Pumpkin-palooza

Yes, it’s pumpkin season, and yes I got into it. For a pre-Halloween party gathering, I got into the seasonal spirit with pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies and a bread-and-cheese stuffed pumpkin (no, but really). Add to that a few deviled eggs and a slew of Halloween-themed cupcakes, and you’ve got an autumnal gathering.  Without further a-boo (wow, that was a bad one, even for me):

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies [from Food Network but with my changes–double the pumpkin purée and spices ]
Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups canned pumpkin puree
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups (12-ounce bag) milk chocolate chips, not semisweet
Nonstick cooking spray or parchment paper

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Directions
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick spray or line them with parchment paper.

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Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Beat in the white and brown sugars, a little at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, then mix in the vanilla and pumpkin puree. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Slowly beat the flour mixture into the batter in thirds. Stir in the chips. Scoop the cookie dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are browned around the edges. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let them rest for 2 minutes. Take the cookies off with a spatula and cool them on wire racks.

Now, these cookies are super (read: extremely) moist and sticky–more like little pumpkin cakes than crisp cookies. I’m a huge fan of any kind of cake, particularly if it masquerades as a cookie.IMG_7983

Cheesy Stuffed Pumpkin [from this recipe from Epicurious by Dorie Greenspan with some changes by yours truly]
Ingredients:
1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks [I did cheddar and Monterey Jack]
2–4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme (my addition)
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

IMG_7988Directions: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a very sturdy knife—and caution—cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween Jack-o-Lantern). It’s easiest to work your knife around the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle. You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot.IMG_7989

Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper—you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure—and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled—you might have a little too much filling, or you might need to add to it. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin. Again, you might have too much or too little—you don’t want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened. (It’s hard to go wrong here.)

IMG_7990Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper for about 2 hours—check after 90 minutes—or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, I like to remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.

When the pumpkin is ready, very carefully bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you’ll bring to the table. Mix the pumpkin and stuffing with a spoon and serve with toasts.

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 I’ve fallen into Fall, people, and now it’s very, very cold.

Stilton Walnut Crackers

DSC_0030These crackers are a go-to for me, especially when I’m asked to bring snacks for a party. They’ve got a distinctive taste—buttery and blue-cheesy, with texture and richness from the walnuts which coat the outside—especially if you’re a fan of Stilton. Your kitchen will have a….similarly distinctive quality during the preparation of these goodies (read: strong blue cheese stench), but it’s worth it. I particularly love removing the chilled log of dough from the fridge and slicing them into thick disks before baking. For a slightly different holiday (or anyday) treat, try these out.DSC_0002

Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers (courtesy of Ina Garten)
Ingredients1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
8 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled (about 12 ounces with rind), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt [USE 1/2 OF THIS! OTHERWISE FAR TOO SALTY]
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Directions
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and Stilton together for 1 minute, or until smooth. [my mixer broke during this process, so aggressive stirring had to suffice. turned out fine!] With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until it’s in large crumbles, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of water and mix until combined.DSC_0004 DSC_0007
Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 12-inch long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the walnuts in a square on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing lightly, and distributing them evenly on the outside of the log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 days. [i find it sort of hard to roll out, but once inside the plastic wrap, it’s much easier to make it look uniform and evenly distribute the dough into a log]DSC_0028

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the log 3/8ths-inch thick with a small, sharp knife and place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 22 minutes until very lightly browned. Rotate the pan once during baking. Cool and serve at room temperature.