The title of this post is so New England in autumn it hurts. Summer tans are all but faded and the last nice days are slipping away as the chill sets in. Heavy blankets, fallen leaves, my loud and constant complaining – these are just a few sure bets for fall in New England. Another thing you can put your money on is pumpkin. Pumpkin has seeped into almost every aspect of life, from stoops to lattes. I even saw a pumpkin coffee drink on a menu in London last weekend (just when I thought I’d escaped!). So, like my cries of woe, the pumpkin must be embraced ’cause it’s here to stay.
In that strain, I present you a pumpkin recipe so good you may forgive autumn and give in (but never, ever to the latte). This recipe is just a variation on the Actually Squash Cake I used to make on the regular when I lived in Sydney, where fresh pumpkin is a mainstay of the local diet. To be honest, it wasn’t the season so much as pure supply that inspired these muffins. The whole wheat flour (so rarely seen on The Shortlists) came about because we’re staying at my parents’ house where the flour supply is unreliable; the canned pumpkin because their pantry is a five-cans-deep nuclear winter storeroom.
Before I start going on about how cold I was last night, let me cut to the chase and give you the recipe – arguably the only pumpkin muffin/bread/loaf/cake recipe you’ll ever need. Moist, light, flavorful, festive and at least nominally healthy. Everyone who tries them loves them. Meaning fall just got a little more bearable. If only because my mouth is too full to complain.
WHOLE WHEAT PUMPKIN MUFFINS
You can use white instead of whole wheat flour but I think the whole wheat really makes a difference. Feel free to mess around with additions like spices, dried or fresh cranberries, pecans, raisins, etc. This recipe makes enough for 12+ muffins, two layers of a cake or two loaves. I doubled it and made 12 muffins, a loaf and one 9″ cake, which I’m planning to frost with cream cheese frosting but it would be great with chocolate frosting, too.
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
spices optional (but recommended!): 1 teaspoon cinnamon, some nutmeg, some cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil (canola, sunflower, etc)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 can (15 oz. or 2 cups) pumpkin
optional: chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease a muffin tin, two cake pans or two loaf tins or a combination.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: the whole wheat flour, the sugar, the baking soda and powder, the spices and the salt.
In another bowl, whisk the wet ingredients: the eggs, oil and vanilla.
Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just barely combined. Then gently fold in the pumpkin puree and anything else (chocolate chips, etc.) until uniform.
Scoop the dough into prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (I just eyeballed it; but for the muffins I’d guesstimate around 12 minutes; loaves around 30 and cake around 40. Just check as you go!). When the cakes are done, carefully remove the cakes/muffins/loaves from their pans and cool on a wire rack. Devour or freeze once cool.
It’s early September but NYC is holding on to the heat. If I had my way, winter would be a place you visit, summer would drag on forever and salads for dinner would never go out of season. Luckily, this salad, won’t heat up your kitchen too much in summer and, with its boiled potatoes and sturdy vegetables, holds up to autumn’s chill just fine.
I first came across this dish in a (now-closed) cafe on my old block in Sydney and have been making rifts on it ever since. It’s easy to improvise with and easier to love. Even my almost-four-year-old (!!) loves (most of) it. It requires almost no cooking and not a whole lot of chopping either. It’s hearty enough to be dinner but light enough not to weigh you down. Perfect for any time of year.
Smoked Trout Salad with Potatoes, Fennel, Peas and Dill
Adjust the quantities and ingredients as you like. It’s best to eyeball it anyway. Serves 2 for dinner; 4 as 1st course
1-2 smoked trout fillets (or salmon or whatever fish you like)
2 medium waxy potatoes, chopped into 1/2″ chunks
1/2 bag frozen peas, defrosted
1 large bulb fennel, cored and chopped
1 bunch fresh dill, fronds pulled apart
2 big handfuls greens (mixed greens will do fine but I like butter lettuce or lamb’s ear)
extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper
optional additions: croutons, pitted green olives, parsley, basil
Boil the chunked potatoes in salted water for about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. To defrost peas quickly, pour them into the boiling water then immediately drain.
