Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

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I like to think of this blog as a confessional space. So friends, I have something embarrassing to admit today: around this time every year, I get an unyielding urge to steal pumpkins from bars. It’s a very specific itch — the decorative gourds at restaurants or grocery stores are of no interest to me. I dream only of bar pumpkins. And after two three six drinks? That pumpkin is mine.

Unfortunately, my coordination skills are suspect on a good day, and definitely compromised after a few beers, so I’m often rebuffed in my pumpkin thievery attempts, by bemused bartenders and bouncers who refuse to indulge in my whim. But last week, I finally brought one home!* Aaaaaaaand promptly left it on the dining table while I figure out how to carve it without slicing off a finger and/or making a blood-covered trip to the emergency room.

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While I haven’t quite mastered its intricacies, I do know the first rule of carving: don’t throw out the seeds. They’re so delicious when roasted, and so easy to roast, that tossing them is a such a missed opportunity. The fibrous gunk takes a few minutes to rinse off, but that’s the most tedious part. Then, it’s a simple matter of patting them dry, seasoning them and roasting them up.

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I haven’t actually carved my pumpkin (yet.), so these seeds are actually from an acorn squash I stuffed this week. (Trust me when I tell you, you cannot wait for this recipe — it’s bomb.) But any winter squash will do for this recipe, which is more of a jumping off point than a hard-and-fast “follow this to a T.” I used paprika and a touch of cayenne to season mine, since I love smoky, spicy things in fall. But you could sweeten yours up with a touch of honey and cinnamon, or go the herb route with dried or fresh thyme, rosemary or sage. You could even throw in some grated Parmesan or Pecorino (though be careful that the cheese doesn’t burn while baking — toss the seeds on the sheet frequently to prevent this).

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The roasted pumpkin seeds are the perfect snack for all sorts of fall activities: football-watching, leaf-peeping, pumpkin beer-drinking. They’re also great salad toppings, especially when paired with their squash brethren. Basically, I’ve discovered another reason to fuel my pumpkin kleptomania this time of year … be worried.

*This was my second success. Mili and I nabbed one a few years ago, and when I walked into my apartment with another pumpkin, my roommate looked at me and exclaimed, “Again?” Continue reading

5-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

Sometimes the best part of a recipe is its simplicity. This one has only 5 ingredients, and 3 steps: mix, roll and bake.

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And to go with the theme of the recipe, I’ll keep it simple. Everyone should have a super easy cookie recipe, one that you can pull out of your back pocket on gloomy, rainy days to make just because. One that uses ingredients you already have on hand, that you can pull out of the oven less than 30 minutes after you get your butt off the couch to make them.

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This is all of those things. Plus it’s delicious. And that should be reason enough to bake them. Continue reading

Pork Sugo + Dinner Party Tips

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For my birthday this year, I decided to host a small dinner party at my apartment. It was a mildly ambitious idea, since my birthday was on a Monday this year and I was away that weekend. But with a bit of planning, I was able to throw something together, something that was so well-received that there were barely any leftovers. A few things I learned along the way:

1) PLAN AHEAD. I cannot emphasize this enough — decide what you’ll be making, buy all of your ingredients and create a cooking schedule a few days before the actual party. Even if you plan to cook mostly on the day of the dinner, have a mental timeline of what you’ll make, when you’ll make it and how long you’ll need. This was essential for me, since I wouldn’t be able to do any shopping over the weekend, and had very limited time to actually cook.

2) Many people say that you should never try new recipes when cooking for others. I won’t go that far, but I do think it’s best to avoid new techniques. If you’ve never used a pressure cooker before (or roasted a chicken or cooked fish, etc.), a dinner party isn’t the time. But if you’ve braised meat a hundred times in the past, go ahead and try that new braised short ribs recipe. Since you already know what you’re doing technique-wise, trying new ingredients won’t derail you. Just taste as you cook, to make sure that you like the flavors.

