook until nearly al dente, about 7 minutes.  Keep simmering your yummy pumpkin sauce, adjusting salt and pepper as needed.  After draining pasta let it hang out in that fabulous sauce for a couple of minutes.

Top your fabulously fall-ish pasta with a sprinkling of the crisped bacon (mmm, bacon sprinkles...think of the possibilities!).

Enjoy, y'all.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

pumpkin perfection

I'm not saying that the following recipe for pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese icing and pecans is the most delectable thing on the planet.  I'm only saying that if John the Baptist knew about these divine treats he would have given up the whole "Wild Honey & Locust" diet real fast.  These cupcakes have rapidly become my favorite way to celebrate autumn.  I've given them to friends and family and eaten more than I'll divulge here.  Alongside butternut squash risotto, they're certain to become one of my fall favorites.

Ready for some pumpkin perfection?  The cupcake recipe comes from the never-fail Ina Garten, but I decided to swap her maple frosting for Martha Stewart's cream cheese frosting (because cream cheese frosting is just heavenly).  The recipe makes 10 cupcakes, but feel free to double or triple it. :)

How cute is my can of pumpkin?  I found this at a local shop and will have to save the can to plant herbs in.

Preheat your oven to 350ºF/176ºC and line a muffin tin with baking cups.

Let's get our dry ingredients together.  We'll begin with the fragrant spices that make these taste like fall.  Freshly grate (really, it's worth it) 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and add...

 1/2 teaspoon ginger,

 and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Take 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder,

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and

1 cup of flour.

Sift all of the above ingredients together.

(To be doubly sure that all the seasonal spices were mixed in well with the flour, I also whisked it together briefly.)

Easy so far, right?  Now, take a larger bowl and crack in two room-temperature eggs (for you Belfast folks you may need to but them in the oven to get there - ha!).

Add in one cup of that luscious pumpkin puree.  This'll be a bit more than half a can.  Be sure you don't accidentally buy pumpkin pie filling, all you need is 100% pumpkin, already blended up and ready to go.

Of course, save the leftover pumpkin in the fridge (for Belfast folks, on the counter - okay, enough with the cold weather jokes).  I ended up using mine to make more majestic cupcakes, but I'd really like to try some sort of pumpkin ravioli with brown sage butter.  Any recipes out there, foodie friends??

Add 1/2 cup of sugar to your eggs and pumpkin,

1/2 cup of brown sugar (light or dark, it doesn't matter so much),

and 1/2 cup vegetable oil (NOT olive oil, that has too strong a flavor.  I used canola oil I think.)

And that's it!  Whisk it all together until well incorporated.  Stunning colo(u)r, right?

Add in your flour mixture and whisk until just smooth.

Here's that beautiful batter.

Spoon it into your baking cups, distributing evenly between 10 cups.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Mine took exactly that amount of time and were perfect.  Whilst waiting for pumpkin perfection to bake, you can do any of the following:
1. Watch half an episode of NCIS.
2. Update your facebook status ("Baking pumpkin cupcakes...who wants one?")
3. Take your dog for a quick walk.  Or let him take you on a quick walk.
4. Make the following decadent cream cheese frosting.

Should you choose #4 (which lilrevchef highly recommends), you'll want to keep reading:

Take 8 ounces of room temperature cream cheese and soften a bit with a spatula.

Add in 8 ounces of room temp butter, cut into tiny pieces.  (Ignore butter-craving dog.)

Schmoosh (technical term) the butter and cream cheese together until smooth and well mixed.

Sift in 1 cup of confectioners/icing sugar.  (Again, avoid eye contact with precious dog, lest you end up being overwhelmed with pity and giving the dog lots of sugar.)

Whisk together well, until smooth and silky...

...like this.

Add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and whisk again to get that vanilla-y goodness all throughout your frosting.

Here it is ready to go!  (And again, the dog's ready for some.  Sigh.)

Take those glorious cupcakes out of the oven, savoring the way your whole house now smells like Thanksgiving.

After letting them cool in the pan for a few minutes, transfer to a baking rack to cool completely.

While those are cooling, chop about 1 cup of pecans and toast at 350ºF/176ºC for about 10 minutes, until fragrant and just starting to brown.

Let's frost those crave-worthy cupcakes.  I used this old (antique, vintage, er, rough-around-the-edges) cake tool and attached it to a very high-tech, professional pastry bag:

Cut a snip out of the end of your high-dollar pastry bag and insert your tip through it, or just don't bother with using a frosting tip at all and pipe it straight out of the bag.

I didn't take pictures of this because I seem to be lacking a third arm/hand with which to hold the camera (how does The Pioneer Woman do it?).  But you simply go in a swirl design, making circles from the outside of the cupcake and ending at the center.  Fear not if it looks imperfect, that how folks will know they're homemade.  Plus, pecans cover a multitude of frosting mishaps.  Scatter those crunchy pecans on top and you're done!  Really gorgeous little autumnal treats.


As a rule, I adhere to the Supremacy of Chocolate for Dessert tenant, but these moist, spicy, sweet cupcakes give chocolate a run for its money.  

Bon appetit!