In a large bowl mix the greens, herbs, cooled potatoes, peas, chopped fennel and any other ingredient you want (croutons, olives, etc.). Sprinkle generously with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (to taste). Mix well then serve salad in individual bowls. Divide the smoked fish fillet into equal sized portions and roughly crumble on top of each salad bowl.
We’ve had quite the winter in Boston. It was cold, it was bitter and now that it’s finally over I can’t help but wear sandals and leave windows open despite the chilly April wind. I don’t care if it’s too cold – we survived a 5-month arctic night, the last two months of which were particularly bleak weather-wise – we deserve to celebrate any way we want.
This salad is kind of like sandals in April. A little too early, but everyone’s too distracted by the evening sunshine to notice.
This dish screams summer for so many reasons: it uses stone fruit and fresh herbs, and requires no cooking and only 5 minutes of prep. Plus it’s super light, refreshing, and delicious.
So while my toes may be cold, my mouth is happy. And when summer comes? I’ll be ready.
PEACH, MOZZARELLA & FRESH MINT SALAD
Makes enough for a side salad for 4 or a light lunch for 2.
A few ripe peaches
1 ball fresh mozzarella (the kind in liquid)
leaves from a few sprigs of mint, torn
sale & freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Slice the peaches thinly. Slice the ball of mozzarella, too. Arrange the slices on a plate. Sprinkle with the torn mint leaves. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle generously with good olive oil. Enjoy!
This is one of those recipes that you have to have on hand. It’s delicious, it’s perfect (better?) as leftovers, it’s quick (especially if you use rotisserie chicken), it’s good for you and it’s comfort like you haven’t needed since the last April frost.
I used to think that meat pie was like pizza – even when it’s bad it’s good. But then I moved to Australia, the land where meat pies are breakfast (and lunch and…dinner) and are, more often than not, pretty disgusting. Sure there are the Bourke Street Bakeries and true mum-and-pop shops, but, on the whole, they are inedible, defrosted puddles of goop inside stale pastry served with ketchup on top. I know, way harsh Tai. But seriously.
Back in the U.S., straight into the sticky hot malaise of summer, comfort food was the last thing on my mind. Hell, food was the last thing on my mind as I struggled (struggle? am struggling?) to deal with all the enormous (super enormous? gigantic?) changes in our lives.
But now. It’s March. It’s cold. This winter in Boston has been one of the worst on record. I wrote the first part of this post in September, almost six months ago. So much has changed since September. For one, more changes, all of them good. This long, frigid winter was my big thaw. And I’m coming out the other side ready, finally, to cook again.
So while we wait for the mountains of snow to melt, here’s an old favorite to keep you warm until spring. We could all use it.
Classic Chicken Pot Pie
Makes 8 individual or 1 large pot pie. It’s great to make ahead and freeze, unbaked, until you’re ready to defrost and bake. You can also assemble and bake them a few days in advance, store them in the fridge, and reheat when ready. Enjoy.
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
8 mushrooms, chopped
4 tablespoons (50 grams) butter
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups chicken stock
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded (see directions if using uncooked chicken)
3 tablespoons dry sherry (or white wine)
3/4 cups frozen peas
2 teaspoons fresh (or 1 tsp dried) thyme
Store-bought puff pastry (or homemade biscuit dough/shortcrust)
Preheat oven to 400F/200C.
If using uncooked chicken, boil pieces of chicken in the stock for 10 minutes, reserve meat and broth separately. Continue with recipe:
In a large pot, fry the carrots, onion and celery in a bit of oil for 5 minutes or until tender; season with salt and pepper. While veggies fry, shred the chicken with your fingers and set aside in a large bowl. When veggies are done, transfer them to the bowl with the chicken and set aside but don’t wash the bowl.