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3) Lean on make-ahead recipes. Because my party was on a Monday, I knew that I’d have to make the bulk of my meal on Sunday night. So I chose something that I knew I could make ahead of time and that would reheat well. Even if you have all day to cook, make things easier on yourself by giving yourself some extra time to get everything together.

4) Avoid any embarrassing moments — ask your guests about any food allergies or preferences beforehand. There is nothing worse than spending all day cooking up pot roast and then finding out that half of your guests are vegetarian.

5) Keep it simple. You don’t need a hundred items or ten-step recipes or tricky-to-use ingredients. You’ll have a million things to do without adding complicated elements to the dinner. Keep things relatively low-maintenance, so that you can really focus on making a delicious meal.

6) Let your friends help. You might be making the bulk of the dinner, but ask friends to bring snacks, wine, dessert and any other small things. They’ll be more than happy to contribute (I’m assuming. You’re friends with them for a reason, right?), and it’ll ease some of your workload.

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7) And definitely don’t forget to have fun! At the end of the day, you’re hosting a party. It’s supposed to be a good time, and your friends will love you regardless of what you serve.

For my dinner party, I made pork sugo, which is an Italian meat stew that’s often served with pasta. I simplified Food 52’s recipe a bit, partially because I am incapable of following instructions properly and partially because I used what ingredients I had on hand. Like all braises, the meat cooked itself slowly on the stove while I slowly worked my way through the Gilmore Girls ouevre. I served it with polenta and Brussels sprouts, and barely got a chance to grab a pic before it was devoured. Guess that’s a sign of a good dinner party?

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Continue reading

Fudgy Red Wine Brownies

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Lest you think that I refuse to eat anything other than red wine and chocolate for my birthday, these red wine brownies were not for me. (Though Nila did unknowingly bake me the same red wine chocolate cake from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook for my birthday this year–my friends know me so well.)

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These were for Abby’s bachelorette party, as a snack during our wine tasting at Macari Vineyards. For the occasion, I wanted something intensely chocolate-y, but not too rich. My first thought was truffles, but rolling out a few dozen truffles seemed tedious. (I could better spend that time watching yet another episode of Gilmore Girls, of course.) Next I thought fudge bars, but that could become a sticky mess.

Then I remembered my red wine birthday cake, and how the wine and chocolate complemented each other so nicely. Plus, wine for something to be eaten at a vineyard seemed like the perfect fit. But since cake is kind of hard to distribute, I went with my favorite picnic standby, bars … aka red wine brownies.

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Ultimately, we didn’t end up eating these at the vineyard — we inhaled them in a limo instead. They were a huge hit, delivering on the promise of intense chocolate flavor without being too sweet or too heavy. I used a red blend that had notes of cocoa and vanilla in it, but any medium-bodied wine will do. (Don’t use anything too dark, since it may overpower the rest of the ingredients.) The original recipe added a glaze, but I wanted to avoid anything potentially messy. The brownies didn’t need it though, since they were perfect all on their own. Continue reading

Mini Plum Cakes

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Plums get a bad rap ’round these parts. They fall low on my stone fruit totem pole, well below peaches and nectarines and cherries and apricots, and even below pluots and apriums and other weird hybrids that derive from the plum. Too often, I’ll bite into a seemingly ripe plum only to recoil in horror, eyes watery and mouth puckering — man, an unripe plum can be tart.

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So, rather than get burned twice a hundredth time, I’ve just stayed away. But then there were some very pretty looking plums at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago and I couldn’t resist. And then I kind of forgot about them, and let them languish a bit in my fridge. And then somehow what was supposed to be a quick afternoon snack turned into a perfect afternoon snack: buttery, plush cake enveloped around a tart-sweet plum that softens and becomes jammy in the oven.

I could tell you more about these, but let me just show you instead:

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A lid of sliced almonds adds a little crunch, and they bronze beautifully in the oven. Aren’t they so pretty? Is it just me?

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Plums are making their final appearance this summer, so don’t miss your chance. Make these beauties before time runs out. Continue reading