In the now empty pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute then whisk in the chicken broth, milk, thyme and any accumulated chicken juices. Simmer for a minute or two, until the sauce fully thickens; season with salt and pepper and add the sherry (or wine).
Mix the chicken and veggies into the pot with the sauce and add the peas. Pour the mixture into individual ramekins or any high-sided baking dish. Cover dish/es with pastry and bake for 20 – 30 minutes until the pastry is golden.
There are few things better than a perfect sausage roll. I know it’s a hard concept to grasp for those who’ve never had one. It might seem like nothing more than a glorified pig in a blanket. And it is. But, like most things, if given that extra love and attention, the humble sausage roll – favorite snack of millions of tradies and school kids alike – becomes the stuff of poetry.
After snubbing my nose at Australian cuisine for far too long, I finally tried (an albeit super gourmet) sausage roll from Sydney’s legendary Bourke Street Bakery. I was – am – hooked.
Sausage rolls are whatever you want them to be: a light lunch, a filling snack, finger food, drunk food, on your way somewhere food, heading home from somewhere food.
As winter settles into New England, I’m missing my adopted country. I want the rock pools, the horns from the cruise ships coming into the harbor, the nighttime smell of jasmine, the laugh of the kookaburras, the hidden beaches, the taste of the flat whites.
I also really want some sausage rolls. Before I moved just a few blocks from Bourke Street Bakery’s Potts Point cafe, I’d walk two miles just for one of these lamb and harissa sausage rolls. Once you make them, you’ll understand why.
LAMB & HARISSA SAUSAGE ROLLS
Adapted from Merci Mama, adapted in turn from the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook. (Which has a ridiculously good recipe for muffins, which are more like a cross between pudding and cake). The rolls pictured are mini, meaning they are about a third or a fourth the length of normal sausage rolls. Make them as long as you want! This recipe makes enough finger food for approx. 20 hungry people. I also can’t stress enough how important it is to eat these with ‘tomato sauce’ (plain, no-frills ketchup). If you think the recipe will make too much, you can freeze a portion once they are assembled before baking.
- 1/2 cup (75g) blanched almonds or pine nuts
- 2.5 pounds (1.2 kg) lamb mince
- 1/4 cup (75g) couscous
- 2/3 cup (110g) currants
- pinch salt & some freshly ground pepper
- 2 packets of puff pastry, defrosted
- egg wash (1 egg, splash of milk, pinch of salt)
- poppy seeds for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Place the almonds in one layer on a baking sheet and toast for about 5 mins or until they take on a light golden color. Cool and coarsely chop.
In a large bowl put in the lamb, harissa, almonds/pine nuts, cous cous, currants, salt, pepper and mix thoroughly with your hands for about 5 minutes.
If using rolled out pastry, cut each square of pastry in half so you have two long rectangles measuring 24cm x 12cm.
Take some of the lamb mixture and roll out into a sausage the length of the pastry and place in the center of the pastry. Brush the long end with the egg wash and fold over the pastry to join the other side. Roll it over so the join is on the bottom and cut the roll into two pieces for normal sized sausage rolls or into 4 mini ones. Continue until you have used up all of the lamb mixture. Brush the top of the sausage rolls with the egg wash and sprinkle on the poppy seeds.
Drop the oven to 190C/360F and baked for about 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Let sit for a few minutes before serving with ketchup and napkins (tomato sauce and serviettes for you Aussies).
It’s a summer of firsts for me. My first summer in the U.S. in a decade. My first summer not in Italy in a decade. My first summer working (at a not-summer-job job). My first summer not traveling. My first summer in many years not married, and my first summer without Stella.
Transitions are hard, people say. It takes time.
I know. I’ve been told. If I was to believe what they say, I’d know I’ll be fine.
I thought I’d find comfort in those delicious unchangeables: afternoon thunderstorms, Boston accents, tree frogs, summer fruit, the muffled buzz of my parents’ radio a floor below. But those things don’t feel the same when I don’t feel myself.
I’m both unable to write about this eloquently and unsure if I want to.
This summertime sadness will pass, just like they say, and I’ll figure out who I am, was and will be. For now, I look for comfort in things that I know, and in the people who know me.
Some of the things they tell me is that I like stone fruit, I like to bake, and I like to have dinners outside with lost count wine bottles, a mash up of accents and no sense of time.
So I’m trying. I pit cherries, I melt butter. I try to stay up even when all I want to do is sleep because there’s a chance, however heartbreakingly small, that when I wake up, it will all have been a dream.
Summer Fruit Crumble
Despite the depressing words above, this is truly a delicious and easy summer dessert, adapted from this blog. Serves 8 – 10. Can be adapted to use up whatever fruit you’d like. I used about 6 plums, 1 peach, 1 cup cherries (pitted) and 1 cup blueberries. Serve warm with barely sweetened whipped cream or mascarpone. Can be refrigerated and reheated.
A mix of ripe stone fruit (e.g. plums, peaches, cherries) and berries (I used blueberries), in large chunks
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
juice of 1/4 lemon (optional)
1 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 egg, beaten lightly
6 tablespoons (1/2 cup; 115 grams) butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375F/190C.
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients under the “FRUIT” heading.
In another large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add in the beaten egg, and mix with a fork or your hands until it begins to get clumpy. You can add some ground cinnamon, allspice, clove and/or nutmeg, too.
Spread the fruit in a large casserole or pie dish and spread the flour mixture evenly on top. Now pour the melted butter over evenly and bake for around 40 – 45 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown and bubbling.
You can make the crumble a few days ahead – just keep it in the fridge and reheat at 300F/150C to serve warm.
Serve warm with ice cream, mascarpone or creme fraiche.
Since coming back to the US (my parents’ house, more specifically), I’ve let someone else do the cooking. It’s not that I’ve lost my kitchen mojo completely, it’s just that my parents have it in spades.
My dad was, traditionally, the cook in the family. But since the last of their three children left home, my mother has had more time and energy, and less picky eaters. She peruses Tastespotting, reads cookbooks and bakes (this or this or this) two or three times a week.
Her favorite cookbook of late is Jerusalem, a collaboration between two Israelis, one Jewish and one Arab. The food reminds her of home, a pretty kibbutz in Israel’s Sharon Valley. It reminds her of Jerusalem, with its hole-in-the-wall shwarma restaurants, stalls selling towers of spice, its ancient peace.
When it comes to cooking, I’ve never been much of a cookbook person. I’ve always liked to go it alone, to try and experiment and learn as I go. But for some reason – for all the reasons – I don’t mind a little help right now. And Jerusalem is all I need. My mom’s been cooking from it for the weeks we’ve been back. And I’ve started to crave everything I’ve tried.
The food tastes familiar but new. Kind of like coming home after many years away.
Baby Spinach Salad with Dates, Almonds, Pita and Sumac
Recipe from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I’ll reproduce it as in the book, but I recommend adding a bit more baby spinach, as the flavors are strong and could be stretched a bit more. It could be, on a simple dinner kind of night, a dinner on its own. My mother serves it with the turkey burgers from the same book – and the combination is perfect. Oh, and don’t skimp on the sumac — it makes the dish. Serves 4.
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
100 grams (3.5 ounces, around 8) Medjool dates, pitted and quartered
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small (Israeli) pitas (or 1 large), torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
5 ounces (or more) baby spinach
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Put the vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hand then leave to marinate for 20 minutes then drain away any residual vinegar and discard.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and half of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pita pieces and almonds and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pita is golden brown and crunchy. Remove the skillet from the heat and sprinkle the pita and almonds with the sumac, red pepper flakes and 1/4 tsp. salt. Set aside to cool.
When ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large bowl. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt.
Taste for seasoning. You may need a bit more olive oil, lemon juice or salt. Serve immediately.